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Horse power

For most people, horse riding is largely seen as a pursuit of the rich and famous, or else a gambling enterprise. Few know about the many physical and mental benefits of horse riding.

health and fitness Updated: Dec 12, 2009 13:21 IST
HT Correspondent

For most people on the planet today, horse riding is largely seen as a pursuit of the rich and famous, or else a gambling enterprise. Few know about the many physical and mental benefits of horse riding.

Get riding fit
Riding is an activity that allows for both cardiovascular workout as well as strength training. And you don’t have to be fighting fit to get started either. “It doesn’t take much to start riding,” says Arjuna Awardee Colonel Deep Ahlawat, who is one of a handful of horsemen to have received the award. “Riding does not need much muscle power. Both men and women participate in the sport together.”

Age is not of much concern either. If you can get into the saddle, you are good to go. “A rider improves naturally with age and experience. At my age I am still competing at the international level,” says the 45-year-old armyman, who spends the better part of the day working out on five horses through his eventing routines of dressage, cross-country and show jumping. “I ride for about four to five hours a day and I do a little bit of gym work, like jogging on the treadmill,” he says.

“To be riding fit, you don’t need to workout like you have to in athletics or power sports. Riders begin to develop riding muscle and the body takes the shape of the saddle, or the horse back.”

Tone it up
It’s not just the animal that’s doing all the work, the rider too undergoes varying levels of physical workout depending upon the nature of the ride. A leisurely trot may not amount to much but galloping, jumping or playing polo can burn upto 560 calories an hour. The harder you work your horse, the harder things are for you.

The load that horse riding puts on the rider’s physique improves muscle tone. Besides helping in weight loss, the sport is a good anaerobic exercise, as it improves muscle definition by holding postures for prolonged periods of time. The lower limbs — which grasp the animal to ensure control and balance — become strong. In fact, few other exercises can tone and flex the inner thigh and groin as well as horse riding does.

Keep the right posture
Maintaining balance on a heaving mass of bone and muscle is not an easy task. But from the moment you get into the saddle, the core muscles start getting a workout. Staying atop the beast demands the correct posture and balance while building the foundation muscles.

Postural muscles, such as the thighs, trunk and pelvis get strengthened. Controlling and steering the animal makes for a great arm workout too.
“Riders from Europe and other leading eventing nations are known to train without stirrups (the foot holds attached to the saddle). Trying to balance on a moving horse without the foot support helps increase the suppleness in the body,” says Ahlawat.

Start young
While horse riding is a physical activity that the entire family can participate in, you’d be well advised to introduce your child to the sport only when he or she is between 10 and 12 years.

“Horse riding isn’t advisable for young children because it can become risky if the child gets scared or loses control over the horse. At riding schools, young riders are always given a trained horse,” says Ahlawat, who learnt horse riding at 28. Since animals can sense fear and insecurity, horse riding trains one to keep the emotions under control lest the animal gets a whiff of one’s fears and refuses to obey commands. Controlling and handling such a powerful animal also builds one’s confidence and can be especially useful for children who have difficulty in asserting their own.

Unique benefits
Horse riding is especially beneficial for those with knee injuries, and unlike jogging, there’s no pounding and repetitive joint stress. Riding is often seen by proponents as psychologically therapeutic and it’s also a great stress buster. Horse riding is harmony in motion between human and horse. “Riding is like meditation. You need a very sharp, focused mind,” says Ahlawat. “During training you start to pick up nuances about your horse and develop a certain chemistry with it. As you begin to understand your horse, you begin to sense that the horse is also trying to understand you,” he says.

Each of Ahlawat’s horses get up to an hour of workout everyday, six days a week. “They too need a day off,” he explains. You can ride a horse no matter what your level of muscle strength is. All you need to do is find your equine soulmate.

Interested in horse riding?

Army Polo & Riding Club (APRC), B Squadron 61 Cavalry, Cariappa Marg: 011-25699444
Delhi Riding Club: 23011891
Saket Sports Complex: 29561742

Amateur Riders Club (ARC), Mahalaxmi Race Course: 022-65005204

Tollygunge Club, 120, Deshapram Sasmal Road: 033-24734539

Chandigarh Horse Riding Society, Lake Sports Complex: 0172-2740907