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7 Benefits of Horseback Riding

a man riding a horse

October is National Depression & Mental Health Screening Month. This observance aims to bring awareness to the need for mental health screenings for depression and anxiety.  According to researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Harvard Medical School 55% of people they surveyed said they were more stressed since COVID than in January, before the virus was perceived to be a widespread threat.

A wide variety of factors can often come into play with anxiety and depression that can include a mix of environmental, genetic, psychological, and biological /biochemical components. Not everyone experiences things in the same way.  Depression and anxiety are a highly treatable condition with many different treatments available including lifestyle options such as yoga, meditation and yes, horseback riding.

7 Benefits of Horseback Riding:

  • Increased Confidence
  • Reduced Stress Levels & Healing
  • Authentic Self
  • Physical benefits
  • Responsibility
  • Improved Communication/Problem Solving
  • Socialization

The benefits of horseback riding are innumerable and are shared among all horseback riders. Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to learn how to ride. I was first bitten by the horse bug at age 11, when we moved from the city (Orange County) to the country (Riverside).  We had 1 acre of land with all kinds of animals: pigs, sheep, goats, chickens and of course horses.  I personally had several different horses including a pony named Moonbeam that I jumped in Gymkhana’s.  So, I have first-hand knowledge of the benefits of horseback riding.

1) Increased Confidence

Learning to ride a horse is a skill and the more you learn the more confident you will become. Horses help teach us confidence by being herd animals.  In every herd there must be a leader.  And, if you don’t provide the leadership, your horse will. Being able to handle and ride a big strong animal like a horse can also help us be confident in other areas of our lives.

2) Reduced Stress Levels & Healing

Stress has physiological effects on the human body that can cause chronic illness.  Stress can lower the efficiency of our immune system causing a negative impact on our minds and bodies. Horseback riding can decrease your stress level by taking you out of your head and away from all your worries and concerns.  When riding a horse, you must be here and now.  You need to concentrate of what is right in front of you.  Horseback riding also brings you closer to nature. Spending time outdoors is one of the simplest ways to escape your busy life and enjoy a peaceful environment.

Studies have shown that simply being in the space of a horse or other beloved animal or thinking about them can result in reversal of some of the detrimental physiological and psychological effects stress has on the human body.

Oxytocin is at the forefront of the case for horses helping with stress reduction.  Studies have also shown that levels of oxytocin doubled when people interact with their pets. Oxytocin is a hormone secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. It’s sometimes known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone,” because it is released when people snuggle up or bond socially. It is known to decrease blood pressure, slow breathing and has an over-all calming effect.  Horseback riding also creates an emotional connection between you and your horse, an attachment bond helps you feel emotionally safe and comforted.

3) Authentic Self

Your horse does not care who you are outside of the barn. They do not care how much money you have or if you’re popular at school.  Horses are also not worried about yesterday, or tomorrow. And because of this, horses only know to accept us as we are today. This allows you to have a unique authentic relationship. Being your true authentic self can help reduce stress as well as improve and align your true congruent self-image. You can be 100% you with your horse.

4) Physical Benefits

Horseback riding is physically demanding and can help you stay in shape. Developing a strong core and good posture is an essential part of horseback riding.  Riders also develop better reflexes, sense of balance and coordination as they use their entire body to guide the horse.  There are also cardio benefits with horseback riding, such as when the rider lifts the saddle onto the back of a horse, like weight training.

5) Responsibility

Horseback riding helps teach responsibility to those who are learning to ride. Taking care of your horse requires you to feed, groom, bath and exercise your horse.  It also requires time and dedication to the wellbeing of your horse.

6) Improved Communication/Problem Solving

Horses are also gifted at teaching us how to communicate. They don’t speak our language, so they base their translations off our body language and voice tone.  Keeping our shoulders back, head tall, and voice strong communicates assertive confidence.  Horses also communicate with non-verbal body cues. One of the first things new riders learn about horseback riding, is to check the horse’s ears to get a read on their mood. Horses have incredibly expressive ears, and they’re easy to read, which is why this is an important lesson.  If a horse’s ears are alert or slightly forward, they are excited or interested in what is happening. If their ears are relaxed or drooping, they’re comfortable and content. If a horse’s ears are pinned back flat to the head, that horse is either very scared or possibly angry. Learning to speak horse effectively can help you better communicate with your horse and other humans as well. Problem Solving: When riding your horse, you are always also required to think fast and be alert to the environment around you.  Safety is after all your number one goal. The ability to problem-solve and think on your feet can save you in many detrimental situations.

7) Socialization

The horse industry is a very social and caring community full of people who will help you and your horse.  There are endless options to improve your socialization within the horsing community. Horse sports range from hunter/jumpers to barrel racing, reining, dressage and equitation.  It is just a matter of picking your favorite. Gated horses are my focus at this stage of life. Gaited horses are a selective breed that have natural gaited tendencies.  These special gaited create a very smooth yet fast ride with a four-beat gait.

Whether you rode during childhood or have committed your life to the sport, horses make us lifelong learners. A rider can develop new skills every day to improve their horsemanship.  The process of learning to care for your horse encourages numerous positive character traits, including patience, discipline, empathy, self-control, understanding, and dedication. Horseback riding comes with innumerable benefits; however, I do have one warning for you Being a horseback rider can lead to a lifestyle change. We are currently looking at a ranch in Bonsall, so we can be closer to the horses we ride.

Cheri has a strong connection to Carlsbad. One of her daughter’s was Miss Carlsbad 2005. So, she voted herself to be Mrs. Carlsbad. Now the Chief Foodie & Founder of Carlsbad Food Tours! She loves Carlsbad & is happy to share her knowledge of local history and great eateries.  When she is not horseback riding, she is hanging out in Carlsbad doing food tours.

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