Exercises to Improve & Strengthen Horseback Riding Posture
Sit tall and relaxed with your shoulders back. Don’t stiffen your back and try not to slouch—bad posture is as much a problem when riding as when walking or running.
If your spine is in a poor position you can’t create a safe and strong position to stabilize hips and pelvis therefore affecting how your body moves with the horse. This then shuts down the chance of your horse being able to swing and move efficiently from the hind legs through to the front. So its important that you put in the effort to create a strong neutral spine on and off the horse.
The first thing you need to do is set your pelvis into neutral position, so place you hand on your sternum and position your feet parallel to each other under your hips. Screw your feet into the ground and squeeze your bottom. Now relax the bottom but keep that position through your hips, knees and pelvis. Time to pull your lower ribs in and balance your ribcage over your pelvis. Imagine your pelvis is a bowl full to the brim of water and so to is your ribcage. They are now both equally balanced above each other and you don’t want to let any of the water spill out. Now its time to brace your core to lock the ribcage and the pelvis above each other. Think about corseting in your waist as if you have shrink wrap around you. Its not about hollowing or sucking in your tummy, its about bracing. Think if I was to come and push you, you wouldn’t fall over. You are solid and braced through your middle. Now breathe. Hold this position and let your upper body relax and breath. To finish off, set your head, neck and shoulders into position. Centre your head over your shoulders, think about bringing your ears over your shoulders, hips and ankles. Then draw the heads of your arm bones back to bring a stretch through your collar bones. Then release your shoulders down and back. Then squeeze your shoulder blades down and back.
Dressage is all about straightness and balance, so it makes sense that we put the work into our own body to create this also. Before beginning any of these exercises its good to know how to set up a stable neutral spine. So check out my post I did here about this and give yourself a solid foundation to work from.
Side Leg Lifts
Great for strengthening up the legs and stabilizer muscles of hips as well as spine. You may notice one side harder than the other, this is normal. By doing this though you are going to help remove this imbalance and improve rider posture.
Lie on your side and lift legs up straight, imagine you are standing on ground still, so feet are flat. Support yourself if you need on the floor using other hand, or make harder by lifting that up also. If this is to much keep the bottom leg down on the ground. Aim to keep entire body still, no rocking forward or back. Just the leg that moves.
Single Leg Toe Taps
Single leg toe taps are great for seeing how balanced and stable we are. Often we have one side stronger or weaker than the other and this can be highlighted on a horse by sitting more into one seattbone. So by doing this you will gain more awareness as to what is going on in your body and improve those imbalances.
Stand tall, with neutral spine. Then tip forward from your hips ad touch toes. Let one leg go backwards as you do this. For more of a challenge lift that leg off the floor.
The plank is the ultimate total-body movement. Hold the "up” push-up position, supporting your bodyweight either on your elbows (directly under your shoulders) and toes, or on the palms of your hands with arms fully extended (hands directly under your shoulders) and toes. Engage your entire body to keep your spine straight (no bend at the waist), and hold the plank for as long as you can. Slowly build up the length of time you can hold that position.
Once you’ve mastered the static plank, it’s time to add difficulty. Doing the lateral twisting plank engages more muscles, including your obliques. Starting in the basic plank position (either on hands or elbows), twist your body to the right, lifting your right hand straight into the air and hold. Repeat to the left. Do 15 twists to each side."The core recruits diagonally in this exercise when the arm moves through to reach to the other side,” says Braden-Olson. "Plus, when you reach up toward the sky, your body is placed in a side plank, trigging the obliques to engage. The twisting movement of the arm as it moves in and out of the side plank can cause you to lose your balance, which generates even more core engagement to ensure stability during the rotation.” The muscular engagement you get when doing the lateral twisting plank is similar to what needed for riding.
You can do the lateral twisting plank on a bench, step, hay bale, or BOSU ball for extra difficulty. (A BOSU Ball consists of an inflated rubber hemisphere attached to a hard plastic platform, so it’s like a stability ball cut in half.)
There are multiple variations of this exercise, making it great for all levels. The most basic position is to start by sitting in a "V” position on the floor with your back straight, hands behind your head, and your legs bent at 90 degrees. Next, lift your legs up and tap your toes, one at a time, on the floor (like a scissor move). You can twist your upper body so your right elbow touches your left knee, and vice versa, to add a twist to the movement. Add difficulty by doing toe taps on a BOSU Ball.
"The activity in the legs engages the lower abdominal muscles and muscles connecting into the quadriceps,” says Braden-Olson. "Doing these releases any tension that occurs naturally from riding in the hip flexors and lower back, increasing lower core mobility. Increase your core stamina while ensuring you keep an even range of motion in the hips.”
the following exercises can be done on the ground and do generate great engagement but balance takes continuous training. Which is why adding balance and stability equipment is so effective, it makes the simplest exercise really hard with a huge benefit to the core.
The Lateral Twisting Plank
The core recruits diagonally in this exercise when the arm moves through to reach to the other side. Plus when the athlete reaches up toward the sky, the body is placed in a side plank trigging the obliques to engage. Then the twisting movement of the arm, as it moves in and out of the side plank, can cause an athlete to lose their balance which forces their internal stability to kick in, generating even more core engagement to ensure stability during the rotation. The muscular engagement that must connect when doing the Lateral Twisting Plank, is needed to help with a horses stability. This exercise can be done without the BOSU Ball by elevating hands on a bench or step instead.
Kelsey Casselbury is a freelance writer and editor based in central Maryland. Her clients have included Livestrong, School Nutrition magazine, What's Up? Media, American Academy of Clinical Chemistry, SmartBrief and more. She has a formal education in personal training/nutrition and a bachelor's degree in journalism from The Pennsylvania State University.