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Laura Crump Anderson


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Identifying Your Body’s Weaknesses in the Saddle: A Clinic with Mary Wanless

They say you should never meet your idols and while I have been to a Paul McCartney concert, meeting Mary Wanless was about as amazing as a rock concert. In May I attended a Mary Wanless Clinic. I have had her books on my shelf since before I can remember; in fact, Ride With Your Mind is one of the first horse book that I ever read. The moment I discovered I could audit her clinic literally right up the road, I immediately jumped on the opportunity.

It was an incredibly hot day in May — one of those days where the breeze almost felt hotter than the ambient air. I pulled into the other side of Loch Moy Farms (who knew they had an indoor over there) and walked into an arena not knowing my mind was about to be rocked.

I am not going to lie when I say I had high expectations for this clinic. I had read cover-to-cover many books before but none of them had it me as hard as The New Anatomy of Rider Connection. This book came out at a time when I was deeply immersed in anatomy trains and the importance of facia through my yoga teacher training. When I saw that Mary Wanless had applied the anatomy trains not only to the rider but to the horse I was hooked. I have read this book at least three times and every time I pick it up, I am learning something new.

If you are a total nerd for anatomy and physiology like me, this book is for you. However, if you are just looking to ride better, this book is also for you. That was one of the things that amazed me about Mary’s teaching style: she could meet the rider at the level they are at.

Whether that was a young girl just taking her first canter steps or a professional dressage rider, Mary’s knowledge of the rider’s body could talk circles around me, and I consider myself pretty well versed in the body (I have a four year degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science, have been a personal trainer for close to ten years and spent the last two years working for a physical therapy practice). That said I have dedicated my life to learning about the body, and it excites me when I find somebody who is truly a master of their craft.

AND she signed the book!

I missed the first day of the clinic because I had to work (damn mortgages). If I could go back in time, I would have rearranged to be there all three days, preferably with a horse but that was not meant to be at this time. I walked into the second day thinking I have read this book I can catch on and I did but I would have loved to see the transformation in the riders way of going across all three days.

The biggest take away and what I am bringing back to you is the kneel exercise she taught on the second days lecture portion. This is a great way to determine if you are relying more heavily on your Superficial Back Line or your Superficial Front Line — these lines are the fascia trains that make up everyone’s body.

So what is fascia? According to Google, “Fascia is a thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve fiber and muscle in place. The tissue does more than provide internal structure; fascia has nerves that make it almost as sensitive as skin.” It has been said that if you were to take everything else out of the body and only leave the fascia you would still be able to recognize the person in front of you. It was thought for many years in western medicine that fascia was mostly inert. But how could something so pervasive be useless? The simple is answer is: it is not!

If you haven’t heard of this, read the book! If you have heard of it, good! This should interest you… READ THE BOOK. There is a reason it’s a book and not a blog post. The concepts simply can not be boiled down into a cliff notes version.

This exercise is quite hard on the knees, so I do not recommend this for those that struggle with knee pain. I also do not recommend doing it to muscle failure, but rather use it as a fact-finding mission.

1: Start by kneeling on even ground. 

2. Place your hands on your stomach and you back just above your pelvis with your palms flat.

3. Engage through your core keep you tail bone tucked under.
4. Lift up by leading with your belt buckle, so that your hips are over top of your knees.

The goal of this exercise is to keep even pressure on your hands and not round your back or arch your back as you go through the range of motion. If you do round or arch your back, this is telling:

If you tend to round your back, you are stronger on your superficial front line.


If your tendency is to arch your back to come up, you’re more tight in you superficial back line.

If your tendency is to round your back, you are strong on your superficial front line. This means your tendency would be to be to get into more of a crouched position in the saddle.

If your tendency is to arch your back to come up, you’re more tight in you superficial back line. This means that you will more likely lean back in the saddle and get into more on a water skiing position. Continue to work on this exercise until you can keep even pressure on your stomach and back.

Want more Rider Physiology? Read Horse Nation’s review of The New Anatomy of Rider Connection here.

The Athletic Equestrian: The One Exercise Every Eventer Should Be Doing

A lot has changed for me since the last time I wrote for Eventing Nation. I do not know if you heard but there was a global pandemic … I got out of the fitness industry to do a job in Health Care (I worked for a physical therapy practice) and I wasn’t allowed in my gym for about two months and had to come up with an at home exercise routine. I started training all of my clients virtually when I was used to relying heavily on equipment and the one thing the stood true for me, and that I firmly believed and still believe in, is the grounding and challenging aspect of a plank.

I know working with horses is extremely physically demanding. Trying to fit exercise in to an incredibly busy life just seems overwhelming if not impossible, however, you can find 90 seconds two days a week. You spend countless hours treating your horse like and athlete, perfecting their diet, doing the fitness work, ensuring that their shoes are the perfect fit, etc. YOU OWE IT TO YOUR HORSE TO TAKE YOUR FITNESS WITH SIMILAR IMPORTANCE.

Start with a small achievable goal. Do a plank for 90 seconds two times a week. This will start making a difference in your strength and will even get your heart rate up quite quickly. You have to hold a symmetrical position for an extended period of time and this will give you a clue into whether or not you are right or left dominant not only in your upper body but also your lower body. You might be surprised to find that you are actually dominant in your lower body on the opposite side of your upper body.

How To Do The Perfect Plank

1. Start on all fours.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

2. Walk your hands forward so there is a straight line from your head to your knees.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

3. Come down onto your elbows.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

4. Straighten your legs and press your heels back behind you (really think about squeezing all down the backs of your legs).

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

5. Don’t let your back round over or your stomach drop down.

6. Hold this position for as long as you can.

How Long Should You Hold Your Plank For?

The goal should be 90 seconds two days a week. However, if you get into this position and discover it is more challenging then you thought it would be that is totally OK. IF you are only able to hold it for 30 seconds start with doing three planks for 30 seconds. Work up to doing a minute long plank. If you are doing a plank for 60 seconds do two of them until you can do a 90 second plank. If your second plank is shorter that is totally OK. You are achieving true muscle fatigue! (GREAT JOB)! IF you are getting over two minutes great! However more than two minutes is excessive and longer does not necessarily be better so stick with about the two minute mark as a max and make sure you continue to do it twice a week. Because consistency is the important thing!

This is just the beginning of the wide world of planks and in a later post I want to look at different versions that will challenge you in many ways!

Laura Crump Anderson is an avid equestrian who realized from a young age the importance of taking care of our bodies like the athlete we expect our horses to be. Laura has competed up to Training Level in eventing on a horse she bred and started herself, and has the goal to get back out competing again on her 2019 Home-bred Still Stanley. She holds her degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science from Longwood University, is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and has her 200 hour yoga teacher certificate. Laura’s goal is to help riders be connected with their horse and be fit sound and ready to ride. Laura works with riders across disciplines from weekend warriors to Olympic athletes. She is the Owner and Founder of Hidden Heights Fitness, where you can participate in one-on-one Virtual Personal Training via zoom all you need is an internet connection, the space the size of a yoga mat, and your determination. 

How to Use a Mounting Block to Stretch and Strengthen Your Calves

As riders we tend to have strong calf muscles; however, just because they are strong does not always mean they are functioning properly. Our calves serve as the heart of the lower body — the two main muscles in the lower leg, the gastrocnemius and the soleus, assist the cardiovascular system in pumping blood back up to the heart with each step. This is part of the reason you are encouraged to get up and walk around on long flights.

I commonly encounter riders who suffer from overly tight calves that has a profound impact on the galloping position, as well as common human lameness like plantar fasciitis. As humans we should pay as much attention to stretching our calves as we do our hamstrings.

For this exercise you will need a step or a solid mounting block. 

  • Place the ball of your foot on the step, place your hand on a railing or a wall to steady yourself. (This is not the place to add balance work in as bouncing, hopping and sudden movements will increase your chance of injury.)
  • Drop your heels down toward the floor. At the bottom of the range of motion hold that static position for five seconds.  

Jaclyn Burke of Burke Equestrian demonstrates a calf stretch. Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

  • Next with your hand supporting you on the wall, slowly rise up pressing your toes into the step and contracting in your calves. Go for your full range of motion — this will be different for everyone.

Jaclyn Burke of Burke Equestrian demonstrates a calf raise. Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.


  • Complete this exercise for two minutes and you will be feeling quite the burn in your lower leg and possibly your glutes and hamstrings. 
  • Finish by holding the start position for at least 30 seconds.

Jaclyn Burke is one of my idols and time management gurus. The amount of things she can accomplish in a day is second to none. Jaclyn owns and operates Burke Equestrian out of Hablyn Hills Equestrian Center in the heart of Area II. Jaclyn specialize in bringing OTTBs up through the levels and she has competed at the CCI3*-L level, with goals and plans to get back with her talented string of three competition horses. 

As if running and managing a success competition, training and lesson program were not enough, she also has a full-time job at Workday, a software company that helps businesses optimize the back office processes. For Jaclyn hacks are often filled with phone calls but when she gets down to riding and teaching she strives to be 100% present in the moment. Even with her extremely busy schedule she makes the time to prioritize her own fitness as she can feel the difference when exercise moves onto the back burner. 

Laura Crump Anderson is a certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and is a Registered 200 Hour Teacher with the Yoga Alliance. She specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here.

If It Was Easy It Wouldn’t Be Worth It: A Mindfulness Practice

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

The author bombing a distance.

Sometimes I honestly cannot conceive how horse people do it.

The hours that are demanded of us whether you are a professional or an amateur.

The fleeting pinnacles of highs that make you feel like someone destined to be on horseback.

Then, all too quickly, the overwhelming lows that so hastily can come on but takes months to pass, which throw you in a depression so deep that you probably would not get out of bed if there wasn’t a four-legged creature that literally depends on you.

Add to it heat, cold, expense, injuries, surgeries, deaths, and the lack of understanding from people that we are closest to. Sporadically I am amazed that I am allowed to walk the streets as ‘horse crazy’ as I am.

Even as an adult I still occasionally wish that I had picked a different sport to dedicate my life to. Do divers deal with the overwhelming mental game that is riding? Or do soccer players at the age of 30-something still dream of making a team? This is where my yoga practice has come in … it is so much more than stretching for me. It fills a gap in my life that never realized was missing. I am learning that I am enough just the way that I am.

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present. It took me a long time to realize it, but it is one of the reasons I love riding. Even if just for a moment during a 45-minute ride my monkey brain turns off and I feel fully present in the moment.

Three Mindfulness Hacks

1. Set a timer for five minutes. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Each time you find yourself distracted (it will happen and more than you might think) acknowledge the thought or sound and return to focusing on your breath. Work up to doing this for 10 minutes every day. You will be amazed at the time warp you witness.

2. Grab a glass of water and notice every single detail you can about the glass or bottle. Note every single detail as you drink the water, feel, temperature, can you feel it hit your stomach? Do not do anything else until you have finished with it.

3. Take a yoga class. Yoga is so much more than the postures you sit-in — it is actually an eight part process of self- awareness. Just like in riding it is so important to find the right teacher for you. If you do not like one class but are not sure why, go try another!

Mindfulness is a practice and the more you do it the better you will get at it. Like any practice consistency is a key to success. Just because it is simple doesn’t mean it is easy, but if it was easy would it be worth it?

Learn more about mindfulness and nutrition for the rider in the heart of Area II at Beverly Equestrian (The Plains, Virginia) during the Rider Wellness Series. The next session takes place Thursday, July 25th 2019 at 6 p.m. Click here to learn more and purchase your ticket.


Up Your Game With This 20-Minute Rider Fitness Video

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

Are you wanting to up your in-the-saddle fitness game, but you’re on a tight time budget? This is the program for you.

Laura explains: “This video is an effective workout that does not require too much time outside of the tack. As riders we spend a lot of energy ensuring that our horses, are fit and sound and ready to compete. It is time we take the same dedication to our own fitness.”

Go Eventing.

The Athletic Rider: The Difference Between Motivation and Discipline

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

I strongly considered not writing about New Year’s resolutions because, well, for one thing I hate them. Not to be a hater, and generally I am not; however, creating change in your life does not lie on a day of the calendar. It rides on a shift in your mindset. The good news is that can happen 365 days a year, but requires the 364 other days each year to keep working. One of my favorite diagrams is this…

Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

I would be missing an incredible opportunity to cheer people on if I was to ignore January. Motivation is high in January; the first two weeks it is as if every day is #motivationmonday. The key now is to harness that motivation create discipline, and this is where the struggle begins.

Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

Motivation is important. Motivation is a spark, it is getting the shiny idea, it is chasing the dream.

Discipline is not exciting; it is not sexy and attention grabbing. Discipline is hard. Discipline in boring. Discipline is taking the extra 10 minutes to make sure something is done correctly and not just sufficiently. Discipline is doing the hard things when they do not matter, so that you can do them when they matter most. Discipline is found in the everyday and the mundane — it is what you do when no one is looking.

Today my discipline is writing this article. Your discipline in this moment is reading to the second to the last paragraph of this article. You did it and can transfer this success into another success. Try applying this discipline into a plank to true failure, for instance — working to momentary muscle failure requires a lot of discipline.

Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

So, when the shine of motivation wears off and you are feeling like you cannot continue, make sure you have cultivated discipline within you.

The Athletic Rider: You Are What You Eat (and You Cannot Out-Exercise a Bad Diet)

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

Health and fitness are things to be worked on and maintained year-round. I have never been a fan of new year’s resolutions; to instill a healthy habit or quit a bad one does not require a day on the calendar to roll around. Picking a specific day like January 1st or a birthday has been shown to be less successful when it comes to upholding goals. My method is to choose a theme for the year, 2017 — a year of consuming less (no shopping), 2018 — the year of learning to say ‘no’ (learning create healthy boundaries), and I am currently thinking that 2019’s theme will be acknowledging the responsibility in all things good and bad my life.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

The winter months can be an ideal time to put an emphasis on your body, by adding a yoga class or fitness routine. Assuming you are still riding regularly, take note of how the asymmetries in your body might mirror that of your horse. Also, make the time to think about what you are fueling your body with. Try to find the healthier, real food, items on the outside of grocery store, not in the center isles.

IF you are looking for a bar, though, I highly recommend EquestriBar. They are made with premium ingredients, they taste good and will not crumble in your pocket, and are good enough size to not leave you hungry.

Photo courtesy of Equestribar.

I had a reality check this week when I got back on the scale after Thanksgiving. While visiting family last week, I did not ride, so I went to the gym almost every single day. Usually, I only workout 20 minutes once week. You can see the results Monday Morning below, while I was able to maintain my muscle mass, you can see from the InBody chart below that I actually gained 3.5 pounds of fat mass. This was do the excessive amount of eating on Thursday, I have been really getting back on track Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I am not saying to stare at your scale throughout the holiday season, because the way you feel on your horse is the most important indicator of health. However, I am advising you to be aware of you holiday eating habits.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

This is time where holiday snacking can become overwhelming and seems you are invited to a new festivity almost every day. It is very important to not let the cheat meal, become the cheat day, leads to the cheat week. This is how we find ourselves 10 lbs. behind the curve on January 1st . Fuel yourself through the winter months like the athlete you expect your horse to be.

Here are a few of my favorite healthy recipes! Enjoy.

This broccoli and spinach soup is warm and hearty.

Three Healthy Holiday Eating Strategies That Work

We spend so much time eating turkey and ham around the holidays, that a perfectly cooked beef roast really stands out and can be an excellent change of pace. Try this Garlic Rosemary Roast Beef with Horseradish Sauce by Lauren Grant.

The prep work that goes into this one, Roasted Heirloom Squash with Sea Salt and Local Honey by Diabetic Living Magazine, is a little more extensive. However, this dish is well worth the time it takes. You can save time by looking for winter squash varieties in the precut isle of your grocery store. When it comes to squash, though, never buy frozen! Add a strip or two of chopped nitrate-free bacon and take it to the next level.

Lima beans were surprisingly the first leftover that disappeared at my family Thanksgiving this year! This is a super easy and quick recipe to make year round, and it is packed with fiber and protein. Remember to go with the baby lima beans they taste way better, and frozen is totally acceptable! Here’s a delicious Baby Lima Beans recipe by Trisha Yearwood.


Now onto the fun stuff. Making a lower calorie drink that is festive is easy.

1. Pick your favorite glass.
2. Pick your clear poison (vodka, clear tequila, gin, or skip this step).
3. Mix with the sparkling water of your choosing.
4. Garnish with frozen berries.
5. Snap a picture, and enjoy responsibly.

Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

Rider Fitness: The Importance of Rest, Recovery and Reinforcements

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

Could you imagine a world where the fitness instructor is telling you to do less? Well, welcome to that world Eventing Nation. I am here to tell you, start scheduling a day off into your week immediately.

For many riders, professionals and amateurs, 12-hour days are the norm, and the occasional eight-hour day is the exception. You will get laughed out of the barn if you mention a day off. In our industry it is almost a badge of honor to tell someone how many days you have gone without a day off. However, you would never abuse your horse this way, so why are you doing this to your own body?

Your horse gets a day off once a week and you need one. I am not saying do not exercise, but what I am saying is take care of yourself because it is essential to doing your job well. You are busy so exercise smarter not longer, get the eight hours of sleep your brain requires, fuel your body with nutritious food and make sure you take a day off once a week.

Take Time Off

When an event rider is in the studio one of the initial questions I ask is “How much sleep are you getting?” The importance of sleep cannot be understated. Sleep is when your body recovers, builds muscle, improves mental clarity, and prepares you for keeping your important routines. That said when people are looking for more time in the day sleep is often the first thing to go. So looking at your schedule, block out those eight hours as not optional.

We live busy lives and are incredibly used to waking up early and going until we crash. Rinse and repeat day after day, week after week. Overtraining is the process of not getting enough rest and recovery, and the impacts are not just physical, they are also mental and will lead to burnout, or worse, making dangerous mistakes.

You Can Not Do Everything – Hire Back Up

I am no stranger to overbooking my schedule, I work full time, I am the sole caretaker of my two horses, and I have the honor of serving as chair of the Health and Wellness Committee for the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. Plus my only “vacation” so far in 2018 was volunteering in the vet box for the World Equestrian Games.

This year we made the big decision to expand our Equestrian program at InForm Fitness. This was so exciting and a dream come true, but it also meant that I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders, and we needed to hire a new person. Thankfully, I quickly found the perfect person to take on the position.

Cameron Rouse is an H-A Pony Clubber who holds a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science and recently completed her Power of 10 Certification, all while working on her Masters and actively competing her horse Rummy throughout Area II. Five months into having Cameron on the team, I am just beginning to delegate successfully, and she is stepping up to the mounting block.

Training someone to fill a roll that you currently do is challenging, and amplified greatly when it involves a half-ton animal. However, finding conscientious people who can be taught is essential. Even more challenging, yet just as important, is learning to give them safe opportunities to learn and carry out the responsibility.

Cameron Rouse on Rummy at Morven Park. Photo by Lee Rouse.

Delegate or Suffer

In order to take the time off to attend WEG, I had to hand over all of my clients to Cameron. This is an incredibly tall order for a new strength training instructor, ultimately the hardest part was letting go of the reins, and she rose to the challenge. I am so incredibly proud of her for doing an amazing job. That was no small task on her part, the clients loved her, and she has quickly proven to be an incredibly talented and valued member of the team.

Hiring another equestrian fitness specialist was the best decision for the company and for myself. As this will allow me to stay focused, not burn out, be more organized and even ride more consistently. It takes time to learn to delegate and it requires you to pay someone to a do a job that you could be doing. That said freeing up time for yourself to rest and recover, is essential to your success as an athlete!

“Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.” -Pooh

My strength training travel routine:

1) Wall Sit
2) Lateral Work
3) Slow Motion Push Up
4) Half Passes for the Obliques
5) Side Plank (see video)

6) The Plank

Each of the exercises are done to a point of momentary muscle failure, with little or no rest in between exercises. Perform once or twice a week with a minimum of three days’ rest in between routines.

Get some rest, then Go Eventing!

The Reasons I Practice Yoga

Laura Crump Anderson is the Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg and Reston and specializes in working with riders of all disciplines and has competed to training level in eventing. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine. This past weekend Laura graduated from her 200-hour yoga teacher training course.

As far as equestrian fitness trends, I was behind the curve on the value of yoga. Videos and books on yoga and Pilates for the equestrian have been around for as long as I can remember, though I barely gave them more than a glance. That changed two years ago when I walked into a yoga studio simply to support a pregnant friend. Prior, my experience with yoga was a one-credit class in college. Rough association with a guy friend from high school, who broke my heart more than once, was now a yoga teacher blowing up my news feed with constant postings on social media … Let’s just say that this was not something I expected to do regularly. I was fit, I rode horses, and I worked out, so who needs yoga?

Photo by Melissa Hunsberger.

Reason #1: Anatomy

As the story goes, she had me at ‘xiphoid process.’ The xiphoid process is the boney bump at the bottom of your sternum, and when my teacher used it as a body marker in my first class I was hooked.

I quickly realized that through movement, I was learning more about the human body than I had in three years of anatomy and physiology in school. While I could point to an IT Band on a chart of a human with no skin, it had nothing on holding a pigeon pose for three minutes and identifying exactly where my IT band was and how it worked. Through my practice I learned more about my body and other people’s anatomy than ever before. This helped me become a better fitness specialist. I believe this knowledge of how the body works helps instructors and clinicians teach students as well.

I went on to continue studying yoga and the second concrete and detectible difference I felt was in my mental strength.

Photo by Melissa Hunsberger.

Reason #2: Grounding

I learned to ground into the present moment more and worry about the ‘what ifs’ less — the greatest tool to access this is through the breath. My breath is the yoga that I have with me throughout the day; when I start feeling overwhelmed, or worse, out of control, I can always control my breath, and it starts me on the right path to address the situation ahead. Competitiveness and comparison almost never serve the practice, and I learned that quickly to meet my body where it is that day. Yoga has taught me to breathe and work with the madness.

My world is demanding, fast paced, meticulous and complicated by ADHD and so incredibly vata deranged that I am grateful to now understand what that means. I hold a leadership role in a small business; I am serving as Chair of the Health and Wellness Committee for the Loudoun Chamber, one of the fast-growing counties in the nation; I am blessed with incredible yet demanding clients, two dogs, two horses, six chickens, a 20-acre horse farm, and a remarkable husband, who did not sign up to be a main caretaker.


Reason #3: Visualization
Do this, it works!

Reason #4: Energy or Spirituality

If you don’t care for ‘woo-woo’ feel free to skip this next paragraph … I would have two years ago. However, the more I learn the more I realize this was a part of my life that I was missing. Through meditation and connection with energy that is in everything, my understanding of self
grows stronger.

I must admit this did not come from once a week classes. For me this required more in-depth breakdowns that I have received with my 200-hour yoga teacher training. The intuitiveness of some Ayurveda came easy; however, I still get lost when they start talking about chakras, though I am starting to understand how chi moves through the hyaluronic acid in the fascia and the reason western doctors had so much trouble identify meridian lines because experiments were conducted on cadavers, and dead bodies have little chi. While I digress, I would be amiss to write about yoga and not touch on this.

Here are three great stretches for equestrians of any disciplines, presented in order of yin (most passive) to yang (most demanding). The key action of all three poses are to stretch, the inner thigh which tends to be chronically tight in riders.

Wide Leg Up the Wall. Photo by Machelle Lee.

Butterfly. Photo by Machelle Lee.

The Frog. Photo by Jason Smith.

Thank you to Melissa Hunsberger and the team at Stephen Bradley Eventing for opening your beautiful facility for me to teach my first yoga class outside of training. Melissa was the first instructor I had dedicated to eventing through Loudoun Hunt Pony Club. I could not dream up a better group, and it is an amazing experience to teach my teacher.


Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.


Laura’s Exercise of the Month: Reclined Half Pass for Your Obliques

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

The reclined half pass for the obliques is an abdominal crunch that involves the muscles of the rider’s sides. Obliques are the muscles that one must engage to hold themselves upright in the saddle, so the rider sits centered and is not collapsing to the left or the right side.

It is simple-but simple does not mean easy.

  1. Lie on your back with feet on the floor, and arms raised up with your fingertips touching the side of your head. *Do not apply any pressure or pull on your head with your hands.

Fiona Coulter, the assistant trainer at Sara Spofford Dressage in Waterford, VA. Photo courtesy Laura Crump Anderson.

2. Bring your knees over to one side, stacked one on top of the other.

Photo courtesy Laura Crump Anderson.

3. Start the abdominal contraction motion by sitting up and engaging through your side obliques, bringing your right elbow up toward your right knee. Try and keep your legs down. But as ever, do not let perfect get in the way of good enough. The point is to engage your oblique side muscles.

Photo courtesy Laura Crump Anderson.

4. The range of motion and movement should be short, so shoot for five seconds. At the top of the repetition, maintain the abdominal contraction for a two-second squeeze, and then in a controlled and slow manner, un-squeeze, and take another five seconds to lower yourself back down. The intensity will build, but never let yourself rest or disengage your core at bottom of the rep.

5. Time yourself and continue do this exercise until the muscular fatigue literally brigs you to temporary muscle failure. That’s the GOAL! Once achieved, switch to the other side.

Obliques are the muscles that one must engage to hold themselves upright in the saddle, so the rider sits centered and is not collapsing to the left or the right side. Photo courtesy Laura Crump Anderson.

Your obliques work together, so best to start on your weaker side first. When you switch to your stronger side, you already have pre-exhausted one side of the body, and the final GOAL is closer in sight. Whichever direction you start, if you are doing the exercise correctly, the second side, irrespective of its dominance in strength, should feel more challenging.

Interested in additional core strengthening exercises? Check out The Plank The One Exercise For Every Eventer and  The Wheelbarrow: Two is Better Than One.

Strength Training for Riders: Why Go Slow?

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

When we think of strength training, most of us think of explosive movements of Olympic-type lifting. As the name indicates, explosive movements of any kind carry an inherent risk of injury. I would hypothesize that the best way for equestrians to train is by slowing things down. Way down. You are an athlete engaging in an incredibly dangerous activity every time you step into the barn or swing a leg over a horse. It should not be your exercise program that injures you and sidelines you from competition. In this blog post I hope to convey the advantages inherent in strength training … slowly.

Beginner Novice Push-Up: Haley Carspecken demonstrates a Beginner Novice Push-Up at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm. Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

Increased Intensity — I am starting here because in a sport where an athlete is required to display his/her blood type on their arm, the safety aspect is not going to be the biggest attractor. MOVING SLOWLY IS MORE PHYSICALLY DEMANDING AND CHALLENGING THAN RELYING ON MOMENTUM TO MOVE THE WEIGHT.

Olympic lifting, such as the snatch and the clean and jerk, is a skill which requires years to learn and perfect. Conventional weight lifting relies on a quantitative value: you do three sets of 10 or 12. But how much work have you performed?  When you seek a qualitative goal in strength training — like working to muscle fatigue — you can truly measure the work performed and significantly increase the demand on your musculature and the physiological change to your body.

Efficiency – This slow-motion protocol of strength training — when done correctly — only requires 20 minutes once or twice a week! Let’s be honest: professional riders rarely have enough time to cook dinner at the end of the day. I am not going to say that this is an easy 20 minutes, but all rider should prioritize 20 minutes once a week to dedicate it to their own health and fitness. For less time than it takes to watch your favorite sitcom on Netflix you could be making a difference in both your riding, and your horse’s performance.

Prelim Push-Up: Kaitlin Clasing of Clasing Equestrian demonstrates a Prelim Push-Up at Hermitage Farm. Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

Efficacy – The reason I believe so strongly in this protocol of exercise is because, put simply, it works. High intensity, slow motion strength training is an incredibly effective way to build muscle. Within six weeks of training with this protocol I noticed a dramatic reduction in chronic back pain, improvements in my sitting trot, and stamina.  However, don’t take my word for it. Listen to what CIC2* rider Haley Carspecken has to say:

“My goal was to strengthen my core to help me produce a better riding position while in the saddle. My workouts are an intense 20 minutes once a week and my body feels like a noodle every time … I have not only felt stronger in my core but my entire body feels much more secure in the saddle while riding horses. I believe the program works for any type of person looking to become stronger, especially equestrians who have a very busy schedule.”

When done correctly all we truly need is 20 minutes, seeking muscle failure, to have a significant impact on our health, our riding, and our horses.

Safety — It should not be our exercise program which injures us. I know many riders who have done more damage to their bodies by repeatedly pounding the pavement while running, all in the interest of being more fit for their horse. There are many options which offer a commendable level of intensity. To be sure, the slow-motion protocol is not the only thing which works. But let’s be clear: because the force involved in any movement is reduced, there’s a significant drop in our exposure to injury.

Try the difference for yourself!

What is the Ideal Conditioning Program for an Eventer?

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

Graphic courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

For the equestrian, I have yet to find the silver bullet or formula that computes the exact fitness required of everyone. I have concepts, frame works, guidelines, but just like horses, human athletes have variables that impact their performance. An Advanced horse and a Beginner Novice horse do not require the same level of fitness. In fact, bringing a horse down from the upper levels can be just as challenging as moving up. Warmbloods typically require additional conditioning to reach peak fitness, compared to their Thoroughbred counterparts. Add imbalance or injury into the mix and you have enough variables for a scientist to struggle to approve anything as statistically significant.


My advice for the amateur:

The best way to improve our riding is time spent in the tack, and sitting on as many different horses as possible, because they will all teach you something. Listen to your instructor’s guidance and do not pass up the opportunity for a switch ride when they present themselves. For the experienced rider, can learn steadily from a schoolmaster, as they can a green horse. We exercise outside of the tack to improve so that we are not struggling with our own fitness while on the horse.

My advice for the professional:

Start your day with the most technical ride. This does not mean ride the most challenging horse first every time. Rather, when you are freshest physically and mentally, pick a specific and technical ride of the day. Typically, this tends to be a flat ride. Riding the same horses in the same order every day is one of the pitfalls professionals can fall into as we are creatures of habit.

Whenever possible save the conditioning rides for last, as these require the least amount of technicality, but are just as important for your conditioning as for the horses. While you do not need to do every conditioning ride; you are doing yourself a disservice to always pass these rides on to working students. That said, do not forget the importance of rest and recovery.

So why exercise?

While exercise does not improve one’s technical ability, we exercise to gain muscle for optimal movement, energy, and protection from injury. Our skeletal muscles serve as the engine, support structures, and shock absorbers of our bodies.

Strength Training

Strength training is an essential piece of rider fitness because it provides the most bang for the buck (in this case, the amount of time) when it comes to fitness. Strength training builds muscle that prevents injury, improves core strength and stability, boosts the metabolism, and increases energy and endurance. Putting muscle on our bodies is the best way to prevent the natural atrophy that occurs with age and will help us achieve our goals as riders.

I have heard people say that they do not need to strength train because the horses they ride are light in the bridle and contact. This is a misunderstanding of the benefits from strength training. Riders should not expect to become stronger in their aids, but quite the opposite. Strength training allows a rider to fine tune their aids, because they can maintain their form. The biggest impact that I have seen and felt from strength training is improvements in the sitting trot.

Off the horse riders develop improved control of their essential core muscles (without interference from the horse’s movement). This leads to an improved ability to correctly apply aids in the tack, because the horse is not trying to decode the white noise that comes from a weak seat.  Strength training also has a beneficial impact on one’s galloping position, much more so than running or getting on an exercise bike. All eventers should regularly take lessons with a professional and make sure their stirrups are the correct length. Posting in the gallop is detrimental to a horse’s wellbeing. However, it is frequently associated with a rider who lacks the strength to maintain the position and is much more rarely an endurance fatigue.

Eventers should be strength training AT LEAST once a week. (This does not have to be done in a gym, but KNOW that water buckets and wheelbarrows do not count as strength training.)

Photo credit: Machelle Lee of Roots and River Yoga.


When you are bringing a horse back into work, you want to progress slowly and do so as balanced as possible. To achieve this, we must work on our own flexibility and balance off the horse. This is an essential piece of the puzzle!

Yoga classes are a great way to identify where our own imbalances lie. Note that standing on one foot will help you notice imbalance in your own body from left to right but will not actually improve your balance on your horse. The improved balance develops from time spent in the tack. Some yoga classes have an incredible level of intensity, just make sure that these classes do not interfere with the equally essential piece of the puzzle — rest and recovery.

If you are ever presented with the opportunity to take a Yin Class, jump on it. In this style of yoga, you will quickly identify the parts of your body that require the most flexibility work. Many event riders tend to have very tight hamstrings and lower backs. However, all equestrians can benefit from stretching the inner thigh. Two great asanas or poses for this area of the body are the frog pose or wide-leg wall stretch. Eventers should be doing 7-10 minutes of flexibility work each day.

Aerobic Capacity

One of the greatest challenges inherent in our sport is that as we move up the levels, the increase in demand for the horse’s fitness leads to increased conditioning work for the rider. The best way to get fit for riding is in the tack. When figuring out if you have sufficient aerobic capacity, consider how are you feeling when you finish. If you are coming off the cross country course tired but you can catch your breath, you are doing great. If you are coming off the course winded, you may want to think about looking into doing some VO2max testing. Galloping is typically done at about 80%-85% of a rider’s VO2max, so you should be able to maintain this for the length of time of cross country.

However, do not just assume you are doing enough. Instead, track and time your fitness rides, as they are just as important for you as they are for the horse. Notice your breathing. It is not uncommon for amateurs and professionals to hold their breath while riding. Working on focused breath work outside of the tack, will help with holding the breath on course.

The Problem with Traditional Cardio

I know many professional athletes, who have done more damage to their bodies pounding the pavement running than they did taking a tumble or two off a horse. If you love running, great. RUN. I get it. I love riding my horse and understand that many individuals feel just as passionate about their running programs as I do riding. To ask them to stop running is tantamount to asking me to stop riding! However, when your body is speaking to you (with shin splints, knee pain, hip pain), it is time to stop running, unless running is more important to you than your riding. Most importantly, DO NOT RUN FOR THE SAKE OF GETTING FIT FOR YOUR HORSE.

Rest and Recovery


Rest and recovery is an essential piece of the equation that is often over looked in a fitness routine. To improve strength, rest and recovery are just as important as applying a stimulus to build muscle. Striving to get eight hours of sleep each night has a huge impact on performance.

Your body also requires a day off once a week to rebuild and repair. You would not ride a horse for a month straight, so why are we doing this to ourselves? You are a valuable asset, so please treat your body to the rest it not only deserves, but also needs.

Two is Better Than One

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She is EN’s fitness columnist. If you missed her series on “lateral work” for rider strength, check out the Beginner NovicePrelim, and Advanced editions. 

Kaitlin and Daniel Clasing work out together. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

Often, I am asked what the best exercise is for … [insert desired result here]. Regardless of the goal, the most important aspect of any exercise program is the result, and results come from consistency. So, the best exercise regimen for you will be the one that you can stick with. One of the best ways to improve the results of any program is to work with a partner.  A partner adds accountability, motivation, plus an extra set of eyes to ensure proper form and safety.

Accountability: Someone is waiting for you at the gym will force you out of bed on the morning, you especially want to sleep in.  Even though there are methods of personal accountability for example maintaining a journal, or excessively posting on your favorite social media platform. There is nothing quite like a friend or personal trainer expecting you, to get you to show up for the work out.

Those times when you want to call it quits, working with a friend can give you the extra edge to truly achieve momentary muscle failure. This is healthy competition, while strength training, I firmly believe that you should be focused on competing against yourself. However, having a person with you in the moment can help you reach for new heights.

Form: When you have someone watch your form during an exercise, you will work harder to maintain it. That said, when you are working hard, which you should be, it is extremely challenging to always maintain perfect form. This is the point at which our egos need to take a good look at itself. Know that your exercise partner is correcting your form to help you, not attack you. When they tell you need to correct yourself, listen to them. Do not get annoyed; listen and make the corrections.

When you are the “helper,” be mindful to only correct the aspects of your partner’s form and execution that are needing correction. Repeating unnecessary instruction will quickly begin to irritate.

Safety: When you get injured, you are much less likely to stick with an exercise program. More importantly, an injury can lead to setbacks on your riding goals. While you will frequently find me in a yoga studio, it would take a force from nature to get me into a CrossFit box.  With many exercise programs, safety is not the priority. Personally, I prefer to reduce risk of injury as much as possible while exercising, because I assume enough risk every time I swing a leg over my horse. Having someone with you are much more likely to be safe and systematic in the exercise program.

Choose wisely: When strength training using the slow motion high intensity technique, I highly recommend using the buddy system. Remember to keep the socializing to a minimum, as slowing down to chat between exercise will detract from the effectiveness. In fact, you want to keep your heart rate up from one exercise to the next.

I am all for efficient workouts, so try and keep the focus on form and progress, as opposed to ‘having fun.’ I believe there is no amount of pump up music that will make exercise entertaining or fun. Your internal drive should be the sound track.

Choose someone that will not let you blow off the exercise. My best friend and I have gone running together all of two times, when we had the best intentions of running regularly. At the end of the day, we would always rather gab together than exercise. This is not the exercise buddy; you want to pick. You need someone you will listen to. I will never train with my husband again; he refuses to listen and I am not wasting his or my time trying.

I am lucky enough to work with some of the most talented strength trainers in the country. However, I understand that not everyone has this luxury. Maybe this is a great opportunity to make a new friend. What you are looking for is accountability and someone who can accurately start and stop a timer to track improvements. Find someone in your barn or program with similar exercise goals. The best results come from consistency and working your hardest every single time you exercise.

Husband and wife team Daniel and Kaitlin Clasing have plenty of experience keeping each other motivated and on task, both in and out of the saddle!  You can learn more about their program at or their Facebook page. Here they demonstrate the wheelbarrow.  

The Wheel Barrow

Daniel and Kaitlin Clasing. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

  • Sit on your glutes facing your partner. The closer you sit to your heels the greater the challenge.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

  • Place your elbows on your knees.
  • Remember to breath.
  • Your partner is going to hold your ankles, and tip you back (do not lean back, let them tip you back).

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

  • Have your partner tip you back to your point of challenge – where you can engage your abdominals and keep your elbows glued to your legs.
  • Then hold this position until momentary muscle failure is achieved and roll out of it.
  • Partner: Your job is to make sure the person exercising is breathing, and remind them to keep their elbows on their knees.
  • Hold this position for as long as you can.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

  • Then switch and let them enjoy the challenge.
  • If you are holding it for less than one minute, try doing this exercise twice a week until you work up to a minute.
  • If it takes you more than 90 seconds or longer to reach momentary muscle failure increase the challenge by tipping further back or sitting closer to your heels.

Laura Crump Anderson: ‘You Are Going to Fail!’

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She is EN’s fitness columnist. If you missed her series on “lateral work” for rider strength, check out the Beginner NovicePrelim, and Advanced editions. 

This title is not about any New Year’s Resolution you may have set for yourself. Though I have always disliked the concept of “New Year, New You,” I do advocate setting SMART goals to attain success. But working towards any goal, you may (and should) stumble.

This title is about not giving up. Fortunately (and unfortunately), we learn significantly more from our failures than we ever will from our successes. And, as my professional expertise is in a protocol of strength training that embraces failure, namely muscular failure, I want every equestrian to embrace and learn from it too.

Muscle failure, or more commonly referred to as “failure,” is the point at which you can no longer complete a strength training exercise. The muscles are worked to a point of true, deep fatigue. The challenge is to achieve this point of failure without sacrificing physical or executory form. Once muscular failure is achieved, another rep or anymore such stimulation of the same muscle, would be tantamount to trying to relight a fire that has already been lit. What your body craves and needs instead is the proper rest and nutrition to reap the benefits of the exercise. I like to think that once that fire is lit, rest and nutrition are the wood and the air that keep the fire going.

My protocol of strength training practices a philosophy of “one set to failure.” Ideally, the first repetition should feel challenging, but doable. The second repetition should feel significantly heavier, and then heavier again with each passing second. Should you start to shake towards the fourth repetition, rejoice that you are getting closer. Eventually, you can no longer complete the exercise. Instead of pointing the weight down at this point, it’s critical that you continue to push into the weight for an additional 10 seconds. That last 10-second effort should be with everything you have left! Then, set it down. And the added benefit of one set to failure is… YOU ONLY NEED TO DO ONE OF THEM!

Perfect execution is not easily attained. I advise everyone to seek progress rather than perfection, and remember that this a learned skill set. As you hone this skill set, your tolerances for discomfort should fortify as well. If you set the weight down in one exercise and realize you actually had a little more left to give, push yourself harder on the next exercise. Make no mistake, in addition to being physically demanding, strength training to muscular failure requires mental determination as well.

Beware of the pitfalls when maintaining ideal form. Common ways people sacrifice form are speeding up or jabbing at the weight, and moving and wiggling to engage different muscle groups. Moving and wiggling are much easier to correct. However, and especially if training on your own, extra attention must be paid to cadence, as the urge to speed up is strong. Also, any heaving or jabbing at the weight serves the same purpose – you are essentially utilizing acceleration and momentum to move the weight, and not the targeted musculature. These temptations are wrought with risk, as acceleration and momentum increase the potential for injurious force.    

Another example would be finding opportunities to rest in the exercise, such as locking out at the joint. Locking out at the joint also increases the risk of injury, and actually gives the muscle at work a chance to briefly rest. But why delay the inevitable, if true muscular failure is our goal? We won’t be ceasing the exercise until failure is reached, so why delay at the expense of our safety? Again, after achieving true failure, the muscle is stimulated sufficiently and will begin to rebuild stronger, thicker muscle fibers.

The burning sensation you will begin to feel is just the beginning of fatigue. Burning does not mean that you should cease the exercise. Burning is not failure. You must push through the burn. Be clear, a slowly building fiery sensation is very different from acute pain. If you feel any sharp or shooting pain, stop the exercise immediately and consult a doctor before continuing.

Example Exercise: Tricep Extension

This is a great off the horse exercise to improve the half-halt and core strength as well as tone and definition in the arms.

Photo courtesy of Laura Anderson.

Sit on an exercise ball

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

Walk your feet forward and allow the ball to roll up between your shoulder blades.

(Holding here is a great exercise on its own, engaging the core and glutes, or what I like to call “the keys to an independent seat”.) Keep your belly button engaged towards your spine and your glutes squeezed.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

Straighten your arms up towards the ceiling. Ideally, you have a friend to hand you the weights once you are in position. A work around would be to place the hand weights on your torso, until the body is in position.

Note: When your elbows are straight, you are in the locked-out position. You can hold this position all day, because the elbow joint is bearing all the weight and not the tricep muscle. 

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

Slowly, taking a full ten seconds, lower the weights down toward your ears. Keep your elbows pointed straight up towards the ceiling. After slowly changing direction, take another full ten seconds to raise the weights back up, to a point just shy of the lock-out position. 

Failure. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

In the photo above, Haley has reached failure. She is pushing with everything she has, but the weight is not going anywhere. This is the ultimate goal.

If in doubt as to whether or not you have reached failure, lower the weight again, and try to push up slowly one more time (same pace as the first rep). If it moves, you’re not quite there. Once stopped, push for a full ten seconds into that weight. Even though it’s not moving, your triceps are still engaged.

Tip: To keep your elbows pointed up towards the ceiling, have a friend hold your elbows in place.

Time Yourself : Use a stop watch and time yourself. If you can do the exercise for anywhere between 90 seconds and two minutes, keep the weight the same and pushing for more time in the exercise. If you are able to perform the exercises for longer than two minutes before reaching muscular failure, then increase the weight by two pounds.

The Correct Weight: For women, a good place to start is anywhere between 2lbs and 12lbs for the tricep extension exercise. For men, 6-15lbs is plenty.

Both Haley and I use 6lb free weights and could probably manage 8lbs with fresh arms. However, we also both train with professional strength training instructors. If you are exercising without the benefit of a trainer or companion, always opt for a lighter weight. You will require more exercise time to reach failure, but this is preferable to struggling to get in position or maintain form with a heavier weight. The same is true even with a companion. Increasing the weight is pointless if you cannot maintain proper form and cadence.

Remember only one set to failure, so give yourself a week of rest and recovery and then try it again 5-7 days later.

“In sports, you must learn to fail successfully.” – Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence

Advanced ‘Lateral Work’ Exercises for Rider Strength

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She is EN’s fitness columnist and returns this week with the finale of her series on “lateral work” for rider strength. If you missed them, check out the Beginner Novice and Prelim editions. 

As equestrians, we respect the importance of regular exercise, combined with sufficient rest and recovery, for our horses. Regretfully, we tend to forget that we are athletes too and require the same care and attention to perform optimally.

For you, the athlete, regular strength training outside of the saddle will lead to a better connection with your horse, an improved seat, a stronger core (to help hold galloping position), prevention from injury and greater endurance. Just as we keep conditioning schedules or logs for our horses, we need to honor our own conditioning schedules too … even if just for the horse’s benefit.

Laura’s client Haley Carspecken. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

That said, I know few riders who have time to spend 30 minutes most days of the week in the gym. The good news is that science is proving that you don’t have to. Even fewer riders know when during the week is ideal time, for them to strength train outside of the tack.

Take a leap of faith and go against the conventional; try a “less-is-more approach” 20 minutes once or twice a week and you may be amazed with the results. Just like a green horse new to jumping, one must exercise more often than an experienced person until they become confident and proficient at it. Once a week is enough for an individual who is experienced and dedicated, training with a quality personal trainer who emphasizes ‘one-set’ to momentary muscle failure and the paramount importance of maintaining good form. On our own, without instruction, it’s simply more challenging to get the same results with a once a week program.

A perfect example is one of my clients, Haley Carspecken, who has been strength training consistently at InForm Fitness for the last three months. Haley had a big year, professionally, having been named to the USEF 2018 Eventing 18 Program. Haley also got the ride on Center Stage, a competitive Holsteiner gelding, and the pair is currently competing at Preliminary/CCI* level.

Haley Carspecken and True Grace. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

I’ve thought at length as to the best prescription for Haley’s exercise program while she winters in Ocala, FL. Her travels down south will therefore be your gain, as I create an exercise program that will work for her, even without InForm Fitness’ specialized equipment. The solution: Haley will need 20 minutes of high intensity exercise every 4-7 days, to ensure that she gets the results we desire.

My first consideration when building an exercise program will be Haley’s planned competition schedule. It is very important that the exercise program does not interfere with her ability to perform. It is imperative when scheduling your personal fitness workouts to schedule at least one full day of rest before the competition and a full day after a competition or a very intense schooling day. Remember plans can be changed, but if there is no plan you are planning to fail.

With the typical Saturday and or Sunday competition schedule in mind, the ideal day to exercise may be Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. During the weeks when you are not competing, consider adding an additional routine that focuses on core strength on Saturday or Sunday. With some of the winter season horse trials like Full Gallop and Sporting Days being held on a weekday, resort back to ensuring a full day of rest before
and after each competition. You would not dare make your horse go a whole month without a day off. So, listen to your body if you are not feeling strong.

Overtraining is very real and will be detrimental to your improvement. We tend to come out of the gate strong, with a more-is-better mentality. If you are training twice a week, consider trying the once a week routine. I know as event riders and horse owners, we tend to work hard every day, and making time for rest and recover is a challenge. That rest, however, is an essential piece of building muscle.

The Advanced Lateral Work

One reason I love this exercise it is such a great way to work and stabilize your glutes, while engaging through your core. At the same time working on balance and finding a rhythm in the movement, this exercise also applies direct resistance a rider’s chest muscles, which tend to be particularly underdeveloped in equestrians, compared to our trapezius muscles. Note, I would much rather someone do Beginner Novice lateral work with perfect form and control, than even attempt this exercise in the Advanced version. The real challenge is maintaining perfect form for the whole time.

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

 Start on all fours
 Lift in your core
 At the same time, lift your left hand and right leg, keeping your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor
o Be careful not to rock back in your hips — keep your hips poised over top of your planted knee

 Move at a smooth controlled pace (think Tai Chi) of 10 seconds up

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

 At the top of each movement
o Finish the movement through your fingertips keeping your arm straight
o Flex your toes back towards you, engaging the muscles from your glutes to your heels

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

 Slowly at a pace of one inch per second, bring your knee to meet your elbow (typically about 7-8 seconds in)
 Move back up to the top with the same controlled pace
o At the top squeeze and contract all the down the back of your leg, finish the exercise through your fingers like you are reaching out straight ahead

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

 Then lower yourself down to starting position
 Switch so you are doing the same exercise right hand and left leg
 Perform this continued movement until you can no longer maintain good form. If you struggle with form, make sure you are maintaining the perfect Prelim Lateral for at least two minutes on each side, prior to trying this exercise.

Prelim ‘Lateral Work’ Exercises for Rider Strength

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She is EN’s fitness columnist and returns this week with a new exercise for event riders.

I am in favor of No-Stirrups November, but it does not count as exercise! Photo by Lee Rouse.

It’s time to get real and tell you something that as a certified personal trainer is embarrassing to admit: I HATE TO EXERCISE.

Even in college while my friends were marching happily off to Longwood University’s state of the art facilities, I would find any excuse to get out of it … typically, my horse. Unless it was a course which absolutely, positively, no if’s-and’s-or-but’s required my presence, you would not find me in the gym. Intellectually I knew how important exercise was for my overall well-being, but I hated it!

Ever since elementary school I could be found in the barn, riding every possible moment, spending countless hours doing barn chores, and working at all things horse-related. In a strange twist of fate, I suffered from a chronic overuse injury from doing too much. Yes, it’s true: I ended up with overtraining injuries without ever doing any training!

What does that look like, you may ask?

Left: what a cervical spine should look like. Right: what my cervical spine looks like. X-rays courtesy of Advanced Corrective Chiropractic.

My back pain grew so severe by my sophomore year of high school that I quit riding for nearly a year. I only picked it up again because I had a 3-year-old homebred Connemara cross, with a lot of potential, hanging out in my parent’s field. I will forever be grateful to that wonderful horse for breathing a passion for riding back into my life. So I faced a dilemma: How do I do what I love, and remain injury-free?

The answer was simple: exercise.

Today I’m an “adult” and even now there are a myriad of things I would rather do than exercise. Ask my colleagues: I complain the entire time I exercise. If I am honest here, I humbly admit that if did not have them to hold me accountable it would be a challenge to ever work out.

None of my colleagues are strangers to exercise, conventional or otherwise. They even seem to ENJOY it. They say awful things like, “As soon as you get past the first exercise it gets easier,” or “Just do it!” That’s not me. I HATE EXERCISING. I hate the first exercise just as much as the last. The only thing which my colleagues and I agree on is this: It does feel great to be done. Yet I still intellectually know that exercise isn’t just good for me, it’s one of the most important things that I engage in.

How do I know?

I began studying exercise science because I learned firsthand how important fitness is for the equestrian. As eventers we tend to be more fit than most people, but are we fit enough for optimal performance on our horses? As eventers we have extremely demanding schedules. Between riding, caring for our horses, driving, going to work and/or school, and trying to put together something that resembles a life outside of the barn, we tend to exemplify what it means to be an overachiever.

Yet, there are still only 24 hours in the day for us … where can we possibly fit in exercise?

Contrary to conventional exercise philosophy, 20 minutes of high intensity, slow motion strength training done once or twice each week will make a profound difference in your riding. Some words of caution: rest and recovery are important. As it is with our horses, it’s critical to not undermine a sufficient period of rest.

Even when we cannot make it into a training studio like InForm Fitness, there are some simple things that we can do on our own, utilizing high intensity training principles, to develop greater strength, stamina and connection in the saddle.

The Prelim Lateral Work is the next step up from “Beginner Novice ‘Lateral Work’ Exercises for Rider Strength.” This works similar muscle groups, however, requires more focus and balance. If you struggle with this exercise, especially keeping your hips parallel to the ground, perfect this control at the Beginner Novice before attempting Prelim.

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm.

Prelim Lateral Work

  • Start on all fours
  • Lift in your core
  • At the same time, lift your left hand and right leg, keeping your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor.
    Be careful not to rock back in your hips — keep your hips poised over top of your planted knee
  • Move at a smooth controlled pace (think Tai Chi) of 10 seconds up, and 10 seconds down

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm.

  • At the top of each repetition
    • Finish the position strong through your fingertips keeping your arm straight
    • Perform a two-second squeeze at the top, flexing your toes back towards you, and engaging the muscles from your glutes to your heels

If failure does not occur within two minutes, consider adding weight to your ankles and hands the next time.

Remember: perfect repetition requires a smooth controlled pace, with no acceleration at the top or the bottom of the rep. Increase resistance two pounds at a time; it is much better to have too little weight and go longer, than too much weight and sacrifice form.

Want to read more from Laura? Click here.

Beginner Novice ‘Lateral Work’ Exercises for Rider Strength

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She is EN’s fitness columnist and returns this week with a new exercise for event riders.

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm.

If someone says they are doing a high intensity exercise program, extreme or dangerous activities may come to mind. High intensity exercise is not scary, but it is an effective way to build muscle. High intensity just indicates the level of physiological demand from the exercise program, and one can do high-intensity exercise in a very safe way.

Despite what some think, there is no such thing as a long and intense workout. Our bodies can either do short and intense, or long and steady. Studies have shown that endurance athletes are at a higher risk for cardiovascular events. After 20 minutes of intense exercise the physiological adaptation risks begin to outweigh the benefits.

Some females are afraid of strength training because they do not want to bulk up. However, while there is a genetic component that determines how much an individual will or will not bulk up, few females naturally bulk up. Most people will not look at me and think, “I do not want to strength train, because Laura looks like the Hulk.” However, I strength train regularly, using a high-intensity method. I have never been injured while strength training at InForm Fitness.

Photo by Ellen Zangla.

What is the secret? To move through the resistance very slowly…

A traditional repetition of is about four seconds in total. The individual uses a lot of acceleration and momentum to move the weight through their range of motion. A perfect repetition takes between 16 and 24 seconds, the ideal being 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down. It is important to note: The pace should be identical in the positive and the negative direction. So, it is not eight seconds up and 12 seconds down. The turnarounds are the most important part of the exercise; one should be very aware of the urge to speed up.

Adam Zickerman’s “The Power of 10.”

Moving slowly has two advantages. One, by slowing down the repetition the muscles must do more work to move the weight through the full range of motion, instead of relying on momentum to move the weight. The second is a greatly reduced risk of injury, as moving the weight slowly allows you to focus on form and control. The way this works is to fatigue the muscle through inducing momentary muscle failure. If you have tried the exercises in my previous two blogs, you understand the sensation. (Blog 1) (Blog 2)

In short, momentary muscle failure, or popularly termed “failure,” is literally the point at which you work so hard that your muscle can no longer complete the exercise in good form. What is more, you will not need to do multiple sets, as one set to true failure is enough to stimulate change.

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm.

Beginner Novice Lateral Work

  • Start on all fours
  • Slowly elevate your left hand, keeping your shoulders parallel to the ground, stretching your arm out straight
    o Move at a pace of 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm.

  • Return to all fours
  • Then lift your right leg up, as high as you go can while maintaining your hips parallel to the ground
    o Move at a smooth rate of one inch per second
    o Keep your core engaged (belly button to your spine)
    o If your left hip starts to elevate or drop, this where you stop, and smoothly lower your leg back down
    o Same rate of one inch per second
  • When you can lift your leg parallel to the ground, while keeping your hips parallel …
    o Contract in your glutes and flex your toe back toward your face engaging all down the back of your leg
    o Actively squeeze like this for a two second count
    o Lower the leg 10 seconds down

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm.

  • Repeat alternating arms and legs until failure is achieved or you can do this exercise for two minutes
  • Next, switch and do the same thing with right hand and left leg

If failure does not occur within two minutes, the next time you will need to add weights to your hands and ankles. Start at 2 lbs. and increase in the smallest increments you can find. Remember, that good form is much more important than moving heavy weights.

Place yourself in front of a mirror or have a friend watch you to make sure you are keeping your hips and shoulder parallel to the ground. When in doubt slow down!

Try doing this exercise every 5-7 days. This is a good exercise for working your glutes, core and across your chest. In two weeks, I will be releasing the Prelim and Advanced Lateral work exercises but I want everyone to have perfected the form of the Beginner Novice first. Do this exercise before you do the plank (see “The Plank: One Exercise Every Eventer Should Do“); during a 20-minute strength training session a plank to failure is always a great way to close.

How 20 Minutes Per Week Can Improve Your Performance In the Saddle

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She is EN's fitness columnist and returns this week with a new exercise for event riders.

Photos by Tylir Penton

To be successful in eventing you must be able to navigate a dressage test with accuracy and precision, breathe and jump around a quick but demanding show jumping course, and withstand the endurance component as well as the technicality of cross country. So why is it that, unlike in many other sports, most equestrians do not cross train?

Intermediate Event rider Haley Carspecken cross trains at least once a week, she knows that her fitness is just as important as her horse.

Cross Training

What do I mean by cross training? I mean exercise outside of the saddle to improve overall performance in the tack, not just at shows, but also in training rides. Exercise is essential for the athletes performing at the top level of this sport but it is just as important for those looking to become a better rider. If you are not looking to improve, I would ask why are you still riding?

I will be the first person to admit that the best way to get better at riding is with time spent in tack. There is no substitute for sitting on a real live horse and riding as many different horses as possible. This will train your body to respond to the specific needs of each horse. It requires a lot of skill, as well as, fitness for a rider to look like they are barely doing anything at all.

However, times are changing and you will notice that more professionals are addressing their strength, flexibility and endurance outside of the tack to improve their ability to be effective when it matters while riding a horse.

Fiona Coulter riding in a clinic with Lars Petersen. Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

Every Day is Pay Day

A few weeks back I had the privilege to audit a clinic with Olympic dressage rider Lars Petersen. He said something that stuck with me: “In riding, every day is pay day. You get paid for how you rode the day before.”

Our goal should be to put the best foot forward each day and ride to the top of our ability. Our horses are out there each day and working just as hard as we are. We need to respect our horses by treating ourselves like the athletes that we expect them to be.

The Struggle Is Real

All horse and rider pairs are learning each time they work together, with or without a coach on the ground. It is a fact that a rider struggling with their own fitness will be less successful than when they are fresh. You may feel this in your own riding when you are in the tack struggling to get your seat plugged in correctly but when you take a walk break and come back to it feels more doable and in turn the movement goes better.

DO NOT feel discouraged by this. It is amazing working through the struggle and achieving success,. This is also what makes good riders great. Plus, if it was easy, I imagine many eventers would find themselves quite bored!

Strength training is an essential piece to success in the saddle. The number one excuse I hear eventers say is that they do not have time. If that is you, watch the amazing time management lecture above from the late renowned Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch.

Everyone can find 20 minutes in their week to improve their health, increase energy, reduce pain and improve core strength. It is worth finding the time to exercise, especially when it is only 20 minutes once or twice a week.

The second most frequent response I get from eventers — and this one makes me a little crazy — is: “I know so many other riders that really need to work on their fitness, but I do not need too because … (insert excuse here).”

Any excuse is just that, whether you are a working student, a trainer, an amateur or have an amazing horse. These are all excuses. I am aware there is a lot of work that goes into maintaining a barn. However, if you are going to sit on a horse, your fitness is important and this is a fact. Exercising regularly, at least once a week, will improve your riding.

Kaitlin Spurlock of Clasing Equestrian demonstrates a wall sit. Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

The Wall Sit

Making things overly complicated is going to greatly reduce the consistency and stickability of any exercise program. So I present to you a great exercise to safely learn the sensation of momentary muscle failure, which should be the goal each time you exercise.

  • Stand with your back against a flat wall with your feet out in front.
  • Let your back slide down the wall so your legs are at a 90-degree angle (like you are sitting in a chair).
  • Keep your back straight and your arms by your side or in your lap. Do not push on the wall to try to hold yourself up. Never sacrifice form to increase time!
  • Hold this position for as long as you can. This is when momentary muscle failure occurs.
  • When you can do longer hold your form, slide down the wall gently until you are sitting on the floor.

The Plank: One Exercise Every Eventer Should Do

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. If she had to pick one exercise to help event riders, it's the plank! Read on to learn how to incorporate the plank into your exercise routine.

One exercise every eventer should do. Photo by Laura Crump.

Imagine if there was one exercise that could help improve your sitting trotting, galloping position and take you one step closer to mastering the ideal independent seat connection with your horse. The good news is this exercise does exist, and it is a timeless one that does not require any fancy equipment, magical device, or even your horse — just your own body and a lot of persistence and determination.

Not that kind of plank …

It is the plank!

The plank is excellent because you must engage your abdominals, lower back, shoulders, arms and glutes. By the end of a properly executed plank, you are begging for a well-deserved rest. The other great thing about the plank is one can easily modify the intensity by changing their body position.

While this exercise will not turn you into a whole new rider, it will improve your ability to engage your core, which is essential for everything you do on your horse.

Kaitlin Spurlock, Advanced level eventer, demonstrates the Beginner Novice plank. Photo by Laura Crump.

Beginner Novice Plank:

  • On your knees, place your hands directly under your shoulders.
  • Hold you head in a neutral position.
  • Maintain a straight line from your knee to your shoulders.
  • If you can hold this position comfortably for two minutes, go to the Preliminary plank.

Haley Carspecken, Intermediate level eventer, demonstrates Preliminary (The Classic) Plank. Photo by Laura Crump.

Preliminary (The Classic) Plank:

  • Place your elbows underneath your shoulders.
  • Squeeze your glutes to keep your back straight and strong.
  • Remember to breathe and “embrace the burn.”
  • If you feel a sharp pain in your lower back, work on improving the Beginner Novice plank for at least six weeks, then come back to this exercise.
  • When you start to shake, that is OK. Maintain this plank until you are no longer able to keep you back straight.
  • Time yourself. When you are holding this plank for over two minutes, move up to the Advanced plank.

Kaitlin Spurlock demonstrates the Advanced Plank. Photo by Laura Crump.

Advanced Plank:

  • First, master the Beginner Novice plank and Preliminary plank positions.
  • Keep your arms straight and hands under your shoulders.
  • Squeeze your glutes and keep your back straight.
  • Keep your feet planted.
  • Slowly and controlled, move your left hand to meet the right hand. Hold for three seconds.
  • Bring your left hand back to the start position.
  • Slowly and controlled, move your right to meet the left hand. Hold for three seconds.
  • Return to start position and continue switching back and forth. Make sure the motion is in control and with intent.
  • Push yourself to a point where you feel the burn.
  • When you can no longer maintain the correct position, lower yourself back down onto your stomach.

Advanced Plank Hints:

  • Try to touch the ground as softly as possible. Don’t slam your hands down.
  • Keep your back straight and try to keep your shoulders parallel with the ground.

Push To True Muscle Fatigue:

Hold every plank for as long as you can in good form. Keep a timer near you and keep a record of these times. This way you can see concrete evidence of your improvements. The goal is to hold the plank for at least two minutes. If you can do them for longer, well done. If you can only hold them for 10 seconds, that is a great starting point!

No matter which plank you are doing, it is important that you always push yourself to that absolute point when you can no longer maintain your form.

Riders can come up with a list of reasons why they do not have time to exercise. However, studies have shown that exercise outside of the saddle can improve the functional ability of an equestrian athlete significantly.

Whether you are a professional riding 12 horses each day or a weekend warrior with one horse, the plank will help improve your core strength. Riding is very physically demanding and strength is a necessary piece of the puzzle to continue in this sport safely and effectively.

How Often?

This is the part that you may need to take a leap of faith. You should only need to do the plank once or twice per week, leaving you with more time to spend in the saddle! Rest and recovery is an essential part of any exercise program, and I promise that you will start noticing a difference if you are consistent in doing the plank every four to seven days.

The easiest way to do this is pick a day once a week: “Every Wednesday We Plank.” Put it in your calendar and do it!