"You have to exercise to ride horses? But it looks so easy!"
No doubt every rider has heard this statement from a friend, and kudos to those who can conceal the cringe it inspires. People who've never been on a horse don't understand that just climbing up and sitting in the saddle takes an incredible amount of core, leg and upper body strength, not to mention balance and flexibility.
Horseback riding engages various muscle groups. These are strengthened whenever you ride, but any fitness guru will tell you that a workout with variety makes you a better athlete and a better rider. Here are some exercises you can do to make horseback riding easier:
"Planks are famous – or infamous, depending on your point of view."
Planks are famous – or infamous, depending on your point of view. They're one of the most well-known and widely used exercises for working your abdominal muscles. Begin a standard plank by lying face down on the ground and support your weight with your forearms. Lift your torso, pelvis and legs, making sure your body remains in a straight line. Don't let your pelvis sink to the ground, causing your spine to curve. At the same time, don't raise it into the air so your body forms an angle.
When in plank position, only your forearms and the balls of your feet should touch the floor. However, you can adjust to make the movement easier or harder depending on your ability. Touching your knees to the ground instead of your feet makes the exercise easier, while resting on your hands as opposed to your forearms makes it more difficult.
Every time you work your abdominal muscles, you should also exercise your back. The two work together, each protecting the other in times of physical exertion.
Start the Superman pose – also called viparita shalabhasana in yoga terms – by lying face down on your stomach with your arms extended ahead of you and your palms and toes flat against the floor. With your legs together and using your lower back muscles, lift your legs and chest. You'll look similar to a flying superhero. The goal is to eventually have only your pelvis touching the ground. Keep your head and neck aligned with the rest of your spine and keep your toes pointed.
HorseChannel.com suggested this exercise for improving your abs and obliques. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and raise a light dumbbell or medicine ball toward the top right side of your body. Pretend like you're a lumberjack getting ready to chop wood. Swing weight down toward your left hip, then bring it back up to your right side. Repeat this exercise on both your right and left sides.
Lunges are a great exercise for nearly every sport. Start by standing tall with your feet together. Step forward with one foot, then bend the knee of your back leg so your body lowers. You want to go down far enough so that your front thigh is parallel with the floor and your back knee barely touches the ground. Rise back up and return to the beginning position, then switch sides. You can keep your hands on your hips throughout the exercise to help balance.
"Strong legs help you remain stable in the saddle."
As the U.S. Eventing Association mentioned, strong legs help you remain stable in the saddle. Squats strengthen your legs, buttocks and core and can be performed with or without weights. Stand tall with your legs at least hip-width apart, then hinge forward slightly. Bend your knees down into a squatting position, then squeeze the muscles in your lower body and return to standing.
If you choose to add weights to your squats, you can try kettlebells, dumbbells or barbells. Each bit of equipment distributes the weight differently.
Riders need strong arms and chests to hold a horse's reins in the proper position for an extended length of time. Push-ups are simple – start in a plank position with your hands supporting your weight. Bend at the elbows, lowering your body to the ground, then push yourself back up.
You can also switch the push-up to work the triceps. Begin sitting on the ground with your elbows bent and your hands flat on the floor. Extend your arms, raise your pelvis and keep your feet on the ground. Then, slowly bend your arms so your body rises and falls.
These exercises help strengthen your muscles for riding and are a good alternative for times when you and your horse can't work together. If it's raining outside or your horse is recovering from an injury, clear some space in your living room and get your own workout in.
With that said, don't forget to give your horse's health and fitness the same kind of attention. All-natural horse products ensure your equine friend is in prime shape so both of you can perform your best.