Improve fitness and avoid injury before getting back in the saddle for the New year

By India Parker-Smith

Happy New Year! Now it’s officially 2020, and we are sure you’re keen to get back in the saddle! Many riders tend to jump straight back on their horse without thinking about how their strength and fitness may have depleted over the festive season. 

Just like any athlete, the rider’s body requires some maintenance, which involves stretching, mobilizing and engaging the required riding muscles. A great place to start is by performing an effective warmup to reduce the risk of injury. Who wants to start off the new year with a strained back or neck injury?

India Parker-Smith, founder of Chukka Wellness, demonstrates some dynamic exercises to get the blood pumping and muscles ready for riding with a simple but effective warm-up routine to ease those well-rested muscles and joints back into riding. ML 

  • 1 Arm Swings
    (For a more effective and mobile swing)

Let’s start by mobilizing the shoulder joint through some controlled arm swings. Stand with the knees slightly bent. Aim to get your arms as close to the ears as possible. Keep the ribcage down, and move the arms in a circular motion.

  • 2 Thoracic Twists
    (To reduce risk of injury to the back and improve range of movement through the torso)

Stand with the knees slightly bent. Bring arms up to around shoulder height, and slowly twist the body from left to right. As the muscles start to warm up, exaggerate the twists a little more.

  • 3 Hip Openers
    (To reduce risk of injury in the hips during movement in the saddle)

 Stand up tall, and lift one knee up to hip height, open the knee out to the side keeping a 90-degree bend, and place the foot back down on the ground. Now reverse the movement back to the start position.

  • 4 Back Stretch with Shoulder Opener
    (To reduce risk of injury in the lower back and to open up the shoulders in preparation for your swing)

 Lie down facing upwards, and bring one leg up to the chest, keeping a 90-degree bend in the knee. Bring it across your body until your inner thigh is parallel with the ground. Gently add pressure to the knee while moving the opposite arm in circles with the aim to get your shoulder blade flat on the ground.

This workout has been designed to wake up and condition the riding muscles as well as improve overall fitness. Aim to complete the workout two to three times a week.

Note: It is essential to perform an effective warm-up and cool down on either side of the workout, and consult a doctor before starting any new exercises. 

45 seconds per exercise3-5 rounds1 min rest in-between rounds

  • 1 Squats
    (To strengthen the leg muscles needed for grip and moving around in the saddle)
  • 2 Jumping Jacks
    (To raise the heart rate and improve cardiovascular fitness)
  • 3 Side Plank Pulses
    (To strengthen the core muscles required when twisting in the saddle)
  • 4 Glute Bridge
    (To improve the posterior chain required for control when standing up out of the saddle)
  • 5 Back Extension
    (To improve scapular stability required for checking the horse and reducing lower back pain)

Check out the full workout on IGTV @chukkawellness.

For more stretches and functional workouts take a look at our online 6 Week Pre Season Exercise Programme, designed to improve player strength and fitness: For more information, contact

This article first appeared in the January 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.