The Athletic Rider: Hop, Skip and Jump to Rider Fitness

Don’t worry, we’re not talking about Prancercise. Personal trainer Leah Hinnefeld explains the benefits of agility training.

From Leah:

Most owners of performance and pleasure horses understand the value of “gymnastisizing” the horse even if they are not familiar with the term. Simply put, to gymnastisize a horse means to train him in such a way that he becomes more athletic. Think of it as agility training for horses! Whenever you ask a horse to think about where he puts a foot when you ask him to start, stop or change direction quickly, while maintaining proper posture, you are gymnastisizing the horse. Lateral movements in dressage, transitions in all disciplines, jumping through grids, groundwork over poles, trail riding across varied terrain or working with obstacles can all contribute to increasing the agility performance of a horse.

Agility training is not only valuable to improving sports performance, it can also contribute to the overall increased health and safety of the horse. Agility training improves coordination, dynamic flexibility (which just means flexibility while in motion), core strength and can actually prevent injury. If you have ever started a young horse, you will certainly remember how he managed his first series of 3 poles on the ground vs. months or years later when he could negotiate a technical equitation or jumper course. Part of the reason that he was able to progress in the questions being asked of him (while keeping himself and the rider safe) was to due investing in his agility training.

What most riders may not realize, is that agility training brings the same benefits to the rider as it does the horse and can actually improve rider fitness and performance. As riders we are so often focused on core training, perhaps doing endless sets of crunches, that we fail to realize there are more fun and diverse ways to get fit to rider better. Agility training is one of those ways. Just as in the horse, investing in a rider’s agility training will improve her coordination, dynamic flexibility, core strength and can prevent injury. A recent 6 week study conducted by the Air Force Research Laboratory actually determined that agility training was more effective than traditional military fitness training at developing overall physical fitness.

Another bonus of agility training? That same study also determined that agility training is potentially more effective at improving memory and attentiveness. So if you are a rider interested in developing better balance, core strength, overall rider performance AND remembering your hunter course at the next show, ask your fitness trainer how to incorporate agility training into your rider fitness program. After all, don’t you want to at least be as smart as your green bean?

The Athletic Rider offers both a 30 day and a 10 week fitness program that have each been specifically developed to improving agility and overall sports performance. If you would like to learn more, just contact us! I would love to share details about our Rider Fitness programs and options with you.

In the meantime, have some fun with the two examples of agility training below† or check out The Athletic Rider Free Core Workout. No crunches guaranteed.


†Images courtesy of The Training Edge, a quarterly publication from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

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 Rider Fitness Boot Camps offered by The Athletic Rider.


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