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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How your pelvis affects riding

Pelvic position influences our seat balance and contact on the reins as also muscles tightness and overall body posture on the saddle. In this blog, you will find useful information on how to improve your position during riding. You will also learn how to differentiate two pelvic positions and their effect on your body during riding a horse.

Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT)

An Anterior Pelvic Tilt is when your pelvis is rotated forwards causing an increased curve in the lumbar (Lower Back) and an appearance of a ‘bulging’ stomach.

What does it affect?

When you have an APT the Rectus Abdominis and External Obliques (abdominal muscles) and Glutes & Hamstrings (bum & back of legs) are typically weak / lengthened muscles.

Simultaneously the Psoas, Iliacus (internal postural muscles), Rectus Femoris (quadriceps), Tensor Fascia Latae (Hip) and Erector Spinae (spine) muscles are strong and stiff.

Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT). Shows pelvic tilt which does affect riding position. RiderCise®

What does affect riding position? – What does affect riding position? – RiderCise®

How does an APT affect your riding?

You will have a tendency to sit on your pubic bone instead of your seat bones and because you are sat more forward you will then further increase the already dominant arch in your lower back to bring your upper body back. This will reduce the suppleness of your shoulder girdle and hips, which may result in being able to obtain an elastic contact (give and take with ease).   

Due to the tight muscles in your quadriceps and TFL, you will also ride fairly short to counterbalance your seat and torso position and feel perched and unstable at times. You will feel this most through downward transitions.

Anterior Pelvic Tilt visible during horse riding. Photo thanks to the courtesy of EquinePhotoDesign.com 

Anterior Pelvic Tilt visible during horse riding. Photo thanks to the courtesy of EquinePhotoDesign.com 

A Posterior Pelvic Tilt (PPT)

A Posterior Pelvic Tilt is when your pelvis is rotated backward which causes the back to be pulled downwards giving the appearance of a [Flat Back and Flat Bum].

What does it affect?

When you have a PPT you would have short & tight Hamstrings (back of legs), tight abdominal muscles (no, this is not a benefit as it will also be pulling on the pelvis, upwards which will make the PPT worse), tight Glutes (bum), Weak Hip Flexors and lower back.

Posterior Pelvic Tilt shows pelvic tilt which does affect riding posture - RiderCise®

Posterior Pelvic Tilt – What does affect riding position? – RiderCise®


How does a PPT affect your riding?

You may find that you round your shoulders and carry your hands forwards and collapsing through the chest and looking downwards (think slumping in a chair).

You will often feel left behind in the saddle and you can rely on your reins for balance as you are not able to engage your core and left your chest high.

Because of the slumping type posture, the back is compromised and there is no ‘natural’ curve in the lower back which inhibits the spines’ ability to absorb shock. This can lead to pain over time and even compromise the structure of the spinal discs.

Posterior Pelvic Tilt horse riding RiderCise EquinePhotoDesign

Posterior Pelvic Tilt visible during horse riding. Photo thanks to the courtesy of EquinePhotoDesign.com

Does having non-neutral Pelvic Tilt really matter?

It really depends on the extent of the tilt and whether you have any issues with riding and/or are suffering from some pain of some sort after riding.

More often than not, pelvic tilts occur over time from lack of exercise, mobility and poor posture. Because it is often gradual, we don’t realize the effect it has on us.


The pelvis should have the mobility to move through anterior, neutral and posterior but when it is rigid it can cause a number of issues from increased tension in the shoulders and neck to lower back ache/pain and you may even experience ‘Sciatic Symptoms’, due to the tight glutes (namely the piriformis) apply pressure on the sciatic nerve. This can lead to pain and tingling sensations down one side and have weakness in the knee and foot. This will, of course, affect your ability to control your legs.


Sciatica is only a condition is determined by MRI, otherwise, it is a symptom, which can typically be treated when the cause is addressed.

How do I know if I do have a Pelvic Tilt

It is often best to seek advice from a Soft Tissue Therapist or Sports Therapist as finding the anatomical structures on your body yourself can be difficult!

Watch these videos which explain a little more about how to test yourself or ask someone to help you.

Posterior Pelvic Tilt Video

Anterior Pelvic Tilt Video

So how do I correct my pelvic tilt?

To correct a pelvic tilt you should stretch the short and tight muscles and do a range of exercises to increase mobility and strength.

Below I have listed some exercises for you to try. If you click on them they will take you to a video on the RiderCise® Facebook pages which will show you how to correctly perform the movement.

Stretches for Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Leg Cross Over Stretch

Stretches to correct a Posterior Pelvic Tilt

Leg Cross Over Stretch

Seated Piriformis Stretch

Strengthening exercises for both APT and PPT

Glute Bridges

Bear Walk


Hip Areoplanes

Are you looking for an easier way to correct a pelvic tilt and retrain the correct muscles with strength and mobility? I highly recommend you sign up for the RiderCise® Complete Programme offers a structured way to gradually increase fitness, strength, and mobility throughout the whole body.

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RiderCise® Blog

Dear reader welcome to the RiderCise® Blog! 

Feel free to grab a cup of coffee, tea or any of your favorite drinks and make yourself comfortable.

First of all, let me introduce myself and tell you a bit more about the website and my programmes!

Life experience

My name is Clare and I am the Founder of RiderCise®. 

My programmes have been designed by me based on my knowledge as a Rider, a Soft Tissue Therapist and a Personal Trainer with over 15years real-life experience working in the Fitness Industry. 

I want to provides riders an easy, simple and cost-effective way to improve their rider fitness, strength, mobility, stability, and balance in the saddle.

But I also want to do more than that.

We love our horses so much and finding time to be our best isn’t easy, but they deserve it, which is why want to help riders as much as I can to make a difference to individuals, horses, and the equestrian world by sharing my knowledge and experience with educational and motivational posts, facts and articles. 

Wish to learn more about me? Visit this page ABOUT ME


RiderCise® provides Online Rider Fitness Training Programmes to riders of any level, in any discipline across the world. I also offer Rider Assessments, Advanced Rider Therapy and Rehabilitation Programmes by arrangement.

I have designed a series of  Self-Managed Programmes which any rider of any level can do, from anywhere in the world, either alongside an existing exercise regime or stand-alone. These programmes can be done at home with minimal equipment and only take 10-20 minutes to do which makes them ideal for those who want to improve but have limited time and money to make it happen.

If you are looking for something more specific, having a challenging target or just need a bit more support to get you through the programmes I offer Supported Programmes.

If you are not sure what programme may be best for you, have a look here to help you decide or feel free to contact me.

Let’s start the journey towards getting a healthy body, improving your balance and rider fitness!



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