The Fitness Guide

Rosie Gomez's Guide to Getting Fit!

Saddle Up: Why Horseback Riding Is Great Exercise

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riding a horseAlmost everyone has ridden a horse at some point in their lives, whether it was a trail ride during a mountain vacation, hopping on a friend’s horse during a visit, or a riding lesson at a local barn. Almost everyone is familiar with the day after that horse ride, as well: the aching thighs, the sore abdominal muscles, and the stiff back and shoulders.

Many people might eschew horseback riding as a serious workout. Those same people might think that the horse does all the work while the rider is just, well, along for the ride. This could not be further from the truth. Horseback riding requires serious muscle control, balance, and coordination in order to stay on the horse’s back and maintain control.

If you’re a horse lover and would like a new and unique way to work out, learn more about the incredible physical benefits of a day in the saddle.


Staying atop a 1,200 pound animal and making it go where you want it to go is no easy feat. It requires incredible balance and muscle control at all times, the likes of which some athletes didn’t even know they had.

To maintain the proper position in the saddle the rider must engage the entire lower body. Abs, hips, glutes, thighs, and calves must all work together to ensure that the rider stays in place even if the horse has other ideas.

Add activities like jumping or barrel racing to the mix and the workout becomes even more intense.

horseback riding is funFlexibility

Moving with a horse instead of against it is one of the cardinal rules of riding, and it has the added benefit of increased flexibility for the rider. Stretching and flexing while riding comes naturally after a while, but for the beginner it can be as intense as some yoga workouts.

Stretching before you climb aboard is key to prevent muscle soreness, but stretching while in the saddle helps as well. Many trainers will ask that their students perform specific stretches while they are warming their horses up at the beginning of a lesson.


One of the best health benefits of horse riding is the cardio workout that you’ll receive. Wear your heart rate monitor during your next lesson and you’ll be convinced. Holding your muscles in place while bending and stretching for an hour is an intense workout. Kick your feet out of the stirrups or ride bareback for an even bigger cardio blast.

Don’t end your day when your lesson is done; helping in the barn is a great cardio workout as well. Cleaning stalls, carrying hay and sacks of grain, cleaning saddles and bridles, and thoroughly grooming the horses will get your heart and lungs pumping, as well.

If you’re looking for a fun and different way to work out then you should definitely consider horseback riding, but don’t expect it to be easy. Learning to ride a horse requires hours of practice and hard work, and a great deal of physical effort. However, the reward not only lies in toned muscles. You’ll also get to connect with a magnificent animal and learn a fun and rewarding skill.


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