Local and inner city children will get a chance this summer to spend a week riding and caring for a pony, as part of the New Hope Equine Ministry’s day camp starting in early July.
Director Fran Henderson said that after bouncing around in past years between various rented locations, the camp which runs for eight weeks in the summer, has found a permanent rented home on 80 acres of trees and trails just east of the city owned by Don Ditchfield.
“It’s really quite rustic and pretty in there,” said Henderson, adding that the new location is on a major bus route, and surrounded by river on three sides.
The camp uses 12 rescued ponies anywhere from the smallest, which is a 33-inch-tall miniature, to a Welsh pony that stands 11 hands high. All the horses have been trained to the point of being “bombproof” to ensure that the kids have an enjoyable experience.
“We rescue horses and put them back on the path towards wholeness. In other words, we retrain them,” said Henderson. “Then we use them to be able to mentor and encourage kids in the community.”
The ponies are perfectly proportioned for small children, who are able to “look them in the eye,” she said, adding that even if they do fall off, it’s not much worse than falling off a bicycle. The ponies are accustomed to children and seldom bite.
A local insurance firm has provided a comprehensive liability package, she added.
“A horse is a horse, but it really makes a difference if you go that extra distance with their training to make them really comfortable and bombproof,” she said.
Kids from single-parent homes, those struggling at school, and even those with autism or other disabilities such as Attention Deficit Disorder are encouraged to attend the week-long camp, which runs from nine to five each day.
“We had one little girl come out who was blind, and the horse adopted her and acted like a seeing eye dog,” she said. “It was absolutely amazing.”
The kids learn self-confidence, patience, communication and teamwork. Kids aged six to 12 are teamed up two per horse for the duration of the camp, and spend their time learning how to handle, groom and ride a pony as well as support their partner in the activities.
“It really helps kids to look at the bigger picture in life, and helps them develop stronger community awareness as well,” said Henderson.
For children living in the core area of Brandon, there is a subsidy available – depending on donations received – to cover part of the $154 fee. Kids over 12 who spend a week at the camp are encouraged to come back during the summer to volunteer as helpers.
There is room for up to 160 kids to attend the New Hope camp during the eight-weeks of July and August. Already 20 bookings have been received, and Henderson is getting more calls each day.
A local pastor will organize other activities such as games, arts and crafts, and storytime for the children during the afternoons.
Now that the ministry has found a permanent home with pens, Henderson plans to run program activities year round.
On May 22, a barbecue and free pony rides to kick off activities at the new location will be hosted. [email protected]