Recommended Exercises to Get Into Shape for Horseback Riding

Exercises for Horseback Riding. Photo by Flikr user, Rance Costa.

Many people think that riding a horse is all the exercise a person needs. While it’s true that horseback riding is an exercise all on its own, there are ways a range of workouts and stretches you can do when you’re not sitting in your saddle in order to improve your ride. Do you find that keeping your heels down is a struggle? How about that slouch that you know you need to get rid of. Horse riding exercises can eliminate or improve many different kinds of issues, from loose legs, to endurance.

If you have strong muscle control and stretch properly, it can help you give clearer cues to your horse, sit your seat more securely, and protect against injury protection. Since you won’t be straining as much it can also help with relaxation in the saddle– something that many riders understand is an important factor in your horse’s movements as well.

Read on for some tips and types of workouts you can do to improve how you ride.


  • The Woodchopper— works abs, obliques, and some cardio. Stand straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and grab a hand weight (any weight will do!) or medicine ball. Hold the weights with both hands above your right shoulder and then extend your arms in front of your torso, bringing the weight down to your left hip. Follow these same steps, but in reverse until you are back at the top of your right shoulder. After a few repetitions and when you’re ready, you can switch sides.
  • Plank— works abs, as well as lower and upper body. Lie face down on the floor, and then raise your body unto your forearms before slowly raising your torso and legs off the ground. The only parts of your body touching the ground should be your forearms and the balls of your feet. You should work on keeping your back straight by squeezing your abs, keeping your core muscles tight. Hold this position for anywhere between 15-30 seconds.
  • Leg Lifts— works your abs and lower body. Lie on your back with your hands placed palms-down under your butt, pressing your back into the floor (there shouldn’t be an arch in your spine). Begin the slowly raise one leg about 10 or so inches off the ground, then slowly return it to the floor before doing the same thing with the other leg. You can also do this with both legs at the same time, lifting them to a 90 degree angle and then slowly (doing it fast doesn’t work) lowering them to the floor.


  • Stirrup Stretch— stretches out your calf and ankle muscles, and helps you keep your heels down when your feet are in stirrups. This can be done a few ways, but the easiest is probably using a set of stairs or a stepping stool. Stand on the lowest rung/stair holding on to something for balance, and scoot your heels back so that they’re off the edge and you’re balancing only on the balls of your feet. Slowly stretch your heels down until you feel that familiar stretching sensation in the back of your calves and hold for 10 seconds. For improved balance, try letting go of the railing or whatever you’re using for support, and attempt hold yourself for two seconds, eventually working your way up to longer periods of time.
  • Thigh Press— works your inner thighs. You can do this at home with any rubber or plastic ball as long as it is at least a foot in diameter. Sit on a firm chair that will allow you to have your legs bent at a 90 degree angle. Scoot to the edge of the chair so that only your butt is on the edge and place the ball between your knees. Squeeze the ball between your knees, hold for at least 15 seconds, then release. Do a few sets of these, and then eventually work your way up to squeezing the ball for longer amounts of time.
  • Hip Abduction/Extension— engages your gluteal, hip, and core muscles. Start on your hands and knees with a straight/neutral spine. Lift your leg out to the side (yes you will look a little funny, but seeing the improvements in the saddle will help you get over that real quick), raising your knee as parallel to the floor as possible. Your spine should remain straight, and the higher you lift the more your core muscles should engage. Bring your knee back down, and then raise your leg out behind you, keeping the core tight. Most people (if you’re doing this correctly) won’t be able to lift their leg very high. At the end, you should feel a burning in your gluteal muscles and core.


  • Triceps Kickback— works the back of your arms, and stabilizes your lower body. Stand as if you were on a horse. This means your head should be up, eyes forward, legs about horse-width apart, knees bent slightly with toes out, upper body tilted forward toward the hips, chest open, shoulders apart, elbows bent as if you were holding riding reins. Hold a weight in each of your hands about waist high, with palms facing in towards your body. Keeping your body in this neutral position, slowly straighten your arms behind you, before bending your elbows and returning to the starting position. Do this for at least 15 reps, until you feel that you could try more weights and/or more reps.
  • “Fly” Chest & Shoulders— works your chest muscles and your front shoulders. Lie on your back and bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor. Hold a weight in each hand, and have your hands outstretched directly above your chest, with your arms straight and elbows only slightly bent. Keeping your elbows bent and arms outstretched, slowly open your arms and bring the weights out and down until your elbows almost touch the floor. Slowly raise your arms back to the starting position, not lifting your shoulders up and keeping them on the floor. Do this 15 times, until you can build up to more.

Staying in shape out of the saddle, means that your time in the saddle will be easier and more effective.  When you’re doing these exercises, make sure you’re wearing the proper sportswear so as to not inhibit your movements or stretch out or stain any of your nice clothes.

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