Get Fit and Flexible!
Despite the common misconception that the horse does all the hard work, riding can be a very demanding sport.
All riders, from those who keep horses as a hobby to the more serious competitors, are required to have strength in nearly all of the major muscle groups. Even just holding the basic riding position engages a number of muscles; that’s before you take into account the strength needed to muck out, carry water buckets or even give your horse a good groom!
In this article, we suggest a few exercises which will help you and your friends get in shape and improve balance in the saddle. Remember, if you have any health issues or concerns, you may need to consult your GP before you undertake any new exercise regime.
Try this at home: Stretch your calves to improve your leg position
Equipment required: None, just your stairs.
Stand on the bottom stair and hold the handrail firmly. Balance on the balls of your feet on the edge of the step and slowly lower your heels until you feel a stretch your calves. Hold this position for a few seconds then release. Gradually push your heels lower and increase the length of time you hold the stretch.
Try this on a chair: Tone up your inner thighs to improve stability in the saddle
Equipment Required: A stable chair without wheels (such as a dining chair) and a ball.
Sit on the edge of a chair so that your thighs are not supported by it and your knees are at right angles to the floor. Place a rubber or plastic ball (such as a football) between your knees, squeeze it for a few seconds, then relax. Do this a few times a day, increasing the time spent squeezing the ball each time.
Hilary Wakefield, BHSAI, INT T, coaches riders to develop good balance and a better understanding of the aids to enable them to help their horse. Hilary says:
“The rider should work towards being free from stiffness, especially in the hip joints, so they are able to ‘follow’ the movement of their horse or pony. Any stiffness or imbalance (e.g. crookedness) in the rider is ‘mirrored’ by their horse or pony.”
WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Try this for fun: Improve your balance and challenge your friends!
Equipment Required: Space hoppers, show jump poles or raised garden canes
Have a go at ‘jumping’ over poles on the ground (or raised garden canes) on a space hopper!
The key to this exercise is to approach the jump in a balanced, even rhythm. You will be unsuccessful if you come into the jump at speed, if you are in front of the movement or if you pull the space hopper up with your hands rather than bounce over the pole.
This exercise not only helps improve balance, but it helps to illustrate the importance of impulsion and approaching jumps in an even rhythm.
Try this as a competition: Do the Bleep Test for a cardio workout to improve stamina
Equipment Required: A whistle, a timer or watch and markers such as cones or poles.
Line the group up on the start position and place markers 20 metres away. The group then runs repeatedly back and forth from the start point to the marker, timed to arrive at the 20 metre point as the whistle sounds. This reads a bit strangely as it refers to a group, when you started the article referring to one person’s own fitness
Start at a gentle jog and gradually reduce the time between each whistle, meaning the runners have to increase their speed to reach the marker before the whistle goes.
Those who don’t make it to the marker before the whistle is blown are ‘out’ and the winner is the last person left.
Try this with children: Test concentration and reaction
Equipment Required: An arena and a set of dressage markers
Ask the participants to lie on the floor in the centre of the arena, or sit on chairs if the floor is not suitable to lie on. The coach then shouts out a letter and the group must run as fast as they can to reach it. The last person to reach the letter is ‘out’.
If you have a number of people, you can divide them into groups and direct each group to different letters.
Try this as a group: Test your balance, co-ordination and dexterity
Equipment Required: A wobble board each and a bean bag
Form a line with each person standing on a wobble board. Start at one end of the line and, working your way down from person to person, turn to face your neighbour and throw them the bean bag whilst trying to remain stable on your balance board. When the bean bag reaches the end of the line, the last person gets off their board, runs up to the beginning of the line, and everyone moves down one board. The ‘runner’ takes their place on the first wobble board and the process starts again.
For the second game, remain in the same positions but throw the bean bag the other way down the line. This highlights any tendencies to favour turning one way more than the other which may result in becoming one sided when riding.
If you wish to make the exercise harder, try standing on the balance board in a lowered position. A row of tyres or hula hoops can be placed on the floor for the runner to run through as a reminder that excess speed make them become unbalanced.
Contributor: The Pony Club The Pony Club is ‘the’ starting point for any young person who wants to learn to ride and care for horses. Membership is open to anyone up to the age of 25; from total novices to those with a little more experience, and with or without their own pony.
For details of your nearest Pony Club Branch (for those who have their own ponies) or Centre (for those who do not own their own pony) please visit
The Pony Club
The Pony Club is ‘the’ starting point for any young person who wants to learn to ride and care for horses. Membership is open to anyone up to the age of 25; from total novices to those with a little more experience, and with or without their own pony.
For details of your nearest Pony Club Branch (for those who have their own ponies) or Centre (for those who do not own their own pony) please visit www.pcuk.org