Amy Stewart of Florida has been an avid equestrian rider since the age of 3, eventually competing in Rodeo competitions where she made state finals each year. These majestic animals exude grace, elegance and encourage such positive emotions, and is why Amy still rides today. In the following article, Amy Stewart discusses the benefits of equestrian riding for mental and physical health.
Winston Churchill, a man who knew a thing or do about physical and mental toughness, once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
Churchill was right. In addition to their magnetic beauty and awe-inspiring power, horses have long had a special relationship with people — a deep connection, an unspoken trust.
But as it turns out, equestrian riding doesn’t just soothe the soul. It has a tremendously positive impact on the mind and the body, as well.
Amy Stewart of Florida says that Equine-Assisted Therapy has emerged over the past decade as one of the most promising treatment options for children and adults coping with a wide range of physical and mental conditions.
Millions have taken advantage of Equine-Assisted Therapy for everything from anxiety and depression to autism and cerebral palsy.
Equine therapy, or therapeutic riding, has been used in North America since the 1960s, but it has a much longer global history. Amy Stewart of Florida says that Ancient Greek literature makes many references to therapeutic riding.
The practice began to be more mainstream in 1960 when the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled, or CARD, was formed to offer riding for its therapeutic potential but also as an option for those with limited access to recreation.
What became immediately evident is the ability of horses and riders to form a quick and instant bond. Amy Stewart of Florida says that horses often sense and mirror the mood and feelings of the people they work with.
And that’s very powerful for anyone coping with mental and physical difficulties. Horses sense external and internal pain. Unlike some fellow humans, horses behave with empathy.
Mental Benefits of Equestrian Riding
Amy Stewart of Florida reports that on a basic level, riding horses is great physical exercise. But a slew of recent studies indicates that therapeutic riding can have extensive impacts on mental health.
A British Horse Society study found that among the more than 1,000 riders who spent at least 1 ½ hours a week on a horse, 80% said that the experience made them feel happy, relaxed, have a positive outlook, and helped them with managing negative emotions.
Feeling good is just the beginning. Other studies have found that equestrian riding may help those with post-traumatic stress disorder, especially military veterans reports Amy Stewart of Florida.
Other mental benefits include stress relief in part by being active in the great outdoors, boosted self-esteem (as documented in a study published in Anthrozoös) resulting from a horse’s accepting and loving behavior, and the promotion of socialization.
There are other studies that indicate equestrian riding may raise levels of oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone,” and levels of serotonin, as well as help with the development of communication skills and problem-solving skills.
Physical Benefits of Equestrian Riding
Horseback riding can sometimes be physically demanding, but its benefits are irrefutable. It strengthens the thighs, abdominals, obliques, and other types of core muscles.
Working these muscle groups is why there are strong physical benefits for people recovering from injuries or those who have a disability.
Amy Stewart of Florida says that other muscles strengthened through riding include muscles in the pelvis and chest. Riding can also help with posture and therefore has the potential to reduce back pain. Riding poses needed to keep balance on top of a horse may also strengthen posture in and out of the saddle.
According to the British Equestrian Federation, even light riding for as little as 30 minutes usually burns as much as 360 calories. Research from the University of Brighton and Plumpton College showed that horse riding and associated activities, such as washing a horse and maintaining a clean barn, qualify as exercise of moderate intensity.
Other studies have noted that horse riding and grooming burns as many calories as aerobics, leisure swimming, and wrestling.
Amy Stewart of Florida says that the physical benefits don’t stop there. Horseback riding has been shown to improve overall coordination and spatial awareness, promote flexibility through extending the range of motion of joints and increase healthy circulation thanks to a horse’s natural rhythm of movement.
Often the mental and physical benefits of equestrian riding overlap. Physically, horseback riding lowers blood pressure, which in turn lowers anxiety. The physical rise in serotonin? That improves mood.
Just being in the outdoors eases anxiety, but exposure to more sunlight means more vitamin D. And inadequate levels of vitamin D not only leads to immune suppression but has been shown to lead to problems with mental health according to Amy Stewart of Florida.