In The Saddle: Riding helps shed the pounds

Anita Marsh
Anita Marsh

It’s the festive mince pie season, a time to be jolly and indulge as Christmas approaches. We all do it, but not many of us fancy going to the gym to burn off those calories.

Recently, after scoffing a fat slab of chocolate fudge cake, my friends were astounded I wouldn’t be going to the gym to work it off, muttering I’d pay for it later.

After explaining I don’t need to go to the gym, I’ll just exercise my mare later, they looked at me in disbelief. ‘Riding? You just sit there!’

According to them my horse April does all the hard work.

Determined to prove this I decided to investigate what calories we horse owners do actually burn.

Research undertaken by the British Horse Society and Hoof has busted the myth that riders ‘just sit there’.

Indeed just the daily task of mucking out your horse’s stable burns off 80 calories.

This is equivalent to a small glass of wine, to put it into context.

Another fat-busting move revealed trotting for 30 minutes can be the same as heading down to the gym at lunchtime, burning enough calories to enjoy a cheeky packet of crisps later in the evening.

If I walk my horse for half an hour, it’s equivalent to burning off a banana. And a good gallop for 30 minutes (think I’d reach Scotland on my mare!) can be the same as burning off a Mars bar.

Hacking my horse (riding in the countryside) for an hour burns off 240 calories, whilst schooling her (riding in a menage) burns off a huge 360 calories. That’s got to be a slice of chocolate cake surely?

The scientific research also showed that simple tasks before you even start riding such as grooming and saddling your horse is more exerting (measured in metabolic equivalents) than dog walking.

General horse riding is also more exerting than a family bike ride. All good stuff to tell my friends the next time we meet.

For me, I’ll always prefer riding my horse than heading down to the gym. I’m getting fit, building muscle tone (look at my thighs, I can crack nuts with them!) but ultimately for me it’s much more mentally stimulating than the gym could ever be, out in nature and bonding with my horse.

It has the same ‘feel good’ factor associated with exercising, caused by releasing serotonin – a natural mood enhancer – into your blood stream. However, unlike many forms of exercise, it can be done by the young, old and non-able bodied people alike.

I just love that about horses.

So, the next time I order a slice of chocolate cake with my non-horsey friends, I’ll feel great that I’ve enjoyed it calorie-free and exercised April in the process too.

All outdoors in the fresh air and I get to give her a hug afterwards (try doing that to a rowing machine!)