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Finding ways to be healthy can be horseplay

Active seniors turn to equine therapy
By: Debbie Brown, Gold Country News Service correspondent
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When the first of the year rolls around, many residents look for ways to improve their health.

It seems that more often than not, joining a gym is the most common way to achieve that goal.
An overlooked alternative, but one that is just as beneficial, is horseback riding.

Exercise produces endorphins, relieves stress and helps with depression. If you need an outlet for your stress or you want to get in some exercise that will help your entire body, then check out one of the many
horseback-riding training facilities throughout Placer County.

According to Tammy McDonald, who owns Tammy McDonald Training in Newcastle, horseback riding “is a gym workout” because the entire body is affected.
"Health encompasses so much more than the physical aspect of our well-being," McDonald said. "It involves our emotional and mental health."
Exercisers "are often surprised after they’ve had their first workout” on a horse," McDonald said.
"They usually feel as if they’ve done something incorrectly because, the next day, they may feel pain in the legs, their shoulders might be sore or their core feels like they had a vigorous workout," McDonald said. "As a matter of fact, all those things happened because they did have a workout; it just wasn’t in a gym."

According to McDonald, riding horses isn’t the only way one can improve their health.
Senior citizens, who are no longer able to be as physical as they once were or who suffer from depression have come to her facility and have found comfort just by being around the horses. They may find serenity in brushing the equines or just watching them run around the arena.
“When I get older people out here, it’s more for the mental health than physical,” McDonald said.

Horseback riding is not only beneficial for the rider but the rest of the family often appreciates it.
Nikki Ellis and Christina Castellanos both have young daughters who have been in Ride To Walk, a therapeutic horseback-riding program.
Castellanos said that her almost 6-year-old daughter, Sofia (who has cerebral palsy), is unable to sit up on her own, and therefore needs a “back rider” (a therapist who sits on the horse with the rider during their session).
“She smiles and makes sounds while she is riding. Her trunk and head control is improving,” Castellanos said.
The horseback-riding certainly seems to be helping Sofia but an added benefit is what it’s doing for the family’s emotional health.
“It makes me so happy to see her doing something that is not only helping her but she enjoys it too. What that does for me and our family is indescribable,” Castellanos said.
Ellis’ daughter, Ally, also had cerebral palsy and was in the same program, until Ally died at 4 years and 8 months.
Ellis explained that Ally also had a back rider "as she was very stiff and floppy … emotionally and mentally for Ally, Joe and me, it was incredible. It was the only 'normal' past-time for our little girl to do!”

As we either strive to continue the New Year’s goals we created, or decide that we want to try something new, horseback riding is an activity that is truly for the entire family.
When we were kids, maybe if our parents had known the benefits of horseback riding, we would have received that pony we always wanted for our birthday.