13 Exercises You Can Do At Home To Improve Your Horseback Riding

You might think that in order to improve as a horseback rider you need to be at least sitting on a horse, even if it’s not moving, but this isn’t true at all. Of course the more you ride the better you’ll be but there are exercises you can do at home that will help to improve your strength, balance, posture, and even your stamina. All of which will help you to become a better rider.

A good riding position is crucial, regardless of the style of discipline you choose but in order to maintain the correct position you need to have a strong core, good coordination, and good balance but luckily you don’t need to be on a horse to improve these. But how can you do this I hear you ask, read on to find out exactly how you can.

What muscles do you use when horseback riding?

Horseback riding is a physically demanding sport that uses more muscles than you might realize. The table below should give you a good idea of which muscles are used when horseback riding as well as what each muscle group is used for.

Muscle groupMuscles in that groupWhy it’s good for horseback riding
CoreAbdominal (or abs)
Transverse abdominal
Obliques
Back extensors
These muscles will help you to keep your balance and have good posture I the saddle
Upper bodyBiceps
Triceps
Deltoids
Trapezius
All of these muscles will help you to get in and out of the saddle as well as help with your rein cues. They’ll also help to reduce lower back pain
LegsQuads
Glutes
Hamstrings
Calves
Adductors
Abductors
Strong leg muscles will help you post properly and maintain a good jumping position but they’ll also help you to control your horse and give good aids. They’ll also help you to stay in the saddle
Muscle groups used when horseback riding

Why should you improve your fitness when horseback riding?

A lot of people focus solely on a horse’s movement rather than their own but how you move will have a big impact on your horse, not least due to how the forces are transferred through the saddle to your horse. 

Then of course there’s how it affects you too. For example, if you have poor core strength then you won’t be able to steady yourself in the saddle. This will obviously have a negative effect on your communication with your horse, but it will also cause you to suffer from lower back pain as you won’t be sitting straight in the saddle.

If you have full control over your own body then you can communicate clearly to your horse because your legs, seat, and hands will be sending the same messages, making them more effective and efficient.

Regardless of your skill level, exercising and having a good level of fitness will help to improve your riding fitness as well as your posture, balance, and stamina.

And the best thing about doing exercises at home is that you generally don’t need any equipment and can do them whenever you want to, even if you don’t have your own horse.

What exercises can improve your horseback riding?

All of the exercises below will help you with your horseback riding and while they may be great for beginners who haven’t developed the ability to maintain their balance and use their core just yet, they can also be used by all riders, regardless of their experience or their goals.

ExerciseMuscle groups
Single leg deadliftsGlutes, ankles, core
PlankAbdominal, erector spinae, deltoids, quads, glutes, calves
Push upsPectoral, deltoids, triceps, serrates anterior, glutes, quads, calves, core
SquatsGlutes, hamstring, quads, calves, abdominal
Walking lungesQuads, hamstring, calves
Calf raisesCalves, hamstring
Calf stretchesCalves, hamstring
Bicycle crunchesAbdominal, oblique, core
Glute kickbacksGlutes, core
Arm & leg stretchesGlutes, abdominal, erector spinae, deltoids, forearms, hamstring
Hip adductorAdductor
SupermanErector spinae, glutes
AlbatrossPectoral, deltoids
Exercises that help with horseback riding

1) Single leg deadlifts

Single leg deadlifts are great for improving your core and overall balance. They’re classed as bodyweight exercises because they use your body’s own weight to strengthen and tone your muscles.

Which muscles are targeted?

Your glutes (the muscles in your butt), ankles, and core are the main muscles that single leg deadlifts improve.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

Many people use single leg deadlifts to tone their muscles but for horseback riders, they’re great for improving your core and balance.

How do you do it?

  1. Start by standing on one leg with the hand on the same side facing your thigh.
  2. Lean forward and reach out in front of you with the opposite arm while.
  3. At the same time stretch out behind you with the other leg, being sure to keep it straight.
  4. Continue reaching forward until your torso is parallel with the floor.
  5. Use your heel to slowly return your body back to the upright position.
  6. Repeat steps one to five for the other arm and leg.

How many times should you do it?

You should aim to do this ten times.


2) Plank

When talking about exercises to improve your core most people will immediately think about planking, and with good reason. Planking is by far the single best way of improving your core.

Which muscles are targeted?

While planking is best known for improving your core it also targets other muscles such as your abdominal muscles (and in particular your rectus, abdomens, and erector spinae). It can also help with your deltoids (shoulders), quads (front of thigh), glutes, and calf muscles.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

Having good core muscles will help you to distribute weight evenly over your body which will help to improve your balance and symmetry in the saddle.

How do you do it?

  1. Start on all fours then lower your arms so that your elbows and lower arms are on the floor.
  2. Stretch your legs out behind you so that they’re straight out behind you and you’re resting on your tiptoes.
  3. Keep your head up and look forward so that there’s a straight line from your head down to your neck, through your upper body, and down your legs.
  4. The better your core is the longer you’ll be able to hold this for the better but you should aim for at least ten seconds.

How many times should you do it?

Depending on how long you hold the plank, you should aim to do this three to ten times. If you hold it for thirty seconds then try to repeat it ten times, but if you can hold the plank for one minute (or longer) then three to five is okay.


3) Push ups

Even if you’re not into fitness in any way you’ll definitely have heard of push ups but they’re not as easy to get right as you might think.

Which muscles are targeted?

While push ups do exercise your glutes, quads, and calf muscles they’re best known for targeting upper body muscles such as your pectoral (chest), serrates anterior (chest), deltoids, triceps, and abdominal.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

A good core is crucial for horseback riding and push ups are great for improving that. They’ll also help to strengthen your arms and increase their flexibility.

How do you do it?

  1. Start by placing your hands on the floor and your feet stretched out behind you.
  2. Keeping your back straight bend your elbows and lower your body until you’re almost touching the floor.
  3. Bring your body back up, keeping your back straight, until your elbows are no longer bent.

How many times should you do it?

Repeat three to five times at first, as you get better at this you can aim to do twenty push ups at any one time.


4) Squats

Like push ups, squats are one of those exercises that everybody’s heard of but they can also be great for horseback riders.

Which muscles are targeted?

While you can probably guess that squats are great for your glutes, quads, calves, and hamstring, what you probably didn’t know though was that it also targets your abdominal muscles.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

Squats are great for improving your balance and stability in the saddle, but on top of that they’re also good for strengthening your leg muscles.

How do you do it?

  1. Stand with your feet slightly apart and lower yourself down towards the floor.
  2. Keeping your back straight, push your hips behind you until your things are parallel with the floor.
  3. Hold for a few seconds before raising yourself back up, again keeping your back straight and your head up.

How many times should you do it?

You should repeat this around five to eight times.


5) Walking lunges

Walking lunges are fantastic for developing lower body strength but they can also help with your ability to control your legs properly. In turn, this will make you more supple and accurate with your riding aids.

Which muscles are targeted?

While walking lunges are great for developing your quads, calves, and hamstring they’re also good for your cardiovascular health which will boost your stamina.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

A strong, independent leg is vital for horseback riding and walking lunges help with this, meaning you’ll be able to give more precise and accurate commands.

How do you do it?

  1. Stand with your feet on the ground and level with your hips.
  2. Step forward with one leg, bending both knees until they’re at 90°, in line with your ankles, and aren’t touching the floor.
  3. Hold for a few seconds before moving the other leg forward and repeating.

How many times should you do it?

You can repeat this around ten times.


6) Calf raises

You might think that exercises that target multiple parts of the body are better, but when it comes to horseback riding having a strong lower leg is vitally important which is where calf raises come in. They’re actually one of the easiest exercises you can do, you can even do them while making a coffee.

Which muscles are targeted?

As you’d expect, calf raises focus on your calf muscles.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

Keeping your legs still while horseback riding is crucial to your balance in the saddle but it’s also vital when communicating with your horse and that’s why calf raises are so good. They’ll do this by strengthening your ankle as well as improving it’s flexibility and stability.

How do you do it?

  1. Stand straight with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Slowly shift your weight forward to the balls of your feet, lifting your heels until you standing on your toes.
  3. Hold that position for a few seconds before slowly lowering yourself back down again.

TIP: If you’re finding it hard to keep still when you’re doing this you can use a wall or work surface to help support you.

How many times should you do it?

You should repeat steps one to three around eight times.


7) Calf stretches

Similar to calf raises, these exercises also focus on your lower leg and help to build strength in it.

Which muscles are targeted?

All of your lower leg muscles are targeted in this exercise but in particular your calves.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

Calf stretches are perfect for horseback riders as they develop the muscles that help you to keep your heels down properly. This, in turn, will improve your balance and position in the saddle.

How do you do it?

  1. If you have a set of stairs, stand with the balls of your feet on the bottom step, if you don’t have stairs you can use a stepper instead.
  2. Lower your heels until you feel your calves starting to stretch.
  3. Hold for ten seconds before slowly bringing your heels back up and levelling your feet up again.

TIP: If you find it difficult to keep your balance at first don’t worry you can hold on to the rail to support yourself.

How many times should you do it?

You should repeat this five times.


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8) Bicycle crunches

I’m sure you’ve heard of bicycle exercises and crunches before but combining the two together is far more effective ad particularly helpful for riders.

Which muscles are targeted?

As well as helping to strengthen your core, bicycle crunches are brilliant for developing your abdominal muscles, both your center muscles and your outer oblique muscles.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

Horseback riding is a physically demanding sport and it’s important that you’re able to keep balanced, especially when you’re moving around in the saddle which is where bicycle crunches come in. Unlike bicycle exercises or crunches, these combine both to create an exercise that targets a range of muscles.

How do you do it?

  1. Lie on your back and raise your feet so that you’ve created a 90° angle with your hips and knees.
  2. Place your hands behind your head and lift your shoulder blades off of the ground.
  3. Turn your right shoulder towards your left knee so that your elbow and knee touch
  4. Stretch your right leg out at the same time, keeping it off of the ground.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

How many times should you do it?

Like all these exercises it’s important to do this properly but it’s also good if you can repeat this ten to twenty times in quick succession.


9) Glute kickbacks

You might think that glute kickbacks are only good for your glutes but, while they do focus on that area, they’re also good for improving your core.

Which muscles are targeted?

As you’d expect the glute kickbacks target your glutes and hamstring but as you need to engage your core to do it properly they’re also good for that.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

By developing your core and hamstring muscles, glute kickbacks help you to stay balanced in the saddle which will help you to maintain your posture too.

How do you do it?

  1. Place your hands and knees on the floor so that your knees are bent at 90° and your shoulders are inline with your wrists.
  2. Keeping your back straight, lift your right leg up (keeping your knee bent) so that your upper leg is level with your back.
  3. Don’t arch your back but instead use your core to keep your leg where it is.

How many times should you do it?

You should do this five to ten times on one side before switching to the other side and repeating it for the same number of times.


10) Arm & leg stretches

Despite being an arm and leg stretching exercise this one really is a full body workout that’s great for horseback riders.

Which muscles are targeted?

As well as strengthening your deltoids, forearms, glutes and hamstrings, it will also work on your core, abdomen and back muscles.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

Not only does it help to keep your arms and legs stable and improve your hip movement but it also increases your balance, coordination and stability in the saddle.

How do you do it?

  1. Stand on all fours with your wrists just under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Stretch your right arm forward while stretching the opposite leg backwards.
  3. Keep your body straight and hold for five seconds.
  4. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg.

How many times should you do it?

Ideally you should do this five to ten times.


11) Hip adductor

One thing that’s often overlooked when we talk about exercises to improve our riding is the need to have strong inner thighs so that you can keep yourself seated in the saddle.

Which muscles are targeted?

While the hip adductor will help increase your hip movement the main muscles it focuses on are your inner thighs.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

With a strong inner thigh you can hold onto your horse (or at least the saddle) with your inner thighs. This will help to keep you balance in the saddle and will also help you to move in time with your horse.

How do you do it?

  1. Sit on a chair that allows you to bend your knees at 90° and have your feet flat no the floor.
  2. Place a soccer ball (or any ball that’s at least a foot in diameter) in between your knees and squeeze it.
  3. To start with hold it for fifteen seconds before releasing. After a while though you can increase this until you’re able to squeeze the ball for thirty seconds.

How many times should you do it?

Regardless of how long you squeeze the ball for you should try to repeat this fifteen times.


12) Superman

While this exercise won’t give you any super powers it will help to improve your riding position and balance.

Which muscles are targeted?

This is great for strengthening your erector spinae which is the muscle that runs from the base of your skull all the way down your back to your hip bone.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

As you can imagine, improving your erector spinae will help to stabilise your spine and strengthen your back, making it easier to stay balanced while riding.

How do you do it?

  1. Lay on your stomach and lift your right leg off of the ground, stretching your toes to behind you too.
  2. At the same time stretch your left arm out in front of you as much as you can.
  3. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg.

TIP: You can raise both arms and legs at the same time, but this is harder as you need to tighten your glutes to keep both arms and legs raised at the same time. 

How many times should you do it?

In order to get the most out of this exercise you should repeat steps one to three at least ten times.


13) Albatross

Similar to the superman exercise, this is also good for your posture and balance but it will also help with your upper body strength.

Which muscles are targeted?

This is particularly good for your pectoral and deltoid muscles.

Why is it so good for horseback riders?

While it will help with your posture the main benefit of the albatross is its ability to strengthen and stabilise your shoulders and upper body.

How do you do it?

  1. Lay flat on your stomach with your feet on the floor and your arms stretched out to the side.
  2. Keeping your head up and your eyes looking down lift your arms and shoulders up.
  3. Hold them there for up to five seconds.

How many times should you do it?

Holding your arms and shoulders up for any amount of time is tiring which is why you only need to repeat this five to ten times. 


I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

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