The Athletic Rider: The 5 Foundations of Rider Fitness

“Riding is a sport that requires attention to cross-training,” writes personal trainer Leah Hinnefeld as she caps off her series on rider fitness.

From Leah:

Riders can often be consumed with equine fitness. Most of us want to do right by our riding partners so we provide the best stabling, nutrition and fitness that we can. Whether we are interested in show jumping or trail riding, I don’t know many riders who will dispute the benefits of having a horse in top physical shape. A junior rider might spend hours each week training the technical aspects of collecting or lengthening the horse’s stride in order to meet the jump at the perfect spot. An amateur dressage rider will repeat a shoulder in until a horse is able to release whatever muscle may be holding tension. An FEI endurance rider will keep a notebook of statistics on her horse’s heart rates, recovery times and carbohydrate intake. Because a stable body is connected to a stable mind, focusing on the horse’s physical fitness leads to a safer mount in a demanding show environment, while spending hours on a trail or simply enjoying a stroll through an open pasture.

How many of us invest the same effort in our own overall health, nutrition and fitness? Riding is a partnership, a sport of two and we will always be limited by the weakest link in that partnership. I don’t know about you, but I want to make sure I am carrying my weight so my horse doesn’t have to work as hard when he is carrying it for me.

When I focus on training (for my horse or myself), I make sure to invest time in each of the five foundation focuses of rider (and horse!) fitness:

Core Stability (leading to core strength)
Muscular Strength
Cardiorespiratory Conditioning

Click on the focuses above to read more about how each impacts your time in the saddle.

I hear some riders suggest that riding is a sport in itself so no additional training is needed. A worse misunderstanding is that a rider does not need to be fit because all she does is sit there (yikes). Neither could be further from the truth. There is an undeniable connection between a horse and rider-emotionally, mentally and physically. Oh yes, as he improves, I improve. But as I improve, he improves as well. Riding IS a sport that requires attention to cross-training so that each athlete in the partnership can improve performance while reducing the risk of injury.

Invest in your fitness and health. Your horse will thank you. Do you need some direction? Contact me! I would love to work with you to find a program to fit your goals. If you really want to have some fun while you get fit to ride better, check out The Athletic Rider Fitness Boot Camp. Come surround yourself with some awesome horse lovers!

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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