Horse riding isn’t really a workout. After all the horse does all the work doesn’t it? Think again. As any rider will tell you, if you sit astride a large powerful animal that has a mind of its own, you will definitely get a full body work out.
It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner just focusing on staying on, or an experienced rider doing a timed cross country course, everyone who gets on a horse uses their muscles.
Want thighs of steel, a strong core and healthy back? Jump on Black Beauty, or the next best beastie the riding school gives you. Whilst riding, your obliques and transverse abs contract to keep you upright on the horse, strengthening your core and back muscles.
Your leg muscles engage to help you stay in the saddle and the inner thighs squeeze when you cue the horse to ‘go’. The movement of the horse requires you to roll your hips down causing a flexing of the glutes and a butt workout you hadn’t even thought of.
Sitting on a horse for extended periods also enhances your flexibility, although that’s not the message your body will be telling you after your first ever hour of riding.
Its takes balance and stability to get your weight positioned right in the saddle. You then need to maintain this position through walk, trot, canter, gallop and jumping by… and here’s the important bit, relying on your own body.
Gripping the horse’s sides with your legs to stay on tells the horse to ‘go’ and could send it bolting down the hill. You may not think you did anything but the horse felt your Heimlich manoeuvre around its ribs. Similarly, the reins are not handles to hold onto for dear life, but a tool to cue your horse’s movements, so yanking it in the mouth is not going to build a great relationship between you and your trusty steed. Balance and stability are skills you need in life and are definitely cultivated on horseback.
Remember the act of simultaneously rubbing your tummy and patting your head? It’s hard to do as we are asking the body to multitask. Horse riding has a similar component to it, so increases our coordination. In fact, therapeutic riding programs for the sight impaired show marked improvements in coordination. Movements start to be done by ‘feel’.
An elite rider, like all athletes, has great body awareness and develops quick, automatic, effective movements that can be useful in many areas of life. It’s not all just horsing around!
If this isn’t enough reason to saddle up, research shows men check out women who ride horses – just ask Zara Phillips.
By Rachel Livingstone Personal Trainer & Owner of The Health Hub www.healthhub.net.au
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