Horse riding is it really good for you and your health? In this day and age we’re all told we need to eat healthier and exercise more. So what are the health benefits of horse riding, physically, mentally and emotionally? Can it really do enough to eradicate the need for boring gym sessions? Can it improve your well being and emotional state of mind?
Sir Winston Churchill once said – “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
From my own experience, I know horse riding has always kept me in pretty good shape, but it has always provided me with something much more than physical fitness. Horse Riding has given me an emotional connection, compassion and happiness that is hard for non horsey people to understand.
I think horses and horse riding is definitely like an addiction, once you’ve got the buzz it does become a lifestyle choice. I guess it must be the feel good hormones that are released when horse riding, such as Serotonin and other Endorphins. I do wonder though if horse riding goes deeper than that, on an emotional and spiritual level can horse riding connect with humans to improve our sense of well being and heal the mind.
Health Benefits of Horse Riding
Horse riding can burn over 400 calories an hour and it increases muscle strength without building bulk, what a fantastic reason to horse ride or to take it up!
Horse riding provides the combination of a cardiovascular workout with a rewarding mental challenge, mixing balance with hand-eye coordination helping to improve reflexes, tone the body and in particular tone the core muscles and your legs.
Horse riding gets you outside and into the fresh air which is also good for you and can make you feel better due to seeing and feeling natural light, allowing you to absorb essential Vitamin D. For those of us confined to an office 9am until 5pm, this must be a blessing, I know it is for me!
There isn’t much scientific research or evidence out there for the health benefits of horse riding, so The British Horse Society put together a team of experts to research recreational riders and the benefits horse riding offered them. The full report is available to read online.
Physical Health Benefits of Horse Riding
- Improve your physical fitness – riding for a minimum of 30 minutes, 3 times per week exceeds the government’s recommended minimum level of physical activity
- Strengthen your muscles by up to 50% without creating bulk – it is a myth that horse riding creates a large bottom and thunder thighs!!
- A one hour schooling session can burn approximately 450 calories
- A leisurely one hour hack will burn approximately 260 calories
- Mucking out will burn approximately 80 calories
- Not to mention grooming, walking to and from the field, the muck heap and sweeping the yard!
- Just riding a horse at a walk stimulates the internal organs, aiding liver function and digestion. This makes horse riding great therapy for people in wheelchairs.
- Faster work, such as jumping or galloping will burn even more calories.
- Horse riding uses many muscles, people say it uses muscles they didn’t even know they had! In particular the leg, stomach and shoulder muscles are used.
Horse Ride for a Happy Mind
- Horse riding can have an antidepressant effect, helping to drop the levels of stress hormones.
- Horse riding is a natural stimulator for the hormone Serotonin, which is known as a mood enhancer, when this is released we feel a sense of well being and happiness.
- When we exercise endorphins are also released which can relieve tension and stress, but there is a lot to be said about the bond between horse and rider that almost offers a spiritual release.
- Being outside and in contact with nature, scenery, fresh air and vitamin D is a great motivation for most riders and it certainly helps us feel better being at one with nature.
Benefits of developing a partnership with a horse
- Owning a horse or horses is a lifestyle rather than a hobby, it requires dedication and an absolute passion and desire for horses.
- People will say that owning a horse is life-changing, interacting with a horse, creating and developing a special bond is so rewarding and that their horse becomes their best friend.
- Horse riding and horse care will lead you to learn and challenge yourself on a daily basis – whether it is recreational or in a professional capacity. We can never know everything about horses as they cannot talk to us, so we learn with every step and every individual horse that crosses our path.
- Horses can teach us skills that we can take into other areas of our lives, horses have the ability to teach us to be calm in the face of fear, kindness, compassion, precision and patience – attributes I’m sure we could all take forward at work, with friends and family!
- Horses have the ability to heal us, whether it be a broken heart, illness or a disability – horse therapy is fantastic for people with autism. Another interesting story is available via the Independent about how riding a horse taught a boy to speak.
Social Benefits of Horse Riding
- Horse riding is fun, it is exhilarating and gets the adrenaline / blood pumping.
- You get to meet lots of new people, whether at the yard, at shows or competitions.
- Horse riding can lead to demonstrations and other events that get you out and about.
- Whether you want to horse ride for fun or whether you want to compete, there really is something for everyone at any level or experience.
- Horse Riding really is addictive and once you have experienced a bond with a horse and the joy it can bring there really is no better feeling, I guess it’s like falling in love!
Take a look at my friend Susie Stewart’s case study below, she has been suffering with a serious disease / illness and horse riding with Duke has really helped her physically, psychologically and emotionally:
All of my joints dislocate, and I have dysfunction of the nervous system due to Ehlers Danlos syndrome, I have to use a wheelchair, and crutches to walk. I got talking to a friend who has the same syndrome and she said that horse riding is what has helped her the most, both physically and emotionally. So I thought I would give it a go. So I did, and as soon as I got on the horse, I absolutely loved it. When I ride it makes me feel so free and independent, it’s amazing. I love the fact that the horse doesn’t mind that I can’t walk properly, and just accepts me for how I am, so when I ride it’s almost like he becomes my legs, and gives me real independence and freedom. It helps me so much emotionally, I completely trust the horse, and is the best distraction from all the difficult things that the syndrome causes. It’s just such a wonderful feeling trotting with him, it makes me feel so happy, all my thoughts go away while I’m riding. I’ve built a really lovely relationship with the horse too, we both really understand each other.
It’s helped me so much physically too, a year ago my core stability was really weak, due to muscle weakness, I was really floppy, and couldn’t hold myself up properly, because of the syndrome I have, my muscles can waste very quickly. But since riding my core stability has improved so much, I now hold myself up properly, and gaining much more strength in my legs too.
Because I also have something wrong with my heart it means I can’t regulate it, and it can go too fast. But my cardiologist recommended riding, because it’s a seated exercise so isn’t putting too much pressure on my heart, but you’re using every muscle still, which is the best physio for my conditions. My muscles in my legs are getting much stronger, and my balance has improved, my physiotherapist couldn’t believe the difference in me since riding, it’s amazing. He says it’s the best thing I can do.
I know from my own experience, although owning a horse is a lifestyle rather than a hobby I really wouldn’t want to be without my horse. Yes it is time consuming and yes you have to be prepared to brave all weathers on a daily basis, but it certainly has provided me with years of joy and happiness, a best friend and reason to get out of bed when the world has seemed dark and uninviting.
At 35 years of age my body is still in pretty good shape and I’m happiest when I’m outside in the fresh air. There really is no better feeling than being at one with an animal that has a mind of its own, but chooses to connect and trust you.
I truly believe that although horse riding or in particular owning a horse isn’t for everyone, the benefits of horse riding and interacting with horses could have a really positive effect physically, psychologically and emotionally.
What are your thoughts on the health benefits of horse riding? What does horse riding and interacting with horses offer you?