Core Exercises for Horse Riders

Think of your core strength as the foundations of a house, your ability to ride effectively stems from having solid foundations to build up on. Without a solid core you can't have a safe secure seat in the saddle, you can’t ride with a independent hand as you rely on your hand to balance you, you can’t use your leg effectively as you can’t balance yourself and should you horse spook or peck on landing you won’t be able to support yourself safely. 

Top 10 Core Exercises for Horse Riders

So that being said here are the top 10 core exercises every rider should be doing to build up that crucial core strength:

1. Standard Plank

A great low impact exercise that nearly everyone can do, despite sore knees and hips etc. The plank is an excellent exercise as it targets all your posterior muscles, as well as your core. Plus there are numerous ways you can increase the intensity of the plank which we will cover later, but master the standard plank first. If this is a new exercise for you aim for 30 secs a time, once you can hold the plank for 2 mins its time to progress!

Points to remember: Keep your bum low, if your bum is too high it won’t work your core. Aim for a nice straight line from the base of your neck right down to you coccyx. Shoulders over elbow and hands apart. 

An easier version if that is too difficult at first is to drop down onto your knees.

2. Dead Bug

Another good exercise which is ideal for riders who suffer with knee/hip or lower back pain. Lie flat on your back with your arms held out in front of you pointing to the ceiling. Then bring your legs up so your knees are bent at 90-degree angles.

This is your starting position, and it’s vital to get your back as flat against the floor as possible. You shouldn’t be able to get a hand in between your back and the floor, and you need to maintain this position.

Slowly lower your right arm and left leg at the same time, exhaling as you go. Keep going until your arm and leg are just above the floor. Then slowly return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite limbs.Aim for three sets of five to 10 reps on each side, or just keep going until the shaking in your abs gets too much.

The dead bug might seem quite easy at first, but if you keep your core engaged, you’ll be surprised how hard it is. 

Points to remember: The slower the better! Keep back flat to the floor throughout the whole movement and brace the core (Imagine someone is going to punch you in the stomach)

  1. Air Bike

Quite a challenging exercise for the more experienced individual.

Lay flat on your back, legs straight and hands on your temples, take a deep breathe in. Now exhale as you raise one knee towards your face while driving the opposite elbow to the knee.Once you feel the tension across your abs, slowly lower yourself back to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side. Once familiar with the movement, continue in a steady rhythm … like riding a bike in the air! 

This will really get your abdominal muscles burning and the rhythmic movement will get your heart pumping building up rider fitness.

Points to remember: Keep your chin on your chest to protect the neck, keep both legs off the floor throughout the exercise, breathe and create a rhythm - this can be performed both quickly and slowly but master it at a slow pace first, correct form is better than speed.

  1. V-Sit Hold

You should be comfortable with this exercise before progressing to the air bike. Again a great exercise for riders with knee/hip/back pain as very low impact. 

Take up position sat on the floor with your knees bent at a 45degree angle. Find your seat bones, sit tall, back nice and straight shoulders pulled back. Now keeping heels lightly resting in the floor and back straight lean back until you feel your abs contract. Now raise your arms so they are parallel to the floor, and hold this position. 

Aim for a 30 sec hold each time. Once you can comfortably hold for 60 secs, increase the intensity by raising your feet a couple inches off the floor.

The further you lean back the harder the exercise is. And the more you'll progress in your core training regimen.

Points to remember: Keep back straight at all times with shoulders pulled back and head in neutral position. 

  1. Russian Twist

An exercise I see being done wrong a lot of the time!Please look after your spine and follow these instructions!

Take up the V-Sit hold position - this can be done with either heels on the floor or raised depending on how experienced you are. Now taking a lightweight (even a bag of sugar would suffice)

Reach down to the left side and touch the ground with the weight, you want to aim for a spot about 1 inch away from your hip and central to your body, feeling the twist in your abs, now take the weight over to the opposite side and repeat.

Points to remember: keep everything from the hips down very still- dont let your knees collapse to the side you are bending, or your hips twist. Keep your spine as straight as possible, let the twist come from your arms and abs not the spine. Keep head and neck in a neutral position. SLow and steady wins the race.

 6. Kettlebell SIde bends

A good exercise for creating a stable core. Use a kettlebell or anything with a bit of weight to it…. Even a water bucket!

Take up position with your feet placed at shoulder width, holding the weight in 1 hand, arm down by your side. Now Breathe in and bend to one side, lowering the weight down past the knee, hold for a second then come back to your starting position, contracting the abs to straighten your torso back to the upright position.

The rest of your body should be still. Repeat the movement approx 8 times before swapping the weight to the other hand and repeating the same amount of reps on this side.

Points to remember: Keep back straight and shoulders pulled back - do not slouch! 

  1. Leg Raises 

You should be comfortable with this exercise before trying the air bike. 

Lay on your back with legs out straight - if you have lower back pain it's best to put your hands under your bottom to support it. Now simply raise your legs together off the ground as high as you can, hold for a second and slowly lower again. If more experienced don’t let your feet touch the ground between reps. Aim for 5 reps and 3 sets and look to increase each week.

Points to remember; keep head on the floor, shoulders pulled into the floor, core braced, hands under bottom if needed and legs together.

  1. Flutter kicks

A progression from the leg raises. Start in the same position as with the leg raises, lying flat on your back, legs out straight. Now raise both feet a couple inches off the floor, and gently kick your feet, as if you were doing a backstroke in the pool, but keep the entire leg straight. 

Points to remember: Keep feet relaxed, keep legs nice and straight, head supported on the floor, core braced and hands under bottom to support lower back if needed.

  1. Reach Away

Great exercise for riders as not only strengthened the core but improves stability by removing a point of contact with the floor. 

Start on your hands and knees, with your shoulders over your hands and your hips over your knees. Now raise and extend one arm and the opposite leg. Hold the position for a few seconds, then return slowly to the start. Alternate sides with each rep. For an extra challenge you can add a crunch, bringing your elbow and knee to meet under your torso before regrounding them.

Aim for 8 reps each side and aim to increase the amount of reps each week.

For an experienced individual you can increase the difficulty by coming into a plank and performing the same exercise. 

  1. Side plank

Targeting the oblique muscles which improve our stability in the saddle. 

Lie on your right side, legs extended and stacked ontop of each other. The elbow of your right arm is directly under your shoulder. Ensure your head is directly in line with your spine. Your left arm can be aligned along the left side of your body.Brace your core and lift your hips and knees from the floor while exhaling.

You should now have a straight line from your torso down the leg. Hold this position for as long as you can manage and return to the starting position, aim for 30 secs at first. Change sides and repeat.

If that is too difficult you can start with your knees on the floor rather than the feet. If thats too easy you can add hip dips in, so stake up the side plank, and once braced and body is off the floor you can slowly lower your hips to the floor, contract your abs to lift yourself back to starting position and repeat.

Points to remember: Much like the standard plank we need to keep our spine and body in a straight line, don't let your hips drop towards the floor, neck in neutral position and core braced. 

Core Strength for Riders

Core strength won't just appear overnight, but if you keep building it and incorporating key core training exercises into a daily routine, you'll find you progress quite quickly. A strong core can make a huge difference when horseback riding, and may also mean you start to see those abdominal muscles peeping through. 

Rider fitness is hugely about core strength, and maintaining that core strength will also stop you looking like a sack of spuds on horseback, but also translate into better posture day to day. 

Cardio for Riders

Cardio for horse riders is also important, so important we've written a post on it here. Combining a good regimen to build core strength as well as a cardio program will mean you're not just more comfortable in the saddle, but also have benefits to your daily life and physical appearance too! 

The Pilot Equine Fitness App 

Our app is the perfect counterpart to any rider looking to improve strength and fitness. It has an archive of exercises and is perfect for anyone looking to build up core strength and improve rider fitness. You can see it here.