Updated: Sep 13
If you think that riding a horse doesn't involve much more than just sitting there like a lump on a very large, moving log, think again: horseback riding has proven health effects, both physical and mental. Riding, then, is a valid and fun form of exercise that new and experienced equestrians alike can enjoy. Here are the most-common benefits of getting on your favorite horse.
Being outdoors, getting fresh air, seeing nature--these are all great for your overall mental well-being. After a work-week of being cooped up in the car, office, and house, a horseback ride across a pasture or along a trail can relieve stress and help you feel better. In fact, the British Horse Society reported that horseback riding, even infrequently, can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Then there are the benefits of bonding with another living being: in this case, one that's much bigger and stronger than you could ever be. Whether you're riding that beautiful equine along a trail, giving him a good brushing afterward, or mucking out his stall, you're interacting with a large animal: something that requires patience, effort, and trust. This boosts confidence; if you can take proper care of a horse, you can do all sorts of other things.
If you want to get in a muscle-building and cardio session without going to the gym, take a ride. Being on a horse requires constant adjustments, both large and small, to stay balanced. Lots of muscles work together to keep riders in the correct positions. New riders may "feel it" the day after in their arms, abs, backs, and even legs. You'll have both tightness and soreness, especially at first, but keep working at it; soon enough, your body will get stronger and the unpleasant parts will go away.
Being on horses can also improve your overall balance and coordination. You frequently shift your weight as the horse moves, just to stay in the saddle where you belong, and all of your limbs are involved in the effort. As an added challenge, you have to keep both of your hands free a lot of the time so that you can control the reins--so you can't spend your whole ride clinging to the saddle horn or the horse's mane.
Horses offer riders and caretakers lots of benefits; some are less obvious than others. Some are immediately apparent, like your overall mood after a good ride. Others take time to develop. As you keep riding, you'll notice that you don't ache as much afterward, that you're less tired after a good session, and that you're more physically capable off the horse than you were when you started.