The Physical and Mental Benefits of Horseback Riding

The importance of exercise and the value of its benefits can never be overstated. There are loads of exercise programs out there designed to address specific areas of the body and keep you fit. For many people having to exercise is a real downer, it’s hard and boring and they just can’t stay motivated mentally to maintain their schedule.

The Physical Benefits

These people should look into more non-traditional ways of getting their exercise, ways that are fun so they look forward to it rather than dreading it. One non-traditional exercising method people don’t usually think of is horseback riding. This is an excellent way to strengthen your core muscles that stabilize your trunk (abdominals, pelvic, and back muscles). It’s more than just strengthening your core, it also helps with coordination and stability.

As you ride you’re performing an isometric exercise. That means using specific muscles to maintain a certain position (keeping your balance on the horse). The result is increased strength in your posture. Maintaining your balance can become even more of a challenge when the horse picks up speed. Galloping, cantering, and jumping will all work your muscles a little differently.

Muscle Tone/Flexibility

Aside from helping with your core muscles, horseback riding also works out your pelvic muscles and inner thighs. Doctors agree that the exercise from horseback riding can deliver just as effective workouts as performing weight-bearing exercises. Your arms and shoulders are constantly in motion communicating with the horse.


It depends on how fast you ride and the type of riding you but horseback riding can cause you to put out more energy, effort, and cardiovascular output than many or the popular exercise methods today. If you personally work out in the barn caring for your horse you get good exercise from that as well. This also strengthens muscles and helps to increase your cardio capacity. When you lift 50-lb. gags of feed, shovel, haul hay, and walk horses in and out of your barn (daily care tasks) you are getting a workout.

The Mental Benefits

Riding a horse will give you a mental workout as well. Quick-thinking, alertness, and a steady focus are required. Horses are large and powerful animals and one mistake can be hurtful.

You are constantly engaged in a relationship with your horse. You learn respect, understanding, control, a little give-and take, and how to be a good communicator. There is a constant back and forth between you and your horse. It is a relationship and a bonding experience. You not only learn about your horse but you learn things about yourself as well.

Most people are familiar with the psychological benefits of owning pets. Psychologists are now beginning to recognize the tremendous benefits that can be had from owning and riding a horse. There are a lot of therapists who are recommending horseback riding to stave off depression. Horses are a perfect mirror for us. They are highly emotional beings and very intelligent. Equine-assisted therapies are becoming more and more popular among therapists today.

Stress is the number one killer today and is at the root of most all health problems. It decreases the ability of the immune system to assist with preventing sickness. In the hectic, fast-paced world we live in, combating stress has become a very necessary survival requirement.

Horses are able to sense how people are feeling and tend to mirror those emotions and respond in kind. Just as dogs can sense fear so can horses. Just like with dogs and cats you have to build your relationship with a horse. Trust first has to be earned.

Some counselors say that horseback riding is an excellent alternative to talking things out, especially for those who don’t handle talking therapies very well. They believe that counseling is definitely not a ‘one size fits all’ answer and that all effective alternative solutions should be made available for those who need them.

Horse-based therapies have exploded in popularity. The success of the movie “War Horse” has helped in that area. Another reason is how successful the therapies adopted by EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth & Learning Association) have been. This organization, based in the U.S., trained 1,500 British therapists back in 2011. The regional coordinator for Europe is Coral Harrison. He stated that (paraphrase) “today we are seeing hundreds of brand new inquiries. Just a few years ago we were only seeing a handful.”

An American horse trainer named Franklin Levinson is working on establishing a regular horse base for his courses for troubled children. He stated “It’s been clinically documented, just being around a horse changes human brainwave patterns. People automatically calm down and are more centered and focused when they are around horses.” A horse is naturally empathetic.

Using animals for therapy is nothing new. Actually, the Greeks documented the therapeutic value of the horse back in 600BC. French physician “Cassaign” came to the conclusion in 1875 that equine therapy actually helped certain neurological disorders.


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