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How eventing benefits mental health

To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May 2018), we take a look at how eventing can improve mental wellbeing.

Mental wellbeing doesn’t have a single definition, but there are lots of things that contribute to it. Factors such as how good we feel about ourselves, how we function individually or in relationships, how we deal with the ups and downs of life, and having a sense of purpose and feeling valued all contribute to our mental wellbeing. 
 
There are many ways to improve mental health, but research shows that exercise – such as eventing – is a great way to promote positive feelings. 
 

How much should you exercise?

Research has found that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for between 75 and 150 minutes a week is best for increasing positive moods, while a short burst of 10 minutes’ brisk walking increases mental alertness, energy and upbeat attitudes.
 
Horse riding and activities associated with horse riding – such as mucking out – use up sufficient energy to be classed as moderate intensity exercise. In addition, sport is often a fun and interactive way of getting exercise that doesn’t feel like a chore, so riding can motivate you to get those essential minutes of movement in each week. 
 
In a British Horse Society survey, relatively few respondents rated weight loss or increased fitness as very or extremely important motivations for horse riding. Contact with nature, scenery and views were the highest-rated motivations for more than 80 per cent of respondents. So, while you’re out enjoying all that horse riding, improved fitness is just a happy by-product!
 

Horses are good for mental wellbeing

One of the key benefits of horse riding identified by riders was the sense of wellbeing they gain from interacting with horses. Very few sports offer a positive psychological interaction with an animal and this is emphasised even more in eventing where your horse is your team-mate. It’s a partnership based on trust, support and respect.
 
In the British Horse Society survey, some riders even likened this close bond to the love they feel for their human family members! 
 

Other benefits of horse riding on mental health

A number of positive feelings were strongly associated with horse riding by respondents to the British Horse Society survey. More than 90 per cent reported that horse riding made them feel ‘quite a lot’ or ‘extremely’ cheerful.
 
A popular reason for feeling positive after horse riding is that riders often challenge themselves to achieve certain goals and get a sense of wellbeing from attaining them. Ninety-six per cent felt that riding made them feel more confident, and this enhanced confidence was often attributed to the sense of achievement gained when trying something difficult or working outside your comfort zone. 
 
But it doesn’t always have to be challenging. Heading out on a hack with friends is just as beneficial, as the survey showed that recreational horse riding made riders feel like they belonged to a strong community. And that’s just on a horse – there are so many socialising opportunities in eventing, whether it’s meeting friends at competitions, browsing the tradestands together or tackling a group training session. Eventing brings people together. 
 

What about non-riders?

As all eventing spectators will know, attending an event involves a lot of walking around the beautiful estates that host our sport. This is even better for you, as research suggests that doing physical activity in an outdoor, ‘green’ environment has greater positive effects on wellbeing compared to physical activity indoors. 
 
There are three main reasons why horse riding is so good for your mental health: 
  • It’s a social sport
  • It lends itself to personal development (how good did it feel to make that jump from BE100 to Novice?!) 
  • It gets people interacting with animals and nature – both proven to enhance positive mood
 
So, not that we need an excuse to get out eventing, but with all these positive benefits to your mental health, there’s now even more reason to get involved in our sport.
 
Discover more about how eventing benefits mental health here!
 
Sources: ‘How to look after your mental health using exercise’, Mental Health Foundation
‘The health benefits of horse riding in the UK’, British Horse Society