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Whether you enjoy horseback riding as a casual rider or as a competitor, staying fit will help you better appreciate and benefit from the experience. Not only will you notice a difference in your riding capability, but your horse will notice a difference with you too. A horse is very aware of its rider’s personality, moods and confidence level. When a rider is out of shape, she may feel less confident and more afraid of losing control or falling off. A horse can also tell whether or not its rider has control over her own body and when she is afraid. Horses also feel less confident when they know their riders are lacking confidence. Horses look to riders for leadership. It’s important to ‘get with your horse’—meaning that you want to work together as a synchronized team. Following a few horseback riding fitness exercises will help you stay in shape for riding.
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Muscles Used for Riding
It doesn’t matter if you’re riding English or Western, the same muscle groups are utilized for posture, balance, and control. With an English saddle, a rider has less holding him in place, so in many ways, he has to rely on his lower body more. However, even though Western saddles are wider and tend to hold a rider in place better, he will still need to utilize his lower body for posture, balance, and control. “The position of the rider is much the same in both english and western. The rider should sit tall and straight, leaning neither forward nor backward,” explains the Equisearch1 website.
Most riders are aware of the fact that they’re using lower body muscles for riding, but many aren’t completely aware of the muscle groups used in other parts of the body while riding. Riders who’ve taken professional lessons from a qualified and reputable riding school are taught proper posture and how to use their bodies during riding, and muscles naturally build up with weekly riding. Nevertheless, separate fitness exercises will make a huge difference for any type of riding. Not only are leg and foot muscles utilized during riding, but also gluteus maximus or butt, core, upper back, and shoulder muscles are taxed. Arm muscles play a role in posture, balance, and control during riding too.
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Squats and Lunges
Including squats and lunges in your horseback riding fitness routine will help you build strength in your leg and butt muscles. These exercises will also help you build your core strength and develop balance.
For squats, it’s important to keep your back straight. Remember to squat down as if you’re attempting to sit in a chair. Never allow your knees to push forward, inward, or to the sides and never allow knees to go beyond your toes. Tighten butt muscles and engage core muscles as you squat and hold arms out in front in a comfortable position. Never swing or flail arms or hands forward or around. Start with one set of squats of 8 to 12 repetitions (reps). As you build strength each week, add more sets. You can also place a chair behind you at first in case you fall or get too tired, but try and keep from actually sitting down when you squat. Never lean forward when you squat.
Keep the same straight posture for lunges. Also, never lean forward in lunges. According to Katami Fitness2, it’s most important to put all of your weight into the lunging leg in front of you with every lunge. Lunge forward with one leg at a time and take a fairly large step out directly in front of you each time without advancing forward. Always return to the original standing position. Keep shoulders over your hips with every lunge, according to Katami Fitness.2 Also, as with squats, never allow your knee to go past your toe in front of you and keep knees straight. Accomplish one set of lunges of 8 to 12 reps and work up to more sets later.
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Of course push-ups work your arms, chest, and shoulder muscles, but they also exercise your core, butt, and leg muscles. Many people perform push-ups incorrectly, according to Katami Fitness,2 who suggests starting from a yoga position called plank for push-ups. Plank position involves balancing the body evenly between straight arms and knees while facing downward. Hold the body up in this position and engage the core. Keep the body straight as a board or plank. Don’t allow your backside to stick up in the air. Also, don’t bend at the core. Keep shoulders, elbows and wrists aligned and lower down gently for each push-up. Lower your chest and face toward the floor each time and breathe in. Push back up while exhaling each time. Finish at least one set of push-ups of 8 to 12 reps. The more push-ups you can do each week, the stronger you’ll be.
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Any sort of aerobic or cardio exercise will benefit you as a horseback rider. Even though it may seem the horse is doing the work, the rider is also getting a workout due to the required posture, balance, and control involved in riding. Also, your body has to be ready for sudden moves, especially if you are competing and showing horses. If a rider’s body is loose and out-of-control when a horse jumps or changes directions, she may be injured. Muscle injury is common among equestrians.
Jogging, walking, and hiking are typically convenient ways to stay in shape aerobically. These fitness exercises also build leg, butt, and core muscles. Similarly, aerobic dance and regular dance tone and build lower body muscles as well as upper body muscles. Any sport involving running and jumping will provide the same benefits (e.g., basketball, football or soccer).
If you have access to group exercise at a gym, school or other recreational facility, take advantage of yoga and Pilate classes if offered. These help to build total body strength while also stretching muscles to become lean and long. Yoga and Pilate DVDs can also be purchased in stores or online.
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Even without yoga or pilates, you can work out your own stretching routine to include with horseback riding fitness exercises. According to Active.com,3 regular stretching teaches your muscles how to adapt and relax. This allows your body to be more flexible and agile when horseback riding. Focus on stretches that work major muscle groups. Also, remember to stretch the back and hip areas.
From a seated position on the floor or a mat, typical leg stretches involve a forward stretch over legs extended straight out in front of you and side stretches over legs extended out to your sides. Remember to bend at the core and keep legs straight and firmly on the ground when stretching. Also, perform forward stretches from a standing position.
From a standing position, reach upward and to the sides for a full body or back stretch. Remember to engage the core at all times and don’t bend at the core. See other back and hip flexor stretches at Active.com.3
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Remember to get a physical exam and ask your healthcare provider before taking on any exercise routine.
Also, get appropriate training at a reputable riding school before horseback riding. Horseback riding fitness exercises alone will not train you to ride properly.
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1. Equisearch: English Versus Western Riding - What's the Difference?
2. YouTube: Katami - Squats & Lunges
3. Active.com: Top 6 Stretching Exercises
4. The Stretching Institute: Horse Riding Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
5. fitsense: Horse Riding Fitness
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Activerain: How to Get to Know Your Horse Better?