A skilled rider might be described as a “strong” rider, but do you need physical strength to be that rider? The answer is yes, but not in an Arnold Schwarzenegger pumping iron kind of way. It’s all about developing core strength.
Pure strength in terms of being able to exert a force or lift huge weights is not necessary at any level of riding. In fact, a not-so-skilled rider might use strength to grip the saddle in place of using balance to stay in place. The consequent tension this creates in the muscles not only makes it impossible to relax into moving with the horse, it also leads to a physically exhausted rider. This turns them into little more than an unyielding dead weight.
So how strong is your core? Try holding a plank position to find out:
Can you hold it 60 seconds without letting your spine dip or your stomach sag to the floor?
If not, you’ve got some work to do on developing your core strength and the ‘leg at each corner’ exercise is a great place to start.
- Position yourself on your hands and knees
- Keep your head, neck and spine in line (raising your head will cause your back to dip and stomach to sag)
- Raise opposite arm and leg simultaneously (e.g. left arm and right leg) and aim to straighten them to form a line with your spine
- Hold for 10 seconds, breathing normally and staying relaxed
- Return to the starting position and repeat the exercise using the other arm and leg
As your core strength (and balance) improves, try pushing yourself to the next level by working on holding a side plank position:
Remember to repeat the exercise on the other side of your body.
How One-Sided Are You?
Riding and looking after horses is physically demanding. The more physical work you do around the barn, the more your body will adapt to the demands by developing strength in the working muscle groups. But, there’s a very real danger of developing one-sided strength that will stand in the way of improving your riding.
Think about it: when schooling and training, we recognize that there’s a tendency for a horse to have a naturally stiffer side that will need more work, but what about the same one-sidedness in ourselves as the riders?
Do you use both arms when grooming, or do you favor your stronger arm?
Could you mount up with equal ease from either side of your horse?
Can you apply equal pressure when giving a leg aid with your right leg or left leg independently?
In the next sections of this series we’ll look at the importance of flexibility and balance alongside strength in terms of improving your riding, and how each element of rider fitness comes together to help you become the “strong” rider you want to be.
Miss our first article in our Fit to Ride Series? Click here!