Top 9 benefits of horse-riding (and prehab to improve riding performance)

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With increasing affordability and accessibility to horse-riding in Singapore, there is growing interest in horse-riding as a sport and hobby, and a rise in participation in local competitions such as the recent National Dressage Championships, and the National Jumping Championships.

For some people, hopping onto the back of a majestic horse that weighs many times our body weight may be a scary thought. Horse-riding requires not just physical skills, but also a good understanding of your mount. However, there are many health benefits associated with horse-riding – aside from getting a good physical workout, it can also be an incredibly healing experience. As an avid rider growing up, I want to share with you not just the obvious benefits, but also some of the more unknown ones.


TOP 9 HEALTH BENEFITS OF HORSE RIDING

1. BALANCE A necessary skill to be able to stay on the horse, especially if it turns quickly. It doesn’t mean that if you don’t typically have ‘good balance’ you can’t ride – you can hold the front of the saddle to begin with and as you improve you will be able to stay upright and balanced without holding on.

Balance Test: Many of us don’t realise how bad our balance is unless you have done any lower limb rehab. Try standing on one leg, close your eyes and balance for 30seconds. Too easy? Try balancing on tip-toes while staying super still. Not so easy? Balance is one of the easiest things to improve and quickly – we can show you how.

2. CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM BOOST Trotting and riding associated activities such as mucking out are considered a moderate exercise for the rider. The longer and faster you go, the higher the intensity and the more calories you burn.

3. COORDINATION Your arms and legs are your communication to the horse. There are certain arm positions and squeezes that you perform to indicate a command and often at the same time. Your body awareness will flourish.

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4. INTERNAL ORGANS STIMULATION This is the same when walking on foot, which is why it is one of the many reasons it is fantastic for sedentary or wheelchair bound people; it aids in liver function and digestion.

5. MOTOR FUNCTION The whole body has to work both independently and together to develop riding skills. As it is unlike most other sports your body can develop and improve new motor skills.

6. REFLEXES AND ALERTNESS As the horse moves, you must instantly and continuously react to it and be aware of any environmental considerations. We will keep you on your toes and develop your responses.

7. SELF-CONFIDENCE Responsibility, patience, overcoming fears, self-control and relationship building with the horse; an unbiased and non-judgemental partner that is only responsive to your intent and behaviour (which studies have found to be highly beneficial for those with ADHD, depression, anxiety and mental health disorders).

8. SEROTONIN PRODUCTION Doubling up on this mood-enhancing hormone by exercising and spending time with animals.

9. SENSORY INTEGRATION STIMULATION Riding well means ‘feeling’ your way with the horse, which is unlike most sports which is sight reliant (you can’t play the easiest version of racquet, team or ball sports if you can’t see the ball), but you can ride with very limited vision.
 

 Horse-riding is suitable and beneficial for all ages.

Horse-riding is suitable and beneficial for all ages.

WHAT IS PREHAB?

 “Prehab” is a proactive approach to building strength and stability, and improving mobility, balance, and joint functions to decrease the potential for injuries. Prehab is extremely beneficial when you are considering getting back to any sport after a break.

HOW PREHAB CAN IMPROVE YOUR RIDING PERFORMANCE

RIDING FOR STRENGTH TRAINING
Horse riding is an isometric exercise, where specific muscles are targeted to stay in a certain position without contracting the muscle. One of the best features of this sport is that whether you’re trying to or not, you DO engage all the right muscles. Over time as they improve in strength, so will the transfer of this strength to other positions such as standing or sitting, and other forms of exercise.

Walking and trotting (like a light jog) are the two most common speeds that you will be doing as a beginner in horse riding. To try to understand the number of muscles involved, imagine trying to balance and coordinate your movements with the horse as you squat up and down continuously. Your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and adductors will certainly be sore the next day! Any old ankle, knee, or hip injury that has not been fully rehabilitated may start to rear its ugly head as you will rely more on your better side, and the imbalance will only become greater.

While riding, your arms are either pulling the reins or held statically in a raised position. This can create beautifully sculpted shoulders – provided you don’t have chronically tight shoulders from sitting at the desk all day. Your Physiotherapist can teach you how to open them up and get your shoulder blades stronger, so that you can hold them correctly and much more comfortably, and not exacerbate any niggling shoulder problems.

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DEVELOP STRONG CORE MUSCLES
If you are looking for a core of steel, then look no further! Your core muscles are in overdrive to balance and stabilise your upper body on an unpredictable and ever-changing base of support; slouching or over extending the back will affect your ability to stay on the horse as it turns one way, you need to counterbalance with those obliques. Your centre of gravity and body weight are constantly shifting, but you must remain as central on the saddle as you can, or you might cause yourself or even the horse to go off balance. The core is the foundation of our body, and if it isn’t working optimally, then how can we expect it to provide the base for our limbs?

 

A strong pelvic floor is critical in horse riding. If you’re unsure that your pelvic floor muscles are strong enough to tolerate this type of exercise, then you must get assessed before you try horse riding. (Come in to see UFIT’s Women’s Health Physiotherapists Kelly McGinnity or Lucie Lamprey)

Horse riding is a wonderful hobby for both adults and children looking for a new and extremely fulfilling experience. It fosters a wide range of skills that many of us would get huge benefits from but a certain level of body awareness and improvements would be ideal to maximise these benefits.

Physiotherapy can identify areas of weakness, potential problems, and imbalances in the body, and create a customised sport-specific prehab plan to achieve your goals. The aim is not to be “perfect”, but prevention is better (and less painful) than cure. Speak to a Physiotherapist and take the first steps to create the foundations for a long, injury-free, and healthy hobby.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Lamprey is a Senior Physiotherapist at UFIT Clinic. She has a B.Sc. (Hons) in Physiotherapy from the University of Southampton, as well as a Masters of Manual Therapy from The University of Western Australia. Lucie has worked with a wide range of clients, including people who are new to exercise, those with pre-existing medical conditions, to recreational and competitive elite athletes.

Lucie specialises in sports injury rehabilitation and injury prevention, with a focus on the spine, pelvis, and lower limbs. She is a certified Clinical Exercise Specialist from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), with extensive exercise knowledge to develop exercise programs for athletes with comorbidities. Other areas of expertise include managing acute or chronic pre and post-natal conditions, incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, and dry-needling for musculoskeletal conditions.