February 01, 2018

{DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. All my advice is based on my own personal experiences. Always consult a doctor before starting or adjusting a new diet or exercise program.}

For those of you who read Street to Stable® regularly, you are aware that my hunter was diagnosed with a soft tissue injury on Oct. 31and the rehabilitation period is nine months from stall rest to full competition. As the owner of one horse, my riding time has been extremely limited to an occasional lesson. Even without riding regularly, very specific improvements in my physical form and reaction time have improved drastically in the last 3 months by incorporating a 5 day a week balance conditioning and squat program in the gym  in front of a mirror. I had thought I was in shape because I am an avid runner, but I am SHOCKED at how my riding balance, strength, and reaction time have changed using these techniques of exercise.


Balance training is often neglected when people are developing their fitness regime, explains Marlie Doriston a personal trainer with a B.S. Kinesiology. Ms.Doriston expands, “This may be because they don’t understand the benefits of balance training. Balance is the ability to control your body’s position, whether stationary (i.e. a complex yoga pose) or while moving. Balance is a key component of fitness, along with strength, endurance, and flexibility.

There are various ways to perform balance exercises. Equipment like a stability ball, BOSU ball, or balance board can be incorporated.

 IMAGE:  I started using a "StrongBoard" because this brand was available at my gym. It is now my go-to piece of equipment for balance exercises. Board is available at 

Here are some benefits to incorporating balance training into your workout:

1) Body Awareness – Body awareness is the sense of how your limbs are oriented in space, also known as proprioception. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, balance training improves body awareness, which decreases the likelihood of injury.

2) Coordination – Balance training requires your entire body to work together, otherwise you will fall or stumble. Improved coordination during balance training will be transferred into coordination in everyday life.

3) Joint Stability – Balance training promotes stables knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders. This can prevent a large array of injuries including sprained ankles and serious knee problems.

4) Reaction Time – Balance training can improve one’s reaction time. This in turn will improve your reaction time in everyday life.

5) Long term health- Incorporating balance training into your exercise routine helps to maintain or improve your balance, which is needed to prevent falls and fractures. As we age, our balance can deteriorate, something we want to avoid (1).


In conjunction with stabilization exercise, I added SQUATS to improve my position over fences.

According to Robin Martinez, "A correct squat perfectly mimics a correct position over fences.  I see many riders standing up in their stirrups in the air and pushing their hip forward (hands coming up) rather than hands forward, following the horses mouth and hips moving backwards. This habit is very difficult to address while on the horse. I’ve found much more success by having a rider practice a squat off the horse using a bench that is approximately the same height as their knees. (2) ”


To read more about Robin Martinez's technique published on EQUESTRIAN COACH, click to VISIT .


I have only had the opportunity to ride a few times while my horse is rehabbing, but I can feel improvements each time I have the opportunity: 

  • Staying balanced in the saddle, especially in two point. I can now feel when I am not centered, thus negatively affecting my horse’s straightness. I have improved the strength on my right side (my weaker side) and I have been able to even out my weight distribution.
  • My core is stabilized upright on the backside of fences and cantering poles. I previously would forget that the back side of the fence was the front side to the next and would collapse my body. This issue is tied to both strength and reaction time.
  • My REACTION TIME in general has improved.
  • Flexibility in my heel. I have evolved my squats so that my heel is off of the board. If I do not have access to a board and I am running outside, I will do my squats on stairs.
  • Elbows in: By doing squats on a balance board while looking in the mirror, I am much more aware when I have “chicken wing” form. Mirrors don’t lie! This is an advanced exercise and performing squats on flat ground can accomplish the same results.
  • Eliminating the chair seat at the trot:

IMAGE: I was taught this style while riding breed horses and I still struggle to break the upright angle of the chair seat!

As Bernie Traurig explains, “I don’t advocate the “chair seat,” quite opposite actually as I’m a huge advocate of the forward seat in the jumping discipline with a proper leg position. The alignment you speak of, ear, shoulder, hip, heal is more appropriate in the dressage discipline where collected gaits call for a more vertical upper body position and somewhat less heal depth than the jumping sport as the balance is in the seat, not in the stirrups…Posting trot about 30 degrees inclined forward as in the faster gallops (3).

I have needed to strengthen my back to post higher to help set the horse’s cadence and also close my hip angle while working to drop my heel. I used squatting on a balance board to strengthen my back, change my balance point, and drop my heel.

IMAGE: I have slowly incorporated squats to my exercises on a balance board to  strengthen specific pieces of my "riding" position and improve my reaction time. Note that this is specific to my program - please see the disclaimer at the beginning of this story. 

Gym Time & Mirrors are Important

Do not allow bad weather or limited time eliminate developing your form or function in riding progress.  I am a huge advocate of completing your exercises in front of a mirror. Additionally, stabilization exercises in general are excellent for improving all facets of your physical well-being and ultimately your long term health.






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