Getting back on the horse – literally.
I started horse riding at 6 years old. I have been out of the saddle for the last 4 years due to an unfortunate and fairly serious motorbike accident. This year however, it was my new years resolution to return to the sport that I love and I have. So far I have ridden 3 times and apart from the pure enjoyment of being back on a horse, I found some unexpected benefits to my own rehabilitation for my injured ankle. This got me thinking about how there are multiple health and fitness benefits to horse riding in general.
1) Its good exercise
Let me start just by stating that the phrase “the horse does all of the work” is 1000% not true as the rider does just as much work as the horse. A horse will not move of its own accord unless told to by a rider or unless it sees grass that it would like to eat. As a rider it is your job to direct the horse and keep up the forward momentum. It has been shown that riding at a light trot metabolises enough calories to be considered as moderate exercise.
2) It improves core strength
In order to stay balanced instead of bouncing around in the saddle you have to engage your core muscles for balance and stability. Your core muscles will contract to help keep you in one position and also help you stay in tune with your horse’s motion making it more enjoyable for you both. If you are after Abs of Steel I would definitely recommend giving horse riding a go!
3) Improved posture
Due to the position that you maintain whilst riding and the core strength you build up, you will see improvements in your posture. Whilst horse riding you have to keep yourself up right and open to look around to direct your horse. You can’t get away with slouching like you can in an office chair. Over time your muscles will get used to this and your posture will improve initially on the horse and then will transfer into improvements seen in the office and at home.
4) Good for toning up
To keep yourself and the horse balanced – because you have to adjust to the horses gait – your back, pelvic floor and inner thigh muscles get a really good work out.
5) Balance and co-ordination
Horses have four different paces and each of them require a lot of balance to sit to. Horses are animals that sometimes decide they don’t want to do what you have asked them, so you have to be ready to adapt, staying balanced and co-ordinated if they turn quickly and you want to stay on!
The more you horse ride, the better your balance and co-ordination improves and you will find that your skill as a horse rider will improve. I believe these effects transfer into your every day. Can you normally stand on one leg balanced? Try again after horse riding for a few months and notice the difference!
6) Improved mental state
Not only is horse riding fun, you also get the mental benefits of this enjoyment. Studies show that horse riding has some physiological benefits to your mental state. The pelvic movements that we make whilst horse riding have be shown to boost oxytocin levels in the body.
Oxytocin is a powerful neurotransmitter that is released from the brain. It is known as a bonding hormone and helps us to regulate human to human and human to animal relationships. Increased Oxytocin levels result in more rewarding relationships, increased levels of life fulfilment and makes you feel happier.
It is also believed that the combination of exercise from horse riding and spending time with animals also increases serotonin output. Serotonin is a mood enhancing hormone.
From my own personal experience over the years not only can I testify that all of these reasons are true but more so recently I can say that it has been beneficial for my own rehab. My mental state has greatly improved, I am happier and more confident in myself. I also am finding that my ankle is tolerating more and more activity and that I am able to handle longer time in the saddle. My core and legs definitely feel it the next day!!
However, don’t just take my word for it, give it a try for yourself!