12 Mar Muscles Used for Horseback Riding: Complete Guide
Muscles Used for Horseback Riding
Horseback riding not only strengthens your horse’s muscles, but it can also give your muscles a great workout as well! A highly involved physical activity, horseback riding engages muscles throughout your entire body. Learning about these muscles and how to care for and strengthen them will both improve your physical condition and your riding techniques.
So, what muscles are used for horseback riding? Horseback riding engages many muscles throughout your body. However, the main muscle groups are found in your core and legs. The primary muscles used for horseback riding include the following:
- Erector Spinae Group
- Gluteus Maximus & Medius
- Hip Abductors & Adductors
- Hip Extensors
- Pectoralis Major & Minor
- Quadratus Lumborum
- Scapular Stabilizers
- Transverse Abdominis
In this article, I’ll cover these primary muscle groups including how they function, and how to strengthen your muscles for riding. We will also cover common muscle injuries that riders experience and ways to care for your muscles during downtime. If you’re ready to ride better than ever, read on!
Main Muscle Groups Used for Horseback Riding
No matter your riding discipline, muscle control and strength training allow you to take your riding to the next level. Although you may have developed these muscles unknowingly, a more involved knowledge of important muscle groups allows you to train appropriately.
One of the most important aspects of horseback riding is core stability. Core stability is crucial as riding requires the use of our hips, back, and pelvis, all of which are supported by our core muscles. The abdominal muscles include the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transversus abdominis. These muscles work together along with the muscles of the spine to create core stability.
Weakness in your abdominals and lack of core stability can lead to excessive rigidity while horseback riding, a poor habit that often causes back pain in equestrians of all ages!
Erector Spinae Group
Posture and positioning are important to proper riding techniques. The Erector Spinae group of muscles work to create stability and flexibility in the spine. Strengthening these important muscles along your spine will not only make riding more comfortable but will also improve your riding technique.
Gluteus Maximus & Medius
The Gluteus Maximus and Gluteus Medius muscles contribute greatly to your ability to balance while riding. The Gluteus Maximus controls the front to back balance of your hips. Gluteus Medius controls the inward and outward movements of the hips. Both of these muscles are crucial to maintaining balance while riding.
Hip Abductors & Adductors
Hip Abductors are the outer muscles of the hip and thigh. They include the Gluteus Maximus and Gluteus Medius which were discussed above. The Tensor Fascia Latae is also included in this important group of muscles. Together, these muscles work to stabilize the hip and pelvis. Strong Hip Abductors also allow for proper positioning of the legs while riding. Hip Abductors are usually underdeveloped in equestrians of all ages.
Hip Adductors include the Adductor Magnus, Longus, Brevis, Pectineus, and Gracilius. This group of muscles is found in the inner thigh and is often the most developed group of muscles in any rider.
However, reliance on this group of muscles alone can create imbalances with other muscle groups. Because of this, it is important to focus on strengthening the Hip Abductors as well to create balance within important muscle groups for riding.
Hip Extensors are the muscle group located in the posterior hip and thigh. They are commonly called the “power muscles” for equestrians. Flexibility is equally as important as strength for this muscle group. Underdevelopment or tightness in the hip extensors can cause poor riding technique which leads to eventual back pain.
The Iliacus is one of two muscles that form the hip flexors. This muscle is found on the inner side of the hip bone. In horseback riding, this muscle works to control the movement of the horse.
Part of your abdominal muscles, Obliques play a large role in aiding proper posture while horseback riding. These muscles are found along the sides of your abdomen and are largely responsible for holding your body upright. Imbalance in your obliques can lead to an imbalance in riding.
Pectoralis Major & Minor
The Pectoralis Major and Pectoralis Minor are muscles that are typically well developed in most individuals, equestrian or not. Since strength is typically not an issue for this muscle group, it is important to focus on flexibility.
Proper stretching of the pectoralis muscles will allow the muscle groups found in the upper back to strengthen. This lends itself to the beautiful riding posture that all equestrians strive to implement.
The Piriformis is a muscle that connects your hip to your legs. In riding, this muscle group is highly responsible for balance while in the saddle. Because the Piriformis helps in extending and rotating the hips, imbalance in this muscle group will directly affect balance while riding.
Along with the Iliacus, the Psoas attaches the spinal vertebrae to the muscles of the lower body. Not only does it allow your hips to flex, but it also enables them to laterally rotate. The Psoas is also responsible for allowing for spinal flexing and rotation. In horseback riding, the Psoas plays a large role in a riders’ ability to absorb shock properly.
Quadratus Lumborum attaches to the bottom rib, spinal vertebrae, and the back of your pelvis. As you can imagine, strength in this muscle is crucial for equestrians. Weakness in the quadratus lumborum will cause riders to lack control of their position in the saddle.
The Scapular Stabilizers provide stability to the shoulder blades. This group includes muscles such as the rhomboid major, rhomboid minor, serratus anterior, levator scapulae, and trapezius group.
Although you may not consider this muscle group necessary for riding, it actually plays a crucial role. Not only does strength in these muscles provide perfect riding posture, but it also provides you with physical strength which is helpful while dealing with a more spirited horse.
The Transverse Abdominis plays a large role in protecting your spine and maintaining proper posture. Wrapping around your entire abdomen, the transverse abdominis can be thought of as a type of brace that helps you to remain upright.
The muscles covered above are some of the most important muscles to develop and maintain as an equestrian. Of course, there are other muscles involved in horseback riding. Overall strength and flexibility will greatly aid you as a rider and encourage better riding techniques and habits.
How to Strengthen Your Muscles for Horseback Riding
Although horseback riding provides great physical exercise, many equestrians benefit greatly from focusing on their physical strength outside of riding. There are many great ways to strengthen the muscles used for horseback riding.
Work to Strengthen Weak Muscle Groups
A more experienced rider or trainer will be able to easily pinpoint areas of physical weakness or instability based on your riding posture and techniques. One of the best ways to improve your riding is to practice strength training exercises that focus on specific muscle groups. Hip, leg, and core muscles are some of the most common areas in which equestrians can improve.
Focus on Your Overall Fitness
Maintaining an appropriate level of overall health and wellness will also allow you to be a better rider. Simple things like working out every area of your body, including upper body muscles, will improve your health greatly. It is also important to add cardio exercise into your workout routine. Many experts recommend between twenty and thirty minutes of aerobic activity three times each week.
There are many resources online that provide suggestions for fitness routines specifically designed for equestrians. This can be a great place to begin on your horseback riding fitness journey.
Best Stretches for Horse Riders
Not only is muscle strength beneficial for horseback riding, but overall flexibility is also crucial. Stretching both before and after riding is the best way to prevent injury, improve recovery times, and maintain the condition of your muscle groups.
Some of the most important stretches for equestrians include:
- Hip Opening Stretches: Pigeon Pose, Hip & Quad Stretch, Figure-Four Stretch
- Spine & Back Stretches: Supine Twist, Standing Forward Fold, Cat/Cow Stretch
- Upper Body Stretches: Bicep & Chest Stretches, Overhead Stretch
- Lower Body Stretches: Standing Toe-Up Calf & Achilles Stretch, Crossed-Leg Stretch
As with strength training, the internet is a wonderful resource for learning stretches that will benefit you as a rider.
Common Horseback Riding Muscle Injuries
Unfortunately, failing to maintain proper muscle strength and flexibility can lead to a greater likelihood of riding injuries. A few of the common horseback riding injuries include groin strain, Achilles tendonitis, lower back pain, muscle strains. ACL injuries and meniscus tears can also occur as a result of poor muscle balance.
In addition to the many muscle injuries that can occur while riding, failing to prepare your body for horseback riding can lead to accidents of a larger scale such as fractures, concussions, and even spinal or brain injuries.
Because of the large potential for injury while horseback riding, it is important for equestrians to take proper care of their body. A large part of this involves strengthening and stretching important muscle groups. Doing so will allow the rider to have better riding techniques and improve their overall riding ability, thus decreasing the risk of injury.
Other Health Benefits of Horseback Riding
Not only does horseback riding provide a fun way to improve muscle strength and overall fitness, but it also provides other health benefits!
Over my years of horseback riding, I have found that riding has improved my coordination, given me a way to exercise my mind, and improved my mental state. Riding creates an enjoyable means of relaxation that decreases my stress, improving my overall health.
Both beginner and experienced riders can greatly benefit from learning more about the muscles that allow them to do what they love. Taking care of your body by strengthening your muscle groups and practicing proper stretching is the best way to prevent unnecessary riding injuries.
By focusing on the muscles used for horseback riding, you will be able to improve both your riding techniques and reverse any bad habits that you have developed over time. Muscle strength and flexibility promote better posture while in the saddle. It also allows you to have greater control of the horse while riding, whether through your body language or physical strength.
Horseback riding is a complex sport that offers endless potential for improvement. By taking care of yourself and your body, you will eliminate pain and create the opportunity for greater enjoyment of the sport you already enjoy.
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.