Whether you jump a Grand Prix or strive for effective flatwork at the barn, being sturdy in your saddle is a must. Although many different muscle groups are necessary to obtain a Medal Maclay worthy equitation, it all starts with core strength. A weak core can make a rider misuse their seat, pinch their knees, and cause their leg to swing backward. Not to mention, it can increase strain on the back (as if riders need more reasons to be sore). So, grab a yoga mat and try these game-changing exercises to keep you locked in and ready to win.
How to: Lie on your back with your arms placed across your chest. With your legs straight and your toes pointed, raise your legs to 45 degrees off the ground. Lift both your neck and shoulders slightly off the mat. Avoid “pulling” with the neck, or curving your back, since this adds strain to the body. Then, flutter your legs in an alternating fashion, without touching the ground. Continue this movement and keep the core engaged. For increased difficulty, raise your arms above your head. Do as many as you can!
This exercise targets your lower core, which helps reduce back pain and improve overall leg stability. Hello, no-stirrup kings and queens!
No stirrups, no problem! Photo by Sportfot.
How to: On a yoga mat, sit with your knees bent and your feet firmly planted on the ground. While keeping your spine in a neutral position, lower your back to a 45-degree angle. Raise your feet off the ground. Twist your torso from right to left. For an added challenge, grab a dumbbell or medicine ball.
For the unwanted moments where your equine partner channels its inner rodeo star. This exercise will keep you in the saddle, despite any acrobatic-like bucks or unexpected antics that your horse may attempt.
This exercise also of course helps if you’re jumping bigger fences, or if your horse OVERjumps a ground pole! Photo by Ringside Media.
How to: On a yoga mat, lay flat on your back with your arms placed to your side. Raise your legs in the air, with your knees slightly bent. Contract your abs and bring your knees towards your chest to lift your hips off the yoga mat. Note: keep your head and neck relaxed on the ground. Then, bring hips back down to the ground. Repeat for 15-20 reps. Remember, stay in control of the movement, rather than relying on momentum to bring your body back to the mat.
This exercise targets your entire core. Not only will it enable you to use your lower leg more successfully, but it will also improve your posture in the saddle. Master your sitting trot, lengthening or collecting of strides, and everything in between!
Olivia’s position is locked in here — she’s not going anywhere thanks to a strong core and lower leg. Photo by Ben Radvanyi.
Regardless of a rider’s level, there is always room for improvement. A strong core can make a rider’s commands more effective, which can improve both you and your horse’s performance. Be consistent, and the results will come, irrespective of your starting point. The more you stick to it, the more stuck to the saddle you will be!
Olivia is a Columbia University graduate with a master’s in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. She currently competes in the low amateur-owner jumpers with her horse, Crystal Clear. She also enjoys weightlifting, running marathons, and skiing. Throughout her academic career, Olivia has published several sports nutrition articles in scientific journals, such as Nutrients. After being in the competitive equestrian community for over a decade, she understands the common nutritional and physiological issues among riders. Olivia applies her academic expertise to enhance both the health and athletic performance of fellow equestrian athletes. For more information, click here.
Bio photo by Xavier Levenfiche.