Although every person’s body is different, horseback riding is an active activity. Experts estimate that horseback riding burns between 250 and 400 calories per hour when we’re riding at a walk. 1
The estimate for calories burned horseback riding when actively riding at a trot, canter, or gallop can exceed 550-700 calories! 2 That’s a lot of energy!
Each person’s actual number of calories burned through horseback riding depends on the individual rider and the activity they are completing.
How horseback riding burns calories
Using your muscles uses energy (aka calories) and horse riding uses a lot of muscles. When you ride a horse, you are using your back muscles to sit up straight. You use your core muscles (abs) to hold yourself steady in the seat. You use your arms to hold the reins and communicate with your horse. You use your calves to urge the horse forward (and to hold your heels down). Finally, you use your thighs constantly to hold yourself in the saddle.
Your thighs, back, and rear are 3 of the 10 biggest muscles in your body, and the bigger the muscles the more energy it needs to work well. That means that by using these three muscle groups constantly during riding, our bodies burn large amounts of calories.
FUN FACT: A 2015 Study by researchers in Korea found that when all other factors are equal, advanced riders burn fewer calories during a ride than beginner riders! These researchers theorized that being less synchronized to a horse’s movement burns more calories. 3
Riding is Hard Work!
Horseback riding is a full-body workout. Despite what non-equestrians tell you, your horse does not do all the work while you just sit there! Horseback riding is a sport. Riders work hard in a sport that uses tons of energy and produces real strength and fitness. 2
Calories burned in Different Riding Disciplines
Exactly how many calories are burned while horseback riding depends on a person’s body and the type of riding they are doing. Research is pretty clear that riding a jumps course, for example, burns more calories than dressage. 1 This is why you should consider how the activity you are doing with your horse will affect how many calories are burned horseback riding.
For example, when you ride a horse at a walk, you’re pretty relaxed and not putting in too much effort right? Now think about jumping. When you prepare for a jump, you are physically telling your horse to prepare for the jump, you start adjusting your reins, you rise into two point, and follow your horse’s movements.
When you land, you re-position yourself to retain your balance. It’s a 3-second process, but it is physically intense! During that short time frame, the amount of energy you use increases.
Factors That Affect Calories Burned Horseback Riding
There are many different factors that need to be accounted for when calculating the number of calories burned while riding. These include:
- Your height
- Your weight
- Your age
- Your muscle tone
- What you are doing while riding (for example, an intense riding lesson including galloping on a cross country field will require lots more energy than plodding along on a trail ride with your friends)
Your height, weight, and age are the main factors that determine how much energy is used via calories burned in the saddle.
How does height affect my calories?
Basically, your height affects your mass and how hard your body works. Simple processes like pumping blood in your body takes energy. The further the blood needs to circulate, the more effort your body has to make to accommodate that.
How does my weight affect my calories?
It is similar to the reason height affects your calories burned. When a person is larger, more energy is needed to move the body. Think about an infant, how small they are, how light they are. When you pick them up it is easy. Now think about picking up your 6ft brother. It’s much harder right? Well, your body does exactly the same thing every time you move.
How does age affect my calories?
The number of calories that our bodies burn when we move decreases as we age because our muscle mass tends to decrease. The decrease in muscle mass affects calories burned because muscle burns more energy than fat does. In essence, the larger your muscles, the more energy you burn.
So How do I Calculate my Calories Burned
There are a couple ways to do this. The easiest and the quickest is to use a calculator online. If you google ‘Calorie Calculator’ a dozen results will pop up and many of them offer a “horseback riding” option to estimate your calories burned- though given the intensity factor that researchers know impacts calories burned while riding, these calculators probably aren’t very accurate.
If you are interested in the math and want to do it yourself, keep reading, we’ve got a formula:
Calories burned per minute is calculated by the formula (MET x body weight in kg x 3.5 ÷ 200 = calories burned per minute)
What does this formula mean? How do you fill in the blanks?
The first part of the formula, MET, is a measurement of energy cost for the chosen activity. The MET for physical activity is pre-calculated. You can find the MET for horse-related activities here. Additional evidence-based data asserts that the Calories burns in 1 min on a horse walking, sitting trotting, rising trotting, and cantering burn 0.9, 3.4, 5.8 and 6. kcal, respectively. 4
The second measurement for this equation is your weight. You will need to input your weight in kg, not pounds. If you don’t know your weight in kg, you can find it by dividing your weight by 2.205. For example, if you weigh 120 pounds, you would divide 120 by 2.205. The answer, 54.4, is your weight in kg.
You will then need to multiply all of that by 3.5 and then finally, you divide the entire equation by 200.
For example, a rider is going to be doing show jumping for 30 minutes and they weigh 120 pounds.
To calculate the calories burned they would first need to look up the MET for jumping, which is 9.0. They would then convert their weight in pounds to kg as we did above. That leaves me with the equation:
You then multiply 8.568 by 30 to find out how many calories you burned in your 30 minute jumping session. For this example, that would 8.568 x 30 = 257. This means that 257 calories were burned for this training session.
To put that in perspective, competitive volleyball in a gymnasium has a MET of 6.0 and would only burn 171 calories in 30 minutes.
How to Increase Calories Burned During your Next Ride
There are a few things you can do to burn more calories when horseback riding. First, try to ride at a faster pace. This will get your heart rate up and help you burn more calories. Remember to keep your horse’s fitness in mind as well. If you aren’t able to do high energy riding like galloping or jumping, that’s ok! You can burn energy caring for your horse, cleaning stalls, and working on your endurance at a walk and trot.
This will not only help you burn more calories, but it will also help you bond with your horse and grow more fit with them.
Horseback riding is a high energy activity that is a great way to burn calories. Whether you are riding at a casual walk or a more vigorous pace, you’re getting a good workout every time you get in the saddle.
Each person’s energy consumption will be different, depending on their individual body and the activity they are completing. Everyone has a different body type and that’s okay! Being competent riders means riding well in the body we have and making sure we consume enough energy to have fun and stay safe.
Research sources used for this article:
- Devienne, MF., Guezennec, CY. Energy expenditure of horse riding. Eur J Appl Physiol 82, 499–503 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1007/s004210000207 [↩][↩]
- Cotugna, N., Snider, O. S., & Windish, J. (2011). Nutrition assessment of horse-racing athletes. Journal of community health, 36(2), 261–264. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10900-010-9306-x [↩][↩]
- Equestrian expertise affecting physical fitness, body compositions, lactate, heart rate and calorie consumption of elite horse riding players Bong-Ju Sung, Sang-Yong Jeon, Sung-Ro Lim, Kyu-Eon Lee, Hyunseok JeeJ Exerc Rehabil. 2015 Jun; 11(3): 175–181. Published online 2015 Jun 30. doi: 10.12965/jer.150209 [↩]
- Yoo, J.-H., Kim, S.-E., Lee, M.-G., Jin, J.-J., Hong, J., Choi, Y.-T., Kim, M.-H. and Jee, Y.-S. (2014), The effect of horse simulator riding on visual analogue scale, body composition and trunk strength in the patients with chronic low back pain. Int J Clin Pract, 68: 941-949. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcp.12414 [↩]