Horseback Riding for Fitness

Horseback riding involves a lot more than just sitting on a horse and enjoying the view

Credit: Curb Ivanic

Horseback riding is an effective way to work your core, legs and glutes

My wife opened my eyes to the benefits of horseback riding for fitness

More specifically, I noticed a change in the shape of her gluteus maximus. Her abdominal region also seemed tighter and stronger, which seemed unusual because she actually cut back on her yoga and Pilates classes this summer and did a lot more horseback riding.

But after going down to Southlands in Vancouver to watch her ride, I’m not surprised why her butt and abs got more defined and stronger.

Since I’ve never ridden a horse I didn’t realize how you need to use your entire body to ride well.

Horseback Riding is a Full Body Workout

I talked to Nikki Marshall, my wife’s trainer and owner of Top-line Training about horseback riding and how riders have to use the muscles in their arms, torso, hips and legs to control the horse.

Riding is all about proper position with various muscles working together to keep a rider’s body in the ideal posture to deliver commands. The shoulders and back keep the spine strong yet supple.

The arms are bent with the elbows tucked close in to the sides and the hands keeping a firm, but not too tight, grip on the reins.

The core is probably the most important region a rider needs to ride well. The hips, abdominals and diaphragm work synergistically to maintain good position in the torso and to control the horse. For example, transferring the weight in the hips to one side or the other by contracting the abs will signal a horse to move in the opposite direction.

And finally the thighs and calves also deliver cues to the horse as well as help the rider hang on. Closing the knees and contracting the thighs will slow a horse down while opening the knees gives the horse some freedom. Pressure from one calf or the other will move the horse the opposite way while simultaneuous pressure will cause the horse to move forward.

Training for Horseback Riding

Marshall recommends the best way to train for riding is to actually ride as much as you can. But working out in the gym or at home can help strengthen those riding muscles as well.

She also recommends doing regular aerobic exercise to help build your stamina. When getting into top riding shape she’ll do up to 45 minutes of cardio a day.

For beginning riders you want to start slow and build as your body adapts. In my opinion, getting expert instruction is crucial so get a trainer to help you learn good technique. And then enjoy how good your glutes will look in that pair of skinny jeans.