Increasing numbers of women approaching middle age are deciding to get back on a horse or even start riding from scratch – in fact, a study by The British Horse Society found more than a third of female riders are over 45. And with a host of health benefits for both body, mind – and many say soul – it’s easy to see why.
The strength of your core is not the only element needed for horse riding. The stability and coordination of your central and pelvic muscles is also key. The more you ride, the more your body learns to move with the horse. This is why it’s known as an ‘isometric exercise’ – specific muscles are needed to stay in certain positions and the postural strength used on horseback then improves posture in the rest of your life.
Horses are big, powerful and have their own mind about things! They are not a machine and will react to their environment around then and even what mood they are in. Because of this you have to think about not just your movements and position but also the behaviour of the horse.
They don’t always do what you want them to do and split-second reactions are needed to stay on and control the horse. As such riding can be a mindfulness activity as when you are in the saddle your only focus is on riding and your immediate environment.
You are also being constantly challenged to learn new things – from the basics to perfecting your technique or learning new styles such as dressage or jumping. Research has shown that continually learning and challenging ourselves helps prevent dementia by strengthening connections between different parts of the brain.
Studies have found spending time outdoors lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, reduces anxiety and depression, lowers blood pressure, helps concentration and can even protect your eye sight. Being on horseback provides a different view point from just walking and is even more stimulating for our brains.
Yet many of us don’t get outside enough. Riding is also an all-weather sport which encourages getting outside whatever the weather. Feeling different temperatures is good for our skin and our nasal health as it makes our bodies work as they should and can even prevent us from getting colds.
Spending time with animals is believed to raise levels of the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin, so it’s good for your body, brain and emotions.
The British Horse Society found riders are strongly motivated to take part in riding by the sense of well-being they gain from interacting with horses.
“Riders felt more cheerful, relaxed and happy for being active. It was discovered anecdotally that horse riding can play a role in managing negative feelings relating to anxiety and depression,” said a spokesperson.
This important positive psychological interaction with an animal occurs in a very few sports and the better you understand the personality of the horse you are riding, the more control you will have over your ride. There is a real connection with the horse which has emotional benefits for humans too.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to grab a new lease of life by the reins.