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Couch to Canter: 7 Exercises to Get You Ready For Your Horseback Vacation!

Horseback riding may look like a passive activity but it actually requires a lot of strength and

muscles you might not be regularly using. It will challenge your legs, core, and even upper body!

We want you to get the most out of your trip and not spend too much time being sore or stiff.

Here are a few exercises to do in the weeks leading up to your trip that will get your body

primed and ready to go!

These seven exercises will challenge every part of your body and don’t require any equipment so you can do them anywhere or anytime.

Lower Body

First up are our lower body exercises to work your glutes, quads and hamstrings. Lower body strength is important so you can sit safely in the saddle and communicate better with your horse.

Exercise 1: Glute bridges

Start by lying on the ground with knees bent. Lift your hips into the air while keeping feet planted on the floor, push through your heels and squeeze your glutes together at the top of the movement, then lower slowly with control back to the ground.

Aim for 15-20 reps before resting for a couple of minutes, complete 2-4 sets.

If you want to make the exercise even more challenging try 1 leg at a time. Using the same movement pattern with your hips, elevating each time, but one leg will come up with each rep as well.

Exercise 2: Sumo Squats

Let’s get your legs ready to be in a saddle! These sumo squats will get your legs used to the wide position of the saddle. It will also target your adductors, or the inside of your upper leg, crucial for balancing on your horse.

Stand with your feet 1.5 times wider than shoulder width apart and your toes slightly turned out. Bend your knees and lower your hips as if you were sitting down. If you need extra support you can sit right down into a chair before coming up.

Aim for 10-20 reps before resting for a couple of minutes, complete 2-4 sets.

If you’d like a more advanced option: lower down past 90° in your legs without heels coming up to get an extra stretch of your inner legs.

Exercise 3: Split Squats

Now that you’re ready to sit in a saddle let’s work on single leg strength, this will help especially if you have a dominant leg.

Start with a straddle stance, one foot in front and the other in back. As you lower down, both knees bending, push the front knee forward without letting the heel come up. Lower down as much as is comfortable for your knees then come back up for one rep.

For extra balance you can hold onto a chair with one hand while lowering.

Aim for 8-12 reps on each side before resting for a couple of minutes, complete 2-4 sets.


Core exercises are crucial for a long day of riding to help your lower back not get too sore. Your core is also involved in balancing in the saddle too.

Exercise 4: Bicycle crunches

Your obliques will help with any of the twisting and side to side movements you’ll do when riding so bicycle crunches will target right where we need them to.

Start by lying on your back with knees and arms bent, hands by your head or behind your head. While doing a small crunch, bring your right elbow to the left knee (they don’t have to touch) and come back down. Repeat with the opposite side, left elbow to right knee. Both sides is 1 rep.

Aim for 10-20 reps before resting for a couple of minutes, complete 2-4 sets.

Exercise 5: Plank

One of the best core exercises is a plank, you will really feel this one especially in your abdominals but also in your shoulders and forearms too.

Start with elbows on the ground and feet outstretched with your body in a straight line. Squeeze your abs together by pulling your belly button inwards.

Aim to hold this position for 30-60 seconds before resting for a couple minutes, complete 2-4 sets.

Modification 1: Instead of being on your toes, lower to your knees but keep your elbows on the ground.

Modification 2: If your forearms hurt during the plank you can switch to balancing on your palms instead.

Upper Body

Though horseback riding will use much more of your lower body, your upper body is still engaged. Whether it be through holding the reins or just keeping your posture upright, these upper body exercises will help you stay strong.

Exercise 6: Superman

This Superman exercise will help your back and core be ready to sit upright for a long time unsupported in the saddle.

Lie on the floor with your arms outstretched. Raise your arms and feet off the ground simultaneously for one rep. Squeeze your upper and lower back, and core for 2-3 seconds at the top then lower with control.

Aim for 10-15 reps before resting for a couple of minutes, complete 2-4 sets.

If you would like to make the movement more challenging then hold the movement 30 seconds at a time (or longer).

Exercise 7: Pushups

Pushups are a great way to strengthen your entire upper body and core. No matter your strength level you can modify pushups to make them work for you.

Start with your hands 1.5 times wider than shoulder width apart with your hands down closer to your chest so your upper arm forms a 45° angle with your body. Come up on your toes to a plank position then lower your torso 4-5 inches from the ground, then push back up for 1 rep.

Aim for 10-15 reps before resting for a couple of minutes, complete 2-4 sets.

Modification 1: on your knees. Complete the same movement pattern with your knees down for extra support.

Modification 2: eccentric only. Take 2-3 seconds to lower down slowly with control all the way to the ground then come up using your entire body (not just arms).

About The Author

Tayla Russell is an online dietitian and personal trainer. She specializes in sustainable weight loss through flexible dieting, a real-life approach to fat loss. She believes that weight loss is not a one-size-fits all approach and tailors coaching to her individual clients.

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