I love horses and the fact that I get a workout while riding and working around the barn is just a bonus point. I've heard it many times: horseback riding isn't hard/a workout/exercise. You just sit there, the horse does all the work. Well, for someone who often finishes a ride panting and drenched in sweat I've known this not to be true for some time. Many of my first time riders will tell me the next week of how sore they were in muscles they didn't know they had. Riding is physically and mentally challenging and a great cardio workout that burns fat, strengthens, tones, boosts flexibility, quickens reflexes, reduces stress all while having fun. No boring workout here.
This is a great little article by a physiotherapist about the health benefits of horseback riding. In summary, riding intensely is cardiovascular exercise similar to jogging and cycling and works both the respiratory and circulatory systems burning 315-480 calories per hour. The rider is constantly using muscles to balance and “this exercise reaches the deep postural muscles of the trunk and pelvis and the abductor muscles of the thighs. Also, depending on the speed of the horse, other sets of muscles are working strongly such as the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutei’s during rising trot. Riding requires a great deal of coordination in order to get the desired response from the horse. As well as improved coordination and relaxation, riding stimulates the vestibular system by the movement of the horse and its changes in direction and speed. Proprioception has also shown to increase due to activation of the proprioceptors in the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint.”
The article concludes by saying "horse riding is a wonderful form of exercise, which stimulates the cardiovascular system as well as all the body systems. Although riding is a strenuous exercise, it is perceived as enjoyment, therefore the rider has increased tolerance and motivation to lengthen the period of exercise."
The article does also briefly mention what a stress reliever the horses are. "The mere act of patting a horse is proven to lower your blood pressure." Sometimes I really think the only time I can get my mind totally clear is when I'm riding and totally focused. Riding is a life saver for my mind and body.
I'll tell you what, after a long dressage or jumping session I'm sore. Not just my legs, but abs, arms, back, and shoulders. Riding also really works the hips, pelvic floor and sacro-iliac joints. And you have to use each group independently without being tense. A friend of mine who wears a fancy watch that keeps track of her calorie burn told me after our ride that she burned more calories riding than during her P90X workout! For me, horseback riding is challenging and the absolute, most fun I could possibly have while working out!