One of the most irritating things that riders hear is, “You just sit there and the horse does all the hard work.” We may not climb off our horses dripping as though we’ve just run 10km, but undeniably, riding is a form of exercise. Riding involves a lot of core and muscular strength, which should be trained out of the saddle as well. A good core will improve your riding regardless of your discipline. Certainly, when you start moving up the grades and becoming more competitive, you may notice that you need to be hitting the gym more, so that you don’t struggle as much during your riding sessions. Things like sitting bigger jumps, riding a cross country course in light seat or sitting like a pin through a dressage test all require good core strength.
Alongside healthy exercise, riders need to eat well to stay lean. You certainly don’t need to cut out all the joys of life, but eating in moderation and watching those carbs will be a good way to stay in shape and build muscle. We understand you’d rather not brave the early morning misery and hit the gym at 6am, and we know a plate full of comfort food sounds better than a salad – so we’ve put together some core exercises to keep you motivated as well as an ideal meal plan that we promise isn’t so bad!
The bigger picture
All riders need good core stability. Not only will it make things easier for you when you ride, but it will also reduce your chance of injury. A lack of core strength could, for example, lead to neck ache, backache or possible injury.
Although you do get a full-body workout when you ride, your abdominal and leg muscles work the hardest. Many novice and amateur riders have the problem of ‘too much hand, not enough leg’, which means that they find it easier to work a horse down into a frame using their hands, because they lack the strength to keep a constant leg pressure that pushes the horse forward into the frame. When working out at the gym, you’ll need to focus on these two areas for core. Building back and shoulder muscle will help with keeping your shoulders back and your upper body still when you ride.
Cardio training will help keep your fitness and stamina up, which is especially important for riders with multiple horses and for show days when you will likely be climbing on and off your horse all day in between classes. Running is everyone’s go-to when it comes to cardio, but this is a high-impact form of exercise. A cross-trainer or ergo machine is easier on your body. Swimming is also an excellent form of exercise, as you also get a full-body workout that develops your core and your stamina.
High-intensity interval training is the quickest way to improve your fitness. Work out at a comfortable level for two minutes, and then push yourself for one minute at three or four levels higher. Return to the comfortable level for another two minutes, and train at high intensity for one minute. Repeat over 30 minutes.
The vertical crunch requires you to lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed into the ground. You should feel as though you are sucking your belly button into your spine, so that there is no hollow space between your back and the floor. Place both hands behind your head and extend your legs straight up so that you make a right angle between your body and legs. Cross your ankles with a slight bend in the knee, but your thighs should still be straight up. Contract upwards into a crunch, making sure your lower back doesn’t lift off the floor and that you don’t let your chin touch your chest.
Four sets of 10 reps
For alternating knee raises, lie on your back with both arms flat at your sides (palms facing down). Make sure that your lower back is also in contact with the floor. Keeping your back flat, raise both heels approximately 10cm off the floor. Lift one knee towards your chest while the other leg hovers above the floor. Straighten your leg and alternate to lift the other knee towards your chest.
Four sets of 20 reps
The full article appears in the Winter Guide issue of HQ (Jun 123) > Shop now