The benefits of riding horses are numerous. While the sport is physically demanding, it provides both physical and mental benefits.
Using horses to treat patients can be dated back to the writings of the Greek physician Hippocrates circa 500 BC. During the 19th century, doctors across Europe often treated hypochondria and hysteria with horseback riding.
It wasn’t until the 1950s and ’60s that equestrian therapy became a popular treatment method in the US. Currently, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International oversees equestrian therapy in the US. Thanks to its hard work, numerous mental health and rehab clinics have included equestrian therapy to help treat their patients.
Riders often claim that spending time with their horses helps lower their stress levels, and they have the science to back them up. Multiple studies show that riding horses does lower your blood pressure and cortisol levels. This is due in part to the horse’s inherent rhythm when trotting. The mild bouncing also acts as a form of massage, improving circulation and relaxation. Science has also found that spending time feeding and grooming your horse extend that effect.
People who struggle with mental and emotional pain or trauma often find it difficult to trust others. This is because the cause of this distrust was another person. Horses, like humans, are social animals. People who participate in therapeutic riding programs have found that being able to talk to and engage with an animal has a favorable influence on them. When you ride a horse, you have to learn to trust its instincts and, over time, you come to rely on it. Slowly, you start forming a bond with it, and often the animal will become a good friend, which can lead to an renewed trust in people.
Horseback riding is therapeutic for the mind, but also good for the body. Additionally, you are getting an isometric workout by engaging your muscles to keep yourself firmly planted on the horse. The British Horse Society commissioned research that revealed that horseback riding is a healthy cardiovascular exercise. When trotting, you use more energy than when playing badminton.
Furthermore, a study at Texas A&M University looked at how much energy people use when riding horses at various speeds. They found that you can burn up to 200 calories riding a horse for 45 minutes. It did not matter whether it was a walk, trot, or canter. Additionally, more challenging activities like cutting or reining are roughly burning seven more calories per minute. The research also noted that non-riding activities like carrying bales of hay, water buckets, grooming, and saddling and unsaddling also expended large numbers of calories.
Another benefit of horse riding is that you end up having better posture. Horse riding requires you to have strong abdominal and lower back muscles. This is vital for keeping proper posture when standing and sitting. Because it works the core muscles, horseback riding is an excellent way to enhance your posture. Additionally, horseback riding helps improve posture because of the unique balance necessary to keep the horse stable.
Along with maintaining your balance when riding, you are also learning synchronization with the horse as you lead it in various directions. Balance and coordination are essential qualities for more experienced riders, and these skills continue to develop as you learn how to negotiate creeks, fences, and other obstacles.