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If you think that horseback riding is about as physically intense as watching football on the couch, think again! Riding offers people both mental and physical benefits, from toned bodies to decreased anxiety to better coordination. This article covers the largest and most-common effects of being on a horse.

If you think that riding a horse doesn’t involve much more than just sitting there like a lump on a very large, moving log, think again: horseback riding has proven health effects, both physical and mental. Riding, then, isa valid and fun form of exercise that new and experienced equestrians alike can enjoy. Here are the most-common benefits of getting on your favorite horse.

Mental Health

Being outdoors, getting fresh air, seeing nature—these are all great for your overall mental well-being. After a work-week of being cooped up in the car, office, and house, a horseback ride across a pasture or along a trail can relieve stress and help you feel better. In fact, the British Horse Society reported that horseback riding, even infrequently, can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Then there are the benefits of bonding with another living being: in this case, one that’s much bigger and stronger than you could ever be. Whether you’re riding that beautiful equine along a trail, giving him a good brushing afterward, or mucking out his stall, you’re interacting with a large animal: something that requires patience, effort, and trust. This boosts confidence; if you can take proper care of a horse, you can do all sorts of other things.

Physical Health

If you want to get in a muscle-building and cardio session without going to the gym, take a ride. Being on a horse requires constant adjustments, both large and small, to stay balanced. Lots of muscles work together to keep riders in the correct positions. New riders may “feel it” the day after in their arms, abs, backs, and even legs. You’ll have both tightness and soreness, especially at first, but keep working at it; soon enough, your body will get stronger and the unpleasant parts will go away.

Being on horses can also improve your overall balance and coordination.

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