For many people, the word ‘exercise’ evokes images of repetitive gym workouts or endless jogging, not sitting on a horse. However, the belief that horse riders are merely passengers is nothing but a myth. Sure, heading out for a sedate pony ride at a walk will do little for your figure – but neither does lifting tiny weights or setting the treadmill on a setting so low that you don’t even raise a sweat. Horse riding, when undertaken on a regular basis and treated seriously, is an excellent form of exercise that targets more areas of fitness than just about any other sport.
Firstly, you will find that any good horse rider has terrific balance. This is not by mere fluke, as riders wishing to stay onboard are forced to develop an innate ability to remain with the horse no matter what it decides to do. Good core strength is also a great improver of balance. When you ride, one of the main muscle groups you develop is your core.
This is due to adapting to the correct riding position – sitting up straight, with your shoulders back. As any good rider knows, in order to develop an independent seat you need to have great position and a strong core, otherwise you will struggle to move harmoniously with the animal. This is perhaps most apparent when it comes to the sitting trot, as this movement requires considerable stomach strength to pull off effectively.
If you watch an inexperienced rider, the sitting trot is virtually impossible. They will bounce all over the place and find it extremely uncomfortable. As core strength improves, an independent seat develops, and you will find that a smooth sitting trot becomes possible – evidence of the influence regular riding can have on your fitness levels.
In addition to core strength, horse riding also improves leg strength. When you take a look at skilled riders, they may appear to be sitting perfectly still – however there is much more going on than meets the eye. A rider’s legs are constantly working, whether it is to make the horse go forward or to maintain balance. Lazy horses are perhaps the best indicator of how riding regularly can improve your leg strength.
A horse that wishes to carry on a leisurely pace will often continue to do so with a beginner rider on board, as they often lack the leg control to convince them otherwise. An experienced rider on the same horse will often be able to get it moving with apparent ease, due to better leg contact.
You may be wondering exactly how cardio fits into the picture. When it comes to riding this of course varies according to the intensity of the workout. Cross country riders, who are required to spend quite long distances in a forward position out of the saddle require an excellent level of cardio fitness, and this type of riding certainly improves this fitness aspect. In a similar way, riding a fast paced area workout will get any rider puffing. The call that horse riding is merely a ‘ride’ is certainly a false pretence, as anyone who has ridden is sure to understand. You legs hurt the next day for a reason, and elite level riders are every bit as fit as athletes following other sporting endeavours.