So you’ve managed to secure yourself a saddle seat on our hugely popular Scottish Borders Ride – well done, that’s half the battle won! But before the adventure begins, you’ll need to ensure you’re fit enough to not just take part in, but wholeheartedly enjoy this ride of EPIC proportions.
Ask anyone who’s completed The Scottish Borders Ride: it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. The pace, particularly on the two Common Ride days, is seriously fast and a whole lot of FUN. You’ll need to be fit and strong enough to ride in a two-point position (where you only have two points of contact with the saddle: your legs, over which your weight is balanced) for minutes at a time. Being up off your horse’s back while riding at a faster pace is important for the horse’s welfare, and it’s also a much more suitable (and comfortable) position for the English all-purpose saddles you’ll be riding in.
In other words, don’t underestimate the importance of strength and fitness for your overall enjoyment of the experience!
Nothing beats actual time in the saddle to work on your riding fitness, but not everyone can ride multiple times a week to prepare themselves. So along with riding exercises, we’ve shared some exercises you can do at home. Even if you can ride regularly, we still recommend taking note of our suggested off-the-horse exercises; ultimately, they will only help your riding.
Please don’t be intimidated by these exercises! Yes, you need to be fit for this ride, but we all have different day-to-day lives and if you’re generally active, you’ll already have a good base level of fitness. Not everyone will need to implement these routines in order to get fit for this holiday. Gerard Schmid is a fantastic example – he was 66 years old when he completed The Scottish Borders Ride with his daughter Theresa and a combination of regular trail riding, property maintenance and caring for his animals gave him all the fitness he needed.
YAY for spending quality time in the saddle in the lead up to your departure! There’s nothing that will prepare you better. Different types of riding will help different aspects of your fitness; below are some ideas for the ultimate pre-Scottish Borders riding routine.
Disclaimer: This will be different for everyone depending on whether you have access to arenas, undulating trails etc and whether you can ride multiple times per week; do what you can, and remember you can always combine riding with off-the-horse training.
For at least 12 weeks prior to departure, aim to ride at least twice a week, with the aim of increasing this to four or five times a week in the month before your trip. But don’t just get on, ride for a while and get off again. Instead, try mixing it up:
- Spend a flat work session working on your seat and position to help with your general strength and stability in the saddle. Try to do this at least once a week, for 30 to 40 minutes at a time.
- While there is no jumping included in the Scottish Borders Ride, taking jump lessons will see you working on your balance and two-point seat.
- Head out on a trail ride with some friends over undulating terrain. Practice trotting and cantering both up AND downhill! Aim for at least a couple of two to three hour trail rides if you can, even if you have to go at a steadier pace to spend longer in the saddle – it will all help!
And it goes without saying that if you can do your riding in an English-style saddle, this will go a long way towards helping you feel comfortable in the tack used on The Scottish Borders Ride. If you don’t have an English saddle, try riding bareback at least twice a week.
Off the Horse Exercises
If you CAN’T ride regularly in the lead-up to your trip, or if you want to combine on- and off-the-horse training, here are some ideas and exercises for you to add into your fitness routine at least 12 weeks prior to departure. If you can’t ride, aim to dedicate 30 minutes a day, five days a week working on your fitness. I guarantee you’ll feel a whole lot more prepared and excited when you step off the plane in Scotland and begin your ride!
Riding requires a specific form of stamina, stability and suppleness, and core strength is at the heart of this – it’s your stability centre, whether you’re on your feet or on your horse’s back. You should work your core three times a week.
- A plank is one of the most effective core exercises as it engages both your abs and your back, along with other muscles (hello triceps, quads and glutes) as you squeeze to stabilise. Don’t be intimidated – start by holding a plank for 20 seconds, then the next time try for 25, and so on and so forth until you can hold a plank for two minutes straight (in the last month prior to departure). You can do it, we’re all cheering you on!
- Oh, and if you want to really challenge yourself, try some side planks!
- Sit-ups are another good core building exercise and there are many versions to choose from: traditional sit-ups, stability ball sit-ups, V-sits, bicycle crunches etc. Google has plenty of diagrams illustrating how to do these if you’re unsure. Start by doing 10 reps, then rest for 30 seconds, then repeat for three rounds. Just like with planks, keep increasing your reps in the month before departure – maybe you can get to 50!
- If you’re worried about lower back pain, then you can’t go past superman holds, which not only strengthen your back, but also work your glutes (more on that later) and of course your core.
Let’s face it, your legs are one of your most effective riding aids! Having strong legs is super important for riding in a two-point position as it helps with even weight distribution and balance. If you aren’t able to spend consistent time in the saddle each week, then you should be focusing on leg exercises at least three times a week.
- Sumo squats are extremely beneficial for riders. Not only do they work your entire lower body (quads, hamstrings, glutes), but their wider stance focusses more attention on the all-important abductor muscles. Find your own rhythm and pace when it comes to reps, but aim to be able to do two minutes of squats non-stop by the time your ride departure rolls around.
- Equestrian fitness guru Kelly Altschwager of Western Workouts recommends standing split squats, Bulgarian split squats, and single and double-leg hip thrusts. When doing split squats, try to maintain a 90 degree angle in both legs at the lowest point of the squat. This ensures that your inner thighs, outer thighs, hamstrings and glutes all get worked. Click here for more great tips from Kelly.
- Lunges work the major muscles in your legs, and also give you a good core workout (you’ll need to actively engage your core to ensure you’re balanced). You can also try modifications such as stepping backward instead of forward, walking lunges, or side lunges.
- Glute bridges are fantastic for stabilising the pelvis and hips. And there are plenty of variations you can build up to, to keep you focussed and motivated – single leg raises are a challenging and rewarding modification.
The upper body is crucial in maintaining the correct riding position (shoulders back, chest open). When your upper body is strong, you can balance better and maintain independent, soft hands no matter the terrain or the pace.
- Pushups are great for working the upper body (triceps, pecs and shoulders) and will also strengthen your lower back and core. Don’t worry, you can do them with your knees on the ground!
- Bonus point: if you have access to a dip bar or set of rings, dips will do wonders for your arms and shoulders. Try combining narrow and wide dips to switch the emphasis between muscle groups.
So there are the exercises; now how do you implement them? One of the most popular ways is through supersets, i.e. several exercises done consecutively and repeated two to three times. Here’s an example: 10 sumo squats, 10 V-ups, 10 dips and a 20-second plank hold. Repeat.
For more inspiration, check out our article on equestrian fitness with Kelly from Western Workouts, our list of equestrian workouts you can do at home and our more general guide to getting saddle fit for a riding holiday.
And most important of all…don’t forget to have FUN! That’s what The Scottish Borders Ride is all about!