Equestrians know that riding a horse involves an incredible amount of strength, balance, core power and muscle control. Your thighs, calves and hips are especially active during a ride as you use them to hug the body of the horse, which helps you maintain proper body position and in constant communication with the animal. Classic strength-training exercises, along with cardio that recruits the lower body like cycling, help strengthen your legs for horseback riding to make you a more proficient rider and prevent injury.
Lunges and Squats
Squats and lunges are standard leg-strengthening exercises for a reason -- they train the entire upper leg effectively and thoroughly. You need these muscles strong so you can drape the horse properly. Sustained posting also requires strong quadriceps and glutes. Plan to do at least one or two sets of each exercise three or four times per week on non-consecutive days. As you become stronger, you may increase the sets to four or five and hold dumbbells or a barbell across the back of your shoulders.
Abductors and Adductors
Strong inner and outer thighs, created by the adductor and abductor muscles, prevent your legs from flopping in and out as you ride. Lunges and squats indirectly train the adductors, but exercises such as hugging a stability ball between your thighs and holding isometrically for three to five counts, or side-lying inner thigh leg lifts, target these muscles directly. For the abductors, do band walks by standing on a resistance tube and holding one handle in each hand. Take broad steps right and then left to challenge the outer thigh and hip region. Side-lying leg raises also effectively train the outer thigh and hips. Do these exercises on the same day you do the squats and lunges, following the same protocol for sets and repetitions.
Working the Lower Legs
The calf muscles aid in proper foot position in the stirrup and help you keep your legs hugged in against the body of the horse. This hugging action keeps your horse's energy driving forward with a smooth quality, reducing the energy you have to use to stay stable in the saddle. Calf raises, in which you stand on a step so just the balls of the feet and the toes are supported, and lower and lift your heels, strengthen the backs of your lower leg. Reverse calf raises, in which you stand on a step with your heels supported and the front portion of your foot hanging off and raise the front of the feet up and down, train the tibialis anterior at the front of the lower leg. Add both to your leg strength-training regimen, aiming for a similar number of sets and repetitions as the other exercises.
Strong legs from the pelvis to the ankles are essential in horseback riding, but so are strong arms, back and core muscles. Augment your leg training with core work, which could include seated twists and crunches for the obliques and rectus abdominis, as well as supermans for the erector spinae of the back. Train your back and arms with rows and lat pulldowns, and your chest with pushups and dips.
- Area II U.S. Eventing Association: Exercises for the Equestrian
- Dressage Today: Rider Fitness Tip of the Month: Lengthening Your Leg
- EquiSearch: Rider Fitness Tip of the Month: Fixing Floppy Legs
- The University of Vermont Department of Animal Science: American Medical Equestrian Association News
- ExRx.net: Dumbbell Reverse Calf Raise
- Balanced Rider: Thighs
- Photo Credit Alexia_Khrushcheva/iStock/Getty Images
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