There are a thousand and one ways to boost fitness levels these days: running, cycling and gym work being just three you might wish to take up. But if you love horses, it is natural to wonder whether horse riding is a good workout, and if so, how often you need to ride in order to achieve the most benefit. So can getting your horse equipment ready, saddling up and heading out on the trails for a gallop really match a hard-core session at the gym – or should you stick to pumping iron and spin classes instead?
Until you have ridden horses, it is hard to see what the fuss is about. After all, to the uninitiated, riding a horse is a bit like sitting in your favorite armchair – you just have to straddle the animal and steer it in the right direction. But horse riding is nowhere near that easy. Yes, if you hop on an old and supremely lazy horse you might get away with doing very little as you amble along at snail’s pace, but in all other instances, horse riding truly is an all-body workout.
There are a number of benefits to horse riding, so if you are still unconvinced, read on.
Horseback riding requires a lot of co-ordination. You can just sit there and expect the horse to somehow read your mind. Horses respond to many different cues, including subtle weight changes, rein pressure and voice commands. They can even detect your sweat odor and whether you are nervous. Regular horse riding is a great way to improve your co-ordination. You will have to learn how to think two steps ahead of your horse, while using your legs, hands and body weight – all at once!
A Balancing Act
You need to be balanced to ride well. An unbalanced rider, even with the aid of supportive horse equipment such as a saddle, upsets the horse and gives him all the wrong signals, so you might think you are asking him to turn right but in fact your body weight is telling to turn left. Is it any wonder some horses get confused with an inexperienced rider on their back?
Work Those Muscles!
If you think that pumping iron at the gym is hard work, wait until you have been riding for an hour. Horse riding works the legs, arms and core like no other exercise. Because balance is so important when riding horses – and a horse is moving – your body has to work extra hard to maintain its balance. You have to engage your legs to control a horse, and the more spirited your mount is the more work your legs and core muscles need to work. It is not uncommon for inexperienced riders to wake up the morning after a ride with muscles so sore they literally can’t move.
The next time that someone tells you horse riding isn’t a good workout because the horse does all the work, take them out horse riding and see how quickly they discard that notion. I guarantee you it won’t be very long!