The Athletic Rider: Why Riding Is Not Enough

Our ability to communicate effectively with a horse is directly enhanced — or inhibited — by our ability to control our own bodies. Personal trainer Leah Hinnefeld explains.

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From Leah:

Riding is considered by many to be an art — even in its most raw and simplistic form. Riding is without question one of the finest forms of the art of communication. Nothing is more breathtaking or heart-stopping than to watch a horse and rider (of any discipline) who have mastered that fine art of communication by moving as one being rather than two opposing natures of prey and predator.

How does a rider achieve that unity with her equine partner? How does a thoughtful rider develop the skills needed to artistically and fluently communicate with her stallion, mare or gelding? How does she develop the skills to simply and tactfully ask her horse to go, whoa and turn in a clear and concise fashion?

Are there skills required beyond those learned in the saddle? Without question.

Riding is a unique sport because we communicate with another living being through constant physical, mental and emotional contact-while both in and out of the saddle. In addition to riding, we are also connected to our horse on the ground when leading, lunging or ground driving. A physical, emotional and mental connection also happens in a round pen or during any kind of “liberty” time spent with our horse.

While an unplanned dismount can leave a rider feeling quite disconnected to her seemingly disloyal partner — have no doubt — there was and remains a unique connection in that moment of physical separation!

In order for a rider to effectively communicate under any circumstance with her horse, she must be able to effectively control her own body. How can we expect our horse to perform gracefully, powerfully and safely when we do not place the same expectations and requirements on our own performance? It’s simple. We can’t. Or we should at least be expected to be disappointed if we do.

When a rider invests in her own physical fitness, she is also investing in her emotional and mental fitness as well. For example, spending only 30 minutes on cardiorespiratory training three times a week can actually improve mental alertness. Agility training creates a powerhouse of mental alertness.  All forms of physical activity are connected to lowering stress levels, thereby increasing emotional fitness. Activities such as yoga or Tai Chi develop a rider’s physical, mental and emotional fitness.

Riding is without question an art. It is also a sport that involves the physical fitness and health of each partner in the relationship.  If you are interested in making a 60 day commitment to get started down the trail to a lifetime of fitness and healthy, check out The Athletic Rider Fitness Boot Camp. We offer packages for adults of all ages and levels of fitness.  Take the time to invest in your rider fitness. Your body and your horse will thank you.

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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