Improve Rider Fitness

Horse Rider Fitness Guide Dressage

Horse Rider Fitness Guide

The aim of the RiderCise® Horse Rider Fitness Guide is to provide you information on common rider challenges within specific disciplines along with a workout specifically designed to help improve those common issues. 

There is a huge misconception that Rider Fitness means lifting big weights or hours in the gym but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Whilst lifting weights, running, cycling etc are hugely beneficial for general fitness, there are situations where it can actually hinder your ability to move with your horse, something that Clare, Founder of RiderCise, knows first hand.

  1. Introduction
  2. Horse Rider Fitness Guide Part 1 – Dressage / Flatwork
    1. Exercise 1 – Single Leg Swing – Flexion / Extension
    2. Exercise 2 – Stationary Lateral Lunge & Leg Lift
    3. Stretch 1 – RiderCise® Seated Piriformis
    4. Exercise Adaptations Option 2

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Is there a difference between being Fit and being Fit for Riding?

There is a difference between being fit and being fit for riding (Conditioned). Being fit generally means, having the ability to perform every day tasks with ease, with a good level of muscular strength, endurance, aerobic capacity and flexibility.

There is more to riding than not being out of breath. Riding requires coordination, balance, control and independent movement of limbs to provide clear communication. Unfortunately, running, cycling and swimming (as examples), whilst beneficial to general fitness, don’t provide the stimulus to prepare the body for riding.

“I had thought I was fit with a good core strength from doing pilates – but not so! The RiderCise® exercises really do what they say, develop the muscles big and small and the balance needed for riding”

 Heather, Endurance Rider 

What is Conditioning?

Sports, such as horse riding, at any level, in any discipline, requires the individual to have the appropriate strength, power, endurance and stamina along with the range of motion (ROM) for the movements required. Why? ……to ensure that the individuals’ body is equipped to deal with the demands of the sport so not only can you perform, but also so you are at a lesser risk from injury.

Conditioning focuses on improving your muscular strength, endurance, stamina, control and agility (ability to change the body’s position in an efficient and effect manner) and uses ‘Training Overload’, which is required for adaptions to happen in the body.

The strain (Training Overload) applied to your muscles causes physiological changes, resulting in growth, increased strength and greater endurance.

These physiological changes not only help improve your riding but you generally feel better in yourself, and every day activities become easier. Another huge advantage to conditioning is that it reduces the risk of injury, through improving muscle strength along with connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) – the stronger the entire structure, the less likely you’ll experience a joint (sprain, dislocation, tear) or muscle (pull, strain) injury while in motion.

Why do I need to be conditioned?

Whether you are a leisure rider or a competitor, being conditioned is important for you and your horses welfare.

As a rider, if you are not conditioned you may have difficulty getting on, sitting astride, moving with your horse, giving clear aids and having constant communication. In addition you may find progressing in a discipline feels tough or even impossible and sometimes, you ache way too much the day after a ride…

As a horse, if the rider is not conditioned, the horse has to deal with their own balance, coordination, control, strength, endurance and stamina, along with the issues that an un-conditioned rider brings; miscommunication, unclear aids, leaning and/or dominant on one side, unbalanced and bouncing in the saddle, inability to control body movements. This can often result in a horse becoming ‘one-sided’ and/or developing muscular atrophy and/or soreness.

Us equestrians are great at just ‘getting on with it’ without putting much thought into the difficulties we physically experience when we ride or the aches and pains that come from life, work and riding. However, I can assure you that the horse notices.

If you think that a horse can sense a fly land or move in the direction you are looking when in the saddle, just think of how they respond to us in the saddle when we lean, are imbalanced or not in control of our movement. Let me give you an example.

You are imbalanced and collapse through your upper body in rising trot, this could be due to muscular restriction or lack of strength to hold yourself correctly so to compensate you grip with your knees and hands to stabilise yourself. This will be automatic and you may not feel like you are doing this but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t. Your horse reads that you want them to stop by the gripping of the knees and pulling yet you are ‘kicking/squeezing’ with your legs to get the horse to go forwards as they keep stopping.

You are giving a mixed signal and disciplining the horse through the ‘kicking/squeezing’ of the leg yet they are responding correctly to our movement.

Overall, we ask a lot of our horses, they don’t ask much of us but, to be in control of ourselves when riding.

How do I become Conditioned?

To be conditioned for riding, you need to improve the muscular strength power, endurance and stamina along within the range of motion (ROM) for the movements required.

The RiderCise® programmes have been personally designed by Clare, to help improve the condition of the specific muscles and their recruitment, required for horse riding, of all levels, in any discipline.

“Over the years I have tried gym memberships, video’s, DVD’s and other online fitness programmes but I have to say, this is the best by far.”

Jane, Leisure Rider 

The programmes are progressive throughout each 6 week period of each of the 3 levels (Foundation, Intermediate & Advanced). This ensures that a training overload is applied to enable physiological changes in the body.

We recommend, whatever your current fitness and/or riding level, that you start with Foundation. This will start to prepare your body, and mind for the more complex and demanding exercises that follow in Intermediate and Advanced. It is also important to start from the begining as we want to minimise the muscle aches and keep you motivated. You still need to go to work, live life and of course, ride your horses!

To purchase your programme, visit: https://www.ridercise.co.uk/ridercise-rider-programmes/

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5 Easy Steps to Achieving Goals

Many of us have riding goals and ambitions, whether it’s to be a better rider, reduce riding aches and pains, lose weight, get fitter, ride at a certain level or compete at the top. 

One of the most common things I deal with when working with clients is the uncertainty of what a person truly wants to achieve. Many clients ask me to help them to achieve a goal but what they originally asked me to help with isn’t what they really want.

As a Personal Trainer for over 15 Years the most common thing to be asked is to either lose weight, tone up or get fitter. These are quite generic terms, so it is really important to understand what a person’s understanding of what they have asked for is. 

By listening, talking and understanding more about a person, their history, their feelings, insecurities, and understanding of who they are as a person and where they are in their life, I am better positioned to truly know what it is they really want and help them get there.

For example. Someone who wants to lose weight may believe that they need to look slimmer however, it could also mean that they want to feel more confident, have better mobility or reduce the number of aches and pains that they regularly experience. To be able to play with the kids, to sit better in the saddle, to not feel out of breath after 5 minutes riding. The generic term ‘lose weight’ could mean so many things and will often mean something in particular to the person. 

Having a better understanding of what you REALLY want and what that means specifically will make it easier for you to understand what you need to do to get there and how you plan to do it. It really can be that easy! 

young girl jumping on the horse

To help you make it even easier, follow these 5 Simple Steps and complete the downloadable form to create a plan of action to take you where you want to be.



5 Easy Steps to Achieving Goals

Step 1. Write down what you REALLY want

Write down what you think you want to achieve and then explain what that actually means to you. 

Examples of Goals: 

  • Improve general rider fitness
  • Take part in a pleasure ride
  • Lose weight
  • Go hacking on your own
  • Jump 1.30 at home
  • Improve overall rider confidence
  • Take part in an Endurance ride
  • Win a class at a competition
  • Be selected for nationals

Step 2. Identify and Understand Targets 

Having a better understanding of what you really want to achieve gives you clarity and enables you to move forward but to make a plan of action we need to break it down even more. 

From your detailed description of your goal, we need to identify targets to work on that will get you to your goal.

Let’s say MY goal is to improve Rider Fitness. From Step 1. I have a greater understanding of what ‘Improving my Rider Fitness’ means to me: 

  1. Not to get out of breath when riding
  2. Sitting balanced through transitions
  3. Not aching after a 45min lesson

This gives me 3 targets to work on that will help get me to my goal of ‘Improving my Rider Fitness’

Now I need to understand how I can achieve each of these targets.

  1. Not to get out of breath when riding = Improve my cardiovascular ability 
  2. Sitting balanced through transitions = Improve my mobility and strength so that I can sit neutrally on my seat bones centrally in the saddle and that I have the strength to keep me there.
  3. Not aching after a 45min lesson = If I can deal with the demands on my breathing when riding and am less stiff and stronger when I ride then I should reduce the aching after riding as I will be ‘fitter’. 

Step 3. How am I going to do it?

We now know that in order to improve MY Rider Fitness I need to improve my cardio ability, mobility, and strength. So how am I going to do it? Let’s list some options:

  1. Go to a local class 
  2. Join a gym
  3. Go running 
  4. Workout at home 
  5. Personal Trainer

With the possible ways in which I could achieve my targets, I need to detail the pros and cons of each. This will really help to understand how achievable they are before I commit further. 

the table shows the list of pros and cons of achieving targets

I can now see easily what the pros and cons are for each possible options so now I am able to make a more informed decision about the options but first, let’s look at barriers.

Step 4. What are your Barriers?

Barriers could be anything from not knowing where to start, having difficulty managing time or money or just lacking in motivation but in order to move forward it is essential to understand what all these barriers are.

Barriers are often the single reason why goals are not reached.

Strength training_ 5 Easy Steps to Achieving Goals - Do not let anyone take you down!

Possible Barrier Examples

  • Time
  • Money
  • Childcare
  • Motivation
  • Knowing what to do exactly
  • Lack of confidence
  • Previous injury/illness
  • Feeling embarrassed
  • Lack of belief
  • Fear of commitment
  • Lack of support from others


Keeping with the same example, let’s say I struggle with time management.

I have to work, have horses and a family to look after and by the time I am home I don’t have the motivation and energy to do it but when I can muster up the energy I am not sure of what to do.

You can see how one barrier quickly becomes many and how easy it can be to feel overwhelmed and feel like there is no point and it’s not worth it.  But this is where having an understanding of those barriers will help you to create your ‘Plan of Action’ and stick to it.


Step 5. Your Plan of Action

The final part of how to achieve your goals in 5 easy steps. Let’s just take a quick look at what has got us to this point.

5 Easy Steps to Achieving Goals - start from writing them down with RiderCise

Step 1. Helped me to identify what my goal ‘Improve my Rider Fitness’ really  means:

  1. Not to get out of breath when riding
  2. Sitting balanced through transitions
  3. Not aching after a 45min lesson

Step 2. Gave me Targets to achieve my goal:

  1. Improve my Cardio
  2. Improve my Mobility & Strength
  3. Achieve Targets 1 & 2 to get to Target 3

Step 3.  Provided a possible way to achieve my targets

  1. Go to a local class
  2. Join a gym
  3. Go running
  4. Workout at home
  5. Personal Trainer

Step 4. Identified my Barriers as:

  1. Time Management
  2. Motivation
  3. Knowing what to do to specifically improve my riding

So what is my plan of action? Well, in summary, I need an option that provides me with the motivation, gives me support and guidance and that fit’s in with my timetable. With the table in Step 3. I am able to easily see what options provide me with what I need so I will investigate a little further into those two options then make an informed decision.


My Plan of Action

  • Look into Local Classes
    • Find out how far they are so I know if I can fit the class and travel into my timetable
    • Find out how big the classes, how often I need to go and whether I will receive the instruction I need to help me improve my Rider Fitness specifically. Also how much support I will get to help keep me motivated.
    • Find out the costs so I know if I can afford the classes and petrol, also parking if needed
  • Look at Personal Training
    • Find out whether I can do this Online or whether I need to go to a place and often I need to do it to achieve my goals


Find out more about Training Online with Clare

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