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How to Get Into Shape for Horseback Riding

Three Methods:Building Riding-Specific Hip and Leg StrengthDeveloping Core StrengthMaintaining General Fitness

The best way to get in great shape and become a good rider is to ride. Having strong muscles is half of it, but training your brain and eyes and having balance and body control while on a moving object is also important. If you don't get this experience regularly, you will not be in the best possible shape for riding. The following are several exercises you can use on a daily basis to help stretch, strengthen, and tone the muscle groups you use during riding.

Method 1
Building Riding-Specific Hip and Leg Strength

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    Do stair exercises. Walk up to the stairs in your home-if you don't have any, a stair stepper will do or a stepladder if you have one. Stand on the stair closest to the ground. When you stand, hold onto the railing at first. Now, holding the railing, balance on only the balls of your feet. Slowly stretch down and lower your heels until you feel the stretch in your calves. Sound familiar? This is recreating the stirrup! Hold for ten seconds. [1]
    • This will not only improve your position, but your balance as well!
    • Now, try letting go of the railing- this will take some practice. Try until you can balance for two seconds, then try five, then increase little by little as you improve.
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    Try the wall strengthening exercise. This is a variation of the stair exercise. Walk up to any wall in your house and put your foot up against it about 1/2 to 3/4 of the position it would be in your stirrups. Hold for three seconds then release back against the wall. [2]
    • Repeat five times; as you get better you can increase amount of time with your foot up and how many you do in all.
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    Try beach ball hip adductor exercises. Use any rubber or plastic ball as long as it is at least a foot in diameter. Find a hard chair that allows your knees to sit at right angles to the floor and then scoot to the edge of the chair so that your thighs are completely off of it. Squeeze the beach ball between your knees, hold for fifteen seconds, and then release. Do this a few times a day until 15 becomes easy, then increase to 20, then 30, and so on.
    • This is a great way to increase your ability to hang on to your horse with your thighs. It increases the inner thigh muscles. You can also go to the gym and use what is called the "hip adductor" machine. Many equestrians who have had to take time off have noted that when they regularly use the hip adductor machine before getting back on a horse, they are more likely to feel fit and avoid the pain in the inner thighs when one gets back on a horse after a long time off.

Method 2
Developing Core Strength

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    Spend five minutes two or three times a day doing sit ups. If you prefer other abdominal exercises like crunches, that’s okay too. Good riding is abdominal riding. This means that you need to really use your abdominal muscles to balance yourself, while clinching the horse with the legs when needed. [3]
    • Doing sit-ups with a work-out ball is up to 20% more effective. [4]
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    Try using yoga poses. Even if you don't practice yoga regularly, holding a few key positions, like the boat, half-boat, or warrior, for a few seconds a day can improve your fitness. [5]
    • As an added bonus, doing these moves correctly can also strengthen your back and improve your posture! These also help open up the shoulders, which is good for people who do a lot of slouching.
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    Practice good posture. It is easy to become complacent about posture when sitting at a computer or watching TV, but these are some of the best times to work out your back and shoulder muscles by simply sitting up straight and opening your chest. Riding is an aerobic activity, so the longer you are able to maintain your poster, the better equipped you will be for riding. [6]
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    Do reverse sit-ups. This is a good exercise for the back and core, and it doesn't require as much coordination as yoga. Lie with your back on the floor and your knees flexed. Now lift your knees towards your head instead of the other way around. Repeat as many times as you would do a normal sit up. This move is better for your abs and doesn't shorten your hip flexors. It's important that those are loose for riding. [7]
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    Try the plank position. This is often considered yoga move and it is great for your core muscles. Put yourself into the push-up position but instead of leaning on your hands, lean on your forearms. [8] Push yourself up so that only the balls of your feet and your forearms are touching the floor. Contract your deep core muscles and keep your back flat, making sure to not let your lower back arch or your hips droop toward the floor.
    • Hold for about 45 secs and repeat a few times a day. (If you can't do an elbow plank without your lower back hurting, start with an easier version, which is just holding the upper position of a push-up.)
    • Try the plank on horseback in the jockey position, and grab the neck for comfort to the horse and the rider. This will gain the forearm to help you stay balanced on the horse for 20 secs.
    • This is also good for people who are into show jumping and approaching a jump.

Method 3
Maintaining General Fitness

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    Don’t neglect any muscle group. In riding it is necessary to have even toning all over your body. Do not neglect doing some upper body exercises. Many upper level riders have a small set of weights and lift them a few times a day. [9]
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    Do your own horse chores. Give your horse a good massage with a curry comb. Carry your own water buckets and hay. Do chores around the barn like clean the horse's stall or paddock and wheel the wheelbarrow. All of these horse related activities are exercise and make the barn your free workout gym.
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    Make sure you do aerobic exercise at least three times a week. You don’t need to be aerobic shape to run a marathon, but you do need to be relatively slender and fit. Try to go on a 20-30 minute run three times a week to keep your endurance and stamina up and any extra weight off. [10]
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    Build muscle endurance. Endurance is a huge part of being a rider. Running should help with your aerobic endurance, but you need to build muscular endurance also. Try starting a weight lifting regimen with lower weights and high reps. Fitness is great but if you don't have endurance you can't go anywhere.
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    Stretch! Always stretch before and after exercise. Take time to warm up and to cool down. Focus on stretches that target your groin and thighs, such as the butterfly stretch, to stay flexible and reduce stiffness. Be sure you do all of your stretches slowly and carefully.
    • Studies have shown passive static stretching prior to a workout can reduce stability and strength. [11] If you must stretch, warm up using dynamic stretches particularly for the inner thighs.
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    Try doing pull ups, push ups, or other back-related workouts. Swimming is also a good option. Many beginner and intermediate riders focus too much on abdominal strength and end up leaning forward in the saddle. Counter this tendency by exercising back muscles and think "lean back" instead of "sit up" when on the horse.


  • Get your lower legs strong. This is what keeps you on the horse.
  • Always warm up before riding in addition to stretching, as stretching and warming up are very different and have separate purposes. Warming up prepares your muscles and increases their blood supply for work.
  • You can also practice riding bareback, as it will help with natural positioning and thigh strength.
  • Wearing the proper attire is also a good idea. Wear breeches, a comfy t-shirt, boots above the ankle with at least a 3/4 inch heel, riding gloves to protect your hands from the reins and an ASTM safety approved helmet.
  • Stay relaxed while in the saddle. Some horses take being tense as 'Go Faster'.
  • On the horse, sink your weight into your heels and sit up straight, keeping your head up. Keep your hands soft and your elbows elastic; moving with the horse. Horses like one or two pounds of constant pressure on their mouth (for English riding) and hate it when you go on and off. Move your hips with the horse's movements for a faster movement.

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