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Horse riding is a great alternative to normal fitness routines. Try spending an hour on a horse and you'll realize from your aches and pains the next day just how many muscles have been worked. Riding is an aerobic exercise that will strengthen your heart and lungs and help burn body fat, particularly when you are trotting or travelling at some speed. It's also great for relaxation because it teaches you to breathe properly, and spending an hour or two in the fresh air is very therapeutic.

One of the great things about riding is that it gives your lower body a brilliant workout, toning up your bottom and legs and is one of the few activities that gives an intensive workout to the inner thighs. It's also good for strengthening the stomach and lower back muscles, as these are used to help support your posture in the saddle. Compliment your riding program with some stretching exercises to keep muscles sleek and streamlined, and always stretch out after your ride, paying particular attention to inner thighs, backs of legs and lower back.

Riding is one of the best sports for improving posture, as learning to sit properly on a horse teaches you good alignment. To ride well you need to find a balanced position, sitting well down in the saddle. Viewed from the side, your ear, shoulder, hip and heel should all be in line. Thighs should be at 45 degrees to the ground, lower legs hanging comfortably, with toes directly underneath your knees and heels pressed down lower than your toes. Your knees should be in close contact with the saddle. Stomach muscles should be pulled in to keep your back straight; shoulders should be down. Hands should be approximately four inches apart so that you can draw two imaginary straight lines from your elbow through your hands and reins to the horse's mouth.

For the sport to be safe, you need lessons. Riding is all about balance and confidence. The lessons start with mounting techniques, using a lunge, or leading rein, so that the instructor, not the complete beginner, controls the horse. After a few lessons you should feel that, if a stirrup broke, you could still balance and stay on. A complete beginner can learn how to walk, trot and control a horse sufficiently to enjoy riding after about 12 lessons. Learning to ride as an adult can initially be a daunting experience. For many adults it's quite a shock to find themselves sitting on something so high.

Riding establishments vary considerably. Some offer good countryside riding, others have indoor facilities for lessons, teach stable management as well as riding, or are particularly good for children. Riding schools are sometimes willing to hire you a horse initially, but if you get really hooked, you will want to buy your own horse and then keep it in livery.

What to wear when you go horse riding is a very crucial issue. The most important item is a good hard hat with an adjustable chinstrap. Jeans can be worn as long as they are loose-fitting, but it may be worthwhile getting a pair of jodhpurs as they are much more comfortable. Never wear shoes without heels, such as trainers, as your foot could slip through the stirrup. Jodhpur boots are ideal or you can buy full-length riding boots in leather or rubber. You will also need a pair of string gloves to stop the reins slipping through your hands if the weather is wet.