If you aim to become a better horseback rider, you need to do more than just ride, says University of Kentucky trainer Sue Stanley. Design a training regimen that incorporates resistance training, cardiovascular exercise and stretching to develop peak conditioning for riding. While strength training enables you to assume a variety of positions in the saddle and maintain stability, flexibility allows you to isolate and move different parts of your body as well as correctly align your body. Aerobic fitness gives you the endurance required for a riding lesson or competing in an event without succumbing to fatigue.
Stretch in the Saddle
Engage in stretches while in the saddle to enhance flexibility, improve balance and increase the level of trust between you and your horse. Perform a variety of stretches in the saddle, including toe touches and lean-backs.
Begin a toe touch by slowly drawing your right hand to your left toe as your horse slowly walks forward. Extend your left arm behind you to help you balance. Maintain the position of your legs in riding position, repeating the exercise several times and alternating between your right and left sides.
Lean back in your saddle as your horse continues to walk forward, stretching your groin, hip flexors and quads. Drape your back over your horse’s back, releasing the reins and allowing your arms to rest by your sides.
Hold the stretch on a count of five, then return to upright riding position. Have a partner hold your mount at a standstill for the toe touch and lean-back if you’re a beginner.
Establish Center of Gravity
Perform balancing exercises that identify your center of gravity, which helps to develop your balance in the saddle. Begin by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and gently rocking forward, using the flexion in your ankles. Continue rocking, increasing the range of motion until your heels just lift off the floor.
Reverse direction and slowly rock backward until your toes just lift off the floor. Hold your body position at the end of the range of motion, squeezing your glutes and thighs until tension can be felt. Move forward to your center, balancing your weight over your feet and feeling the release of tension.
Turn your shoulders and rotate your trunk, feeling your upper body pivot around your body’s midline. Repeat the exercise several times until you grow familiar with your center of gravity.
Engage in Resistance Training
Engage in resistance training for total-body strength to maintain stability in the saddle. Design your exercise sessions to cover your upper body, lower body and core musculature.
Perform a variety of resistance exercises to develop your lower body, such as lunges, squats, leg curls and extensions, good mornings, calf raises and reverse calf raises. Split the exercises into two or three workouts over the course of a week in which each workout consists of one or two multi-ijoint exercises -- lunges, squats or good mornings -- and two or three isolation exercises -- curls, extensions or calf raises. Give your muscles 24 to 48 hours to recover between workouts. Perform eight to 12 reps for one to three sets for each exercise. Increase the volume of reps of calf raises to anywhere from 15 to 20 because your calves can be stubborn to train.
Do dips, supine rows and pull-ups or chin-ups to develop your upper body -- back muscles, shoulders and arms -- which helps you to better signal directions to your horse via controlled body movements.
Perform various exercises for your core -- front abdominal wall, obliques, lower back and spinal muscles -- to enable you to establish an independent seat and sit balanced on your horse. Do crunches, reverse crunches, oblique crunches, bicycles and supermans.
Begin a superman to condition your or erector spinae muscles. Position your body prone on the floor with arms extended in front of you and legs together and straight. Exhale and lift your arms and legs a few inches off the floor, which should resemble Superman's flying position. Inhale and return to starting position, and perform 10 to 15 reps total.
Do side leg raises from a side-lying position on the floor, raising your top leg to work your hip abductors, and lifting your bottom leg to strengthen your hip adductors. Boost the intensity by placing a dumbbell on your thigh and just above the knee of your working leg. Perform 12 to 15 reps for one to three sets.
Strong Heart, Better Ride
Engage in weekly cardio workouts, such as running, swimming or cycling, to boost your endurance in the saddle. Increase the duration, distance and intensity of your workouts gradually.
Create a running regiment that gradually advances in difficulty -- speed and distance.
Run 1 mile in eight minutes for Week 1 of your regimen, increasing the distance run by half a mile and duration by four minutes every week for five weeks. Aim to run three miles in 24 minutes at the end of the progression.
Commit to doing at least two 30-minute cardio workouts per week.
Perform five to 10 minutes of light cardio as a warm-up for strengthening, aerobic and flexibility exercises.
Equestrians often suffer from a variety of injuries involving their wrists, forearms, backs, shoulders and legs. These injuries can result from muscular imbalances, lack of physical strength and flexibility, poor riding form or overuse. If you’re feeling any pain during your exercise regimen, stop the exercise and consult your doctor.