Be Stronger and Safer in the Saddle

Falling from a horse was the most common reason for visiting the emergency department at Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore in 2013. It’s a reminder that horse riding requires a coordinated effort of all muscle groups, and for riders who are new to the sport or coming back to it after a long time away, it can be a struggle. Riders may have problems with their posture while in the saddle or with walking afterward. But a regular exercise routine, even if there are no plans to become an Olympic equestrian, can provide noticeable improvement and greater enjoyment of horse riding, and possibly fewer injuries.

General Fitness

Staying active and pursuing physical activity regularly is a key part of general fitness. Sports like running and bicycling give a boost to the cardiovascular system as well as keep key muscle groups toned. They can be completed anytime, and indoor exercise machines provide a great alternative when inclement weather prevents going outside to run and ride. Using good form when running and biking also supports that same good form that’s required for horse riding.

Working The Core

The core muscles are critical to good posture, in riding and in general. These muscles are found in the abdomen, back, and pelvic floor. Sit ups and crunches are effective exercises for improving core fitness. Another effective core-builder is an exercise called the bridge. To complete it, lay flat on a level surface, palms down. Bend the legs at the knee, keeping the feet flat on the ground. Then, using core muscles only, lift the lower torso off the floor so that the knees, hips, and shoulders line up. It’s important to remember not to let the hands press into the floor. Hold the position and then gently lower the body to the floor. Repeat, and work up to several sets of repetitions.

Working the Hips and Thighs

This is another area where new horse riders are apt to “feel it”. Weight training exercise at any age can help with getting hips and thigh muscles into shape. For at-home exercises, try the plank. This is very similar to a stationary push up. On a flat, comfortable surface, balance the body on forearms and toes only. Make sure that there’s a straight line from head to toe, with forearms and body being parallel to the floor and feet being perpendicular. This exercise improves physical performance and stamina of active muscles, like glutes, hamstrings, and core. Horse riders may find their balance and posture improve with continued practice.

New and returning riders often need to work on physical fitness for better performance and skill in the saddle. Good general fitness habits include running and bicycling, along with strength-building activities for core, hip, and thigh muscles. Athletes will have better endurance, stamina, strength, and balance, all important skills for safe and enjoyable horse riding.


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