Is Horse Riding a Sport? Ending the Debate Today

Usually, people see horse riders riding horses on the television and they think it’s easy. It’s because people think that the rider is effortlessly sitting on the horse and all the work is being done by the horse.

That is not at all true at all. Because horse riding requires training and technique, all of which makes it rather difficult. Even preparing the horse for a ride requires a lot of effort and time as horses also need to be maintained, groomed, and taken proper care of.

The main thing that we’ll discuss in this article is whether horse riding is a sport.

Is Horseback Riding a Sport?

If we look at the definition of a sport i.e. competition, among individuals or teams, which requires physical exertion and skill — we see that all of these features are found in horse riding. Also, at least 3 different horse riding disciplines have their dedicated competitions in the Olympics. With that in mind, we can say that horse riding definitely is a sport.

However, there’s some controversy around how true that may be. You’d find arguments for both sides on the internet.

So, let’s dig in a bit deeper to see whether it qualifies as a sport or not.

Training and Strategy

The skill of horse riding requires training, as a horse rider needs great strength and muscle control to ride efficiently on the horse. Every little change in the sitting posture or the positioning of hands and legs would affect your ride.

A horse rider may experience different trails and hurdles every day and, thus, he’s required to think quickly with a calm and cool mind and adopt a proper strategy to complete the trail.

Training is not only required by the rider but the horse as well. Horses are trained to balance, sprint, and jump all sorts of hurdles they come across.

Sports are usually not dangerous but horse riding is. The riders constantly deal with sores and aches. There is always plenty of room for accidents in this sport and they do happen. A rider should be brave enough to ignore all the dangers that he may face daily.

The riders will gain experience from training and the danger that they may face, as those dangers are also a part of their training. Thus, a true rider sees the joys of riding far beyond the dangers and pain involved in horse riding.

A rider must also compete against himself to become better by practicing to improve their stamina, strength, and mental focus.

Teamwork and Communication

Every sport requires teamwork and communication between partners. In horse riding, riders and horses are partners but they cannot communicate by language or by visual means.

They have to rely on sensory cues to communicate. Both the rider and the horse should have great trust in each other for such a subtle communication to work Thus horse riding requires amazing teamwork and communication qualities.


Horse riding can also be seen in the Olympics and many teams throughout the world take part in it. Many people have made their names and careers across this sport. People even provide scholarships and sponsorship for horse riding. The fact that it is also in the Olympics proves that it is an actual sport.

To share a bit of a history lesson, horse riding appeared in the Summer Olympics in the year 1900 in Paris but then for a decade, it disappeared. It made its second entry in the year 1912 (which is actually considered its official Olympics debut) and has been appearing in the Olympics since then.

In the 2020 Olympics, the following riding disciplines have their individual competitions: dressage, jumping, and eventing.

Both men and women take part in the same competition and are awarded medals as both teams and individuals.

According to USA Today, Horse riding is the only sport in the Olympics that involves an animal and even the horses are considered as athletes in the Olympics.

Rules and Regulation

Each of the 3 disciplines in the Olympics has its own set of rules. The rider is given a foul or faces elimination if he fails to follow the rules.

Let’s talk about the rules and regulations of each discipline very briefly.

Show Jumping

A jury of judges who are qualified according to the FEI standards observes and judges the competition. A bell is used to signal the competitors. There are different rings of the bell and each has a different meaning. 

The rider gets eliminated in the following cases:

  • If s/he or the horse falls
  • Exceeding the time limit
  • If he fails to correct his deviation from the obstacle
  • If the horse shows disobedience


It has a 20 by 60 meters ring and this event is judged by a jury of 5 judges who are positioned outside the ring. Each judge observes a specific element and gives a rating from 0 to 10. The weightage of some elements is more than others.

The riders get eliminated in the following cases:

  • If all four hooves of the horse land outside the dressage ring
  • horse continuously disobeys for 20 seconds
  • the rider or horse falls

Penalties are given to riders who don’t salute properly or fail to stay on track.


Eventing is a combination of stadium jumping, cross country jumping, and dressing. The rules of jumping and dressage are the same. The main rule is not to exceed the time limit.

Riders get eliminated in the following cases:

  • Jumping obstacle in the wrong direction
  • Not passing a compulsory passage
  • Jumping over an obstacle that has already been jumped
  • Abuse of the horse
  • Missing an obstacle

For more detail on the rules, you can take a look at this PDF by Fédération Equestre Internationale.

Why You Should Consider Taking up Horse Riding

Now that we’ve established that horse riding is a sport, as it covers almost all aspects of a sport, let us look at a few reasons why you should definitely give horse riding a try.

Aerobic Exercise

If you’re not sure, aerobic exercises are those that involve muscle movement and utilize carbohydrates and fats as fuel. Oxygen is required in access for the performance of aerobic exercises and it is proportional to the muscle work.

During aerobic exercises, your heart and lungs adapt to your oxygen requirement, thus, increasing your lung and heart capacity.

That is why you experience increased heartbeat while performing aerobic exercises. 

Some people may not think of horse riding as an exercise but it is an aerobic exercise. A rider may look as if he is doing nothing but you can’t imagine the physical excretion the rider is going through unless you are a rider yourself.

Many muscles are involved in keeping the rider balanced on the horse. And usually, a rider is out of breath after a horse ride.

Even the effort involved in grooming the horses can be considered as an aerobic exercise as it involves lifting heavy feed bags, leading the horses in and out of stables, and shoveling out stalls.

Improves Posture

Horse riding requires the use of several muscle groups in our body, among which are our core muscles, namely: abs, back, pelvis, and thighs. When these muscles are regularly put to extreme use, over time they strengthen up which results in better coordination, stability, balance, and flexibility.

Strong abdominal and lower back muscles also improve our posture. Therefore, you’ll find that people that do horse riding regularly have an exemplary posture.

Mental Health and Strength

Horse riding can lower our stress level. It was found that people who adopted horse riding and horse grooming as a hobby had much lower stress levels throughout the day. This is because our brain releases endorphins which is an anti-stress hormone. We also come close to nature while horse riding and also fulfill our daily requirement of vitamin D.

During horse riding, you need to make a rapid decision about speed and direction. This helps improve our focus. Even the smallest mistake during horse riding can cause serious damage. So a rider needs to be attentive at all times to avoid all sorts of risks. 

It was found that the vibrations produced by the horse activate our sympathetic nervous system. Horse riding requires brain engagement. Thus, while horse riding, our brain is going through a mental exercise that improves the coordination of our brain with our body. Horse riding also improves our confidence as with experiencing new things we gain confidence.


Before departing, let’s answer a few of your most asked questions regarding horse riding sports.

Is horseback riding a hard sport?

Horseback riding is among the harder sports that require a lot of training, talent, and experience. The risk and danger involved in this sport makes it a difficult one to perform, let alone master..

Riding a 1000 pound horse is not easy and coordinating and communicating with a horse is even harder. It isn’t easy to make a strong bond between a horse and a rider and build trust yet it is of utmost important. It also takes a great deal of effort and a lot of dedicated time to train and groom a horse, as horses are not very easy to keep.

What type of sport is horse riding?

It is a competitive sport in which horses and riders are trained for endurance riding, eventing, reining, dressage, show jumping, tent pegging, polo, vaulting, horse racing, driving, and rodeo 

This sport is also found in the Olympics that focuses on the three main disciplines of horse riding that are show jumping, dressage, and eventing. 

Which is more dangerous skiing or horse riding?

Skiing and horse riding both are dangerous but hospitals have reported more cases of injuries by horse riding as compared to skiing. Therefore, horse riding is more dangerous than skiing.

Skiing is dangerous only if you take it to an extreme level but horse riding is always a risk because you can fall off the horse or the horse can fall at any time. Horses also tend to bite a kick when they get terrified or aggressive. The bite may not do much harm but the kick of a horse is strong enough to kill a man.

Why is horse riding so hard?

Horse riding is really difficult because of the complexity of having to control a 1000 pound animal. You don’t speak the same language as your partner which makes it difficult to communicate and coordinate.

It requires a lot of strength, training, and focus. Horses also demand a lot of attention, time, and dedication while grooming and training.

Not everyone can afford this sport because of the expenses of having to keep a horse. But even if you’re training in a club, the cost of equipment is enough to make you think twice.

Building trust between the horse and rider also requires a lot of effort and time. And building trust is important or else your horse may fail to obey which can lead to serious injuries and,sometimes, fatalities..

Why is horse riding so expensive?

Horses require a lot of care, grooming, and maintenance.

Even though horses are really strong they are still really sensitive and can get sick. The vet bills can be high at times. The vaccines, teeth floating, and general health examination costs are really expensive.

Horses also need trimming and shoe replacement every 4-8 weeks which adds to the expenses. Furthermore, horses require training so they can be prepared for rides and that training needs to be given by experts that charge heft fees.


No doubt horse riding is a sport that requires skill, talent, focus, and strength. It involves a lot of risks and danger which makes it a sport of the brave.

Needless to say, horse riding has a lot of health benefits as this sport is best for improving posture and mental health.

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