There are many benefits of horseback riding for your health. Those who ride competitively know that horseback riding is a physically challenging and rewarding activity. Additionally, interaction with horses is believed to have therapeutic effects. This has resulted in the rise of an experiential therapy called horse therapy or equine-assisted therapy, which involves interactions between patients and horses to treat conditions such as substance abuse, mental illness, and autism.
A horseback riding lesson will not provide the same benefits as horse therapy. A certified mental health professional must be present at horse therapy sessions in order for the therapy to be valid. You can learn more about horse therapy, its benefits, and treatment uses here. However, this article will discuss only the benefits of traditional horseback riding for recreation and sport.
Benefits of Horseback Riding
Here are ten health benefits of traditional horseback riding:
1. Develops core strength.
One of a horseback riders’ strongest muscles is her core. Maintaining proper riding posture requires exercise of the core muscles in addition to the back and chest muscles. Also, it takes an engaged core to stay balanced on the horse.
2. Improves coordination.
Coordination is an important skill for horseback riding. Not only does the rider need to coordinate her movements with the horse’s, she also needs to direct the horse in the right direction and over or around obstacles such as barrels and fences.
3. Encourages trust.
In order to be a successful horseback rider, the rider must develop a trusting relationship with her horse. Horses, like any animal, can be unpredictable. If a rider has ever been thrown or injured while riding, it takes a great deal of effort to rebuild that trust. In a horseback riding lesson, you might work on trust building exercises with your horse. Learning to build trust isn’t just important between horses and riders, but in all human relationships.
4. Exercises the mind.
Unlike idle activities such as watching TV, horseback riding exercises you physically and mentally. Mental exercise is an important benefit of horseback riding. As you learn to communicate with your horse, execute movements, and overcome obstacles, your brain will store information on how you completed these tasks. As you continue to learn new things, your brain will store the information so you can perform the task again, and perhaps even better the next time.
5. Develops problem solving skills.
As you become more advanced in your horseback riding ability, you might take on the challenge of a jumping course, trail ride, or horse show. You’ll have to master problem solving skills as you direct your horse. If your horse is unwilling to submit to your directions, you’ll have to think quickly about how to remain safe and in control of your horse.
6. Increases socialization.
Horseback riding can increase your social circle. You’ll get to know your horse, instructor, other riders, and staff around the barn. The horse community is very social and full of people who will help each other learn about horses. While private lessons are an excellent way to gain centered attention and work on specific skills, group lessons provide a social experience. Group lessons not only enable you to learn from your instructor but from your peers as well.
7. Creates time to relax.
Horseback riding has an inherent relaxing effect. According to Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, Rheta D. Connor, “The natural rhythm of the horse aids in circulation and relaxation while gently exercising and massaging the rider’s joints, muscles and spine” (source). These physical motions bring about feelings of relaxation naturally without any thought on behalf of the rider.
8. Provides opportunities to compete.
There are many different types of horse competitions. From racing to jumping, Dressage to rodeo events, horse competitions provide a variety of ways to put your skills to the test. Training for a show and setting a goal can increase motivation and provide a healthy competitive outlet for riders. Riders who compete may even notice that they feel more driven and confident in other areas of their life outside of horseback riding.
9. Increases muscle tone and strength.
Horseback riders develop a special strength known as stable strength. Even when not on the horse, riders are likely to engage in demanding physical activity around the stables. Mucking out stalls, carrying tack, and grooming horses increases muscle tone and strength. A new rider may have trouble lifting a heavy saddle, but after developing stable strength the rider will be able to lift it with ease!
10. Improves mental state.
In addition to increasing feelings of relaxation (see benefit #7), horseback riding can improve a riders’ mental state in other ways as well. Spending time with animals is believed to raise levels of the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin. To back up these claims, the British Horse Society conducted a study on the health benefits of horseback riding. Through a survey of over 1,200 horseback riders, they discovered that more than 80 percent of survey participants reported that horse riding made them feel ‘quite a lot’ or ‘extremely’ cheerful, relaxed, happy or active (source).
With all these amazing health benefits of horseback riding, you can feel great about the time you spend riding, caring for, and enjoying the company of horses. Share these great benefits of horseback riding with a horse-loving friend. If you’d like to take advantage of some of these health benefits for yourself, sign up for horseback riding lessons at Cramer Quarter Horses. We offer English and western horseback riding lessons in Needville, Texas near Houston.