What Are the Benefits of Horseback Riding?
Horses have been ridden for thousands of years, and an activity that was once integral to our transportation needs has since become a sport. If you ride horses, you probably ride because you enjoy being in the saddle. But aside from doing something you love, what are some of the benefits of horseback riding?
What are the top benefits of horseback riding? Horseback riding has many benefits, both mental and physical. Horseback riding reduces stress, builds confidence, and exercises your brain. Horseback riding also builds a variety of muscles, provides a workout for your heart, and forces you to adopt a better posture.
There are many benefits to horseback riding, but perhaps the most important benefits are the ones that affect your mental and physical health. Here’s what you need to know:
Mental Benefits Of Horseback Riding
While horseback riding is a great physical workout, many equestrians ride for the mental health benefits alone. Not only is doing something that you enjoy good for your mental health, but horseback riding also offers stress reduction, confidence building, and a brain workout.
Benefit #1 Of Horseback Riding: Stress Reduction
Horseback riding is an effective stress reducer, for a number of reasons – you are forced to be calm, you are outdoors, and you are working with animals. When you are in the saddle, your horse will pick up on your energy and will emulate it. If you are afraid, your horse will assume it is for good reason and may become anxious as well. If you are tense, your horse will tense up too. To ride a horse, you have to leave all of your stressors outside of the barn, take a deep breath, and force yourself to adopt a calm presence. Acting calm will limit the stress signals that your body is receiving, and will actually make you feel calmer.
Being in nature is shown to reduce stress as well, with studies indicating that spending time outdoors can help to treat mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Our bodies and minds were designed to spend a lot of time outdoors, and our stress fades when we are exposed to nature. Being outdoors also gives you the added bonus of taking in more sunlight, or, vitamin D. Most people in developed countries spend so much time indoors that they are deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can cause not only immune deficiencies but also mental health problems.
Of course, animals are part of nature too, and working with animals is shown to reduce stress. Animals rely on us for their caretaking, and caring for an animal can give us a sense of purpose and focus, allowing us to concentrate on the wellbeing of the animal, and not on the stressors that we are experiencing.
Benefit #2 Of Horseback Riding: Confidence Building
Confidence is necessary for a healthy mental state. If we lack confidence, we are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. As stated earlier, horses pick up on how we are feeling inside. In order to control a horse, you have to display that you can be a leader – you have to show your horse that you are confident, even when you don’t feel it. What better way to build confidence in yourself than in managing a 1,000-pound animal?
Confidence is important to our mental health because it prepares us for new life experiences, and teaches us to tackle intimidating situations that we might otherwise shy away from. Confidence allows us to feel good about ourselves, and appreciate and recognize what we have to offer. And while confidence does not come to everyone naturally, it is something we can all attain through practice.
To learn some tips on how to become a more confident rider, visit my article Becoming a Confident Horseback Rider: Complete Guide.
Benefit #3 Of Horseback Riding: Learning A New Skill Set
You can ride horses for decades and still learn new skills, especially if you are riding more than one horse. You are never “finished” learning when you start riding horses. Learning new information and skills is beneficial to the health of your brain – learning leads to increased concentration, improved memory recall, the ability to problem-solve, and increased attention to detail. Learning new skills becomes especially important as you age, as it has been shown to protect against dementia and other related disorders.
Physical Benefits Of Horseback Riding
While many equestrians ride because of their love for horses, the outdoors, and the experience, horseback riding has many physical benefits to offer as well. While riding might look like an easy sport, you will be surprised at the strength and stamina it requires after you try sitting in the saddle. Horseback riding is a great all-around muscle workout, a beneficial cardio workout, and also helps to improve a rider’s posture.
Benefit #4 Of Horseback Riding: Muscle Strengthening
When you first start riding horses, you will be sore in muscles that you never even realized you had. While one can argue that horseback riding works out virtually every muscle in your body, the focus is on the abdominals, back muscles, pelvis, and thighs – especially the inner thighs.
Horseback riding is anything but a passive sport and is an excellent workout for your back and core as you are constantly working to maintain your balance in the saddle. A stronger core will not only give you added strength but will also help to prevent back injuries and reduce lower back pain.
Exercising outside of riding can help strengthen you for when you do actually ride. To learn the muscles you should work out, visit my article Muscles Used for Horseback Riding: Complete Guide.
Benefit #5 Of Horseback Riding: Exercising Your Heart
As we all know, exercising is imperative to having a healthy heart. You may think that horseback riding is an “easy” sport, but the truth is, you will probably be sweating before you even finish tacking up. Working with an animal the size of a horse, lifting feet, carrying heavy tack, and working out your muscles while riding will have you breathing hard in no time – and if you are breathing hard, that means your heart is getting a workout.
Heart disease is, and has been for a long time, the leading killer in the United States. Regular cardio exercise lowers the risk of heart disease in a few different ways. When exercising, the heart can pump more blood throughout the body, allowing it to work more efficiently and with less strain. Exercising regularly also contributes to more flexible arteries and blood vessels, which maintains a healthy blood pressure
Benefit #6 Of Horseback Riding: Better Posture
How many times have we all heard about the importance of adopting proper posture? It is challenging to remember to maintain good posture, especially when many of us are sitting at computers and desks for the majority of the workday.
While our modern lifestyle is not conducive to proper ergonomics, horseback riding can help us in this regard by forcing us to adopt a better posture. When you are riding a horse, you have a number of different cues that you are using to communicate with your horse – your legs, your reins, and your seat. And while many might focus more on the reins or the legs, we have more contact with our horse’s body through our seat than through any other cue.
If you are slouching and sitting back too far, or if you are overextending and sitting too far forward, your seat bones will not maintain enough contact with your horse’s back to effectively communicate. For this reason, it is important to sit up as straight as you can when riding your horse. Reminding yourself of this while riding will create a habit of better posture in you, which will benefit you when you are on the ground as well.
Bonus Benefit Of Horseback Riding
While the above benefits should be enough to get you on a horse, there is another obvious reason that horseback riding is beneficial. Most equestrians ride horses because they love horses and enjoy riding (or think they would enjoy riding if just starting out). This means that horseback riding is not only a workout for most riders but also a hobby.
People who regularly participate in an activity that they enjoy have lower levels of stress and fewer incidences of anxiety and depression. They tend to have more social connections and get better sleep at night. They are happier, more relaxed, and even report more job satisfaction.
These mental benefits carry over into your physical health as well. People who are happier and less stressed have lower inflammation, a lower risk of heart disease, and a healthier immune system. So the next time you are considering whether you have enough time to get out to the barn and spend some time with your horse, know that horseback riding is not only beneficial to your mental health but your physical health as well.
If you want to start horseback riding but don’t know where to start, give this article a visit! How to Start Horseback Riding (Cost, Age, & More.)