Rider Stamina/ Fitness Jumping

Took the new mare to her first and second shows (as a pair, she’s shown tons without me) these past two weekends and my lord I am out of shape! I am good flatting, and even jumping around “at home” but at shows she turns into a bit of a dragon and requires a lot more active riding which leads to huffing and puffing after a few jumps to a round. I KNOW I’m out of jumping shape having had a greenie for the past 3 years (jumping low and not jumping) but don’t really run into this unless we’re doing a full course so I need to address off the horse. Any suggestions??

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More miles in the saddle and a good cardio and strength program at the gym?


If you have a stationary bike or access to one, the “two point” position is the closest thing I’ve ever done to actual riding without being on a horse.

Other that that, jogging, swimming, and Pilates have helped me so much (core, core, core). I realized a few years ago that I had to be more fit to keep up with my horse’s gaits. Through increased fitness, my riding has improved (not easy at my age) as has my confidence.

Recognizing that you need to change your lifestyle is a huge step! You’ll get there.


Do not take a break in between the warmup canter and jumping/poles/etc. Just keep cantering. I aim for at least 5 minutes of nonstop canter each ride.
A lot of riders will canter one way, stop. Switch directions. Canter. Stop for a minute. Jump a few things. Stop. Jump a few more. I used to do this too and then I realized that my horses didn’t develop the fitness for 10-15 jump efforts and we would start to run out of gas in the tank towards the end of the round.


Are you sure that you aren’t actually just holding your breath in the show environment, leading you to feel like you’re needing to gasp for air/unfit?


It’s likely both! I know I’ve lost a fair bit of riding fitness and can be a bit anxious at shoes and struggle to breathe correctly (instead end up breathing shallow unless I consciously correct it).

Well, for breathing around the course, hum or sing. Or swear - as long as you’re pushing air in and out.

But it also sounds like you could use some cardio - bike, run, swim - whatever you can do. Turns out that riders have to be athletes (who knew?). :slight_smile:


I don’t think you can get fit enough to ride a horse riding one horse.

I would think that two days a week of strength/core training in the gym and working up to two or three 3 mile runs a week would get you plenty fit to ride, and also generally keep your bones strong and your heart healthy for overall wellness purposes.

Horse riding or not, it’s nice to be able to sprint up stairs, easily toss a bag into the overhead bin, or catch a train by briefly running an 8 min mile pace through the station.


I was just about to ask are you breathing? I was notorious for holding my breath when I started the jumpers especially in the jump off :grimacing:


For the not breathing thing, I remind myself to breathe in every turn, which helps. I need to get better at cross training, but I have found riding more than one helps a lot with fitness if you can pick up extra rides.


Don’t forget to add little things into your day. On top of walking the dog, running or x-c skiing, and riding two horses, I add these in

a) While brushing your teeth stand on one leg. Balance and proprioception are important while riding, and these things tend to worsen with age.
b) If I’m ready for work early, or I’m waiting for SO, or waiting for something in the oven, etc I get down into a plank or I do some squats.
c) I always take the stairs!
d) Park further away in parking lots

These are small things that help to increase your base level of fitness.


I’ve been a breath holder at various times in my life - I could hold it for an entire jumper course + jump off back when I was a long distance runner - awful.

Running coach and show jumping trainer both told me to learn to talk / sing / repeat mantras/ count while riding and running.

if you’re talking, you’re breathing.


I once read an article from Archie cox (I think) saying his hunters have to be fit enough to canter 10 laps with a little cavaletti/line something. 10 efforts, extra cardio and you have a horse fit to show (theoretically)


I have a similar problem! I thought it was a fitness issue for a while and was beating myself up about it until I realized I really don’t have any problems at home. It happens to me at shows even when I’m not nervous at all, it’s just that little extra adrenaline that kicks in during an event that throws my system out of whack. In addition to messing with your breathing, it also raises your heart rate so you start from a higher baseline of stress than you would during a normal ride at home. I’m still going to keep up my fitness to try and buy myself as much “space” as possible for the heart rate fluctuations, and at my next show I’m going to try some deep breathing exercises before heading into the ring to see if that helps.

And honestly, some degree of adrenaline is unavoidable (and healthy!), so I feel better knowing it’s not something I’m doing wrong or that I’m just not working hard enough that’s causing the issue. There’s a ton of good material out there on sports psychology and strategies to minimize the impacts of the adrenaline rush on our performance. Tonya Johnston’s episodes on the Plaidcast podcast are a great place to start, and I also like the Practical Horseman podcast since they always ask their guests about how they deal with show day nerves and get some very relatable answers in response!

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I definitely try to do the talking (counting my strides usually) on course which helps some. I have two at home to ride but having them at home don’t have the ability to pick up any other rides. I am certain I can get fitter even just riding one, as the last time I was jumping around courses of (some) height I only had one and was much fitter than I am currently. Love all the ideas!

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Because of the length of courses on XC, eventers have to be especially fit. Think 25-40 fences over a 6-8 minute course. I would recommend, as stated even a minimal cardio work out on a bike or such (I have a recumbent bike at home so I can watch a show while cranking out miles, and I ride my bike at all competitions). This will at least get you more aerobically fit.

I would then do extended trot (30 minutes or more) out of the ring, on the road or trails, especially with hills. Working your core strength is huge to effective yet gentle riding. The stronger your core and legs, the more you can balance without relying on the reins etc. I do this at least once a week. As I get into the season, I move to gallop sets (3 5-7 minutes gallops with 5 minute intervals) once a week for both my horse’s and my cardio. It also gives a place for my horse to burn energy and be less reactive.

I also ride bareback regularly. This also works the legs and torso. I do this even on the hot horses. The actually seem to settle because there is better connection between my seat and them. But this is a great workout.