Riding Fitness for your Next Horseback Holiday

Getting the most out of your horse riding adventure


Riding fitness for horseback holidays

Good riding fitness is essential for making the most of your riding holiday. Almost as important as booking your flights.

Many holidays offer 4-6 hours of riding. Guess why? Often, riders book trips with up to 6 hours of riding a day, but they often end up only wanting 4 hrs! Also, you could miss out on so many opportunities by not being fit: if you can’t face a walk up a hill to see a beautiful sunset, or a swim in a wild lake at the end of the day, for example. On an adventure holiday, there will always be something to do, and being fit will enhance your trip.

Riding Fitness
Riding Fitness – An essential ingredient for a great holiday.

If you are like me, with a desk job and no horse at home, riding fitness is something riders need to work on. Even if you have a horse, you might spend more time mucking out than riding. Riding 4-6 hours daily for 5 or 6 days is a significant shock to your body, and it gets harder as you get older. Unused muscles and unaccustomed weight on your seat bones on an unfamiliar saddle are the main challenges.

After 20 years in the business, these are my top riding fitness tips for successfully going from office to saddle, with long intervals without riding:

General Fitness

Being fit makes a huge difference. Muscle strength is the most important and aerobic fitness a close second. Whatever it takes for you to become strong will help: going to the gym and weight lifting or moving masses of show jumps regularly, hauling water buckets, and feed. Anything that keeps your muscles in shape. While helpful, aerobic fitness on its own is not as good as all-around muscular strength.

Ride regularly

Don’t fool yourself, an hour a week trundling around the lanes isn’t enough to build riding fitness. It’s important to build up time until you can ride 4 hours at a stretch without discomfort. Even if all you manage is 4 hrs on the 2 weekends before you go, that will be a great help and probably enough.

Get a Seat Saver

Riding Fitness
Memory foam and suede seat saver

In my experience, once you have broken the skin over your seat bones, the fun has gone. Typically, that can happen by the end of day 2 or 3 on a point-to-point trail with a hard saddle with no chance for time off. Having a seat saver on those crucial early days prevents this and allows your body to adapt. By day 3 I can usually make many new friends by lending out the seat saver, and by then I don’t really need it anymore.

I prefer the type with memory foam covered with suede, gel ones are my second choice. The padding effectively spreads your weight on the saddle (memory foam is used to prevent bed sores) and the suede outer stops the small but continual motion on the saddle as the horse walks. These seat savers can be found in English and Western forms. The sheepskin seat savers are my least favourite: they soak up rain and water and are least effective at preventing damage as they compress down quickly.

Home Horse

Riding Fitness
The Home Horse – Perfect for developing riding fitness

My last tip is a purchase I made on my recent visit to the US. Called a Home Horse – it’s basically a saddle seat on a balance board. These are used to perfect riding form and balance as well as research on how riders affect horses’ injuries. We have installed ours in the Unicorn Office and found it to be brilliant for strengthening core muscles and even conditioning skin, as it has quite a hard surface. I am now looking at a sit/stand desk so I can “ride” all day and not miss a beat on my next safari on horseback! (Follow Home-Horse link to find out) more 

Using a combination of all these, I manage to have a desk job and go on irregular riding holidays with little or no discomfort. I get the most out of my time away and can lend out my seat saver on the 3rd day.   

Last, but not least, being riding fit, balanced, and comfortable gives your horse a better ride, and your mount will enjoy your company more! 

Do you have any tips to share? Stories to tell? Do let us know so we can pass them on…. 



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