Whether you’re new to the equestrian world or you have years of experience in the saddle, you’ll know that horse riding can be a great form of exercise and a super-fun way to stay in shape.
According to The British Horse Society, you can count your horse-related happenings as moderate to high energy exercise (depending on what it is you’re doing) – great news if you want your hobby to help you lose weight or tone up.
While there are plenty of pros to horse riding – improved physical health being just one of them – there can also be some risks. That’s why it’s so important to have proper horse rider insurance in place before you set off for a hack around the hills.
So you’ve heard the good news; handling horses counts as exercise! Whilst we’re not saying you need to throw away your gym membership just yet, you can definitely burn some major calories if you’re riding or looking after your horse just a few times a week.
You could be looking at impressive benefits like improved core strength, muscle tone and posture, not to mention the social and psychological advantages. Depending on the activity, you might also be getting a pretty decent cardio workout, too.
Just because you’re sitting on a horse and they appear to be doing most of the work, doesn’t mean you’re not active too. You’ll certainly find that after a few hours of riding, you’re tired and it will definitely feel as though you’ve done physical exercise. Horse riders have to use their core stability and strength in order to stay on the horse and control its movements. Let’s delve a little into what core strength is required.
One question a lot of people ask is whether horse riding tones your body. There are many muscle groups involved in adequately riding, most of all your core -– abdomen and back. These are the main muscles involved in controlling your horse; slowing down and stopping require you to sit up tall, contract your abs and ground yourself. That’s not to mention when you’re trying to steer your steed left or right or in a figure eight; the tension in your sides can lead to some seriously toned obliques.
This is all while you’re doing the basic moves, too – you’ll be working your core a lot more if you’re showjumping or eventing. This is because your abs do a lot of the work as you lean forward and straighten back up over each jump. Your core is your anchor when it comes to horse riding and it will certainly improve if you’re a regular rider, along with your posture and coordination.
Along with an improved core, expect to see some extra definition in your thighs if you’re thinking about taking riding up as a hobby. Your quads are another main muscle group that takes the brunt of your weight and help a lot with stability when you’re riding. Gentle thigh squeezes and calf movements are what communicates what you’re thinking to your equine and how it should move next.
If you’re investing your time into owning, training or just loaning a horse, you could find your coordination and balance also greatly increase. And with better balance and coordination, comes better stability, too.
When you’re riding at a gentle walking pace it’s not so much of an issue, as long as you know your hands and feet are in the right place. Trouble can arise when you pick up speed and start to tackle manoeuvres. If your horse darts right without warning, you need to know instinctively which way to move so your body stays centred and you can bring your buddy back in line.
Regular lessons and rides build your total body coordination, making sure your arms and the pressure on your reins, leg pressure and body are all working in sync to guide the pony beneath you. You’ll soon find your centre of gravity when you’re on top and you’ll learn how to move in harmony with your horse, maintaining stability and balance – no matter what the challenge.
Unfortunately, you’re not always going to be on your best form and accidents can and do happen, that’s why horse rider insurance is essential for anyone, whether they’re an old hat or new to the saddle.
More experienced riders can still improve their stability and coordination by trying out bareback riding – taking away the saddle makes a big difference. Your centre of gravity will change again and you’ll find new coordination and balance challenges to overcome without stirrups keeping your feet in place.
The benefits don’t end when you dismount your trusty steed. Owning or loaning a horse usually means a lot of hard, high-energy work outside of just riding. You’ll continue to keep burning calories when you’re mucking out, pushing wheelbarrows around the yard, lifting water buckets, grooming your pony and more. You can probably even count chasing your mischievous pony around the field as a decent bit of cardio when he’s avoiding coming in of an evening!
Another huge benefit of working with horses is the calming effect it can have on your mind. Whether you’re grooming your horse, lunging them around the paddock or out on a hack cantering against the breeze, your mind is focused solely on only what you’re doing in that moment.
Like with most sports and activities, horse riding allows you to set yourself goals and challenges, which can be as simple as learning how to correctly mount and dismount or something harder like learning a new pace or how to jump. The process of learning these skills can improve memory and achieving your goal can boost your motivation as well as increase your self-esteem. Just think about it; if you can get your 500kg stubborn Selle Français to precisely walk a dressage test, then what else can you do in your daily life?
On top of this, it’s generally accepted that spending time with animals can raise the levels of your happy-hormone, serotonin, meaning that spending time with your horse can definitely be a feel-good afternoon. Having this kind of getaway, be it an occasional afternoon or a few full days a week, can give you just enough ‘me time’ to re-balance your mind, relax and leave you ready to tackle your next big thing.
If you want it to, horse riding can have a competitive edge, which can certainly showcase your dedication and determination to succeed. Along with this usually comes new friendships, forged in the ring or cross-country course. Competing on horseback will improve your sportsmanship and teach you to be a humble winner or graceful loser. Outside of competitions, you’re likely to make lifelong friends around your yard, increasing your well-being and social life, which in turn can help relieve stress or feelings of anxiety.
When it comes to friendships and horse riding, you can’t overlook the impressive bond that forms between a rider and their mount. Every horse rider has that one horse who changes their whole outlook and shows them what a true connection with animals really means.
Controlling your horse, especially out on the road, commands a high level of alertness and awareness of your surroundings. As well as being in tune with what your horse is thinking, a skilled rider has to be aware of oncoming traffic, animals and other riders to be able to manoeuvre quickly in anticipation of issues.
If you’re riding past parked cars or alongside walkers or cyclists, you need to have a sense of how wide your horse is, how close you are and if you should allow more space. The more you ride, the more natural it becomes, and this spatial awareness is an essential transferable life skill for things like driving, running or cycling.
As with any sport, there are risks and possible injuries that can come with riding, sometimes more so when you factor in that you’re working with a large, potentially unpredictable, animal. That’s not to say that horse riding or horse management is wholly dangerous, but there are precautions that need to be taken when owning a horse or setting foot on a yard.
Accidents and injuries to both rider and horse are, of course, the negatives of riding and owning a pony. From trips and falls to kicks, bites and accidents during events and training, there are a number of unfortunate incidents that can occur. That’s where horse rider insurance comes in, taking care of the financial aspects so you can concentrate on getting back in the saddle.
There are steps that both novice and experienced riders need to take into account to help minimise accidents; steps that become second nature for many regular riders.
Most importantly, new riders or horse owners should be properly educated. Regular and ongoing riding lessons are key to improving your ability to handle a horse and reap all the benefits that come along with it.
Until a rider is confident, their time with a horse should be supervised by an instructor who can teach them how to competently ride and build their self-esteem around horses. Any hacks (especially on roads) should be undertaken with an experienced rider until the novice can demonstrate adequate handling skills and knowledge of the local riding routes.
Unfortunately, accidents can happen, even if you take all the precautions in the world. Sometimes they can be total flukes like taking a tumble over a jump at an event or your horse stopping dead when you’re deep in a canter, launching you headfirst over the top.
From bumps and bruises to broken bones and more serious consequences for either horse or rider, nailing down your horse rider insurance needs to be the first step to responsibly riding and owning a pony.
In the event of an incident, horse rider insurance can take care of things like emergency vet bills, personal accident cover and importantly, public liability insurance amongst other things. If you own a horse, ensuring you have public liability cover should be top of your list; it can cover you if anyone makes a claim against you for an accident that occurred due to your animal.
Why not find out more about horse rider insurance and how it can help you, whether you own or loan your horse?