Try English riding
Ever watched English riders in stretchy breeches and fitted jackets? The benefits they're getting from riding include increased balance and better posture.
Exactly how fit do you need to be to ride a horse? For anyone who has ever watched English riders in stretchy breeches and fitted jackets ride in unison with their horses or who has gaped at a horse and rider fly over a set of jumps the answer is–very.
If you are looking for core strength, one of the best places to find it is on the back of a horse. “Riding develops increased balance, hand, body, and eye coordination, and better posture, and biggest is the core strength,” says Pamela Piddocke, a registered nurse and Equine Canada-certified coach from Burnaby, BC.
But even a short, relaxed ride can leave you sore the next day if you don’t stretch and warm up your body beforehand. A practical warmup such as grooming your horse by putting a stiff-bristled curry comb in one hand and a softer brush in the other can make the horse’s coat shine while putting your muscles to work. Then, once you’re on the horse, leave your lines relaxed and twist your torso in each direction, stretching your shoulders and upper back while your horse walks. When you move up to a trot, you can stand in your stirrups, balance your hands on your horse’s withers, and allow the trotting motion to gently stretch your calves.
To cool down after your ride, get down from your horse and walk beside him. This will give you the chance to feel all the muscles you just worked and get your heart rate and breathing back to normal.
If you want to find a sport that draws in your child and gives him or her cause to work (without thinking that it’s work), then horseback riding is your sport. Developing the ability to climb aboard a 1,200-pound horse and find a willing partner that accepts commands is an incredible confidence builder.
Deborah Marshall–a lifelong horse owner, riding instructor, and trauma specialty counsellor with a private practice–incorporates horses into her counselling sessions. She’s seen the changes in children when she’s put them together with a horse.
“If you just think about the experience of walking into a barn and smelling the horse, standing beside him, and running your hand down his shoulder…that’s a relationship children really get. And anyone who rides has the potential for that kind of relationship with a horse–it’s magic,” says Marshall. When kids give that relationship importance, it builds their capacity to be mentally focussed in the present and living mindfully, she says.
Finding Your Place
If you are looking for a place to saddle up, your first step should be to contact your provincial equestrian federation. Each province has a federation that is sanctioned by Equine Canada, the body which governs horse sports in Canada. Equine Canada also offers a Learn to Ride program that outlines what you should know to progress through 10 levels. All you need to do is find a coach through one of the provincial federations who can evaluate your progress.
English Riding Styles
Dressage–takes riders from basic horsemanship to intricate and symbiotic movements on flat ground
Hunt seat equitation–focuses much of its instruction on the seat and position of the rider and includes some low-level jumps
Jumping–pits horse and rider against a course of jumps and is often timed, meaning speed counts
Cross-country–is like jumping, except the course is much larger and the obstacles are natural ones such as banks, water, and logs
Three-day eventing–covers three separate events (dressage, cross-country, and show jumping)
Choosing an Instructor
Find out more about riding and competition as a young rider through Equine Canada (equinecanada.ca) or your local 4-H Club (4-h-canada.ca).