Horseback riding with a healthy approach
Humans have a long history of cooperation with horses and may have domesticated them as far back as 3,500 BCE (1). For much of human history, they were indispensable for transportation, communication, agriculture, and even making war. But the Industrial Revolution displaced them from their major roles in human society, and their use now is mostly recreational. Even if they aren’t as numerous as they used to be, horses still provide enormous physical, mental and emotional benefits to their riders.
To a novice, it might seem like the rider is just sitting on top of the horse and not physically exerting themselves. But horse riding is actually an excellent workout (any rider can attest to the burning inner thigh muscles after a long ride). The abdominal and leg muscles must stay active and engaged to keep the rider upright on the horse. The rider must learn to move with the horse to help it stay balanced and move comfortably as the terrain changes. And the faster the horse goes, the more difficult this becomes. All this activity increases core strength and promotes overall balance and coordination. It also helps to improve regular standing posture, as the muscles responsible for this “isometrically” (same length) contract to keep your torso steady. (2) The arms are also involved as they must communicate constantly to the horse through the reins.
Important to know about your horse
It’s not just the muscles that benefit but also the mind. It takes practice to develop a rapport with and control an animal so much larger than yourself. There are the challenges of just learning to stay on and steer, then learning to move with the horse at increasing speeds, and mastering all the subtle commands and body language needed to control the horse. Even the most advanced rider has something to learn. All this builds confidence and teaches you about yourself (2), (3). Special therapy horses are even used to teach troubled youth how they learn, react and follow instructions. (4) Finally, there are the emotional benefits. Horseback riding is a very calming experience; worries tend to disappear as your focus is only on riding and staying on the horse. (2) This carries the same health benefits as meditation, where problems and distractions fall away as you focus on the task at hand. Horses have long been used with disabled children and adults for their therapeutic effects, which include: building a sense of self-worth; improving communication; building trust and self-efficiency; developing socialization skills and decreasing isolation; and learning impulse control and emotional management. (4)
The Peruvian Paso Horse
There is a horse unique to Peru called the “Peruvian Paso Horse.” Horses are not native to Peru, and the paso was introduced by the Spanish after the conquest of the Incas in 1532. These horses have a distinct way of walking, an ambling four-beat gait between the walk and the canter; this is a natural characteristic of paso horses and develops without much training. Their unique gait helps to quickly cover long distances without tiring the horse or the rider, an important quality back when these horses were used for transportation. Another beneficial quality of this gait is that there is none of the vertical bounce that happens when a typical horse trots, meaning that “posting” (the rider’s moving up and down with each of the horse’s steps) is unnecessary. Strain and jolting is minimized, making the paso an excellent horse for riders with back issues. Finally, a paso horse’s gait is very stable as it always has at least two, and sometimes three, hooves on the ground, an excellent quality for Peru’s mountainous terrain. (5)
Our programs with horses
Travel and Healing believes in the many therapeutic benefits of horse riding, and we have several different horse tours. Our trips will take you to little-known Inca ruins and beautiful viewpoints on the high plateau above the city of Cusco. You can choose to explore the Temple of the Moon and Chacán Mountain; the four major ruin sites near Cusco, including Saqsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay; or the ancient salt pools and panoramic views of the Sacred Valley near the town of Maras. We also offer a half-day tour on purebred Peruvian paso horses which allows you to experience firsthand the many fine qualities of these magnificent animals. Our route on this trip is the same as the one that, according to legend, the founders of Cusco traveled to find the site for the city. On all of our trips, we highly value the health and wellbeing of the animals we work with. They receive high quality food and regular veterinary care and checkups. We also value your health! We supply helmets, gloves and all protective equipment to our riders; don’t settle for an agency that can’t or won’t give you a well fitted riding helmet. If you want to experience all the benefits of riding a horse and do so in the stunning scenery of the Andes, get in touch with us today. You can check out all of our programs here.