Category Archives: rider fitness

A couple of exercise routines that can transform your riding feel

By Wiola Grabowska

Even though I am a big fan of off-horse training to improve riding feel (via a better i.e. more aware use of the rider’s body) and I have participated in various sports since childhood, it wasn’t until my late thirties that I actually felt it to be a necessary rather than a complimentary part of riding training.

Let me share a couple of routines from my Equestrian Pilates sessions with Natalie Monrowe that are really fun to try and play with ๐Ÿ™‚



I found it useful for:ย 

  • finding “neutral spine” which is a must for upper body control in the saddle. Many grassroots riders ride on horses with a “hollow back”. This often can give a feeling of sitting in a hammock which sends the rider’s lower leg forwards and shifts the overall weight of the rider behind the movement of the horse. This can be very slight and make consistent throughness tricky or be very obvious, like getting left behind in rising trot and ‘double bouncing’. Developing a good feel for own neutral spine can help the rider develop the same in their horses.


  • pelvis stability. Lifting alternate legs shows various weaknesses in the use of core muscles which can be worked on separately.
  • neck and head alignment. Riders often struggle with their neck alignment (head down, too much left or right, straining neck forward etc) and I find this to be a very simple way to gather proprioception for the spinal alignment throughout entire spine (base of the neck to tailbone)
  • awareness of own straightness. Aligning the roller with own spine gives a very distinct feel of how much of each side of ribcage, shoulders, pelvis is on each side of it. Just lying down in this position for some time increases awareness of where your centre is and that is such an important skill to have when schooling horses of any level. Ability to maintain own straightness on a crooked horse in order to help them move better is the key not only to effectiveness but also to injury prevention (in both horse and rider)




I found it useful for:ย 

  • Balance ๐Ÿ˜‰ As the roller moves a little it creates a situation in which we practice stability via mobility and that replicates the balance skills needed for riding. Standing on the floor is not quite cutting to the chase ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Awareness of weight distribution forward and back, left and right. One sided weaknesses have a strong voice in this exercise and provide a very good feedback to the rider
  • Independence of hand. Moving your arms in various directions without that movement affecting stability of the rest of the “seat” is important for jumping but also, in a miniature version of it – for all rein aids. Without suppleness in the arms it is very difficult to give supple rein influence. Many riders think they aren’t using reins for balance but it can be a real eye opener when you try to ride some movements without the reins. This allows you to check how much effectiveness there really is in the seat, how much we want to rely on the reins for corrections that ideally should be delegated to the seat aids and how switched on the horse is to the seat vs reins. Rein influence is important for overall connection but the less of it there is the more we can wake up our own seat aids. The more attentive the horse becomes to the seat, the more influence we have on small adjustments.

I do believe that the minute we sit on a horse for a purpose other than travel, we are training. No matter if it’s learning to do rising trot for the first time or polishing details of canter pirouettes. We are training our bodies so they are not a burden to the horse’s movement. A few minutes a day can transform that training ๐Ÿ™‚

Many thanks to Boudica Equestrian for my fab “yard to gym” leggings ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

Rider Fitness – Aspire Academy In-House Challenge: Yoga

By Wiola Grabowska

In January this year I allocated one day every 30-40 days for a feedback & theory learning/catch up/fun day for the Academy riders and on each of these days we decided to set some challenges among those who attend.


Last month, our in-house rider challenge was Flexibility & Supplenessย and yoga seemed like a good choice (at the time!!!). The main aim of this challenge is not so much to go from no supplementary riding regime to a full on one but to test different systems, to figure out what might work for what kind of rider, their personality and lifestyle. Another reason for it is to direct some focus into how athletic ability develops which hopefully links with more understanding of how horses might experience “training”.

Despite many differences, horses and people have many athletic similarities, their muscles tire, their lactic acid build up, their hearts need conditioning to effort, ligaments and tendons can over strain, mentally they might cope better or worse with work load etc

Doing any form of exercise with some basic attention to ones health is not a bad insight into training principles.

I have personally tried a course of yoga several years ago and found it immensely challenging. Flexibility is not my forte and stretching is the necessary evil! I should probably do it every day but in the same way as some people just can’t let go of fast foods, my muscles just like their tight state!

Not surprisingly, the beginning was tough for us. We shared some photos of our faces after doing first set of yoga on the first day of the challenge and lets just say, these photos will never see outside our closed conversation ๐Ÿ˜‰

My biggest issue was space as I live in a tiny cottage so had to more furniture around each evening whilst some other riders had to fight off dogs that thought the best time of the evening started when the mat hit the floor ๐Ÿ™‚

Darcy helping Lou with her Yoga challenge

We went for an easy option of finding video workouts on You Tube and went with Power Yoga For Dressage Riders channel for many of the sessions.

Exercises are well explained and videos watch easily, the weather on the screen made me drool a bit though ๐Ÿ˜‰ I started with the the beginner workout video, here’s a link if you’d like to try it:ย Yoga For Dressage Riders – Flexibility And Flow

March is our Core & Cardio challenge so stay tuned for update in April but in the meantime, if you know of any good online programmes for us to try, give us a shout in the comments ๐Ÿ˜€ Self promotion welcome!