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Are Equestrians Athletes? Only If We Choose to Be

Note: This is day 28 of my 30-day blogging challenge. What the heck is a 30-day blogging challenge? Read about it here.

Is horseback riding a sport? I say yes. Usually. Here’s the definition of sport as a noun courtesy of

: a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other
: sports in general
: a physical activity (such as hunting, fishing, running, swimming, etc.) that is done for enjoyment

One could argue that sitting on a trail string pony as it walks around the park for half an hour is not a physical activity, and I wouldn’t disagree. But pretty much any kind of riding that goes beyond that fits the definition.

Are riders athletes?

: a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina

So anyone who is trained or skilled in riding, which we’ve already established is a sport, is an athlete. We don’t always act like it, though.

You probably saw this chart floating around Facebook a year or two ago. As far as I can tell, it originated in this article from Kentucky Performance Products. (This article also incorrectly attributes the “outside of a horse” quote to Winston Churchill, and y’all know how I feel about that.)

The numbers are probably fairly accurate, although I have trouble accepting that riding a canter requires more energy than posting the trot. But aside from that, we burn somewhere between 60 and 90 calories every hour while we’re fast asleep, so I can believe that you’d burn 78 calories in an hour of simply holding yourself upright on the back of a stationary horse, or even that driving the tractor burns 150. It’s interesting to see the numbers, anyway.

A few years ago in the old HI Spy column, we asked readers to tell us how they get in shape for riding. A lot of people said that they stayed in shape for riding BY riding, and also things like mucking stalls, walking out to the far end of the pasture to get their horse, stacking hay, etc. But unless you are the manager of a decent sized stable and doing this stuff all day, every day, it’s probably really not helping your fitness all that much.

Don’t get me wrong, anyone who does any physical chores is ahead of someone who drives to a desk job, drives home, and then sits on the couch all night. But someone caring for a few horses probably not all that better off than someone who, say, walks their dog twice a day and actually keeps up with their housework. And that’s a fine thing to be, but it’s not really being an athlete.

Some time ago I read an interview with a pro rider who suggested that in order to be fit enough to ride one horse a day, you’d have to ride two horses a day. But to be truly fit enough to ride two horses a day, you’d have to ride three or more. In other words, you can never get fit to ride by just riding.

If you hadn’t already theorized, my target audience for this blog post is me. I am writing to motivate myself. With Snoopy more or less out of commission, I’m not even riding one horse a day. Which means that if I would like to stay in shape for some future day when I do have the chance to ride regularly, I’ve got to find other options.

I’m nearing the end of this blog-a-day 30-day challenge. Since the challenges are meant to replace a New Year’s Resolution (because I know I’d forget what it was by March) I intend to come up with a new one each month. For my next 30-day challenge, I’ve decided to commit to a workout-a-day. Yes, I, a lazy desk jockey, intend to do a workout every day from tomorrow until the end of February.

I’ve been working up to it already, increasing my undisciplined running schedule from once or twice a week to four times. I even worked with a trainer at the local YMCA to get started on a strength-training program (included with my membership. Let’s hear it for the Y!) I decided, for the sake of this challenge, that riding lessons would count as a workout—I’ll only have two in this time period, anyway—but sitting on Snoopy the Sofa and meandering around the farm does not count.

What’s my goal with this? Well, if you’ll remember, the idea behind the challenge is that 30 days is the time it takes to start a new habit or break an old one. I don’t expect to magically become a person who works out daily for the rest of my life, but I think it will help start some healthy habits, which will make me a better rider/athlete in the long run.

Back to The Near Side

Leslie Potter is Sr. Associate Web Editor of Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieInLex.


Leslie Potter

Leslie Potter is a graduate of William Woods University where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Equestrian Science with a concentration in saddle seat riding and a minor in Journalism/Mass Communications. She is currently a writer and photographer in Lexington, Ky.Potter worked as a barn manager and riding instructor and was a freelance reporter and photographer for the Horsemen's Yankee Pedlar and Saddle Horse Report before moving to Lexington to join Horse Illustrated as Web Editor from 2008 to 2019. Her current equestrian pursuits include being a grown-up lesson kid at an eventing barn and trail riding with her senior Morgan gelding, Snoopy.

View Comments

  • My cardiologist once asked if I did any exercise and I told him I rode and worked at a barn. He had the nerve to say no, like do you clean your house or anything! Needless to say he is no longer my dr! Really with shoveling, dragging, lifting water buckets, lunging horses, walking horses in or out, scooping feed. All of this in the Florida heat. Yep moving jumps picking up dropped rails are some more of the chores we do. Really?? My Legs are terrific for 61!!

  • I totally agree with all of this. Given the winter weather where I am, my 1-2 horses a day has turned to 8 rides on the month. I saw this trending and in mid January, I started focusing on keeping my fitness up. I started a food and fitness journal, and doing at home strength/strength and cardio video workouts. I certainly miss riding but I am glad to not be filling the riding void as a couch potato....

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