As a child, I was always more interested in my Barbie’s horse than the actual doll, and dog-eared my copies of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series as I read them again and again. Our yard usually had an odd assortment of jumps made out of lawn chairs and broom poles, where my friends and I would “canter” around, short legs leaping over the obstacles.
It was probably no surprise to my parents that by age 10 I was begging them for horseback-riding lessons, and at eleven I was saving up my dollars from my newspaper delivery job and squirreling it away in my “horse fund.”
Those early years of daydreaming about horses became a reality and I joyfully learned to ride. I mucked out stalls and swept barns, and eventually become an instructor myself, teaching eager summer camp kids, college students, and adults who used their time at the barn to de-stress from work.
Riding was not only my hobby but my primary sport, and I experienced its benefits first-hand as a child, and right into my 40s.
According to Equestrian Canada-certified coach Allison Dean, who has taught hundreds of children and adults over the past 20 years, the benefits of riding go beyond the obvious physical benefits, such as improving coordination, balance, strength, and cardiovascular fitness. It’s also a great way to make new friends, learn many different physical skills, and enjoy time outdoors.
“What is unique about riding is that it combines the physical aspect with the care of an animal. This promotes responsibility, empathy, and partnership with another living creature,” she said. “In a day and age where kids’ activities are primarily indoors and focused on computers and phones, horseback riding gets them outside and connected to nature.”
Here are five reasons why it’s worth giving the sport a try:
Horseback riding is great exercise
A 2011 study [PDF] found that just 45 minutes in the saddle can burn hundreds of calories, and more vigorous movements such as trotting increase that number. Associated activities such as grooming and mucking out stalls can even further enhance riding’s health benefits. So grab the wheelbarrow and start shoveling!
It builds strong muscles
Every riding discipline, from jumping to vaulting, is an excellent core workout. Maintaining proper riding position on the back of a moving horse requires using your abdominal and lower back muscles, as well as your adductors (inner thighs), pelvic, arm and shoulder muscles. Glutes get a great workout too!
It improves coordination and balance
Guiding both of you through a jump course, flying around barrels, or travelling around an arena develops hand-eye coordination and builds quick reflexes.
It brightens your mood and reduces stress
Riding and interacting with horses gets kids outside and into fresh air. As a result, they experience the many mental health benefits of being outdoors.
It’s good for your brain
Children who horseback ride can improve their cognitive abilities, which can lead to enhanced learning, memory, and problem-solving.
Related read: The confidence formula
If you have a horse-loving child, Equestrian Canada’s website is where you’ll find information on different programs available for new riders, including Equestrian Ontario’s introductory Rookie Riders program, and Horse Council British Columbia’s free Pony Tails Kids Club.
Once they’re ready for lessons, a certified coach or instructor through Equestrian Canada’s provincial/territorial partners will be able to ensure that riding is safe and fun!
Questions to ask before scheduling the first lesson:
- Are children taught how to groom, tack, and untack?
- Is there an indoor riding arena so your child can take lessons during winter/bad weather?
- Is the outdoor riding area fenced?
- Are the lesson horses suitable for beginners?
- Is there a minimum age for children to take lessons?
Basic equipment you’ll need:
- A correctly fitted, new ASTM/SEI approved equestrian helmet.
- A chest protector (if required).
- Sturdy footwear with a ½” to 1” heel.
- Long pants.
Now, get out there and saddle up!