Mind Over Muscle – The Importance of Body Awareness for the Equestrian

MindOverMuscleDo you hear “bring your right shoulder back”, “sit straight in the saddle”, “open up your knees” during your riding lesson? And as a result, you attempt to make the corrections but still hear the same requests. Does something feel out of balance but you’re just not sure where the feeling originates? As riders, we may lean to the left, draw up one leg, or pull on one rein and never even know it. Worse yet, our horses are so used to us traveling out of balance that they travel incorrectly and we don’t know it. Improving your mind/muscle connection resulting in correct muscle memory will put you on the right track to balanced riding. Read more


TellAFriendMOTIVATION MONDAY – TELL THE WORLD YOU ARE WORKING OUT (ACCOUNTABILITY).  Tell your friends, family and co-workers your fitness goals. Telling people your goals makes them real and now that others know they can help you stay on track. Go one step further and encourage everyone you know to join you. Working out in groups increases motivation and accountability.  It’s ok to grit your teeth and be determined to do it on your own, but a support network is important, whether it’s at home, in the exercise class or in the work environment. To keep your progress constant, be accountable to a friend, a family member or a coach. They will encourage you to continue when you don’t feel like it.

Why Cross Training is Important for the Equestrian…

Personal Training, Strength Training, Fitness, Weight LossRiding multiple times a week does not automatically translate to being in top condition.  Just like any athlete, physical prowess is essential to success in the show ring. To effectively communicate with our partner, we use solely our bodies which require training for control. Just like a football, baseball, or basketball player trains in the gym to maintain and manipulate the ball, we must train our bodies to successfully manage our “equipment” – which happens to be living, breathing, and thinking.  This training is referred to as cross-training – a fitness program designed to complement the athletic requirements of the sport done in addition to regular practice.

With that said, not all conditioning programs are created equal.  Riding uses particular muscles and movement patterns different from other sports and as a result requires rider specific training.  In other words, equestrian fitness programs performed out of the saddle are tailored to enhance the rider’s skills in the saddle.  This type of training develops core stability, balance, strength/endurance, and flexibility/suppleness while improving seat/posture, aids/cues, muscle imbalances, body

Why Training Out of the Saddle is so Important?

You may be wondering why training out of the saddle helps you become a better rider and saddle time is not enough.  In two words, muscle memory.  Muscle memory occurs when your body has repeated a movement so many times that you no longer need to think consciously about how to make it happen. Your muscles simply know what they need to do. We build muscle memory by repetition.  This can work for and against a rider depending on the situation.  this type of movement and unless you break the pattern it will continue.

BalancePrescribing a set of floor exercises that introduces lack of stability across the body forces you to maintain a neutral spine and squared-up shoulders and hips in spite of disturbances.  Now, the next time you climb in the saddle, your body is used to staying stable in an unstable environment and you are quieter and able to keep your balance without much movement.  You have trained your muscles through repetition on the ground to improve your riding in the saddle.

Are You Drinking Yourself Fat?

Soda PopPeople often overlook the calories contained in their favorite soft drink, fruit juice or sports drink.  A regular soft drink has as many as 150 -200 calories per 12 oz. can.  Drink three 12 oz servings daily throughout one week and your total calories consumed equals 3500 – the same amount of calories in a pound.  Fruit juice and sports drinks are not much better at up to 180 calories and over 100 calories respectively.  Switch these calorie-rich drinks for water and now you are looking at loosing weight. 

You might be thinking this does not apply to you since your drink of choice is diet.  Besides ingesting chemical sweeteners with unknown health hazards, you are also setting yourself up to gain weight.  A recent study conducted at the University of Texas, cited in Eating Well Magazine, showed that people who drank two or more diet sodas daily had a six-times-greater increase in waist circumference at the end of the 10-year study span than those who didn’t drink diet soda at all.  It is thought that diet soda can even make you crave more sweets thus sabotaging your weight loss efforts. 

Bottom line, ditch the sugary drinks (both soda and fruit juice) for water and start losing the weight.

Bonus Tip:  The average person should consume 64 oz of water a day to keep properly hydrated.  If you are overweight, you should drink an additional 8 oz of water for every 25 lbs you are overweight.  If you are working out, this amount should be increased as well.

7 Key Elements to an Equestrian Fitness Program


As an avid horse show competitor, I work very hard to get (and keep) my horses fit for competition.  A fit horse is stronger, sounder, more supple, more balanced/lighter and more athletic overall.  They are athletes that when in top condition perform at the “top of their game.”

What I sometimes fail to remember is that I too am an athlete and must be in top condition in order to perform (with my horse) to the best of my ability.  A fit rider is no different than a fit horse; he/she is stronger, less prone to injury, flexible, balanced, and more in control of his/her body position and aids creating a more effective rider.  The combination of a fit horse and fit rider maximizes performance and can prevent injuries.

I have come to realize that riding multiple times a week does not automatically translate to being in top condition.  It takes an actual fitness program tailored to the equestrian to improve overall athletic conditioning.   A fitness program with these 7 key elements:

Core Stability:  Aids in posture (self-carriage), stamina and effective aids and cues.  Your seat, weight, and torso are at the “core” of your riding with your limbs being secondary aids.

Balance:  Achieving “oneness” with your horse is paramount to successful riding.  “Oneness” is accomplished through balance and body awareness.  Balance is a facet of core stability.  Without it, riders cannot properly “sit” in the saddle; will grip with their knees/legs; and have heavy/pulling hands.

Strength:  Muscular strength and endurance go hand in hand.  The idea for the rider is to build muscular strength that can be repeated over time (endurance).  A rider’s legs are second in importance to balance.   Stable leg position is critical to overall balance.  A rider’s legs must also work independently of each other and lay close to the horse’s side.  Knees and ankles act as shock absorbers.  Upper body strength translates to upper body control, proper posture, and soft/steady hands.

Cardiovascular Conditioning: Improves stamina; prevents a rider from getting out of breath during riding.  Allows the rider’s muscles to work efficiently (energy stores). 

Flexibility:  Flexibility is critical to having freedom of movement in the saddle thus reducing every day aches and pains as well as the potential for injury after a fall. 

Nutrition:  A healthy diet is especially critical for riders who want to achieve optimum performance, both mentally and physically.

Mental Edge:  Riding is just as much a mental sport as it is physical.  Effective mental strategies help riders become confident, relaxed riders.  Peak performance encompasses motivation, confidence, and concentration.