I have loved horses as long as I can remember. To me, there is something alluring about these large mammals where you can whip your leg around their high backs and feel like you are flying across fields and sailing through the wind. It’s the feeling of total detachment from the world, a sensation of total freedom. When you are on a horse, the world is at your feet and all feels obtainable.
My passion for horses is most likely why I had my son start to ride horses on a leadline by the age of two at the barn right down the street from my parents’ house and my daughter soon after she could walk. Cassandra would hang onto the horn of the Western saddle and smile with great glee. By two, she was taking weekly leadline rides on “Sunshine,” by four weekly English riding lessons, and on her fifth birthday, Cassandra competed in her very first horseshow on “Penny.” Today, my daughter proudly and lovingly cares for her horse “Emma,” a grey Connemara and Irish Sport Horse mix breed, and rides as a junior on Stonehill College’s varsity equestrian team.
To some, saddling up and riding a horse may seem more like a fun time on the back of a horse in the fresh air than an actual workout. After all, the great strong horse is doing most of the work, right, with its cantering and jumping plus carrying the weight of the rider?
My daughter would quickly tell you “no” and rightly so. The rider actually benefits just as much, if not more, than the four-legged mount, as horseback riding offers the rider both physical and mental perks like many mainstream sports.
The psychological benefits from riding horses are plentiful. It reduces stress levels of the rider, improves self-confidence and concentration abilities, teaches and instills self-discipline and patience, encourages risk-taking, and offers socializing and comradely just by the mere interaction with fellow riders, instructors, vets, barn help, and others.
In addition to the mental benefits, the physical health perks are just as rewarding. Let’s start with calorie loss. You can burn a decent amount of calories when riding horses, depending on your age, body mass, and the intensity of your ride. At a walk, you can burn 150-200 calories per hour, trot 400-550, and a full gallop can burn off 700 calories for a full hour!
Riding horses provides great muscle development and conditioning in the rider and requires intense muscle use and memory. Riders strengthen their arms, legs, thighs, back, and pelvis muscles, especially from the contracting and relaxing of their muscles in an attempt to stay on the horse and remain balanced. They develop a stronger core, better sense of balance, and enhanced eye hand coordination; hence why riding horses is often offered as a therapeutic exercise from those suffering from physical challenges. Moreover, riding increases the range of the motion of the rider’s joints and improves their upper respiration and circulation of blood flow in their body.
There is additional muscle strengthening and extra calories burned also from carrying saddles around, hauling hay and feed, carrying buckets of water, shoveling droppings, repositioning jumps, moving trunks, and more. Let’s face it; riding horses is a very physical and demanding activity.
So when given the opportunity to ride a horse, get your boots on, grab a riding helmet, and saddle up! Your joy ride will give back to your body, heart, and mind immensely not to mention put a big smile on you inside and out.
Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.