HI Spy: How do you stay in shape for riding?

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How do you stay in top riding shape?If you’ve been involved in the horse world long enough, you’ve probably had someone tell you that riding isn’t really a sport. But what do they know? They’ve certainly never felt the burn after posting without stirrups for a few laps around the arena. They don’t know what it’s like to have to relearn to walk with sore leg muscles the morning after a day long trail ride. And they certainly have no idea how much effort it takes to haul buckets, muck stalls and wrangle horses day after day.

On the other hand, many equestrians focus entirely on their horse’s health and conditioning while pushing their own fitness to the back burner. Being a serious equestrian athlete takes some extra effort when you’re not in the saddle. Top riders in all equestrian sports cross train to supplement their riding activities. Yoga and Pilates help increase flexibility, balance and core strength, which are essential to effective riding. Running, cycling and swimming provide cardiovascular exercise to help prepare you for those marathon training sessions. Proper strength training helps build muscles evenly which leaves you less prone to debilitating injury.

As an equestrian, what do you do to get fit to ride? Are you a gym rat, working out seven days a week? Do you participate in other sports besides riding? Have you found a way to fit a workout into your busy schedule of work, riding and barn chores? Or do you unapologetically let riding and caring for your horses constitute your entire fitness regimen? Whatever your routine, ‘fess up and let other HorseChannel.com visitors know how you stay in shape to ride.

Leave your response by clicking on “Submit a Comment” below. Some of the responses will appear in a future issue of Horse Illustrated.

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84 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t really do much. But i do whatch what i eat sometimes, so then when it comes to shows im healthy and full of energy. I would like to exercise more, and strengthen my core. which would be great! And when i do exercise i put in all my effot!

  2. miah is right, what you eat is just as important as your physcal activity. as a track and cross country runner, i’m pretty much training all the time- the equestrian or the running side. it’s always one or the other all the time (between school and FFA that is.) it’s a good life, but i have to say, food is sooo important. i can’t do anything well if i’m not running on optimum fuel.

  3. My exercise regimen is a combination of aerobic, flexibility, and strength workouts.
    For my aerobic, I walk, jog, and run a few times a week for 30 minutes. I also use the re-bounder for about 5 to 8 minutes a day. (The re-bounder is really, really great for a fast, easy and effective cardio workout as well as cleaning your lymphatic system)
    Flexibility comes just from stretching, and for strength, I work with some light weights a few times a week at my gym.
    Other than that, my exercise comes from the barn. Mucking out stalls, leading my horse for walks all around the farm, exploring things together, and my favorite of all…riding!

  4. i am a competive swimmer. i swim at least 6 days of the week, when some of those days are double (once in the morning before school and again after school). i don;t know how i can keep up with riding with this work, but i know i’m better off doing this than just not doing anything to stay in shape. im in better shape than other riders, but if i could ride more it would be even better!

  5. I find that my mental fitness affects my riding as much as my physical fitness. Therefore, I do a lot of breathing exercises and visual imagery to help me relax. I also pay close attention to what and when I eat. I eat something with protein before I work with my horse to increase my ability to focus and stay positive and calm while I ride. This is especially important as we practice exercises to expand our comfort zones.

  6. My exercise begins at the farm. It usually starts as soon as I go to get my horse. His pasture is 16 acres. Most of the time I have to walk the 16 acres there and back(great for the legs). Next comes the brushing,picking the hooves and the tack. Then tightening the girth, some equestrians know that can be one of the hardest parts. Then I get on and ride. While I am riding I use my core muscles to help lift me out of my saddle and to turn my horse. Then after every ride I stretch on my horse. After a long day at the farm my horse and I have both had a workout!

  7. I take a weekly yoga class to keep my body fit for riding. It’s a great way to keep those muscles flexed and agile. Yoga also teaches good breathing practices and balance exercises to keep everything equal on both sides. I can’t imagine riding without some kind of exercise program!!

  8. I often watch what I eat (fresh fruits and veggies galore!) And head to the local gym to get in some laps and help keep up the leg strength. I’ve found that if you don’t do that and don’t ride during the winter, you feel it when you start riding again!

  9. I stay fit for riding by also playing my other sports, gymnastics and swimming. I also like to do many leg exercises like running, jumping-jacks, calf stretches, etc. Sit-ups and V-ups are great too.

  10. As I am a little bit more than a beginner, I do have my weight concerns. What I do to keep control of my weihgt is mucking wet hay and manure and hauling it up a couple hills.

  11. To stay fit, I lift weights, jog, walk, do a LOT of posting trot because if you really make your horse stretch either/or make him move a bit faster without breaking the gait, you work harder and you’ll feel it in your quads and your core. Wall sits also help build leg strength.

  12. To stay at proper weight, I eat a vegetarian diet. I also hula hoop; it’s lots of fun, good for core suppling/strengthening, and can be done indoors.

  13. I do go to the gym about 2 times a week if i’m lucky. I am a true believer in pilates, and I think another good way to stay in shape is eating healthy.

  14. I do yoga and strength training on my wii! I also bike, go for long walks and swim. My most heavy exersize is cleaning my horse’s stall every morning because she will only use the bathroom in her stall!

  15. I take a dance class, it keeps me in shape and it’s something I enjoy! I also take some advice from the horses..apples are a great thing to snack on! They fill me up with out adding extra calories. I always have at least two with me!

  16. I walk whenever I can avoid driving a car and I cycle and take my dog on long hikes. It’s a great way to help stay in shape. And my job is construction which is a great way to stay strong and fit.

  17. I stay in shape by working at the barn. Stall cleaning is great for the arms, and pushing wheelbarrows is good for the legs. And of course, grooming your dirty horse is an exercise all in it’s own!

  18. I do weights every other day and walk a couple of miles every day all year round. I do this in addition to barn chores and other things required on our farm.

  19. i don’t ride often becuase i don’t own a horse so i just walk my dog one to three miles or i play tag with my friends or my sisters. I will sometimes practice my riding by sitting on the edge of a bed or chair and act like i am turning a horse. i even practice being the horse!

  20. I find that it is helpful o work in exercise while doing barn chores, such as walking or jogging out to catch a horse in the back pasture (but of course not running AT the horse!) or lifting feed sacks and hay bales really builds muscles for your arms! I also practice balance by standing on the edge of a stair step at home and pushing you heels down and into a riding position.

  21. WHO HAS TIME AND ENERGY (AND MONEY!) FOR ALL THAT CITY GIRL “YOGA, PILATES, GOING TO THE GYM” CRAP? A REAL COWGIRL/HORSEWOMAN GETS HER WORKOUT FROM CHORES. SHOVELING MANURE, PUSHING THE WHEELBURROW, CARRYING BUCKETS OF WATER, SLINGING BALES OF HAY, CARRYING 50# BAGS OF FEED, AND GROOMING JUST TO NAME OF FEW “WORKOUTS”. NOT TO MENTION WALKING AT LEAST 20 TIMES TO AND FROM THE BARN, MENDING FENCE HERE AND THERE. OH YEA, AND GOING RIDING FOR 3-4 HRS EVEN MORE MUSCLES ARE GETTING WORKED DOING THAT. SO WHO NEEDS THE GYM? SOME PEOPLE DONT MIND BEING A LITTLE LESS THAN PERFECT. SLIGHTLY ROUND AND ROUND ARE SHAPES TOO! I WOULDN’T HAVE IT ANY OTHER WAY!

  22. Gyms??? Who needs em!!! Once you are the sole caretaker of a horse you no longer need rely on machines & scripted(planned) workouts. Try loading & unloading hay bales by the truckload & carrying 50 lb bags of grain, oh yeah forgot to mention carrying 5 gallons of water on each arm! How bout having to go catch your horse(s) out of a field when they don’t wanna come in, instead of the farm hand doin it!!! My real barn is the one right outside my house that I have to take care of! It affords me all of the exercise I need. And it costs less too!!!!!

  23. JUST TO CLARIFY THE LAST SENTENCE I WROTE (3 COMMENTS DOWN), WHEN I SAY I WOULDN’T HAVE IT ANY OTHER WAY, I MEAN DOING ALL THE HARD WORK. I WOULDN’T HAVE THAT ANY OTHER WAY. SURE EVERY WOMAN WANTS TO BE THIN AND TRIM, BUT AFTER ALL THE WORK I DO FOR AND WITH MY HORSES, THERE’S NO TIME OR ENERGY LEFT IN THE DAY FOR “REAL EXERCISING”! OH WELL, I’M HAPPY! THAT’S WHAT MATTERS!

  24. Since my sister and I continue to ride year round finding a way to keep those muscles in shape has never been an issue. Hiking with the dogs when we are not in the saddle helps the legs and keeps us cardio fit.

  25. Lifting water buckets! There’s a plus in the winter, smashing ice takes extra strength. Also I enjoy yoga, walking my dog and swimming in the summer. For in the saddle no stirrup work is always a workout, especially posting!

  26. I like to sit on an exercise ball to improve core muscles and balance. I also like walking by putting one foot right front of the other, sometimes with my eyes shut (to improve balance). Situps and pushups are good too.

  27. Winter is hard for workouts because the cold air triggers my asthma. But I get my upper body work out by lifting bags of grain. I work my legs by taking the stairs instead of the elevator to get class. I go 2 stairs at a time up 6 flights. I also run from spring to fall usually running over 13 miles per workout.
    However, riding is definitely one of the best workouts!

  28. I’m 68 years old and keeping in shape is a must to continue riding. I ride 2 to 3 times a week on 10 to 20 mile trail rides. I volenteer to work on trails to keep them open for riders and hikers. I walk one and one half miles three times weekly and lift weights.

  29. Simple! I ride! Riding once or twice a week keeps me in pretty good shape for winter. It is always bitter cold where I live so sometimes it’s unbareable to go outside. When I don’t get to ride, I stretch and work on my upper body strength. Excerscie is very important to me!

  30. Lets see how I stay in shape for Riding…… Ummm well I am on the crosscountry team for school. Oh duh I also RIDE to stay in shape for riding. Also since we have this huge snow storm I have been running up and down hills and sledding. But my main exercise is RIDING!!!!! Which I love to do on my favorite horse, Buddy <3 Yupp so thats pretty much it........

  31. Of course, there’s riding! But I also have a Wii Fit, which is a good tool, especially for winter. I try to choose things that will help my specific riding style. If it’s above freezing though, (an accomplishment in Feb for IN), I’m outside!

  32. To stay in shape for riding I do a lot of running year round. Mostly for cross-country and track during school, but lets not forget riding is great exercise too!!!!

  33. Since riding in the wintertime is next to impossible where I live, I must do other things to keep myself in shape for riding. I do ab work-outs regularly(2-4 times a week) to keep my core strong. I stretch my ankles using the desk in front of me during school. It’s a very good way to pass time! Also, to keep my lower leg strong, I do calf rises. But when it comes down to it, nothing keeps you in shape better for riding, then riding!

  34. I used to ride western, but now I do horse vaulting (gymnastics on horses), which demands you stay in-shape! I stretch everyday, do push-ups, and crunches. I also run a little….. But to be honest, when I rode western, I didn’t do anything! I guess riding just kept me in shape for riding!

  35. I help lift shaving bags into stalls, feed grain and hay. Walk the horses to the pastures and things like that. So naturally you stay in shape when you have horses at home.

  36. well were i live in ohio it is really bad in winter but if i get time from school (home work) i go out and keep my horsesand pony company by talking to them but to get to them i have to walk quit a ways and i have other animals to take cares of so i move all the time but i also keep my horses i cheek by look after there feet and watching for any singe that is not how they act. you cann’t leave out the horse when it comes to staying in shape for riding

  37. Staying in shape is important regardless if you ride or not. I do daily muscle strengthening exercises with 5 lb weights and stretches for 20 minutes. In the winter I walk on my treadmill for 20-30 minutes and when the weather is warmer I walk or jog a mile or two about 3 times a week. I figure my horse appreciates it because then she doesn’t have to carry my excess weight.

  38. The way I stay in shape for riding is just by taking care of my horse. I don’t really have enough time to go to the gym, but all of those times around the ring without stirrups keep me in top shape!

  39. I really stay fit by shoveling snow, but sometimes I’ll hit the gym with my barn buddy, Mia, and we’ll stop and take care of the horses on the way home.

  40. To stay fit I take part in sports. I do Field Hockey and Track. Also spent a lot of time in the barn. With cleaning out stalls your always carrying hay bales, carrying water buckets and everything. Also spend time trotting on your horse. Another good way is to ride bareback!

  41. During the winter months I don’t do any special workout because I figure taking care of my horses is enough work! Giving them their hay and grain, refilling water buckets, and cleaning out dirty stalls sure isn’t easy! (:

  42. I am one of those people who take lessons every week, bouce sky-high during the sitting trot and wake up the next morning with the insides of my thighs sore. I ride dressage and it’s not for wilting violets! Just wanted to give all riders like me a word of encouragement to complete their equine fitness related New Years resolutions!

  43. I’m just one of those people that is lucky enough to be able to spend most of the day at the barn: by 5:30-6:30 AM I’m at the barn saying hello to my horse, giving him a morning groom, turning him out, or if I have time, some lungeing. I then have to go to school and have to be there by 7:30, so I take quick shower at the barn (haha, lucky my barn manager is OK with my obsessivness)and since I finish most if not all homework in Study Hall I’m back at the stable by 3:00 and stay there ’till about 6:45 or 7:00. Of course, riding is excellent excersize, but I also jog in my spare time (yeah, i mean weekends after 4:30PM since I’m at the barn by 5:30 AM.) For leg strength and core muscles I’ll take off the sirrup irons and leathers do an hour lesson with postinging and sitting trot,cantering, shoulder in’s, half passes, and smallish jumps with a max hieght of 3’6″ on a good day. It’s also fun in the summer and spring to take out my horse with only a bridle and trail ride with a few small log jumps. I swear, your thighs will be awesome by fall!

  44. After taking 10 years off of riding, strength and balance was a serious consideration prior to climbing back in the saddle. I currently spend 4 to 5 days each week doing both cardio and weight training. I make sure to spend time in each gym session to work on specific riding muscles. I now own a wonderful, but very young, Hunter/Jumper that without the gym sessions I would not be able to ride confidently or safely. I truly believe if a person is going to ask their horse to be an athlete, then they should commit to the experience as well.

  45. Years in the saddle as a young rider has provided me with the ability to maintain in control of any horse i ride. When i used to ride avidly i noticed the more i rode in a variety of styles, the better i became physically in the saddle. These days, when given the opporitunity to ride, i still feel the same as i did back then. Riding horses are like riding a bike, something i will never forget, and always love. I am a true believer that if someone wants to become a better rider, they would spend less time at the gym and more time learning the ways of the horse.

  46. I mostly ride my bike,sit ups,push ups, Wii fit is a AWESOME way to stay in shape!! AND OF COURSE ride my horse!!there is a lot of great exersizes in the saddle too…….

  47. I actually do cheerleading, so that’s how I get my exercise. Plus at school, during PE, we do alot of running, pushups, situps, and stretching. It really keeps me in shape! All though I am still in the 8th grade, some of you aren’t! Eat right and keep a balenced diet is my advice to you!Don’t forget to exercise!

  48. Riding almost everyday is physically demanding in itself, but I think what helps alot is the chores that comes with owning a horse like cleaning stalls/stacking hay/ filling water buckets/ ect. Along with fun activites like hiking, or indoor rockclimbing things of that nature:)

  49. Dressage its’ self is hard enough, but I do yoga occasionly in the mornings before horseback to stretch my horseback muscles, and I also bike daily after school to get my upper thigh muscles working! Yet still the sitting trot is just as painful…

  50. I do gymnastics, which really helps all your muscles. and you can also climb stairs on your knees. It really helps your riding muscles. in the winter, you might want to add a bit to your exersize routine, because we all know what it’s like when your horse just wants to go back to the barn!

  51. I don’t ride everyday so as you can imagine, I get saddle sore everytime i ride. So I started doing yoga. last time i rode, i did yoga for a week before hand, and it worked!
    I can’t stand it when people say that riding isnt a sport! at the end of the fall, when it was starting to get very cold, i was riding. I had to take off my sweatshirt, i was sweating so much. My legs are so much physically stronger since i started riding. So don’t even tell me its not a sport!

  52. I have a dog. That statement itself tells you how active I am. Feeding, walking, grooming,bathing, training, petting, playing fetch…, that is what you get for having a dog. I love her to death and she keeps me active when I am not at the barn.

  53. I stay in shape for riding by running. I like to keep my stamina up. I do a lot of crunches and stretches to keep me loose. It really helps a lot when I don’t get the chance to ride everyday!

  54. I’ve tried a lot of exercises, but lately I’ve been really into Yoga. It involves all of the muscles used for riding. It also helps me to keep my breathing relaxed. I always do a little yoga before long trail rides as a warmup.

  55. I do yoga everyday. I find it really helps with your balance in the saddle. I also try to go jogging veryday or jump rope, it helps with the cardio!

  56. I stay in shape for riding by doing p90x. This program contains a variety of muscle building workouts and is alot of fun at the same time because the insructor has you yell when you are doing a difficult excercise.

  57. Riding and chores around the barn keep me in shape. My personal trainer is a 1700 pound mare with a very opinionated mind of her own. I dabble in yoga because it helps strengthen and stretch lots of key muscles, but really, my main exercise comes from the barn.

  58. Staying in shape for riding is easy – because riding keeps me in shape! My arms get strong from cleaning stalls and feeding, my legs from riding and lots of walking, and abs from posting! It’s a great work out in itself. I also enjoy running on weekend mornings on a three mile path that’s close to my barn. It’s nice because it’s close and I can ride afterwards. I also snow ski in the winter time, which builds even stronger legs for riding!

  59. In spring I do a lot of hiking. Trails that go up and down, giving your body a good work out. I also do some rock climbing; it helps strengthen your arms. I do yoga in the morning, to help with flexibility. Doing work at the barn helps out to. Mucking stalls burns calories. Ridding will help with balance and strength in every part of your body.

  60. Riding of course keeps me in great shape but I always need more upper body and back strength. I walk a lot since my job is taking kids on pony rides so that covers my legs. I also will go to the gym or I go to PT since I have a bad back and that really pushed me to use the muscles that are the weakest. I try to eat right. Even though I of course have a weakness for chocolate.. I try to make the healthier choice and I drink a lot of water also.

  61. Well, besides riding to stay fit for riding. I run a couple times a week, it gets harder once the weather changes to cold because you have to find time for a treadmill if your an asthmatic like me. I also try to get around to doing 50-75 push ups 3-4 times a week and yoga when my muscles feel weak. I also have bad knee’s and ankle’s so after a long day of riding I like to ice them or run cold water over them for 10-20 mins. just like you would do with your horse if he/she pulled a muscle or just felt sore/swollen. Also even though I ride western you CAN post in a western saddle. If I feel like I’m falling asleep I’ll post once or twice around the ring to wake myself and the horse I’m riding up. Not to mention posting is a great ab workout. You’ll be feeling the burn!

  62. I stay in shape by running at least two miles five days a week. It is a lot of work and takes up time, but when you are done running, you feel a lot better about yourself.

  63. I’m a cheerleader for my school, but we pracit. in the summer, and i also do softball. &In the wintter i’m on the swim team. I also walk with my mother. &eatting good.
    But the best way, is just to ride alot!

  64. To help me stay in shape I am a cheerleader at my school, I also take dance classes at a studio. Since we have to be in shape for cheerleading it also helps me with my riding. We run, and do strength training, plus I always have to be aware of my body and the motions that I am doing. All these things help me with my balance, leg and core body strength, and make me aware of what my body is doing so I don’t send any messages to my horse that I don’t want to.

  65. I am a runner for my high school’s cross country team in the fall, I have weight training in the fall and winter, and I’ll do soccer in the spring. If your involved in school or community sports or fitness clubs then you can easily stay in shape.

  66. To stay in shape for riding, I work at the barn. I help muck stalls, fill water troughs and bring in or take horses out. I run to and from each task taking care not to spook any one riding. I also get on the elliptical machine at home when it’s raining or go for a walk/jog. My horse needs me to be in shape to keep him in shape!

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