Horse riding: good for body, mind and soul

Ever since I was thrown off a horse as a youngster, I’ve always been somewhat nervous about getting back in the saddle.

Owner and British Horse Society riding instructor at Cayman Riding School, Tracey Surrey, has been teaching everyone – from nervous nellies like me to more seasoned riders – for more than 30 years. While she can’t work miracles, she promised she would have me feeling more confident after a lesson, and that I would enjoy the benefits of a fun workout at the same time.

Where

Riding lessons are offered either on a private or group basis at Cayman Riding School in Hirst Road, Savannah. The school is home to 10 horses and includes a large training arena with space for dressage and jumping practice. For the lesson, I was given Penelope, a lovely, gentle-natured, eight-year-old horse.

What it’s like

While it may not look like it, horse riding is an exercise in itself, offering both muscle conditioning and cardiovascular benefits.

“Everyone always says ‘horse riding is easy, you just sit there,’ but it’s not,” Surrey said. “Horse riding is an excellent activity for toning and working your whole body – depending on your level of riding, you can actually burn on average 650 calories per hour.”

Cayman Riding School teaches English style riding. Surrey took me through some of the basics, which included learning how to hold the reins, correct posture in the saddle, how to properly mount and dismount a horse, as well as jump and trotting positions.

Surrey has an eagle eye and as the horse walked around the perimeter of the arena, she was quick to point out posture adjustments; shoulders not quite square, back not perfectly straight, toes not correctly aligned, heels not pointing down. Trying to make these tiny adjustments while trying to counter-react towards the horse’s natural gait is a real challenge and it wasn’t long before my muscles started to ache.

Where you’ll feel it

My legs, stomach and back muscles ached for several days after as riding uses a host of muscles that you may not be used to using.

“Riding does not depend on strength alone, but strong flexible muscles that aid in stability and coordination,” Surrey explained. “Riding uses many muscles; most importantly, the leg and abdominal muscles. Most new riders will find that their inner thigh muscles become sore and they may end up walking like John Wayne for a few days after a lesson, but the muscles will quickly become stretched and strengthened.”

As well as improving your overall posture, riding will also strengthen the spine, increase joint mobility, and condition various muscle groups. Expect to feel sore.

Who can do it?

Anyone can learn to ride, from tiny tots to those in their twilight years. Cayman Riding School caters to all abilities, from complete novices to professional riders and will pair riders up with an appropriate horse.

Riding is a fun challenge and a fabulous ways to de-stress, enjoy a gentle work out, and get out and about in the great outdoors. If you do decide to take it up, don’t expect to be galloping off into the sunset in just a few lessons.

Learning to ride proficiently is not an easy task and takes time and practise to master, however Surrey enthused that you don’t need to be an Olympic potential to enjoy it. Indeed, you don’t. I loved every minute.

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