Riding Fit

Staying Fit to Ride

Accomplished horsewoman and fitness expert Emily Harrington offers advice for staying in shape even when you can't get to the barn.


If I can't make it to the barn to ride, what can I do at the gym to stay in shape for riding?


As a rider, you are an athlete. Although nothing can replace riding for perfecting your ability in the saddle, there is a lot you can accomplish without your four-legged friend.

Ask yourself what your weaknesses are in the saddle. Is it your overall endurance or stamina? Do your legs or back become tired while you are riding? How is your balance? Are you riding centered?

Regular trips to the gym can help with a lot of these issues.

Endurance and Stamina

Change up your strength training workout, or start one, and add some type of cardiovascular (aerobic) activity like brisk walking, walk/jogging, elliptical or a class at the gym. I like to use circuit strength training with low weight and high repetitions to accomplish these goals. This in addition to 20-30 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise of your choice will accomplish a decent endurance foundation.

Example of circuit training:

Start with something in the lower body like lunges, squats or leg press machine. Using your own body weight, or light weight on the machine, perform 15-20 reps, or as many as it takes to feel the burn. That lactic acid you are feeling in your muscle is telling you what your threshold is, and exercising consistently will redefine when you hit the wall.

After you finish legs, let them recover by performing an upper body move like push-ups or chest press with lighter weight. (Note: You can use a modified push-up position with your knees down until you are strong enough to do them in plank position.)

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Once you accomplish 15-20 reps, or reach the point where you can no longer do the exercise in correct form, you are now ready to repeat the leg exercise again while your upper body recovers.

This type of active recovery is very effective at teaching your body an increase in stamina. During this kind of workout, make sure to accomplish an all-over body workout using all of your major muscles of your body. You can do your aerobic exercise for 20-30 minutes before or after your circuit training … or even in the middle. There are no hard and fast rules as long as you just keep moving!

In upcoming blog posts, I'll give you a core workout to improve posture in the saddle, balance practices and more that will keep you strong for the ride!

– Emily J. Harrington, CPT, equestrienne fitness trainer, is a multiple AQHA world champion and top-10 World Show finisher.