Mounting Exercises To Help Improve Getting On The Horse

Flexibility is crucial to making mounting your horse much easier. With poor flexibility, you’re likely to struggle to get on your horse without pulling at the saddle and disrupting your horse’s balance. Not to mention, making for visual comedy as you twist and haul yourself up!

If you rely on a mounting block to get on and off your horse, these four exercises I’m going to share with you will prove invaluable and make each mount a little smoother. These will also help for those times you may be out hacking and you find yourself trying to look for that log or bank to help you get back in the saddle after opening a gate.

 

These four exercises that will help improve your flexibility and get you onto your horse with ease more ease.

Of course, I would like to mention here, that there will always be a situation where yes someone who may not be as tall as someone else is riding a very tall horse, so no amount of stretching will give you longer legs, or shrink your horse down.  However, there is always ways we can improve ourselves and this is where I am coming from. So hopefully each time you do mount you can do so comfortably and set yourself up lightly onto your horse back.

 

Exercise 1.

Lie down on your back with your legs straight. Draw one knee up to your chest, clasping your hands around your knee. Focus on pushing your back down against the ground, engaging your core and pulling your knee towards you. Flex your foot, so it’s nice and strong as you stretch.You’ll feel this in your bottom and through the back of our leg.

 

Exercise 2.

In a sitting position, tuck one leg into your groin and straighten out the other. Targeting the hamstring muscle, reach down towards the toes of your straight leg.

If you wish to intensify this exercise, hold your toes and with the opposite arm, reach up and over your head. Turn your head to look under your armpit as you hold the stretch.

 

Exercise 3.

Remain in the seated position and stretch out both your legs. Slide your seat bones right back and fold forward towards the floor. If you can reach your toes, that’s great. If not, it’s something to work towards.

This exercise is again targeting your hamstrings and encouraging them to lengthen. If you have short, tight hamstrings, you’re going to be struggling to lift your leg up and over your horse.

 

Exercise 4.

Coming into a pigeon pose, tuck your front leg in close to your hip and length your opposite leg behind you. Once in position, fold your body forward, resting your forearms on the ground. Again, if you can’t get all the way down, this is something you can continue to work towards.

Try to hold each of these exercises for at least 30 seconds in the beginning and then lengthen to a good minute as you get more comfortable. As you practice, you’ll notice greater flexibility and mobility which will help you get on your horse with ease. The more you challenge yourself and your fitness off the horse, the better you’ll perform when riding.

 

Improving your rider fitness, strength and balance will not only enhance your riding, it will also keep you riding for longer.

Get yourself started with our free guide here.

Stretches For Riders With Tight Shoulders And Upper Back

Here is a series of stretches to help improve tight shoulders and upper back in riders. As dressage riders posture is important to maintain, not just for the picture this creates, but also for proper alignment so that we can ensure all our joints and ligaments can move freely with the horse.

Often though we can find it’s our upper body that can get tight from activities we do during the week, be it with the horse or due to our lifestyle or job. So in order to prevent injury and to help enhance your riding, you may like to try these stretches out to help improve your riding posture and ultimate prevent any injuries or niggles in the future.

Here are all the stretches, follow along with the video as I demonstrate them and do this as a circuit. You may like to do this a few times per week to really help rebalance the body. Or if you find you have had a week with lots of desk work, do this to help rebalance before you head out to ride.

 

Foam Roller Butterflys

Great for opening up the chest and helping to rebalance the shoulders.

Open your elbows as wide as you can while letting your hands come by your ears. Now let your elbows drop down towards the ground to open up through the shoulders. Aim to hold this for 5 breaths.

 

Foam roller goalposts

Great for opening up the front of the shoulders and into the chest.

Similar to the above stretch, but this time take your hands wide like goal posts. Think about asking your forearms to drop down towards the ground and feel this open up and stretch the front of your shoulder. Try not to let your ribs pop and instead maintain a neutral spine. Relax as you allow your shoulders and chest to stretch. Hold this position for 5 breaths.

 

Side stretch

This stretch really helps to reset the shoulder position by opening up underneath the armpit.

Have your knees down on the floor with your bottom up, then reach one arm forward with the other out to the side. Press your chest towards the ground and feel this stretch under the armpit. You can also have your hand resting on something higher to get a deeper stretch. Hold each one for about 2 breaths before switching. Keep switching sides to stretch each side overhead 3 times.

 

Standing shoulder stretch

Great to open up the front of the chest and stretch through the front of the shoulder.

Stand tall with your feet about hip distance apart. Clasp your hands together behind your back and press your knuckles down towards the ground as you lift your chest. Keep your neck in a neutral position. Roll your shoulders back and down. Hold this stretch for 5 breaths.

 

Thread the needle

This helps open up through the upper back and stretch the back of the shoulder.

Start in an all-fours position. Thread your right arm through the middle until you can lay your head and shoulder down on the ground. Prop your left hand up on the fingertips for more and press into the ground to further the rotation. Hold this stretch for 5 breaths, then switch sides and repeat.

 

Puppy pose 

This helps to stretch under the armpits and into your lats to help rebalance your shoulders.

Start in an all-fours position and walk your hands forward as far as they can go without changing the position of your hips above your knees. Lay your forehead down on the ground and press your chest down to the ground to intensify the stretch. Hold this stretch for 5 breaths.

 

Baby cobra

This helps to strengthen your upper back muscles while opening the front of the shoulder

Laying on your stomach with your feet on the ground and together, slide your hands under your shoulders. Then lift up your chest and head while lengthening the back of your neck. Hold this stretch for 5 breaths.

 

Supine cobra shoulder lifts

Great for opening the front of the shoulder and stretching into your chest.

Start your cobra position as above, but slide your hands wider and tent your fingertips. Then lift your chest and rotate one shoulder forward while the other moves back. Aim to hold each stretch for 2-3 breathes and rotate each side. Do 5-10 each side.

 

Thoracic rotational stretch

Great for improving mobility through your upper back and opening your chest up.

Laying on your back, start with your knees bent and your hands together in front of your chest. Then with your top arm, circle it above your head to open right back behind you. Then circle down to your hips and back to the start. Keep doing these arm circles nice and slow at the rate of your breathe. Repeat 10 each side.

There are some great stretches to help improve your upper body posture and balance. When we are in balance and our body is aligned we can move freely. This is not just great for injury prevention but also for longevity to. So take care of your body and try out these stretches. Remember to watch the video where I give options for each of them and demonstrate how to do them.

For more exercises, stretches and information to take your riding to the next level, be sure to download our free guide to get started today.  Designed to help you be more aligned, fit and balanced each and every ride. Learn more about it here. 

 

Soothing Stretches To Help Improve Sciatica In Riders

Sciatica is something that is quite common in horse riders and it refers to pain radiating down the path of the sciatic nerve which branches down from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down through each leg.  While there are a number of different causes, there are some stretches that can help sooth the intensity of the issue.

 

What Causes Sciatica

Sciatica can be caused by prolonged sitting, carrying heavy loads, obesity, age, and diabetes. Stretching is a great way to help in both treatment and prevention of sciatica and these poses, in particular, may help relieve nerve root compression. The reason it can be so common in riders is due the pressure that is applied to the region surrounding the sciatic nerve when in the saddle.  This means that virtually any seated activity can prove to be painful and cause flare ups. However when you add the rising and movement that is created in the saddle, sometimes it can aggrevate an already existing issue.
Now these stretches certainly aren’t a magic bullet, nor do I want to suggest that they will work for all sciatic cases and that every body should do them. Its definitely important that you treat sciatica with care, but understand that prevention is the best medicine and keeping your hips mobile and active will help and you may find these stretches are useful to do before and after a ride to really help prevent any flareups happening from being in the saddle.

In the video I demonstrate each of the exercises, do it along side with me and look at for the adjustments to suit. Then try and do this series as a circuit as often as you can as a great prevention.

 

Childs Pose With Hands Back

This is great for loosening up the lower back and glutes.

Start by kneeling on the floor and slide your knees wide while drawing your feet together. Then fold your upper body down over your thighs and let the head rest on the floor. Let your hands rest down by your thighs on the floor and breath here for 30 – 60 seconds.

 

Bridge Pose

This pose helps to stretch tight hip flexors while strengthening your glutes.

Lying on your back, slide you feet in close to your bottom and lift up your hips by engaging your glutes. Let your hands rest on the floor and lengthen the back of your neck. Aim to hold this for 30 seconds.

 

Pigeon Pose

This helps alleviate tightness and pinching of the sciatic nerve through the release of the lower back, glutes, and hips.

Come around into a pigeon pose, with both legs bent at 90 degrees. Position one leg bent in front and the other leg straight behind you. Turn your body around to face the ground and lower yourself down over your front leg onto your forearms. If the stretch is too deep, you can bend or straighten your back leg. Rather than lower yourself to the ground, you can bring yourself up higher with your arms straight.

 

Key Hole Stretch

This stretch relieves compression of the sciatic nerve by stretching the glutes, piriformis, and the lower back.

Lying on your back with your legs straight, bring one knee into your chest. Taking hold of your ankle, pull your leg towards to the opposite side. As you do so, you’ll feel a stretch in through your bottom. If the stretch is too deep, bending your straight leg may help make the stretch more comfortable for you. If you wish to intensify the stretch, bend your straight leg and place your heel on this thigh. Holding this knee, pull your legs toward you, deepening the stretch.

 

Butterfly Stretch

This stretch relieves compression of the lower back and hips.

Sitting on the floor, bring both of your feet together in front of you and join the soles of your feet together. Have your feet further away for less intensity and closer for more. Then using your elbows gently press your thighs down to open up your hips more.

 

Single leg hamstring stretch

This pose relieves tightness in the hips and glutes while also opening up the hamstrings.

Sitting on the floor extend one leg out straight and bend the other to your groin. Then reach towards your long leg and let your body fold forward in that direction. Hold here for 30 – 60 seconds and repeat on the other side.

 

Crossed ankle forward fold

Relieves tension in the lower back, hamstrings, tensor fascia latae, and gluteus medius

Standing tall, cross your right leg in front of your left and tip forward from your hips. As you do this try and press through both big toes to flatten your feet on the floor. Hold this stretch for 30 – 60 seconds.

 

Lying Twist

Helps loosen up the lower back and glutes.

Remaining on your back, take one knee over your body. Turn your gaze to the opposite direction and stretch out your arm. Allow yourself to sink down as your body eases into the stretch. If you wish to intensify the stretch, you can straighten the leg crossing over your body.

 

Seated Twist

Helps relieve tension through the lower back and glutes while also getting into ITB.

Sitting up, tuck one leg underneath you and cross the other over the top. As you hug your knee, twist your upper body right around to the back. Ensure both seat bones are down as you rotate your spine. Your back hand can be used as a support to keep your body lifted and your spine supported and straight. If the stretch is too challenging, you can straighten your leg out while crossing the other over.

 

So there are some great stretches you can try to help soothe your sciatica or prevent it from coming back. Not all sciatica is created equal, so do listen to your body and prevention is the best medicine. The more you take care of your hips and keep them supple the better they will be.
For more stretches, exercises and information to help you take your rider fitness to the next level, check out our 12 week Dressage Rider Training Program, and download our free guide.

 

8 Key Muscles Involved When We Ride

In this article I am going to share what muscle horseback riding use and specifically break it down to the muscles involved for creating good dressage posture.

Firstly though its important to know a little about our core and that the core is much more than just your abdominals it is your entire central unit. Front, back, inside and out. So the core includes muscles that affect the stabilization of your spine, pelvis and ribcage. So today I thought I would share 8 of the key lower half ones and then check out the next post in this series for the muscles involved in stabilizing your ribcage and upper body.

 

What muscles does horseback riding use?

To pinpoint just a few muscles is doing disservice to the amount of subtle work our body has to do while we ride, but for the purpose of this article I wanted to bring attention to some of the key muscles that can affect our posture and balance when we ride and the role that they play when we ride as well.

Our pelvis plays a crucial role in dressage and the muscles involved in stabilizing it are important to understand. An unstable pelvis can create an unstable ribcage and shoulder girdle. This then can affect not just the rider but the horse as well, from leaning on one rein to having problems bending one way.

Often it is really hard to determine whether its the rider or the horse with the issue. So it makes sense that you as a rider want to understand how the body works and what muscle horseback riding use to create that still and stable position in the saddle. The more you can work upon your own strengths and weaknesses as a rider alongside your horse the better a picture will be and the easier your training will be. You are a team effort after all.

what muscles does horseback riding use

 

8 key muscles horseback riders use

So here is a breakdown of 8 of the key muscles involved in horseback riding to create good core stability through the lower half of the core. Mainly helping to stabilize the pelvis and hips, once you get a good understanding of the muscles in later articles I will more about each one and how to improve there function.

 

Transverse Abdominus what muscles does horseback riding use

First up, this muscle helps stabilize between your hips, your ribs as well as your pelvis. Its like the brace that wraps around your centre and keeps your spine protected. Think of it like a corset around your middle. Its the muscle that comes on when you cough. I like to use the word brace and to imagine if I was to come and poke or punch you in the belly. You would brace your centre and switch your TVA (transverse abdominus).

 

Obliques

These are our turning muscles and imagine your hand sliding into your front pocket of your jeans, this is the direction of your obliques on each side. The obliques are vitally important for keeping ourselves evening stacked upon the horse. Often we may collapse through one side. Think of the obliques as the stiff guide ropes holding the sides of your body up evenly.

 

Psoas

This attaches down the last thoracic vertebra as well as most of the lumbar vertebrae and discs between them from the inside and top of the femur. Its involved with flexing your hip and laterally rotating it. It also has a role in flexing your spine sideways, extending and rotating it. Its big role is the management of the pelvis and controlling the front to back motion. This has the power to restrict and or release the the riders ability to shock absorb the movement of the horse.

 

Iliacus

Similar to the psoas the iliaccus has huge power in inhibiting or releasing the movement of the horse below the rider. The iliacus starts from the iliac fossa on the interior side of the hip bone. It joins the psoas major and the two can often be referred to as the iliopsoas. Together these muscles are often called hip flexors, however I like to separate them as they do have different roles.

 

Piriformis

This attaches to the front of your sacrum and to the top of your femur. Together with the Psoas this muscle this helps rotate and extend your hips as well as internally rotate and flex. Because we are bipedal mammals (two legged) it can do the internal rotation one side and the complete opposite on the other side. Which is often highlighted when sitting in the saddle. For example if you have one thigh that adducts (moves inwards) easily, compared to the other this is highlighted once upon a horse and is going to create a uneven balance on the horses back. Very influential in the pelvic function and balance on the horse.

 

Gluteus Maximus

This helps control the front to back balance of your hips, along side the psoas. When tight this can inhibit the horses balance and when weak this can affect the riders balance within the saddle. Its a large powerful hip extensor. The squeezing of the glutes encourages the thighs to activate which signals a breaking affect. This is great when you want to half halt and signal stopping, but not so great when sitting to the trot and trying to create freedom through the horses back.

 

Quadratus Lumborum

This attaches to the bottom rib and to your lumbar vertebrae as well as the back of your pelvis (iliac crest). This has a major influence on how you move, stand and ride your horse. This is a lateral flexor which means it has the control of whether you tip or rock to one side in the saddle.

 

Gluteus Medius

This muscle rotates the hip inward as well as abducts the hip outwards. It is crucial for helping the rider stay balanced in the centre of the saddle.

Now that is a just a small selection of what muscle horseback riding use and the muscles that are involved in stabilizing the lower half of your body. Our body really does work as an entire unit and there is so much involved in helping to keep your body stable and balanced in the saddle. Every thing is connected. When you understanding the role that the muscles play you will be able to come more aware of areas that you may need to work on to bring more balance to your body and therefore your riding in the future.

I really hope you found this useful, you can learn more about how you can balance your body, improve your core strength and take your dressage riding to a new level with our dressage rider training program. 

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Dressage Rider Leg Strength – 6 Exercises To Help Your Improve

Improving your dressage rider leg strength will help you to have good control of our legs and in doing so a better ability to create good clear communication with our horse. The ability to use leg pressure whenever we need and however we want requires good body control, coordination, stability and balance when in the saddle. Now in order to create this balance and stability, it’s about understanding our own body and it’s biomechanics so that you can optimize your performance in the saddle. In this article I am going to share why and how to improve your dressage rider leg strength and improve your ability to communicate clearly to your horse.

 

Dressage rider leg strength

Like humans, horses tend to have a weaker side and as we train them through the grades we are working on their symmetry and straightness to help even them up and allow them to have good posture when we ride. This is to allow them to build strength correctly which helps protect joints and ligaments as the work demands get greater. Poor posture and poor muscle development can create undue forces and imbalances which can lead to problems later on.

Now when it comes to us as riders, the same principles apply. When you get into the saddle you are wanting to have good posture and alignment. This helps your joints hinge correctly and allows even pressure and work through both sides of your body. We all tend to have a weak or more dominant side and over time our daily environment and habits can create imbalances in our body. This can result in certain twists and torque that pulls our posture out of correct alignment. All this then when applied to the saddle and forces of the horse can create undue forces through our body as well as making it harder to make clear communication with our horse through independent leg aids.

So as a dressage rider it makes sense that as much as you are working on your horses training to ensure they are building strength evenly and symmetrically, you would want to do the same for yourself. Training yourself off the horse isn’t about lifting huge heavy weights or running marathons. Instead, it’s about ensuring your body is optimized with good posture and alignment. This is about building a foundation of good strength and alignment to keep your joints and ligaments working smoothly and correctly so that over time you can continue to do what you love and not have any preventable injuries hold you back from riding. This requires the use of exercises that help improve your posture and balance so that it is even on both sides of the body and that helps you perform at your best when your in the saddle.

 

How to build leg strength for horse riding Dressage Rider Leg Strength

When it comes to our leg strength as Dressage Riders, we are wanting to build the symmetry through both sides of our body, so that our legs can each work independent of each other while our body remains stable.  One of the best places to start is by focusing on our pelvis and the supporting muscles around it. When we have good control of our legs we can create better communication with the horse. If we have weak legs or are one-sided you will find you have to grip through one side while you try to use the other and that your pelvis twists and shifts around as you try and give the horse an aid.

The ability to create a stable and quiet leg begins from our pelvis and hips.  Our hip joints have a big movement pattern and the muscles that support this movement are what we need to be aware of, to begin with. These exercises will help you switch on this foundational muscles that help support and control our legs and our stability in the saddle.

Use these 6 leg exercises to help improve your dressage rider leg strength and stability.  These exercises work on each side independently, so are great for bringing awareness to certain areas that may be tight and/or weak and helping you bring more balance into your body.

 

 

Side Leg Taps

This is a great exercise to help improve your ability to move your leg independent of your torso and by doing each side seperately building that symmetry and balance through each side uniquely. This will help with your ability to move your leg and give leg aids while keeping your body stable and centred.
Lie on your side with your legs long and aligned with your hip and shoulder, resting your head on your lower hand with a bent elbow. If you feel unstable, you can bend your lower leg slightly and rest your top hand out in front for extra support.

 

On an in breath, lift the top leg up and place it down in front of the lower leg and tap five times while exhaling.

Breathe in to kick the leg back up and then tap down five times behind the lower leg on an out breath.

Repeat 5 times front and back while maintaining good stability of the body.

 

 

 

Side Leg Lifts

Great for strengthening up the legs and stabilizer muscles of hips as well as spine. You may notice one side harder than the other, this is normal. By doing this though you are going to help remove this imbalance and improve rider posture.

Lie on your side and lift legs up straight, imagine you are standing on ground still, so feet are flat. Support yourself if you need on the floor using other hand, or make harder by lifting that up also. If this is to much keep the bottom leg down on the ground. Aim to keep entire body still, no rocking forward or back. Just the leg that moves.

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Single Leg Bridges

Bridges are a great way to strengthen the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Really important areas for helping to stabilize the pelvis and hips. By doing these single leg bridges we can really highlight any areas that may be tight or weak.

Start with your heals underneath your knees, lift one leg up and and simply lift your hips up by squeezing your bottom (glutes). If this is to much, stick to the double leg bridges.

horse rider leg strength

 

Single Leg Toe Taps

Single leg toe taps are great for seeing how balanced and stable we are. Often we have one side stronger or weaker than the other and this can be highlighted on a horse by sitting more into one seattbone. So by doing this you will gain more awareness as to what is going on in your body and improve those imbalances.

Stand tall, with neutral spine. Then tip forward from your hips ad touch toes. Let one leg go backwards as you do this. For more of a challenge lift that leg off the floor.

Dressage Rider Leg Strength

Clams

This exercise will help you find the gluteus minimus muscle and the anterior fibres of your glute medius at the side of the bottom which will help you lift your legs off the horse and internally rotate them. It will also improve your ability to give light, precise leg aids as you will gain better control of your leg. Clams are a great way to strengthen the stabilizing muscles of our glutes that help support our pelvis and hips. Often we may have one side weaker than the other. So doing these will help highlight that and bring awareness to what is going on in your body and improve hip stabilization.

Lie on your side and brace your core so you are stable through your back. Then keep feet together but open knee up by using glutes to draw knee up back. Keep everything else really stable while you do this.

Dressage Rider Leg Strength

 

Bridges

Bridges are a great way to strengthen the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Really important areas for helping to stabilize the pelvis and hips.

Start with your heals underneath your knees and simply lift your hips up by squeezing your bottom (glutes). Bring in more stability by crossing hands over your chest. This will make it slightly more challenging.

Dressage Rider Leg Strength

 

Backward Lunge

Here is a great leg exercise to help improve your rider balance and stability. Great for bringing awareness to your straightness and certain areas that may be tight and/or weak. Great to help you bring more balance into your body.

Set up a strong neutral spine to begin with, then step backwards without twisting or leaning forward. Lower down back knee to the ground, while keeping neutral spine and step forward again.

 

 

Here is a short video bringing them all together. Start by doing as a circuit. Do each exercise for 10 reps each side and then move onto the next exercise. Aim to run through the circuit 2 times through and do this 3 times per week. Notice what this does to improve your dressage rider leg strength and balance in your lower body. Combine that with the 5 stretches that every dressage rider should do and you are off to a great start.

 

Leg Strength

 

Remember Dressage is all about straightness and balance, so it makes sense that we put the work into our own body to create this also. You are a team effort, so put as much awareness into your body as you do your horses and together you can both then shine!

Learn more about how you can improve your riding position off the horse with our 12 week Dressage Rider Training program. All the tools you need to improve your riding position.

Get started by downloading our free guide today

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7 Exercises To Improve Lower Body Strength And Balance

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Simple Reminders To Achieve A Successful Rider Mindset

Everything in riding can be changed with the right mindset and one of the first places, to begin with, is to understand that our emotions affect our rides. I am sure you have experienced that ride when you get home from work or you have had a really stressful frustrating day and you hop on your horse and you then have a terrible ride.

Our horses respond to us. Your horse is your best trainer in the entire world and I believe the horse you have right now is the horse you are meant to have to teach you what you need to know. There is no one right method when it comes to training a horse, every horse is unique, they have their own personalities and they have the power to teach you amazing things if you listen.

One way I like to get myself into the right mindset is by following the philosophy BE, DO, HAVE. Who do I need to be, so I can do what I want to do and have what I want to have.

Success doesn’t come by just wanted, it comes from being and working towards your desired goals. Taking action.

First place to start is by removing your negative beliefs. Take away the barriers you put on yourself and the buts and excuses you put in place and start to think about “who do you need to be” the key is to start fostering the right beliefs that are going to get you closer to your goals.

Write down who you need to be and repeat it to your self daily. The more and more you practice this the more and more you will believe it and become it.

 

Set Goals

Create realistic goals that are achievable and put steps in place to help you get there.Break it down into actionable steps you can do each and every ride to improve. Maybe you are wanting to ride level two next season but you know your sitting trot needs work and you forget your tests once at a competition. So for the next month, you practice ride sitting trot and at the end of every ride you run through your level two tests so it gets super familiar and you get more and more confident in doing it. The more you practice the better you will feel.

 

Small Steps

Nothing happens overnight, the real successes come one ride at a time. Build upon your rides and be 1% better each time. Start today’s training where you finished yesterday and make small progressions. Take notes, write down where you want to work on. For example, you find your centre lines are wobbly when you practice your tests. Work on your centre line and improve 1% each ride. Celebrate and appreciate that when you practice you can improve. When you strike problems such as a wobbly centre line, rushed transitions or something else, don’t react to them emotionally. Be constructive, think about why it was happening and work out ways to overcome that issue.

 

Learn and expect failures

Nothing is ever smooth sailing, appreciate that bad attempts and failing are all part of the journey. Don’t get emotional about it. Learn from it and know that it’s just the beginning of an amazing path you are on. Learn from every experience and take information from it. Also remember that even with your best intentions, horses will be horses. So don’t get emotional if you have a bad ride and you can’t train how you wanted. Just learn from it and build upon the last ride.

 

Consistent

Dressage is about consistency and in order to improve and develop you have to be willing to put in the consistent work even if you feel “bored” or can’t be bothered. The basics have to be put in place and the foundation laid in order to build upon that. So take the time each and every ride to build that foundation for success.

 

Every horse is different

There is no one way to train a horse and every horse is unique. So be fully open to experimenting and not knowing the answer. Search for ways to get the desired answer and never ever stop learning. You don’t know what you don’t know and the goal posts change all the time in dressage. When the horse changes you have to change with the horse. So learn to embrace change and being flexible, if you hit roadblocks get excited by them and hunt out the answers and expand your knowledge. Horses are a living breathing amazing animal that allows you to ride them, be mindful of them at all times and take them as your greatest teacher!

 

No short cuts

No one can make you better and no one can do it for you. If you aren’t prepared to put in the work then you simply want get there. The success or lack of it is directly related to the amount of effort you put in. No one else is to blame for where you are at just as no one else can take the credit for your hard work. So ownership of your journey is the key to getting better.

Dressage is a lifelong journey and it is an amazing sport we can do for a long time. So enjoy the journey, take each horses lessons they teach you as a gift and embrace that you have a great deal to learn along the way.

 

Most Importantly!

Don’t take it so seriously. Enjoy building your relationship with your horse and creating this amazing partnership. There are many serious crazy things going on in the world and being fully present and spending time with your horse is a gift.

So focus on the present moment and enjoy each and every ride.

 

 

Improve Your Rider Shoulder Stability

As a rider the key is creating an illusion of stillness and creating soft hands is part of this picture. These hands aren’t rigid and they move with the horse. We must then have shoulders and wrists that are supple yet stable. If we become to rigid in either of these joints it affects our bodies ability to move with the horse and creates a blockage.

Just as our goal with the horse is that they are in balance and carrying themselves correctly then we to must have good shoulder-girdle stability and balance.  It is after all this stable base that soft hands comes from.

If you have poor shoulder stability and a strong wrist, you block the ability to move correctly with the horses movement. Now I am not saying its about a floppy wrist or grip. As riders we carry a elastic strength and if we have areas of tension this is translated through to our horse. So we need to have specific stability and suppleness in our body.

Often the area that lacks this is within our shoulders, from our office jobs, through to hours driving cars. Our posture gets affected. So putting some time into correcting this and enhancing this will only benefit your riding.

In order for strong stable shoulder blades our lower fibers of the trapezius, the serratus anterior and the rhomboids should all be working in conjunction. Along with this is the work of the latissimus dorsi which helps stabilize your upper arm.

 

Here are some exercises that will help you bring awareness to and improve your ability to achieve shoulder-girdle stability.

 

Wide Upper Locust

Lying face down point your toes and press your feet towards the ground while engaging and squeezing your thighs and bottom. Then take your arms wide and lift the upper body up while looking down and keeping your neck long. Aim to hold for 30 secs
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Prone hold

Place your elbows under your shoulders and have your hands apart. Then brace your middle and tuck your tail underneath you like a scared cat. Lift your torso off the ground onto your knees or toes to make it harder. Aim to hold for 30 secs.
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Albatross

Set up as you did above, but this time add in the turn to the side. Keep the bottom engaged as well as the legs as you turn. Look towards the hand you are lifting.
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Goal Post Locusts

Set up the same as above and bring your hand by your ears like goal posts with bent elbows. Then push them forward aiming to keep them up behind your ears. Look down and keep your neck long. Repeat these 10 times.
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DB Lat Raises

Using some dumbbells or water bottles bend your arms to 90 degrees, then lift the elbow up to shoulder height and back down again. Keep your neutral spine and stable core while your arms lift.

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Do each of these exercises as a circuit a 2-3 times through twice a week and you will begin to notice improvements to your upper body strength. Balance this out with hip mobility and core engagement and you are on a journey to improving your riding.

If you put the effort into improving your riding technique as much as you do your horses, you’ll be able to become a stronger team and your riding will start to excel. For more exercises, stretches and workouts to help advance your riding and fitness, check out our online dressage rider training program. Here, you’ll find all the tools and specific dressage exercises you need to take your riding to a new level.

 

7 Exercises To Improve Lower Body Strength And Balance

In this article I share specific dressage exercises that will help you fine tune your own strength and balance in the saddle.

As riders understanding what is going on within our own body can help us when we are in the saddle.  Often we may feel that the horse is really stiff and weak on one rein and while this may be true, it’s important to not overlook the fact that you may also be stiff and weak on one rein too, these dressage exercises will help you address those weak areas and help you build on your riding posture by helping with the strength of your lower back and legs.

We work on our horse’s symmetry, strength and balance through dressage, so paying attention to all these factors in ourselves makes sense. Not just for the picture this creates, but also for clarity of aids and prevention of wear and tear in the future.

Dressage Exercises To Improve Lower Body Strength And Balance

 

These series of specific dressage exercises are all about helping to strengthen the muscles that stabilize our pelvis and lower back. While doing them you may then discover your “weak rein” and parts of your body that need a little more attention.

By working on making sure you are even and balanced you can then truly help your horse with their training and take any rider imbalances out of the equation.

 

7 exercises to improve lower body strength and balanceExercises To Improve Lower Back Strength And Balance

Try these exercises throughout your day. You could do one exercise at a time or put them into a workout to do a few times a week. Improve your balance and strength off the horse and notice how it improves your time on the horse.

For each exercise aim to do 10-15 reps of each exercise at a minimum, have a rest and repeat again.

 

1. Lower Locust Leg Squeezes – Great for toning and strengthening your lower back, glutes and hamstrings. If you are new to this sort of exercise, start with just one leg or do two and rest after each rep.

 

2. Bridges – Great for toning and strengthening your lower back, glutes and hamstrings.

 

3. Bridge Single Leg Lifts – Great to progress on after the bridge pose. This is also great for toning and strengthening your lower back, glutes and hamstrings but ensuring we are even on both sides. So often we will have one side stronger than the other and this will really help highlight any imbalances.

 

4. Horse Stance Pointer Combo – Great for improving balance as well as muscle coordination through our cross link chain of our postural muscles. Again this is a great exercise to highlight any imbalances and understand which side of your body is weaker than the other and where the work needs to be put in.

 

5. Chair Squats – Being able to squat is incredibly beneficial for not just your riding but for all the day to day tasks of horse care. So if you havn’t squatted in a while start with the chair squat and then work your way towards taking this away and doing full squats without it.

 

6. Toe taps – Another great exercise to highlight how good your balance is and show case any imbalances. Start with back foot on the ground as you tip forward and progress to lifting this up and keeping it up for the entire set.

 

7. Step Lunges – Great exercise for developing lower body strength and working on even balance through both sides. Start by just lunging on the spot, then progress to step lunges. Be sure to push through the front heel and keep the body upright.

 

These exercises are great for improving overall strength and balance around our lower body and all the muscles that help support our pelvis. Too often we spend all our time focusing on our horses balance and strength. Notice what happens when you put just as much effort into your own balance and strength.

Want more?

Get started today with our free guide, build the foundations first and start to take your riding to the next level.

 

What more to help you with your riding? Here are some articles you may find useful.

 

Why Do We Need Strong Lower Abs For Riding?

6 Leg Exercises To Improve Dressage Rider Leg Strength

6 Exercises To Improve Posture For Dressage

I Need To Improve My Cardio

I hear it all the time and I get asked all the time about how can I get fitter for riding or I need to improve my “cardio fitness” I get puffed really easy. So today I thought I would shed some light on how you do this and what the best approach is. Because often it is thought that the only way to improve cardio is by running and while running is fabulous you need to know how to do this correctly and also understand it’s not the only way.

Where so many people go wrong with running is that they go too fast too soon and they run too much, causing shin splints, sore knees, sprained ankles, hips etc. They don’t balance out their training with strength,  core or mobility work. They don’t build a foundation of movement first and allow the body to improve its natural biomechanics and let the joints and ligaments get stronger. You see ligaments take 7 times longer to improve in strength and suppleness compared to muscle. I will repeat that in case you missed it 7 times longer! So you need to allow for this when building any sort of training program.

First, let me paint you a picture to explain. Here’s Judy, she works in an office job and she sits for the majority of the day, she rides one horse 3-4 days a week if she is lucky and she does all the normal jobs around the property that taken care of a horse requires. On average that means walking around 5k-6k steps per day. Over the years she has had a few injuries, niggles here and there.  She then decides she needs to get fitter, so she picks up running and decides to hit the pavement 5 days a week for a 20 a minute run. She starts off great and then 3-4 weeks down the track pulls up with an injury of some sort and decides this running thing is not for me. This goes on repeat year after year and then she just more and more frustrated and gives up and does nothing, because if she can’t run, then what’s the point. So then thinks this whole exercise thing is just overrated and then gets all frustrated in her riding.

Heres the thing, her body was never allowed the time to rebalance, to build its natural biomechanics up and allowed to build its strength up for running on those hard surfaces. It had spent the last few years sitting in a chair and then expected to perform at running. It happens time and time again that we as riders go to fast too soon, yet if you look at any ligament rehabilitation programme for horses, it is so gradual and sustainable, but for some reason, we don’t apply this same analogy to our selves….go figure!

 

Foundation of Movement

Before you embark on ANY running program you need to ensure you have built up and sustained 10,000+ step days consistently for 3 months. This is steps OFF the horse and this is not just “because”, its to allow your body to build its strength, stamina and endurance at a sustainable pace. This allows your body to build its proper biomechanics, improve posture and get your joints, ligaments, fascia and muscles all used to the workload. Vital if you do any sort of desk work or sedentary job. This is an absolute must to help prevent injury down the track and its what is so often missed out. Everyone just goes from sitting to smashing pavements with their body that has been stuck in a chair for months on end and then wonder why they get hurt so often.

When we ensure this step is in place we can then build up our fitness and stamina sustainably and often just by ensuring this happens you will find your fitness and “cardio” for riding improves also. Walking is often underrated as a form of exercise, but the truth is it has incredible benefits and can be done without much thought. Those 10,000 steps don’t have to be in one go. This is accumulated over the period of the day and getting some form of activity tracker like a fit bit is a great first step to help create some clarity on where you currently sit.

 

Why You Only Need 3 Runs Per Week

The thing is, less is more. Smart, effective, intelligent training to make real changes and not just running for the sake of running. You see running every day does not make you a better runner, nor is it a great way to get fitter as you aren’t allowing your body time to rebuild and remodel after the last session. In fact, so many top runners would only run 3 times per week and combine this with strength and interval work. The key is to structure your running so that you are working different energy system and getting maximum results. You are wanting to create the right response within your training to get fitter and stronger quicker without burning out and it affecting your riding. The right balance hormonally, so that you recover and your body gets efficient at burning body fat and so that you improve your stamina when you ride.

The key is to gradually increase your strength and endurance and help you be able to run for longer periods of time and so that running becomes enjoyable and your body doesn’t get injured or burnt out in the process. This isn’t by running every day of the week for the same distance and time.

Here are your three runs and ideally spaced with a day in between. So for example Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday then on the days between you can do some work on your strength and suppleness with yoga, mobility work and strength programs to help improve you overall alignment and strength.

 

Timed Run

This run is only done once a week and I like to place this ideally on a Tuesday. This is where you will run a set amount of time starting with only 10 minutes and you will try and run as far as you can within this time frame. Gradually you will increase this amount up to 20 minutes. Once you hit 20 minutes, this is where you will stay. This run isn’t about length of time but instead distance within time, leg turnover. Each week you will try and push the distance that you can run in those minutes, or run a distance that takes you around 20 minutes and try and do it faster. The key here is to try and increase your capacity to run further in a short time frame. You will start off gentle though. Go for 10 minutes and try and run as far as you can in 10 minutes, then the next phase we increase the minutes. This is about getting your body stronger, so long drawn out runs will cause injury as you get tired, this short runs you will get fitter and stronger and you will focus this time on running with great technique and posture while you run.  Start short though and only do a distance in which you can maintain a good running posture and technique.

If you are just starting out running, it’s this run you begin with and you only do this one 10 minute run per week for 4 weeks and then build this up to 20 minutes the following 4 weeks. This allows your body to rest, recover and gives your joints and ligaments time to rebuild. Then in and around that is your 10,000 step days and you can do some yoga, strength workouts around this to help improve your strength, posture and alignment, all of which will help with your running long term. Once you are maintaining your 20 minute time trial run consistently each week, you then add in the next one.

 

Sprints

Then once per week, we sprint, this is your training on a Thursday. This is your sprint, your 100%! You don’t have to race anyone except yourself. The key is to go at your absolute maximum! There is nothing like sprinting to get stronger legs and ligaments, short sharp smart sprints! Your legs and your core are working super hard to maintain posture, and the response from your body after sprinting is like nothing else! The great thing is this is only once a week. This will increase your capacity to be able to run faster over a longer distance. That means training anaerobically will increase your aerobic capacity, however, unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way. Meaning if you train aerobically (slow and steady) it doesn’t make you run faster and doesn’t always get you, fitter. So those that just jog throughout their week, never really get stronger at running and often plateau. When you add sprints into your week you will become a stronger runner, your muscles will get stronger and you will get fitter faster.

If you are a beginner this is where you add in next after your initial 8 weeks of your time trial run and 10,000 step days. Do both these two for 4 weeks combined before adding in the third run.

Warm up well, by doing a 5 min slow jog and a couple of 80% short sprint efforts. Then move into your sprint sessions.

Phase One (Weeks 1-4)

20 second sprint x 8 with as much rest as you need between.

Phase Two (Weeks 5-8)

20 seconds sprint with 10 seconds recovery, x 8.

Phase Three (Weeks 9-12)

20 second sprint x 12, as much rest as you need between.

 

Long Run

Now the third and last run you do per week is your long run, this is where once a week you are trying to increase the amount of time that you can run for, your endurance. You are starting out at 20 minutes as your long run if this is easy for you then run further. The key is once a week, increase your amount of time that you run for. Only do this once a week. There is no need to go for much longer than 60 minutes if your goal is 10k runs. Ideally, aim to build up your long run to 45 minutes over time.

 

Here is how your week will look

Monday – At home program working on strength, alignment and posture

Tuesday – Time Trial 10-20 minutes, aiming to go as far as you can in that time frame

Wednesday – Yoga working on suppleness and mobility

Thursday – Sprints

Friday – Core strength and stability work

Saturday – Long Run, start at 20 minutes and build up over time.

Sunday – Rest

 

Do I have to run?

Now, this whole approach can be applied to cycling, rowing, swimming etc so if running is not your thing, don’t think you have to, this is just here as advice if you feel “cardio” is an area you wish to improve. The key is first understanding the vital layer that is your foundation of movement and this is crucial to creating stamina and endurance in your day, all of which is required for riding. So start with getting those 10,000 step days, invest in an activity tracker like a fitbit and be honest with how much moving you are doing each and every day (this doesn’t include riding steps!!). You will find this helps massively towards your “fitness” in the saddle.

Then you can add in your time trial training on a bike/xtrainer/rower to really get a sweat on for 10-20 minutes and add interval training in next in the same way, followed by a long endurance session once a week to really help push the boundaries and stamina a little more. Running isn’t for everyone, so don’t feel you have to run if you don’t want to.

All of this should be done however with some training that helps you improve your balance and posture, even out imbalances and help with your alignment like our 12-week online Dressage Rider Training program. Remember it’s about sustainably building up, so a good place to start always before even thinking about running is with your foundation of movement and your 3 x 20-minute workouts per week like in our program. All this gives you the foundation for success and once you have this in place you can add those runs in, if you feel the need for extra “cardio” and only introduce one run at a time.

I hope you have found this useful, do let me know if you have any questions.

Bay Of Plenty Champs 2018

 

I took De Leo, my 4 year old out to the Bay Of Plenty Dressage Champs in October, here is a wee video snippet we put together of the weekend. I was super proud of how he coped and how far he has come. We got some great scores and bought home Reserve Champ. Really excited and looking forward to our journey together.

 

 

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