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  • Grace Owsley

Equestrian Book Review: The Rider's Fitness Program

Practically overnight, nearly all of us have found ourselves in quarantine in one way or another due to the global virus situation. Our county within Texas, USA, has issued a "shelter in place" order, where we are asked to stay home unless you must travel for essentials, go to work in an industry deemed essential, exercise outside away from others, take care of animals or other people like daycare, seniors, etc etc. Thankfully, I'm able to get out and ride and train at the stables where I travel to, but I definitely stay away from human interaction.

With that being said, it's obvious that most of us will all have a LOT more time at home than we ever planned to have in the next several weeks. If you're unable to ride or see your horses, I'm so sorry and I have faith that this will pass and we will get back to a semblance of "normal." During this time, I'm hoping to finish a few equestrian books that I have been meaning to, although I'm finding myself having less time, now that I have to homeschool my kids on top of everything else! As I finish the books, I hope to review them here on my blog as I can, so that you might get some reading inspiration during your quarantined days!

The Book: The Rider's Fitness Program

The book I chose to share with y'all is The Rider's Fitness Program by Dianna Robin Dennis, John J. McCully and Paul M. Juris. I have two reasons for this. First, I just recently finished the book in the sense that I have gone through the exercise program presented in the book and have also read through the main text. Secondly, due to the virus quarantine situation we find ourselves in, I know many of us will have to figure out how to work out at home on our own.

I guess I'm a bit "lucky" in this sense, because I work out at home anyway. Between kids and my busy schedule, it's so hard for me to get to a gym, so I have a lot of equipment and resources at home for working out and fitness training. Since I was young, I have been in some kind of sports or exercise program, so this sort of thing is not foreign to me, and it's fairly easy for me to follow along a program without much outside help, and also create my own exercise routines. For a lot of people, that's not the case, which makes books like these so enticing. If you're in the market for an exercise program to do on your own, but especially if you're an EQUESTRIAN looking for an equestrian-specific workout program to follow, this may appeal to you.

The "WHY" of an Equestrian Centered Workout Plan

The book begins with the "why's." This fitness book and program is specifically designed and targeted for riders. They spent hundreds of hours working with riders and watching videos in order to create the program. The program is meant to meet the needs of any rider, regardless of ability, so whether you're a beginning rider or seasoned Olympian, this book is designed for you. As always when we're talking about a fitness program, it's ALWAYS smart to consult a doctor before starting, and I always recommend to people that they work with a personal trainer if they can, but considering the circumstances currently, that second part may be difficult. Unless you can find somebody that does it remotely and can watch your form via Skype or some other way, anyway. Going back to the "why" of the program, they detail the reasons why riders need an exercise program, even Olympic level ones! And I highly agree! Riding alone will not get you the strength, balance, and cardio needed for optimal riding ability and overall ideal fitness levels. I feel like we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our horses to be in some kind of overall fitness program! Stepping off the soapbox now :) and moving on...! The book will give you a lot of this equestrian-specific "why."

FIVE Critical Elements of Equestrian Fitness & FIVE Mechanisms of Core Stability

The book briefly goes into five critical elements of equestrian fitness. These are: Balance, Flexibility, Strength, Mental/Physical Independence and Aerobic (Cardiovascular). Although only a few pages are dedicated to this, they are important because a good equestrian-specific workout program really should address all of these things within it.

It also talks about five mechanisms that make up core stability and how they relate to riding. These are: Center of Gravity, Stability, Power, Symmetric Posture, Asymmetric Stability & Strength.

If you're looking for a lot of detail on these subjects, you'll have to find them somewhere else, as only a few pages are dedicated to the topic. This book is mostly about the program and exercises themselves, so I'm not surprised that the theory and application isn't too detailed, but just enough for relevancy and understanding of the purpose behind it all.

The picture above is me on "Toes," owned by Jessica Wright. Both horse and rider must have a certain level of fitness and stability to perform at their best. I definitely work hard to try and improve myself in those aspects so I can improve my riding. Picture taken by Dave Raaum: Riverdogs Crossing.


The program itself is a 6-week sequence of varied routines with 5-7 exercises each. Refer to my picture here, where I highlighted one day during week 3 of the program. There are 3 routines per week, which is typical for a resistance-type program so you can have a "rest" day in between.

The book includes helpful info and guidelines on how to do the program successfully. On top of the exercises in the routines, it also has a stretching and warmup section. You could also technically skip the program altogether if you wish, and customize your own by browsing through the pages of exercises divided by balance, lower body, pelvic tilt, posture, and upper body.

Each exercise in the book has 1-2 dedicated pages, and includes the name of the exercise, the benefits, the equipment needed, and also a small area explaining how it translates to riding skills. There are detailed, step by step how-to instructions, as well as photographs of somebody doing the exercise, which are helpful, but I felt could show more detail. Sometimes it wasn't entirely clear what they were doing, but if you read the description and look at the pictures, plus notice any hints included, you can figure it out fairly easy.

As far as the equipment needed, unfortunately you will need to be pretty well stocked or have access to a gym or place with equipment that would work. This is the main thing I found at fault with the program. I think if you have access to all the gym equipment, you will benefit greatly, but if not, you will have to either improvise with equitable equipment like I did, or have to skip the exercise altogether, or perhaps try to do it without. For example, I don't have a pulley system or leg curl machines at my house, but I do have resistance bands, a TRX system, and other things that I made work. To get the most out of the program, you really do need all the equipment, but it is possible to go without it and still benefit, like I did. This is why I find fault with it; because most people don't have access to these things unless they go to a gym with all the equipment, and personally I like the idea of having a book to use at home.

My Overall Opinion of the Book

Overall, I really enjoyed the program and the book itself. Although I often felt hindered by lack of exact equipment, I was able to do most of the exercises successfully. It's easy to follow along and find the exercises of the day, and the format of the program itself is useful and practical. I love that I already knew what I was going to do for my workout routine that day, and it took the thought and preparation out of it for me so I had more time for other things. I did feel like, for me anyway, it wasn't a complete workout for the day, so I would add in other exercises of my own on top of what they demanded for that routine. For example, I might have added a few more upper or lower body exercises, and I definitely added in at least two or more abdominal workouts plus at least 20 minutes of cardio. They don't talk a lot about the cardio, so this part will be up to you. I did feel like there could have been more core specific exercises, but you do have to consider that many of the exercises required core in one way or another, so perhaps they felt that was sufficient. I would still add in more. What I really loved about this program was the equestrian-specific information. I loved to see how the exercises translated to the development of riding skills. I also really appreciated that this is rider-specific and the exercises are different than a typical body-building routine. For example, you have to do many of the exercises standing on one foot, or in "horse-width apart" position with your legs, or many in some type of balancing/unstable position, because that's a huge aspect of riding and developing better skills in the saddle! This book has a TON of inspiration and great ideas, even if you don't dedicate to the weekly program. Do I recommend it? I definitely do, but be aware of the restrictions you may have as far as equipment availability.

I hope you enjoyed my thorough review of the book, The Rider's Fitness Program! Check out this YouTube video I made from a set of exercises I filmed from one of my workouts. Some of the exercises I included came directly from the book, and some of which were improvised a bit due to my equipment restrictions:

I hope you all are doing well amongst the craziness this virus has caused throughout the world. Please let me know if you enjoyed this review and my workout video! Also please be sure to subscribe to my blog so you won't miss out on any training posts, reviews, or anything else. Share share share with your friends if you think somebody else would enjoy it. I appreciate you all!

I always recommend when riding or exercising to STAY HYDRATED! My favorite hydration tabs are by far the ones from NUUN Hydration! Be sure to check them out at:

The leggings I'm wearing are from Get Your Nickers! They are designed for equestrians, but can be used in or out of the saddle. They have excellent cooling technology and I love how they fit and feel! Check out @getyournickers on Instagram or see

Do you have a book you'd like to recommend for me to review? Contact me via my website contact form or on social media! Are you an author or publisher that would like me to review your book? Be sure to contact me!



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