Why are so many women falling in love with horse riding?
For millennia, horses and people evolved together. Practically every civilisation from antiquity onwards used them. And if they couldn’t ride horses, they’d make do with similar animals, like camels.
In the modern world, though, the horse is no longer the primary means of transport. Thanks to automobiles, we can zip from A to B faster and more reliably than we ever could on the back of an animal. And yet, despite this, we’re still in love with horse riding. In fact, surveys show more women than ever before are taking it up the activity.
But why? What’s driving this return to the horse in this era of a pandemic? Let’s take a look.
For many, recent events are causing them to reevaluate their lives and consider what they truly value. What’s more important to personal happiness and wellbeing? Working weekends or exploring the great outdoors?
Many people want to get out into nature and enjoy the experience. Having money is great, but there’s a need for new types of challenges. Women don’t want to live their lives wrestling with their laptops – they want to do something active and develop skills in a different direction.
Ask top female jockeys and they will tell you that working with every horse is different. Each has a specific personality that makes them who they are. That means that riders can sometimes get on magnificently with an animal, while other times they can struggle.
Part of the enjoyment of that relationship is the struggle. Both horses and humans have to work in tandem with one another if riding is going to be a success. You can’t force the process. So learning must take place organically.
While a lot of people ride for fun, there are plenty of opportunities for competition, too. It can be a steep learning curve when you first begin competing, but over time, you get the hang of it. And, eventually, it can be a lot of fun.
Rising to the top is a challenge because there are so many professionals. But there are also divisions for amateurs too, so you can ride against people with a similar level of experience as you.
Build core strength
A lack of core strength isn’t just a problem for horse riders, but everyone. Sedentary lifestyles mean that more people than ever are losing tone around their mid-sections. And this is leading to issues with back strength, abdominal strength and hip flexors.
Horse riding, however, requires a degree of core strength to do it properly. Staying balanced in the saddle, for instance, requires engaging all the muscles of the stomach. Riding helps to strengthen all of the muscles in the mid-section of the body. These activate as you ride to prevent your body from moving out of sync with the rest of the animal.
Over time, your fitness and power improve. And you get used to the sensation of riding a horse, making the experience more pleasant as the days and weeks go by.
It’s quite amazing the difference a couple of years of work can make. When you first sit in the saddle, it tires you out and makes you feel exhausted. But once you’ve done it three times a week for 24 months, you hardly notice the physical exertion.
Thanks to the lockdown, many people are putting on weight. It’s too easy to remain sedentary all day and never really stretch your legs. But with horse riding, you can get a different kind of workout.
Horse riding is by no means traditional exercise. In fact, when you see somebody doing it, you can come to the conclusion that there’s no work involved. But that’s not true.
According to the British Horse Society’s study into the matter, horse riding does meet the requirements for physical activity. That’s because it engages muscles strongly due to the need to stay upright while riding. In other words, it achieves government exercise guidelines.
It’s not just riding that burns calories, either; it’s also all the work associated with managing a horse. For example, carrying buckets, pushing wheelbarrows of hay, and mucking out stables takes a lot of energy. So merely owning and looking after a horse offers physical benefits.
Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, horse riding helps to improve mental wellbeing. Researchers, for instance, have found that spending time with horses increases the production of chemicals associated with positive feelings. Animals stimulate the oxytocin-producing centres of our brains, giving us a sense of positivity and love.
The size of the effect is quite large. According to the study, more than 80 per cent of participants said that they felt more positive after riding a horse and being active. They reported feeling much more cheerful and lively than before they went out.
There’s also some evidence that riding a horse can improve depression and anxiety in people prone to it. Spending time with animals seems to remind riders that there is more to life than mulling over problems and issues. Horses are content with their existence, no matter what happens to them. They just get on with their day, and they never judge other people.
What about stress? Well, there is substantial evidence that horse riding might be able to help there too. A lot of people feel a sense of panic that they won’t be able to manage situations that life throws at them. But being able to ride a horse gives you a sense of confidence and reminds you that you’re in control. If you’re able to command a powerful one-tonne beast, you can also take charge of your life.
Going out on your horse helps you to feel better when things in life go wrong. It’s a chance to unwind, get out into the open, and just be in nature – the way it was supposed to be.