Is Horseback Riding a Sport?

Horseback riding is one of the few sports that have been around for centuries. It fits every definition of sport, but still, some people consider it an effortless activity or an ordinary hobby instead of a full-fledged sport. The Oxford Dictionary defines a sport as “an activity that you do for pleasure, and that needs physical effort or skill, usually done in a special area and according to fixed rules.” By this definition, horseback riding is accepted as a sport without ambiguity. The representation of horse riding as a mere leisure activity in the entertainment industry is the origin of this misconception because non-riders don’t see the skills, bruising, chaffing, and restless hours of practice demanded to master riding a horse. This article has put together a list of clear-cut explanations to answer the frequently asked question, why is horseback riding a sport? Read along to learn about different types of horseback riding sports.

Reasons Why Horseback Riding Is a Sport

Here is a list of valid reasons why horseback riding deserves to be called a sport like every other Olympic sport:


Every sport combines fierce athleticism and competition, and similar is the case with horseback riding. People may question who acts as a competitor in horse riding. The answer is both the horse and the rider. Although it may seem that the judges evaluate the horse’s aptitude, the horse is trained by the rider itself. It takes strenuous training and never-ending hours to make a horse competition ready. Horseback riding is a team sport, and both parties must perform at their finest to be victorious.

Mental conditioning

Besides physical benefits, sports also provide advantages for mental fortitude. Sports of all kinds, including horseback riding, necessitate strategy, memory, reasoning, skill, and confidence. In the case of football, the players have to memorize playbooks, while horseback riders must learn dressage tests and jump courses, know the safest route on the trail and alternative paths, and handle the horse when it’s behaving strangely. Dealing with a horse and guiding it is a strenuous mental activity. Moreover, the riders must have the mental flexibility to alter the course instantaneously so they can tackle anything unwanted if the horse misbehaves or there’s a notified change in the playing field.

Physical exertion

Is horseback riding a hard sport? Try horseback riding for a few minutes to debunk the misconception that only the horse is physically involved and doing all the work. You will realize that aerobic exercise gets your heart rate and breathing up in no time. Furthermore, while in the saddle, the rider’s muscles are directly or indirectly engaged for proper balance and communication with the horse. Moreover, horseback riding is not only about “riding a horse.” The sport includes:

  • Caretaking activities such as grooming.
  • Cleaning the stalls.
  • Carrying hay bags and water buckets.
Every component of horseback riding requires some physical exertion.


Sports, especially active sports, require a certain fitness level and athletic abilities. Muscle strength, valance, flexibility, and agility are pivotal for horseback riding. If a non-rider does horseback riding for even a few minutes, his muscles will become sore. Moreover, in equestrian disciplines, several muscles that aren’t commonly used in other regular sports are utilized. A rider must have refined body awareness mastery to ensure a smooth ride. Moreover, dealing with an animal bigger than you requires sufficient physical presence and handling skills.

Rules and regulations

Every sport has a set of confined rules and regulations to which the participants must adhere. Similarly, equestrianism has a stringent set of rules that are not only limited to the outline of the game but also mention rules about clothing, the type and size of the horse, saddlery, the medications permitted to take, and many other minor details. Equestrian sports include various disciplines, and each other has varying rules and regulations. In addition, each discipline has a governing body with different rules.

Different Types of Horseback Riding Sports

Here is a brief detail about different equestrian disciplines that are a part of the Summer Olympics:

1. Dressage

The word “dressage” has French origins and means “to train.” In this discipline, the horse and the rider go through a series of tests, performing a sequel of predetermined movements. The judges evaluate their performance on a scale of 1-10. The movements vary in intricacy: it can be something basic like trot, canter, and a simple walk or complex and elegant gestures like passage and piaffe. Training a horse for dressage is not an easy feat. It may take several years of great endurance and persistence to train a horse professionally.

2. Showjumping

As the name suggests, showjumping is a sport where the rider and horse have to jump over several obstructions in a limited time. The judges evaluate their performance by considering several factors: Faults made by the horse, the rider’s and the horse’s proficiency, and the amount of time they have consumed in completing the challenge.

3. Three-day Eventing

Also known as horse trials, eventing is a three-day equestrian event where the horse and the rider combined compete against other participants across three disciplines of horseback riding: dressage, cross-country, and showjumping. These rules for eventing are similar to regulations for each sport. In cross-country jumping, the obstacles are of solid natural types. The horse riders wear a jersey and helmets representing their teams’ colors. Moreover, the track in cross-country jumping events is also similar, but the shoes are modified for better grip.

Is Horseback Riding an Individual or Team Sport?

Another query that non-riders often bring up is whether horseback riding is a team or individual sport. It is another factor that makes equestrianism a unique sport. Some judges perceive the horse and the rider as a team and assess the riders based on their capacity to assist the horse in performing well. Moreover, the participants can also partake as either teams or individuals.

Wrapping up

From the above discourse, we can deduce that horseback riding is a sport. In all aspects, horseback riding fits the definition of sport. Moreover, it is challenging and requires extraordinary athletic abilities. It takes riders years of endurance and effort to train themselves and the horse. Like all other sports, equestrianism offers mental and physical conditioning and follows rigorous rules and regulations. Therefore, horse riding is no less than any other Olympic sport.

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James Moore
James Moore
James is co-founder of He works as a fitness trainer and nutrition specialist. His main mission is to inspire people to relentlessly pursue their sport goals. He believes staying in shape has an overall positive effect on body, mind, and spirit.

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