Is Horse Riding Cardio?

Is Horse Riding Cardio?

Horse riding as cardio depends on multiple factors. However, incorporating styles of cardio riding could see massive improvement in, not only rider performance, but horse performance too.

Here, we investigate when horse riding is classed as cardio and the benefits of horse riding on the body.

Is Horse Riding Cardio?

Looking at the definition of ‘cardiovascular exercise’ can determine whether current riding styles are a form of cardio or not.

Also called ‘aerobic exercise’, it is a form of exercise which requires and adequate oxygen supply to generate energy for muscles. Therefore, felt side effects of aerobic exercise includes increased respiratory rate to enhance oxygen uptake, as well as increased heart rate to assist transport of the gas to muscles. This increased work of the body can also start to make rider feel warm and begin to sweat as a by-product.

When exercise becomes too hard and muscles cannot acquire enough oxygen to support muscle’s function, the body switches to support ‘anaerobic exercise’. This is exercise which can be sustained without oxygen. However, this form of exercise is intense, can quickly result in fatigue, and result in painful lactic acid build ups causing muscle cramping.

There is a need for an increased oxygen demand in muscles to allow the body to access energy stores to complete sustainable, aerobic exercise for longer. Spending more time completing aerobic activity can enhance lung and heart capacity, further increasing the body’s ability to stay in an aerobic zone.

Taking into account the definition of cardio, most horse riding disciplines can be classed as a form of cardio. Some disciplines, or levels of disciplines will push boundaries to become an anaerobic form, meanwhile others will not hit aerobic targets. General trends show the faster the work, the more heart rate increases.

A good indication of whether your personal horse riding style is or is not a form of cardio and putting you in an aerobic state is, by noticing;

  • An increase in heart rate.
  • Feeling out of breath.
  • Being warmer or sweating.
  • Feeling like muscles are tired. 

The NHS currently advise 30-45 minutes of aerobic exercise, three to five days per week, which the average horse rider will hit. However, remember this period only counts for the time spent in the aerobic state. For those not hitting these targets, incorporating short cardio-based workouts is advised.

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Cardiovascular Benefits

Pushing the boundaries to make riding form part of aerobic exercise targets can have amazing benefits for rider health.

Aerobic exercise causes ‘aerobic conditioning’, whereby the heart and lungs work more efficiently during exercise and rest. Therefore, riders will be able to sustain performance for longer and reduce the negative impacts of entering the anaerobic zone.

During anaerobic exercise, harmful by-products can build up in the muscle causing pain and damage to the muscle fibres themselves. This could impact performance in, not only the short term, but have more long-term effects too! In addition, fatigue could set in earlier, potentially resulting in costly mistakes for both horse and rider.

Not only does aerobic exercise mitigate the effects of an anaerobic state and work to develop the heart and lungs, it also optimises function of other bodily structures too! Aerobic exercise can increase energy storage in muscles, perfect for the generation of powerful, quick movements needed during activities such as jumping. Cardio-based horse riding also helps to increase blood supply to muscles, helping to remove harmful waste products and encourage muscle recovery after exercise.


Strength Benefits

Horse riding can also be classed as a type of resistance training, with high repetition bodyweight movements used throughout. Strengthening the core, the legs, and the arms, it’s the ultimate full-body workout.

This high-repetition exercise, especially seen in motions such as rising trot, works to fatigue muscles and encourages ‘progressive overload’. ‘Progressive overload’ is the required stimulus for muscles to adapt and grow. In order to get stronger and increase endurance, muscles need to be continually made to work harder than they are used to.

Progressive overload can be achieved through increasing repetitions of an exercise, the weight used throughout the exercise, and/or the rest time between exercising using the same muscle group. In the horse rider’s case, increasing repetitions is the most common way to induce progressive overload, followed by a decrease in rest time. However, this also is dependant of horse fitness levels too!

Benefits of progressive overload include;

  • Increased muscle strength.
  • Increased muscle endurance.
  • Increased muscle mass and bone density.

Increasing muscle strength and endurance, rider's could notice benefits such as increased security in the saddle, improved riding position, better movement cues, and horse performance. It also reduces the onset of fatigue, which could negatively impact horse performance and safety during riding.

Meanwhile, benefits are also seen in day-to-day life. Research suggests that riding may help with symptoms of osteoarthritis, as well as improving overall joint health, muscle strength, and muscle activation.