How Horseback Riding Can Improve Your Health
Horseback riding has been a popular pastime for centuries. Though no longer used for such practical purposes, such as transportation and the herding of livestock, horseback riding’s popularity persists well into modern times. As the recreational use of horses continued to grow, so did our understanding of the many ways horseback riding can improve your health. Horseback riding provides stimulation and exercise for the horse, but it also yields both physical and mental benefits for the rider.
Improved core strength
Perhaps the most obvious example of how horseback riding can improve your health is the significant effect it can have on a rider’s core strength. Whether the rider prefers to adopt a posterior, anterior, or neutral pelvic tilt when astride a horse, a rider’s core muscles continuously engage, regardless of the posture they prefer. Engaging your body’s pelvic floor and lower abdominal muscles plays a critical role in allowing you to stay balanced and avoid bouncing when in the saddle. Additionally, as you and your horse navigate uneven terrain, you’ll likely have to adjust your posture to ensure you stay safely seated in your saddle. As you adjust your posture, you’ll need to engage different muscles throughout your core, which includes those in your abdomen, pelvic floor, and lower back. Strengthening multiple muscles in your core can help improve balance and stability, and it can help reduce the risk of injury when performing other physical activities.
Increased muscle tone
It’s no secret that horses are large and powerful animals, so it stands to reason that to control them a rider must be quite physically fit. Horseback riding not only strengthens the muscles in your core, but it can also improve tone and definition in several muscle groups throughout your body. In addition to engaging abdominal and pelvic muscles, horseback riding also exercises inner thigh, upper arm, shoulder, and back muscles. Different riding activities will work different muscles and provide you with a more dynamic, whole-body workout. Less experienced riders who don’t engage their muscles in this manner may experience some soreness in their thighs and calves at first. Therapy socks can help reduce this soreness, and they can help you get back in the saddle faster.
As we briefly stated, balance and core strength go hand-in-hand when horseback riding. Though the professionals may make it look easy, staying upright in the saddle can sometimes be quite difficult, especially for newer riders. With routine practice, however, a rider will soon find it easier and easier to stay seated in the saddle, and they will find their overall balance increases as well. In order to achieve better balance when astride a horse, center yourself in the saddle and try to relax into the sway of the horse’s gait. Following the movements of the horse with your own body, rather than attempting to remain exactly upright, will help you develop better balance and will decrease the chances of falling.
Posture is equally as important as balance when riding. Maintaining proper riding posture, in which you center yourself in the saddle with a straight back, will improve your riding performance and your posture as you move through daily life. Sitting too far forward in the saddle can cause you to put added pressure on your tailbone and pelvic muscles, and sitting too far back in the saddle can cause you to lean forward and hunch over. Improper riding posture can increase the risk of injury and may increase the likelihood of falling. Maintaining a strong core will also help you establish a better riding posture that can increase your overall riding performance.
From an outside perspective, horseback riding may look relatively easy. After all, the horse does all the work, right? In actuality, horseback riding requires a lot of concentration, coordination, and mental acuity. To ride safely and comfortably, a rider must coordinate all aspects of their own mind and body as well as the horse’s movements. Simultaneously coordinating leg pressure, body position, and rein pressure, all while maintaining control of the horse and navigating uneven terrain, can help significantly improve coordination and dexterity. In fact, horseback riding improves coordination so much that it’s even used in therapeutic riding programs for blind individuals. These programs encourage the individuals to ride the horse based on feel alone, which enables them to develop a greater sense of body awareness.
In addition to the many physical benefits of horseback riding, many mental benefits also accompany this popular pastime. One of the most common mental benefits of horseback riding is its ability to relieve stress. Horseback riding provides you with a much-needed break from the stresses of work, school, or social media, and it gives you the opportunity to truly commune with yourself and nature. Additionally, grooming, handling, and caring for a horse gives riders a healthy outlet for their stress and anxiety, and it benefits the horse. It’s for this reason that therapeutic horse programs are so popular among individuals on the autism spectrum or children with behavioral disabilities. The close relationships formed between the horse and rider in these therapeutic programs help the riders feel calmer when riding. This also helps teach children more constructive ways to manage their emotions on a daily basis.
Like all activities, horseback riding is not without it’s fair share of mistakes and failures. The idiom “get back in the saddle” is such a popular phrase because it speaks to the resilience and courage riders need to learn from mistakes and to try again. Having the opportunity to learn and grow from your mistakes increases your self-image and self-confidence. Little wins, such as completing a difficult jump, are just as celebrated as bigger wins, such as competing in your first horse show, and they both do wonders in improving self-confidence. It takes a great deal of courage to sit astride a powerful creature such as a horse, and doing so speaks to a person’s confidence in themselves and their abilities.