Posts Tagged ‘fitness’

Ms Hill,

I am 59, rode for 40 years but  had a hip  replaced about four years ago and need to get the other done sometime in the not to distant future. 

Talking to my physical therapist about getting back in the saddle and asking for exercises or what-ever to try to improve the range of motion in both hip sockets is like trying to get an answer out of my dog.  (and due to restrictions of my medical insurance I can’t go to another therapist.)

Do you know of any books that address this issue, or know of any group that works with rider disabilities who might be able to help me get back in the saddle? 


Hi Dianne,

I’m posting this in hopes that one of the readers of this blog might be able to help you specifically with a group or book recommendation. I don’t know of any specifically related to hip replacements and riding.

However I have heard that hip replacements enable people to ride, rather than disable, so I’d think of it that way !

I’d start by asking your doctor and/or physical therapist specifically what limitations you have in terms of exercise, such as you shouldn’t go past a certain angle with your artificial hip joint. Also in terms of the other hip joint that will need to be replaced in the future, ask which exercises would exacerbate whatever the condition is that is going to require you to get that hip replaced too. Just like with horses, some exercises would accelerate damage to an already deteriorated joint. So ask which movements are safe and which are not for each hip as they currently are.

Once you know what you shouldn’t do, that will rule out certain yoga poses, certain Pilates exercises and some general fitness and stretching exercises.

Also, again asking your doctor and/or PT – they probably have a standard handout or booklet they give patients of exercises to prepare for and recover from surgery. This will make a good basis for your program.

I hesitate to go much further than that because I’m not a doctor or a PT and every person’s situation is different.

Hip Flexor Stretch

If it were me, I’d find out what I shouldn’t do and then start with simple exercises, adding repetitions, weight or difficulty…..always listening to your body.

And finally, one of the best ways to get back in the saddle is to get back in the saddle with the help of a mounting block. Even if for a few minutes every day, gentle walking, moseying around.

Best of luck and please feel free to post any comments, information directly here on this blog.


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Hi Cherry
I have a, well, almost 3 year old Quarter Horse mare. Last time I weighed her she was about 800 pounds or so. She is a small girl, about 13 hands. The lady who feeds her I think is feeding her too much (a flake of alfalfa in the morning along with some oat, and some grass and oat at night) Though I think that oat doesn’t matter- for it’s just a filler, Ive been told.
A size 32 cinch is WAY to small on my horse and barely can go around her stomach.
Though she is stalky and so is her family, is she too obese for her size? I am worried about that. Jen

Hi Jen,

I wrote requesting you send me a photo of the mare as that would be helpful in formulating an answer. Without that visual, I’m going to refer you to several articles on my website that will help you get started in evaluating your horse’s weight.

What is the correct weight of a horse?

What should this horse weigh?

How do I put my horse on a diet?


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Hi Cherry,
I have an quarter horse mare that I just bought she is the sweetest thing in the world, she is at the stables where I keep my other horse the owner sold us the other too and perfectly healthy,my quarter I was testing her and noticed that her thighs and back legs are very swollen I know for an fact that she has not been out for one month so due of being in her stall for so long I am pretty sure that is the problem. Also when I made her trot she was limping but her hoofs are very long and broken that will be fixed this week. I will exercise her every day  and i massage her legs, someone said that it never goes away I am not sure about that. It is cold now and the barn is not heated so I do not want to put cold water on her legs can I do cold compresses and the then wipe her dry?
When she walks she does not limp only when she trots what are your suggestions on that?
I just want to know if this stays for the rest of her life or with exercise and taking her out it will go away she is not in pain
Thank you so much

Hi Monika,

There was a salty and sweet vet that I worked with once that used to look at a horse like yours and say, “All she needs is fresh air and exercise.”

A horse that has not been out of her stall for a month will “stock up” which is a horseman’s way of saying “swell in the legs”. Some horses stock up if they don’t receive daily exercise. All horses should have either free daily exercise (turnout in a large area where they can run and buck and roll) or daily exercise such as longeing or riding.

But before you even think about exercising the horse, she needs hoof care. All horses should have their hooves attended to (trimmed or shod) every 6-8 weeks. When a horse’s hooves have become so long as to begin cracking and breaking off, it is way past due for the horse to have farrier care.

When a horse limps at the trot, that means the horse IS in pain – it hurts to put its weight on that hoof or limb.

So my suggestions are to get the horse hoof care immediately, keep her on a 6-8 week hoof care program per your farrier’s recommendation and exercise her daily.

Then your sweet horse will be comfortable and will last you a lot longer.


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©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Endurance is resistance to fatigue and the ability to recover quickly from fatigue. In order to increase either muscular endurance or cardiopulmonary endurance, you must work beyond your present level of endurance to experience the effect of progressive overloading. Long, slow distance work develops a base for more intense conditioning. Walking requires minimal equipment and is a safe form of exercise. Aim for at least 20-30 minutes of brisk walking at least 3 times a week. Other alternatives are stair stepping, aerobic exercise, treadmill, rowing machine and other companion sports (see sidebar).

To increase your fitness level so you’re capable of handling high stress events, use interval training. Interval training consists of brief work periods or “works” interspersed with rest or light work. You might begin with ten minutes of standing in the stirrups or trotting (either mounted or alongside your horse) followed by a five-minute walk break, repeating for 45-60 minutes. Within two months you may have moved up to an hour-and-a-half session with fifteen-minute lope and trot works and two-minute breaks. With interval training you can increase your endurance potential by:

      • increasing the number of works
      • increasing the length of the works
      • increasing the intensity of the works
      • decreasing the number of rest periods
      • decreasing the length of the rest periods
      • performing the work in hot weather.

Riding is an athletic pursuit that requires mental preparation, conditioning and skill development. Whether you are learning to ride or getting back in the saddle, take the time to prepare yourself for it so you can enjoy riding, the best activity out there.

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©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Flexibility is the range of motion of a joint. A rider must be especially flexible in the pelvis and hips. The rhythmic movement of a horse can improve your flexibility because the movement of the horse closely approximates the movement of your pelvis during walking. That is the basis of hippotherapy, a form of physical therapy that uses a well-trained and balanced horse to improve a person’s posture, balance, muscle tone, mobility, and function.

The older you are, the more time and attention you will have to spend to ensure that you are comfortable during riding and after. It is best if you work stretching into your everyday life. I have the following rule written on the activity board in my barn, “Make things less convenient”. More than one person has asked me, “What the heck does that mean??!!” It is just a way of reminding myself that convenient is seldom better when it comes to maintaining flexibility. So I design some of my barn chores (and office and domestic tasks) to be less convenient. I walk out to feed each horse on pasture twice a day; I put frequently used items on the top shelf so I have to stretch to reach for them; I bend over to use a short brush and pan to pick up manure and debris in the grooming area.

You can use isotonic exercises to tone and stretch your body. Isotonics are exercises in motion, the kind you probably have done all of your life. Perform these exercises with slow, steady stretches. Bouncing can dangerously exceed a tissue’s extensibility and result in injury.

Here are some of my favorites:

The quadriceps stretch – to improve flexibility of the large muscles on the front of the thigh. If quads are tense, they may prevent you from developing a long leg as you ride. Stand on one leg (you may need to grasp a support) and grab your other ankle with the hand on the same side. Smoothly pull your heel toward your buttocks. Keep your back straight and extend your hip (downward). Hold. Repeat with the other leg. You can do this exercise before you mount, during a break, and after you ride.

Hamstring stretch – to lengthen the large muscles at the back of the thigh for a deep seat and long leg. Stand keeping one leg straight. Bend the other leg slightly at the knee and move its foot around the front to the floor on the outside of the other foot. Bend at the waist and reach for the floor. You will feel the “burn” at the back of your straight leg.

Side stretch – to elongate the side of your body, especially beneficial for a rider with a collapsed side. With your feet hip-width apart, raise one hand over your head. Reach for the ceiling as you stand on your tiptoes and feel your entire side elongate.

Lunge – to strengthen the quadriceps and stretch the gastrocnemius and Achilles tendon for “heels down”. Place one foot 2 feet ahead of the other. Bend the knee of the front leg, keeping the back leg straight and the back heel on the floor. Hold your arms out to your sides, horizontal to the floor, keeping your back straight. You should feel a strengthening in the quadriceps of the front leg and a stretch of the gastrocnemius and Achilles tendon of the back leg. Repeat with other leg.

The stirrup stretch – to improve the balance, coordination, and stretching of the obliques required for mounting. With one foot flat on the floor and the opposite hand on your hip, raise the other leg with the knee bent so the thigh is at least horizontal. Reach the opposite elbow toward the knee. Hold. Repeat with the other leg.

Symmetry stance – to improve your overall balance, symmetry and poise. You’ll need a mirror or a friend to critique you. With your feet placed wider than your shoulders to approximate the position on a horse, arms out horizontally from shoulders, tuck your buttocks as if to sit. Keeping your lower back straight, squat as far as you can toward the floor while keeping your correct position. Regulate your breathing.

Calf stretch – to stretch your gastrocnemius and Achilles tendon in order to help you ride with a long leg and low heel. Stand with your knees straight and the balls of your feet on the edge of a 2-4-inch step. Let your heels stretch down. Hold five seconds. Rest or raise above the step on your toes.

Back stretch – to stretch your lower back and hamstrings for preventing a hollow back. Lie flat on a floor or mat. Bring one or both knees to your chest. Clasp your hands around your upper shins and hug your legs toward your chest for a better stretch. Keeping your back flat, slowly raise your head and touch your nose to your knees. Hold for five seconds. Slowly uncurl. Repeat. Don’t forget to breathe.

Lower back relaxer – to stretch and relax your lower back and hamstrings and round your lower back. This exercise is convenient in the arena or along the trail. Use it before, during, or after riding. With your feet flat on the ground, squat so your seat reaches for your ankles. Clasp your arms around your legs, rest your chin on your knees, and let your muscles relax. Once you have practiced this relaxer, you will find your body remembers it and will automatically configure in that position when you squat to put bandages or boots on your horse’s legs or to clip his legs.

Abdominal strengthener – to tighten and strengthen the abdominal muscles for protecting your lower back as you ride. With knees bent and feet flat on floor, your back, shoulders, and head flat on the floor, point your arms forward toward your knees. Exhale and slowly begin lifting your head, one vertebra at a time, to raise your shoulders off the floor. Inhale as you let yourself down just as slowly.

Lateral leg lifts – to improve the range of motion of the hip joint and to strengthen the thigh muscles for effective leg aids.

Version A. Lying on one side, support your upper body with a bent elbow. Keeping your lower leg extended on the floor, raise the other leg. With your foot parallel to the floor, alternate extending your toe and heel.

Version B. In the same position, bend your upper leg and place the foot on the lower leg at the knee. Raise and lower the lower leg. The added weight of the upper leg creates more work for your lower leg.

Hip stretch – to stretch and relax some of those difficult-to-reach hip and buttock muscles that can get tight as a result of riding. Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you. Bend one leg at the knee and cross that foot over to the outside of the opposite thigh. Draw the leg close to your body, keeping your back straight. Hold.

When it comes to riding, be sure to warm up both yourself and your horse. Take it easy. Don’t risk injury. Here is one of those situations where the slower you go, the faster you will get there. Tack your horse up and lead him around the arena or use longeing or ground driving to warm him up and be sure you get plenty of walking and stretching in before you mount up.

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Male and Female Riders

The Physiological Differences Between Male and Female Riders

Women are innately more flexible and loose-jointed, allowing them to smoothly follow the movements of a horse, but they can be more easily unseated and be more likely to suffer joint injuries. Women have greater manual skills and dexterity, allowing them to be more talented and subtle with rein aids. The tightness of men’s joints, muscles, and skin may make them less responsive to a horse’s movements but allows them to hold a correct position more easily. Women tend to carry 20% of their bodyweight as fat, which provides greater cushion, insulation, and tolerance for cold. This can make the body difficult to cool in hot weather, may inhibit range of motion, and may undermine level of fitness. A woman’s thermostat is higher – she must be hotter before she sweats to lower her temperature.

Men’s lower fat stores may allow them to become more fit but their lack of padding and insulation may make riding less comfortable for them, especially in cold weather. Men sweat at a lower temperature so cool their bodies sooner.

Women have lighter bones and less durable tendons and ligaments meaning a lighter load for the horse but more injury for the rider, especially knees. Men’s heavier framework makes a heavier load for the speed or endurance horse.

Women are usually about 3 inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than men so often can ride smaller horses. However, men’s longer legs often fit around a horse’s barrel better than a woman’s do.

Women are bottom-heavy with a low center of balance – between the hip bones. Thickness in this area can make it difficult for the beginning rider to find the correct position but helps the advanced rider keep a stable leg position.

Men are top-heavy with a center of balance located around the waist. The result is movable limbs: leg adjustments come easily but leg stability is difficult to maintain. Top-heaviness plus a high center of gravity can unbalance male riders.

Women are less strong and have a lower muscle-building capacity. Females tend to use psychology rather than strength. A man’s strength can tempt him to overpower a horse. Saddles were originally designed for male riders yet the majority of today’s riders are female. The female pelvis and legs may make some aspects of riding more difficult for women and an inappropriate saddle will exaggerate the tendencies.

Women have a wide pelvis, wide set seat bones and hip sockets that face outward, and a tailbone set out behind the spine. A woman’s legs to tend to be knock-kneed, making it harder to relax the thighs so they hang down along the horse’s side. The thighs often point outward at the knee and come forward and upward when riding. Because the tailbone is behind the lumbar vertebrae, women have a naturally hollow lower back. Young female riders especially, tend to tip forward on the pubic bone, ahead of the center of balance, creating an exaggerated hollow back. It requires proper instruction and effort to bring the seat bones under, tuck the tailbone, and achieve a flat lower back.

Men have a narrow, upright pelvis, nearly parallel seat bones, hip sockets that face forward, a tail bone that is more vertical, and a tendency toward bow-leggedness. This allows the legs of the male rider to conform to the horse’s barrel. The upright pelvis results in a flatter back and a more naturally stable position. The male’s near-parallel seat bones and near-vertical tailbone are perfectly suited for a deep seat. The seat bones are able to rock freely backward and forward in contrast to the muscular effort required for a female rider to do the same. The naturally tucked tail bone of the male rider allows him to sit down more effortlessly on a jogging or loping horse than a female rider who must constantly exert muscular energy to tuck the tail bone and flatten the lower back.

Generalizations related to male and female anatomy vary according to the individual. Evaluation by a qualified instructor regarding pelvic and lower back action is essential to safeguard the health of your spine and improve your riding.

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Flexibility is the range of motion of a joint.

How Flexible Do You Need to be For Riding?

Flexibility is affected by the bone structure of the joint and the extensibility of the tissue surrounding and connected to it: the ligaments, tendons, muscles, and skin.

Inactivity can cause your muscle and connective tissues to lose their extensibility. A flexible rider conforms to the horse and moves fluidly with the horse. A lack of flexibility can result in improper movement, poor form, and injury. Too much flexibility, however, can also cause injuries such as dislocations and sprains.

TEST: A rider must be especially flexible in the pelvis and hips. Lie on your back with your head and hands on the floor. With one leg stretched out in front of you and keeping your pelvis flat on the floor, bend your other leg at the knee and bring it close to your chest. Have a friend note the angle between your spine and femur (thigh). (When your knee points to the ceiling, your femur is at 90-degrees with your spine). Can you close the angle to 60 degrees? Is one hip more flexible than the other?

TEST: Thigh muscle suppleness allows you to wrap your legs around your horse’s barrel yet use each leg independently to give aids. Sit on the floor with your back straight and legs straight out. Spread your legs making as wide an angle as possible. If your legs won’t open to 90 degrees, you need stretching exercises to limber up for riding.

TEST: While sitting on the floor, bend your knees and bring your soles together. Move your feet as close to your crotch as you can, keeping your knees as close to the floor as possible. If the distance between the bottom of your knee and the floor is more than 9 inches, you need to stretch your inner thighs. Is one of your knees higher than the other?

TEST: The “heels down” position desired in Horsemanship and for security in any fast moving event requires that your “hamstrings”, gastrocnemius muscles, and Achilles tendons (“heel cords”) are stretchable. Sitting on a chair with your legs straight out in front of you, flex your ankle so that your toes reach backward as far as possible toward your shins. If the angle of your sole and the back of your calf is greater than 80 degrees, you need to stretch your calf muscles and tendons.

TEST: For a long western or dressage leg, hamstring and lower back muscles should be loose. Stand with your knees straight and your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart, and bend at your waist to reach for the floor. The tips of your middle fingers should at least touch the floor. Do not bounce – it’s dangerous and results in an inaccurate indication of your flexibility.

TEST: Shoulder flexibility is especially important to ropers, bull doggers, vaulters, and eventers but it is essential to everyone who grooms, saddles and wants to ride with shoulders back. Stand with your arms in front of you, hands 12 inches apart, holding a rope or dishtowel. Bring the rope up over your head and behind you, letting it slide through your hands only enough to let you bring your hands behind your back. If you are 25-45 and can keep your hands closer than 35 inches, you’re looser than average. If you need 45 inches or more, you need shoulder exercises to prevent tendonitis. Extremely loose shoulders are prone to dislocations and need strengthening exercises.

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Balance is equilibrium, a state where weight is equally distributed.

Where is your Center of Balance?

It is located within your abdomen near your belly button. The lower your center of balance, the closer it will be to the horse’s back. If you have long legs, wide hips, and a short, light upper body, your center of balance is low and you have a natural physical advantage as a rider. If you have short legs, a long waist and a heavy upper body, you have a higher center of balance and may have to work harder to maintain a stable upper body position and overall balance.

Men tend to have a higher center of gravity because more mass is located in the upper body; women’s lower center of gravity is due to the majority of weight being located in the lower portion of the body.

Note! When performing the following physical tests, do so at your own risk. Wear loose clothes, no shoes, and don’t strain. If you’ve had an injury or surgery, proceed with extreme caution.

TEST: Stand with your hands on your waist and shift your weight to one of your feet. Bend the other leg at the knee and place the sole on the inside of the opposite knee with the toe pointing toward the floor. Try standing in this stork position for 30 seconds. Try the other leg. Now close your eyes and see how long you can balance. If you can’t balance for 30 seconds with eyes closed, work on it. It will help you when riding in the dark or when your horse loses his balance or spooks or bucks.

TEST: Do you routinely lose one of your stirrups? You may be contracting (collapsing) one side of your body; as that side crunches together like an accordion, your shoulder and hip get closer together, the entire side gets shorter, your heel raises, your foot loses contact with the stirrup tread and the stirrup swings free. Have an instructor evaluate your position from the rear, front and side. Evaluate your own riding by watching yourself on video.

TEST: How do you sit when you drive? If you lean on the console, you are collapsing your right side. If you ride like that, it’s hard on your spine and difficult for the horse to perform in balance. If you slouch when driving and carry that habit to riding, you weight the horse’s forehand and could easily pop off in the event of a stumble or abrupt stop.

TEST: What’s your cell phone posture when driving? How many sideways S-shaped curves does your spine make from your seat bones up to your phone-holding hand up to over to your steering hand back to your listening ear? Ideal driving posture is weight evenly distributed on both seat bones, shoulders over hips, lower back and shoulders touching the seat, hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel, and looking straight ahead while talking into the hands-free microphone on your visor! Sounds an awful lot like great riding posture, doesn’t it?

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