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“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”Winston Churchill
There are lots of benefits to riding and looking after horses. Not only is it a form of exercise with plenty of physical benefits, but it is also has plenty of mental benefits too. In this article we will look at some of the benefits of horse riding and how these can be used to make positive changes in the industry.
Physical Benefits of Horse Riding
Gets You Moving
Looking after horses and riding is cardio exercise. Albeit it is mostly low intensity, lots of walking around, but probably enough to raise your heart rate a tiny bit. (If not, up the pace!) However, any movement is always better than no movement and the more you move the better it is.
For me, in an average day of working from home I am averaging 8000-10,000 steps. This is just from walking to and from the yard and doing my yard jobs at either end of the day. While this number isn’t particularly high, I know most people working from home are currently doing much less than that right now.
Once you get in the saddle, it can be anything to a nice low intensity stroll, to actually quite hard work! We have all had lessons either on the flat or jumping where our instructor has made us work hard and we need to stop for a breather. The harder you work, the higher your heart rate and that’s what cardio is – increasing your heart rate.
Builds your strength
Looking after horses is heavy work. Unsurprisingly, a half tonne animal eats a LOT! Bags of feed usually weigh about 20kg, bales of hay are probably similar in weight, with most horses having 7kg haynets overnight. Then you have all the carrying full water buckets and full wheelbarrows of poo and dirty bedding. While you aren’t going to become a body builder from looking after a horse alone, you will spend a lot of time lifting heavy items which will make you stronger.
Horse riding will also help you build your core and leg strength. So much of what we do in the saddle comes from our core, legs and bum. When non horsey people say riding isn’t hard, tell them that rising trot is like lots of mini squats on a bouncy skateboard!
Improves Coordination and Core Stability
A big part of horse riding is being able to do lots of different things at once, while not moving anything else. Your arms and legs need to be able to work independently from each other without your core collapsing.
Not sure what I am talking about? Well I’ve pinched a great exercise from Cherry Tree Training to demonstrate what I mean. Sit on the edge of your chair, feet on the floor, hands in your lap. Lift one knee up an inch or two, put it down then lift the other one. Do you slouch to one side or twist in your seat? If you did, then your core isn’t very stable. If you can do this, try throwing something small from hand to hand while you lift your knees one by one. This brings in the co-ordination aspect. Can you keep catching the ball and moving your legs without slouching?
Horse riding requires you to balance yourself, while moving, while also focusing on other things at the same time. Quite tricky things if you aren’t used to it.
Mental Benefits of Horse Riding
Problem Solving and Brain Exercises
When riding a horse, you are working with a living creature with it’s own mind. If you are new to horse riding, you have to work out what “buttons” to press to get them to do what you want. While the aids are seemingly simple – kick to go, pull to stop and steer, it really is more refined than that and each horse will want slightly different aids.
I remember Carl Hester saying somewhere that he struggled to get Valegro to perform a certain move as Charlotte had taught him it and she had her legs in a slightly different place. So even the pros ask and train in slightly different ways, which means if they get on a new horse even they have to play around to work out the “buttons”.
Once you have mastered the basics, you have to ride new exercises to keep it interesting for your horse. You need to find exercises what will make them stronger and help you correct any weaknesses they have. Sometimes the horse won’t want to play ball, and you have to think on the spot for the best way to work around the issue.
Like us, horses are also emotional animals. They can be sensitive to what we are feeling and sometimes we need to control our emotions to protect our horses. For example, if you are stressed or anxious, your horse can pick up on this and become tense and anxious themselves.
While working with horses you will often face problems what are frustrating, but you need to learn to separate the horse from these emotions and not take this frustration out on them. (Even if they are what is causing the frustration!) You need to take the emotion out of the situation and use problem solving to find the solution.
“Horses teach you great self-control as only one of you is allowed to freak out at a time and it is never your turn.”– Unknown
Spending time with horses has been proven to release “happy hormones” which relax us and make us happy. Studies have found an increase in Serotonin levels after spending time with horses. Serotonin is the “happy chemical” and as the nickname suggests, plays a role in making us happy. This is why you always feel better after an awful day if you spend some time with your horse.
Horses are also incredibly social and trusting animals. Equine therapy can be fantastic for improving traits in ourselves with in turn improve our social skills. Spending time with horses can help us learn how to develop relations, trust those around us and build our own confidence. All of which improve our social skills.
Horse Riding and the General Public
During the lockdown many people were stuck inside, many people used this time to focus on their health and fitness, setting themselves new goals to improve their life long term. Then once some of the restrictions were lifted, we saw an influx of people wanting to be outside, enjoying the countryside. Many horse owners even noticed a spike in people wanting to interact with their horses. Unfortunately, a lot of these interactions were in a negative way, involving entering private property and feeding horses things they shouldn’t eat. But what if we could utilise this interest to make some big changes to improve the countryside for all of us?
Ignorance vs Malice
Many of the bad interactions horses and horse owners have with members of the public are due to the general public’s lack of understanding of horses. Feeding horses, entering fields, not passing them safely on the roads, all of these things usually happen because they don’t understand the danger of what they are doing. Yes there is a small percentage of people who do these things because they feel like it is their right, or because they simply don’t care about the consequences. But what if we could find a way to educate those who do care about the consequences? That would put an end to a lot of the negative interactions we have.
More Customers For Riding Schools & Trekking Centers
For various reasons, many riding schools have been struggling for the last few years. But if we could capture those people who showed an interest in horses and wanted to spend more time outside during lockdown, we could kill two birds with one stone. We could teach more people about horses, improving how the general public behaves around horses while also generating more income for the riding schools and other grassroots areas of the industry.