Long gone are the days when we could consider our horse’s fitness the only point of concern when it comes to our athletic endeavors together. Sure, he has to collect his body, gallop distances, and leap over obstacles…but we have to somehow stay on board and be a help, not a hinderance. And guess what that requires? You got it. Fitness.
Certified personal trainer and horsewoman Laura Crump Anderson makes no bones about how much of an emphasis she believes we should put on gain strength, stamina, and flexibility. Here are three exercises from her book Ultimate Exercise Routines for Riders that show you how to fit in a 20 to 30 minute workout wherever you can—even in the tack room.
Riding is a team sport—you and your horse.
We care about our horses, and in order for them to perform at their best, we have to perform at our best. But we can’t do that if we continue to let rider fitness be our last priority. When I meet with clients for the first time, many of them have accepted pain as a regular part of their lives. It could be pain from an old injury, chronic muscle weakness, an overly tight muscle group, or from years of neglecting and abusing their bodies, often in the service of caring for their horses.
And most of them know that pain is preventing them from being the best riders they can be: it affects their balance, the precision of their aids, their reaction time, and the overall harmony with their horses.
Some pain is unavoidable in the life of a horseperson. But while you can’t prevent getting stepped on now and then, you can control your level of fitness and with it, your resilience and the odds of having a long and fulfilling riding career. I know you’re busy—we all are. But the benefits of a fitter body are well worth the effort: you’ll experience less pain, reduce the chance of injury, improve your strength, stamina, balance, focus, coordination, and connection with your horse—and have a better chance of bouncing back when inevitable injuries do occur.
Here are three exercises demonstrated by jumper rider Sloane Coles that target core strength as you work other parts of your body.
Bridge with Leg Lifts
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and heels directly under your knees. Your arms should be straight by your sides with the palms down.
- Squeeze in your core and your glutes and push your hips up toward the ceiling (Photo 1).
- Keeping your hips level, lift one leg off the floor with the knee still bent, like you are marching while lying on your back. Then return that leg to your start position (Photo 2).
- Lift your other leg off the floor in the same way, keeping your hips level. Then bring that leg back down.
- Repeat for two minutes, alternating sides. Note that people tend to want to hold their breath during this exercise, so remember to keep breathing.
- Lie on your left side with your left arm bent and supporting your head. Bend your knees up toward your chest with your feet together (Photo 1).
- Keeping your core engaged, slowly and with control, “open” your right knee away from your left, as high as you can get it (Photo 2). Try to isolate the movement to your leg, keeping your back flat and still. Do not rotate through your lumbar spine.
- Slowly lower your knee back down.
- Repeat for two minutes, then switch to your right side and repeat for two minutes.
Reverse Lunge with Lateral Extension
- Stand at the front of your mat with your feet together and arms by your sides (Photo 1).
- Step back with your right foot so only your right toes are making contact and your left leg is bent with your thigh parallel to the floor. Simultaneously raise your arms out to the sides, stopping at shoulder height (Photo 2).
- Step forward and drop your arms.
- Repeat with the right leg for two minutes.
- Switch sides, stepping back with your left leg while simultaneously lifting your arms out to the sides. Repeat for two minutes.