There’s this terrible impression, outside of the horseback riding world, that horseback riding isn’t good exercise.
It makes me a little grumpy, to be honest.
People assume that because you’re mounted, the horse is doing all the work…
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Well, today I want to put that theory to bed once and for all!
So we’re going to talk about horseback riding as exercise.
We’ll talk about how riding affects your cardiovascular system first. Then we’ll talk about the different muscle groups involved. Finally we’ll look at flexibility: horseback riding requires flexibility, but it can also improve it.
All in all, I hope you learn something new about just how good horseback riding is for you and your fitness!
Horseback Riding as Cardiovascular Exercise
In very simple terms, your cardiovascular system is made up of your lungs, heart, blood vessels and your blood.
When you do strenuous exercise, your muscles need oxygen. So your heart pumps blood to your lungs to pick up oxygen, and then pumps it on to the muscles, where it’s delivered. That means that your heart rate and breathing rate increase, so they can uptake and deliver more oxygen.
If you regularly do this kind of exercise, your heart and lungs get stronger. This means that they don’t have to work as hard to deliver oxygen to your muscles. So over time you’ll be able to do that strenuous exercise, and it won’t put such a strain on your heart and lungs.
There are other co-benefits to this like improving your stamina and burning stored energy (also known as fat!).
Horseback riding is a sport that requires you to do this kind of strenuous exercise. Your body has to move with your horse’s gait. This will increase your breathing rate and heart rate. So as a result when you ride regularly your cardiovascular system will get stronger.
This means that over time you won’t get puffed as easily when you’re riding, and your heart won’t be pounding. What a relief eh! And ultimately you’ll be able to ride longer and harder, which is what we all want!
Horseback Riding for Muscle Strength
Horseback riding works four key groups of muscles: your abdominal muscles, your back, your pelvis and your thighs.
A lot of the work you’re doing when you’re riding is stabilizing, and that’s when you engage those muscle groups. And I’m sure you notice that those are the ones you feel after a day’s riding!
As your riding gets more ambitious, you’ll use these muscles more and more. I’m actually at a point in my riding where I do separate work on these muscles lifting weights. I want to make sure that these muscles are strong enough for me to ride at the top of my game.
Good riding builds your muscle strength, but you also need that muscle strength to be a good rider. It’s a two way street!
Horseback Riding and Flexibility
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I think I’ve mentioned in a couple of other posts, but I have really inflexible ankles.
Overall I’m just not a super flexible person.
I found this really difficult, because flexibility is a huge part of horseback riding. To be able to keep rhythm with your horse, you need to have a really mobile spine, and flexible hips. Another important aspect of riding is having flexible ankles to be able to shock absorb appropriately in order to use your thighs and abs.
Like I said, I have terribly stiff ankles and this is something I really struggled with for a while. But over time I worked both inside and outside of my riding to build up that flexibility. I actually wrote a couple of posts about it, which you can read here:
- English Riding Tips: Exercises for Ankle Mobilization
- English Riding Tips on Ankle Mobility, Heels Down!
As for my spine and hips, I try to do yoga and pilates semi-regularly to stretch everything out.
I also do weightlifting, and warming up, cooling down and stretching at every session I do has been really helping me.
On that note, I’ve been thinking about writing a post on my weightlifting regime to share with you, and the effects it’s had on my riding. Let me know in the comments if you would be interested in something like that!
The Benefits of Horseback Riding for Exercise
Working your cardiovascular system and your muscles and improving your flexibility are good things in and of themselves. But doing these three things have other benefits as well. The first is that you burn calories. The second is that it this exercise can have a real impact on your mental health.
Burning Calories and Feeling Fit
By exercising, your body is burning energy – fuelling your cardiovascular system and feeding your muscles. And energy is really just calories!
If you want to learn about how you can use horseback riding as a tool to help you burn calories, I actually have a full post about it that you can read. Essentially the harder and faster you and your horse work, the more calories you burn.
Now, I want to be clear that I don’t think burning calories is the be all and end all. But I do acknowledge that regular exercise (and the resultant calorie burning) is part of a healthy lifestyle. I just try not to focus too hard on that, because it’s not good for my mental health!
The Psychological Impacts
And on that note, for me the mental health benefits are so important.
When you do any kind of exercise, your body releases hormones called endorphins. These inhibit pain and can bring on feelings of euphoria during and immediately after exercising.
Horseback riding is no exception: doing this kind of exercise releases endorphins and makes you feel good. It also has other psychological benefits, which you can read in my post here.
So Happy Riding!
I don’t know about you, but just writing this post makes me want to get out and ride!
It’s so nice to know that something I enjoy doing so much is so good for me.
What’s your favourite thing about horseback riding? Is it the fact that it’s good exercise? I would love to hear in the comments below, so please tell me!
Happy riding 🙂
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