Horsing around makes for healthful fun

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published August 16, 2017

METRO DETROIT — If you just can’t look at one more water park this season, even though there’s still plenty more warm weather and sunshine to be enjoyed, there are things to do outside with the family that make for a great transition into fall.

Or, better yet, a great ride into fall.

Horseback riding is a sometimes forgotten pastime in an age when screens and team sports are king. Sharon Hake, owner of Rochester Hills Stables and boarding, said riding lessons can give students of any age a great sense of discipline, patience, joy and even exercise.

“Riding is a lot of fun, but you should know what you’re doing for safety purposes,” she said, explaining that her stables aren’t for public riding, but regular instruction. “And it’s very athletic. It keeps you trim and active.”

To ride — and stay — on a horse, nearly all of the major muscle groups are engaged. The legs squeeze to stay in the saddle, the core is tensed to stay upright, and the arms are used in the stables while you’re cleaning a horse stall or saddling up your animal.

But the psychological benefits of the sport could be even more pronounced. According to the Certified Horsemanship Association, riding is used by many counselors as a form of meditation for their clients. The British Horse Society took a survey of riders and found that more than 80 percent of them reported that the activity made them feel more relaxed and happy. That’s in addition to the self-confidence that’s gained learning and mastering riding skills.

That lift in spirits is what Camp Casey hopes to bring its clients with every Horsey House Call. The nonprofit staff members like to say they help kids stricken with cancer overcome the disease one “neigh” at a time with no-cost therapy horse rides right in their own yard. 

Opening the front door to see a massive animal might be startling at first, according to Katie Avesian Patterson, community relations manager for Camp Casey, but kids get into the swing of things pretty quickly.

“The beautiful thing about working with kids is that they’re so open to adventure. Even if they’re a little scared or nervous when we first surprise them with our horse, they’re almost always willing to go for a ride. They get to literally take the reins of something so much bigger and scarier than them, and that’s incredibly empowering, especially for these kids that face incredible challenges with their health every day. By the end of our visits, everyone is a horse fanatic. It’s remarkable to watch their confidence grow so quickly,” Avesian Patterson said in an email.

Camp Casey is gearing up for its annual Gold Rush Gala Sept. 8 at The Reserve in Birmingham. The annual fundraiser — with live music, dancing, strolling food stations, a silent auction and other goodies — will help the organization raise the funds it needs to bring more equine experiences to deserving kids around Michigan.

But if you’re healthy as — well, you know — you can still have a fun horse experience within a reasonable driving distance. There are numerous public stables in southeast Michigan, including Northville, St. Clair and Howell. Oakland County Parks allows riders with their own horses to use its equestrian trails at Addison Oaks Park in Leonard.

A quick Google search is all you need to plan a day of horsing around. That, and a big heart for big animals.

“I think you just have to love the animal. That’s one of the top priorities,” said Hake.

To learn more about Camp Casey and the Gold Rush Gala, visit camp-casey.org.