Health + WellnessLifestyle

Saddle up: how to get honed and toned on horseback

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It’s March now, which probably means one of two things. Either, in January you decided that 2016 was the year for you to get fit and joined a gym, which you’re possibly now losing interest in. Or, you’re already a bona fide fitness fan, but the days are getting longer and, as being outside becomes more appealing, your enthusiasm to be inside a gym is waning. For most of us, it’s pretty tough to keep momentum up where getting trim and toned is concerned, which is why I’m on a mission to try and test all sorts of exercise alternatives. This month, Three Greys Riding School in Pyecombe, put me through my paces with a 30-minute riding lesson.

Now, I’m by no means an athlete, but I do work out. I do interval training a couple of times a week; I squat in all manner of unsightly poses to try and get my behind to defy gravity; and I slog it out, running along the seafront to keep my cardio up. So, before I had a chat with Sue, owner at Pyecombe’s Three Greys Riding School, about whether or not riding horses is an effective means of exercise, I’ll admit my first thought was: “30 minutes; how hard can it be?”

“People are often amazed at how much a 30-minute lesson can really get the heart-pumping and work muscles all over your body,” Sue told me. “You have to work your thigh and buttock muscles to get the horse to move, as well as to stabilise yourself, and your core is engaged constantly while your riding because you need to push your heels down, but sit up straight, so it’s great for stomach muscles. I’ve known many people come to us for regular riding lessons that have given up their gym memberships entirely because they feel that they’re getting great fitness results from riding alone.”

Having had my lesson in the hands of the fabulous Holly, who had me trotting in no time, I’m happy to hold my head high and admit that my first thought was entirely wrong. Horse riding isn’t hard in the way that it’s a chore – far from it; in fact, it’s liberating in a really exhilarating way. But, wow, is it hard on your muscles. Riding Jacob, a nine-year-old cob with a wonderfully patient temperament, just holding the reigns, and with my arm muscles contracting and relaxing according to his movements, I realised how much arm-sculpting power horse riding has because you’re constantly adapting your upper body positioning using small, controlled movements.

As for the lower body, both Holly and Sue had smiled kindly, but knowingly when I asked if I would feel the lesson in my legs the next day. I’m still feeling it now. Five days later. Just by simply sitting on the horse and riding slowly, the inner thigh muscles, or adductors to get technical, are engaged, so you’re getting all of the benefit of leg raises, but without the boredom factor. And the rising trot – where you mirror the flow of the horse’s step by sitting up and down in your saddle – uses the adductors, along with hamstrings and quads, so you’re effectively doing a squat with each ‘up, down’ movement.

Physical benefits aside, there’s something really mentally soothing about exercising in the fresh air, and learning to horse ride gives you a real sense of achievement too. By the end of the lesson, I was out of breath and really happy – a massive tick for both cardio and endorphins there. If you’re getting a bit bored of the gym, or are paying out for a personal trainer and fancy mixing it up fitness-wise, I’d give Three Greys a call. With 30-minute private lessons, hour-long group sessions, and hacks across the Downs available, they teach kids from three-years-old too, so you can take your little ones along for the ride. Beats paying for a gym crèche and queuing for the cross-trainer any day.

Three Greys Riding School

Rockrose Farm, Pyecombe

01273 843536

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