Study: Horseback Riding Helps Women Build Muscle Tone

Is horseback riding really exercise? Here’s what researchers have to say.
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Study: Horseback Riding Helps Women Build Muscle Tone
A study found that horseback riding built torso, hip, and thigh strength in women who previously had no riding experience and hadn’t engaged in an exercise program in the previous six months. | iStock.com
If you’ve ever been told horseback riding isn’t “real exercise,” now you can respond with scientific evidence.

Recent study results have shown that after only eight weeks of riding sessions, women gained considerable dynamic muscle tone in their thighs, hips, and torsos, said Yong-Seok Jee, PhD, at Hanseo University’s Research Institute of Sports and Industry Science, in Seosan, South Korea.

“Equestrian exercise activates the muscles around the thighs and hips and, at the same time, it can be said that the trunk extensor muscles are significantly improved due to the posture that requires straightening and due to the activated muscles around the thighs and hips,” Jee said. “I think that horseback riding could help a lot in the treatment and prevention of musculoskeletal disorders caused by sitting for a long time due to the recent economic and cultural tendencies to depend on automated equipment.”

Jee and his fellow researchers measured dynamic (during movement) muscle tone and static (without movement) muscle tone in 30 women aged 20 to 23. None of the women had been involved in any kind of exercise program for at least the previous six months.

They asked half the women to participate in a 25-minute equestrian exercise program three times a week for eight weeks. To ensure the conditions were standardized—and because the women were new to riding—they used a riding simulator that included walking, trotting, and walk-trot transitions in a straight line. The other 15 women, the control group, did no exercise during these eight weeks, but they sat on the motionless simulator for 25 minutes three times a week while watching television.

At the end of the eight weeks, the women in the riding group had significantly stronger hips, thighs, and torsos—in some cases more than doubling their previous muscle tone—according to dynamic muscle testing, Jee said. In particular, his team noted improvements in the dominant and nondominant hip extensor/flexor, the dominant hip abductor/adductor, and the trunk extensor.

The control group had no measurable changes in dynamic tone, he said. As for static muscle testing, neither group showed any changes.

“Our study is a groundbreaking discovery that dynamic exercise such as horseback riding can be confirmed by a dynamic test, but not by a static test,” he said. “The function of the muscles used during dynamic exercise such as horseback riding is well shown when measuring dynamic muscle function even during examination.”

Longer periods of riding would presumably lead to improvements in static function, as well, Jee said.

The study, “Effects of equine riding on static and dynamic mechanical contraction of the thighs and trunk muscles in inactive women,” was published by The Journal of Back Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation on July 13, 2021.

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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