I’ve found more health advantages in the stables by following my delight than I ever could at the gym.
I detest visiting the gym. I detest it.
BLASPHEMY, I realize. much more so coming from a physical therapist. Take away my license.
However, I don’t despise working out, getting exercise, being physically active, or being outdoors. Simply put, I detest monotonous workouts that require going to the gym.
So what should a female do? Get imaginative, I suppose. If there’s one thing I’ve discovered through the years of treating patients who make promises to do their PT homework but don’t, it’s that if exercise doesn’t thrill you, you won’t do it – and you certainly won’t stay with it over the long haul.
You may be surprised by my choice of workout regimen, but even after a 20-year break, there is just one activity that keeps me going back for more.
Thanks to Marcy Crouch
returning to the horse
I’ve had a deep and abiding love of horses ever since I was a young, carefree, wild youngster.
I am drawn to them, and I like everything about them: their appearance, scent, the sound of leather and buckles, the sound of horse feet on the ground, the sound of hay being chewed, gentle nose kisses, and the rhythmic motion of brushing them.
After taking a 20-year vacation to get married, complete my residency, have children, and relocate across the nation for business, I’m now back in the saddle at the age of nearly 40.
I attempted to substitute cycling with other things throughout those 20 years. My experiences with yoga, pilates, jogging, triathlons, and spinning were all transient. They were enjoyable, and I felt wonderful performing them, yet there was something lacking.
In retrospect, I believe I was attempting to persuade myself to love them. We are all aware that the truth will eventually come out. Nothing was able to make up for the gap until I mounted a horse.
It takes work to make it seem easy.
I can literally fill my cup simply by being at the barn, which is my happiest spot. Instead of going to the gym, I would rather work out in the hot (or cold), filthy, smelly barn cleaning stalls, emptying water buckets, sweeping aisles, lubricating my saddle and bridle, and taking care of my horse. every day.
Riding offers physical advantages that most people are unaware of, in addition to happiness and the ability to engage in something just for myself (which is SO crucial as a parent).
If you’ve ever taken a 20-year break and attempted to go through Target the day after your first ride back, you know this to be true. Play the scene of Bambi on the ice.
Over the years, non-riders have often told me that riding is “easy” and that “you just sit there,” yet nothing could be farther from the reality. The finest riders have superb riding posture, calm hands and legs, and they make it seem simple and natural.
They seem to be equally soft, powerful, and well-balanced. Know how they accomplish it? Years of training, several hours spent on the saddle, and an extraordinary strong core.
Equine responses to “contact” or “aides.” The smallest change in weight, a little touch with one finger on the reins, a movement of your leg a centimeter behind the girth, or a change in seat position all communicate to the horse what you want them to accomplish.
Imagine doing all of that while riding a moving horse at various speeds, guiding, avoiding hazards, and maintaining balance for extended periods of time without holding your breath.
Riding provides a comprehensive method of exercise.
Strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, mental toughness, endurance, cardiovascular fitness, a clear mind, and trust are the finest qualities that can be acquired in any activity when riding a horse.
The amount of core strength and cardiovascular endurance needed for riding is astounding. Additionally, it has been shown to improve static and dynamic balance (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 Trusted Sources).
Studies have demonstrated that engaging in riding programs improves balance, coordination, and strength in healthy people and older adults who are not experienced riders (5 Trusted Source, 6 Trusted Source, 7 Trusted Source).
These advancements may lessen the chance of falls, which older persons are known to be particularly vulnerable to (8 Trusted Source).
However, studies indicate that equestrian sports also have positive effects on mental health (9Trusted Source). In rehabilitation settings, equines are used in hippotherapy to improve neuromotor, sensory, and cognitive outcomes (10).
Hippotherapy has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve balance and strength, and improve quality of life in patients with psychiatric disabilities, adults recovering from strokes, children with cerebral palsy, and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (11, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source, and 14Trusted Source).
Adults and children with schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, have showed improvement in mood and focus in studies (15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source).
These advantages match how I feel while riding a horse. I benefit physically and psychologically so much more from riding for an hour than I do from going to the gym.
I’m drenched in sweat, weary, worn out, ravenous, and HAPPY when I leave the barn. Day in and day out, rain or shine, I keep returning for more.
Find a kind of exercise that you like.
Horses are amazing, as is the connection they provide. There is just no other way to describe it. In the words of Sharon Ralls Lemon, “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, I can feel this in my bones. I feel completely independent and liberated while I’m riding. As I wipe out a stall, my mind wander. I can’t get enough of the overall contemplative and joyful experience.
I am now far more fit, stronger, and happier than I was even two years ago. I had hay in my vehicle, mud on my boots, dirt under my nails, and white horse hair sticking to my clothing. And there is no other method that I would choose.