Becoming a better horseback rider starts in the gym.

Just like other athletes hone their bodies and minds away from their sport, riders need to work on specific muscle groups and skills – before they swing into the saddle. That holds true for serious equestrians in competition or causal riders hitting the trail. Even first-time riders will benefit from exercising before they get on horseback; they’re less likely to fall off.

That’s the message fitness expert Kori Lyn Angers brought earlier this month to Sacramento for the 16th annual Western States Horse Expo.

A staple of this expo has been its educational clinics, taught by a cavalry of horse experts. Among those featured at this year’s expo were 40-time world champion rider and trainer Bob Avila, Olympic silver medalist Gina Miles and Eitan Beth-Halachmy, the father of “cowboy dressage.”

“This is my first time to be part of it,” said Angers, who presented clinics each day. “As a strength and conditioning specialist, I work with athletes of all sorts, but I’ve been a rider since I was 3 or 4 years old. I was a competitive rider; Western, reining, you name it. I eventually competed on the show jumping circuit.”

So, the horse expo’s audience represents herself, she said. “I want to get riders ready for that exercise (on horseback). It not only helps you; it will help your horse.”

Still a recreational rider, Angers chose sports medicine and conditioning as a profession. “I’ve worked with all sorts of pro athletes – NFL players, hockey players, NBA and pro baseball players,” said Angers, who is based in Los Angeles.

“Basically, you need full mobility in your hips,” she said. “If you don’t have three-way mobility in your hip joints, it’s hard to ride. You can’t move your legs back (to control the horse). Then, your lumbar takes the hit; that’s when you get back pain (from riding).”

Flex your ankles, too. “You need that ankle mobility so you can put your heel down (in the stirrup).”

In addition to time on a stationary bike or elliptical trainer to condition muscles, Angers also suggests agility and balance drills. “You want to be able to balance on either foot,” she said.

“These are simple things,” she said. “They’re not going to exhaust you. They’ll prepare you for the saddle. And you’ll not only be a better rider, you’ll enjoy it more, too.”