Looking for a way to fulfil your ‘fitness’ New Year’s Resolution for 2019? If you have not yet tried horseriding, maybe this could be the year!
RIDING IS FABULOUS FOR FITNESS!
“The best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse.” Lord Palmerston.
Anyone who rides will say it does them good, and if pushed to explain why, they might mention the fitness, fresh air and social aspects of the sport.
Sporty types might wax lyrical about core strength and muscle building, while for fashionistas there is always the sartorial aspect of fitted jackets, tight jodhpurs and knee-high leather boots to be considered.
High speed junkies will of course refer to adrenalin boosting while mindfulness practitioners could focus on the relaxing aspects of a gentle hack and a furry hug.
To celebrate the start of 2019, we decided to delve into the mental and physical aspects that make riding a superb sport for those looking to improve their, well, mental and physical wellbeing this year!
The Feel Good Factor
It makes you ache physically but working with a horse can give you a mental satisfaction that most other sports can’t: the thrill of teaching an animal and achieving a result. Horses are not machines, they have a mind of their own and working with them is an individual process, so to present a series of commands to which they respond is hugely satisfying. Go for those good vibes because they boost your sense of happiness and wellbeing.
Fitter for Longer
Injury is a factor common to all sports, but unless you are race-riding (i.e. a jockey), in comparison with other sports, riding is kind. Injuries mostly develop from over-stressed joints. Riding involves fluid action, is low impact (unless you fall off!) and disturbance to key joints, such as ankles and knees, compared with other sports, is minimal. Because of the lower impact levels and the fact that your body weight is mostly supported, riding is also a sport you can enjoy in your later years; people have been known to ride to a high standard in their 90s – in fact The Queen is a shining example!
A Personal Challenge
Every time you get on a horse you face a series of challenges, but in riding it is easy to achieve something – for many people getting on can be a challenge in itself! You also strive to improve each time which is a positive psychological boost – if you never set yourself challenges, your mind becomes stagnant which is a negative stimulus and leaves you feeling unsatisfied with life.
All riding makes you supple; even simpler feats such as sitting to the movement of the horse in walk, trot and canter will mean you are more supple than the average non-rider. If you can do a round-the-world in ten seconds, and manage a half-scissors without tangling your legs like spaghetti, all while maintaining a steady canter, your horizons will know no bounds – perfect if yoga is too mainstream for you!
Our planet gets more crowded by the minute, and though we are not yet falling into the sea, it is still important for us to interact sociably. Sociologists and psychologists can spend years teaching behaviour that riding naturally inspires: punctuality, routine, patience, responsibility, co-operation, teamwork and respect for others. And of course it’s all unplugged and off-screen. All these social attributes can be invaluable in the family and career aspects of your life – and you didn’t even notice you were learning!
Those Simple Pleasures in Life
A quiet hack in the country can be one of the most thrilling times for a rider. Horses can go where cars may falter, and can take you further than on your own two feet. Wildlife, which might disappear at the sight of a human, will often be unfazed by a horse – my pony and I have mingled with hares, skylarks, foxes, badger cubs and deer amongst others. And the enjoyment you sense coming from the horse itself, is catching, and can be immeasurably fulfilling.
Keeps you Regular!
Regular riding means regular bowels and believe it or not, this is one of the most sought after bodily functions in the world! Any exercise improves blood flow to the organs which in turn improves organ function. One of the major problems people experience in modern life is sluggish digestion. Riding stimulates improved blood flow to the gut – so ditch the prunes and hop on a horse!
Horses don’t care if you have greasy hair, BO or a zit the size of Everest. They don’t talk back, they don’t nag (excuse the pun) and they can keep a secret. They provide uncritical friendship without emotional pressure, which can be positive and reassuring. This is especially noticeable amongst people who are obviously different from others – and conscious of that – as they can bond with something which is different to everyone – e.g. an animal.
The Indie Factor
Independence applies to all riders – you don’t need to wait until you’re 17 years old or own a ‘riding licence’ in order to ride. As long as you have access to a horse you have access to peaceful time on your own – or fun adventures with friends. A horse can take someone to places a wheelchair can’t, or can erase inequalities caused by prosthetic limbs. It can give freedom and independence you wouldn’t otherwise have, and everyone is equal on a horse.
Huffing and Puffing
Deep breathing is good for you and any horseriding will produce this effect in varying degrees according to your fitness and activity levels. The deeper you breathe the greater percent of CO2 you expel, and the more oxygen you inhale. Oxygen enhances the performance of your brain and body making you feel more mentally and physically alert.
The Sweat Factor
During physical exercise salty water is secreted through your skin to cool in fresh air and so reduce body temperature. Considering you have 1.7 square metres of skin – bigger than a king-sized bed – we are talking plenty of water, but the good news is sweat is healthy. OK, so some may prefer lazing in a pool to combat heat, but here’s a secret: when that sweat pours from your pores it takes the dust and grime out with it. So, when you step from your steed looking like a contestant for a Wet T-shirt competition, your skin is in fact more deeply cleansed, than when you stepped out of the shower fully soaped and scrubbed that morning!
Riding spring-cleans your arteries! Contrary to popular opinion, you are not born with a fast or a slow metabolism. Metabolic rate varies at different times of the day; it is the rate at which cells liberate energy, so if you exercise it speeds up. Increased metabolism clears away large amounts of waste, so when you return to a state of rest it does not matter that the metabolism slows down again. No exercise leaves waste in the system – in time this builds up to cause heart disease which can be fatal.
Balance and Co-ordination
You use 300 muscles to balance when standing. Just think of the co-ordination required to ride! Anything you do daily involves proprioreception, which is essentially the way your body and brain interact to produce fluid and efficient movements. Balance and co-ordination are big elements in the overall way a human being deals with life. The effect of riding is dramatically illustrated by someone with cerebral palsy whose general lifestyle is vastly improved through the increased balance and co-ordination they gain from regular riding.
Emotional stress can affect our physical health. It can manifest itself as tiredness, lethargy, depression, indigestion, and cardiovascular disease. A certain level of stress is good for you, as it pressures you into peak performance; under no stress we are inclined to be less motivated and under-achieve. Stress is bad when it reaches a point where you can’t relax, you feel unhappy or under pressure despite performing well. To combat stress, you need to relax. Horseriding is an ideal combination of exercise and pleasure, which contribute greatly to relaxation.
“Sit up straight”
How many times have you heard that? But this riding aid can enhance your health. A good posture means good breathing – slouching cramps the lungs and squashes your abdomen meaning you won’t expel all that nasty carbon dioxide properly, leaving you tired and lethargic.
That Red-In-The-Face Bit
Contrary to popular belief, the red faces found amongst horse riders are not due to over indulgence from the hip flask. In fact, rosy cheeks should be desired rather than derided, because they result from an increase in blood circulation brought on by exercise, from 6 litres a minute as a couch potato to 50 litres a minute at full gallop. This takes oxygen and energy to all your vital organs giving you the kind of buzz a hip-flask denies.
We all know that unbeatable thrill of your first ever jump, the perfect half-pass, a flat-out gallop. It’s that moment when you are so exhilarated you feel you are floating, the world becomes surreal, everything is perfect. Well, those who say that feeling only exists when you’ve had a bit too much bubbly, think again. It is actually possible to feel this way, thanks to the way your body reacts to excitement. When we go for the ultimate thrill, we produce endorphins, the body’s natural laughing gas, designed to kill pain, calm you down and make you happy and relaxed. The ‘high’ this produces is nature’s Ecstasy, but it’s legal, safe and free.
Endorphins can cause addiction to riding: with regular exercise your body may become physically hooked on this natural high, and in serious cases, you can suffer withdrawal symptoms if you miss a day!
Then there’s the nervous tension. As you approach that jump with your heart hammering your body releases adrenalin. Adrenalin is designed to maximise your physical and mental potential to deal with danger. Though adrenalin creates a type of ‘high’ … this one is designed to get you into your ‘fight or flight’ zone, sending more blood to your muscles and oxygen to your lungs giving you an energy boost and increased performance. While too much stress can have negative effects, small and short-lived doses of adrenaline – perhaps experienced each time your horse spooks out riding – can be good for you, helping to boost your immune system and potentially slow ageing (amongst other benefits)! A breath of fresh air can be enough to stimulate the adrenal glands, so a gentle hack can be just as healthy as a manic cross country ride.
Save £££’s on Home Entertainment
Forget iPads and X Box; go for a hack and you will discover home entertainment of the best kind. Horses are an ideal height for their riders to peer over a hedge, and a perfect excuse for ‘just passing’. You can ride unnoticed anywhere at any time and peer in at the ‘family barbecue-battle’ scene, the ‘lover frantically escaping from a window’ scene, and countless others. Unlimited entertainment, and you don’t even have to pay a subscription!
Food, Glorious Food
Exercise takes energy which comes from food in the form of calories. Yes it’s the C-word, but fear it no more. Riding uses up to 250 calories an hour with a simple hack. Someone who exercises regularly can eat more cream cakes and chocolate without breaking the scales than someone who doesn’t exercise (but you do need to eat a balanced diet, regardless). Well okay, maybe you should eat turmeric and tomatoes, but at least next time you scoff a scone you won’t feel so guilty!
You Need The Rest
Muscles produce lactic acid as they are exercised, which is a toxin. Literally, exercise poisons you! As a result you feel tired and are forced to rest. While in this state of activity-induced rest, your body removes waste products, recharges the brain’s nerve cells and replenishes the lubricants in your joints. As riding exercises almost all of your 639 muscles at once, you produce plenty of lactic acid, inducing a very thorough rest, recharge and revitalisation. So, riding is good for you, but equally good is the rest you need afterwards!
Riding is not a boring sport – it is different every time you ride. This is an important incentive towards regular exercise, as many people give up other sports after they feel they have accomplished a certain level of skill. Because of the enormous variety of activities, and as horses are each individual characters, there is always something to learn in riding – no-one ever reaches the point where they can say they know it all!
The Riding for the Disabled Association
The British Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) was founded in 1969, after its pioneers were inspired by Mme Lis Hartel from Denmark, who despite being a victim of Polio, won a Silver Medal for Dressage in the 1952 Olympic Games.
Since the 5th Century BC riding has been recognised as being beneficial to the mental and physical wellbeing of disabled people, and today it is seen as one of the more progressive forms of therapy.
Therapeutic riding uses the horse as a tool to promote physical, mental, social, educational and behavioural development, and a special form of therapy known as Hippotherapy uses the horse itself as a therapist.
Riding has become an acclaimed method of improving the lives of disabled people and each year over 26,000 disabled grown ups and children have the chance to ride with the RDA.
The benefits of therapeutic riding are internationally recognised and RDA centres now operate all over the world.
For further information contact RDA: https://www.rda.org.uk