Diets and exercise are a pain! You can’t eat what you want and exercise makes you all hot and sweaty. Really, with the majority of fun things to do being located inside these days, no wonder there has been such a rise in obesity in children and adults. When it comes down to obesity in kids, it certainly is no laughing matter. I’m sure you’ve seen kids in the Allentown area that just look unhealthy. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a program that could help them that they’d actually love to participate in? And no, I’m not talking about “fat camp” or any kind of program that would label them. I’m talking about the centuries old sport of horseback riding.
Okay, its definately not a traditional method, but think about it. Everything you do around horses requires you to burn calories. Everything you do around horses requires you to build muscle. The more time you spend with a horse, the better shape you will be in. Now, there’s a very common arguement that the horse does all the work and you just have to sit up there. Now, if you are one of those people, I encourage you to sit on a horse for an hour, make it walk around for that entire hour, and then get off and tell me if you’re sore or not. My bet is that you will be, even just a little, because riding requires muscles you probably don’t use for anything else. Those of you who do ride on a regular basis, you know that the better at riding you get, the harder you have to work in order to control your body and give the subtle cues the horse responds to. Horseback riding is an Olympic sport for a reason!
Now here’s your weight-loss program. I have a student that we’ll call Amy. Amy is an eighteen year old college student who’s never been thin. She keeps a busy schedule with school and work and doesn’t have a whole lot of time or energy to devote to “the gym”. However, Amy loves horses! It’s the highlight of her week to come out to the barn for her riding lesson. Riding gives her a goal, its fun, and it gives her a sense of accomplishment. In order to ride though, Amy has to do more than just climb into the saddle.
First of all, she has to walk all the way out to the pasture to catch her lesson horse. Of course, he doesn’t want to be caught, so after walking several laps of the 1/2 acre field she finally is able to trick him into standing still long enough for him to be haltered. They make their way back to the barn, where Amy ties him and begins vigorously brushing off the thick, caked-on mud her horse so enjoyed rolling in that morning. She curries, then she takes a hard brush to him, and then she takes a soft brush to him. All this has given her arms a work-out, and twenty minutes after she started she stretches them out as she heads to the tack room.
Amy heaves her 20 lb. western saddle onto her hip as she juggles a blanket and bridle in her other hand. Carefully she puts the blanket on her horse’s back, then heaves the heavy saddle up over her head onto his tall back. After she finishes saddling and bridling her horse, she heads to the arena, another few eighths of a mile from the barn. Now she is ready to ride! Her instructor has her walk, trot, post, and then canter for an hour. Amy uses her legs to steer the horse left or right. She uses her fingers to slow her horse. All while her instructor tells her to “be stronger in your core” and use her abdominal muscles to balance her body.
By the time Amy’s done, she’s exhausted and sweaty but happy with what she accomplished. She heads back to the barn where she heaves her saddle off her horse, lugs it to the tack room, brushes again, and finally walks her horse back out to the field. As she’s driving back to her dorm room she strategizes on how she can make more time to do sit-ups and pilates so she’ll have the core strength needed to be better in her lessons. She drinks a whole bottle of water to re-hydrate since soda made her sick the last time. A light meal is all she has time for before she heads to work.
Working with horses, even just to ride, involves a lot of energy and muscles. Amy’s story is common in barns all across the country. Not just the work involved with horses but the goal to be better is a huge motivator for people to get in shape. Students want to be able to move on to the next level, and if weight or lack or fitness is holding them back, they have the motivation they need to work on it. And they have fun in the process! They form connections with these huge animals who never cared in the first place what they looked like. Horseback riding can be a great way for people to get in shape without even noticing it.