Did you go through a phase in your childhood where you were obsessed with horses?
Think Tina Belcher.
*Raises hand.* Guilty as charged.
I read every horse book I could get my hands on. I learned how to draw them and plastered my room with horse posters and stickers. I played with My Little Ponies until the glitter wore off and their manes became frayed I even earned my Horseback Riding badge in Girl Scouts at summer camp. Trail rides at state parks were highlights of family vacations.
But then life got in the way. I gained weight, stopped traveling to state parks, and lost my love of horses.
Till my fortieth birthday, that is.
I was recently reintroduced to riding by a friend of mine. I want to share my experience and encourage you to think about horseback riding if you are looking for a new form of exercise. It’s sunshine, fresh air, and a helluva workout. And, horseys.
And yes, curvy women can ride horses.
It was a beautiful fall day—one you see on Instagram or in a movie—when my friend Lorri took me where she boards her horse, MJ.
Lorri called her sweet bay mare from her pen where she was chowing down on hay. Giving MJ a few pets, I remembered how soft horses’ lips and noses were—velvety smooth. Lorri slipped a bitless bridle on, attached a lead, and MJ came walking out of the pen.
We walked out to the open field where MJ turned into a horse lawnmower, eating up all the grass in sight.
Lorri had me hold MJ’s lead, advising me to stay to her left and in her line of vision. I was nervous about being in control of a 1,200-pound animal, but MJ was more intent on food than me.
After she saddled MJ up, Lorri took her horse to a nearby ring, mounted her, and did some warm-ups. I watched her command MJ to turn right, left, and back up. They went from a simple walk to a trot. MJ took the commands really well.
Lorri hopped off the horse, and it was my turn.
I was worried my weight would hurt the horse, but Lorri assured me I wasn’t too big to ride a horse. I got on the mounting block, put my left foot firmly in the stirrup and swung my right leg over MJ. I teetered in the saddle a little bit, but I was on a horse for the first time in twenty years.
I directed MJ to walk clockwise around the perimeter of the ring, and I tensed up immediately. My body wasn’t used to this, and my head swirled with thoughts of what could happen if horsey decided to rear, bolt, or jump over the fence.
Relax, I told myself. You are on a large animal. She’s a gentle mare, and you’re not helping by freaking out.
Forcing myself to breathe, I loosened up my legs and let MJ do the work. Under Lorri’s direction, I had MJ go clockwise, counterclockwise, and even back up! I was really on a horse again!
After fifteen exhilarating minutes, I was ready to get off. I asked Lorri to get me the block.
“No block,” she answered. “Stand up in the stirrups, swing your right leg over, and slide down using your stomach.”
I hadn’t bargained on that. I was terrified, but we were on soft dirt and it really wasn’t that far from the ground. I stood up in the stirrups, swung my leg over, and shimmied off, using my fluffy tummy as leverage.
My legs felt like noodles as I wobbled over to the fence. Lorri got the tack off MJ, and she let me brush MJ down while she fed her mare treats from a bucket.
Lorri explained to me the different ways to get involved with horseback riding if that was something I was truly interested in:
- Take riding classes. If you Google stables near you, you can find places that offer hourly classes. You learn the basics of horse care, how to put on tack, and how to ride.
- Rent a horse. For a monthly fee, I could rent a horse without the obligation of owning it or paying for board. Lorri even found me a suitable gentle mare, but I currently have no interest in riding as a hobby.
- Purchase a horse. There are many horses to be found at sales and auctions. Only do this if you have the time and expertise. Most good horses run in the four figures, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you and the horse will not have fun. Horses are bigger and more complicated than owning a cat or dog—a commitment not to be taken lightly.
But the benefits of riding are undeniable:
- Burn 200 calories/hour
- Wonderful workout for your core muscles
- Muscle toning, especially for abs and legs
- Improve balance and posture
- Wonderful way to interact with animals and nature
If you’ve never considered riding as a form of exercise, please give it some serious thought—especially if you think you’re too large to ride. Horses can carry up to 20-25% of their body weight. So don’t be afraid to get on the phone, talk to stables, and ask their honest opinion.
I am grateful for the experience Lorri and MJ gave me for my birthday. It was a workout I won’t forget any time soon!
What sport have you always wanted to try but been afraid to? Comment below!