Yes of course it is! Horse riding is a sport in many ways, it requires incredible core strength, stamina and strong legs. It obviously depends what discipline you are riding in such as show jumping, trail riding, dressage or a hack; all areas will require different outputs of energy and can use different muscles.
One main reason to support that horse riding is a sport, is that it has been included in the Olympic games since 1912. This sport is split down into show jumping, dressage and eventing, with both men and women competing equally. Each discipline requires an incredible level of fitness with a strong bond between horse and rider built over a long period of time. Eventing also requires good stamina and endurance, as the horse and rider must compete in dressage, cross country and then show jumping on day after the other, providing little recovery time.
Show jumping requires very strong leg muscles, as when you are jumping you must have the ability to move with the horse whilst hovering and saying light and balanced in the saddle. Horse riders also use their core to stay perfectly balanced, else one unbalanced move from the rider and it could make the horse knock the jump down, equalling in lost points. Professional riders make show jumping look effortless, but a huge amount of time, effort and fitness goes into making this sport run like clockwork.
Dressage is another discipline that requires very clear leg movements in order to perform this dance-like routine. To perform movements like a piaffe, requires the horse to have extremely strong hind legs and requires the rider to be quick on the mark with changing the position of the leg in order to perform the next movement. Squeezing of the thigh muscles indicates a horse to slow down and different positions of the hand can all contribute to different movements. Dressage is a sport where the horse and rider are seamlessly at one, which the rider is constantly working but makes the whole performance look effortless.
Cross country makes up another sector of eventing. This discipline is about endurance and stamina, using strong legs to push the horse over the jumps, steady hands that can give and take when needed and a good strong core. A horse should go where the rider wants by simply tilting the pelvis and distributing weight to where you want the horse to go to, horses are extremely receptive to the smallest of movements, so everything needs to be done with precision and intent. A horse feeds off your energy, so if you are nervous the horse would be nervous too, cross country is not for the faint hearted. Again, cross country can look effortless, but the amount of work that goes into training a horse and rider up for top level eventing is immense. It takes hard work every single day to reach this level, just like any other Olympic sports.
The above sports are all featured in the Olympics, however there are many other sports that can be done on horseback too. Including western riding events, carriage driving, steeple chase, hunting, polo, showing and so many more! Both the horse and the rider usually choose an area that they would like to focus on that they enjoy, and the family may have experience in. Western riding is a different type of riding along with side-saddle. Western riding relies on placement of the hips and small movements with the legs, most hand movements are done by simply placing the reins on the neck for direction using one hand, very different to disciplines like dressage.
Another majorly competitive horse-riding sport is horse racing, including steeple chase and point-to-point meets. These sports are based on placing bets on the horses, where a large sum of money can be lost or made. This sport is an incredibly old sport dating all the way back to ancient roman and Greek times, where chariot racing was a key sporting event. This extremely dangerous sport saw both horse and rider racing around dirt tracks with crowds of people watching. Both chariot and mounted horse racing were events in the ancient Greek Olympics by 648 BC and were important in the other Panhellenic Games in those times. As the sport evolved through the years racing became, and remains, popular with the aristocrats and royalty along to nowadays evolve into a spectator’s sport for everyone. Horse racing is an incredibly competitive sport where placing bets and gambling are key parts for the spectators. The sport sees horse and jockey race certain distances at top speed where the fastest horse wins. The sport requires a lot of factors to be at the top of the game with top breeding being paramount, top training and fitness levels from both horse and rider and an experienced jockey. Huge sums of money can be made and lost in racing with many people making horse racing their careers. This sport takes years of training, persistence and fitness, where the horse and rider must go out every single day on the gallops to train and train to be at the top of their game. Horse racing is made ever the more interesting, as both horse and rider are not robots, so like with everything you can have good days and bad days with the sport making gambling all that bit more interesting. Horse racing is most definitely a sport and one that holds with it a lot of history.
Like with many sports different people take up an interest or are naturally talented at one sport than another. This is the same for horses where certain breeding are better at some sports than others, the breeding of particularly talented lines dates back for hundreds of years. One example is the ‘Darley Arabian’ (foaled c. 1700) being one of the three most dominant foundation shires of modern Thoroughbred horse racing blood lines. This line began in England during the reign of Queen Anne where the bay Arabian horse was bought in Syria and brough over to England by Thomas Darley in 1704. The horse lived at Aldby Park, East Yorkshire and was bought as a present for his brother. Most thoroughbreds can be traced back to this single stallion. Thoroughbreds are bred primarily for horse racing, being pretty much the fastest breed of horse ever know.
Other breeds such as ‘Shires’ were bred as cart horses for moving heavy goods from place to place like bakeries and factories. These types of horses have immense strength and can be used to work the land, ploughing fields and moving heavy machinery. Nowadays there is not as much of a demand for these types of horses as they have been replaced by traditional farm machinery, but the breed continues to survive to preserve its history. You can see traditional shire horses at many country shows.
There are hundreds and hundreds of different breeds originating around the world, all bred for different purposes and sports. Some horses are bred for strength, some for speed, some for durability and some for stamina. All horse breeds have a long line of history surrounding their identity.
Horse riding is a sport in so many ways, with hundreds of different areas in which you can focus on. Whether its dressage, horse racing or simply taking your horse our for a hack, all these sports are good for our mental and physical health and work on muscles like core, arm and leg strength. So whichever horse breed or sports discipline you choose, you can be sure to have a full body workout.
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