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Rider Fitness - Targeted for Equestrians

What you can do to become a better and more efficient rider

Part #1 - Cardiovascular Fitness

There are many things each of us can do on a regular basis to improve our riding and better our horses. You do not need a lot of equipment or expensive gym memberships, you simply need a few minutes every other day. Before beginning any exercise program it is a good idea to consult your physician and it is imperative that you do so if you have any existing health problems.

We all know how important it is to regularly exercise our horses but we often neglect ourselves. Riding, regardless of type, is a very physical sport and requires great muscle control and stability. In this article, I will demonstrate some basic guidelines you can follow to improve your cardiovascular heath as well as your horses.

The first component to any exercise program is Cardiovascular Fitness. There are many forms of cardiovascular activity, including riding. A good rule of thumb is if you feel winded or out of breath while riding you likely need to improve your cardiovascular capacity. Of course all horses are different and some require you to work harder than others, however if you are fatigued in 15 minutes or less of moderate riding you should consider supplementing your riding with another cardiovascular activity. Some examples of alternate activities include; power walking, running, cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, hiking and many more. When participating in these activities you can monitor how hard you are working a number of ways. First, you can take your heart rate which for moderate activity should be between 70 - 85% of your maximum heart rate. You can find your maximum heart rate by starting with 220 if you are male and 226 if you are female and subtracting your age, then multiplying by your target heart rate zone (70-85%).

Methods of Measuring Cardiovascular Activity:

1) Heart Rate

Ex: Female age 30 yrs exercising at a moderate level of 70 - 85% of her maximum heart rate Pulse taken on the wrist or neck over 60 secs.

Max - age=max HR, x % = heart rate zone

*226 - 30 = 196 x .70 = 137 beats per minute

*226 - 30 = 196 x .85 = 167 beats per minute

(*male use 220 as max)

137 - 167 bpm would be the heart rate zone for this person. Another easier way, although less accurate, is the Perceived Exertion Scale.

2) Perceived Exertion

This method uses a scale of 1 -10, 1 being very easy and 10 being very difficult. For example, 1 would be resting on couch and 10 would be a full sprint.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

very easy ----------------->easy----------------->moderate---------->difficult

Using this method you would ask yourself "how hard am I working?" and you should be at about a 7 or 8 on the scale.

How often do I need to exercise for? The minimum as recommended by Health Canada is 30 minutes of moderate activity (in your heart rate zone) 3 times a week. Now this is just a guideline and depending on your riding goals and how you feel when riding, you may need to do more or less. Keep in mind that your riding may also count as some of this time, that is if you achieve a heart rate in your training zone (70-85%) while riding.

Again, if you want to be able to ride longer without becoming out of breath, I suggest you increase the Cardiovascular training you do out of the saddle. You may ride 5 days a week but perhaps you are not riding efficiently? For example, if you added 1 day of another activity you would see and feel a difference in your daily rides! One more suggestion, if you are counting your riding time as cardiovascular training, and you are not sure how hard you are working, try wearing a heart rate monitor. Sometimes it is difficult to check your heart rate while on your horse so a heart rate monitor easily displays it for you. I will discuss this topic in more detail next time!


Cardiovascular health is equally important for you as well as your horses. To ride efficiently we need to be fit and often riding alone is not enough. As riders, we all have different goals and aspirations and our fitness programs should reflect them! There is no one size fits all when it comes to riders or rider fitness, therefore we each need to assess our individual needs and that of our horses in order to build sound fitness programs that are as unique as we all are!

Written for

Jayne Essig B.Education, ACE Certified Personal trainer

Jayne has been involved with horses nearly all of her life, and has been devoted to Dressage for many years now. She has tailored her professional development and education around her keen interest in personal fitness and riding.

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