I’ve written a couple of posts recently about how horseback riding is a strenuous sport. And it definitely is! But today I wanted to write about how you can use other horseback riding exercise to complement your riding training, and become the best rider you can.
I’m a really competitive rider. You may have guessed that from some of my previous posts!
I don’t necessarily mean that I’m obsessive, or cut throat with my horse friends. Instead I just mean that I’m always striving to get more out of my riding. I regularly compete with my past self to achieve more than she did.
So if I ever feel like something is holding me back, you can bet that I’m going to try and beat it.
The biggest thing for me has been my limited flexibility. My lack of ankle flexibility has plagued me for my entire riding career. But I have also found that sometimes certain muscles that I use infrequently just won’t be able to take the strain of some of my harder riding.
So over the years I’ve come up with a horseback riding exercise regime that complements my riding training. Let me tell you about it!
Horseback Riding Exercise: The Actual Riding
Okay so before we start talking about the non-riding components of my fitness regime, I thought I should tell you about my riding.
I ride English, and I try to get out riding every day, for at least an hour.
Some of this time might be doing groundwork, and occasionally I might alternate in a trail ride. But usually I’m working on my jumping and dressage, and at a pretty intense rate.
By the end of every session I expect to have broken a sweat, and got out of breath at least once – so I know I’m working my cardiovascular system pretty hard. I also expect to have sore muscles the next day, especially if I drill something a little harder or ride a little longer than usual.
Exercises for Flexibility
So like I said, my biggest barrier has always been my limited ankle mobility.
“Heels down!” was my trainer’s mantra for the longest time.
If you struggle with ankle flexibility like me, I actually have a whole post dedicated to exercises for increasing your flexibility. You can read it here.
As for flexibility in the rest of my body, I find yoga so helpful. Over the years I’ve gone back and forward between practising in studio and practising at home, following a YouTube video. There are a couple of great teachers online including Yoga With Adriene and Paula Lay.
Or, if you’re looking for something with a little more feedback, there’s a new virtual yoga studio called Move With Billie that’s fantastic.
I love doing vinyasa flows to bring a little cardio into my practice, but I also sometimes do yin yoga, particularly if I’m working on tight areas like my hips. Vinyasa involves moving from pose to pose quite quickly, in time with your breath. In contrast in yin yoga you hold poses for a lot longer.
The areas I try to target are my hips and lower back. Yoga’s really good for opening them up after a hard riding session, and gets me ready perfectly for the next one.
Exercises for Muscle Strength
Okay so with my body nice and loose from yoga, I get into the muscle building side of my regime.
I try to target the four main groups of muscles that riding utilises: the abs, the back, pelvis and thighs.
For my thighs and back, squats, rows and deadlifts are my go-to’s. I usually do them with weights or dumbbells, but it’s totally fine to do them just with your bodyweight. All you need to do is increase the number that you do, to make sure you’re getting the same benefits.
Those squats, rows and deadlifts are also working my core while I do them. But I do some core-specific exercises too: typically planks, trying to alternate 45 seconds on, with 30 seconds off.
Usually I’ll do a three day rotation, where I work two sets of muscles one day, and another on day two. For example I might do squats and planks one day, and then deadlifts and rows on day two. Then on day three I’ll use an erg (also called an indoor rowing machine) or a spin bike.
If you’re interested in my more detailed workout plan, just let me know in the comments – I’d be very happy to provide it, although it’s a little technical for this post!
Building Cardiovascular Capacity
Day three of my workout rotation has another advantage: in addition to building my muscles, it’s building my cardiovascular capacity.
I’ve talked a little bit about how horseback riding works your cardiovascular system in my post on horseback riding as exercise. Like I said above, I usually expect to get puffed in a riding session. But the key thing is I don’t want to get too puffed. I would hate to have to stop what I was doing because my cardio system wasn’t up to the challenge.
So like I said, I often use the erg or spin bike. But the way I use them changes depending on what I’m targeting.
If I want to be building my thighs on the bike, or back on the erg, I turn the resistance up really high and do very short sets. On the erg that might be two minutes on, thirty seconds off, three times. On the spin bike it would be less than ten minutes, ending in a sprint.
But if I want to work on my cardio, I’ll usually bring the resistance down (never too low though!) and work for longer.
Alternatively, I’m currently really enjoying going running.
Now in my younger days I would never have expected myself to say that. I hated running in high school! But I’ve really got into it recently. I think the key for me was finding a nice spot to run – ideally in a forest, if I can. I’m lucky I live near a lake, which has lots of beautiful trails. That makes all the difference.
Horseback Riding Exercise: What Will You Try?
I hope this post has inspired you to think about how you can up your riding game!
If you’re just starting to think about adding more to your exercise regime, my recommendation is to start small, and try a few things. You might be like high school Martina and hate running. And that’s fine! You could give the erg or a spin bike a go.
My ideal first step is trying some yoga or pilates, and then building into cardio and muscular workouts. I think that way you’ll notice the greatest gains in your riding.
So go on, please let me know if you have any questions at all – I’m happy to provide recommendations or some more details about how I structure my workout to anyone interested!
Happy riding 🙂