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Prescription: Keep riding

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what's in the current digital issue, please click here.

British Paralympic rider Sophie Wells shares a special bond with her horse Valerius. © Liz Gregg/FEI

British Paralympic rider Sophie Wells shares a special bond with her horse Valerius.

© Liz Gregg/FEI


Prescription: Keep riding

By Ian Northeast

Horse riding is good for your body and mind. Here are good five reasons why riding benefits a healthy lifestyle – just leave out the falls and carting hay bales.


Cerebral spinal fluid bathes, protects and aids in nourishing the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). It acts as a shock absorber by allowing the brain and spinal cord to be “suspended” within the protective covering of the skull and spinal column. When we receive a knock or bump, the fluid attempts to absorb this. For this fluid to flow effectively, the skull and spine (especially the sacrum, part of the “tailbone”) need to function effectively. The synchronised movement of the sacrum and skull act like a pump, pushing this fluid up and down. Ensuring good function of this is something I look at when working with humans or horses. The rhythmical movement of riding a horse in a supple, unrestricted fashion is a fabulous way to encourage this movement.


Our spine and pelvis are the structural centre of our body and act as armour for our central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). They need to be strong and firm whilst simultaneously providing suppleness. The spine is structured to absorb enormous stress and tension. When a joint or region becomes tense or restricted, other parts move more to compensate. Given all the small traumas we experience as riders, the tension and misalignments build up until the spine is unable to absorb any more. As a chiropractor, this is something I work with every day and often part of the prescription is appropriate movement. Riding with the involved “fluidity” can be a tremendous aid in this. If the spinal issues are relatively new and mild, then movement alone can be fantastic at restoring function.


Horse riding is good for both the body and mind - Labelled for reuse

Horse riding is good for both the body and mind.


We’ve all had the experience – whether riding or spending quiet time at the stable or paddock – when we might close our eyes, reflect or just observe nature and our horse moving in it. This is a form of mediation for which there is a growing body of evidence of many health benefits, from increased brain volume to improved productivity, improved immunological function, assisting with blood pressure, skin disorders, digestion or hormonal issues. All from a few minutes of meditation. There are many forms of meditation and one aid that many of my clients find helpful is the Headspace app.


If you close your eyes, you can touch the tip of your nose without seeing it, right? This is  proprioception, your body’s ability to know where it is in space without seeing it. This is happening all the time. When we walk, our brain knows exactly how much to move our toes in relation to our ankle, our ankle in relation to the knee and the knee in relation to the hip. Horse riding is a beautiful way to stimulate this part of our brain. Our brain is continually communicating with how every joint and muscle is moving in relation to each other. When riding, our brain takes this plethora of information and combines it with the horse’s movement to create an even more movement-rich stimulation. Like building muscle, when we work this area of our brain, it gets stronger. Active riding does this.


Heard of “ecotherapy”? Neither had I until researching this article. Whilst it has been known for years that a “nature deficit disorder” of sorts exists, new research shows the benefits include decreased levels of depression and other mental disorders. There are also improvements in  emotional health, energy levels, resistance to illnesses and better eye health (from focusing on objects near and far versus looking at a screen for long periods). All from getting out into nature. It looks like our riding is ticking the boxes and being our therapist, psychologist, personal trainer and meditation guru! With all the benefits associated with our riding, we must be the healthiest bunch on earth!







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