The keys to muscle strengthening for riders.
In horse-riding, both horse and rider are considered as athletes. Being subjected to strong muscular and osseous solicitations, it is essential for each one to have an adapted physical condition to respond to the efforts required by this sport, and thus progress together. Muscle strengthening is therefore essential to the rider’s physical preparation.
Why follow a muscle strengthening program?
Regardless of the sport practiced, it is essential to be in a good physical condition. Although muscle strengthening is an integral part of an athlete’s training in many disciplines, it is less the case for horse-riding.
And yet ! Physical condition is even more important in horse riding because the rider has to absorb the shocks, sometimes intense, linked to the horse’s locomotion at all three gaits but also during the jumping phase for the jumping or eventing riders for example.
It is thus necessary for the rider to be in good health and physical shape. In addition to preparing the body for the efforts it will have to make, muscle reinforcement helps develop, among other things, the cardiovascular rhythm, breathing, balance, muscular abilities or even recovery after the effort.
Physical condition is like a foundation that allows the rider to improve its performances and well-being. Combined with a program of preparation and muscle strengthening, the rider will also be able develop more cognitive abilities such as coordination, concentration, precision and stress management.
It is thanks to a good physical condition, but also by integrating muscle strengthening to your trainings that you will improve your balance on horseback as well as your position, the fixity of your legs and your seat!
Why is horse-riding a more physical sport than others?
Horse-riding is a dynamic and very complete sport that requires great physical abilities because it stimulates almost every part of the body and, therefore, many muscles.
Here are the main muscles that are involved when riding, and their role in the practice of equestrian sports.
First of all: the trapezius and rhomboid muscles. These muscles allow the shoulder to move up, down and back. For example, they intervene when we want to stand up straight in the saddle. The spine will then straighten and the shoulder blades will move back, contracting the trapezius and rhomboid muscles.
The latissimus dorsi and the teres major, as for them, particularly act in all the movements where the arms must be mobile: for example, for a leading rein or when accompanying the horse’s movement over the jump. The latissimus dorsi is the most solicited muscle to maintain a good position on horseback, and especially when the rider is in rising position. It is this muscle, among others, that intervenes by contracting itself to stabilize the back. Lastly, the spinal muscles control the extension movements of the spine, and will protect it against shocks and pressures produced at each gait.
Still at the torso level, the abdominals allow for flexion and rotation. When practicing equestrian sports, it is essential to have sheathed abdominal muscles because they are, in addition to the back muscles, contributing to the rider’s good posture and therefore his seating and balance. Moreover, contracted abdominals will protect the spine thus relieving the lumbar and the spinal discs.
The ilio-psoas muscles allow for the flexion of the hip joint. Indeed, when they contract, they bring the thigh closer to the pelvis and thus flex the hip. On the contrary when they extend, moving the thigh away from the pelvis, they open the hip joint. These muscles act during anteversion and retroversion movements of the pelvis.
These movements are particularly marked in sitting trot, and correspond to the rotation of the pelvis on its ischiums. They allow the rider to follow the movements induced by the horse’s gait. The pelvis retroversion is caused by the contraction of the abdominals during the ascending phase of trot, putting the spine in flexion. These muscles bring the pubis and ischiums forward and thus the upper pelvis backward. On the opposite, the pelvis goes into anteversion during the descending phase of trot. Bringing the ischiums backwards, the upper pelvis tilts forward and the ilio-psoas contracts to lock the lumbar and the spine in extension.
Lastly, the gluteal muscles help keep the leg mobile and maintain the pelvis. They are solicited to transition (both upward and downward) and to maintain the gait, as well as during all anteversion and retroversion movements of the pelvis.
In general, the muscles of the back and the chest contract during isometric efforts, meaning when contraction does not imply movement. These isometric forces will increase the stability and balance of the rider, who will then have better posture and seating.
The muscles of the legs are the most mobilized ones when practicing horse-riding, whether it is in rising position or when giving indications to the horse with the calves. The main leg muscles involved when riding a horse are the hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors and calves.
The adductors, on the inside of the thigh, allow to bring a limb closer to the midline of the body. They will mainly be solicited when the rider is in seating position, as in dressage where the rider is sitting deeply in the saddle. It is these muscles, when they extend, that allow the rider to have a good leg descent.
The hamstrings allow for hip extension and knee flexion. The quadriceps act to control hip extension and leg extension from the knee. In addition, the calves control the flexion and extension of the ankle.
These muscles are solicited when the rider is in rising position or when he contracts his legs to give an indication to his horse. Thanks to the joints of the hip, knees and ankles, these muscles act as “shock absorbers” during the different phases of the gaits to absorb the horse’s movements and maintain the rider in rising position.
Equestrian is therefore a sport that solicits the body in its entirety and requires strong physical, muscular and mental capacities.
Some muscle strengthening exercises to include in your sports training.
Bodybuilding, core building, warming up and stretching are points to keep in min when riding a horse. Regarding bodybuilding, equestrian being a very complete sports, riders are often very muscular. But it is also a “traumatic” sport that can cause chronic pain or even repetitive injuries for some riders.
For this reason, it is important to implement a muscle strengthening routine to stay in top shape and thus avoid muscular and bones injuries which can happen after a fall for example. Of course, it is as important to spend some time warming up before each training; which will help prepare your body for effort.
When grooming, you already start to warm up progressively. But that’s not enough! Here are some warming exercises that you can add to your sport practice to prepare your body in the best way.
Regarding muscle strengthening, there are many programs that you can follow every day that will help you keep your body in top shape. At the R&D, we have made a selection of our favorite exercises:
The wall sit.
A training, no matter what its type is, must always be followed by a recovery time. This will allow you to eliminate the toxins that have been created and thus avoid muscle soreness. To do this, nothing simpler:
You now have all the keys in hands to keep a good physical condition thanks to an adapted muscle strengthening program, and thus progress in rhythm with your horse!