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5 Exercises to Do Out of the Saddle to Improve Horse Rider Fitness in the Saddle

Raise your hand if you’ve ever rolled your eyes when someone has wrongly assumed that horseback riding is easy because ‘the horse does all the work’


Whether you’re a professional showjumper, a barrel racer in training, a keen trail rider, or a happy hacker, horseback riding requires a significant level of fitness. One of the fundamental skills all horse riders need is the ability to stay balanced and coordinated whilst in the saddle. And for those of you riding multiple horses a day or regularly out at competitions your cardiovascular fitness will need to be in tip-top condition as well. 


Horseback riding works a specific set of muscles in the body and relies heavily on your core stability. As a result, it takes a few specific exercises to target the correct muscles in the right way. For example, having really strong arms is a fantastic asset if you’re lifting heavy hay bales or carrying buckets of water around the barn, but is useless in the saddle if your back isn’t strong enough to keep you upright. 


How you sit in the saddle can significantly affect the way your horse moves and responds to your aids so it’s really important that you’re building the correct muscles. With a stable seat, good posture, strong muscles, and a high level of fitness you’ll be able to influence your horse underneath you to perform to the best of their ability. Here are 5 great exercises to incorporate into your workout routine to make sure you’re in peak condition both in and out of the saddle. 


Before You Start Your Rider Workout Routine

Before you get down to the hard part, it’s important to take the time to stretch and warm up. You wouldn’t get on a horse and pick up a working canter without a good warmup routine first, so treat your body with the same respect. Not only will stretching reduce the chance of injury, but it is also a great way to improve your flexibility. Being supple and mobile is just as important as strength, so make sure you’re leaving enough time for stretching in your equestrian workout routine. Some simple stretches to start with are:

  • Childs Pose
  • Swan Pose
  • Hindu Squat


5 Exercises For Equestrians

All these exercises are a great way to build full-body strength and condition, as well as improve flexibility and coordination. They can be done from the comfort of your own home with just a few household items to add some extra weight.

 Remember to ease yourself into these new exercises so as not to cause injury or damage to your body. Take it slow until you’re comfortable and then start increasing the repetitions and intensity of your workouts.


  1. Bent over row
bent over row exercise graphic

Grab a resistance band if you have one, or 2 items of equal weight (like bags of flour or bottles of water). Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend over slightly, if using a resistance band stand on the middle part of the band. Bend forward slightly but make sure to keep your back straight. From here, hold your resistance band or weights, bend your elbows, and pull your hands back up towards your chest. Make sure you’re pulling your shoulders back and your shoulder blades together. 

This is a fantastic exercise to strengthen the middle trapezius muscles and the upper body, which is important to improve posture in the saddle. 

2. Single leg raises with elevated arms

 This super simple exercise not only works your lower and side abdominal muscles but is a great way to train your coordination and control of movement too. Here’s how to do it:

 Lie on the floor, preferably on a mat, with your knees bent keeping your feet flat to the floor. Raise your arms above your head and keep them lifted whilst simultaneously raising each leg off the floor. Keep your legs at a 90-degree angle and lift them one at a time. To make this exercise harder, grab a weight or something heavy like a bag of feed to hold up with your arms.


3. Clamshells 

clamshell exercise graphic

Pelvic balance is a really important asset for any good horseback rider to work on. If we aren’t balanced, our seat bones won’t be equal, and we’ll be negatively impacting the horse through our seat aids as well as reducing our stability in the saddle. Clamshells are an excellent exercise to build up the Glute Medius muscles on the outside of the pelvis.

To target this area, lie on your side with your knees bent and legs on top of each other. Slowly lift and open the top knee, hinging where the ankles are connected, making sure the movement up and down stays controlled, and your body stays straight.
4. Lateral bunny jumps

Lateral bunny jumps are great for low-impact cardiovascular training. To do it, draw a line on the floor and jump sideways over it, landing lightly on each side. To make this a bit harder, you can elevate the line you’re jumping over. It’s really important to try and land softly on your feet, absorbing the impact through your knees and hips. You can swing your arms to help you maintain momentum. Keep the movement continuous, so no breaks between jumps! Try to do this consistently for 30 seconds, 3 times with a rest in between sets.


5. Ball toss, single leg

This is an amazing exercise that trains so many important muscles for horse riders, as well as helping to establish coordination and balance. This exercise strengthens the core muscles in your abdominals and lower back, obliques, calves, and quads!

single leg ball toss exercise graphicTo complete this exercise, you’ll need a relatively bouncy ball about the size of a soccer ball. Stand in front of a wall with your feet hip-width apart, leaving enough room in front of you to extend your arms and throw the ball. Raise one foot off the floor and maintain your balance, simultaneously throwing the ball at the wall and catching it again… without putting your foot down! Try to do this for at least 30 seconds before swapping legs. 


Cooling Off After Your Equestrian Workout

 After your workout is finished, make sure you take some time to stretch off again and relieve any built-up lactic acid, just like you would after you’ve exercised a horse. This not only helps to prevent injury but keeps you flexible and supple so you’re even more effective on horseback. 


So, there you have it, 5 super simple but effective exercises for horse riders to incorporate into your workout routine to ensure you’re in the best shape, both on and off your horse. From strength to stamina, and balance to mobility you’ll be in peak fitness to be the best horse rider you can be. With refined aids and improved coordination, your horse will be able to perform at the best of their ability too! 


 Improved your fitness ready for the saddle but haven’t found the right one yet? Lilly Tay is here to help. With an extensive range of western and classical saddles, we’re sure to have the right one for you and your horse. Offering saddle fitting advice and finance options, we want to find the perfect fit for both horse and rider. Make sure to get in touch to find out what we can do for you.  

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