I hear people claim horseback riding isn’t a sport and doesn’t require physical fitness all the time. They say riding is just sitting on a horse while the horse does all the work. While this can be true for a few very limited instances it isn’t normally the case.
Horseback riding is actually a great form of physical exercise that increases flexibility, strength, balance, and cardiovascular endurance.
In order to ride effectively you must learn to balance on the back of the horse. At the walk this isn’t too hard, but as the horse becomes faster this becomes increasingly difficult. You must also learn to compensate for all the missteps, changes in tempo, and other variables that can affect the horse you are riding. After all, the horse is an animal not a machine and isn’t 100% consistent in its gait and way of moving. Good riders can handle even big spooks, trips, and sudden changes of pace without so much of a bobble in their position. This takes an incredible amount of balance and muscle control.
Horseback riding also takes a lot of strength. Ask anyone who has taken a break from riding and they will tell you that they were sore in places they didn’t even know they had muscles after they rode. In order to stay balanced and absorb the movement of the horse you need a lot of physical fitness. As the horse moves under a rider he pushes the rider forward, backwards, up, down, and sideways. Big powerful movers push the rider with even more force. It takes strength to resist this movement and stay centered in the saddle.
Since horseback riding involves lots of strength over a period of time it will tend to increase your heart rate. Unless you are a fairly active person this constant use of muscle strains your cardiovascular system as it tries to supply enough oxygen to all the muscles you are using. People that ride consistently get fit enough to not strain their cardiovascular system in a normal ride, leading to an increase in cardiovascular endurance.
Riding also requires flexibility. In order to ride effectively you must be able to stretch you calf and ankle in order to put your heels down, which places you in a stabilized position on the horse. You must also be able to open your hips to wrap them around the horse and effectively use your seat bones to control the horse. All your muscles must stay long and elastic to allow for the constant movement of the horse under you. Tight, braced muscles don’t allow a rider to go with any discrepancy in movement of the horse.
All of these factors make riding a great form of exercise for those looking to be healthy and active in a fun way. Riding also has the benefit of being a low impact form of exercise ideal for those looking to avoid stressing their joint with typical exercise activities such as running.
However, as with any serious sport, the mere act of riding alone will not get you in the peak physical form you need to be in to be at the top of the sport. Riders that want to excel should exercise at the gym to increase their core strength, build leg and arm muscles, and increase their cardiovascular endurance. Exercise such as yoga and pilates can be very helpful to riders due to their combined focus of strength, balance, and flexibility.
There are whole exercise programs designed for riders if you are interested in becoming a better rider. Below are a few that are quick, easy, and effective.
Next time someone tries to tell you that riding isn’t a real sport explain to them all the physical benefits of riding. And that doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of how difficult our sport is! You also have to think about the emotional and mental component of riding horses. However, the bottom line is horseback riding, like any other sport, requires strength and athleticism as well as a gradual refinement of skills in order to get to the top of your game.