Riding Horses for Health

Kingston horse riding at Raspberry RidgeThe Health Benefits of Riding

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a (wo)man.” ― Winston Churchill

I am often approached by adults who want to start riding, or who rode as children or teens and want to start again. Many of my beginning students now are adults. These range from early 20’s to 60’s.

Horse riding has been shown to provide both physical and psychological benefits, due to the nature of the sport in which the rider participates with a companion animal. Studies have also found that riders with physical disabilities and chronic illness are normally able to participate at the same level of intensity as non-disabled riders.1

So where does starting to ride as an adult begin? First, the rider’s physical fitness must be assessed. Initially, this is done by a series of questions which include details of height/weight, as well as the level of activity (picking up the remote, walking the dog twice/week, yoga class 3x per week plus walking the dog, running several times per week, etc.) 3 These questions give us an idea of where to start.

For rider safety, I advise women who have had no regular exercise activity, and who are over the age of 45 should get a bone density test done, in order to determine that they are not suffering from osteoporosis.

From there, the potential rider should look for a suitable facility. Some facilities are more geared to young riders wishing to compete on the show circuit. Scope out stables with very experienced school horses, and with experience and interest in teaching adult beginners. Choose somewhere that you feel comfortable with the instructor, and the condition of the horses.

You need not invest in a lot of equipment. Most facilities will have helmets that you can use. Although that is the first piece of equipment that you will want to buy for yourself, this will give you a chance to see if riding is for you. Low-heeled boots or shoes, gloves, and yoga/track pants will allow you to be comfortable and safe.

On your first lesson, expect to spend time learning to tack up (saddle and bridle) the horse, in order to gain some familiarity with your new four-legged friend. Then you will probably be learning how to get on, hold the reins, doing some stretching and balancing exercises, and spend time walking and steering. You may even trot. Be sure to communicate your comfort level. Your instructor should want you to be challenged, not bored or fearful.

A 150 lb adult doing an average beginner level lesson, spending 20 minutes doing horse grooming/tacking up (10 minutes before and after riding, 20 minutes total) would burn 135 calories, Horseback riding at a walk for 50 minutes would burn 142 calories and 10 minutes trotting would burn 74 calories, for a grand total of 351 calories. 4 This workout is similar to a 10 km/hr cycle. 1

Riding is a great sport to get you to enjoy the outdoors, make new friends, and to spend time with some beautiful, empathetic animals. You might even raise your fitness while you’re not paying attention!

Cheryl Spencer is a certified English and Western coach who has been coaching full-time since 1993. She own and operates Raspberry Ridge Farms equestrian centre. You can contact her at 613-378-0321, info@raspberryridge.com , visit her website at www.RaspberryRidge,com or go to Facebook.com/RaspberryRidgeFarms

Sources/Further reading:

1 BHS commissioned study at Plumpton College of Brighton University: http://www.bhs.org.uk/~/media/BHS/Files/PDF%20Documents/Health%20Benefits%20of%20Riding%20in%20the%20UK%20Full%20Report.ashx

2 The health and fitness benefits of horseback riding http://www.realbuzz.com/articles/the-health-and-fitness-benefits-of-horse-riding-us-en/

3 Conquering Rider Fear: http://www.raspberryridge.com/conquering_rider_fear.htm

4 Calorie Burn Calculator: http://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/cbc