Improving your dressage rider’s leg strength will enable you to have better control of our legs and, as a result, a greater capacity to communicate clearly with our horse. To be able to apply leg pressure whenever and however we want demands excellent body control, coordination, stability, and balance while seated. To achieve this balance and stability, it’s necessary to understand our own bodies and their biomechanics in order to enhance our performance in the saddle. I’m going to discuss why and how to enhance your dressage rider’s leg strength and ability to communicate properly with your horse in this post.
Leg strength of a dressage rider
As with people, horses have a weaker side, and as they progress through the grades, we focus on their symmetry and straightness to help them balance out and maintain proper posture when we ride. This enables them to develop strength in the proper manner, which helps protect joints and ligaments as job demands increase. Poor posture and muscular growth can result in excessive forces and imbalances, which might cause issues in the future.
Now, the same ideas apply to us as riders. When you get into the saddle, you want to maintain proper posture and alignment. This aids in the proper hinge of your joints and enables for equal pressure and labor on all sides of your body. Each of us has a weaker or more dominant side, and over time, our everyday surroundings and behaviors can contribute to physical imbalances. As a result, certain twists and torques might occur, pulling our posture out of alignment. All of this, when combined with the saddle and the horse’s forces, can result in excessive forces passing through our bodies, as well as making it more difficult to communicate clearly with our horse via independent leg aids.
As a dressage rider, it seems logical that you would want to concentrate on your own strength development in the same way you work on your horse’s training. Off-the-horse training is not about lifting massive weights or running marathons. Rather than that, it’s about optimizing your body via proper posture and alignment. This is about establishing a foundation of strength and alignment to keep your joints and ligaments functioning smoothly and correctly throughout time, so that you can continue to do what you love without being sidelined by preventable injuries. This demands the use of exercises that enhance your posture and balance on both sides of your body, allowing you to perform at your best when in the saddle.
How to get stronger legs for horse riding?
When it comes to our leg strength as Dressage Riders, we want to develop symmetry on both sides of our bodies so that our legs can operate independently of one another while being steady. One of the most effective areas to begin is with our pelvis and the supporting muscles that surround it. When we have adequate control of our legs, we can communicate with the horse more effectively. If we have weak legs or are one-sided, we will find ourselves gripping via one side while attempting to utilize the other, and our pelvis will twist and move about as we attempt to help the horse.
Our pelvis and hips provide us the power to construct a sturdy and silent leg. Our hip joints have a complex movement pattern, and it is the muscles that support this pattern that we must first become conscious of. These exercises will assist you in activating the basic muscles that support and regulate our legs and our saddle stability.
Use these six leg exercises to help strengthen and stabilize your dressage rider’s legs. These exercises work on both sides separately, making them ideal for bringing awareness to regions of your body that may be tight or weak and assisting you in restoring balance.
1. Leg Lifts on the Side
Excellent for strengthening the legs and hip stabilizer muscles, as well as the spine. You may find that one side is somewhat more difficult than the other; this is typical. However, by doing so, you will contribute to resolving this imbalance and improving rider posture.
- Lie on your side and imagine your feet are flat on the ground; push into your heels and maintain a parallel position with your feet.
- Begin by raising the top leg off the bottom leg and returning it to the bottom leg.
- To advance this motion, elevate both feet off the ground and then separate the top and bottom legs.
- If necessary, support yourself on the floor with your other hand, or make it more difficult by lifting it up as well. If this is too strenuous, place the bottom leg on the ground.
- Aim to maintain your entire body steady, with no forward or backward swaying. Only the top leg moves.
Bridge exercises are excellent for strengthening the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. These are critical locations for stabilizing the pelvis and hips.
- Begin with your heels beneath your knees and just push your hips up by clenching your glutes and lowering them back down.
- Add stability by crossing your hands over your chest. This will increase the difficulty slightly.
Aim for 12-15 repetitions.
3. Bridges with a single leg
This is a progression from the last exercise and is excellent for stabilizing the pelvis and hips. By performing these single leg bridges, we can clearly see any areas of tightness or weakness.
- Begin with your heels below your knees and raise one leg and your hips up by clenching your glutes, then drop back down.
- If this proves too difficult, keep to double leg bridges.
Aim for 12-15 repetitions.
4. Toe Taps with a Single Leg
Single leg toe taps are excellent for assessing our balance and stability. Often, we have a stronger or weaker side than the other, which may be demonstrated on a horse by sitting deeper onto one seattbone. As a result, you will have a greater awareness of what is happening in your body and will be able to correct any imbalances.
- Maintain a straight spine and a tall posture.
- Then, tilt forward from your hips and touch your toes, then re-establish a tall posture with both feet on the ground.
- As you do this, allow one leg to fall rearward. Lift that leg off the floor for an added challenge.
- Aim to move at the rate of your breath and concentrate on controlled, smooth movement rather than speed.
Aim for 12-15 repetitions on each side.
This exercise will assist you in locating the gluteus minimus muscle and the anterior fibers of your glute medius on the side of the bottom, which will assist you in lifting and internally rotating your legs off the horse. Additionally, as you develop control of your leg, you will enhance your ability to provide mild, accurate leg assists. Clams are an excellent approach to develop the gluteal stabilizing muscles that support our pelvis and hips. Often, one side is weaker than the other. Thus, performing these exercises will assist in highlighting this and increasing awareness of what is occurring in your body, as well as improving hip stability.
- Lie on your side and support your core to ensure your back is solid.
- Then, while keeping your feet together, open your knee up by drawing your glutes up and back.
- Maintain absolute stability in all other areas while you’re doing this.
Aim for 12-15 repetitions each leg.
6. Backward Lunge
This is an excellent leg workout for enhancing your rider’s balance and stability. Excellent for highlighting your straightness and any places that may be tight or weak. Excellent for assisting you in restoring equilibrium to your body.
To begin, establish a firm neutral spine and then take a step back without twisting or bending forward.
- Step forward again, lowering your back leg to the ground while maintaining a neutral spine.
- Take your time with each rep and concentrate on controlled, solid movement rather than speed.
Aim for 12-15 repetitions each leg.