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RIDING: Dismounted Exercises to Improve your Riding

This page is for exercises that can be beneficial to your riding.  The first part includes exercises I use and teach; following that are other resources, articles and references.  Send any others you have found useful if you would like to add to the list!
Dismounted exercises are very useful for any serious rider.  These can be used to develop and strengthen muscles that are used in riding before you start doing certain movements, which can make it easier and safer to learn such. 
    And if you cannot get to the barn to ride, these can keep you "in shape" for riding--riding uses muscles that often are not used otherwise. 
    For the very ambitious and competitive rider, what better way to get an edge than to use your work breaks to get a "practice ride" in for a few minutes?
I have recommended these to students for years. *

Stand side-wise in front of a full-length mirror.  Bend your knees as you would when in the saddle.  Keep a line of shoulder, hip and heel as you have been taught.  Position hands and arms where they would be while riding.
    Start posting!  Sounds easy--however, your shoulders should stay level and motionless or move forward (if you are "riding" a more forward moving horse).  And your hands and arms should be motionless or some of the below variations--try to keep in mind that on your horse, you want to have your hands independent of your seat.
    Do the exercise on each side and from the front.
a.  place something like a soccer ball between your knees to squeeze while doing the posting motion.  This will strengthen muscles side to side.
b.  turn feet on the inside of your foot--this will cock the ankle to the inside, which encourages the knees and thighs to grip properly.  Additionally stretches the appropriate muscles.
c.  put arms out to the side while performing the exercise
d.  place your hands and arms in positions that would indicate you are "turning" the horse--either in a direct rein, indirect rein or open rein.
e.  a deeper angle at your knees will make the excercise more strenuous.
f.  place a block or something similar under the ball of your feet to simulate a stirrup and force your heels down.
Stand side-wise in front of a full-length mirror.  Bend knees to imitate being in the saddle.  Position hands as they would be while riding.
    Imitate the action of being on a swing--keeping your hands positioned properly, and not opening your knees.
VARIATIONS:  Same as for Posting.
Very simply determine to what height you can lift each leg, and find a stable item that you can rest your foot on that is at this height.  Generally a heavy chair is suitable--use the seat edge or the arms.
Stand a foot or two from the item, with your arms out to your side
1.  Raise each leg alternately and place on the item, trying to put the ball of your foot on the item.  If you just get your foot on it, move your foot so that the ball of your foot is on the edge of the item, forcing your heel down, as if you were placing it in a stirrup.
2.  Alternate legs to practice mounting "from each side" and increase flexibility.
a.  while your leg is up on the item, lean forward to stretch the leg with the heel down.
b.  while you leg is up on the item,  hop on your other leg/foot, while keeping your arms out to the side.
Do above, however once the leg is up on item, actually lift yourself up onto the chair etc. (THINK SAFETY FIRST AND MAKE CERTAIN THE ITEM CAN HOLD YOU AND WILL NOT TIP OVER!). 
For this variation, a household step ladder is good, because you can increase your height and it is designed for holding the full weight of people.
1.  Place your foot firmly on the step and lift yourself up with your legs.
Keep in mind that this is to strengthen your leg more than anything else, so put your WHOLE FOOT on the step for safety purposes.
a.  use  some item  that will be stable enough to simulate "pulling yourself up".  If you are at home or have a break room, putting a step ladder in front of the refrigerator works well.
Grasp the top of the refrigerator--MAKE SURE you are grasping the refrigerator itself, not the door.
Do the exercise, while pulling yourself up at the same time, just as if you were mounting a horse.
This is for those of you doing some serious jumping to practice timing and form, and thus balance, while "releasing" over a jump.
It may be useful to do this in front of a mirror.
1.  Stand in the riding position--knees flexed, hands in front of you, back straight, straight line from ear to shoulder to hip to heel as much as possible.
2.  Look with both eyes at some item.
3.  Bend forward from the waist while keeping the back very straight and eyes looking forward  at item, at the same time performing the "release" with your arms.
4.  Practice a "Crest release", and then visualize the horse stretching and practice a free release.
(Best discussion of these occurs in books on Hunt Seat Equitation by George Morris, Judy Richter, etc.)
a.  using a stretch exerciser, place one end on something stationary, assure the basic riding position, and pull and release, making certain not to lose your position.
b.  "arm curls" are a basic exercise that is good for this--place weight in hand and pull up forearm, keeping upper arm straight down
c.  weight in hand, lift arm from shoulder--vary front, side and back.
d.  do a basic arm curl and raise the upper arm until elbow points upward or as far as you can get it.
1.  Place hand weights or other appropriate item in front of you while standing.  Bend forward from waist and lift slowly to mid-calf or knee level while keeping arms very straight.  Hold item for a few seconds and then slowly replace.  See waist-back-thigh for varitions.
a.  Stand on a stair with the ball of your feet on the stair.
     i.  stretch the leg by pushing the heel down for a few seconds, then stand up on the balls of your feet.
     ii.  bounce up and down to increase flexibility
     iii. place more weight on the inside of your feet
     iv.  keep knees bent
b.  Grasp something very stable with both hands (back of heavy chair, etc.) or place hands on immoveable object like a wall.

    Take as many steps backward as is comfortable, keeping body straight and feet flat on the floor.  Hold this stretching position for a few seconds, then return to upright position.



i.  while in stretched position do “push-ups” to increase flexibility and to strengthen shoulders
a. sitting in a chair, place a weight on each foot, and raise and lower from the knee
b.  standing, place a weight on each foot, and raise and lower from the hip--to the front and to the side
i.  change weight and intervals
ii. keep your heel down while doing the exercise
3.  Those of you that are familiar with yoga will recognize this as an adaptation of a basic yoga movement, the Plunge.
a.  Stand up straight with arms in riding position or out to your side.
b.  Move one foot/leg forward as far as you can without the heel of your other foot coming off the ground.
c.  Hold the position as a stretch
d.  Return to start position
e.  Repeat on each side equal amount of times.
Make certain that you keep your back straight, and keep looking at an item during the movement.
1. Place hand weights or other appropriate item in front of you while standing.  Bend forward from waist and lift slowly. Hold item for a few seconds and then slowly replace.  See waist-back-thigh for varitions.
a.  while bent forward, bring item(s) up to body, bending arms
b.  move arms to each side while holding the weight(s).
2.  Shoulder rolls--a commonly taught exercise.  This is good for reducing tension too, which, as we all know, when communicated to the horse causes anxiety.
   Hands to side, lift shoulders as high as possible and move in a circular motion.
a.  change directions--forward and backward
b.  alternate lifting
c. vary rate from slow and deliberate (as in stretching) to quick
Keeping your waist flexible is necessary for upper body control and balance.
Any of the above exercises can be done while bending at the waist in any direction.
1. standing in a "basic riding position", with hands and arms in "rein holding" position, lean to each side as if you were on a turning horse.  Keep eyes looking at your "next jump" or "point of transition".
a.  bend forward to imitate going over a jump--put hands and arms in a crest or direct release.
b.  lean forward for a few seconds then sit up straight--slightly back of vertical--to imitate a "sliding stop".
c.  use a variation on the arm exercise resistance pulls while varying position from the waist--this strengthens the whole "turning movement". 
1.  Get a heavier object or two hand weights of equal weight--about 5 lb to start with and move up as you master that weight.  Place the object (s) in front of you while standing.
Spread legs and bend forward from the waist and lift the object(s) up to about mid-calf to knee level, hold and then place back on floor and relax.
a.  lift the weights or item (books can be a substitute) as one item in front of you
b.  lift the weights or items seperately with arms straight down
c.  do "arm curls" when reach the appropriate height
d.  increase the weight as your strength increases.


This exercise will help you line up your back and spine to sit up straight, and then encourage flexibility in variations.


Find a hinged door that you can open about two feet and stand at the edge and move back and forth without interfering with anything.


Place your back (spine) along the edge of the door, placing your head back against the door too.

1.  Bring arms back until you touch the door with your hand

      a.  this can be done in an alternating manner

2.  Return arms to position in front of you, as if riding.

This will encourage you to stay straight while using your arms (like if you were having to use a stick or reach back to fix your saddle pad), and develop balance.

 3. Move your legs apart slightly and move the door slightly side to side while keeping the same pressure contact with the door, especially with your head.


i.  to increase shoulder exercising, touch the door with your elbows instead of your hands

ii. Change the flexion of your knees to simulate riding with short stirrups, then with long stirrups. 

Note if you have to lean against the door more at certain points, and work especially on those areas.


ANOTHER EXERCISE FOR THE SPINE is thinking in terms of pulling in your stomach.  This is excellent for those into "abs" exercises too.

   For some reason just saying to "sit up straight" seems like more think in terms of pulling your abdomen in--this naturally gives you the support to straighten up easily.

   This is used by Denise Austin quite a bit on her exercise programs, so credit to her.



It probably sounds strange to some to think of "training the eye" except in terms of how to analyze a horse's conformation, aesthetics, and movement.


However, in riding the eyes are crucial, because looking down can affect the balance of the rider and throw the horse off.  If you have to look down to check your position, etc., you wind up distorting the picture while showing too.

In jumping and equitation or anything with a pattern it is necessary to look at your next jump or next mark in order to gauge distance.

    A good basic exercise is to walk with your eyes on some item while you are walking by it.


1.  To practice turning, walk to a point, and then look where you will be walking next and "follow your eyes" and walk a little in that direction.  Repeat.


2.  Walk in a straight line with your arms in "riding position".  Look to one side, then to another direction; vary side-to-side and forward.

If you have difficulty keeping on a straight line or your balance when you look to each side, do not become disconcerted--as generally we look where we will be walking not in some other direction.  It will be normal if you shift to the right when you look right, etc. However, this will give you some idea of what the horse would feel if you were not practicing and perfecting this on the ground!




Low impact exercises are those designed NOT to put additional stress on knee joints in particular and the hip and ankles may be considered part of these too.
Basically any of the above mentioned exercises that can be adapted for sitting in a chair would be considered "low impact".
Otherwise, any basic exercise that you can do in a chair will be "low impact"--consider many of the "calesthentics"--toe touches, side-to-side hand to hand touches and stretches, etc.
1.  Sitting Leg Exercise 1--sitting upright in chair with feet flat on floor, lift heel of feet alternately, while leaving the ball of the foot on the floor.
2.  Sitting Leg Exercise 2--sitting upright in chair with feet tlat on floor, lift each leg alternately.for a few inches and then lower and touch the floor.  Works upper thigh too.
a. vary the rate at which the lifts are done
3.  Sitting Exercise 3--feet flat on the floor, keep heel on the floor and lift front part of foot.  This puts your "Heels Down" and stretches and strengthens the calf muscle.
a. alternate "heels down" with the first exercise
b. lift leg a few inches with heel down
c.  cock ankle so that knees are together




*These are based on use in my teaching and training experience, and are solely for the purpose of improving riding.  Counsult your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Other resources listed below.
Let me hear your input!
Many people do not realize it, however riding actually is good excercise.  While the benefits as "therapeutic riding" have been acknowledged for many years (note the number of handicapped riding programs) and of use in education, especially in terms of character-building (in educational programs, high school and intercollegiate riding competitions), riding just as an alternative exercise to get in shape and keep in shape is often overlooked.
Physically, walking on a horse burns the same amount of calories as walking at 2 mph--and for the same amount of time.*
Trotting burns twice the amount of calories as walking, and equals about the same time as jogging.  Even grooming can be good exercise--that burns almost as many calories as jogging!
So, when you go out to ride, let people know that you are getting your daily exercise!
*exact equivilents vary according to weight.  Find the exact number of calories you burn for
numerous activities at
Go to "calculators" at the top of page links or "health calculators" in the home page text; then go down the list to "Calories Burned".  On that page you will find a list of activities--input your weight and the minutes you want to do that activity, and then click on "Calculate" at the bottem.  The equine activities start with "Horse"--galloping, grooming, trotting and walking.
Use the above link to go directly to the article. 
Will be available after it is not current on the website
via this link too.  (the editor said so!!!)


Videotapes on the subject of off-horse exercising are available from several resources.  I have not viewed all of these, and thus am not expressing an opinion on them.  I generally recommend videos of these trainers.
Mary Midkiff, Midkiff Training Videos; Lynn Palm, Palm Training; Richard Shrake, Shrake Training Videos.
Additionally, the exercise methods of Pilates provide low impact workouts; and Oxycise provides aerobics benefits at low impact (alternative to jogging, etc.)  Denise Austin (former NCAA gymnast, Arizona, long-time exercise trainer) has some excellent work-outs on her TV show and tapes and books that include low-impact and Pilates based exercises that increase flexibility and condition.

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