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Horseback Riding - One of the Best Forms of Exercise?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009 Posted by Travis Saunders

Some fitness machines are so different that you can't help but smile.  One popular example is the awesomely ridiculous Hawaii chair which became an internet sensation last year.  So it is with the uGallop (also known as iGallop) - one of the only fitness machines that I desperately want to have.

What is the uGallop?  It's like a miniature version of the mechanical bulls that you often see in country bars (not that I go to country bars often, but they are pretty hard to avoid when you do your undergrad in Calgary).  The idea is that as you ride the uGallop, you are constantly forced to contract your core and thigh muscles to maintain your balance, which the makers of the uGallop claim will result in increased fitness and basal metabolism, and decreased body fat.  Or, as they explain on their website:

"When your fats become muscles through repeated exercise, you burn more calories even while at rest."

Now I would like to point out that when you exercise, fat cells do not become muscle cells.  You may reduce the size of fat cells, and increase the size/number of muscle cells, but I assure you that your fat cells do not become muscle.

But what I would really like to focus on is the uGallop promotional video which you can view below (email subscribers can view the video on our main page by clicking here):

The promotional video starts with this claim:

"horse back riding is one of the best forms of exercise, but it's not easily available to everyone...

Now of course the idea is that the uGallop emulates horseback riding, which "is one of the best forms of exercise".  But when it comes to caloric expenditure, research suggests that horseback riding is mediocre at best.  In fact, Barbara Ainsworth and colleagues compiled a list of the energy expenditure associated with a tremendous range of activities, which was published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.  This exhaustive list includes energy expenditures typically associated with hundreds of activities ranging from hand rolling steel to playing the accordion, and everything in between. 

The authors assigned each activity a metabolic equivalent or "MET", depending on the typical energy expenditure associated with that activity.  The higher the MET value, the more energy that is consumed by an individual engaging in that activity.  For example, sitting quietly has a MET value of 1.  In contrast, running at 7.5 miles per hour has a MET value of 12.

What about horseback riding?  It has a MET value of 4.  To put that in perspective, that is the same as walking at 3 miles per hour.  It is also the same as curling, tai chi, juggling, raking leaves, and showering.  That's right, showering. Now if the horse is "trotting" the MET value jumps to 6.5, which is certainly better, but which is still lower than any intensity of running, as well as all but the lowest intensities of skating, swimming, and cycling.  Unless you are riding a horse at full gallop, horseback riding burns less calories than most other accepted forms of endurance activity, as well as several types of housework.  In fact, according to Dr Ainsworth, horseback riding burns the same number of calories as coaching competitive sports!

Now this is not to say that horseback riding is a bad form of exercise.  It's roughly equivalent to walking, which has been shown to have tremendous health benefits.  And if this video is any indication, the uGallop itself may burn a lot of calories - if you are able to ride it long enough.

Regardless of the health benefits, I think the uGallop could be a lot of fun at parties, and I'd really like to have one.  So if you buy one, please let me borrow it.

To read more about the uGallop or purchase one yourself, you can visit their website here. Thanks to Dr Jen Kuk for sending me the video of the uGallop.


Ainsworth BE, Haskell WL, Leon AS, Jacobs DR Jr, Montoye HJ, Sallis JF, & Paffenbarger RS Jr (1993). Compendium of physical activities: classification of energy costs of human physical activities. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 25 (1), 71-80 PMID: 8292105

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4 Response to "Horseback Riding - One of the Best Forms of Exercise?"

  1. Anonymous Said,

    I might add as well that the uGallop does not really do an adequate job simulating horse back riding. As an equestrian, I admit that riding is not a great cardio work out, but does require flexibility and enhances muscle tone and core strength in particular. However, with riding we are often standing balanced in the stirrups and have a lot of weight from the reins and therefore resistance in the upper arms. In fact, just "sitting" in the saddle is rare. This machine does not take any of these things into account, and I sense would not come close to mimicking the METs of actual equestrian activities.

    Posted on October 6, 2009 at 12:59 PM

  2. Travis Saunders Said,

    Those are all things that I did not know about riding. Thanks for the insights!


    Posted on October 6, 2009 at 1:11 PM

  3. Joyce Lau Said,

    I agree. The big challenge of riding a horse is using your body, your muscles, to control a 1,000-pound animal with a mind of its own.

    You want him to go faster? You have to use your leg muscles. You want him to stop when he doesn't want to? You clench your abs, lean your back, and pull back with your shoulders and arms. Going over a jump? You have to lift your entire body weight up.

    I just did an hour of "rising trot" yesterday, and my thighs and abs are sore! The machine, however, doesn't give you any resistance. So I doubt it's going to burn as many calories as actual, serious riding.

    Posted on October 28, 2009 at 12:43 PM

  4. Nicole Said,

    During an intense riding session -- ie, jumping courses for 45 mins on a difficult horse -- I can sweat buckets and become winded and tired. Some horses will lean into your hands and/or require lots of leg, among other quirks; others are easier. This kind of riding requires some fitness!

    However, this machine is simulating a lame trail ride at best... and you're right, not a very good source of calorie expenditure. Hilarious though!

    Posted on November 27, 2009 at 3:04 PM


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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