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Think Soccer Is Tough? Try Handstands On A Horse

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Some kids play soccer, others play chess and some stand on the backs of galloping horses. Lately, equestrian vaulting is finding a foothold with children in Oregon and Washington. Parents say like any sport, it teaches concentration and gives kids a boost of confidence.

Seth Rouhier is 9-years-old and a paperweight of 55 pounds. It's a blustery afternoon in this sand-filled arena here in central Washington. Seth's mom cues up the freestyle vaulting music on a boom box.

A Quarter horse named Mo is running in a giant circle around the arena. Seth is wearing a black and red spandex bodysuit. When he gets the "go" from his trainer he doesn't hesitate. He runs from the center of the circle and leaps onto the horse's back.

What happens next looks like an Olympic pommel horse routine. This is horse vaulting. It's sort of like dance-meets-gymnastics on the back of a moving horse.

Vaulting draws its roots from ancient Greece and probably Asia too. Now, there are local clubs and national and world competitions. But Seth isn't doing it to get a fancy ribbon.

"It's about like, learning," he says. "You learn about horses a bit. You learn how to balance yourself sometimes. 'Cause if you are standing up on a moving horse you have to have balance, so you won't fall off."

Clearly, horse vaulting can be dangerous. But Seth's mom Bobi McAlexander says her home-schooled, only child needs a sport like this.

"When we get home from vaulting he is much calmer," McAlexander says. "We can actually sit and eat dinner and he's not standing up talking a mile a minute and wanting to go do something else. He's sitting there eating dinner and focused on the conversation. And that's amazing right there in itself."

"You can do this, yes," Seth's coach, Tereesa Wentland, cheers him on. "Oh you missed it, do it again, do it again! Good job buddy!"

Wentland is also the mother of two other vaulters here this afternoon.

These kids don't just start by jumping on a galloping horse. They practice on stationary equipment first. Still, they don't even wear helmets. Wentland admits that sometimes she has heart-in-the-throat moments.

"That's very scary, that's very scary," Wentland says.

But still, she's trained several kids who have low self esteem or are overweight. And she says this is a sport where they fit in.

"They suddenly can come out and be with this horse and they can vault," Wentland says. "And they can be around other kids that love them. And they walk away from here with some confidence and something that makes them feel important."

Tiny Seth is now working on a move where he runs backwards toward Mo and then pulls himself up onto the horse's back.

"I just like the excitement and all the swirl and all the adrenaline," Seth says.

Near the end of practice, Seth is working on his dismount. He slides down Mo's shoulder, lands on his feet and flashes a big smile.

Copyright 2012 N3. To see more, visit http://www.nwnewsnetwork.org/.

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