We all know a lot about physical benefits of horseback riding. It strengthens your abdominal, pelvic, thigh and back muscles as well as being a great cardio workout. It’s a great workout because your whole body moves and is engaged while you are riding your horse. But the benefits of horseback riding aren’t just limited to your body. There are also many psychological benefits of horseback riding. And that’s what I’m going to be talking about with you today!
One of the biggest issues everyone faces in their life is stress. Stress causes a number of negative outcomes (other than just being unpleasant by itself!). I find that one of the worst things for me is the immune suppression that comes with stress. There’s nothing like being under pressure, and then to top it all off, you get sick. It’s so unfair!
Riding is a great way to alleviate stress, and it’s one of the key psychological benefits of horseback riding. When you’re exercising, as you ride, your brain releases endorphins, or “happy hormones”. These can make you feel euphoric, and even provide pain relief. I’m sure you can relate – don’t you feel awesome after a good workout?
I also find that riding brings down my stress level through closeness with nature. Not only is a horse such a beautiful animal that I love to connect with, going riding (whether it’s in a forest, on a beach, or just on a farmland track) is a breath of fresh air – literally and figuratively. You can build up a good psychological connection with your horse and you will feel that your horse will reflect back your energy. To build this kind of relationship, here are some fun exercises that help you bond with your horse.
Horse riding is so well known as a stress reliever that a whole branch of therapy has evolved around it. Equine-assisted therapy includes interactions with and riding of horses. It helps you reduce stress and it also promotes emotional strength. Therapists claim that even just being around a horse can help you feel better and decrease stress.
Quick thinking & concentration
Horse riding is a fun activity but I definitely wouldn’t call it easy. Your horse is a huge animal, and controlling them often involves really subtle cues. To make these cues effectively and at the right time keeps you alert and focused. Frequent riders often develop really good concentration as a result.
Similarly, riding can be full of unknowns. There are so many variables at play – what environment are you in? How is your horse feeling? How are they responding to their environment? Things can change quickly and you as a rider have to be adaptable and responsive. It’s hard to avoid becoming a quick thinker!
Now I’m not implying that you have to be completely mentally engaged at all times. I know my mind can wander. The focus is more subconscious – you get into a rhythm with your horse naturally. It’s a really wonderful feeling, when you’re aware of it.
Confidence & responsibility
Riding a horse is a skill that a lot of people don’t have. Just developing that skill, and knowing you can do something that many other people can’t, can be a huge boon to your confidence.
As a confident rider, your horse will come to trust you. At the same time, they’ll project confidence back to you. Horses reflect your energies after you make a connection with them. Being around confident people (and animals) helps you to feel more confident. Additionally, with a horse you get a loyal friend. Just like a good human friend builds up your confidence by standing with you, your horse is always there to make you feel better, relaxed, and help improve your confidence.
Similarly, when you make a commitment to adopt a horse, you take responsibility for them. You feed them daily, you take them out, and you spend time with them. And while riding, you take responsibility over all of your actions. You are the one controlling the horse.
For me, being given responsibility makes me responsible. If I know my horse is relying on me, I’m going to show up. I’ll go the extra mile, because I know that my horse’s quality of life is directly reliant on me. And that translates to the rest of your life – one you’re in the habit of taking charge, you’ll keep doing it.
Deal with fears
As I said earlier, riding is not an easy job and a horse is a big animal. Taking care of such a big animal that could accidentally hurt you is actually really brave!
You deal with lots of possible fears while riding a horse: fear of falling, fear of getting hurt, fear of making mistakes.
But as every rider knows, although you might initially be scared, these feelings melt away over time. And maybe new fears replace them as you try newer and harder things with your riding, but that’s okay.
Regularly facing fear is good for you. It trains your brain to respond rationally to fear, and not panic. This will help you in so many contexts outside of your riding – school, work, relationships, anything. You tackle the challenges with confidence, as you are already used to feeling fear and overcoming it. You have already experienced fears while riding and now these fears are not new for you.
If you’re still working on your relationship with fear, let me recommend for you a couple of tips on overcoming fear for riders. I think they could be really helpful!
The most important part, along with all the above benefits is that you have fun.
For me, the psychological benefits of horseback riding aren’t always at the top of my mind. But it’s important to reflect on them, and what a service you’re doing to yourself by getting out and riding.
You get a pet and a good friend. You build up a healthy relationship. You stay connected with nature. You can reduce stress, improve your focus and even become more confident. What more could you ask for?
Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about the psychological benefits of horseback riding – or any benefits of horseback riding! 🙂
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