This week's guest post is written by Marcela De Vivo who is a freelance writer who has written on everything from marketing, tech, to health & wellness. She loved to ride horses when she was younger but hasn’t had the chance recently; however as her children grow older she hopes to teach them how to ride and for them to benefit from horsebacking riding just as much as she once did!
Image courtesy of Tanatat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Horseback riding has long been recognized as having a host of therapeutic, psychological, and physical benefits. Unsurprisingly, a formalized form of therapy has been developed to harness the vast catalog of improvements achieved through horseback riding.
At the same time, not only is the physical exercise in an outdoor space an excellent stress reliever, but the establishment of a relationship between yourself and horse can positively impact your confidence and improve your other relationships.
Therapeutic horseback riding
Also known as equine-assisted activity, adaptive riding, or hippotherapy (no longer frequently used), therapeutic horseback riding teaches riding skills to individuals with a range of physical and emotional disabilities.
Originating in Germany as therapy to help with orthopedic problems like scoliosis, therapeutic horseback riding is now also used to help people recovering from injury, or people with social and psychological difficulties. As horseback riding requires a host of muscles to work in concert to keep a rider upright, muscle strength and tone is greatly improved with prolonged riding experience.
More recently, equine therapy has gained popularity as therapy for children with autism. Autistic children who experience this form of treatment demonstrated improvement in responses to verbal and external stimuli. This activity is said to benefit the communication, motor skills, and social skills of an autistic person.
Therapeutic horseback riding has also proven to be an excellent way to counsel troubled youth when traditional forms of therapy have been less than successful. Youths undergoing equine therapy generally gain confidence, self-efficacy, improved communication skills and impulse control, reduction in trust issues and isolation, and a better understanding of social skills and boundaries. Equine therapy also teaches the at-risk individuals responsibility horse care, grooming, and safety are a few of the lessons taught.
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Physical and psychological benefits of horseback riding
Horseback riding is an excellent form of exercise as an hour on horseback burns the equivalent number of calories as a 30-minute jog. Not only does riding improve respiration and blood circulation (and in turn, the entire cardiovascular system with consistent practice), but it also has significant muscle conditioning benefits.
The horse’s movement under the rider creates a dynamic situation for the rider, who has to constantly adjust in order to stay upright (and on!) the horse. Pelvic muscles and other core muscles are activated; at a gallop, upper leg muscles like quadriceps and hamstrings are also engaged to keep the rider moving with the horse. Posture is also improved as those core muscles strengthen.
Balance and coordination are also improved with frequent horseback riding as both are required to stay upright and to move with the horse.
Some psychological benefits of horseback riding, outside of the stress reduction that comes from exercising outdoors, include improved confidence. Learning and then mastering any new skill improves self-confidence; when it comes to mastering a skill that involves handling an animal with a mind of its own, even greater confidence is developed.
Additionally, some of the lessons in learning to ride, like developing trust and a relationship between the rider and the animal can translate into relationships in everyday life. A better sense of empathy and understanding is usually developed by a rider as communication is non-verbal.
Whether you’re seeking to ride horses for exercise, for stress relief, as a way of learning a new skill, or are implementing it as a form of therapy, horseback riding is an excellent way to improve your physical and psychological self.