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Friday, January 15, 2010

Fat Rider Myth #2: Horseback Riding Isn't REAL Exercise, Fat People Should Do Other Things, Too.

You most often hear this little bit of dirty junk come out of the mouths of people who have never ridden a horse, or their only horse experience is sitting like a sack of flour on a deadbroke trail horse for an hour:

"Well, horseback riding isn't really exercise. I mean, all you really do is sit there and the horse does all the work. You don't even sweat when you ride horses!"

Anyone who has actually ridden a horse for any amount of time and, you know, actually attempted to make the horse do things besides just walk in a line with their nose stuck up the tail of the horse ahead of them knows. You sweat, you hurt, sometimes you even cramp up.

All one needs to do is type "Horseback riding as exercise" into a Google search string and you come up with a multitude of "Horseback Riding Machines", that proclaim you can get a great, toned core muscle group "without doing any work"! Obviously, someone has caught on!

I was very curious about this one, because I know, especially with green horses, my heart rate does go up, I do sweat, and I am usually sore the day after. Between keeping myself in the saddle and guiding the horse to do what I am requesting, there is an entire aerobic workout up there... for ME.

I am very fortunate to have a family doctor who is also an avid horseback rider. She doesn't just pay someone to ride once in a while, she owns several horses of her own and regularly competes in jumping and dressage. I think she secretly likes to see me coming because we get chatting about horses and it's a bright spot in her day.

Anyways - I had to go in for a followup with her anyways, so I decided to ask her medical opinion on horseback riding as exercise. We can all speculate all we want (some of us have bodies to prove it!), but I like to try and provide some hard, scientific fact (haha!).

Her general consensus was that horseback riding is GREAT exercise - depending on your metabolism. For me, as out of shape as I am, my metabolism is much lower. I get a much more beneficial workout out of riding than someone who is in better shape. She also suggested that posting trot and canter are much more effective energy burners than a dawdling walk, and recommended dressage and jumping as the most effective energy burning horseback activities that you can do.

(Sidenote: When she discovered that I had no indoor facility to ride at and had never ridden a dressage horse before, she invited me to come ride her big GP level dressage horse on Sunday. I am both excited at the opportunity and terrified to look like a total fool! I even called a "piaffe" a "passage" in my vlog, I am so wired up!)

She then proceeded to remind me that we should be doing core exercises to help our riding, such as crunches and pelvic lifts (which she then got down on the floor and demonstrated, just in case I didn't know what they were!). Needless to say, in preparation for riding her horse, I have been doing 100 crunches per night!

So in the words of my doctor - it is kind of a "yes and no" answer. Sitting on a horse isn't going to do much if you're relatively fit. WORKING a horse and using your body to work that horse is much better. However, if you're as unfit as I am, just walking around CAN be beneficial. And hey, it's something we love, and it gets us out in the fresh air and works our thighs and abs - it can't HURT even if we're not getting our heart rates high enough for it to qualify as aerobic exercise!

Personally, I have been doing some other aerobic stuff besides riding (nevermind that I haven't ridden much for the last month or so because of the icky white stuff covering the ground), and then some core muscle and upper body strengthening to get myself where I want to be for riding. I am still a far way off, I am sure, but getting there!

I think the next time someone throws a little "horseback riding isn't REAL exercise!" into your face, you should invite them over for a ride. And not a trail ride. Really get them working your horse, give them a basic lesson, and then give them a call in the morning and see how they feel? Take pictures of them sweaty and out of breath to email them the next day. And pat yourself on the back because you know the real answer!

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As a side note, here are a few pictures of Bronwyn and I yesterday after about a month and a half off. We were breaking a path in the snow so we didn't do too much and I was trying out my english saddle for only the second or third time since I got it.





19 comments:

  1. My aching legs will certainly attest to the exercise of horseback riding! Rode an hour and a half trail ride, bareback on Sunday. Was up to a fast running walk and cantering several times. Yeah, that takes a lot of muscle!

    As cold as it is, I find myself taking off my coat part way through most of my rides. I am working enough to break a light sweat and feel uncomfortably warm in a 20-degree arena!

    And then there's the 25-35 minutes or so of walking around the arena after the ride, leading Mocha in her blanket to cool/dry her off before she goes back out in the pasture, not to mention the hike back to the far pasture where she resides.

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  2. Two years ago I did the C25K program (couch-to-five-k training) and really enjoyed it. It tapered off as winter hit, but I pick it up every spring now.

    Since sometimes I like to change it up with Kahlua's workout, occasionally we will work on yielding hindquarters and shoulders in the field, and then go for a jog. This summer we were going on 30 minutes jogs around the field, which was great "cross training" for both of us, and a good way to bond AND continue to instill good ground manners.

    She stays at or beside my shoulder for the whole run and I pitch in some sudden stops, turn arounds and slow circles to keep her thinking and yielding to me.

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  3. I believe the exercise starts even before you start to ride. Groom a horse, especially the bigger kids can be quite a work out itself. I actually try to make sure that I am working both arms equally.

    Here is a calorie estimator: http://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/cbc
    You enter your weight and duration.
    if you look down it has:
    Horse grooming
    Horseback riding - galloping
    Horseback riding - trotting
    Horseback riding - walking

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  4. Beth!! That is an AWESOME AWESOME resource! Very cool! I am going to have to post this for my readers. Thank you so much!

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  5. My employer offers a "fitness reimbursement" that is intended to help pay for the cost of a gym membership or yoga classes but a couple of years ago when I started I made the case (and won by giving them links to articles and websites) that riding is exercise and so I get reimbursed for my riding lessons the same as someone would for any other class they take. That's enough proof for me!

    I also started indoor rock climbing recently and my riding instructor keeps commenting on my upper body position being so much better, I swear it's from the rock climbing.

    Riding is exercise and exercising helps you ride. Really no argument there.

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  6. HORSEBACK RIDING IS REAL EXERCISE !

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  8. Awsome Love u..add me to facebook if u use it!! I am having some issues with myself riding.. trista pino

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  9. Thank you so much for your website. I use to be one of those skinny riders when I was a teenager then life and a baby happened. I felt for the longest time I couldn't ride cuz I was FAT! Now I am looking to adopt a horse and can't wait till I have my own again! You are an inspiration to me!!

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  10. Hi,I'm writing to say that indeed riding is excellent exercise and therapy. I had a heart attack in June and went back to riding in July. I decided in the hospital that I wanted to do something I loved - life is too short. I bought the saddle of my dreams and both my horse and myself were comfy for the first time. Due to my poor fitness level, I decided to take lessons again. I returned to my trainer and I was on the lunge line for a month. I needed help just getting on even with a mounting block(her school horse is huge-over 16 h). We kept track of my heart rate and moved forward each week in the length of time trotting etc. I'm happy to say I was cantering and getting my heart rate back in seconds by December. I'm off riding for a while during the extreme cold temperatures. I plan to get back in the spring.Meanwhile I'm caring for the my horses at home. I'm part of a cardio rehab program and I see a lack of fitness since I stopped riding. Also I don't feel as energized. So much happens to your soul and body when you interact with a horse. Don't put off what you love to do. Live for the moment.

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  11. WOW! I'm so proud of you! i'm a big gurl myself and I LOVE HORSEBACK RIDING!!!! but i havent done it for so long because all the comments i get from my family... they think big girls shouldnt be on horses !!! :(
    You have gave me the confidence to get back on!
    p.s it is such a good way to excercise... my friend lost so much weight just watching her diet and riding her horse :D

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  12. OMG!!!! LOVE YOUR HORSE and hi thank you you have proven that us big girls can ride i never have because i thaugh that i would brake the horses back with the weight but you are a star thanks and god bless.

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  13. do you remove all the comments of people that disagree with you..typical of a knowitall

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  14. No, actually - the only comments I have ever removed were advertising comments for Viagra - as seen above. :) If you look around, you will find some very nasty comments disagreeing with me which have been left completely intact.

    I don't claim to know it all... just most of it. :) Have a nice day!

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    Replies
    1. Wow! So awesome to have found your Blog! Love reading your posts! Thanks for sharing!
      Have yourself a great day!

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  15. Horseback riding okay. But your saddle is way too small. That has got to hurt the horse. You want to ride it, so buy the proper gear, so your horse can enjoy it too.

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  16. Since this entry, I have acquired a 19" 36cm tree Duett for my mare that fits the both of us much better, don't worry. :) That saddle got VERY LITTLE riding because it did not fit her and slipped badly.

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  17. *Laughs* I just love the "But you just sit there" comments about horse riding. Makes me laugh every time. Even friends will sometimes pull the "It's not really like it's exercise or anything" routine. On occasion I've gotten said people to "sit" on a horse for half and hour or so and then had a discussion about why they can't walk properly for the next few days if no muscles were being worked. It can be very deceptive, especially dressage, where the aim is to look like you're doing nothing when actually you're using your body a lot.

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  18. Riding IS exercise. I bought a heartrate monitor and wear it while riding. I burn at least 500 calories per ride doing arena work(includes grooming, tacking and groundwork too)sometimes up to 750 calories. It is my favorite workout :)

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