After discovering my love of horses, I now reap more health benefits than ever could by working out in the gym.
I hate going to the gym. I loathe it.
Using the word blasphemy in the passage is wrong. Take my license away.
I don’t hate working out, though. I just don’t like boring gym-based exercise routines.
What do you do when a girl is out of shape? Well, I guess you just have to get creative. When patients promise to work on their physical therapy but don’t follow through it’s this: If exercise doesn’t excite you you won’t do it — and you won’t follow through. The decoupaged leaf will probably not stick around for a long time.
My chosen fitness routine might surprise you, but there is one activity that keeps me coming back for more. Even after a 20-year hiatus.
I have loved horses since I was a young carefree wild child.
I feel a connection to them and I love everything about them: the way they look, how they smell, the sound of leather and buckles, the clip-clop of horse hooves on the ground, the sounds of hay munching, soft nose kisses.
After a 20-year break to get married, I finished my graduate school. I have been able to have children and move all over the country for work. Finally, I have found myself back in the saddle at almost 40 years old.
During that 20 years I tried to replace riding with other activities. Yoga Pilates running triathlon and spinning were all short-lived experiences for me. I enjoyed them but something was missing.
Looking back, I think that I was trying to be convinced to love my parents. And we all know the truth comes out in the wash. Nothing could fill the void until I rode a horse.Share on PinterestJavier Pardina/Stocksy United
I love spending time at the barn. I love being there, because it’s fun to do chores and be with my friends. It’s also a happy place for me because of all the smells that fill my senses, and I can even fill up on some happiness by being at the barn mucking out stalls cleaning water buckets sweeping up barn aisles oiling my saddle and bridle hauling rocks out of pastures and caring for my horse. Horses are more fun than working out at the gym. Any day!
Besides finding joy and being able to participate in something that is just for me, riding provides fitness benefits that most people never realize.
This is clear if you’ve ever taken a break from school for more than 20 years and then tried to go back to school the day after your first year back. Then the Bambi on ice scene will play in your head.
I have been told that riding is easy, and that you just sit there. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The best riders make it look easy and effortless, with beautiful riding posture and steady hands and legs.
They look soft, strong, and perfectly balanced. You know how they do it? Years of practice hours upon hours in the saddle and a remarkably strong core.
A horse responds to “contact” or “aids.” The slightest shift in weight, a gentle nudge on the reins, a gentle tap of your girth with one finger moving your leg behind the girth, or moving your seat an inch all tell the horse what you want them to do.
Now imagine doing all of that while driving a car. You are driving at different speeds, steering to maneuver around obstacles, and staying balanced without holding your breath for hours at a time.Share on PinterestCourtesy of Marcy Crouch
The best attributes of all sports can be gained on the back of a horse: strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, mental toughness, endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and trust.
Riding requires unbelievable strength and endurance, as well as balance. It has been shown to increase both static and dynamic balance.
Studies show that healthy adults and older adults who are inexperienced riders see improvements in balance coordination and strength after participating in riding programs.
These improvements can reduce the risk of falls, which we know can be dangerous for older adults (8).
Equestrian activities have been shown to have beneficial effects on the brain. Hippotherapy is the use of horses to help enhance neuromotor sensory and cognitive outcomes in rehabilitation settings.
Children with cerebral palsy, adults recovering from stroke and patients with psychiatric disabilities and veterans with PTSD all experience decreased stress and anxiety, improved balance and strength, and report improved quality of life through hippotherapy.
Studies have shown that adults and children with schizophrenia and ADHD experience improvements in mood and concentration.
These benefits align with what I feel on a horse too. I get so much more out of riding for an hour than I do at the gym both physically and mentally.
I stay in the barn through a long, hot day of hard work. I get tired and hungry, but I am still happy to be there. And I keep going back day after day, rain or shine.
Horses and the way they provide are magical. There is no other word for it. Sharon Ralls Lemon said, “The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire.”
When I ride my horse, my bones feel this way. When I’m riding, my thoughts are in the moment. I get lost in myself when I clean out a stall. The entire experience is meditative and joyful and I cannot get enough of it.
I am strong and happier and more patient and most importantly, fit than I was 2 years ago. I have hay in my car, dirt under my nails, white horse hair stuck to my clothes and mud on my boots. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.