Dayspring Therapeutic Equestrian Center of Harrison County hosted its first horsemanship clinic of the summer this week, bringing out eager young children for lessons in horse riding and care.
“The purpose was to introduce our campers to horses and how to act safely and how to care for them,” Dayspring Executive Director Sheryl Fogle said. “We’ve taught everybody how to ride. Some of them have already graduated to be an independent rider.”
In addition to learning how to groom, saddle and ride horses, the young campers learned roping and took part in fishing and obstacle courses. Show and Tell was a new feature this summer, with the camp bringing in a macaw, a bearded dragon, a pig, a puppy and a rooster.
Trick Roper Stanton Williams visited Wednesday. All of this activity was for a simple reason, Fogle said.
“They don’t sit still for very long, and the more you entertain them with, the more delightful they are,” she said.
The annual camps are a fundraiser for the nonprofit, which works with disabled people to enhance their independence and life skills. The nonprofit also works with veterans and senior citizens.
A second and final camp of the summer is planned June 24-26, with some spots still available. Volunteers are also needed for the upcoming camp; those 14 and up are encouraged to help out if they can.
“We did it initially to make money,” Fogle said. “It’s very hard to start a nonprofit, especially this type of program. Horses eat 24/7. They’re always eating. It’s very expensive. Even when the farrier comes every six weeks to trim their hooves, that’s $500. Every six weeks. Then hay has been rare, scare this year. So we have spent probably $5,000 just on hay alone.
“It’s a great program, but very expensive,” she said.
Trainer Rich Kemler helped during this week’s camps to make sure everything was done safely, including matching horses with kids and supervising volunteers.
“We do everything on a little step-by-step basis, so they may not do anything the first time they meet a horse other than just pet on it,” he said. “It depends on them how fast they can get there. A lot of them on the first day, they’re already up on a horse riding. We take it slow and safe, always safe.”
Amelia Lester, 7, went to the camp last year and came back for a second time this week. She loves it.
“We get to ride horses and get to experience new things,” she said. “This is new to us, like getting to do obstacle courses. And I like to lasso. Last year we didn’t have show and tell, and it was fun to have show and tell this week.”
Lester’s favorite animal to meet this week was a snake, she said.
“He had no teeth, but he swallows things whole!” she said.
Lester has been riding horses since she was 2 years old — her uncle has a farm and works for famed rider Martha Josey.
“I like that they’re gentle and they let you ride them,” she said when asked why she liked riding horses. “Some just don’t want to be ridden, and these do. So we’re happy to have these horses.”
Both Fogle and Kemler have seen the therapeutic riding program produce miracles.
“We’ve seen children that are nonverbal, they’ll speak their first word astride a horse,” Fogle said. “We’ve seen that. We’ve seen miracles. The parents, so many of them say ‘Wow, I didn’t know my child could do that.’
“So many times if they have a disability, parents have a tendency to hold them back... But we don’t see a disability. We see an ability and we see something that can come and become the very beautiful, help them with their life skills.”
The group usually serves about 20 students a week, although recent rains have hampered their programs.
To add a cover to one of their riding pens, Dayspring is planning a concert and auction fundraiser Saturday, Sept. 28. Scott Helmer will be performing, and both silent and live auctions are planned.
Festivities start at 5:30 p.m. at the River Crossing Cowboy Church, 475 Henderson Schoolhouse Road in Marshall. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children. For more information, contact Sheryl Fogle at 817-980-2535, 903-923-5552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kemler, who has been doing work in therapeutic riding for 40 years, says horse riding is very beneficial therapy.
“When the horse moves, their back hips move left and right as they’re walking,” he said. “The rider can feel that. As an instructor, if I can get their hips doing the same movement in the same sync — not out of sync, but in the same sync as what the horse’s hips are doing — it sends a stimulus through the spine to the brain that they’ve not been able to reproduce with any other type of physical therapy or medication. So it opens little cavities in the brain — sometimes — that has never been open before.”
Some of the biggest changes they see in clients is a self-esteem boost, Fogle said.
“Self-esteem is always improved because they’re controlling a very large animal,” Fogle said. “Some of our horses are 1,200 pounds... And they become expert riders. We don’t let them do anything sloppy! We have high standards.”
Dayspring is always looking for volunteers at least 14 years of age to act as sidewalkers and leaders for riders.
“We always need help,” Kemler said. “Help comes in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it can be physical help, volunteering.
“We always need money. A lot of the kids that come here, they don’t have any money. They can’t pay their way,” he said. “Never that I have ever known have we ever turned anyone away because they couldn’t pay. So that time and that money needs to come from somewhere.”