If you’re looking for a new hobby to help you keep active and stay fit you’re probably considering horse riding but aren’t sure if it’s the right sport for you. Yes, you’ve asked a lot of riders about the advantages and while they’ll undoubtedly tell you how wonderful it is and how good it is for your physical and mental health they probably won’t tell you about the disadvantages of horse riding.
Of course, horse riding is a great sport (I wouldn’t have created this site if I didn’t think that) but that doesn’t mean to say it’s for everybody. Like all pastimes, it has its advantages and disadvantages which is why I decided to write this article so before you take the plunge and book a whole heap of lessons you should read on to find out if it’s really right for you.
What are the pros and cons of horse riding?
There are lots of advantages and disadvantages to horse riding but while I’ll talk about each in detail I thought it would be helpful to create a table to quickly show what the main pros and cons are.
|You’ll spend a lot of time outside||Horses can be dangerous|
|It’s great fun||It’s an expensive pastime|
|You’ll make new friends||It’ll take up a lot of your time|
|Good for your physical and mental health||It can be physically tiring|
The advantages of horse riding
If you love horses then horse riding will probably be perfect for you but there are way more benefits to it than just getting to spend time with horses.
You’ll get to spend time outside and connect with nature
Recent research has shown that being exposed to the natural world (even if only for a few moments) can have an extremely beneficial effect on our mental wellbeing [source] but if that connection with the natural world also includes a physical activity such as horse riding then it’s advantages go way beyond just that of our mental health.
If you’re an outdoors person, and love horses, then horse riding is going to be the ideal hobby for you. It’ll help to keep you both mentally and physically healthy.
Even if the weather is really bad (or the ground is seriously muddy or frozen solid) and you find that your lesson has been canceled and replaced with a lesson in horse care this can still be way more beneficial than you might realize, especially for your mental health.
Horse riding will help to keep you fit and healthy
It’s no secret that physical exercise of any kind will help to keep your body fit and healthy but what might surprise you is just how much horse riding can do that. From burning calories, improving your posture, strengthening your muscles, and even improving your coordination, horse riding can do it all.
Burning calories – You might think that because you’re sitting down while riding it won’t give you much of a workout but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Horse riding gives your whole body a proper workout which means that it’s a great form of cardiovascular exercise and can even reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 35%. Studies have shown that even a light, relaxing ride can burn as much as 350 calories [source].
Improving your posture – Having a good posture will not only help you to stay in the saddle but it will help to keep your horse balanced but what you might not realize is that improving your riding posture will also help to improve your posture out of the saddle.
Strengthening your muscles – As I mentioned before, horse riding will improve your posture but one of the main ways it does that this by exercising the main muscle groups that make up your core, ie your oblique, abdominal, and even the muscles that surround your spine.
Improving your coordination and flexibility – As you ride a horse you’ll be using different parts of your body at the same time in order to control the horse. This is one of the reasons why horse riding is considered a full-body workout but while you probably know this will help to improve your flexibility, what you may not know is that it also helps with your coordination.
Horse riding can help to improve your mental health
Horse riding, along with all other physical exercises, releases a chemical known as serotonin into your bloodstream. Sometimes referred to as the feel-good chemical, serotonin is known to boost our mood, happiness, and even our entire mental well being which is why horse riding can be so good for your mental health [source]. On top of boosting your mood, horse riding has been proven to reduce depression by around 30% as well as to improve self-esteem and confidence.
Another benefit that horse riding has is on your long-term mental state. While it’s long been known that keeping the brain active can help to improve your mental health as you get older what is less well known is that keeping physically active by horse riding can also help to reduce the chance of you suffering from dementia by 30%.
Horse riding is great fun
Do I really need to say anymore! You’ll be building a great bond with your horse which will, in time, prove to be extremely rewarding and fulfilling to both you and the horse. On top of the bond you’ll be establishing with your horse you’ll also make a whole of new, like-minded, friends. Many of these new friendships will be lifelong.
The disadvantages of horse riding
If you’re seriously thinking about taking up horse riding as a hobby (or even competitively) it’s important that you understand and consider the downsides as well as the bonuses.
Horse riding can be expensive
Equestrianism regularly features in the top ten of surveys about the most expensive sports but that doesn’t really give a true reflection of the sport, from a beginner’s point of view at least. Most surveys talk about riding at a competitive level (and include the cost of buying and owning a horse as well as its training) but if you’re new to the sport, and are serious about it being a long-term hobby it can still be expensive.
Many states require you to wear a proper riding helmet that meets with the latest safety standards but you’ll also need appropriate riding clothing (such as riding boots and suitable pants). While it’s not a legal requirement I would also strongly advise you to wear a body protector.
Then of course there’s the cost of the horse riding lessons themselves. Some instructors or riding schools will allow you to bulk book lessons for a cheaper price but the average cost of riding lessons can vary from $45 for a group lesson to $70 for a private, one-to-one, hour-long lesson. While you can choose how often you ride most people will ride at least once a week which means that you’ll be paying in the region of $180 a month (or $280 for private lessons).
Horse riding can be dangerous
I know some people will argue that if you know what you’re doing horse riding isn’t dangerous but this isn’t completely true. If you know what you’re doing, of course, you’ll be reducing your risk but at the same time, horses are living creatures with a mind of their own.
Despite being big, independent animals with their own mind, horses are normally more than happy and willing to comply with us and what we want but they are also prey animals that survive on their instincts. These instincts can mean that if something scares your horse they may spook and try to escape from the situation which can catch you out if you’re not paying attention.
However you look at it horse riding can be a dangerous hobby, but that doesn’t mean to say you can’t do things to minimize the risk. Wearing a riding helmet and body protector, paying attention to what you’re doing, and respecting your horse will all help to significantly reduce that risk.
Horse riding can be physically tiring
Horse riding isn’t one of those sports where you can just sit back and relax, you’ll need to be physically and mentally alert which can become tiring, especially when you first start in the sport.
When you first start to learn to ride you’ll find that you ache in places you didn’t know it was possible to ache. While you may be expecting your legs and inner thighs to ache you probably won’t have counted on your shoulders aches too, nor your abdominal muscles. This is because horse riding uses muscle groups that aren’t normally used in our typical daily lives.
Over time, as you develop those muscle groups more, you’ll find you ache less and less until you don’t ache any more at all but you’ll still be at risk of putting stresses and strains on your body, especially on your hips and lower back. While these are common complaints of riders with poor posture they’re also very common in some disciplines, such as dressage.
Horse riding will take up a lot of your time
Okay, so you’ve read all of the other disadvantages and haven’t been put off by learning to ride but have you considered how much time you’ll be giving up? When I first started learning to ride my parents could only afford to pay for a 30-minute lesson a week so that didn’t take up much time but as I got older and was able to work for lessons that time increased. By the time I left high school, I was spending around an hour a day riding which, as you can imagine added up to a considerable amount of time.
If you enjoy riding and want to continue with it as a hobby you need to ask yourself how much of your spare time are you able (or willing) to give up. If you really get into horse riding you may even want to buy your own horse which will require an enormous amount of your time, but that’s for another article.
If, after weighing up the pros and cons, you think that horse riding might be for you why not give it a go. Many riding schools have spare helmets that you can use so, to start with at least, you won’t need to invest in any expensive kit so you’ve got nothing to lose.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉