Body Buzz – Horsing Around
by Sasha Kanal
Are you thinking of taking up a new sporting challenge? Read on to find out why horse riding might just be the activity for you.
Autumn is as good a time as any to take up a new sport or fitness challenge. The change in season is often an excuse for many to take their activities indoors and out of the elements, but this means missing out on a whole host of physical and psychological benefits associated with the great outdoors. There is one sport however that ticks every box in terms of being outside in the fresh air; being at one with nature; getting a great workout and raising the serotonin levels into the bargain. This is the art of horse riding.
Whether you consider yourself to be a ‘horsey’ person or not, is to miss the point entirely. There are many opportunities in our beautiful part of Sussex to take up the sport as a beginner or restart it again after a lifelong (or shorter) hiatus.
Drive down any country road and sooner or later you’re bound to see signs for a reputable riding school that takes both adults and children, offering a range of different learning options. Far from a passive, recreational pastime, the physical, mental and social advantages of taking up horse riding are undeniable.
Riding on horseback is an isometric exercise, which means the body uses specific muscles to stay in certain positions, relaxing and contracting according to the horse’s movement. Unsurprisingly much of the time, this entails keeping your balance and staying on the horse! This in turn means that postural and core strength is critical when riding and will most likely improve the more you ride. Muscle groups that are well used include, trunk, abdominal, back, pelvic and legs and a rider has to ‘squeeze’ these muscles to stay in the saddle as well as ‘cue’ the horse.
Co-ordination also comes into play. To ride at a relatively proficient level, many things need to happen at once in order to control what you would like your horse to do. Co-ordinating leg pressure, rein control and body position simultaneously is not as easy as it looks. Regular riding will eventually see more awareness of what’s needed to produce a desired result, such as getting your horse to go left or walk in a circle.
A positive side effect of riding is that it also burns calories and is classed as a moderate activity. Just one hour is said to burn up to 650! If you get involved with the care of the horse such as mucking out, then this will increase and will also help tone your muscles through lifting and repetitive movement.
More than anything, it’s important to remember that horse riding is so much more than the above and not just an extension of the gym – in fact, it could be the ultimate holistic sport. Being with and having respect for an animal can have an amazingly therapeutic effect on a person and a horse is no different. Learning new challenges in the fresh air and amongst greenery for an hour every weekend can bring wonderful benefits to both mind and body. So are you ready to saddle up?
CAUTION: If you are unsure of any new exercise regime please consult your GP before commencing.