New UP program has youth "eating like horses"

What do you get when you combine a Proud Equestrians Program (PEP), information about healthy eating and some creative educators from Allegan County MSU Extension? The new "Your Horse & You…Healthy Together!" program.

What do you get when you combine a Proud Equestrians Program (PEP), information about healthy eating and some creative educators from Allegan County MSU Extension? The new “Your Horse & You…Healthy Together!” program. The Allegan County Exceptional Equestrians (ACEE) 4-H PEP program decided to try this type of curriculum, submitting the idea for a 4-H Participation Fee Grant, which they then received.

The ACEE instructors met with the Allegan County MSU Extension Family Nutrition Programs (FNP) educator and created a program that included healthy lifestyles education with therapeutic riding. During each session, a different food group is introduced and woven into the riding session. The students do not even realize that they are working on balance and hand-and-eye coordination as they stick apples on the food pyramid color wheel. They now know that horses like apples, too, and how good apples are for both. One student commented on how he likes carrots and his horse likes carrots, too.

Singing the “hand washing” song helps the students work on verbal communication skills, as well as teaching them about germs and the importance of hand washing. After the students lead their horses around the ring, donated pedometers are read with enthusiasm to see how many steps they took. Parents and guardians learn right along with the students and can ask the FNP educator any food questions they may have while the students are riding. Even the PEP volunteers gain knowledge about healthy lifestyles!

This project is still in its beginning, but so far, it is a successful partnership between special-needs students, volunteers, the community and MSU Extension 4-H and FNP educators.

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