Beyond the Reins: Harnessing the Four Pillars of Equestrian Fitness

BY Ifa Simmonds

Being an equestrian requires an intricate combination of grace, power, and synergy with our horses. Longevity in equestrian sport requires us to reach and maintain peak performance. In order to achieve this we must prioritize and invest in our self-care and cross-training. It is within this context that we explore the four pillars of equestrian self-care: Stability, Suppleness, Strength, and Stamina.

Stability is our first pillar and the foundation that all other pillars expand upon. The ultimate connection between rider and horse begins at the core. Riders with a stable core create a harmonious balance with their horse. They’re more equipped to deliver precise cues and maintain fluid equitation during the various movements in the hunter ring, or while navigating the sharp turns and towering jumps of the show jumping course.

Suppleness, our second pillar, refers to the mobility and flexibility in and out of the saddle. This pillar is essential to help you naturally absorb the horse’s movements while quickly responding to unexpected changes in rhythm and/or direction. A supple rider smoothly transitions between gaits, and constantly aligns their body with their horse. Better suppleness lowers riders’ injury risks, helping them exhibit less stiffness and tension. Suppleness improves body awareness in the jumper ring, or helping to flawlessly execute an equitation round, which builds greater trust and understanding with their horse.

Our third pillar, strength, is not about the power to control but the ability to guide and support the horse with authority. Equestrians need upper body strength to maintain proper posture and lower body strength for effective leg aids as well as muscular strength and endurance to sustain the physical demands of riding. In disciplines such as hunters, where subtlety and grace are rewarded, or in show jumping, where every ounce of strength may be needed to influence the horse’s trajectory, strength plays an essential role.

Last but not least, stamina forms our fourth pillar. Riding is an endurance sport, and building stamina helps equestrians maintain their performance throughout long training sessions, intense competitions, or grueling show circuits. In equitation, where precision and poise are paramount, stamina ensures that riders can maintain their form and focus. Similarly, in show jumping, it helps riders manage their energy and their horse’s over a course, and in hunters, it supports the sustained elegance required for success.

Cross-training offers equestrians opportunities to build their fitness, improve their riding skills, and bolster their mental fortitude outside the saddle. Incorporating exercises targeting core stability, flexibility, strength, and stamina can transform an equestrian’s performance. Core-strengthening exercises such as planks, bridges, and abdominal workouts can significantly improve stability and suppleness. Strength can be fortified with exercises like squats, lunges, and deadlifts, which support riders in maintaining correct posture and providing effective aids. For stamina, exercises like pulsing squats and high knees, part of a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) routine, can be instrumental in building the endurance needed for longer training sessions and intense competitions. This comprehensive approach to cross-training not only aids performance but also contributes to a sustainable, rewarding journey in the sport.

The exercises below offer these specific benefits for equestrians.

High Knees – Exercise Description

Perform: Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides. Bring your right knee up towards your chest, slightly above waist level. Then, simultaneously, move your left hand up in a pumping motion (like you’re running). This will help you maintain momentum and keep your arms from swinging wildly. Quickly lower your right leg and left hand, and repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating, moving at a sprinting or running pace while maintaining a steady tempo.

Engage: You should feel your core, calves, legs and hip flexors while doing this exercise. Pump your arms in opposition to your legs to help you maintain momentum.


  • Try not to stomp, landing softly each rep
  • Start slowly and gradually increase your speed as you get more comfortable with the exercise.
  • If you have any knee or ankle pain, you can modify the exercise by doing an alternating march

This exercise provides both cardio and strength benefits. It engages the core and improves coordination, both of which are vital for maintaining balance in the saddle. The upward drive of the knees strengthens the hip flexors, an essential muscle group used for posting and two-point positions. As a cardio exercise, it increases heart rate rapidly, improving cardiovascular fitness and stamina, helping riders maintain energy levels during long rides, competitions and show season. Better yet, high knees are perfect even with your spurs on!

Pulsing Squats – Exercise Description:

Perform: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms clasped in front of you. Lower down into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Then lift up 2-3 inches before lowering back into your deeper squat. Repeat this, pulsing your hips up and down, for 15-30 repetitions.

Engage: You should feel your core muscles contracting, your legs working, and your glutes repetitively squeezing throughout the exercise.


  • Start with a low number of repetitions and gradually increase as you feel stronger.
  • If you have any knee or hip pain, modify this exercise by standing taller in the squat position.

We all know strong leg muscles are crucial for a variety of riding skills, from strong leg aids to maintaining a secure seat. Pulsing squats build muscular endurance in these areas, which give us better control and balance in the saddle. Moreover, the small but consistent movements in a pulsing squat boost riders’ stability, a critical component of effective riding, especially when navigating jumps and performing precise movements in the arena.

Remember, the best riders aren’t just talented—they are stable, supple, strong, and have the stamina to keep going physically and mentally. Let these four pillars guide your physical self-care routine, and witness the transformative effects on your performance in the arena.

About Ifa Simmonds:

Ifa Simmonds is a passionate equestrian and expert fitness trainer dedicated to promoting optimal performance and well-being in the equestrian community with over 10 years of experience. He is also the creator of Equestrian Fitness Academy (EFA). With a deep understanding of the physical demands of riding, Ifa specializes in providing functional, practical, effective fitness and recovery solutions tailored specifically for equestrians. His expertise combines holistic fitness and wellness in the industry. Ifa is committed to helping riders take the reins and unlock their full potential to enjoy a balanced, healthy, and successful equestrian journey.