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This week I sit down with Leah Hinnefeld of The Athletic Rider to discuss the important topic of rider fitness. We all know that correct riding takes a combination of strength and balance. The sometimes elusive goal of true “independent aids” takes a lot of body awareness and control, which comes from time in the saddle, but this is also developed out of the saddle, starting with good habits and practices to stay healthy and fit. I like to tell my riders (and remind myself) that we can’t expect the horse to move with fluidity, ease, and balance if we can’t do the same.

Leah Hinnefeld is a lifelong equestrian as well as fitness enthusiast, and she recently became certified through NASM as a personal trainer. Leah has decided to combine her love of and experience riding with her knowledge of health and fitness to help other riders find better posture and more balance in the saddle by helping them with their exercise routines through “Virtual Fitness Training”. I stopped by her beautiful farm in Georgia to discuss her new venture and what riders most need in terms of fitness.

Hit play and enjoy the interview!

Now it’s your turn – is there an area of your body where you know you are weak? Have a question for Leah? Leave a comment below!

Also, visit Leah’s site at She posts many helpful articles about all kinds of health and fitness topics, plus you can find more information as well as contact her directly regarding the virtual fitness training she offers!

See you in the comments,


Daily exercises for an immovable seat, steady hands, and a happier horse

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Daily exercises for an immovable seat, steady hands, and a happier horse

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10 Responses

  1. Great information! The overhead assessment sounds awesome. I can personally attest to the difference being a fit brings to your riding. It not only increased my skill level but I can tell my horse is much happier.

  2. I am 60 years old and have been riding for 1 year now. My biggest fear is falling which I have done once so far. I love to canter but I am having trouble relaxing and maintaining my balance, body position and tense up. As a consequence I loose the canter. Tips?

    1. Hi Ellen, The key is learning to sit back with a long leg. Is there someone who can canter your horse on the lunge line so you can focus on sitting deep, stretching your leg down and back, and opening your hips? Sometimes when you can work on a gait without having to worry completely about steering and controlling the horse it will make getting the movment much easier.

  3. Thanks so much for this link, Callie! Another invaluable resource to use as I work my way back into the saddle following several physical health challenges. As I am presently looking at imminent knee surgery followed by physical therapy, do you have any tips on helping the pt understand the unique needs of equestrians? (And just as an amusing side anecdote: even as walking is painful and awkward, I somehow still manage to get on my very understanding 16 hand TB, lol)

    1. Hi Nancy,
      Glad to hear you are still riding, haha! I have honestly not had much experience with PT for equestrians, but one idea I would share would be to use a yoga ball (or exercise ball they are often called). This may help you demonstrate some of the physical skills that you need as a rider to your pysical therapist.

  4. hey Callie

    Thanks so much for your great teaching. I have just taken up riding again after a 30 year break and have only just started having riding lessons after spending the first 18 months trail riding.

    What I am finding is that in beginning canter work on the arena I have trouble with the up transition.
    My horse (an ex polo pony who played polo for 12 years) runs into the canter. Her trot gets faster and faster and then she canters.

    Intellectually I know what the canter aid is, but for some reason it isnt working! Also the same when I try and lunge her…faster faster faster and sometimes cant get her to break into a canter at all.

    Please help!!

    1. Hi Eva, it may not be your cue… it could just be that your horse does not understand how to do a balanced and slow canter transition. Would your instructor be willing to ride him for you so you can watch and see if your horse still struggles with the transition.
      If it does seem to be your way of asking for that transition, then work on staying tall – most of the time when horses rush into the canter the rider is leaning forward, which further unbalances them – so stretch up and work on using your half halts to rebalance when she starts to rush as you ask for the transition. So you are supporting and helping her stay balanced as you ask for the canter.

  5. Hi Callie
    Really Interesting blog, just a question my left foot sticks out when I’m riding and I have been told that it’s coming from my hip being tight , I do some exercises on my pony but just wondering if there is any other exercises you would recommend off the horse.
    I also because of having fibromyalgia get stiff and also tired is it ok to allow myself breaks on a long rein. To give me a breather when in the school?
    Thanks again

    1. Hi Bridget,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I’ll answer your second question first because its a bit easier – yes definitly, give yourself as many breaks as you need.

      For your first question, does your foot toe out when you are walking normally? Meaning is it part of your own conformation or is this just something that happens when you are riding? As far as exercises for riding, I really like activities such as yoga and pilates that involve stretching a lot of body awareness. I find that anything that helps you become more aware of your different joints and muscles and how to conciously activate them helps with riding.

      Hope this is helpful! Callie

      1. Thank you so much for your answers .
        No only when I’m riding does me toe foot stick out just my left side never right one .
        And glad it’s ok for us pony also to have breaks and me as bless him he does try for me so much and I’m sure I’m not the easiest to carry ,I’m light but stiffen up often I have to ride with as much concentration on me being soft as I have found other wise I was saying yes with my legs and no with my body
        And seeing as he will be 26 this year he deserves the best I can give him we complement each other really both a bit stiff and can tire easily !!
        Thanks I will try yoga again I have done it before and I do stretches for me and also for Rumby Bear the pony
        Thanks again for your brilliant blog always enjoy x

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