Riding Fit

The Core of Horseback Riding

To improve your endurance during the posting trot, you must first develop strong core muscles.


I tire easily while posting the trot. How can I strengthen my legs when I’m not riding?


Don’t you hate it when you watch someone posting along on their horse and it looks effortless? And that’s how it should be!

Here is a breakdown of what is at work once you climb aboard your four-legged friend:

  1. Anytime you are sitting on a horse, your body is already working. Your leg muscles are lengthening, shortening and stabilizing.
  2. Your core is at work to maintain good posture and balance while the horse is moving.
  3. And when you move from the walk to the trot to begin posting you have added another level of fitness…the aerobic state.

Now that I’ve broken down what’s happening once on board your horse, let’s address how to prepare:

Your legs must be flexible to be able to allow the muscles to lengthen (inner thigh) and shorten (hip and gluteus medius --butt muscles). This requires stretching daily of all the large muscles of the legs and gluts. Don’t worry! You don’t have to be an expert in the art of YOGA! Any stretches you remember from high school will probable fit the bill. The key word is DAILY.

Next, that inner thigh muscle is squeezing to keep your legs on your horse, or to keep YOU on your horse. Strengthening this part of your riding can really only come from one thing: More riding! But once we address the next element of this package, your inner thighs won’t have to work as hard.

We often talk about the importance of horse health, but rider health is just as key. Check out AQHA's Riding Fit Pinterest board for tips that'll keep you in shape to horseback ride all day long!

Your core includes all muscles in the upper body that aid in maintaining posture: Abdominal, chest and back. Remember, (and this is important!), if you are weak in your core, your legs have to do the work of keeping your horse going AND helping the upper body stay still. I truly believe that without solid core strength, your legs will end up working double-time.

To keep your core strong, I suggest doing stabilization exercises such as planking, or hands/knees exercises that teach you to keep your belly tight as you move your arms and/or legs into various positions. Any kind of abdominal work is going to help tremendously. Try a pilates exercise CD, or take a class!

We have brought to light the importance of flexibility of the large muscles in the legs and strength of the core. The third part that completes the rider package is aerobic capacity. If you are getting winded in addition feeling a lot of muscle fatigue, then it’s time to get moving…on your own…without your horse.

Even if you were not an equestrian athlete, we all need at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise three to five days a week. Walking is included, but it must be a brisk walk, not window shopping pace. Walk/jog, cycling, dancing, stair machine, treadmill, hiking… you get the point. You need to get your heart rate up and maintain it for at least 30 minutes to strengthen the muscle known as the heart.

The total riding package has muscular endurance, flexibility and aerobic capability to make it complete. You will be amazed how a little bit of effort put into these elements will make your posting trot the envy of all other riders.

Balanced fitness makes a balanced rider.

–- Emily J. Harrington, CPT, equestrienne fitness trainer, is an avid hunter jumper and an AQHA top-10 World Show finisher.