Episode 13: Horseback riders need strength & flexibility

“When I look at a rider that really stands out, I see a rider that is strong and flexible and has muscle memory. The strength and flexibility is separate from the muscle memory.” Stacy Westfall Click To Tweet

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Today, I’m talking about strength vs muscle memory as I continue season 2 which focuses on the rider’s body. I will also be giving you my time saving tip for making time to work out. Have you noticed how it’s easier for naturally athletic people to jump from sport to sport?

I’ve noticed this, because I’m not a naturally athletic person. This means that I have had to put in a lot of riding hours. My passion for horses was the thing that kept me going. In this episode, I focus on getting stronger and more flexible and why it is important.

“When I'm a stronger rider, things are easier for my horse.” Stacy Westfall Click To Tweet

Show Notes

[04:34] I’m going to talk about muscle memory next week. For now, let’s focus on being stronger and more flexible.

[06:04] Charlotte Dujardin had to get an exercise coach to gain the strength for the powerful riding maneuvers she did.

[06:07] When I’m a stronger rider, things are easier for my horse. I can be better balanced when I’m riding a colt.

[07:29] When I was younger, I didn’t see the need to focus on being a stronger rider. As I aged, I started experimenting with different ways to improve things.

[08:03] I have experimented with improving balance even to the point of trying a unicycle. This wasn’t a good idea.

[09:05] I did start eating dinner while sitting on a blue equine ball. I discovered that I lift my feet off the ground I could see which direction I naturally tended to lean.

[10:34] I can’t say enough good things about yoga. I’ve also worked in strength training and running.

[11:39] I used the Couch to 5K app. I have been much more intentional this year about working exercise into my life.

[12:50] I have been experimenting with a routine where I rotate strength training, yoga, and running. It’s amazing what you can do in 30 minutes a day.

[13:16] If you’re not fit, it will have an effect on your horse.

[13:44] I was forced to be an active rider when riding bareback during trail riding.

[14:01] I was a lazy rider when I road trails using a saddle.

[14:37] My bad habits of being a lazy trail rider came back in my body when my knees began to hurt.

[15:30] There is a lot of strength that is needed with riding. It takes a lot of strength and flexibility.

[16:40] A strong and flexible rider should train outside of riding, because you don’t want to neglect the opposing muscles.

[18:24] My time saving tip for finding time to exercise is using your horse to motivate yourself to workout. Your horse will think it’s super cool when watching you do all of the work with jumping jacks and lunges.

[20:50] A lot of the trails near my house have water crossings, so I’ll jog then ride my horse over the water and then jog again.

[21:45] On days when I can’t ride, I can work out and still know that I am improving my writing. This helps me stay motivated.

[22:01] Join me in becoming a stronger rider in 2019 with #EquineCross.

“I have been experimenting with a routine where I rotate strength training, yoga, and running. It's amazing what you can do in 30 minutes a day.” Stacy Westfall Click To Tweet

Links and Resources:

Charlotte Dujardin’s World Record Breaking Freestyle test at London Olympia

Weaver Leather Equine Activity Ball

Yoga DVD on Amazon

Couch to 5K® – Run training



  1. Drewry Voshefski on November 19, 2019 at 9:01 pm


    What joy your idea of working out with your horse gave me. I typically shun indoor machine workouts because I am always so active taking care of my animals, house and gardens. But the idea of involving the equines is genius and would make it so much more fun to get my cardio in. I live on a rural road where people go 55 mph, so it is not practical for us to ‘hit the road’. But I am thinking of side by side running in the sand arena mixed with walking.

    • Stacy Westfall on November 29, 2019 at 1:44 pm

      I exercise in my arena with my horses…and you can work on your ‘liberty’ training too! The more time you spend leading them on a loose line, changing directions and all of that-you not only get fit but you get better communication. Win-win-win!

    • Jennifer Dunn on March 2, 2020 at 12:48 am

      I just started listening to your podcast and am really enjoying it. It’s just what I needed to guide me through some of my fears where riding is concerned.

      I have recently started weight training and would love to know the types of exercises you are doing. Are you lifting at home or in the gym? I’m 50 with a 7 yo ottb, and definitely need to get stronger to keep up with him. 😉

  2. TKA Kulla-Abbott on May 25, 2019 at 9:28 am

    I understand the point you are wanting to make because in “training humans” the trainer needs a variety of routines that train the same skill or muscle group. So when training I always stress correct form, correct form, correct form etc. to make my point that “muscle memory” can be incorrect if done with incorrect form. That is why I stress “perfection practice is unattainable” but correct form and correct practice makes permanent when talking about performance. When you talk about boredom in repeating the same skill in my opinion the rider and horse need to be mentally in the practice as you keep saying. In my opinion it takes time to achieve the ultimate for me which is the bridle less and saddle free reining (western dressage) event which is my goal. It takes the relationship between horse and rider to communicate with each other and have fun excelling and refining each skill and ride together as partners. Thank you Stacey so much for all the knowledge and wisdom you share so freely. Some teachers/coaches are not of that mindset, TKA

  3. Dr. Thomas Kulla-Abbott on May 24, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    Thank you Stacy for this segment and discussion. I would suggest that you use a different name #equine (crossfit). I would use what you said in this segment “ride better & stronger” as in #equineridebetter or #equineridestronger because what I have noticed from the literature on “crossfit” it is not a fundamentally sound program and does not build athleticism. My knowledge comes from the Russian Training System of work the Power Zone (core) first and move out from there. All of what you promote for your horses is fundamentally sound and is a cross over activity into fundamental horse movement which builds athleticism as in (western dressage, cutting, ranch work) I hope to be able to attend a clinic with you because I really value you, your philosophy, your ideology and the relationship you build with your horses.

    • Stacy Westfall on May 25, 2019 at 9:00 am

      Great feedback! I don’t actually know that much about cross fit. Ride strong is good…and probably isn’t a copyright issue!

  4. Rebekah Rehm on February 25, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    Stacy, this was SUCH a fun episode!!!! I love how you help riders to realize how much their physical well being effects their riding! You gave fun ideas for getting yourself motivated and making it fun! I can definitely identify with not enjoying working out, but wanting to be the best version of me for riding and for my horses. As always I appreciated your candidness and how you kept it light and fun but gave great tips. Your hashtag also made me smile! I love it! Thanks for sharing!

    • Stacy Westfall on March 2, 2019 at 5:12 pm

      Thank you! #equinecrossfit makes me smile too. I think of it when I am out there with them exercising. I’m so glad I have been exercising because my recent dressage riding has really improved from it! So fun to finally see the payoff. I was seeing it in general but as my goal was to improve my fitness for riding…it is nice to final REALLY feel it. My sitting trot has improved!

  5. Martina Brown on February 13, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    Hello Stacy
    Thanks for the encouragement. After having arthroscopic surgery twice on my hip, I know that I am nowhere near as strong before surgery. I used to be able to ride Hildy bareback at the trot for quite awhile and that was when she used to go really fast. Now even though she is smoother to ride at the trot I do not last as long, my thighs start to hurt fairly quickly. UGH. I know I have to do something. I have been saying it for awhile. Needed this podcast to get myself ready for riding this summer and get focused. I can also tell that I am not as flexible. I did order the DVD’s. As I said to you before–I trust you and your advice has always helped me. I never really knew if yoga would work but I am going to give it a try. I also start jogging after school. This is really EMBARRASSING but I could only jog for 30 seconds and I would be out of breath and it took me forever to recover. I am now up to almost 3 minutes and shorter recovery time, then I jog again. I do this for about 30 minutes. We will see how this goes. I am not a big fan of exercise but after I MAKE myself do it, it does feel good!!
    Thanks again

    • Stacy Westfall on February 13, 2019 at 9:30 pm

      Yes, yes, yes! I first started the Couch to 5k thing in Mount Gilead. We sold that in 2014 and it was at least a year or two before we left. When I first started I was the SAME WAY! 30 seconds of running would leave me needing more recovery than the app allowed. Slowly but surely it has improved! Keep it up and you’ll be amazed. The biggest mistake I made back then was not cross training with strength training and yoga. My knees started bothering me and I had no clue what I.T. bands were or why runners might need to do other training.
      Listen to your body on this journey…and find a great massage therapist to use as a reward (more free advice;)

      • Martina Brown on February 13, 2019 at 11:12 pm

        REALLY??? You could only run for 30 seconds too?? I feel better now. When I started that first day, I was freaking out, thinking how bad I was and trying to recover was awful. I was thinking this is going to be impossible. It is getting better! My friend Randi said you have to start somewhere. Thanks again Stacy?

        • Stacy Westfall on February 14, 2019 at 2:26 pm

          Yep, day 1 of the couch to 5k program I use is; jog 45 seconds, walk a minute and a half. I tried it (in the indoor) and was shocked. So I stopped using the app and counted laps so I could go shorter (I blamed it on the sand:) and walk longer. When I had built up a base I started using the app again. Even then I would go and choose to plateau at a certain week by repeating the week over and over.
          Last fall I started mixing in the Couch to 10k program and I have plateaued at the 4-week mark. I can feel that if I pushed myself to go to the next weeks it would be too much. I don’t know how to explain it but that’s how it feels. I am doing more yoga & strength training to see if that will help. I’ve also been experimenting with back-to-back ‘hard’ days. That really knocked the wind out of me! I think it is also probably the key to significantly moving forward from my current plautau. Only time will tell!
          Lots of exercise helps me identify more with the horses phyical training program:)

          • Martina Brown on February 14, 2019 at 10:47 pm

            Okaaay I will keep plugging along. You are such a go getter. Once you have something in your mind, it seems like you stick to it. I am really going to try. I want to be a better rider and of course feel better physically. Thanks again for all your advice!

  6. Chrissy E on February 13, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    Hi, Stacy!

    I love that you encourage folks to get active *with* their horses – I do this myself often when I have time set aside to work in the barn but am unable to for whatever reason (my horse is wet from a heavy snowfall, for example). I work out regularly, usually four days a week, and have done so for the past three years, but it is -amazing- how much work it is to run/jog in a sand arena! 🙂

    Keep the great tips coming!

    • Stacy Westfall on February 13, 2019 at 9:24 pm

      Lol…arena sand is a special kind of training! I’m looking forward to the trails again in the summer. Sand arena vs hills…my ‘horse’ workout sessions are much tougher than the current YouTube routines I’m following.
      I’ll go record another one for you:)

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