Farm Ireland

Friday 24 November 2017

Riding way to greater fitness and confidence

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

If, like me, you had a list of New Year's resolutions as long as your arm, the chances are that by now we have already broken a high proportion of them.

High on my list was the aim of becoming more active, getting fitter and generally overhauling my lifestyle.

Using my new smartphone and a plethora of calorie-counting apps, I quickly realised that my daily calorie intake over Christmas was far in excess of what even the most relaxed dietician would disapprove of.

Luckily, I was able to counter-balance my calorie catastrophe with a recent study that proves that horse riding is good for my health.

In November, the British Horse Society (BHS) published a study it commissioned from the University of Brighton and Plumpton College examining the physical health, psychological and well-being benefits of recreational horse riding.

The study found that horse riding and activities associated with it, such as mucking out, expend sufficient energy to be classed as moderate intensity exercise.

Using a measurement called metabolic equivalents (METs), the scientific trials showed that general horse riding energy expenditure was the same as 3.7 METs, trotting equated to around 5.0 METs, while saddling and grooming equated to 3.5 METs. All of these measurements are classed as moderate intensity exercise.

More than two thirds (68pc) of questionnaire respondents achieved the British government guidelines for exercise intensity and frequency (30 minutes for three times a week or more at moderate intensity) from horse riding and associated activities alone. Within these, 69pc achieved this level of intensity and frequency through horse riding alone, while the other 21pc achieved it through associated activities such as mucking out and grooming.

Also Read

Among the 1,248 horse riders who took part in the survey, 39pc had taken no other form of physical activity in the previous four weeks, which highlights the importance of horse riding to these people, who might otherwise be sedentary.

However, the benefits of horse riding are not just confined to calorie-burning -- the sport also has major psychological benefits.

More than 80pc of the riders questioned reported that horse riding made them feel 'quite a lot' or 'extremely' cheerful, relaxed, happy or active, while qualitative data suggests that horse riding can play a role in managing negative feelings relating to anxiety and depression.

In fact, a number of those surveyed elaborated on how horse riding affected their state of mind.

"Riding my mare helps me relax and brings me relief from stress and anxiety, and I don't feel so depressed, which is something I suffer from," said one.

"Even though horse riding required both physical and mental effort, I thoroughly enjoy the challenge. It has played a significant role in helping me recover from stress, anxiety and depression," noted another.

Interestingly, these psychological benefits were not influenced by the frequency of horse riding and most psychological benefits were experienced by riders who did not participate regularly.

Previous research has found that physical exercise can improve self-esteem and the BHS study backed this up, finding that 96pc of riders felt riding made them feel confident.

This was broken down into 20pc who said it made them 'moderately' confident, 48pc who said 'quite' confident and 28pc were 'extremely' confident.

This enhanced confidence or self-esteem was often linked to the sense of achievement gained when performing a particularly difficult task or pushing boundaries.

"Most of the time, especially when working with one horse, small achievements give such a great sense of satisfaction and there is nothing like it," said one rider. "When you achieve things you didn't think you could, it makes you more confident and proud."

However, the effect of horse riding on self-esteem was not always positive. Some of those who responded to the survey suggested that setbacks such as a major fall, difficult horse or simply a bad day out could have the undesired effect of considerably knocking the rider's confidence.

"I love horses and love riding but I bought a challenging mare who bolts when she gets scared," said one rider. "It trashed my confidence and I have been slowly building it up again alongside her trust in me and other humans."

Another rider said: "Most of the time I feel the positive terms above, for example happy, confident, proud and so on.

Sometimes if I have a bad riding session I lose confidence and get frustrated as I know we're capable but I just can't get it right at that time."

When asked why they went horse riding, 82pc of riders rated the motivation of interaction with horses as either 'very important' or 'extremely important'. This was the motivation that received the highest importance rating.

Previous research into companion animals, such as cats and dogs, has found that owner-companion animal relationships can have positive physical and mental health benefits for the owners, and the BHS study suggests that the same applied to owner-horse relationships.

Now I'm off to plug all that info into the calorie-counting app. Hopefully all those benefits of horse riding will mean I can have sticky toffee pudding for dessert!

Indo Farming