Books and Film

The Easy Pre-Ride Exercise All Riders Should Be Doing

Reality check: our horses’ performance depends on our fitness

Let’s be honest…how many of us truly treat our riding selves as athletes? You know, with warmups and cooldowns and consideration of the physical assets that could be improved (gulp) out of the saddle to better our performance in one?

And here’s the other thing: any form of riding—be it for pleasure or competition, English or Western or just bareback across the field—impacts our horses. And yep, they’re athletes, too.

“The rider influences the horse in ways beyond most people’s immediate perception, and the way a rider uses her body greatly impacts the way the horse is enabled or blocked from using his,” explains certified riding coach and fitness trainer Heather Sansom in her new book Fit to Ride in 9 Weeks!

“The new integrated structure involves both species in a way that goes well beyond the simple application of aids by the rider and performance of actions by the horse. For example, riders with locked ankles have an impact on the freedom of movement of the corresponding joint in the horse (hock). Riders who are not engaging their core influence a similar lack of engagement in the horse through the way the two bodies interact. Similarly, riders with tense long back muscles influence a similar phenomenon in the horse.”

Sansom says there isn’t “magic” involved in this connection between horse and rider. The relationship is biomechanical.

“Since there are feedback loops (information receiving and sending) going in both directions (rider to horse, and horse to rider), both species can impact one another,” she says. “This is why the rider’s role of leadership through physical contact is so important, and why a rider who is fit for the task can ride better—and with greater resilience or prevention of injury.”

“Riders with locked ankles have an impact on the freedom of movement of the corresponding joint in the horse (hock).”

Here’s one easy, recommended warmup exercise from the 9-week (30 minutes a day, 3x a week) program described in Sansom’s book. All of us can add this one quick and painless step to our pre-ride ritual, and the result could be our horses moving more freely behind.


Ankle Circles

Purpose: To mobilize ankles for better absorption of the horse’s movement and better leg position.



1.  Stand on one leg (with a slightly bent knee) and lift your other foot off the ground.

2.  Roll your foot in slow circles in one direction.

3.  Repeat in the other direction, and with the other foot.



Excerpt from Fit to Ride in 9 Weeks! by Heather Sansom reprinted by permission from Trafalgar Square Books.

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