Trainer Tuesday: What are some important elements of fitness you’d say riders need to work on to be successful in the show ring?

Welcome to Trainer Tuesday! Each week we ask trainers a question and gather their answers for you. These trainers have a range of experience, backgrounds, and focus points of their programs, so the answers have as much variation as you would expect and also probably much more similarity. 

This week’s question posed is: What are some important elements of fitness you’d say riders need to work on to be successful in the show ring?

Here are their answers: 

“At practices, my team was never just sitting in the saddle. Anytime the horse was on a walk break, they were up in two-point with no stirrups. If they were waiting their turn to jump in a group lesson, they dropped their stirrups and practiced two-point at the halt or walk. My team would get so fit that they could canter in two-point with no stirrups—confidently and without pinching their legs. It all started with developing mental toughness through breaking down each exercise into small enough pieces that riders were able to gradually build strength. By putting themselves under stress and achieving stepping stone goals, riders develop not just mental and physical fortitude, but confidence in their own ability to complete difficult exercises.” -Sally Batton
Read Sally’s book The Athletic Equestrian: Over 40 Exercises for Good Hands, Power Legs, and Superior Seat Awareness.

“1. Diet. Too much caffeine and sugar can make concentration harder.  

2. Barn chores. Helping at any age in the barn increases stamina, awareness, horse iq, and self esteem. 

3. Watch and help with lessons or jumps. This helps riders but jogging to set fences, rake with footing, learning lesson routines and builds fitness and comradery. 

Besides being physically capable a rider needs to be focused for safety and later competition. Barn chores accomplish both.” -Diane Carney
Listen to Diane on the Plaidcast here.

“It’s definitely the legs. Try bicycle riding with your heel down. For people who go to the gym, when you do leg presses, use the ball of your feet and keep your heels down. Some people walk around on their heels and do squats. Any of these exercises will help.” -Pearl Running Deer
Read about Pearl here.

“What works best for myself and many of my riders is regular yoga, pilates, or both. Yoga provides a balance between the mental and physical portion of exercise. I find it is beneficial for flexibility and training both sides of the body. The type of yoga you choose can be very specific for your needs. Pilates provides increased core strength and coordination and attention to breathing. Again, specific classes can be tailored to your specific training or rehabilitation needs.” -Raegan Comeaux
View Raegan’s books here.

“To ride well, you really need a strong core. It’s essential in performing a correct half-halt, and you should be using half-halts frequently. Without a strong core you are often letting the horse pull you forward to them, instead of shifting them back to you.” -Daphne Thornton
Listen to Daphne on the Plaidcast here.

“Riders need to be strong and fit. I have two areas I want riders to address first: cardiovascular fitness and core strength. Always, start from where you can handle. If a 10 second plank is where you are, do it consistently and increase your time as you are able. If a walk around the block gets you winded, do it consistently until you can go longer. The key to getting better at anything – including riding – is small changes in your daily routine that allow you to be better, stronger, and fitter than you were yesterday” -Mary Ann Thomas

“I think it is really important to have a stable core. Do fewer crunches and more functional movements that are core stabilizing. Examples would be: squats, romanian deadlifts, and any single leg exercises with lifting.

I also find yoga poses are extremely beneficial as they always involve balance and core.” -Wendy Brayman

“Stress management of horses and riders! This includes proper nutritional support, general horsemanship practices, and proper sleep.” -Angela Brackett

“I believe cardio, core, leg strengthening, and balance exercises are key parts of fitness a rider must work on to be successful in the ring. At my barn we do that both in and out of the saddle. 

When riding we do a lot of no stirrup work, 2 point position, and some bareback lessons.

Also I’m a huge advocate for my students to work out in the gym. We have a great personal trainer close to our barn and a few of my students go to her. In the gym we focus on core, cardio, and balancing exercises. I know this has significantly improved my riding. 

I also find working out in the gym a great mental tool during Florida. The majority of my students are only able to come down to Florida on the weekends or during their school breaks so they go extended periods of time without riding. I believe working out in the gym helps them feel more physically and mentally prepared. They don’t come down to Florida cold turkey without thinking about riding.” -Johanna Hyyppa

“I think to be successful in the show ring riders need to be physically and mentally fit. On the physical side, core strength is key in my opinion for good balance. Being aerobically in shape is helpful too, especially in the jumpers and the equitation where the courses are more demanding and the jumps come up quickly. I also believe that your mental fitness is as important as your physical fitness. Being able to focus on the questions asked in the courses and remembering details from your training don’t come without practicing that at home. Create a habit of mental strength that you can carry forward into the show ring.” -Abby Blankenship
Listen to Abby on the Plaidcast here.

“Riders need to have good stamina mentally and physically to perform well in the show ring. I think running or other fast paced sports can help develop these skills while challenging other muscle groups etc. to help you have the stamina you need to have great trips in the ring.” -Jenn Tirrell
View Jenn in The Plaid Horse here.

“Well, I think while everyone is different and some people may be stronger in some areas than others. For me as a rider, I try to focus on these 4 things:

  • Having a strong core
  • Being well balanced
  • Having a solid base, lots of no stirrups work
  • But one of the most important aspects, being mentally strong

Sometimes we can be our own biggest enemies. Maybe it’s that little voice in the back of your head, saying ‘you can’t do this,’ or ‘you are going to embarrass yourself in front of everyone,’ or maybe something else. You have to turn it off and not listen to it. Turn that negativity in positivity! ‘I can do this, I will do this, and I’m going to be great.’ I have a smaller version of the sign from Ted Lasso in my tack trunk. It just says ‘BELIEVE’. I make a point to look at it everyday before I get on.

For me personally, I struggled with my weight, causing the first three components above to vanish. Over the last 18 months, with a lot of hard work and dedication, I’ve managed to lose almost 100 pounds! Now I am feeling so much better! I’m back in the saddle and all of the 3 components are coming back! Working on the 4th one is a constant daily task. I’m not trying to brag or pat myself on the back. What I am saying is if I can do it, YOU can do it…BELIEVE!” -John Flisk