English Riding: Rider Symmetry Exercises
If you haven’t ridden before or are switching disciplines, you’ll find the rigors of dressage much easier with targeted preparation.
Swimming and cycling are excellent ways of achieving the necessary physical fitness. But you can gently condition specific riding muscles and improve rider symmetry in your own home.
A dressage horse should travel straight. But equines are naturally crooked, and we often exacerbate this, because our horse reflects how his rider is sitting. If we sit crookedly, he has to move awkwardly to compensate for our lack of straightness.
Like horses, humans tend to have a dominant side. If we are right-handed, this translates into being ‘right-legged’ when we get into the saddle. We sit to one side, exert more strength with our right hand and leg. Meanwhile our left sides are weak and ineffective.
Jon Pitt has developed exercises for discovering your dominant side and training your body to become symmetrical. To simulate the horse, he uses a Rider Stability Ball to develop the balance and core (torso) strength so essential for good dressage.
Recommended sizes are: 55 cm ball for those 5’7” and under, 65 cm ball for those 5’8” – 6’ and 75 cm ball for those 6’ and over.
To find your dominant side:
1. Sit on the ball with your legs in front as if you were on a chair, and raise one leg off the ball.
2. Replace that leg and raise the other one.
First, you automatically raised your weaker leg, and have now raised your dominant leg. The weaker one is having a harder time supporting you.
Practice this to strengthen your weaker leg.
Relaxed, open hips allow the horse to move freely under the rider.
1. Sit with your legs on either side of the ball, as if you were on the horse.
You’re now opening your hips and adapting them to a wider angle. Since you’re not actually on a moving horse, you can be more relaxed and your hips won’t stiffen.
2. If you’re new to riding, don’t stay too long in this position. Start for 30 seconds or so, and increase the time every other day, to allow your muscles to recover between sessions.
This exercise teaches the rider to move the pelvis with the horse’s motion, and develops correct posture in the saddle.
1. Still in the riding position, tilt your pelvis forwards, ‘closing’ your belly button.
2. Then tilt it backwards, creating a hollow, arched back.
3. We riders tend to sit in one of those extreme postures, but the ideal position is in between. Practice keeping your torso straight, but not rigid.
Sit centered on the ball and take your feet off the ground.
It’s tricky to do at first, but over time you’ll be able to keep your upper body straight while your pelvis moves under you for balance.
Practice these exercises every other day to help build correct muscle strength and achieve symmetry in the saddle.
By developing a soft, independent seat, you’ll allow the horse to move forward with freedom, straightness and balance. This is the hallmark of a good dressage rider.
Resources & Further Reading
Jon Pitts’ Fit to Ride Videos: