One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to strength & conditioning for the equestrian sports, is that equestrian athletes should exclusively be doing “functional training.”
Functional training usually encompasses single leg/single arm work, core exercises, stability and balance work - or anything else that focuses on the smaller muscle groups and fine tuning motor control.
These qualities are certainly important for any equestrian to develop due to the high level of body control and awareness required by the sport. On the horse, the goal is usually to keep the corrections and movements you’re making subtle and accurate.
However - what can’t be forgotten is that an equestrian still has to control and direct a 1,000 pound animal. That takes strength. Especially if - the horses are a little fresh that day, and maybe are demanding some larger and more powerful cues.
A general strength foundation is also vital for all of the physical work that happens out of the saddle and in the barn.
Building strength means working to improve your body’s ability to activate and coordinate the greatest number of muscle fibers all at once. The most effective way to build strength is through the classic, compound lifts that do better than any other exercises at directly improving this large scale activation and coordination - squats, deadlifts, presses, and pull-ups.
These happen to be the exercises that are most frequently excluded from an equestrian’s strength & conditioning program, due to them not being “functional” or “specific.” To do so is to neglect an important part of building preparedness for the sport.
An effective strength and conditioning program for an equestrian goes beyond hyper-focusing on a single demand of the sport, but addresses all of the demands of the sport in phases throughout the year according to the competitive schedule and the strengths & weaknesses of the individual athlete.