Hacking for health – how horse riding can get you fit

As the winter weather beats a retreat and spring starts to motivate us to get out and about, turning our back on the gym and looking for a way to get fit and healthy outdoors seems much more appealing. Would you rather spend an hour pounding a treadmill, or an hour galloping through the countryside, the wind in your hair, getting up close and personal with nature and improving your fitness at the same time?

Horse riding is a fun alternative to the usual mountain biking or hiking as a way to see the countryside, and it gives you a totally different perspective on things too. But don’t think for one moment that riding a horse is simply a matter of sitting on top of Dobbin and letting him do all the hard work. You’ll burn up a respectable 144 calories an hour just going for a gentle walk. Up that to a trot and you’ll be using up over 300 calories an hour just hanging on for dear life!

Using muscles you forgot you had

Because of the design of what is known as an ‘English’ style saddle, you’ll be forced to grip with your knees if you want to stay on top of your horse. Riding works out nearly all the core muscles. Your legs and buttocks are doing

far more work than you realise, and the posture you need to maintain to stay in control and on top of your horse (even when walking) means that your core abdominals are being engaged throughout. Further up the body, your arms and shoulders are getting a good workout too, as they are your ‘steering and braking’ system, while by strengthening your core abs, your back muscles (in particular the latissimi dorsi muscles that form a ‘girdle’ around your lower back) are also being strengthened.

Anyone who has ridden a horse will tell you that you’ll ache the next day just as much as if you had done a good hour in the gym – but you’ve also had the advantage of exercising your cardiovascular system too, and had a good time as well!

Riding is a very social form of exercise, and going out for a ‘hack’ with a group of fellow novice riders is the best way to stay safe and have fun too. Novice groups are usually given more placid horses or ponies to ride, so the risk of your mount bolting is minimised.

It’s important to remember, though, that as with any sport there is an element of risk, so make sure you have the right equipment. If you decide to take riding seriously and get your own horse, you’ll need to invest in some good quality safety equipment that includes a helmet, riding boots and gloves and even a Kevlar back defender to protect the spine in case of a fall.

It also pays to remember the little things too, such as horsebox insurance to protect your assets. Horse box insurance can include provisions for covering any tack that’s carried in the box, as well as the box itself. It can also include overnight stabling costs if the box is stolen or damaged and you need to stable your horse.

Riding can be an expensive hobby to get into and there’s certainly plenty of exercise involved (you’ll burn up plenty of calories just by ‘mucking out’ the stable in the morning!). But it’s a great way to get fit, socialise and have some fun at the same time.