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Is Horseback Riding a Sport? 4 Things to Consider

Horse riding is definitely a sport, and in this post you’ll learn 4 reasons why.

If you are looking for a way to prove to your friends, co-workers, or even family that riding is a sport, keep reading! This article explains how horseback riding as an activity meets the four criteria an activity must meet before it can be considered a sport.

Horseback riding is not only athletically challenging, it’s technically categorized as a sport because

An athletic rider and horseback riding gear actively rides a horse down the track.

The Oxford dictionary defines a sport as “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” We have broken this definition into four separate parts: skill, physical exertion, competition, and entertainment.

Any horse rider can tell you that riding meets all of these. Still, we can empirically prove that horse riding meets three of these. (Well, “entertainment” cannot be proven tangibly, but people who ride horses will tell you that horseback riding is a very fun sport!)

Horseback Riding is Physically Demanding

The physical requirements of horse riding depend on the activity you are doing with your horse. If you are walking in the arena or taking a leisurely trail ride, the physical requirements are much less than if you were completing a cross-country course. But if you compare the amount of energy/calories burned, you are doing as much exercise as an indoor volleyball team during a match.

The best part about horse riding is that the more you ride, the fitter you become. A study published in the Journal of Exercise and Rehabilitation showed that physical fitness and muscle mass kept improving over several years and did not reach a limit. Likewise, body fat continuously decreased as the years of riding progressed. The study analyzed both beginner and elite riders, with the elites showing higher amounts of physical fitness and ability than the beginners.

But it Looks so Easy!

One of the counterarguments against horseback riding as a sport argues that horseback riders “just sit there” while the horse does the work- but that’s just part of the picture. One reddit user phrases a response better than I could:

“Many people’s interaction with horses is either a trail ride where they just sit and get carried around and don’t have to do anything or they see professional athletes that make it look super easy. ” (user Taytoh3ad)

If you want to read more about how many calories you burn during horse riding, check out our article Calculating Calories Burned Horseback Riding, where we walk you through calculating how many calories you burn while riding a horse. 


To classify horse riding as a sport, horse riders need to perform in a competitive environment. The competition component can be competing as individuals or as a team. Horse riding meets both. People compete as individuals in arena events, shows, and rodeos. They also compete as teams in relays, club days, and polo.

Not everybody who rides a horse competes, but that does not mean horse riding is not a sport. People swim during summer to keep cool without competing with each other, they relax or swim laps, but that does not exclude it from the status of sport. 

Specialized Knowledge

Sports require advanced skills when you compete. For example, if someone has never played the sport before, they would not know how to play, and at the very least, they would not play well. Like a game of football, anyone can participate in the sport and have fun, but to become good at the sport, you need to practice and develop the skill.

There is a significant element of skill development when learning to ride, and most people will take 1-3 years to learn the basics. See our post How Long It Takes To Learn To Ride A Horse: Kids & Adults for more details on the expected timeframe of learning to ride a horse.


The final element of a sport is that it provides entertainment to the participant. Some people would argue that horse riding does not offer entertainment and therefore does not classify as a sport. But if we needed a consensus on entertainment, sport as a whole would not exist. Football is incredibly popular, but there are also many people out there who disagree and say it is boring. Some people find baseball boring, and others love it. Regardless, these activities are classified as a sport because they do provide entertainment to some.

Riding a horse is an enjoyable experience for several reasons. Riding a horse correctly requires a lot of concentration to ensure you are continuously thinking about what you need to do. Some examples of these thoughts include: heels down, sit up straight, squeeze with your calf, move to two-point riding position, etc. Every command you give your horse requires knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge in the heat of the moment. This constant thought process keeps your brain entertained and active.

Another reason people love to ride is the adrenaline rush. It can be nerve-wracking to ride a horse. They are much larger and stronger than their riders, and if they decide they don’t want to do something, you cant make them do it. The adrenaline released reduces over time as you become more comfortable with riding, but that rush is still there if your horse spooks or bucks. 

My Experience as a Horseback Riding Athlete

I think that horseback riding is a sport because it is fun and challenging. It is also a great way to stay in shape and get stronger. Horseback riding requires coordination, balance, and strength. It is also a great cardio workout.

Horseback riding lessons have helped me grow stronger in more ways than one. I’ve learned to trust myself and my abilities, to stay calm in the face of adversity, and to never give up.

The main way that horseback riding lessons have helped me grow stronger is by teaching me to trust myself. When I first started taking lessons, I was constantly doubting my abilities. I was afraid of falling off a horse or getting hurt. But with each lesson, I learned to trust myself more and more. 

Horseback Riding as Part of a Fitness Plan

Horseback riding is a fun and rewarding way to get in shape. As soon as I had been taking horseback riding lessons for a month or two, I began to see an improvement in my fitness level.

When you are riding a horse, you are using a lot of different muscle groups. You have to use your legs to grip the horse and your core to stay balanced. You also use your arms to control the reins (it’s more work than it seems!). This all adds up to a great workout, without even feeling like you are working out!

In addition to the physical benefits, horseback riding also provides a mental and emotional workout. Being around horses is very calming, and it is a great way to relieve stress, which is itself an important part of health1. Riding a horse can also be very challenging, which helps to keep your mind sharp.

Overall, horseback riding is a sport that can improve your fitness level, both physically and mentally. If you have the opportunity to take horseback riding lessons, you will notice fitness improvement and muscle tone improvements in line with what researchers have found in controlled research studies about horseback riding as a sport.2

Final Thoughts on Whether Horseback Riding is a Sport

Next time someone at your school or workplace says, ‘it’s not a sport, you just sit there and your horse does all the work,’ you can now prove them wrong with solid evidence.

Alternatively, you could offer to go on a horseback ride with them and see if they have the same opinion the next day when they come to work or school with aching muscles.

  1. Roth, D. L., Wiebe, D. J., Fillingim, R. B., & Shay, K. A. (1989). Life events, fitness, hardiness, and health: a simultaneous analysis of proposed stress-resistance effectsJournal of personality and social psychology57(1), 136. []
  2. Hilliere, C., Collado-Mateo, D., Villafaina, S., Duque-Fonseca, P., & Parraça, J. A. (2018). Benefits of hippotherapy and horse riding simulation exercise on healthy older adults: A systematic reviewPM&R10(10), 1062-1072. []

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