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The Rider’s Fitness Program


Book Review by Leigh Ballard

Here is a great book for beginner riders who are using muscles they never knew they had, for advanced riders who want to stay in top form, and for riders who have been weather-bound for a few months and want to get in shape now that spring has arrived. The Rider's Fitness Program: 74 Exercises & 18 Workouts Specifically Designed for the Equestrian by Dianna Dennis, John McCully, and Paul Juris puts together an effective six-week exercise program to strengthen the muscles that riders use, while improving overall balance, flexibility, and coordination. The exercises progress from basic to advanced and are suitable for riders at all fitness levels. The authors also include fundamental information on diet, general health and safety, and clothing and equipment.

Olympian Anne Kursinski writes in the Foreword of this book, “Years ago I didn’t believe I needed an exercise program. I thought riding and jumping horses all day was enough.” She learned, however, that using the same muscles over and over for years does not make a balanced body. This book gives riders a program to get themselves  in shape the way they want their horses to be: supple, flexible, straight, balanced, fit, and strong.

In the performance horse world, an exercise program is critical for horses. Just as it does for horses, an exercise program for riders helps prevent injury and maximize performance. One of the goals of the exercise program in this book is to give riders the feeling of “oneness” with their horse by developing coordination, balance, and better physical communication with the horse.

 Lower level riders following this exercise program achieve benefits, too. The fitness and balance achieved by these exercises will alleviate much of the ache and soreness one might have from riding. Being more fit and balanced in the saddle helps prevent injuries as well.

This exercise program was developed specifically for riding. It describes 5 basic elements that are important components for overall equestrian fitness: Balance, Flexibility, Strength, Mental/Physical Independence, and Aerobic/Cardiovascular fitness. Core Stability is a key feature of the program. Core Stability improves one’s center of gravity, symmetric posture, asymmetric movement, as well as building power and strength.

The book offers 74 exercises and 18 workouts which are geared specifically to equestrians. The program requires some basic equipment such as a mat, exercise bands, exercise ball, weight bars, incline board, bench, step stool, and ankle weights. Some basic gym equipment, like a pulley system, leg extension and leg curl machine, and parallel dip bars, is used in some of the workouts. The program is divided into Phase 1: Conditioning; Phase 2: Building Skills; and Phase 3: Challenges. The program is designed for six weeks of work, with each phase lasting two weeks. Each phase is divided into routines that target various parts of the body, for examples, Lower Body, Upper Body, Posture, Balance, etc. Photographs of each exercise being performed accompany step-by-step instructions. All the exercises are very clear, so there’s no excuse to NOT know how to exercise! There are also tips on WHY to do the exercise. Of course, general fitness is one reason, but the tips also point out specific riding situations for which the exercise might prepare the rider.

If riders have the time, equipment, and commitment for six weeks, sticking to this program will certainly make them stronger, more balanced, and more fit in their riding. It’s a great way to spring into Spring Fitness!

About the authors: Dianna Robin Dennis is a writer and livelong equestrian. She is also the co-author of 101 Jumping Exercises for Horse and Rider. John J. McCully is a certified fitness professional and personal trainer. He co-founded Riding High Fitness, an equestrian fitness company that tailors exercise programs for individual riders. Paul M. Juris is a kinesiologist. He established the Equinox Fitness Training Institute with Equinox Fitness Clubs across the U.S., in London and Toronto. His movement-based focus on rehabilitation and performance has been adopted by professional athletes.

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