Anyone who has ever slung a leg over a horse’s back, held the reins and ridden into the sunset (or at least around a corral) knows the sensation.
Yeah, that one. The one that makes you sit tall, sit proud, feel one with another living being. The one that fills your nostrils with the smell of hay or of pine trees; that fills your spirit with hope that anything is possible, and fills your mind with wonder at the majestic beast supporting you.
As an added bonus, you’re also guiding yourself to a longer and healthier life. You’re bonding -- with yourself and your horse, of course, but also with nature. Because in a world filled with treadmills and weight machines, nothing beats being outside.
And once out there, benefits to your heart, your body, your spirit and your mind abound.
Here are six reasons to saddle up.
- Cardiovascular health. A study commissioned on behalf of the British Horse Society found that horseback riding is indeed a good cardiovascular workout. Even just a half hour of riding is considered “moderate exercise,” said BHS PR executive Megan Hawkins, “while trotting exerts more energy than playing badminton.”
- Core strength. Sitting tall, pushing your legs into the body of your horse ignites the core muscles, which are imperative for balance and posture.
- Burning calories. In a Texas A&M University study, researchers focused on the amount of energy expended during high-intensity horseback riding. But you need not be roping cattle to burn calories.
“Riding a horse for 45 minutes at a walk, trot and canter can burn up to 200 calories,” said Dr. Dennis Sigler, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horse specialist and professor in the department of animal science at Texas A&M University in College Station. “If you do something a bit more strenuous such as cutting or reining, that can come out to nearly seven calories per minute for the entire length of the riding period.”
Plus, lifting a saddle onto and off the horse’s back, carrying buckets of hay and water to its stall, grooming -- all these burn plenty of calories.
- Lowering blood pressure. One of the benefits of regular exercise is lowered blood pressure; horseback riding is exercise. Lower blood pressure can reduce the risk of heart disease. Plus just being around animals has been shown to do that as well.
- Helping make decisions. While riding, you’re constantly deciding whether to speed up or slow down, what paths to avoid, when the horse and you need a break. That knowledge translates into the rest of your life, too.
- Relaxing. The horse’s natural movement is calming; walk together and your bodies will be in sync.
People who have participated in the American Heart Association’s Beach Ride know these benefits firsthand. The event marks its 40th anniversary this year and has raised more than $5 million for the AHA.
“I just feel so happy when I'm riding,” said longtime Beach Ride participant Debby Rose. “It’s such a joy, whether I ride for 20 minutes or ride for an hour. I hop on my horse and enjoy God’s beauty.”