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  • Writer's pictureKyra Fraser

Riding Fit: Unlocking Performance and Harmony in the Saddle

A woman performs core-strengthening exercises on a gym mat, embodying the dedication required for refining the balance and harmony essential in horseback riding. Kyra Fraser of Seven Hills Training in Monroe, WA recommends off-horse training focusing on muscle toning, core strengthening, bilateral coordination, and COG awareness to enhance rider performance.
Core strengthening exercises can improve rider balance and center of gravity awareness.

As an equestrian trainer deeply committed to the art and science of horseback riding, I've always been fascinated by the subtle yet profound communication that occurs between a horse and rider. This connection, built on mutual respect and understanding, is the foundation of equestrian excellence. However, achieving this level of synergy is not solely a matter of skill and experience; it's also significantly influenced by the rider's physical conditioning. Recently, I read some research out of the University of Belgrade, Serbia provides compelling evidence on how rider fitness directly impacts the biomechanics of horseback riding​​.

The 2020 study marks a significant milestone in equestrian science, as it was the first to explore the neuromuscular differences between experienced riders and novices. The findings reveal that the physical condition of the rider plays a critical role in their ability to move in harmony with their horse. As someone who has dedicated their life to coaching riders and fostering successful horse-rider partnerships, these insights resonate deeply with me and underscore the messages I've been sharing with my students.

The Core of the Matter: Muscle Tone and Strength

Professional riders, the study notes, possess a higher overall muscle tone and significantly greater core strength than their novice counterparts. In my coaching, I've observed how a strong core and good muscle tone are indispensable for maintaining balance and stability on horseback. These physical attributes allow a rider to absorb the horse's movements gracefully, responding with subtle adjustments that communicate effectively with their equine partner.

Adaptability Through Neuromuscular Coordination

Another fascinating aspect of the study is its emphasis on the ability of experienced riders to activate their muscles independently and in a contralateral manner. This skill is crucial for adapting to the horse's movements, ensuring that the rider can provide support without disrupting the horse's natural gait. It's a skill that comes with time, practice, and, importantly, an awareness of one's own body. In my training programs, I stress the importance of developing this neuromuscular adaptability, encouraging exercises that enhance body awareness and coordination.

Moving Together: Center of Gravity Awareness

The research also highlights a common challenge among novice riders: the ability to move their center of gravity (COG) in alignment with the horse's COG. Achieving this alignment is essential for the fluidity of movement and balance. It's a skill that significantly affects a rider's ability to support and follow the horse's lead, making movements such as transitions, turns, and jumps more harmonious. In my lessons, I incorporate COG awareness exercises to help riders develop a keen sense of how their movements affect their partnership with their horse.

The Path to Improvement: Off-Horse Training

The implications of these findings are clear: off-horse training focusing on muscle toning, core strengthening, bilateral coordination, and COG awareness can dramatically enhance a rider's performance. Such training not only benefits the rider but also contributes to a healthier, more enjoyable experience for the horse by reducing the risk of overtraining and injury.

Incorporating these elements into training regimens has always been a cornerstone of my coaching philosophy. I've seen firsthand how riders who commit to improving their fitness and body awareness off the horse achieve remarkable progress in their riding skills. It's a testament to the fact that excellence in equestrian sports is not just about the time spent in the saddle but also about how we prepare our bodies and minds for the challenges of riding.


The journey to becoming a skilled equestrian is multifaceted, involving a deep connection with our equine partners, a commitment to continuous learning, and a dedication to personal fitness. This research underscores the critical role of rider conditioning in achieving the biomechanical harmony that is the hallmark of excellent riding. As a trainer, I am excited to continue integrating these insights into my coaching, helping my students unlock their full potential as equestrians. Together, we can foster a future where the bond between horse and rider is a source of joy and also a celebration of our and our horses' athletic achievement.


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