benefits of horseback riding american heart association cowgirl magazine

As riders and horse owners, we know beyond a doubt that our horses are good for us. From the fitness benefits of riding and barn work to the way horses lift our spirits and ground us, most horsemen and women would likely agree that a life with horses is healthier than a life without them. From increasing your cardiovascular health to helping you relax, horses can influence both your physical and mental health in ways you might not realize.

Here are six health benefits of horseback riding you get every time you saddle up:

  • Improves cardiovascular health. A study commissioned on behalf of the British Horse Society found that riding is indeed a good cardiovascular workout. Even just a half hour of riding is considered “moderate exercise,” said BHS PR executive Megan Hawkins, “while trotting exerts more energy than playing badminton.” The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity (or a combination of both), preferably spread throughout the week. According to the Association, exercise is one of the best ways to keep your body healthy — physically and mentally. 
  • Increases core strength. Sitting tall, squeezing your horse’s sides ignites your core muscles, which are imperative for balance and posture. Even the most leisurely rides require a notable effort from your core. More advanced maneuvers require even more core strength, better balance and endurance.
  • Burns calories. In a Texas A&M University study, researchers focused on the amount of energy expended during high-intensity horseback riding. But you don’t need to be roping cattle to burn calories. Lifting your saddle on and off, carrying buckets, lifting hay, grooming — all these regular barn chores and activities burn plenty of calories. “Riding a horse for 45 minutes at a walk, trot and canter can burn up to 200 calories,” said Dr. Dennis Sigler, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horse specialist and professor in the department of animal science at Texas A&M University in College Station. “If you do something a bit more strenuous such as cutting or reining, that can come out to nearly seven calories per minute for the entire length of the riding period.” Staying active is important for your physical health and your well-being. Not only can it help you feel, think, sleep and live better, it improves overall quality of life, according to the AHA. 
  • Lowers blood pressure. One of the benefits of regular exercise is lowered blood pressure — even light riding or barn work done regularly counts. Plus, just being around animals has been shown to do that as well. Knowing your blood pressure numbers and managing high blood pressure are two important things you can do to prevent heart disease and stroke states the American Heart Association.
  • Helps make decisions. While riding, you’re constantly making decisions, such as whether to speed up or slow down, what paths to take or avoid as well as when to take a break. Exercising those decision-making skills can translate into the rest of your life, too.
  • Feels relaxing. The horse’s natural movement is calming, so when you and the horse walk or ride together, your bodies are in sync. More than 80% of riders claim that horseback riding created feelings of relaxation and happiness. Recreational riders report a significantly higher sense of physical and emotional well-being and happiness than people who don’t enjoy the companionship of animals. AHA science shows that happy individuals tend to sleep better, exercise more, eat better and not smoke.

Animals can bring out the best in us, and that’s especially true for our horses. The role they can play in maintaining a healthy lifestyle means making time to ride isn’t just for fun — it’s also good for your health! That’s why as part of the American Heart Association’s Healthy Bond for Life™ initiative, the AHA has launched Horses Have Heart —  a nationwide community celebrating the love of horses for good health and well-being. You can help build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke by organizing a fundraiser.

Learn more at Make sure to follow the AHA on Facebook & Instagram!