Horse Riding: Health, Fitness and Losing Weight

When it comes to horse riding, I’m sure we can all agree that the majority of the work is done by half ton, four-legged animal we’re sitting on. However, as we control the animal, move our bodies in sync with the horse and provide encouragement, we work up a sweat and become out of breath. Riding a horse is tiring and you output energy. At the end of the day it is a sport, but how does this effort affect our bodies, and by how much?

There are multiple health benefits to riding horses, from core strength and muscle tone to cardiovascular fitness. This post will attempt to engage with these topics, and answer the age old and most asked question: will horse riding help me lose weight? Our findings suggest that horse riding is a great exercise for building strength and stability and in combination with a healthy lifestyle, and diet could well help you lose weight.

What are the health benefits of horse riding?

The benefits of horse riding on fitness is definitely different from your more conventional sports like football or rugby. In these cases, more importance is directed to the cardiovascular element, still important in riding but not to such an extent.

Alison Stout, a doctor based in Washington, boasts the multiple health benefits of riding horses, seeing it as a non-traditional way to stabilise your core and improve your overall strength and balance (1).

She describes the main benefit of riding is the development of your core strength. As an ‘isometric’ exercise, specific muscles are used in order to stay in certain positions. This also improves your posture. The benefits of a strong core are huge, helping you in everyday life as well as in your sport. A strong core underpins everything we do, for example (2):

  • Everyday acts such as sitting, standing, twisting, and even tasks at work such as computer use and phone calls
  • Preventing lower back pain and good posture. Weak core muscles can lead to slouching and more importantly reducing the wear and tear on the spine.
  • Improving balance and stability
  • Sports and housework

As well as core strength, there are many other health and fitness benefits to horse riding, including muscle tone and flexibility. The Inner thighs and pelvic muscles get the biggest workout along with the core, this tones the muscles, sculpting the body. The arms and shoulders are also worked in order to gently communicate with the horse. And of course, with any sport there is a cardio vascular element. Especially with a hard session it is common to become quite out of breath and start to sweat, which means a high energy output. Cardiovascular exercise is important for all of us as it increases heart muscle strength, allows you to control your weight, improves cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, and boasts your mood etc.

Overall, we can see that the main benefit to horse riding is a strong core and improved balance and stability, things that more conventional sports may focus on less, but are invaluable for everyday life.

Will horse riding help me lose weight?

There is not an easy answer to this question per say. Horse riding is a sport. Doing it will burn calories, and combined with a healthy diet could result in weight loss.

In the simplest sense, to lose weight you must burn more calories than you take in, meaning you create a calorie deficient. Riding, and everything that looking after a horse entails, will burn calories. So in combination with right diet, horse riding could help you lose weight. Riding is a fabulous exercise, for all the reasons described above, and when does safely can be a great, low stress activity for the joints.

How many calories do I burn horse riding?

In order to work out of you are in a calorie deficit it may be important to work out how many calories horse riding, and horse related jobs, will burn. Obviously, this is an approximation, but hopefully this guide will be helpful to those trying to improve their health.

In terms of calories per hour (3),

  • Grooming will burn between 220-362
  • Stacking or un/loading hay bales will burn between 500 -700
  • Riding at a walk – 145
  • Trot – 350
  • Canter – 452

Horse and Hound have taken a different approach, looking at a more realistic breakdown of different activities as you would more likely perform them, as you aren’t likely to canter or trot for a full hour (4). For example,

  • Mucking out two stables using straw/shavings respectively would burn 175/168 kcals
  • Warming up and jumping a round of show jumps would burn around 148 kcals
  • You'd burn an extra 42 kcals for walking the course (defiantly worth jumping off your horse to learn the course to earn that celebratory chocolate bar on the way home from the competition.).

Horse riding is a wonderful sport for so many reasons: it gets you back to nature; allows you to socialise with like-minded people; it’s great for clearing the mind of stresses; and it allows you to connect with an animal, something many other people can only dream of doing. In addition to these it is clear there are multiple health benefits. Different from most conventional sports, riding focuses on strength and stability, benefitting our everyday lives, without the stress on the joints many of these other sports provide. Like everything in life, it is not a quick fix for anything, weight loss included, but has multiple health benefits and when a part of a healthy lifestyle, can result in weight loss.

(1) Alison Stout, Evergreen Health, https://www.healthiestbest.com/benefits-of-horseback-riding [date accessed 01/10/2020]
(2) Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-real-world-benefits-of-strengthening-your-core [date accessed 01/10/2020]
(3) Nutra Check, https://www.nutracheck.co.uk/calories_burned/leisure/horse_riding [date accessed 01/10/2020]
(4) Eleanor Jones, 3 January, 2020, Horse and Hound, https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/features/how-many-calories-burned-horses-658859 [date accessed 01/10/2020]