5 Key Strength Exercises for Horse Riders

As horse riders, we always think about how to exercise our horses, but what about ourselves? Any horse rider knows that riding uses our whole body, and that the stronger we are, the better our positions become.

There are many exercises that would benefit horse riders, but to keep it simple, here are 5 key movements that every horse rider should master. Try these 2-3 times per week. 


Why do them?

Squats are a fundamental movement that we do every time we sit down or stand up. Similarly, when we rise to the trot, or push up into our light seat or jump position, we use the same squat muscles. Plus, squats teach us how to balance with our body weight over our feet, which is crucial for staying balanced and central in our stirrups. 

How to do them:

Place your feet flat on the floor about shoulder width apart, toes pointing forwards or slightly outwards (whatever your feet naturally do). Push your hips back as you push your knees out and forward. Squat as low as you can, or until you reach parallel (when your hips and your knees are at 90°). Make sure your heels don’t lift up and that your upper body stays flat. Squeeze your glutes (bum cheeks!) and stand back up tall. Repeat for 12-15 times, for 3 rounds.

And I can confirm that Flexars are 100% squat proof!

Calf Raises

Why do it?

Staying balanced on our stirrups is crucial for any riding discipline, and our ankles play a big part in this. Calf raises help to strengthen our ankle joints so that they can hold our body weight without collapsing in or out.  Calf Raises also help to improve the ankle’s  shock absorbing capacity; this is useful any time we are thrown slightly up in the saddle and may land heavy in our stirrups, or are dismounting off of our tall furry friends!  

How to do it: 

Stand on the edge of a sturdy step, with your heels off and balls of your feet securely on. Push up straight onto the balls of your feet, as high as you can, and then slowly lower your heels so they just go past the edge of the step. Make sure you keep your knees straight, hold on to something for balance if you need to and don’t let your ankles roll to the outside. Repeat 15-20 times (or until your calves start to burn!), for 3 rounds.


Why do it?

As horse riders, we need a strong core to keep us still and upright in the saddle whilst our limbs move. The deadbug exercise teaches us how to brace our core (without holding our breath!) and keep it braced throughout movement. 

How to do it:

Lie on your back with your knees up at 90° and your arms pointing up towards the ceiling. Tilt your pelvis as if you are tucking your tail bone between your legs to make sure your lower back is flat to the floor. Pull your belly button down towards the floor and make sure you can still breathe whilst holding it (if the answer is no, you are using your diaphragm to tense your core; work on trying to squeeze your belly button inwards whilst breathing). Straighten one arm and the opposite leg as far to the floor as you can manage. If your lower back starts arching away from the floor, return to the start and re-squeeze your core and tilt your pelvis, then try again without taking your arm and leg so far out. As you get better at this exercise, take your limbs lower and lower until they are just above the floor. 

Once you have straightened one side, return to the start, and straighten the other diagonal pair. Repeat 10 times (5 each side), for 3 rounds. 


Side Plank with Twist

Why do it?

Whilst sometimes we want our core to remain still, we also need it to move to allow us to twist our shoulders in line with our horse. This exercise works on keeping our legs still whilst twisting our upper body.

How to do it: 

Lie on your side, with your elbow underneath your shoulder. Next you have two options – for an easier option, have your knees bent, one on top of the other. For the harder version, have your legs straight, feet one on top of the other. Push your bottom hip off the ground, so you are propped up on your elbow, and either your knees or your feet. Make sure your hips are directly stacked on top of either other, and the same with your shoulders. Next, take your top arm and point it straight up to the ceiling, and then twist forward to thread that arm between your body and the ground. Slowly return to face forward, and repeat. This can be a tough exercise, so start with 3-5 repetitions, before moving up to 10 reps, for 3 rounds. 

Banded/Bent Over Row

Why do it?

Being able to maintain a steady contact on the rein with an elastic elbow means that our back and rear shoulder muscles must engage to stop us from being pulled forward. This exercise works on strengthening those muscles. 

How to do it:

If you have a resistance band: Sit on the floor, with your legs out in front of you, and place the band around the centre of your feet. Sit up tall and pull your elbows back towards your sides, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Pause here for a second, and then slowly straighten your arms, without moving your upper body. You can make it easier or harder by changing the length of the band, or adding more bands to add more resistance. Repeat 12-15 times, for 3 rounds. 

If you don’t have a resistance band: Find any moderately heavy object that is easy to hold – a tubtrug filled with water is great for this! Place the object between your feet, soften your knees and push your hips back, so you are in a bent over position, with your back flat. Without moving your upper body, pull the object upwards towards your torso by pulling your elbows up and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Pause here for a second before slowly straightening your arms. Try to avoid touching the object to the floor before you pick it up again. Repeat 12-15 times, for 3 rounds. 


Written by Heidi Zymela, who is a Personal Trainer and Sports Massage Therapist. When Heidi isn’t making humans do exercise, she is riding her loan mare, Kenya; at least Kenya doesn’t moan about being asked to move quickly! Feel free to get in touch with Heidi for more fitness tips by visiting @heidifitness360 on Instagram or www.facebook.com/heidifitness360.