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Equestrian Wellness: The Skinny on Weight Loss

horse riding weight loss
Written by Lindsey Rains

Not An Easy Road

Weight loss is a sensitive topic that many of us equestrian women (editor’s aside, and men) want to know more about, but are often embarrassed to talk openly about because of the struggles we face. Today, I want to share with you my journey out of overeating, and my top weight loss tips after losing 50 lbs and keeping it off.

So let’s get this out of the way: I love food. Food is fantastic in that it nourishes our life on a daily basis and has incredible healing, strengthening, and energizing properties. Most of my Instagram feed is filled with people who are really creative with how they pair food in inspiringly healthy ways.

I love food, but I’ve spent most of my life depending on it. And I don’t mean physically for sustenance and nourishment, as mentioned above. I spent years of my life relying on food to regulate my moods, make me feel secure, and deal with stress and heartbreak.

girl horse fence red

Source: Lindsey Rains

So, as you can imagine, I have spent many years being heavier than I should have been. When I was young, my binge-eating was easier to hide. I could put away twelve tacos, chips, and ice cream in a day (plus breakfast and dinner) without anyone really noticing, because I was extremely active. I typically played two to four sports regularly, in addition to swimming several times a week.

As I got older and started dropping out of all my physical activities (read more about that in  the post: When Depression Takes Away Your Desire to Horseback Ride), the weight I’d been holding back with physical activity just started to pile on.

Struggling with deep depression and searching for meaning in my life, I kept myself numb enough to function by feeding my brain more fats, more sugars, and more carbs.

When I think about how I used to relate to food, I feel sad for the girl that was going through a hard time and couldn’t see her way out. But the reality of any eating disorder is that it happens in a difficult time in our life as a crutch to keep us from dealing with the chaos around us or the pain inside of us. If we use this crutch for long enough, it becomes part of our identity. I’d always felt ashamed about being bigger than other girls my age. But, I needed food to keep me from being sad all the time more than I needed a good body image.

mini habits audiobook

Forming new healthy habits is easier than you think

Finally in my twenties, I started to face all of the pain I’d been afraid to deal with. I didn’t want to see the self-hatred, the betrayal, or the loss that I had experienced. But little by little, I started to feel the experiences, look at them, and move forward. I had the help of a therapist for a while, pastoral counsel at another point, horses through the worst of it, and new, healthy relationships at last.

As I started to separate my personal identity from the heartache that had formerly defined me, I began to see myself as a healthy and whole person.

The picture wasn’t complete at first, but I saw glimmers of who I could be, and I walked towards that girl until the picture became clearer.

weight loss and horse riding

Me in 2015 vs. 2018

As I started to deal with the realities of my life, my attitude towards food started to change, too.

I married the love of my life, and am happy to say he is also my best friend. My best friend also happens to be insanely healthy. During our first year of marriage, I lost thirty pounds by just mimicking his behavior with food, some of the time. During the second year of marriage, we started to get serious about diet and exercise being a part of our lives, and I lost another twenty pounds.

The process was gradual and never too difficult. I missed the mark all the time (and still do!) in regards to ideal eating habits. My eating habits, however, by continually setting higher goals, have been completely transformed. By adding some exercise to the routine, I started to feel more confident and protective of the body that was working so hard to stay healthy.

More recently, I wanted to learn more about how I could make my body stronger and get to a new level of health. I joined the beta group of a program called The Equestrian’s Edge, that specifically helped me focus on how to exercise in a way that benefit me as a woman and equestrian.

That journey boosted my confidence exponentially, because I saw my body starting to take shape in ways I never thought possible.

So, why am I sharing all of this? Because I hope it encourages some equestrians who may be struggling with either food addiction, or just feeling discouraged about starting their health journey. This is not advice for someone who wants to lose weight fast or be bikini-ready for next summer. But, if you want a healthier relationship with food, your body, and your self-confidence, you’re in good company.

Practical Guidelines for Transformative Weight Loss

Personally, my weight loss journey had to be manageable and involve healthier eating habits, routine exercise, and mentality shifts.  Please remember that I have 0.00 medical training, so please consult your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet or exercise routine.

bride weight loss comparison

Me at my wedding vs. now

But if you identify at all with my story, these transformation tips may be a good place to start.

Pay Attention to Portions

Counting calories at first isn’t bad if it helps you identify portion sizes of food and how many should be eaten in a day. Calories will be different for everyone, but the standard is under 2,000 per day. Some will go lower, depending on their goals.

For me, 1,500 calories a day at first helped me understand portions in a day that would help me lose weight.

But the really, really important thing to focus on, calories or not, is to eat slowly and stop when you’re full. You’ll have to adjust to a new “full” sensation, because it’s not the “roll me outta here” full anymore. The healthy full is when you feel just satisfied.

Balance Your Macros

Macros can be a scary word for someone entering the health world, but they’re actually your best friend. Basically, your body needs proteins, carbs, and fats to function. (For example: did you know that some vitamins and minerals can only be absorbed when fats are present? That’s why apples and nut butter are a great combo: the fats in the nut butter help absorb the Vitamin A!).

Because your body needs carbs, fats, and proteins to function, focus on getting all three in a meal (focusing on healthy carbs and fats–for example sweet potato or avocado), and you will not only remain full longer, but also be fueling your body in the way it was intended to function. Anything we can do to help our bodies function naturally is a win, right?

Check In With Yourself

This one has been the longest process, but has provided the deepest transformation when rewiring my emotional eating. I kid you not, I left a Starbucks parking lot crying one day because I realized that all I was there to do was buy pastries so that I wouldn’t be sad for a few hours.

Checking in with yourself will help you understand when you’re eating to elevate your mood, alleviate stress, or to actually satisfy hunger and nourish your body. Make this a habit by maybe setting your alarm 5 times in a day to ask yourself how you’re doing and why. Or, when you run to the fridge or pantry unexpectedly, ask yourself: “Do I need to talk with someone, journal, or have a good cry? Or do I actually need to eat?”

Move a Little

Did you know that your body is healthiest when you’re pushing it physically? Physical activity releases endorphins (that affect your mood & mindset), boosts metabolism, and makes you physically stronger to help you live longer. My suggestion: start small.

Maybe this means starting with three walks per week, bike rides, hikes, or longer riding sessions. Do something that makes your body feel good afterward. The key to prolonged physical activity is combining cardio activity with strength training. Our bodies need both for optimal health.

Drink Water

Don’t roll your eyes at me! At first, I had to force myself to drink water. What I have found to be most helpful is to start with a glass at the beginning of the day when I first wake up, because it makes me think about drinking water the rest of the day.

You can also incorporate fun things to flavor it, like cold-steeping a tea bag throughout the day, or infusing it with strawberries, lemons, or cucumbers to give it a little flavor.

Settle at Your Healthy Body Weight and Type

Please don’t skip this step. The difference between going on a diet and adopting a healthy lifestyle is considering the long-term goals for your body. You want your healthy homeostasis to be right where your body is happiest. Over-eating past this point and starving yourself to be smaller are the two edges of the same destructive sword.

So eat healthy, keep moving, drink water, watch your portions, and fall in love with the size and shape that it settles at. In order to continue being healthy, you have to love your healthy body.

Always Look to Improve

I know myself well enough to know that I’ll be looking for a way to slip back into bingeing donuts, chips, and cheeseburgers if I’m not setting new health goals once I’ve achieved my former ones. My mind is always trying to find ways to go back to my old lifestyle, telling me, “You’ve lost the weight, now you can live it up again.”

Well, when I was eating everything in sight, I was NOT happy. I was barely surviving.

Now, I’m focused on thriving. By continuing to learn about nutrition, I haven’t yet run out of ways to make my daily diet and exercise routine more healthy. So crush your health goals, make them a habit, and keep reaching higher.

Get a Support System

Living a healthy life can be hard and require sacrifices that can be challenging at first. Having friends to journey with help. Your support system may be a work-out buddy (friend, husband, co-worker) who can go to the gym with you and share healthy eating tips together.

It could be a personal trainer or nutritionist, in the case that you feel you’d benefit from one-on-one professional support and guidance. This may be a fitness program that has a broader support group of like-minded people who are taking the same journey. I was fortunate to find a fitness group that I completely loved when I wanted to take the next step in my fitness journey.

Start From Wherever You Are

My heart in sharing all of this with you is to let you know that the journey to your best health is not linear. It will not happen overnight, but it doesn’t need to. Today is never too late to take the next step towards your overall health.

Let us make decisions today that will prolong our lives, make us feel happier and healthier, and make us feel stronger riding our horses for hours on end!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is horse riding exercise?

Horseback riding can be fantastic exercise! One of the many benefits of horseback riding is that you can get different types of exercise doing this one activity.

Riding a horse requires balance, stretching, strength, and depending on the type of riding, can include aerobic exercise as well. A leisurely trail ride would include more balance and stretching; a faster-paced activity such as running barrels or jumping requires added strength and aerobic exercise.

One example of stretching is the need to keep your heels down when riding—this helps balance your weight around the horse, instead of just being perched on top. Horseback riding is more than just a leg workout—core strength is also important. Like any exercise, riders should warm up with stretching and slowly build up their endurance in the saddle to avoid injury.

How many calories do you burn horseback riding?

The number of calories burned riding a horse varies drastically depending on the specific activity. A 2015 Texas A&M study showed that riding a horse at a walk/trot/canter for 45 minutes burned approximately 200 calories.

A more strenuous riding activity, such as reining, cutting, or jumping, would require more intense physical exertion and burn additional calories. However, you can burn calories doing more than just riding—grooming, saddling, and basic care such as mucking stalls or hauling feed and water adds to the workout and total number of calories burned.

How many calories does 30 minutes of horse riding burn?

The number of calories burned varies based on multiple factors, such your weight and the intensity of the activity. There are several calorie-burning calculators available online to help you track your exercise.

For a person weighing 150 lbs, riding at a walk burns approximately 136 calories in a 30 minute session. If you increased the horse’s speed to a trot, that same person would expend 72 additional calories over that same 30 minute period of time (208 calories). Galloping a horse burns 261 calories per half hour.

Finally, jumping yields the highest result at 322 calories burned in 30 minutes.

What are the health benefits of horseback riding?

Horseback riding has many health benefits. It can facilitate increased balance and coordination, build strength, and can be a source of aerobic exercise. Horseback riding burns calories and has the added benefit of providing exercise without impact on joints. While jogging is great exercise, it is very high-impact and not an activity everyone can do.

Aside from physical benefits, horseback riding also provides therapeutic value, which is more difficult to measure. This could include mental stimulation, building trust, relaxing and de-stressing, social opportunities, and even development of problem-solving skills.

For those who are competitive in nature, horseback riding has many avenues to encourage goal-setting and formal environments to receive feedback and measure progress.

Is horseback riding a good workout?

Horseback riding can be an excellent full-body workout, especially for those participating in higher-intensity activities such as reining, working cattle, or jumping. While time in the saddle is generally thought of being more of a leg workout than upper body, depending on the discipline, it can engage your arms, shoulders, and core as well. In fact, core strength is very important in maintaining proper posture in the saddle.

Horseback riding burns calories, utilizing muscles you may not use otherwise, and has the added benefit of improving balance and coordination. Additionally, many equestrians will vouch that spending time around horses has added therapeutic benefits including decreased stress.

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About the author


Lindsey Rains

Lindsey Rains is the owner of Hoof Print Marketing, a boutique equestrian social media agency serving clients like The Plaid Horse, Savvy Horsewoman, and (of course!) Horse Rookie. She resides in Post Falls, ID, USA, with her husband, where she loves taking jumping lessons.