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Dear Nadine,
What are your kids doing this summer? Meditation Mom, Wisconsin

Wondering what to do with your spirited kids this summer? Don’t hold those horses but jump on the (band) wagon and sign them up for some mind, body and spirit equestrian fun at horse camp.

Most horse camps — like those held at Nature’s Divine ranch in Becker, MN — begin by teaching kids the basics about horse safety, horse care, grooming, leading and lunging. And while most kids might want to get straight into the riding lessons, these opening activities can be equally relaxing, grounding and healing for kids who need a break from the iPad, TV or video game to decompress, de-stress and reconnect with nature.

Once kids do make it up into the saddle, they quickly learn that riding provides its own unique workout. The up and down, side-to-side motion of a horse, forces the use of most of the muscle groups in the body, which is why Michele McLaughlin took her 9-year-old daughter Alisa riding since the age of 2.

“As a toddler,” Michele says, “Alisa needed help to walk. The swaying action of the horse mimics that walking motion and taught her how walking should feel. The riding also built up Alisa’s core muscles and she found her feet very quickly once she started to ride.”

If riding is good for building muscles, it’s great for developing a kid’s body confidence. Melissa Bieber of Nature’s Divine says, “Not all kids consider themselves athletic or good at sports. But when a child sits up on that thousand pound horse, there’s a shift; kids automatically feels more physically powerful. As kids learn to ride, they grow stronger; they learn what they cannot do and what they can and how to be safe. And eventually, as a kid develops the physical and mental expertise to canter or even gallop, they get to experience the strength and power of a horse at speed. And that is both physically and spiritually exhilarating.”

Of course, learning to ride isn’t all a walk (or a trot) in the park! Even the steadiest, kindest and most caretaking of horse has a heart, mind and soul of its own and will react in the moment to the rider’s feelings and behaviors, as well as to external stimuli. As therapist Claire Dorotik notes, “For horses, there is no past, no future, there is only now…so that any time we slip and our mind drifts to thoughts of responsibilities, inadequacies or fear, we have lost the horse.”

As riders, kids have to figure out how to partner with this prey animal. Not only must a kid manage their own emotional state to keep the horse calm, they must also read (and respond correctly) to the changes in a horse’s ears, head and body language and work through mulish behaviors. For our sometimes out-of-body, scattered-energy spirited kids, riding provides a great way to center, focus, build confidence and develop assertiveness. Horse trainer Franklin Levinson (as quoted in the UK’s Guardian) agrees: “It has been clinically documented that just being around horses changes human brainwave patterns. We calm down and become more centered and focused when we are with horses.”

The emotional, intelligent and intuitive nature of horses represents one of the reasons that horses are so therapeutic to be around. The other reason? They remind us to (horse) play! The fact is that for many kids, school is often more than hard work; it’s also a popularity contest. The social side of school makes huge demands on kids. Sometimes it demands kids dress to impress, sometimes it demands they smoke, drink or do drugs, sometimes it demands that kids slide by, rather than excel. And for kids who lose that popularity contest? School can be brutal.

But a horse doesn’t care how a kid looks, or whether they own an iPod or phone, or whether they’re a superstar athlete or not. As any horse lover will tell you, horses live in the moment and accept you for who you are. Yes, horses can bite, buck and bare their teeth. But they can also gallop and frolic and roll in the grass and listen to your woes and respond and bond. If a horse gives a kid anything, it’s time away from home and school to enjoy the magic of the moment, free from expectations, free from worry, free to just be. And that’s magic.

Liz agrees, “I began riding at age 10. I was overweight and didn’t have many friends. Horses offered me a safe relationship. The horse was never setting me up to be cruel or to humiliate me. Riding felt like an escape from my reality. There’s been so many days I’ve counted the minutes longing to put my hands on my horse’s neck and stroke that soft hair. It made it easier to leave the rest of the day behind — every time!”

Winston Churchill said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.” And he was right! Horses are therapy — for the mind, body and spirit. So sign your kids up for a summer horse camp. Choose the camp carefully, make sure your child has the right equipment (a hard hat, heeled boots and stretchy pants) and encourage your kids to follow the safety rules (like all sports, riding comes with risks). Then wave them off with a kiss and some carrots, knowing they’re in for one exciting ride!

Resources: Horse Sense for Parents
How to Choose the Right Horse Camp
Safety Tips for Kids
Natures’ Divine Riding Summer Camp (Minnesota)

Equine Therapy
Horses as Therapists
A Quiet Mind

What Horses Can Teach Us
Horse Sense

Benefits of Riding a Horse for Kids
Riding Lessons
Horse Adventures
Horseback Riding
Horses are Great for Kids
Lessons for Children

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Nadine Penny attained her M.A. from the University of Denver in Counseling Psychology. Nadine lives in Minnetonka where she works as a medium, life issues reader and Reiki master. Contact her at nadine.penny@gmail.com and visit www.nadinepenny.com.

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