Benefits of Riding Horses at Cornerstone Ranch
Benefits of Riding Horses at Cornerstone Ranch
For Adults and Children
From almost as far back as I can remember, animals have always been a part of my life. Starting with my first hamster, Gertie, when I was five years old and E.T. had just come out in theaters, I have always found joy in being around animals large and small. My parents signed me up for a local 4-H club, where suburban kids like my sister and me could learn how to care for farm animals–cows, goats, sheep, and chickens. Of course all the girls wished there were horses, too, because riding horses was and still is every little girl’s dream.
So when my daughter and I moved to our current home in rural north-central Massachusetts six years ago, and she asked to take horseback riding lessons, I wasn’t surprised at all. Even at seven years old, she had already started showing signs of being a great animal lover like I am–and it turned out that horses would become the animal that really opened up her world in so many ways.
Time Away from Screens
When we found Cornerstone (the first result of my Google search), we immediately discovered how unique and special a place it is. We both just got this feeling of peacefulness from the very first time we visited, and still get that feeling today. It’s a place where life slows down to a pleasant, relaxed pace, where the digital world fades into the background as we’re enveloped by sensations that naturally make us feel good–the sights, smells, and sounds of horses and hay, and the physical feelings of exercising our bodies by working with and for the animals. With so much of our lives now being experienced digitally through cell phones, tablets, online games, Zoom gatherings, and social media, the change of pace to the outdoor, natural environment at the Ranch is absolutely refreshing.
For us, time spent at the Ranch has been an organic remedy for anxiety. “Horses have been used for therapeutic purposes since the time of the ancient Greeks. The Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the ‘Father of Medicine,’ wrote about the therapeutic potential of horseback riding” (verywell.com). While Cornerstone doesn’t offer a structured equine-assisted therapy program, horses can be a wonderful source of emotional support, and riding can be its own kind of therapy, from physically exercising, to working toward a goal, to just developing a trusting relationship with the horses. “Horseback riding requires total concentration, allowing me to be totally present in the moment, forgetting all worries,” says Anita, a regular rider at Cornerstone Ranch. “Looking into the soulful eyes of the majestic horse, or riding on horseback through the woods in any season, has truly been a spiritual gift for me!”
“Horseback riding has enhanced every aspect of my life,” Anita shares. Whenever I see Anita at the Ranch, she always has a huge smile and looks radiant. “Physically I feel stronger, have better balance, and feel more limber.” The American Heart Association report six major benefits to horseback riding for our physical well-being:
Cardiovascular health. A study commissioned on behalf of the British Horse Society found that horseback riding is indeed a good cardiovascular workout. Even just a half hour of riding is considered “moderate exercise,” said BHS PR executive Megan Hawkins, “while trotting exerts more energy than playing badminton.”
Core strength. Sitting tall, pushing your legs into the body of your horse ignites the core muscles, which are imperative for balance and posture.
Burning calories. In a Texas A&M University study, researchers focused on the amount of energy expended during high-intensity horseback riding. But you need not be roping cattle to burn calories.
“Riding a horse for 45 minutes at a walk, trot and canter can burn up to 200 calories,” said Dr. Dennis Sigler, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horse specialist and professor in the department of animal science at Texas A&M University in College Station. “If you do something a bit more strenuous such as cutting or reining, that can come out to nearly seven calories per minute for the entire length of the riding period.”
Plus, lifting a saddle onto and off the horse’s back, carrying buckets of hay and water to its stall, grooming — all these burn plenty of calories.
Lowering blood pressure. One of the benefits of regular exercise is lowered blood pressure; horseback riding is exercise. Lower blood pressure can reduce the risk of heart disease. Plus just being around animals has been shown to do that as well.
Helping make decisions. While riding, you’re constantly deciding whether to speed up or slow down, what paths to avoid, when the horse and you need a break. That knowledge translates into the rest of your life, too.
Relaxing. The horse’s natural movement is calming; walk together and your bodies will be in sync.
How to Be a Good Friend
Horses are the most simultaneously majestic and goofy animals you could imagine. They’re dramatic and overflowing with personality. Riding on their backs creates this instantly intense physical and mental relationship as you each learn in the moment how to work together; there’s nothing else quite like it. Allowing children to develop their relationship with the horses they ride during regular lessons brings a different type of emotional satisfaction from both pets and people.
Responsibility and Hard Work
Every time we ride a horse, we are training it in some way–we’re either reinforcing their good habits or inadvertently teaching them bad habits. It’s important for children to have the opportunity to practice skills like focusing, working hard towards a goal, and being persistent in the face of challenges. Time spent learning how to be good riders is also time spent learning how to be responsible people who can work hard. Cornerstone’s Head Riding Instructor, Julia, grew up with the horses and now helps run the Ranch with her mother, Susan. “Growing up at the Ranch and seeing its growth is incredibly motivating and rewarding,” says Julia, who always has a cheerful disposition and a bright smile for everyone who is lucky enough to visit Cornerstone. “We always have new projects going on, horses to train, fences to fix… The work never ends! But having such kind and compassionate people to share the Ranch with makes the hard work well worth it.”
Lately our world is growing increasingly isolated by necessity. Having an outlet for a relatively safe-from-germs outdoor activity where my only child, who has been homeschooled since the pandemic began, can interact with both peers and adults has been incredibly important for her development into someone who can function not just digitally but also face-to-face. Cornerstone brings people from the local community together around a shared love of horses and the outdoors. The people who gravitate toward the Ranch are kind, thoughtful, generous, and hard-working–all traits I am thrilled to have as positive role models for my almost-teenager.
Living through a pandemic has brought us all closer together with the people we live with, but has also taken away many activities we were used to being able to regularly do together, like going out to eat or traveling on vacations without having to worry about masks, social distancing, and the constant threat of germs. Taking riding lessons together has been such an amazing experience for my daughter and me that has brought us so much closer together. In the saddle, she is the more experienced rider with more natural talent, so we have a little role-reversal that gives us both a new perspective on our relationship. Working collaboratively on our goals as riders, both shared and individual, offers a deeper level of companionship to being mother-and-daughter.
My daughter and I are just one of several parent-child riding teams at Cornerstone. “My 12-year-old son had been riding for two years already,” begins Ellen, who, like me, started out watching while her son grew and thrived in his horseback lessons. “He said, ‘Mom, you love the horses, why don’t you take a lesson?’ I thought my time had already passed, but I did admire and respect the horses. So…I tried it. Scary as it was, it was thrilling. My son and I go together and we each take a lesson. It is a special time together doing something that we both love.”
Set Our Kids (and Ourselves) Up for Success
The skills learned in the saddle will set kids up for success in other areas of their lives, too–like at school, at home, and as they grow into adults. And it’s not too late for us adults, either! “I never thought at 56 years old that I would not only get on a horse, but would learn to love riding,” says Ellen, who has attended several all-day adult riding workshops at Cornerstone in addition to taking regular lessons with her son. “I fell in love with riding. Cornerstone Ranch is the right place for us. They have been very accommodating for both our abilities. Now I know that riding is special and a journey in more ways.”
–By Reba Frederics, Marketing Admin Assistant and Wrangler at Cornerstone Ranch