Ask just about anyone who has ridden a horse or spent a significant time with one, and they all say the same thing, more or less: there’s nothing else in the world like it. Slinging your leg over the horse’s back, clasping the reins while fragrant hay and pine scents waft around you in the wide, open wherever - it’s a profoundly unique, independence-inspiring experience that fills you with hope that anything is possible as long as you have this majestic beast supporting you.
This experience is almost universal, and it’s unsurprisingly beneficial, both physically and mentally. Let’s explore just a few potential health benefits of owning a horse.
1. The cardiovascular benefits of horse ownership
Horseback riding is a great form of exercise. Grooming, lifting the saddle on and off the back of the horse, mucking stalls, feeding, and riding your horse are all physically and mentally exerting activities. Most MET calculators classify horseback riding alone as “moderate exercise.” Many experts say that riding a horse for just 45 minutes can burn up to 200 calories for many people. Not too shabby!
Because you engage your core muscles to steady yourself for a ride while also closely following the horse’s movements, your body burns more calories than at rest. If you take your ride beyond a walk, trot, or canter by adding in cutting or reining, you can increase your caloric burn up to almost 7 calories per minute for the entire riding period.
Add that to a couple of hours of grooming and mucking stalls, both of which will quickly prove to be tough strength-building workouts, and you’ve got yourself a full-body, strength-training-and-cardio workout plan.
Research has shown us, time and again, that both moderate, regular exercise and being around animals can lower your blood pressure, which reduces your lifetime risk of heart disease. Horseback riding is unique in that it provides both moderate exercise and exposure to an animal. We call that a win-win around here.
2. Ride to improve your strength, balance, and posture
Horseback riding uses all the muscles that hold your posture and stabilize your body, so maintaining proper riding posture engages and strengthens these muscle groups, including the back, abdomen, and legs.
As you sit tall, pushing your legs into the horse’s sides, your abdominal muscle groups engage to keep you upright. And as the horse moves, it causes eccentric load on your core so you have to use your smaller stabilization muscles to stay upright.
Many new riders will say the next day, “I’m sore in muscles I didn't even know I had!” This is the result of the body self-correcting posture in response to eccentric movement the horses’ movements provide, in ways that many more static workouts cannot reproduce.
3. Feel your emotional well-being skyrocket
Spending time with horses, riding, grooming, and feeding them, may be emotionally therapeutic for many people. There is a growing body of evidence to support equine therapy as a treatment for several psychological or social ailments, but that doesn’t mean that you have to suffer from these illnesses to appreciate the psychological and social benefits of spending time with your horse.
Being around a horse requires you to tune into your emotional state. Unsurprisingly, this is the first step in approaching the animal as well as the first step in addressing emotional imbalances in yourself. Horses can famously sense sadness, anxiety, trepidation, and other human emotions, and they will respond to those emotions. So you have to learn to communicate with yourself and the horse, which is the first step to emotional self-awareness.
Working with horses forces us to be present in the moment and attuned to behavior and body language - both ours and the animals'. This practice of mindfulness and connection may help us gain greater awareness of ourselves and our environment, promoting a sense of mindfulness and emotional connection.
Horse ownership can also open the door to participation in equestrian events like competitions, trail rides, or group lessons. Activities like this provide contact with fellow equine enthusiasts, which can develop into long-lasting friendships with others who share interests and experiences. Research has shown us that friendship may help us all live longer, and who doesn’t want that?
4. Increase your knowledge and confidence
When you own a horse, you have no choice but to study their behavior, needs, and training techniques as you learn to work with them. This ongoing learning process provides mental stimulation, improves problem-solving skills, and increases knowledge. It’s no secret that keeping your mind sharp can help you live a long and prosperous life, but the added advantage of learning to care for your animal will return in dividends as you age together.
Did you know that most horses have a lifespan of 25-30 years? That’s a long time to learn and grow together! Building your relationship with your horse, overcoming adversity together, and achieving goals in training or riding can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem. You’ll feel pride at the sense of accomplishment you feel when you master a new skill or develop a connection with your powerful animal, and this pride can grow into improved overall confidence in yourself and your ability to navigate challenging situations beyond the horse barn.
Additionally, owning a horse requires a significant level of responsibility and discipline. Taking care of their basic needs, maintaining a schedule, and being accountable for their well-being can instill valuable life skills while promoting personal growth and a sense of accomplishment as well.
5. The great outdoors’ great effect on health
It’s easy for us to get stuck in the rut of staying inside. Work, our homes, families, and a general distaste for discomfort all compel us to stay inside all day. However, there’s a growing body of evidence that outdoor exposure can positively affect mental health, including improved mood, reduced anxiety, and increased vitamin D production.
Being outside while caring for and riding your horse exposes you to fresh air, sunlight, and natural surroundings, which provides you with all of the aforementioned benefits. And owning a horse also provides the accountability that many people need to get outside with regularity: the horse doesn’t care that it’s raining if its stall needs to be cleaned or it needs exercise or food, and as the owner, it’s your responsibility to care for your horse. For many people, this accountability is exactly the kick they need to get outside and take better care of themselves.
It's important to acknowledge that the health benefits of owning a horse can vary widely between people, and individual circumstances should be considered. Though owning a horse is beneficial for many people in many ways, including those we listed today, horse ownership also comes with added time obligations, financial responsibilities, and the increased need for proper knowledge to ensure the well-being of both the owner and the horse.
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