If you don’t think that riding a horse can get you in great shape, you’ve probably never saddled up before. Most horseback riders have heard plenty of snarky comments about how riding isn’t a proper workout and how the horse does all of the work while you just sit on – however, straddling a large, powerful animal with a mind of its own is a full-body workout that engages muscles you probably didn’t even realize existed. There are some serious fitness benefits to riding a horse – and if you think that the horse does all the work, you’ve obviously never ridden one. If you’re looking to try out horseback riding, we’ve put together some great fitness benefits that you’ll likely experience.
Balance and Stability
Stability is essential in order to transfer energy into any sport or activity, such as horseback riding. When you’re on an unstable surface such as the back of a horse, balance is critical. If you’re on a horse that’s being led along by a handler this sounds pretty easy, this can quickly get messy once speed and transitions are added. If the horse dives to the left – and they often do, without any warning – you’ll need to remain upright in the saddle to maintain balance. If you’re already an experienced rider, there are a number of different exercises you can do to test your balance – try riding without stirrups or even bareback to discover how good your balance really is.
First time riders don’t take long to realize that horseback riding is more difficult than it looks. There is a lot that needs to happen simultaneously to make a horse transition to a faster gait or even to walk in a circle without wandering off and doing its own thing. This requires a coordination of body position, leg aids, and pressure on the reins all at once – in short, it’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. However, after a couple of hours’ practice per week, you’ll soon become more coordinated and this will transfer over to other sports and activities.
Thighs of Steel
After a day of horseback riding, you should be prepared for soreness in the legs, arms and core. Unless you’re propped up against a fence with your horse half asleep, there’s no room for passive sitting in this sport – you simply cannot ride without engaging your legs, especially the adductor muscles, which you essentially need to squeeze in order to stay put in the saddle.
Even if your normal workout routine allows you to get away without stretching, there’s no way that you can ride a horse without flexibility. If your hamstrings or glutes are tight there may be other areas to compensate when getting through a squat, but there’s no way around it when sitting on a horse. Sit in the horseback riding position long enough, and you will see great improvements in your flexibility.
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