The Athletic Rider: Are You ‘Behind The Leg’ Toward Rider Fitness?

It’s important to be forward-thinking when it comes to your fitness journey, explains personal trainer Leah Hinnefeld.

Top photo: Flickr/John St John/CC

From Leah:

My horse Hugo is a 10 year old Appendix Quarter Horse that seems to teach me as much about Fitness Coaching as he does about training horses. I guess most days I am not quite sure who is training whom. I have a sneaking suspicion that each of us is either arrogant or foolish enough to think the other one is the follower in our small but comfortable partnership.

Hugo is an extremely talented horse. He is not only easy on the eyes, but he has lovely movement and packs a powerful jump. He is also as opinionated as a seasoned mare in a paddock of feisty youngsters. The biggest challenge that Hugo and I face together is his lack of natural “forward.” This is a polite way of saying that Hugo prefers to “question direction” once (if not twice) before determining that the direction being questioned  is not so bad and may even lead us down an adventurous trail.

There is a lot of talk in horse circles (and sometimes a good bit of confusion) about what it means to have a forward horse. Some people believe forward has something to do with speed. This misunderstanding has often created more horses who rebel against forward than it ever has creating a forward horse.

Forward is actually an attitude — it is a state of mind. To be a horse that moves freely forward, to be a horse that moves athletically, efficiently and effectively, a horse must first be a forward-thinking horse. A forward-thinking horse is one who has eliminated “can’ts” and “don’ts” from his way of thinking. A forward thinking horse believes that he can, he will, AND he punctuates this thought with a big try. A forward thinking horse has a positive attitude toward and therefore progresses in his training.

Yesterday during the first few minutes of our very non-forward thinking ride, I couldn’t help but think of all of the different people I have met since becoming a fitness coach and trainer. I was celebrating those that make amazing progress and remaining hopeful for those that have not yet found their stride in creating a habit of fitness. Just like the forward horse, the forward thinking rider is not concerned about how fast she is going. She is freely moving forward because of her state of mind. She is forward-thinking about her fitness journey. The riders that struggle with progress have an energy that is the opposite of forward-thinking, even to the point of being behind the leg (or even behind the bit in some cases).

The people on both sides of the equation come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some a new to fitness and some are returning. Some have weight to lose while have muscle to gain. What is the common starting place for the forward-thinking rider when it comes to her rider fitness? Simple. Her response is, “I CAN and I WILL.” She then punctuates it with a big try.

What kind of fitness rider are you? Take a lesson from Hugo… change your mind and your body will follow. Would you like a starting place to be surrounded by other riders who want to get fit to rider better? Come join The Athletic Rider Free Fit Club! We would love to have you in our fitness herd!

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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