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Gallop to Great Health: The Enchanting Benefits of Horseback Riding

If you live in the city, you may never have been exposed to horses, but there are several reasons why this activity should be on your radar. Humans have been riding horses for centuries to help with transportation but also because of sport and pleasure. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of horseback riding.

Is horseback riding a sport?

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Horseback riding is definitely a sport, and there are several equestrian events in the Olympics. These include racing, show jumping, speed jumping, and endurance events. Horses are also used to play polo, a sport where riders have mallets and hit the ball through goalposts to score points. You must have a strong level of fitness to participate in these activities.

Benefits of horseback riding

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There are several physical and mental benefits of horseback riding. It is a whole-body exercise that combines strength and balance, plus it’s fun! Don’t be surprised if you are sore after riding a horse the first few times. Eventually, your body will develop stronger riding muscles, making the experience more enjoyable.

Connecting with an animal and riding outside can hugely benefit your mental health. Many beginners will start on easy guided trail rides outdoors, which are meant to be slow and allow you to build your confidence on the saddle.

Research has shown that spending time in nature and unplugging from your digital devices is a great way to calm any running thoughts and practice mindfulness. As you ride, soak in the gorgeous scenery and listen to the birds and wind through the trees.

Styles of riding horses

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There are three main horse riding styles: Western, English, and group. You may change your style of riding depending on your activity and equipment.

The Western-style riding has a thicker saddle to make the experience more comfortable. It was designed with American cowboys in mind who would travel great distances by horse.

The English style has a flatter saddle and more delicate seating. You would use this style if you showed your horse, jumped, or practiced refined riding skills. Sometimes, English riding is described as the ballet of horseback riding, and you can imagine a light and graceful rider.

Group riding refers to more than one rider on a horse, typically two riders. Although you will unlikely use this riding style for exercise, knowing the terminology is good.

Horseback riding terms

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Learning the lingo for a new activity is important for building your knowledge. Here are basic horseback riding terms a beginner should learn:

• Saddle: the seat that is fastened to your horse.
• Bridle: a piece of equipment that is used to direct your horse. You put the bridle on the horse’s head.
• Reins: long straps that are used to direct your horse. It attaches to the bridle.
• Stirrup: loops attached to the saddle that support the rider’s foot.
• Gait: the movement and speed of your horse.
• Trot: a quickened pace where diagonal legs are in the air at the same time.
• Gallop: a fast gait, essentially running.

Your vocabulary will grow as you continue to ride. Some horses and trainers may use specific calls during the ride to cue the animal to “start” and “stop.” Always listen to their instructions because they know the animal the best.

Horse riding exercises for beginners
Meeting a horse can be a bit scary at first – many of these animals are over six feet, and they are very powerful. Taking time to familiarize yourself with the animal’s personality can help you feel more confident around the animal. Many trainers will teach you to brush the animal’s hair and attach your saddle and gear before riding.

Once on your horse, you may want to start working on your posture. Complete arm circles, placing a hand behind your back, or keeping hands on your head. Engage your back and abdominal muscles to help you remain upright.

Strengthen your legs by practicing leg lifts, squeezing and relaxing, and doing exercises off your horse.

Get started

If you want to experience the benefits of horseback riding, do a quick Google search to find a horse riding facility close by. Many places offer beginner classes to help you get started.


Image Credit: Fabian Burghardt on Unsplash

Is horse riding good for fitness?

Yes, horse riding is good for fitness. Spending time on your horse will strengthen your legs, arms, and back muscles if you maintain the correct posture while riding.

Does horse riding make you gain muscle?

Some people may gain muscle while riding, but estimating how much muscle gain will occur is impossible. Ideally, you will do a combination of exercises to keep your body strong and healthy, such as riding, swimming, running, or pilates.

Can you get abs from horse riding?

Some people may strengthen their abs while riding because these muscles are important for posture. However, it is unlikely you will get a six-pack exclusively from horseback riding.

Julia Zakrzewski

Julia Zakrzewski is a Registered Dietitian and a lifelong foodie. Her passions include eating great food, debunking nutrition myths, and educating people on how they can improve their health! Her specific interests include diabetes and cardiovascular health. In her spare time Julia teaches yoga, and walks her miniature schnauzer.

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