Your workouts out of the saddle should include cardio and core training
Your workouts out of the saddle should include cardio and core training

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hile we tirelessly put hours into training and maintaining our horses, we seldom remember to look after ourselves. Our horses are athletes – there’s no doubt about it – and riders work hard to make sure that they are trained correctly, fed a careful diet, and receive all their necessary treatments to keep them in top shape. However, an athletic horse needs an athletic rider.

It’s no good having a horse who is at the top of his game while the rider lacks the strength and fitness to ride him. Of course, there will always be those riders who can eat whatever they want, put in minimal physical exercise and still ride better than everyone else. But for most of us, the battle is not so easily won.

This month, HQ spoke to veteran dietary and fitness specialist, Craig Johnston of Nutri-Fit, about core-strengthening exercises and an ideal eating plan for competitive riders. Craig is a veteran dietary and fitness specialist at Nutri-Fit. He loves sharing his passion for food and health, and has successfully been training and consulting with clients for over 20 years. If you want a tailor-made fitness and eating plan, visit

It’s not all in the horse

Regardless of discipline, riders need good core stability. Although you get an all-body workout, your abdominal and leg muscles work the hardest. While we wish that time spent in the saddle gives us the workout we need, most competitive riders need to put in extra hours developing their core and stamina. If you have access to a gym, you’ll find all the equipment you need. If you don’t, do not fret. You can buy simple equipment and work out at home. Craig recommends buying a yoga ball, dumbbell weights, a kettlebell, and a mat to work on. Depending on your strength you can get heavier weights, but 3 or 4kg weights are ideal to start with.

A well-balanced diet doesn't have to mean cutting out all the good stuff
A well-balanced diet doesn’t have to mean cutting out all the good stuff

Eating clean

There’s one word that makes us all want to run for the hills when we hear it: diet. Unfortunately, part of being an athlete means eating correctly. Once again, some are lucky enough to be able to eat whatever they want without consequences – but the rest of us are not so fortunate. As riders, we want to stay as lean as possible for our horses, but we also don’t want to subject ourselves to a life where we feel like we miss out on all the good stuff.

With this in mind, Craig compiled an ideal eating plan for a competitive rider. You’ll be relieved to see that there are some things on the menu that actually sound delicious! The plan has been structured to give riders yummy options that keep you energetic throughout the day, while still following a clean and low-fat diet.

Day Breakfast Snack Lunch Snack Dinner
1 ½ cup (before cooking) oats, cinnamon, 1 cup fat-free milk, and ¼ cup blueberries ½ cup mixed nuts


1 small apple

1 grilled chicken breast on a whole-seed low GI sandwich, 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise, rocket, and tomato ¼ cup sliced cheese


1 pear

100g grilled salmon, ½ cup lightly steamed sugar snap peas, and ½ cup roasted butternut

See the full week’s diet in the April issue of HQ! 

Craig’s advice

How many lunges should you be doing?
How many lunges should you be doing?

While the eating plan serves to give you a rough idea of the types of foods and quantities you should be eating, Craig advises that you follow these six diet principles for the future:

  • Make sure your diet is adequate in order to meet your daily nutrient and energy needs.
  • Eat a diet that is balanced. There is no need to cut out entire food groups in order to lose weight. If it is your goal, you can still lose weight with sufficient exercise.
  • Eat a diet that is energy-controlled. Keep your portion sizes in check and don’t over-eat.
  • Be sure to eat treats in moderation. A cheat meal once a week and a block or two of chocolate every few days will not sabotage all your efforts if you’re exercising. It’s important to eat a diet that is sustainable and doesn’t feel like pure torture for long-term success.
  • Eat foods that are nutrient-dense. Foods that are functional and provide plenty of nutrients and moderate amounts of energy should be the focus of a diet. Sugary foods and beverages (including fruit juices) and fatty convenience foods provide plenty of energy in the form of calories but are low in nutrients.
  • Variation is key in a diet. Don’t eat the same foods day in and day out. Ensure that you get all the nutrients your body needs by eating a wide range of foods.

Pick up this month’s issue of HQ for Craig’s advise on cardio training and a variety of core exercises that you can practice at home or at the gym, specifically put together for equestrians.