When exercise is another drive to town or another expense, it can be hard to justify even if you know it’ll pay dividends to your horse-loving lifestyle and wellbeing. Fortunately, you don’t have to have a full-service gym membership, or an all-the-bells-and-whistles home gym to stay fit for your horse life. In fact, many everyday household and around-the-barn items can be quickly re-purposed as exercise equipment.
A good pair of multi-purpose tennis shoes, that aren’t worn down and falling apart at the seams, and comfortable exercise clothes are your only necessities—though you can exercise in boots and jeans if you’re tight on time. Beyond that, you can get a quick, effective workout from a few basic, yet often overlooked, pieces of equipment, and as your fitness level improves add additional workout tools to your arsenal to achieve even greater results.
Use What You Have
Many of the items you use to care for your horse are overlooked as exercise opportunities. This is just a small sample of items with how they might be used; after you’ve gotten started get creative with new implements. Most importantly, have fun, be safe, and stay consistent.
Turn large feed buckets or troughs upside down to complete assisted push-ups or dips to build upper-body and core strength. Remember, the higher the bucket, the more assistance they provide, so if you can’t quite complete a push-up on a water bucket, scale it back and use a trough or larger bucket.
Evenly fill two similar-size buckets with water and carry them for a designated time or distance. This exercise, fittingly called farmers’ walks, is a common way for even the most avid gym-goers to build all-over strength and endurance, but especially upper-body, core, and grip strength.
Have fun with wheelbarrow races with your friends, spouse, or kids, and elevate your heart rate to improve endurance. If it’s strength you’re after, fill the wheelbarrow with manure or hay bales and push it for a pre-determined distance or time to build core, glute, and upper-body strength.
Well-contained grain in hardy bags can be tossed laterally or vertically for a calorie-scorching and endurance-enhancing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session. Carry them for distance or time for total-body strength and endurance development, or use it to make regular bodyweight squats more challenging by holding it over your arms (find videos of Zercher squats online) or hugging it to your body.
Hay or Straw Bales
The surface of bales isn’t as forgiving for hands as other barn or household items, but tied bales of straw or hay can be used to perform upper-body exercises, such as tricep dips or push-ups. They are useful for lower-body workouts as well. HIIT workouts that incorporate hay-bale jumps, step-ups, or burpee to hay-bale step-ups boost your conditioning and provide a total-body workout.
Similar to hay bales, buckets, and tack trunks, a sturdy chair is a bench alternative used to perform upper-body exercises, or even step-ups. Choose a sturdy chair that’s able to support your entire body weight, and place it on an even surface to avoid slippage that could lead to unnecessary scrapes or frustration. Avoid jumping onto the chair for the same reason: it might come out from underneath you.
Use a sturdy track truck for similar exercises as you would a bale; the benefit of a tack truck over a bale is that you don’t get stray pieces that lodge themselves in your clothes, hair, or shoes. Plus, a tack truck is easier on your hands.
There’s something to be said about the term farm-boy (or girl) strength. Many of the tasks required to maintain property also build strength. For example, use a sledgehammer to pound a large spare car or tractor tire for multiple repetitions and sets. This simulates pounding stakes or chopping wood, and engages the core and upper-body.
Step-up or jump onto the to elevate your heart rate and improve conditioning, and to incorporate lower-body strength building exercise. Multiple small tires can also be used as an obstacle course to improve spatial awareness, coordination, and conditioning.
If the tire’s small enough, you can flip it end over end—a great total body workout. One caution to this: form. This should be a lower body, not lower back exercise. Overly rounding your back without using your legs can cause injury. Setup with a flat back just like you would to pick up a heavy box or to deadlift, and if you’re unsure, ask a professional for help or consultant online videos, such as those from Western Workouts and the Saddle Strong program.
If you’re uncomfortable with the stability of the items found around your home, or to increase the intensity of your exercises, sturdy weight benches, assorted-weight dumbbells, and soft medicine or slam balls are low-cost investments for a home gym.
Similar to many of the items listed, these can assist with basic exercises. Hug a medicine ball or hold a dumbbell, for example to add intensity to goblet or traditional squats, lunges, or step-ups. A yoga mat is helpful to make stretching and on-the-ground exercises, such as planks, lunge variations, and unmodified push-ups more comfortable.
It doesn’t matter where you move or what you use to move; the important takeaway is that you do it. Consistent exercise not only improves long-term health, but also your riding. Proper care for self is just as important to achieve your horse-related goals as is careful care of your horse himself. Make time for yourself and be consistent. Your hard work will pay off in the saddle.
If you aren’t sure where to start to reach your fitness goals, check out Saddle Strong: The 6-Week Rider Fitness Program. It’s online and the workouts can be done at your own pace and place. You’ll also receive dietary guidelines and other helpful advice to help stay on track.