If you don’t fancy the gym, you might want to consider taking up horse riding. People who ride and care for horses are reaping stacks of major health benefits, both physical and mental. This post is all about the top health benefits of horse riding that will get you wanting to saddle up after reading!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or health professional. If you have a health condition, please consult your doctor to make sure it’s safe to ride.
Is Horse Riding Good for You?
The short answer — yes, it most certainly is! When experienced equestrians seem to float gracefully along on their horse’s back, they make it all look so easy. Horse riding is, however, pretty physically demanding which explains why so many riders have thighs of iron.
Physical benefits aside, riding and spending time with horses can be incredibly therapeutic. The mental health benefits simply cannot be understated. Let’s look a little more closely at some of these physical and mental health benefits.
#1: Cardiovascular Health
Horse riding and caring for a horse is great for your heart — period. Like with other forms of workouts, the effort involved in horse riding gets your heart pumping and your blood oxygen levels increase.
Riding isn’t the only way to get a cardiovascular workout. Simply being around and caring for horses is sure to get your heart rate up — think stable work, mucking out, grooming, and to-ing and fro-ing as you attend to your beloved’s every whim! Ah, the joys.
#2: Burns Calories
Horse riding is a fantastic calorie-burner according to this study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science. Dr Dennis Sigler, a horse specialist, and professor of animal science stated —
“Riding a horse for 45 minutes at a walk, trot, and canter can burn up to 200 calories. If you do something a bit more strenuous such as cutting or reining, that can come out to nearly seven calories per minute for the entire length of the riding period.”
Dr Sigler also mentioned that horse riding could be an alternative way to work out for people unable to engage in other physical activities, like jogging.
#3: Lowers Stress
If you’re a horse lover, the simple fact of being with and around your horse is enough to help reduce your stress levels. Interacting with horses by talking, grooming, and just doing what you love has a calming effect and is likely to boost those happy hormones.
Horse riding itself is a great way to help take your mind off whatever difficulties you may be experiencing in day-to-day life. Additionally, the repetitive trotting motion of horses can be soothing to both the rider and the horse.
#4: Flexibility and Range of Motion
It’s no secret that people who ride horses have amazing flexibility. Flexibility is a hugely important part of learning to ride well, as it determines how well and how smoothly you move with your horse when riding.
New riders who haven’t developed flexibility yet sometimes sit stiffly on the horse’s back, either due to nerves or to gain what feels like greater control. This can result in tense joints and muscle aches. The horse and rider should move forward together in a fluid motion. This is why flexibility training is so critical for equestrians.
Horse riding stretches all major muscle groups and contributes to maintaining muscle elasticity as we age.
#5. Muscle Toning
What better way to tone your muscles than riding a horse? When riding, the hip and leg muscles get the ultimate workout. This is why many horse riders have strong thighs and calves — because they’re using them to the full extent every time they ride.
Muscle toning can help to prevent musculoskeletal disorders that sometimes occur as a result of sitting for a long time, according to Dr. Yong-Seok Jee of Hanseo University. His study found that after eight weeks of riding, thigh, hip, and torso muscle tone was significantly better.
And just imagine what all the mucking out and sack lifting does for your biceps.
#6. Core Strength
In addition to your legs, hips, and torso, horse riding develops your core muscles. Your core is also known as your ‘trunk’ — it consists of several muscles in your abdominal, chest and glute areas.
When riding, your goal is to not get thrown from your horse. So, you engage your core muscles to help you balance in the saddle. A strong core helps you keep good posture and balance, skills that all equestrians need.
#7: Coordination Skills
Coordination is key when riding. If you think about it, a lot of things have to be in sync for a smooth riding experience. The way that the rider controls the reins or uses their legs sends signals to the horse so that he can understand what you want him to do. Poor coordination can result in a confused horse that doesn’t know what you expect.
Many riders don’t realize how much coordination affects a horse’s performance. Luckily, there are some exercises that you can do to fix coordination issues when riding. As you develop your coordination skills, you’ll simultaneously grow into a better, more confident rider.
#8: Better Circulation
As horse riding results in a faster heart rate, it makes perfect sense that your circulatory system will benefit. Good circulation means that oxygen is moving through your body properly, which in turn means that all your organs are functioning better.
The circulatory system is also important in fighting off and preventing illness. White blood cells are moving fluidly around the body and are therefore better able to do their work. Plus, you’ll feel warmer in winter — a huge bonus for horse people who spend a lot of time outside!
#9: Better Posture
This is one of the biggest challenges for new riders. Due to tension and nervousness, many beginner riders end up leaning too far forward. This is the body’s natural reaction to the new situation it finds itself in. Most riding schools will teach correct posture in the first few lessons as it is part of what forms the basis for good riding skills.
Good posture has its benefits outside of the horse riding world, too. Having good posture helps prevent some painful conditions down the line, such as back pain and spinal issues.
#10: Develop Strength in Your Arms and Legs
This one is tied in pretty closely with muscle tone. Riding and taking care of horses helps to develop your overall body strength. This is especially true if you’re hauling sacks of feed around stables regularly. See, you don’t even need to be upon your horse to reap some of the physical benefits!
That said, the most fun way to develop your strength is most definitely riding your horse. Your strength will build as your balance and posture get better.
Weight lifting championships, anyone?
#11: Problem-Solving Skills
Mental acuity is another fantastic side effect of riding regularly. According to a study by Tokyo scientists, horse riding may boost children’s learning capacity and memory. The vibration caused by the horse’s movements activates the child’s learning system, as explained by Mitsuaki Ohta from Tokyo University of Agriculture.
Additionally, if we think about the daily obstacles horse owners work around with their horses, it makes sense that equestrians are always subconsciously sharpening their problem-solving abilities. This is especially true if you’re in the early stages of working with a young or new horse who doesn’t quite know the ropes yet.
In our hectic lives, it’s easy to forget how important even a little bit of socializing is for our mental health. If you’re part of a horse community, you’ll be surrounded by people with the same passion as you — people you can share your adoration for horses with and talk through horse-related issues with.
Socializing and bonding with your horse is also a critical part of the relationship-building process. Your horse can be your best friend and a wonderful lifelong companion, and so can bring great comfort when you’re not feeling quite yourself.
Horses are also great for inducing feelings of relaxation in their owners. Perhaps you could repay them with a little grooming or pampering session!
Top Health Benefits of Horse Riding: Sum-Up
- Horse riding is as much a great form of exercise as any other sport or physical activity.
- Some of the top health benefits of horse riding include better cardiovascular health, lower stress levels and improved circulation.
- Studies have shown that after just eight weeks of riding, equestrians develop better thigh, hip and torso muscle tone.
Top Health Benefits of Horse Riding: Final Thoughts
Another important thing to remember when you’re glowing from all the health benefits you’re reaping from riding, your horse is very likely to be glowing, too!
He or she will no doubt be more than happy that they’re getting frequent workouts, as this is also of paramount importance for your horse’s physical and mental health, just as it is for yours.
We hope you’ve found this article informative and useful. Thanks, as always, for stopping by at Simple Horse Life!