Fitness Benefits Of Horseback Riding
While many people may think that horseback riding is a sedentary activity without much physical benefit, it may come as a surprise that this activity is an excellent complete body workout. If you have ever ridden a horse, you may have noticed a few sore muscles afterward.
This should not be confused with soreness from not sitting properly in the saddle. However, it is likely that you will feel sore in your thighs, calves and possibly even abs. Riding horses has become a popular alternative therapy activity for many people because of the scope of the muscle activities that can be challenged at the same time.
An additional benefit of horseback riding is improved flexibility. Often in therapies the riders use a special ‘saddle’ that places the rider closer to the horse in order to use the warmth of the horse’s body to further improve flexibility.
Along with improved flexibility, horseback riding improves balance, core strength, cardiovascular fitness and even confidence when done correctly.
Horseback Riding For Beginners
Starting out you may have a picture of yourself galloping freely through a field with hooves pounding beneath you. Keep in mind, as with most sports, you need to start somewhere a little less glamorous – as in with the basics. If you are new to the sport, it is important to find someone who can guide you.
Just like going to a gym, if you are not properly instructed you could be seriously injured by using a machine improperly or overdoing it. A stable that rents horses by the hour does not necessarily qualify (unless of course you are experienced, horseless and just looking to stay in shape).
Find someone who competes locally, check for local shows in your area and go watch. That doesn’t mean that you have to pay big bucks to an instructor or pick the one who’s student always win. Stand on the rail and not in the stands and listen to the people coaching.
Keep in mind it may sound like a lot of gibberish at first, but many sports have their own language. Listen and observe for a coach who is patient, rewarding, kind, and makes some sense to you as you listen. Or visit some stables that advertise lessons, observe how the instructors work with their students. The more technical the instruction, the more likely you will be getting a workout from the ride and not just paying someone to have you exercise their horses.
Start by getting a baseline – at the very least check your pulse before riding and after riding. You should get enough activity in to raise your heart rate 50 – 60% of maximum heart rate. That is one way to determine if you are exercising enough. Another was is the way your muscles feel. As you exercise, you should feel some soreness from the slight tearing that occurs in your muscles. This tearing is what helps the muscles get stronger, provided there is ample rest or recovery time between the workouts.
Pros Of Horseback Riding
Riding works several major muscle groups: legs, core and arms. The core muscles include your abs which when strong help with balance and stability. Anyone who has ever ridden a horse will recognize the level of balance required to sit quietly with the horse in motion.
The faster the motion the less stable the rider will be and consequently more balance is required to stay upright in the saddle. This is where the core gets engaged. In more advanced levels of riding the core abdominal muscles are used to coordinate the length of the horse’s stride and speeds.
Pushing your horse forward involves the erector spinae and lats. As the horse changes direction the rider engages the obliques and transverse abdominals to stay upright. Instead of crunches, planks and sit ups for a great core – riding automatically works both the abs and the back for a complete core workout. The core is also involved when using the legs to cue the horse – moving laterally, backward, or forward.
Every movement and cue with the horse involves the seat (core) or legs. The legs must be engaged in order to ride; especially the adductors. A rider has to engage the leg muscles to stay put in the saddle. The quads, hamstrings, and glutes all support the work of the adductors.
Different styles of riding will work different muscles of the leg and core. English riders “post” to the trot. This is a movement that requires a great deal of finesse and leg control. The rider must use the momentum of the horse to help them rise up out of the saddle to the rhythm of the horse’s trot.
If the rider fails to control the post they will come too far out of the saddle and could lose their balance. Cuing the horse to change direction, go faster, and even go slower involves the leg. The most basic cue is a “squeezing” motion with both legs to ask the horse to move forward. This involves the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. The calves and hamstring will get a good stretch when riding in the correct position: heel in line with the hip, heels down, back upright and shoulders in line with the hip and heel.
The overall muscle work used in riding along with prolonged stretching, produces a balanced, powerful physique. As a result riders have improved flexibility, balance, and coordination which lead to reduced chance of injury when engaging in other sports or lift weights.