The Athletic Rider: Strong Body, Soft Aids

Muscular strength: How does it play into rider fitness? HN reader Leah Hinnefield breaks it down for us in her latest blog.

From Leah:

Is it surprising to find strength training as a foundation focus in a sport that requires finesse and softness? On the surface, strength seems to have no place in rider fitness, horse riding or horse training. With the increased popularity of ‘starting’ a colt rather than ‘breaking’ a horse, training that emphasizes a relationship with your equine partner rather than dominating your mount, and agreement across disciplines that feel and awareness should trump whips and spurs, what benefit does pumping iron have to the Athletic Rider?

I am sure most can understand how strength can benefit the farm owner. The farm owner has responsibilities such as moving hay bales, dumping water buckets or lifting manure buckets. But shouldn’t the Athletic Rider be able to focus on core stability and balance and call it a day? Not even close! :-)

While in the saddle, a rider may not be lifting and moving things like a hale of bay (and she should never use strength to pull back on the reins!), she is using the kind of strength required to hold her body in position.  If you have ever spent any time in two point without stirrups, you will know exactly what I mean. Granted riders don’t want to be stiff and rigid like statues, but we do want to have very precise body control. Muscular strength is what allows our legs to remain quiet going over a jump, our upper body to remain erect in the sitting trot, and our arms to follow the feel of the rein while appearing motionless. It also allows us to stay centered during a mishap rather than experiencing an unexpected dismount.

Strong Body Soft Aids

Muscular strength is what gives us posture, precision and thoughtful control of our body which translates into effective communication with our horse.

For riders, the greatest benefit can be achieved by focusing on strength endurance. Strength endurance develops a muscle so its works at a lower effort for a prolonged period of time (as opposed to maximal strength that develops a muscle so it performs at a higher effort for only one time).  Returning to our Athletic Rider, muscular endurance will allow her to remain light in the saddle over a course of jumps, efficient in the saddle while moving cattle, and comfortably in the saddle on a 50 mile ride.

A rider fitness program that incorporates strength training to develop muscular endurance will not create bulk. Quite the opposite. A strength endurance program is what is responsible for developing that lean toned look that is so enviable among equitation riders.  Increased lean muscle also requires more energy to maintain-and that means more calories are being burned even when you are resting!

Leah Hinnefeld is a lifelong equestrian who spent over a decade studying hoof health and metabolism in horses before turning her attention to rider fitness. Leah is a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Fitness and offers Virtual Fitness Training for riders and horse lovers. You can learn more about how to get fit to ride at Please contact Leah if you are interested in learning more about the virtual posture assessment offered by The Athletic Rider.


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