Spin for Horse Rider Fitness

More than just the latest exercise craze, you can get stronger in the saddle by cross-training with spin for improved horse rider fitness.

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Horse rider at water obstacle.
Spin instructor Chelsie Anderson is also an avid eventing rider. Photo by Equisport Photos/Wendy Wooley

“Float down to the saddles with grace,” the smiling instructor encouraged our riding group as I transitioned from two-point back into the saddle … of my stationary bike. I pedaled, enjoying the 45-minute ’80s music ride from my home office, which moonlights as a spin studio thanks to the Peloton app on my phone.

Pre-pandemic, as a city-dweller with my horse 75 miles away in the country, I turned to spin class at the gym as a riding alternative for weekdays when I couldn’t squeeze in a trip to the barn. When the COVID lockdown began in March of 2020, I purchased a stationary bike in order to keep on spinning. Mid-pandemic, with a pared-down agenda of life activities, spin classes have kept me sane and improved my horse rider fitness.

Jumping Saddle to Bike Saddle

My journey from jumping saddle to bike saddle began at a 24 Hour Fitness gym seven years ago. I tried a class, knowing any improvement in my cardio fitness would help my riding. I still remember that first spin workout.

The room was dark with industrial-sized fans overhead. It was intimidating making sure the bike seat and handlebars were adjusted to the right height and trying to figure out the various buttons and numbers on the console.

I also struggled getting my Nikes into the straps on the pedals. Five minutes into the class, my thighs were simultaneously on fire and felt like lead. I twisted the knob to the left to lighten the pedal load, determined to keep moving and stick with it for the hour.

Eventually the thigh fire subsided, and when the instructor had us rise and tap back onto the saddle in time to beats of the music, I thought, “I’m posting!”

Rider jumping obstacle.
Anderson (pictured) says spin reinforces riding posture by strengthening your core and legs. Photo courtesy of Chelsie Anderson

Riding a stationary bike has benefited my horse rider fitness. In the hunt field when there’s a long stretch of trotting, I’m not winded and can still talk when our group slows down to a walk. In lessons, I can work on perfecting the canter, going for several-minute stretches at a time without getting red in the face.

Equestrians Who Spin

I’m not the only equestrian who has embraced cross-training from a spin bike saddle.

Countless equestrians are finding fun and fitness through indoor cycling. For example, there’s a Facebook Group called Pelo Ponies for equestrians devoted to Peloton. Blogger Caitlin Brown (@sparklesandsunshine on Instagram) is one such spin proponent. She had been taking indoor cycling classes for years and realized she should order her own bike.

“Before my Peloton bike, I was a bit out of shape and struggled to even trot for a few laps at a time without being out of breath,” says Brown. “If my horse has to be an athlete, so do I. During spin classes, there are three positions: seated, second position—where you are basically standing up—and third position, where you’re more hovered over the saddle with your shoulders back and chest lifted. When I go into second position, I think of posting at the trot, and when in third, I think of two-point.”

In Lexington, Ky., Chelsie Anderson, an avid eventer, is the general manager and a spin instructor at CycleBar Fritz Farm, a premium indoor cycling studio. That CycleBar location has a clientele of other eventers, as well as hunter/jumper riders and more.

Chelsie Anderson at spin class to improve horse rider fitness.
Anderson is a spin gym manager and instructor at CycleBar Fritz Farm in Kentucky. Many of her spin students are also riders.

Anderson cites several reasons equestrians should cross-train on a spin bike for improved horse rider fitness.

“First, it improves endurance,” she says. “Second, it reinforces riding posture with core and legs and keeping your heels down, and it’s an overall balance exercise. It’s also a great cardio workout—it expands your lung capacity. It’s necessary to have a cardio base to do any type of intense riding.”

According to Anderson, spin is an ideal exercise for almost every type of person and can improve horse rider fitness.

“It is suitable for all ages, levels and conditions,” she says. “For example, in my classes, we have people in their 70s, people who have recovered from knee surgery, and pregnant women who can no longer run, but they can cycle. You can modify everything about the exercise.”

Anderson is living proof that spin is for everyone—she suffers from hip problems after several riding falls.

How to Get Started

To get started cross-training with spin classes, all you need is a stationary bike or a local gym with bikes. There are spin apps you can ride along with for a monthly subscription rate. Premium bike studios, such as a CycleBar or SoulCycle, are offering outdoor classes in some locations due to COVID-19.

Anderson admits the first class can be intimidating but tells new riders that they have all the control over their own bike and workout.

Spinning to improve horse rider fitness.
Before starting to spin, Caitlin Brown struggled to trot a few laps without getting short of breath. She now trains to be a better athlete for her horse.

“For every other fitness class, there are mirrors and lights,” she says. “Spin is where you escape into a dark room with closed doors, and you will not be on display. No one is looking at your form. You have a coach encouraging you. If a coach says gear 10, you can do gear 5. A rider can always turn the gear back if it’s too heavy.”

If you need assurance before starting spin, Anderson says equestrians catch on quickly.

“Riders instantly have it,” she says. “They already have the posture. They’re used to riding in two-point or a half seat. They’re keeping weight out of their hands.”

Now grab your water bottle and a towel and head on over to a bike saddle and spin for horse rider fitness. Your horse will approve!

This article about spin for horse rider fitness appeared in the April 2021 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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