Sitting on a horse might not be your idea of serious exercise. You may even have heard some people say: “surely it’s the horse that does all the work!” But nothing could be further from the truth. Horse riding requires discipline, poise and lots of muscle strength, especially if you are on a particularly stubborn horse that requires extra work from you!
Perhaps you’ve just enjoyed seeing the races at Ascot this year and are now considering horse riding as a reliable form of regular exercise. Let’s look at the health benefits of taking your favourite four-legged friend for a weekend hack or a gallop across the UK’s glorious countryside:
Strengthens core muscles
You will need to use your core (mid-body) muscles in order to prevent yourself from bouncing around in the saddle. This constitutes isometric exercise whereby certain muscles must remain in a certain position in order to ride correctly.
Horse riding is regarded as especially good for working the core muscles that stabilise your trunk; that is your pelvic, abdominal and back muscles. But it’s not just about the strength of the core muscles. Your coordination and stability are also greatly enhanced as you ride and the more you do so, the more your body learns to move effortlessly with the motion of the horse.
Improves balance and coordination
Keeping your balance becomes more challenging the faster the horse moves. So turning, cantering, galloping and jumping are more difficult than a simple jog or trot. You must develop good coordination skills in order to move your body with the horse so that the horse remains comfortably balanced.
By sitting in specific poses, it’s likely that your posture out of the saddle will improve as well, the more you ride.
Creates flexibility and muscle tone
In addition to your core muscles, your inner thighs and pelvic muscles get a good workout as you position yourself on the horse – and stay in the saddle! Muscle strengthening from horse riding can be as effective as any typical weight-bearing exercise. Your arms and shoulders get a work out too as they are constantly holding the reins while communicating with the horse’s mouth.
Good cardiovascular exercise
Depending on the type of riding you do and the speed the horse moves, riding can require a good deal of effort, energy, and therefore cardiovascular capacity. This helps you to maintain a healthier heart than if you stay sedentary all day. Once trotting or cantering across the countryside, wind in your hair, you’ll be reaping in the cardiovascular benefits from all the fresh air and the adrenaline you will be generating. Meanwhile, even a light trot burns enough calories to equal a stint of moderate intensity exercise.
Improves mental strength
Both exercise and spending time with animals are believed to raise your levels of the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin. This makes horse riding great for the health of your brain, emotions and body.
A study conducted by The British Horse Society confirms: “Horse riding stimulates mainly positive psychological feelings. Horse riders are strongly motivated to take part in riding by the sense of well-being they gain from interacting with horses. This important positive psychological interaction with an animal occurs in very few sports.”
What’s more, “being outdoors and in contact with nature is an important motivation for the vast majority of horse riders.”
Improves general strength
Riding a horse is not the only way to give your body a workout. Out of the saddle, you’ll continue getting good exercise by working in the barn, hauling hay, mucking out, tacking up and taking care of a horse. All this activity strengthens your muscles and increases your cardiovascular capacity. Bear in mind that these are not light tasks so you’ll need a fair amount of strength and endurance to succeed.