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Horsing Around Can Be Healthful

During the course of the summer, I began taking my boys to public swim every Friday. It was a chance for both of them to see their friends from school without me acting as sole chaperone amidst chaotic uprising within my house. Months had passed since we began this ritual when one of the moms and I both noticed that my seven year old was becoming quite muscular. Poking a bit of fun at my career in fitness, the mom asked if I had him on protein drinks and tofu. We both laughed and I admitted that at times he may sip my morning shake and that his favorite hot dish from Whole Foods is the Tofu Stroganoff, but that in general he was sneaking cookies and requesting ice cream just like any other child. However, even after public swim ended, the initial observation became a guessing game. What was the key to my older boy's tonality and what specific activity resulted in the definition of muscle tissue?

Over the next couple weeks, the answer became clear. Last winter, my husband, being the horse-loving sole that he is, suggested we buy my son a pony. Not only did he believe this would bring father and son together more often, it would also give his horse a buddy to play with in the meadow. I agreed, and soon we found a cute little Ĺ draft and Ĺ Shetland mix. The two equine were situated side by side in the barn. Then, the discussion turned to chores. If you think it is hard to get your child to care for a goldfish or hamster, try tending to a pony. There is the mane and tail to be brushed, stalls to be cleaned, poop to be shoveled, hooves to be picked, hay to be carried and the water dishes must be checked daily to insure good health. Add to that task list, the tolerance of being nipped occasionally, since ponies can be testy little buggers and there will be games of chase around the property, if any barrier gate is not properly latched. As extensive as this list seems, my husband and son have gotten their chores down to 20 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night, with additional tender love and care on weekends. But, this is usual workflow. I believe the muscle tone came when my husband's ATV went on downtime for a few weeks (and still sits as I type this). My obliged horsemen were forced to walk down our long steep hill to the horses from our house, care for them, fill plastic bags with the fresh manure and then drag the heavy bags back up our steep hill toward the neighbor's garden pile.

In general, horseback riding and care of the horse equate to much more than sitting one's mighty bohonkus on the back of a horse. The sport is actually a great way to teach a child responsibility, get

them out of the house and breed a loving relationship between human and beast. In the parent's handbook and resource guide, Growing Up With Horses, the magazine offers facts that fitness associated with horses is not to be overlooked. In a term coined "Equi-cise", it was reported that cleaning a stall and loading/unloading feed for 20-30 minutes will burn around 180 calories for each chore. Also, sweeping the barn aisle for 20 minutes will burn around 110 calories and riding the horse at a canter for only 10 minutes can burn up to another 110 calories. When I read these facts, it feels great to put on my Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant hat, and show people that you do not always have to hit the gym to enjoy a bit of physical fitness. For that matter, vigorously brushing down your horse (tail, mane and wire brushing the body) can burn as many calories as a game of doubles tennis. For a child, this is especially beneficial because it is a fun outdoor event that does not have "mom is making me exercise" written all over it.

When we purchased the pony, the objective was simply to bring my overworked husband together with his Sponge-Bob watching son. The rewards have far surpassed this notion. My son loves his pony, he has gained confidence by learning to ride and knowing the ropes of caring for an animal that depends on him, he has developed a deeper relationship with his father through hard work and a similar interest and he maintains good physical fitness through it all. The drugstore cowboy has come to be a full-fledged horseman.

While horseback riding is a great option for being active, not everyone has access to large areas in order to accommodate a horse's roam-free demands. However, if it is something of interest, a lot of areas offer horseback riding camps. There are also stable jobs available and people who would love to pay a young person to brush their horse or pony and clean the stalls. It isn't always a glamorous sport, but it sure can weed out a bit of the shallowness that life sometimes has to offer and in some children it will strike a chord deep in their sole that will passionately be carried well into their golden ages.

About the author:

Sherri L Dodd is the creator and author of Mom Looks Great - The Fitness Program for Moms. She is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer, Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant and Kickboxing Instructor with over fifteen years of exercise experience. She has lectured to groups on her fitness plan and is a freelance writer on the topics of fitness and general nutrition as well as the humorous side of motherhood.

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