Horse riding can offer you more than just fun and exercise: it can also be good for your mind. Here, Katie Allen-Clarke from Horse & Country outlines the many ways horses can benefit your mental health.
The physical benefits of horse riding are well known. Being out on a ride can be great cardiovascular exercise, as well as helping to improve your core strength and balance. However, horse riding isn't just good for your physical health. Working with horses can have a number of benefits on your mental health too.
One in four people will experience a mental health problem annually in England, according to data from Mind. However, it's likely that this number has increased in recent years, particularly in younger generations (NHS).
Many people find that working with horses and taking part in equine therapy can help ease their symptoms and boost their mood. In fact, respondents to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health stated that participating in horse riding is more beneficial for their mental health than their physical health.
Whether you're thinking of taking up horse riding as a hobby or are interested in regular riding as a form of therapy, below are just some of the benefits horses can have on your mental health.
They can be relaxing
Horses can be incredibly calm and sensitive animals; capable of picking up on small changes in human behaviour. They're prey animals — which means they're often more in tune with the world around them than other common therapy animals such as cats and dogs (Rutgers Equine Science Centre). This means they are well-suited for people with conditions such as anxiety, PTSD, behavioural issues, or sensory problems.
A study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress has analysed the effects of horse riding on volunteers with PTSD symptoms. After just six weeks of equine-assisted therapy, participants displayed fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and less severe emotional responses. This is believed to be due to horses being able to recognise even minute changes in a person's behaviour, with them able to mirror and respond to these changes in a calm and gentle way.
Not only this, but horses can often pick up on changes in mood before you're able to recognise them yourself. With regular riding, they can help you practice emotional regulation and teach you to be more in tune with your mind and body — a skill you can apply in other areas of your life, too.
They can boost self esteem
As social animals, many horses just love being around people. Plus, domesticated horses rely on humans for things like shelter and care. This means working with horses can be incredibly rewarding and can help foster a sense of responsibility and independence, boosting confidence and self-esteem.
A study published in the journal Anthrozoös found that participants who took part in horse riding showed increased confidence and social stimulation. Horses don’t have the capacity to react in a judgemental way, and can be very loving and accepting towards those who care for them — which can help create a feeling of belonging and acceptance for the rider or handler.
Not only that, but horse riding involves overcoming many challenges, even for experienced riders. Getting on a horse, having control, and learning something new are all big achievements that can help boost your self-esteem even more.
They allow you to get outdoors
The great outdoors can be incredibly beneficial for your mental health and can help boost your mood and reduce feelings of stress (Mind). The great thing about horse riding is that it allows you to get outdoors and spend time in environments you may not usually find yourself in. Whether you choose to ride in your local area or take a riding holiday to a completely new location, you're able to get some fresh air, sunlight, and experience all the natural world has to offer.
They encourage socialisation
No matter if you choose to join a riding school or try one to one tuition, horse riding involves some form of socialisation, both with the horse and with other people. This makes the sport an effective way to improve communication skills, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Taking part in riding is a great way to meet likeminded individuals and encourages you to get out there, meet new people, and form new friendships. This makes the horse riding perfect for people with conditions that cause them to withdraw, such as social anxiety or depression.
Riding also requires you to be able to anticipate the needs of the horse, which can improve your empathy and communication skills. This, in turn, can make socialising in other situations much easier.
Horse riding can be more than just great exercise. It can help to boost your mental health too. Not only can working with horses increase confidence and reduce stress, but it also gives you the perfect opportunity to socialise with other people in the great outdoors, so why not give it a go?
For more top equestrian advice, and to learn about some fantastic riding holidays, be sure to visit the Equestrian Escapes blog.