Avoid Back-to-the-Saddle Soreness

What you can do to stay in shape when you can’t ride.

What you can do to stay in shape when you can’t ride your horse.

In some places, the winter weather becomes so inclement that horse owners are unable to ride for weeks, maybe months, so how do you stay in shape when you’re unable to ride?

AQHA world champion and certified professional trainer Emily Harrington of Aubrey, Texas, explains what riders should focus on when staying in shape during the off-season.

  • Build your stamina by training your heart. Those long rides can get you pretty winded, and doing aerobic workouts will keep you in control of your breath.
  • Maintain your body strength. Specifically, you’ll want to work the muscle groups needed for riding, such as the core, shoulders and legs.
  • Stretch your muscles. Lengthening them out with specific stretching exercises will keep muscles flexible and healthy.

We know of at least some folks who are riding this winter. To see horses and riders still performing at the top of their game, check out coverage of the Fort Dodge Versatility Ranch Horse World Championship Show, held January 15-16 in Denver, CO.


Use books or visit a personal trainer at least once so you can learn how to properly work these muscles at home or in the gym for the greatest benefit. If you haven’t had a good workout in a while, check with your doctor to make sure your body can handle the stress of the exercises.

Get Your Heart Pumping

Aerobic exercises should be performed three to five days a week at a moderate level of intensity for 30 to 45 minutes (Make sure a gradual warmup and cool-down are part of your workout session). Walking or jogging outside or on a treadmill is a perfect example of cardio workout, but consider mixing up your workouts and adding swimming, water aerobics or cycling to give your joints a break.

Focus on the Core, Legs and Shoulders

The Pelvis Rock

  • Begin by lying on the floor with legs shoulder-width apart. Align your ankles through the knees, hip and the shoulders. Maintain this alignment throughout the exercise. Imagine a bowl sitting on top of your hips.
  • The bowl should be completely steady before beginning the movement. Inhale before you begin, then exhale using your abdominals to make the bowl tip toward you, or push the small of your back into the floor.
  • Make sure you only use your abs to create movement, and that you are not pushing off from your feet or grabbing with your seat.
  • As you inhale, tip the bowl away from you as you move into an extended position. Your low back will feel arched. Make sure you listen to your body and don’t extend too far.
  • As you exhale, return to pressing the small of your back into the floor. Inhale and return to an arched back. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed while the lower part of your torso is at work. Repeat five times.

You may not be able to ride, but you can still keep your horse healthy. Spend the winter months learning to manage your show horse in the off season with AQHA’s “Common Horse Health Issues”
PDF Report.

Side Leg Lift

  • Lay on your side with your lower arm extended beneath your head for support. Your arm will assist in balancing your body in this position as your legs perform these side lifts.
  • Remember to maintain your neutral posture by engaging the abdominals and not allowing your waist to collapse toward the floor.
  1. Begin with legs shoulder-width apart. Lift the upper leg without letting the upper body position change
  2. Lower the leg back to starting position. The only movement should be at the hip joint.
  3. After six repetitions, keep the upper leg raised and bring the lower leg up to meet it. Concentrate on using the inner thigh muscles. Lower both legs and begin again by raising just the upper leg, then proceed as before.
  4. After six repetitions, keep both legs together and raise them together without compensating with your upper body.

Shoulder Stabilization

  • This exercise works best with an exercise ball, but you can also use a chair
  1. Sit in your best posture with your arms in front of your shoulders. Your shoulders should be in neutral.
  2. Inhale and reach your shoulders forward without changing anything else in your posture.
  3. As you exhale, bring the shoulders back past neutral and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Repeat this five times.


Side-lying Stretch

  • Make sure to keep your breath flowing during these stretches and hold them 15 to 30 seconds to really send the message. Do these every day, and you will see marked improvement in your range of motion.
  1. Start on your back with one leg and bend the other leg.
  2. With the opposite arm, take the bent knee across your body and open your chest the other way. Hold this position as long as you feel a stretch. Make sure you breathe through this maneuver.
  3. Switch to the other side

Now that you’ve started working on your health, don’t forget about your horse’s! Download AQHA’s “Common Horse Health Issues” PDF Report to make sure you keep your horse in tip-top shape.

Quadriceps/Hip Flexor Stretch

  1. Lay on your side and bring the heel of your top leg to your seat.
  2. Hold just above your ankle if you can, being mindful not to let your lower back arch.
  3. If you cannot reach your ankle, use a strap or belt around your ankle to get extension.
  4. Hold 10 seconds on each side.


Fitness expert and avid equestrian Emily Harrington is a regular contributor to America's Horse Daily. Have questions for Emily? Ask them on the AQHA Facebook page.
Fitness expert and avid equestrian Emily Harrington is a regular contributor to America’s Horse Daily. Have questions for Emily? Ask them on the AQHA Facebook page.

–- Emily J. Harrington, CPT, equestrienne fitness trainer, is an avid hunter jumper and an AQHA world champion.

9 thoughts on “Avoid Back-to-the-Saddle Soreness”

  1. This was just an excellent article – very helpful!!! Would like to see more like this……..

  2. Great Article! These tips work great trying to get back in shape after pregnancy to get back in saddle. Thanks for the article.

Comments are closed.