Horses, hacking and exploring the great outdoors could offer more benefits to your physical health, mental health and general wellbeing then you might think. If you need a reason to tack up and enjoy a hack, here are just a few…
1. It helps you develop resilience
Resilience, the ability to bounce back from difficulties, is beneficial to mental health. Being able to cope with problems you face can be tough, and our horses help us do just that.
Unlike any other sport, we have to consider the wants and needs of our horses first, no matter what happens or how it impacts our plans.
Perhaps they pull a shoe the night before a long-awaited show or fun ride — they have no clue what they’ve done, and you have to make new arrangements by organising the farrier and finding a different event to go to.
You keep going despite setbacks — and this is an important skill for day to day life.
2. It teaches you to stay calm under pressure
We’ve all been there — a particularly scary leaf has blown across the road, or perhaps a wheelie bin has been left out, and you’ve had to coax your horse past.
Being able to stay calm for your horse and think your way through a stressful situation shows great control over your emotions.
3. It reduces stress
Just being in the presence of animals can provide benefits for your mental health. When compared with 20 minutes of reading, stroking a dog was found to lower stress significantly — not that you need any more excuses to give your horse a scratch.
Horses in particular are very calming to be around, which is why they are used for programmes such as hippotherapy or for PTSD recovery.
4. It helps you switch off and relax
Heading out for a quiet hack can provide you with some time away from the stresses of life, and take time for yourself. Riding can be thought of as quite a solitary sport, as it is easy to forget the companionship you can find with your horse.
It’s a difficult skill to walk onto the yard and leave the worries of the day behind you, but your horse can help you do just that.
5. It makes you regulate your emotions so they don’t rub off onto your horse
Emotional regulation is the ability you have to control your feelings, from focussing on happiness to overcome anxiety or fear.
Whilst they can be a friend to share your joy with or a mane to cry on, our horses are very intuitive, and can pick up on your emotions.
It’s important to make them feel safe too, which provides a positive challenge to regulate your emotions so that you don’t make your horse uncomfortable or afraid.
6. It decreases anxiety and depression
Hacking, out of all of the disciplines, arguably provides us with the greatest opportunity to not only connect with our horse but also nature. Going outside, breathing in fresh air and enjoying our environment can boost our mood.
Exercise, from hacking out to mucking out, has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression.
During exercise there is an increase in neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation, which is why you are more likely to feel happy and accomplished after a ride.