If riding isn’t really exercise, why am I so sore?

Riding cross country at rolex
As many people have undoubtedly told us, riding isn't really exercise. Galloping xc takes no muscle tone at all!

I’m a masters swimmer who took the last six months off to rehab a rotator cuff injury. In the locker room, after my swim, I ran into the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates. I mentioned it was my first time back and that I hoped I wouldn’t be sore tomorrow. “Oh,” she said, “not from swimming! That’s low impact.” I guess she and I have different ideas about what constitutes swimming.

It reminded me, oh so clearly, about the comments I hear from non-riders. They are quick to point out that the horse does all the work. If you’re just a passenger, how much work can it possibly be? Enough so that after a hunt I have to take a nap!

To the uninitiated riding looks easy. They have no idea how much core strength it takes to be balanced on  a horse and, well, simply to stay on. After a long hunt with lots of fences I expect to wake up the next morning feeling stiff and sore. Most likely I feel it more that Freedom (who is much fitter than I am).

Thinking about it, you use a lot of muscles to ride correctly, especially your deep core muscles. They include:

  • Abdominals
  • Biceps
  • Quadriceps
  • Psoas and iliopsoas (hip flexors)
  • Trapezius
  • Lats
  • Adductor and Abductors
  • Glutei
  • Lower back muscles
  • Calf muscles
  • And a few more I’ve either forgotten or can’t name.

Hmmm, it’s starting to look like riding might well be reasonably good exercise after all! The fact is that riding uses muscles that many of us didn’t even know we had.

That settled, I have to go and rub some sore no more on my stiff, sore muscles. Too bad my body didn’t get the message that swimming isn’t the type of exercise that makes you sore.

3 thoughts on “If riding isn’t really exercise, why am I so sore?

  1. When I was in high school, you could get extra credit in PE class for outside-of-school activities that included physical exercise. Such as running, hiking, swimming, etc. Every year I was denied credit for horseback riding, even though I was an avid equestrian and a member of a local riding academy that had me in the saddle 5 to 7 days a week year-round. My PE teacher was adamant that horseback riding was not exercise for the rider. Even though he had NEVER so much as sat on a horse in his entire life! I felt justified when my textbook in health class in 10th grade stated that one hour of riding at the trot or canter was the calorie-burning equivalent to one hour of tennis.

  2. I read, in a compilation somewhere, that jockeys are the fittest people on earth. More so than professional body builders, marathon runners, etc.
    And what would non-horse people say? They ride for what, 2 minutes at a time?
    On the one hand, it’s good: if you’re injured, your non-horsey doc is likely to say, “Oh riding, you should be able to do that in a week. Work? Not for at least four.”
    On the other hand, I’ve been working at my own rehab after getting kicked, b/c I knew I’d be way out of shape after such a long time off. I did good. I feel sore only in my neck and abs, and my neck is worse. Way to go, self!
    Swimming: I’d always swum a mile, 5 days a week. After a year, I decided to add .25 more. I was so sore the next morning I could barely roll out of bed!

  3. My brother always claimed riding wasn’t a sport. Then he managed to get to the Ivy League Championships at Dartmouth in 1997/8. IHSA: Where you don’t get to warm the horse up, and hope you do well in luck of the draw. He showed up right before my first round on a horse who jumped kind of like an antelope. Despite the fact I went to Dartmouth, I had never ridden him. I placed second in that class, but you had to place 1st or 2nd to get to the championship, so it was fine. (The judge later told me had I needed a 1st she would have given it to me, as I was clearly the best rider in the class, and no one else on that horse had even placed he threw them so out of whack.) Next round, I drew another horse I had never jumped, but who I knew tended to have refusals over jumps he hadn’t gone over before. And I knew they had forgotten to warm him up over the championship course. Somehow, though, we got through with no refusals… and the two other people who rode him in the championship both had refusals. The judge then had 4 of us ride a shortened course… which again the horse with the sticky jump had never done. Once that was over, two of us switched horses. This horse, I knew well… he was the horse who fell off the ground and landed on me. His rider was clearly very talented that she had kept him in balance on the rollback the judge inserted into our course, when he has major balance issues! I managed to do well, she did well on the horse I had been on, but didn’t quite use enough seat to gather him up for the rollback, and I won.

    My brother got back to campus and emailed our dad “I just watched the coolest sporting event ever.”

    Anyone who doesn’t think riding is actually a sport needs to try sitting my horse’s trot. My trainer admitted that she’s going to have to practice on him before she can show him second level, because despite the fact she rides multiple horses a day and has ridden some VERY difficult trots… she can’t sit his trot, either. No non-sport involves so much core strength (and aerobic for some types of riding), and anyone who believes otherwise just doesn’t matter to me!

Leave a Reply