Along for the Ride

Saddling up means shaping up—and not just for the horse underneath you

When you watch someone ride a horse, it may seem like the horse is the one doing all of the exercise, but riders actually get a great workout as well.

“Riding is very physical, and it’s physically demanding on your body,” says local champion hunter-jumper and riding instructor Amy Self. “Most people think that it’s not a cardiovascular workout, but when you get going and really start riding, you’re definitely working, too.”

And as cool fall temperatures replace triple-digit summer heat, now is an ideal time to put your feet in the stirrups and see for yourself.

Basic horseback riding requires a certain amount of physical fitness, and doing lunges, squats and seated ball squeezes—squeezing an exercise ball between your knees while sitting—will help you tone up and prevent saddle sores. Still, Self, who has been riding since she was 4 and has been competing for nearly two decades, assures, “The best way to get in shape for riding is to ride.”

She teaches English riding lessons at Willow Pines Ranch north of Las Vegas, where hourlong lessons run about $60.

“We start with the very basics on a very gentle horse,” she says of her lesson plan. After mastering the basics—balance, posture, etc., all at a walk—the workouts get more difficult, as students move on to learn the rising or posting trot (jog), canter (lope) and more difficult exercises.

Even at a walk, a rider’s body is working. As you sit in the saddle, your body constantly has to make adjustments to stay upright, which means your core and legs are working, whether you realize it or not. A 150-pound person will burn about 175 calories an hour while riding a horse at a walk, and the same person would burn about 200 calories per hour walking on their own. And the faster you go, the more calories you burn: A 150-pound person will burn about 465 calories per hour while riding at a trot (or riding a stationary bike for the same amount of time, at 125 watts).

Your calves and thighs, along with arms, abdominals and back muscles, all stand to reap the rewards. Meanwhile, the psoas and iliopsoas muscles, which hold your torso upright, are also put through their paces, so to speak. “The inner thigh gets a tremendous workout,” Self says.

She runs, does yoga and does strength training at least three times a week to keep herself in top condition. “You have to do a lot of things to keep your body balanced. … If you do other things, it really helps,” she says. “You expect your horse to be an athlete, so you should be, as well.”

Where to Ride

Hunter’s Edge Farm
This small, private facility offers training in hunter/jumper, equitation and other forms of competition-riding skills. Lessons, grooming and on-site personal trainers available. 7475 Cameron St., 496-2752,

Johnston’s J-Bar-B Stables
This five-acre horse ranch has five arenas and a full-service course for riding and jumping, plus a spacious roaming area. 7529 W. Gowan Road, 645-7799.

Willow Pines Ranch
This is a full-service training facility with classes for everyone from 2-years-olds and up. Lessons, available five days a week, include individual, trainer rides and lessons with a school horse. 5770 W. Rosada Way, 396-5063,

The S&F Ranch
This fully equipped facility with spacious grounds offers a variety of classes, from hunter and jumper to dressage and horse training. 8545 Log Cabin Way, 768-1460.

Ride With Leigh Ann
The personalized training program, which operates out of a private facility on the south Strip, is for equestrians and includes English riding lessons for beginners. Classes available for patrons 5 years old to adult. 524-1214,

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