Is Horse Riding Really a Sport?

man riding horse 1 e1590593427403

Is horse riding a sport or a workout?  It all depends on the type of horse riding you are talking about because some are just to relax and unwind while others are a sports competition.  

And getting yourself and your horse ready for the sporting event can be a workout so it can be a combination of both a sport and workout.

Is Horse Riding Really a Sport?

This is one of the oldest sports around and it fulfills every definition of sport.  Some still see it as an easy activity.  It can also be deemed a workout because of all the hours of practice, the bruising, chafing, sore muscles, and mental challenges a rider goes through to make what they do in competition look easy and flawless. The horse also goes through a lot of effort to get to this point also.

What Makes It a Sport?

1. Competition

When most people think of sport, they think of competition.  Horse riding allows competition.  Even if it appears that the horse is being judged, the horse is rarely better than the one who trained the horse.  It will take hours of human physical activity until the horse is ready for completion.  In the horse world, there is a big list of competitive disciplines.  Just because a rider and horse is good in one it does not mean that they will be good in another one.  Competitions require skill and fitness.

2. Mental Exercise

When you enter a competition, whether it is horse riding, cooking, painting, it all requires confidence, skill, strategy, memory, and reasoning.  You have to memorize jump courses, dressage tests, choosing the safest route on a trail ride, following trail maps, etc.  All of these are mental exercises.  It can take weeks for a rider to cue a horse on a specific move and have them learn it.  A rider also needs to be flexible mentally to change course instantaneously if the horse spooks, misbehaves, or the playing field suddenly changes.

running horse

3. Athleticism

In any sport, including horse riding, you will need to build muscle strength, flexibility, balance, overall body awareness, and agility.  Even after taking a short, relaxing ride, riders who are not used to riding, will find that certain muscles will be very sore.  Riding requires a few muscles that are not often used in other sports.

The control it takes to use the seat, leg, and rein aids to influence the horse requires a refined body awareness that is somewhat like that of a gymnast.  It does not take being a bodybuilder to ride; it does take some physical presence to deal with an animal that is much larger than yourself.

4. Aerobics And Calorie Burning

Just trotting in a few circles, you will realize that horse riding is also an aerobic and calorie-burning activity as well.  For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, riding a horse at a walk would burn 171 calories per hour. This is almost identical to walking two miles per hour.  If you are trotting your horse, you could burn 441calories an hour.  You could burn 549 calories an hour if you are galloping.  Not all riders do is ride, clean the stall, groom their horse, carry feed bags, and bales of hay.  They also ride the range, lasso cows, train for events, and more.

5. Rules and Regulations

All sports, no matter whether it is horse riding, baseball, or football, are governed by strict rules.  They apply whether you are playing at a professional or amateur level.  They outline the rules of the game, so to speak.  In horse riding, some of these rules might include the type and size of the horse, saddles, clothing, bits, and more.

girl riding horse

Horse Riding Sport Competition

  • Racing—barrel, harness, saddle, chuck-wagon; all of these sports have the horse run quicker than any other horse in the competition.  With barrel racing, the horse has to run around three-barrel in a triangle without touching any of the barrels.
  • Show jumping—a horse has to jump over many obstacles of all heights and sizes in the road.
  • Polo—in this sport, points are checked by driving a small ball to the other team’s goal while riding on the horse.  You make the goal with a long wooden mallet.
  • Rodeo events—this includes roping, bareback, saddled bronco riding, calf wrestling, and cutting.  The horses in any of these events have to be trained to ride with the rider doing tricks.
  • Endurance riding—this is a common sport in Europe and the United States.  The races are measured for a certain distance and the horses have a specific starting point.  The races are generally between 50 and 100 miles in natural terrains like mountains.  Generally, the best horse to use in this sport is an Arabian horse.
  • Dressage—the reason this is a competitive horse riding sport is that all the riders and horses have to perform in a solid series about the set movements of a marked area.  The movements will go from introductory to Grand Prix level.  These performances tests check the technical skills between the rider and their horse.
  • Equestrian vaulting—this has been an international sport since 1983.  The rider will need to show gymnastic exercises on a lung horse.  They will perform in classes that range from basic to advanced level.


  • It can take competitors longer to be ready for the competition that it does in many other sports.
  • Horse riding requires upper body strength, core strength, and leg strength that people do not normally have.  They have to learn these skills out of necessity if they want to compete in horse riding competitions
  • As with any other sport, you can get hurt, from bruises to scrapes to broken broken bones.  To a horse rider, these are just part of the training
  • In some horse-riding competitions, it almost like an extreme sport.
  • There are many different horse riding sporting competitions that a rider can enter.
Was this article helpful?