This region has a long association with horses. While stepping into the stirrups may no longer be the main mode of transport here in Dubai, horse riding remains a popular recreational activity for the city’s residents. It also has a number of health benefits.
In 2010, the British Horse Society commissioned a study from the University of Brighton and Plumpton College, exploring the physical and psychological effects of horse riding. The report concluded that the majority of participants rode for more than 30 minutes, three times a week, which meant they either met or exceeded the UK government’s minimum levels of recommended exercise. The findings also indicated that most horse riders associated the experience with positive psychological feelings. This was achieved through both their interaction with the animals themselves and their engagement with nature and the environment.
While the horses that raced at Dubai World Cup are worth millions of dirhams, there are a number of centres across the emirate for riders of all ages and abilities, catering to absolute beginners up to seasoned equestrians.
Admittedly, unlike sports such as running or rowing, it is the horse that is doing the majority of the work. Nevertheless, horse riding also burns calories. According to the British Equestrian Federation, trotting gently for 30 minutes burns around 360 calories and it helps to tone your stomach. Essentially, it’s a moderate intensity form of exercise, which can be controlled by how hard you decide to ride.
Improve your flexibility
If you’re familiar with the scene of someone looking undignified as they unsuccessfully attempt to mount a horse, then you’ll realise that throwing your leg over a pony’s torso isn’t always easy for everyone. In fact, with horse riding, certain parts of your body, such as your hips, are likely to improve in terms of flexibility, the more frequently you attempt it.
People may dismiss horse riding as a leisure activity but it’s also a form of isometric fitness, which can strengthen your body’s core. Just by balancing on the animal, you are forced to use certain muscles, such as your thighs. Horses are often used by individuals with disabilities or people who are recovering from injury for this very reason. Isometric training is exercise in static positions, while your joint angle and muscle length don’t change during the routine.
Develop thighs of steel
Anyone who’s ridden for a prolonged period of time will probably have experienced stiff legs and aching thighs. It’s because riding uses different muscles to what you’d use during a normal day. Riding works your glutes, quads and hamstrings, with your glutes tightening and loosening as you move up and down with the horse. In fact, you’re squeezing your leg muscles just to stay in the saddle.
Riding isn’t necessarily as simple as some people may think. Controlling a pony’s speed requires you to coordinate your rein pressure, leg pressure as well as the position of your body, simultaneously. One popular comparison is trying to rub your stomach, pat your head and skip at the same time. It isn’t that easy. Once you become more of an accomplished rider you will learn all of the subtle movements to use in order to get the animal to react as you want. You’ll also learn how to adeptly use different parts of your body, independently, which you can then use in other sports, such as tennis, where coordination is key.
Most people tend to sit wrong on a horse when they first mount the saddle. They’re inclined to grip the animal firmly with their thighs, or tend to hold the reins too tightly and their feet are pushed too hard into the stirrup. This tension often causes the novice to lean forward too much as well, as they tensely attempt to anticipate the creature’s next move. This leads to a tense and uncomfortable experience for both horse and rider. Yet once you relax and become familiar with riding, your back will straighten, your arms will fall lower and your posture should improve. And, the more that you continue to ride, the more your posture will continue to improve.
As intelligent creatures that sometimes seem to have an unnerving ability to react to your emotions, horses are also known for their stress relieving qualities. As early as 600 years BC, there’s evidence that the ancient Greeks recognised the therapeutic value of horses. While the scientific legitimacy of equine therapy for treating conditions, such as autism or depression, in comparison to more verifiable treatments, is not very clear, it’s widely accepted that an hour or so on the saddle is likely to reduce your stress levels.