Time Saving Rider Fitness

Last week I said you should be sticking to your exercise habit as much as possible so here’s some Inspiration to help you out.

I know you might be thinking “ but Nicola I’m already pressed for time with a horse, job, family as it is” Firstly I’ve got classes full of ladies with the same commitments and they turn up for an hour every week. Also I heard a podcast with German Dressage Rider Jessic Von Bredlow and alongside riding 5-7 horses per day and having a child she fits in a couple of rounds of Sun Salutations every morning- she does about 3 rounds each side and it takes about 4 minutes so no excuses. If you want to follow suit the here’s a Sun Salutation video for you to follow along to. Sun salutations are great for a full body stretch out and promoting symmetry.

However if you want something a little more like gym work here are a couple of options you can still fit in to 4 minutes.

Pick 2 exercises and set a timer for 20 seconds work 10 seconds rest for 8 rounds. Alternate the 2 exercises each round so you will do 4 of each. That’s 4 minutes exercise you can make as tame or heavy as you like.

No equipment:

Squats - Press Ups




KB/DB Swings

Weighted Squats 


Single arm overhead press

Single Leg Deadlift 


Pure Cardio option.


Kb Swing


Lunge Jumps

Mountain climbers 

Shock Absorbing Ankles

Whilst I’m not a huge advocator for putting too much weight in the stirrup (if you press down you’ll pop your seat up….. its physics) we do still need a connection to the stirrup and the ability to absorb the movement of the horse through our lower leg and ankle. Being unable to do this causes our lower leg to flop around and essentially be ineffective.


There are two elements to being a good shock absorber. 


The first one is the mobility of the joint to move freely. If a joint is stiff and restricted the movement of the horse becomes an impact -think hitting a wall rather than an absorption of force such as hitting a boxing pad.


To mobilise the joint is very simple, just making circles in both directions aiming to take the joint through its full range of motion each way.


Secondly we need to ensure the joint is not restricted by the muscles attached to it. This means stretching the calf muscles.


I like this kneeling stretch as it hits both the big calf muscle (the Gastrocnemius) and the often forgotten smaller muscle below it (the soleus). 

Now they are mobile we need to strengthen them.

The muscles around the foot, ankle and shin can be strengthened using a resistance band to pull away from the outside of the foot and then the inside.

Then having a strong set of calves can help so simple, slow, controlled raises off a step can do this.

Then to up the ante, some instability work on a balance pod (with no shoes on). Just trying to stand on one leg on these can be a challenge, but once you’ve mastered that you can add Single Leg Deadlift and Squats….

Plan a Healthy Horsey Christmas

December is here so it’s officially Christmas. 


This time of year can be both a blessing and a curse for horse owners. If you’re off over Christmas this can give you some extra time with your horse but the run up with all the Christmas parties can be a bit hectic. 


If you’ve got competitions coming up then it can be helpful to plan in your schooling sessions now and stick to them like business meetings. 


If you don’t have anything important coming up then it may not be a bad idea to take the pressure off yourself and give your horse a break. 


So get your diary out now and put in your schooling sessions, taking into account social events, hangovers the next day etc and you might be surprised at how easy it is to fit in 2-3 sessions across the week with a bit of planning, even if it’s just 20 minutes on the lunge or 10 minutes groundwork.


The same goes for your own exercise regime, just 20 minutes a couple of times per week will keep you ticking over. If you want to do the ultimate horse owner life hack, long rein your horse for 20 minutes with plenty of trot work in there and you’ll have had a decent cardio session too! 


Then there’s all the extra eating and drinking to contend with. If you don’t want to hit January feeling like a Christmas Pudding then I suggest employing a sensible attitude to eating and drinking. I’m not saying you can’t have any of the tasty food but I promise you that eating your own body weight in mince pies won’t give you the energy you need to make it through all those parties. Also waking up in January with an extra half a stone to shift is just no fun.


So at least aim for a little balance this December. 


Whilst I can’t banish all those treats from your office I can help you plan how to manage them. Back in my office days I got around this by insisting my secretary did all of the coffee making so I didn’t have to go near the treats,  Obviously this showed no regard for my secretary’s health but it s every woman for herself! This of course is not a viable solution…….


Firstly make sure you have your own healthy meals and snacks with you so you aren’t reaching for the chocolate because you’re hungry. Secondly be realistic, you aren’t going to abstain completely but you can limit yourself to one treat per day. So maybe one mince pie or a couple of celebrations instead of your usual afternoon snack is a good way of a having a treat without it being a month long blow out.


Then there’s the alcohol conundrum. Now this stuff appears to be the only advice anyone ever takes on board from me so here goes!


Unfortunately there is no getting around the fact that alcohol has a high calorie content. You can switch to light beer, low alcohol wine but let’s be honest it doesn’t usually taste as good! So, just try not to have a month long drinking session, have some days off and save your drinking for your socialising not just for your regular Tuesday.


Here’s a couple of top picks though if you do want to watch your calories.


Champagne-90 cals a glass = winner! Basically fizzy wine tends to be lower calories than other wine so that’s essentially permission to pop corks.


Spirts such as Gin, Vodka and Whisky have a calorie content of around 100 calories, it’s the mixers that add calories so stick to diet mixers or soda water and you’re saving hundreds of calories. The supermodels current drink of choice is Vodka, lime and Soda so of its good enough for them…..


I’m imagining you’ve all stopped reading now as you’re already on route to the bar…..


Release Your Shoulders For Better Rein Contact

As a horse owner your shoulders take a bit of a battering. Firstly there’s all the mucking out, lifting feed etc. Then there’s the extra “fun” of your horse dragging you off for some grass, maybe having a mad gallop on the lunge……


Alongside this you may also have a desk job, do a lot of driving and therefore spend a lot of time hunched over.


Add to this the stressful nature of life and horse owning sometimes and you might find your shoulders are solid bricks stuck to your ear lobes most of the time.


However when we ride those shoulders are in charge of the hands attached to the reins. Your shoulder is the joint at which your arm is attached and therefore it’s function is vital to the function of your arms. If they are stiff or weak they aren’t going to be that soft, steady contact we want to give out horse.


Here are a couple of simple exercises to help you first release your shoulders and then activate them to keep them strong and ready to ride.



Yoga for Equestrians

Last week we looked at the benefits of Pilates for riders, so this week let’s look at Yoga for riders. I use both in my classes as I think they are equally beneficial, however they do differ slightly. 


Yoga tends to focus on the lengthening of muscles and often there is a relaxation element. However I teach specifically Sports Yoga which adds in the stability element found in Pilates. Yoga is also a really good way of teaching Proprioception and body awareness due to some of the postures requiring movement and balance, as well as being able to join movements together to create a flow that will challenge coordination and concentration alongside stability and strength.


Sports Yoga specifically looks at the demands of a sport, the areas that may become shortened/tight and then the areas that need strengthening to improve performance. 


For riders this would be a focus on 


  • Symmetry 
  • Both mobility & stability in the hips
  • Stability in the core
  • Stability of the shoulders
  • Mobility and shock absorption of the ankles -I’m going to look at this next week 
  • Body awareness 


Adding yoga to your routine needn’t take up hours of your time, just 10 minutes a couple of times per week is enough for you to feel the benefit.


Here is a short flow you can use to improve your body’s performance for riding.

Pilates for Riders

I don’t think it’s a new concept that Pilates is good for riders, but exactly why is it such a good off horse training method.

Pilates cites it fundamental principles as.

  • Breath
  • Concentration
  • Centring
  • Control
  • Precision
  • Flow


So, if we were masters of these qualities in our own bodies do you reckon that would make you a better rider? Damn right it would!

As an Equipilates ™️ instructor I often incorporate breathing exercises into my classes, in particular exercises that can then be used on horse to address issues such as tension, straightness or the obvious not breathing during a lesson! 

Concentration is a vital part of riding. It can be so difficult to completely focus on what you are doing  when often there can be lots of distractions in the form of other horses and people, maybe general activity in and around the yard and topped off with whatever else is going on in your life and therefore your head right now. Concentration can be practiced as a skill which over time will transfer to your riding and other areas of your life.

Centering is connecting with your core. I’m sure you’re aware that a good core is a huge benefit for riding, and being able to really connect and control it whilst on a horse will improve your balance and aids no end. Your arms and legs need a solid base from which to move, this alongside the ability to absorb the horses movement underneath you is the job of a stable core.

Control-Being able to have awareness and control of the muscles being activated enables you give precise, clear aids. It enables you to correct yourself where necessary and assist in correcting your horse and remain n balance.

Precision-As just mentioned, controlled precise aids are clear aids. Your horse may well be listening to you but you aren’t getting the answer that you want because your question isn’t right. Precision is key.

Flow. This really ties to principles together. The ability to move fluidly with control and precision is when riding looks to outsiders to be effortless. Harmony in your own body will help to create harmony with your horse.


Here are a couple of my favourite Equipilates™️ exercises to help with these key principles.


Drop drop Dead Bug



Bridge March


Fit to Ride?

It’s difficult to assess fitness for riding because it contains so many components-one being a wild animal. Others being experience, technical ability and then the question as to whether you are fit for intro Dressage or Badminton as they would be different levels of fitness.


However Jockeys have to pass a fitness test to gain their licence so I thought I would have a look at what that entails-ignoring the fact I eat too much food to ever make weight as a female jockey!


There are various different tests for muscular endurance, core power and cardio fitness-The Bleep Test, for which I still have psychological issues with from school and I’m not ready to tackle those demons yet.


However muscular endurance I reckon I could give a crack.


So just for fun (ok I have different ideas of fun) I picked out these two tests from the Jockey fitness Test. 


You get a score out of 100 based on the time you achieve.


Stupidly I did my first attempt at these after a heavy training session so I was nowhere near fresh! However I managed a 2 minute plank which would be 50% so not great p. The leg repetition and hold I managed the full 2 minutes though so I was pretty pleased with that; I’m not going to lie it burned like hell!


Plank -on Forearms and toes for up to 4 minutes. 






Exercise Ball leg repetitions and hold.

Squat with gym ball behind you for 20 reps, then hold a 5kg weight and hold with thighs at 90 degrees for up 2 minutes.







Why don’t you challenge your yard friends and see how you score!


Do you switch on before you ride?

When you first get on your horse you warm him up don’t you? You ask him to start gently moving, warm up and wake up his muscles to prepare him for the work you are about to ask him to do.


What about you? Do you wake up your muscles before you ride? Ok you may have done some yard work so you are not physically cold but have you activated and prepared the specific muscles you are about to use to ride your horse? Thought not.


In terms of specific warm up these are individual to the riders needs. 


However there are some common muscles we all use when riding that will benefit from being activated before you get on. It should only take a couple of minutes and can all be done at that yard in your riding gear. 


I’ve collectively referred to the muscles as the areas they refer to so it makes it relevant to what you are doing it for.


Seat muscles-Stand side on to a wall, lift the leg closest to the wall up, knee bent at 90 degrees. Press the leg right from the outer hip to knee into the wall for 30 seconds, release and then repeat 3-4 times. Then change leg. If you have a block or foam roller handy you can put this against the wall to press against as this makes it slightly easier to get a good press.

Rein Contact.

Stand in a door way, point your elbows into your sides and press your forearms against the doorway-keep your elbows pointing in. Push for 30 secs repeat 3-4 times. 

Stabilise your T Spine


After looking at Thoracic mobility last week, this week let’s look at Thoracic stability.


Thoracic stability is a major part of core stability. Stability in the Thoracic Spine (think mid back/rib cage) enables effective shock absorption of the horse underneath you and assists you in keeping level front to back and left to right;  the stacking of your rib cage directly over your pelvis. Which incidentally is what helps with the shock absorption but also with keeping your horse straight both on straight lines and turns and circles.


When training the Thoracic Spine region for riding specifically we want to bear in mind it’s just of resisting forces and maintaining straightness so here are a couple of exercises I like to use to do just that. You will also note that the abdominal muscles are involved in these exercises as they are attached on the rib cage and therefore form part of this stabilisation network. 


Dart. Lying on your front, you can keep your hands under your shoulders for support if you wish. Looking straight ahead lift your chest forward off the mat-think forward not up! . Keep your bottom rib on the mat and peel the ribs away as if you could separate them.

Pallof press-using a band attached at the side / or a cable machine if you are at the gym. Take a step sideways away from the band and then with the handle in both hands push it forward straight in front of you resisting the sideways pull from the band.

Turn your T Spine

I was watching a talk by Ashleigh Wallace who is a physio on the Equestrian World Class Programme.


She discussed lack of mobility through the Thoracic Spine, in that she had reviewed 65 riders of varying levels and the majority lacked Thoracic mobility.


The Thoracic Spine is essentially your mid back and it forms part of your core stability. Core stability is the ability to absorb the force/movement of the horse underneath you, for that it needs both mobility and stability. The mobility is required to make tiny micro adjustments to dissipate the impact and the stability is all of the muscles working together to keep the spine aligned. 


If there is too much mobility the spine moves around too much and you will be unbalanced. If there is too much stability without mobility the force does not dissipate and it becomes an impact to the spine-think whiplash.


This week let’s start with mobility of the Thoracic Spine.


Here are 3 of my favourite exercises to mobilise the Thoracic Spine.


Lying on the floor, knees and arms to one side stacked on top of one another. Open the top arm, sweep it out following with your head then bring it back. You can either take it straight up and out or sweep it over your head and round.

It is also useful to try and incorporate the breathing and breathe in to prepare and out to move the arm.


In a 4 point position, take one arm to the back of your head. Leading with the elbow open up and then close back down. Try to keep your hips still -they will try and sway away to gain more movement but that’s cheating!

Seated on a chair or I often do this with clients on a gym ball. Place a pole (your schooling whip will do) over the back of your shoulders, then add a ball or something between your knees to engage your core and help to stabilise your hips. Rotate the torso left to right, breathing out as you turn.