Riding Fit

Equestrian Exercises

Try this easy exercise specifically designed for equestrians.


I've been trying to work on strength exercises so that I'm stronger in horsemanship and hunt seat equitation classes, but I still don't feel as strong in the saddle as I could. Are there special exercises for equestrians?

For our answer, we turned to "Fit to Ride" in the February issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal, where Michael C. Meyers, a senior research scientist in health at Montana State University in Bozeman, lent his sports physiology knowledge. Michael has worked extensively with equestrian and rodeo athletes on and off the horse.


The most efficient upper body exercise is none other than the push-up – it's the No. 1 exercise for equestrians.

By adjusting the placement of your hands, the push-up can be altered to work different muscle groups. From the standard push-up position, on all fours, with your abdominals stabilizing your core and your body parallel to the ground, taking a wider stance with your hands will focus the workout on your chest muscles. Bringing your hands closer to your body will redirect the focus to your triceps.

But the ultimate position for an equestrian is different still. A regular push-up builds wide shoulders. Is that what you need for equestrian? No.

To make the most out of an exercise, think in terms of the sport that you are participating in and make changes to create a sport-specific version of a classic exercise.

Think about what you're doing on the horse and then put yourself in position. For a push-up, imagine you are sitting on your horse, elbows at your side, first holding imaginary reins in front of you. Then tip yourself forward into push-up position. Doing this position, pushing off your fists rather than a flat hand, elbows low and by your side, mimics the force of transfer from the bit through the hand, arm and shoulder.

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The plank can be performed from a similar position, focusing on the abdominals, the protectors of your back, a rider's most common source of pain.  Get down like you're going to do a push-up, put your elbows down, straighten your back and hold it. That strengthens the transverse abdominals, the girdle of the abdominals.

While it won't develop the coveted "six-pack," as an abdominal workout, the plank is superior to the bulk-building crunch for equestrians for its tightening and stabilizing effect on the core.

– Michael C. Meyers
Senior Research Scientist in Health at Montana State University, sports physiologist

Want to learn more from "Fit to Ride," including great equestrian exercises that strengthen your lower body and core? Read the February issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal!