While we all know that riding is good exercise (we often remember this quite clearly the morning after a long ride), and it does condition our riding muscles, it is not, in and of itself, nearly enough to make the kinds of changes in our bodies we’re seeking. It’s also important to remember that riding also tends to create or aggravate asymmetry and strength imbalances in our bodies—and tightness where we should be supple—that takes specific work to overcome. To address these issues, we must also work “off the horse” with a consistent training routine that is as much a part of our day-to-day routine as brushing our teeth. If we’re faithful to these off-horse routines, we can mitigate strength imbalances before they start to set up muscle strain, repetitive-use injury, or even the tightness and muscle knots that interfere with our ability to connect with the motion of our horses. According to certified trainer and riding instructor Heather Sansom, “Creating balance and flexibility, muscle memory, proprioception (body awareness), core strength, and cardiovascular endurance (stamina for long show days/ long rides) is more effective when you can work on these areas out of the saddle between your rides….Working ‘off horse’ allows us to take our muscles through their full range of motion, taking the time we need to reset our body’s muscle memory patterns and sense of ‘straight’ so that we can begin to use our bodies to assist our horse’s movement effectively.”
Riding Through Thick & Thin by Melinda Folse gives you advice on how to give bad body image the boot.