In this article I will let you know the answer to common question of “is horse riding is exercise”. Plus ideas on how you can improve your fitness for any equestrian discipline.
I often get asked this question given my background and what I do and my answer very much depends on what sort of horse riding, but in general yes it is exercise.
But what first defines exercise and what sort of horse riding?
Is horse riding exercise?
You see exercise and movement can be classed as the same thing, then there is the exercise that gets your heart rate up, typically called cardio and then there is exercise like HIIT training and weight lifting. Not to forget exercise like yoga. All these different forms of movement have different effects on the body and are different types of exercise. So given that movement and exercise can be classified as the same thing yes horse riding is exercise. However, the sort of exercise it is needs to be defined.
What type of horse riding
There are so many different types of horse riding, from dressage, eventing, show jumping, western, barrel racing, endurance through to someone who just likes to hack out on weekends. All require various forms of fitness in order to achieve the desired results. One thing is for certain however across all disciplines of horse riding is that the rider must develop coordination skills to move the body with the horse in order to stay balanced in the saddle. This requires a level of core strength appropriate to the level of riding.
Which muscles does horse riding work?
I have written an article here about the 8 Key Muscles Involved When We Ride specifically for dressage but similar principles apply across all riding. In order to be able to move with the horse, a rider requires a combination of stability, suppleness and stamina. With the central core being the most important to help the rider keep a neutral spine and feel stable in the saddle while protecting the spine. Along with this, the rider requires good adductor strength along with glutes, quads and hamstrings.
Is riding a cardio workout?
Cardio can be defined as exercise that keeps us around or under the 70% HR of our full capacity. Meaning it’s not high-intensity sprints and it’s also not sitting doing nothing. So movement like walking, light jogging, dancing, swimming and bike riding can all be classified as cardio because of the intensity in which you do it. However, each of these exercises can be moved from “cardio work” into high-intensity work if you were to add in hills, interval sprints or more resistance.
The way I explain light cardio is where it is movement in which you can hold a conversation at, so going for a walk with a friend and being able to chat and catch up.
More intense cardio is where you can say a few words but you also need to catch your breath.
Then high-intensity work is where you can’t talk, you need to get oxygen first and catch your breath.
Everyone’s fitness is different and how you respond to a workout may be different to someone else. So what makes you breathless can be different from the next person. That being said there are lots of different styles of riding. Some riding whereby you are able to chat with a friend while going on a hack, or the more intense like doing a competition dressage test, show jumping or a cross country course.
So to answer the question, yes horse riding is a cardio workout, but at what intensity it fully depends on the level and type of riding you are doing and the fitness of the rider.
Horse riding is a fabulous way to improve your core strength and stamina, however in order to be great at it, you also need to dedicate time off the horse to help you with this also and not solely rely on the horse riding as your only source of movement/exercise, more on how to do this soon.
How many calories do you burn?
Depending on the style of riding, your metabolism and how fit you are can all affect the number of calories you burn. But on average if you were to ride a horse for a 45-minute schooling session in walk, trot and canter you are likely to burn around 200 calories. The more intense the ride, the more calories you will burn.
Can you lose weight?
Horse riding itself is a great way to exercise and move your body. However, as I mentioned before it shouldn’t be solely relied on as your only form of exercise and movement. Especially if you are trying to lose weight. Weightloss is something that is improved in the kitchen and by improving your lifestyle choices. Getting in a foundation of movement off your horse each day is a fantastic place to start.
What sort of exercise should I do to improve my riding fitness?
When it comes to exercise off our horse too often we put it into the too hard basket and do too little or we do the extremes and overtrain. The key to getting your exercise right is to first understand that your body thrives off movement. It needs you to move and have movement scattered throughout your day. This helps improve your posture, fitness and energy.
It also needs you to keep your muscles strong and your body in even balance. A weak left side or a tight right hip is very quickly highlighted when on a horses back. So your exercise you do should be about improving symmetry, rider strength and balance.
I am sure you have seen what happens to a muscle when you break a wrist, they shrink. If you don’t use it you lose it and if you overuse it you abuse it. So it’s about balance and choosing exercises that enhance what you are trying to achieve as a dressage rider.
First, ask yourself are you getting a foundation of movement into each and every day.
And how much riding are you actually doing?
If right now you are only walking very minimal, can you build up to 5000 steps and adventually 10,000 steps per day and can you build this foundation of movement into your every day life. Then when it comes to your riding are you riding 3 days a week leisurely or do you ride 3 horses a day 6 times a week. You see each of these scenarios requires different advice.
Just like a house needs a strong platform to build from, so does your health. So create as much of a movement base lifestyle in and around your work and look for more opportunities in your day to move more. Because sitting all day at a desk isn’t doing much to help your riding and while I am not suggested you throw away your job, what I am suggesting is awareness of how you sit at your desk, how you spend your breaks and the exercise you do to bring balance to your posture to help enhance your riding.
Even if you work 8-5 at an office, there is still weekends and hours in and around work that you can move. So make the choice to take advantage of those hours and care for your body with more movement to enhance your rider fitness. Combine that with your riding and you have a recipe for success.
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Here are a few more articles similar to this that you may find useful to help you with your horse riding fitness.