5 Reasons Horseback Riding Really is a Workout

06.16.2014 • Fitness

Ever ride a horse and get down feeling like you’re still straddling that saddle with a little hitch in your step? Just like your first time at yoga or your first return to the weight room in a while, a real day of riding can leave you feeling muscle aches and pains in places you didn’t know you had!

horseback ride

There are certainly “nayyyy”-sayers who think there is no more to be gained out of a horseback ride than taking in a pretty view, but that hay is definitely for horses. Whether you mount up for an occasional pleasure ride or are serious about your equestrian pursuits, you should know that your physical fitness has a lot to gain from a ride in the saddle.

“Muscle tone is created by constant tension, so the flexing and contracting you do while riding will help you look better,” said Alexis Bennett at Bodybuilding.com. We’ve got five really good reasons your next ride could be the most fun way to get a total body workout.

The Center 


“Anything where you are keeping yourself from being bounced off is going to primarily use your core and your legs,” explained Kelly Turner, an ACE certified personal trainer and fitness journalist. That’s right, riding a horse supports core strength, which includes your abs, lower back, and obliques. In order to ride well, or comfortably, the rider must keep her core engaged, thus protecting the spine and keeping herself upright.

Moves to prepare: Ball Crunches and Planks


Horseback riding requires as much patience as it does balance and coordination. Balance supports neuromuscular coordination and a strong core, which combined can help you to burn more calories, according to Lauren Martin, a NESTA certified personal trainer for DietsInReview.com. The saddle and stirrups serve almost as a crutch for those unbalanced (or inexperienced) riders, but it still demands astute balance capabilities to keep yourself mounted and up off the ground.

Moves to prepare: Yoga or Pilates 

Lower Body


Consider this: horseback riding can be as good as leg day in the gym! Because you hold your position for an extended period of time, rather than having constant motion like you would in the gym, riding becomes an isometric workout. “After 30 or so minutes of riding, your legs will be burning just the same as they would on leg day,” Turner said.

This is especially true for experienced riders whose horse is trotting or running, where Turner explains you’ll find yourself in a perpetual squatting position (giving your glutes a little love, too!). “As you bend the knees to absorb the impact of the horse’s steps, you are pulsing the muscles.”

Moves to Prepare: Mini Squats or One-Leg Wall Squats


Your thighs get one heck of a burn during a ride, too. Just the squeeze required to keep yourself perched in the saddle will awaken every ounce of thigh strength you possess. “Pinching your legs together to put pressure on the horse to increase the speed or just to keep yourself mounted is also going to target the inner thighs,” explained Turner.

Moves to Prepare: Scissor Legs Planks or Side-Lying Double Leg Lifts

Upper Body


Basic steering is going to call upon that core strength and balance, but your arms and shoulders are also going to be required to carry their load. “If your horse is unruly and needs constant steering to keep it on the straight and narrow, or stops to drop his nose to the ground and munch some grass, you’re in for an upper body workout from managing the reigns,” described Turner.

Moves to Prepare: Push Ups or Dead-Lift Rows

Are you a horse riding enthusiast?