Before jumping in on why horse riding is great for your mental health, first a few points. It’s mental health awareness month in several parts of the world. Despite it being 2022, there’s still so much stigma attached to mental health. And if people feel brave enough to share their journey, they are usually assaulted with unsolicited advice about essential oils, diet plans, exercise regimes, meditation techniques, positive mindsets and more. Or they get treated like they have leprosy.
Mental health is a journey. A personal one. A journey that should not be ignored, neglected or something a person should be passive about. A journey that usually needs a holistic approach (medical intervention, therapy, exercise etc) and something you need to take ownership of if you suffer from it.
So to be clear, this blog isn’t saying horse riding cures mental health issues or diminishes the complexity of mental health but just another amazing tool to help with it. And on that hoof …
Reasons why horse riding is amazing for your mental health
Although there are millions of reasons why horse riding is good for your mental health. Here are 7 key reasons.
#1 Something to Look Forward to
Horse riding lessons are usually at a set time each week, several times a month. That means each week there is something to look forward to. There is something super about a routine and a commitment that you actually look forward to each week. A scheduled “me-time” event and an escape from reality.
With horse riding, there are multiple connections. The best is the ability to connect to a very sensitive animal. An animal that can read your heart, thoughts, and mood without you having to say a word. Then you can connect with others if you want to. You can choose group lessons for adults and kids. This is a great way to connect with people, in a special community that is unlike any other.
If you prefer not to make 50 new friends (introverts, I feel you), you can have private lessons which give you the chance to connect with one super, majestic animal and an instructor.
#3 Those Endorphins
Many people think that horse riding isn’t exercising because “the horse does all the work”. Pop on your Fitbit or similar device and go have a lesson; your heart rate will tell a different story. Also, ask your muscles the next day.
Anyway, horse riding is exercise. And amazing exercise because it is fun, but you still hit peak heart rates (without hating your life). And of course, after the exercise, those endorphins kick in and you feel amazing.
#4 Digital Detox
There have been multiple studies about how the digital world negatively affects your mental health. When you ride a horse – no devices, no emails, no PCs, no PlayStation, no social media, no digital nothing; just you, on the back of an incredible horse – relaxing and unwinding.
When you take horse riding lessons, you usually choose a discipline or two. Take dressage – there’s always something to grow in. Your seat (basically how you sit in the saddle while riding), your hands, the types of moves you can do, your legs (position, aids etc) and so on. Personal growth (although often slow) gives you a sense of purpose and excitement. This helps tremendously with anxiety and getting outside your head.
#6 Mental Stimulation
When riding a horse there are millions of things you need to think of – so complete mental stimulation. And no, “not dying” is not one of them. You must think of where you are going, how your body is responding to a living, moving, thinking animal, and so the list goes on. There’s something about focussing on something that has nothing to do with the rest of your life that is freeing. For 45 minutes to an hour nothing else matters but what is happening between you and the horse you are riding (oh, and the instructor too).
A big part of horse riding is discipline and self-discipline. Self-discipline is sometimes like exercise, it may seem unappealing but the more you do it, the better you feel. It takes discipline to improve your horse riding but the success and discipline you apply in the arena translate into the rest of your life. This is a confidence builder. Although confidence may not heal mental health issues, it does help give you the strength to deal with it.
Horse riding is an amazing activity for kids. It is equally something great for adults to take up as a hobby. It’s fun, challenging, and indescribably fulfilling. And great for your mental health. It is something that has certainly changed my life!
It is however important that you find a yard and instructor that suits you and your aspirations. Some yards are more competitive than others. Some are big. Some are small. You need to decide what works best for you.
PS. You don’t need to buy your own horse; you can have lessons on school ponies and horses. In fact, buying your own horse may cause mental health issues when VET bills come flying in. Ask any horse owner.😜