Sunday, September 6, 2015

Equestrian Fitness and Cross Training

This takes strength
An exercise program designed for horseback riding can help prepare a beginner to ride, improve performance in the saddle for established riders, and decrease the chance of injury for everyone. Horses also benefit from a rider who is able to maintain stability and stay supple in the saddle.

Training can be of three types, which is similar for any sport:
  • The most important is time in the saddle, both for learning skills and increasing your body's specific capability to ride.
  • The next priority is a foundation of strength, conditioning, and movement important for people in all sports and fitness pursuits, This foundation provides improved fitness and health well beyond riding. See Functional Strength.
  • Finally are exercises that emphasize the physical demands encountered while riding. This includes building strength, dynamic stability, and developing good posture. A good example is being able to recover smoothly on landing after a jump. Trying to exactly imitate riding isn't attempted though- the movement patterns and coordination of muscles can't be recreated on the ground.
Two movement patterns that need to work together while riding are supporting and lifting the body up and down from the feet(posting), including with unequal weight on each foot, and holding and transmitting weight through the core in multiple directions. This sample exercise series shows a progression of a simple heavy squat, to a lightly weighted squat with a lateral pull, to an unweighted squat with a strong pull. At the bottom of the two versions using a resistance band, the hands press out away from the body, so the spine and core have to resist being both bent and rotated to the side, all while the torso moves up and down. All of these are done from standing descending into a squat.

Squat progression for equestrian fitness: Weighted, weighted with lateral pull, unweighted with strong lateral pull

Pulling and core strength combined

Another exercise that combines upper body strength and core stability is an inclined row using a suspension device. The movement is in the arms and shoulders, and the entire body is involved down to the feet.

Pulling and multi-directional stability exercise

This version is done with a single arm, adding an additional stabilizing challenge to keep the body from twisting.

Core, hips, and balance at once
A strong core, working at all angles together with the hips and legs, in a dynamic environment, is essential. Isolating the abs while lying on the ground won't do much for this.

Steven Rice Fitness horseback riding in Woodside

The trainer getting some equestrian training.

Update 9/17:
Excellent research just published.
Core fitness training for riders boosts symmetry in the saddle – research
"The physical influence of the rider is increasingly being recognized as an important contributor to equine back pain and lameness, and research demonstrates that asymmetrical loading in particular can be damaging to the horse."

Bay Area Equestrian Network
Member of the Bay Area Equestrian Network