Horseback riding: Core essentials

Farm Forum

Susan Meyer of Rapid City enjoys horseback riding.

Because her love for this activity requires stamina and strength, she is taking advantage of FIT To Ride, a new customized personal fitness training class for horse riders.

The training, which is helping to hone Meyer’s horse-riding skills, is offered by Carol White of Carol White’s Personal Fitness Studio in Rapid City.

“I’ve been working out with Carol now for about a year and a half,” Meyer said.

“I’m interested in general fitness but then also being fit enough to ride better, and she has developed this program that helps riders like me — especially amateurs like me — who don’t work outside all day and who have a desk job and need to be more fit for horse riding,” said Meyer, who has been riding horses for the majority of her life. She rides about five times a week during the spring, summer and fall. Though she is an attorney by trade, she also competes for fun.

While Meyer admits that horseback riding is for enjoyment, the activity is demanding.

According to Fitness Trainer Carol White, who grew up taking care of horses on a farm in Maine, horseback riding engages every major muscle group. Therefore, strength, balance and cardio are important for riders.

“We want to get people fit to ride when they’re riding their horses,” said White, adding that her goal is to help riders become partners with their horses. She does this by incorporating fitness equipment and exercises to increase their strength, endurance, agility and posture.

Meyer says the core strength and balance exercises have improved her performance in barrel racing competitions. “We have powerful horses that require you to stay in the center and stay out of their way and give them good direction, and you simply can’t do that unless you’re centered and unless your core is working to keep you out of the way.”

Aside from FIT To Ride, there are many specialized classes available in the Black Hills, including a sports performance class for high school athletes offered by Nucelo Fitness.

According to Fitness Instructor Jill Bunkowske, who co-owns Nucleo Fitness with her daughter Melanie Cruse, the sports performance class is designed to help athletes excel in their sports and provide a solid internal core foundation.

“No matter what their sport is, they will have a stronger core and be able to function better,” Bunkowske said, explaining that the name nucleo is Italian for core.

Bunkowske, who trains athletes ranging from basketball players and runners to golfers and tennis players, said that although the athletes she works with are talented, the ones who participate in her class are “usually surprised that their core isn’t maybe as strong as they thought.”

“We teach them how to engage muscles,” added Bunkowske. “We teach firing patterns of muscles. So it’s not just working your abdominals, which they thought they were always working, but very specifically how to engage inner core and how to engage outer core muscles.”

Other advantages, according to Bunkowske, include, “their posture changes, they’re not as prone to injury — which is awful for an athlete to be in the middle of a season and injured and miss out — and, of course, aesthetically, they like what they see,” Bunkowske said.

Though her students tend to like the results, for Bunkowske, “the most important thing is whether or not we’re teaching them how to engage muscles correctly so they can be strong from the inside out.”

Meyer, the attorney who takes classes designed for horse riders, has been pleasantly surprised with the changes she’s seen in her body. “It’s not easy for me to want to go workout, but it is fun, it’s not painful and as I’ve seen the results, it really makes me want to keep doing it,” Meyer said.