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Is Horse Riding Good Exercise? Horseback Riding and Health.

Last updated: December 4, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

When it comes to exercise, horse riding might not be the first thing that springs to mind. But, as someone who’s spent a fair share of time in the saddle, I can tell you it’s much more than a leisurely countryside activity. Is horse riding good exercise? Absolutely, and here’s why.

Imagine engaging your entire body in a workout that not only builds physical strength but also enhances your mental well-being. That’s horse riding for you. It’s not just about sitting on the horse and letting it do all the work. From the moment you mount up, you’re activating core muscles, improving balance, and even giving your cardiovascular health a boost.

After returning to horse riding after a months-long break, I quickly realized it was a full-body workout in disguise. The experience was a blend of physical exertion and mental alertness, challenging yet incredibly rewarding. So, if you’re wondering whether horse riding counts as good exercise, the answer is a resounding yes. Let’s dive into how this sport can be a game-changer for your fitness routine.

Picture of a horse jumping an obstacle with a rider.
Engaging muscles while riding a horse.

Physical Benefits of Horse Riding

Cardiovascular Health

Horse riding isn’t just a leisurely activity; it’s a heart-pumping exercise that can significantly enhance your cardiovascular health. According to the American Heart Association, activities like horse riding can improve heart function and circulation. This is because when you ride, your heart rate increases, similar to what happens during moderate-intensity exercises like brisk walking or light jogging.

A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that horse riding can increase the rider’s heart rate to 50-80% of its maximum, a range often recommended for aerobic exercise. This means that regular riding sessions can strengthen your heart, improve blood flow, and reduce the risk of heart disease. .graphic

Muscle Strength and Toning

Horse riding is a comprehensive workout engaging multiple muscle groups. It primarily works the core muscles, including the abdominals, back, and pelvic muscles, which are crucial for maintaining posture and balance on the horse. The inner thighs and glutes are also heavily engaged to stabilize the rider, especially during movements like trotting and cantering.

Compared to gym workouts, horse riding offers a unique combination of isometric (static muscle contractions) and dynamic exercises. This combination not only builds muscle strength but also tones the body, making it a well-rounded form of physical activity.

Balance and Coordination

One of the less obvious yet significant benefits of horse riding is the improvement in balance and coordination. Riding requires a constant adjustment of the body to maintain balance on the moving horse. This engages and strengthens the core muscles, which are essential for stability and posture.

Experts, including physiotherapists, often recommend horse riding as a therapeutic activity to improve motor coordination and balance. The dynamic environment of riding challenges the rider’s body to adapt to the horse’s movements, enhancing proprioceptive skills – the body’s ability to sense its position and movement in space.

In summary, horse riding offers a unique blend of cardiovascular benefits, muscle strengthening, and improved balance and coordination, making it an excellent choice for those seeking a holistic approach to physical fitness.

Picture of a man riding and relaxing on a horse.
Relaxing while riding a horse.

Mental and Emotional Benefits of Horse Riding

Stress Reduction and Mental Well-being

Horse riding is not just physically invigorating; it’s also a powerful tool for mental and emotional well-being. The rhythmic motion of horse riding, along with the unique bond formed with the horse, can significantly reduce stress levels. According to insights from The Barngoddess Chronicles, the act of riding and caring for a horse can lead to a profound sense of tranquility and emotional release.

Case studies and personal testimonials further underscore this benefit. For instance, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that individuals participating in horse riding activities reported lower levels of stress and anxiety. Riders often describe the experience as ‘therapeutic,’ noting a sense of calm and presence that comes from being in sync with the horse.

Cognitive Benefits

Beyond stress relief, horse riding also sharpens cognitive abilities. It demands a high level of focus and concentration, as riders must constantly be aware of their surroundings, anticipate the horse’s movements, and make quick decisions. This continuous engagement enhances cognitive functions like attention, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Moreover, horse riding can improve memory and learning. Navigating a horse through different terrains and responding to various stimuli helps in developing a sharper, more alert mind. The need to remember riding patterns, courses, or even subtle cues from the horse contributes to this cognitive enhancement.

In conclusion, horse riding offers substantial mental and emotional benefits. It not only serves as a stress reliever but also as a means to enhance various cognitive skills, contributing to overall mental health and well-being.

Here’s a table that summarizes key aspects of horse riding as exercise:

Cardiovascular HealthEngages the heart and lungs through increased heart rate.Improves heart health, increases stamina.
Muscle StrengthUtilizes core, leg, and arm muscles.Tones muscles, enhances overall strength.
Balance & CoordinationRequires maintaining stability on a moving horse.Improves balance, enhances coordination.
Mental Well-beingInvolves interaction with animals and nature.Reduces stress, boosts mood.
Cognitive BenefitsDemands focus, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.Sharpens concentration, enhances memory.
AccessibilitySuitable for various ages and skill levels.Inclusive, adaptable to individual needs.
Emotional ConnectionBuilds a bond between rider and horse.Fosters empathy, enhances emotional health.
Physical ChallengeOffers varying levels of physical exertion.Adaptable to fitness levels, promotes growth.
Picture of a woman sitting on a horse her form display that horse riding is good exercise.,
Core strength is needed for horse riding.

Unique Aspects of Horse Riding as Exercise

Equestrian Yoga

Equestrian Yoga, a concept highlighted by FEI, is an innovative fusion of traditional yoga practices with horse riding. This unique form of exercise combines the physicality of horseback riding with the mindfulness and flexibility of yoga, creating a holistic workout that benefits both rider and horse.

In Equestrian Yoga, riders perform yoga poses while on horseback, focusing on breath control, balance, and posture. This practice enhances the traditional horse riding experience by improving the rider’s flexibility and core strength, leading to better riding techniques. The synchronization of movements with the horse also deepens the rider’s connection to their equine partner, fostering a harmonious relationship.

The benefits of Equestrian Yoga extend beyond the physical. It encourages a state of mindfulness, helping riders to be more present and in tune with their horses. This mindful approach can lead to a more enjoyable and effective riding experience.

Horse Riding for Specific Health Conditions

Horse riding is not only a versatile form of exercise for the able-bodied; it also offers therapeutic benefits for individuals with specific health conditions. As explored by The Helen Woodward Animal Center, horse riding can be particularly beneficial for those recovering from injuries or living with chronic conditions.

For instance, therapeutic riding programs have been shown to improve mobility, balance, and strength in individuals with physical disabilities. The gentle, rhythmic motion of the horse can help in loosening tight muscles, enhancing joint mobility, and improving posture.

Moreover, horse riding has been used as an effective therapy for individuals with mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. The sense of accomplishment from learning to ride and care for a horse can boost self-esteem and provide a sense of purpose.

Horse riding’s unique aspects, such as Equestrian Yoga and its therapeutic applications, demonstrate its versatility as an exercise form. It not only caters to general fitness needs but also addresses specific health conditions, making it a comprehensive and inclusive physical activity.

Picture of a group of people on a trail ride.
Group heading out for a trail ride.

Is Horse Riding Good Exercise to Lose Weight?

When it comes to weight loss, horse riding is often an overlooked option. However, it can be an effective component of a weight management plan. Here’s why:

  1. Calorie Burn: Horse riding can burn a significant number of calories. For instance, a study from the British Horse Society indicates that an hour of riding can burn up to 400 calories, depending on the intensity of the ride.
  2. Full-Body Workout: As a full-body exercise, horse riding helps in overall fat reduction. It particularly works the core muscles, thighs, and glutes, aiding in muscle toning and fat burning.
  3. Boosts Metabolism: Regular horse riding, combined with the physical activities associated with horse care, can increase your metabolic rate, which is beneficial for weight loss.
  4. Balanced Lifestyle: Horse riding encourages a more active lifestyle. Riders often find themselves engaging in other physical activities like walking and lifting, which contribute to weight loss.

Remember, weight loss is most effective when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle choices. Horse riding can be a fun and rewarding addition to your weight loss journey, offering both physical and mental health benefits.

Practical Tips and Guidance for Horse Riding

Embarking on your horse riding journey can be thrilling, but it’s essential to start on the right foot. Here are some practical tips for beginners:

  1. Choosing the Right Horse: As a beginner, look for a horse that is calm, well-trained, and matches your skill level. Visiting a reputable riding school or stable can help you find a suitable horse.
  2. Basic Techniques: Start with learning the basics of mounting, dismounting, and proper sitting posture. Understanding how to communicate with your horse through simple commands is also crucial.
  3. Riding Lessons: Consider taking lessons from a certified instructor. They can provide personalized guidance and help you develop your skills safely and effectively.
  4. Pace Yourself: Begin with shorter, easier rides and gradually increase the duration and complexity as you gain confidence and skill.

Safety Measures

Safety is paramount in horse riding. Here are some key safety measures to keep in mind:

  1. Wear Proper Gear: Always wear a helmet to protect your head in case of falls. Riding boots with a heel and non-slip gloves are also essential for a safe riding experience.
  2. Understand Your Horse: Spend time getting to know your horse’s behavior and temperament. This understanding can help prevent unexpected situations.
  3. Riding Environment: Be aware of your surroundings, especially when riding outdoors. Avoid hazardous terrain and be mindful of weather conditions.
  4. Expert Advice: Follow the guidance of your instructor or an experienced rider. They can offer valuable insights on handling different situations and maintaining control of the horse.
  5. Emergency Preparedness: Know basic first aid and always have a plan in case of emergencies. Carrying a mobile phone or a whistle can be helpful if you need to call for help.

By following these practical tips and prioritizing safety, beginners can enjoy a rewarding and enjoyable start to their horse riding adventures.

Picture of our two year old running
Riding horses requires mental focus.

Personal Journey in Horse Riding

My journey into the world of horse riding began when I was a child. It started with a simple desire to try to tag along with my family members and connect with nature and animals. Little did I know this decision would lead me down a path of profound personal growth, physical challenge, and emotional fulfillment.

My initial experience with horse riding was humbling. I quickly learned that riding required much more than just sitting on the horse and steering. It demanded physical strength, mental focus, and a deep sense of connection with the animal. Each lesson was a mix of exhilaration and learning as I navigated the complexities of horseback riding techniques and horse care.

As I progressed, I not only developed my riding skills but also built a unique bond with each horse I rode. Understanding each horse’s personality and quirks was as crucial as mastering riding techniques. This bond and understanding transformed my riding experience, making it more intuitive and harmonious.

There were challenges, of course. Learning to maintain balance, perfecting the trot, and overcoming the initial fear of cantering. Each hurdle crossed was a testament to the resilience and perseverance that horse riding instills in its enthusiasts.

My journey in horse riding led me to learn from seasoned instructors and equine experts. This education not only refined my riding skills but also deepened my understanding of horse behavior, care, and training techniques.

Today, as an experienced rider, my goal is to share this passion with others. I’ve had the privilege of teaching beginners, sharing the joys and challenges of horse riding, and watching my individuals grow and flourish in this incredible sport.

My journey in horse riding has been transformative. It’s a journey of continuous learning, of connecting with animals, and of discovering inner strengths. It’s a testament to the fact that horse riding is more than just a sport; it’s a pathway to self-discovery and personal achievement.

Below is a YouTube video that shows how to ride horses to get fit.

Conclusion: Is Horse Riding Good Exercise?

Horse riding is much more than a pastime; it’s a comprehensive form of exercise that offers a multitude of benefits. From enhancing cardiovascular health and building muscle strength to improving balance and coordination, horse riding engages your body in a unique and holistic way. It also nurtures mental and emotional well-being, reducing stress and sharpening cognitive abilities.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider, the journey of horse riding is one of continuous learning and personal growth. It challenges you physically and mentally, all while providing a deep connection with nature and the majestic animals you ride.

So, if you’re looking for an exercise that is both physically rewarding and emotionally enriching, consider horse riding. It’s an activity that not only strengthens your body but also enriches your soul, offering a unique blend of fitness and fulfillment.

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How often should I ride a horse for exercise?

Regular riding, such as 2-3 times a week, is beneficial for consistent exercise benefits. However, frequency can vary based on individual fitness goals and schedules.

Can beginners try horse riding for exercise?

Yes, beginners can start horse riding for exercise. It’s advisable to take lessons from certified instructors and start with a gentle, well-trained horse.

Does horseback riding make your thighs and bum bigger?

Generally, your legs and bum will tone but not get bigger from horseback riding, but each person is different. Overweight people may trim their legs and bum, while skinny people could develop muscles through riding.

Miles Henry