As we all eagerly anticipate the arrival of summer, it’s got me thinking about camp! One of my favorite camps to facilitate is a week-long, equine-assisted camp to empower young women within the inclusive, farm environment. The group includes six girls from the ages of 7-17 with a range of emotional/cognitive/physical challenges. Working with horses optimizes opportunities for growth in confidence, social and communication skills development, and team building within this population of emerging young women.
Here are some highlights of the activities campers engage in together throughout the week on the inclusive farm!
Activity: To begin, the girls explore the farm to meet each member of the herd. After greeting and observing each horse, the girls come together to share with group which horse they most relate to. Then, the girls introduce themselves to the group by sharing something they think that horse would like about them.
🐴Optimizations: The horses wonderfully stewarded introductions within the group of girls in less threatening and structured way. All the while, the girls also get to know their equine partners and their own strengths!
Gains: Confidence; Team-building; Communication; Empowerment
Activity: Noticing the personalities of each horse through herd observation, the group discusses how each horse has unique assets they bring to the herd and the girls consider what they individually add to the team. The group gathers to build an obstacle course, with each member of the team contributing an element to reflect the individual strengths they add to the team. The girls work together to connect each element for a complete, flowing course. Finally, the girls lead a horse through the course, halting at each element for the builder to share the amazing strengths they contribute to the team.
🐴Optimizations: The horse represents the collection of all the team’s strengths. The team reflects on how each girl adds something to the team, as they are now like a herd.
Gains: Empowerment; Self-Esteem; Planning; Problem Solving; Teamwork; Communication
Activity: The group begins with discussion around the concept of “diversity.” Girls then learn about the varieties of equine breeds in the herd and each horse’s background (strengths of breed; jobs of breed; history of breed), referencing breed books. The girls gather to share about their own heritage, culture and family background, identifying strengths of one another.
🐴Optimizations: Using horse breeds to introduce topic of diversity in humans and celebrating individual strengths. Frame concept of diversity, with horses as stewards to discuss human diversity. Process strengths of horses and each participant to illustrate broad gifts and backgrounds.
Gains: Diversity; Social Skills; Referencing; Communication; Observational Skills
Horses v. Humans
Activity: The girls gather to compare and contrast the learning, senses and behaviors of horses and humans. During the activity, objects are placed in either the horse or human hula hoop to represent difference in traits, including:
Brain: Camera for 🐴 (Memory/Association) vs. Book for 👭 (Logic/Reasoning)
Eyes: Cellophane Glasses for 🐴 (Limited Color) vs. Sunglasses for 👭 (Vivid Colors)
Hearing: Ear Muffs for 🐴 (Tremendous) vs. Speakers for 👭 (Limited)
Smelling: Packaged Treats for 🐴(Distant) vs. Open Cookie for 👭 (Close)
Touch: Fly Spray for 🐴 (Very Sensitive Hair) vs. Sunscreen for 👭 (Sensitive Skin)
Process: Calculator for 🐴 (Thinking About One Thing at Time) vs. Phone for 👭
Communication: Ear Headband, Tail Brush, Glasses for 🐴 vs. WalkieTalkie for 👭
Eating: Bale of Hay for 🐴 (Constant Grazing) vs. Bars for 👭 (Meals)
Then, we discuss what humans-horses have in common by placing objects in overlapping of hula hoops, including: movement; water; minerals; friends and family; shelter; and play.
🐴Optimizations: The girls gain psychoeducation about behavior and senses, while learning about differences in horses and humans. Provides opportunities to consider how we may enhance equine welfare and builds empathy.
Gains: Psychoeducation; Equine Welfare; Equitation Science; Empathy; Learning
Activity: Campers lead horses through the sensory trail in partners. Along the way of the trail, the campers select and gather natural elements of their choosing that positively describe their partner.
🐴Optimizations: Horse stewards connection between the girls. This activity builds cohesion within the group and encourages empathy as they identify and share the strengths of their teammates. By searching for natural objects, the girls also develop their concentration and fascination by nature, decreasing behaviors of restlessness and hyperactivity.
Gains: Teambuilding; Focus; Empathy; Social Skills; Communication
Painting Their Future
Activity: Campers paint horses together to reflect their individual aspirations for their future. What they want to do? Who they want to be? How do they want to feel? How do they want the horse to see them?
🐴Optimizations: The horse stewards reflection of how they want the horse to see them in the future as they consider areas for growth and long-term goals for the future.
Gains: Goal-Setting; Teamwork; Communication; Expression; Creativity
Planting the Seeds
Activity: Girls begin by reflecting on their long-term goal for their interactions with horses and sharing with the group the little steps needed for them to progress in achieving this bigger equestrian goal. Through the metaphor of planting a seed, each girl plants carrot seeds in a pot.
Seed: What goal do they want to accomplish? Needs careful fostering...
Pot: What gives you stability? Support Network (Family, School, Friends, Team)...
Soil: What skills do they already have to support their goal? What have their already achieved? Steps already achieved...
Water: What feeds their goal? How often will they need to add to it? Consistent nourishment…
Finally, the girls paint their pots to express their emotional attachment with their goals and establishing the why behind their goal.
🐴Optimizations: By planting carrots for their horses, the girls may consider the role of horses in helping them achieve this long-term goal and consider the many steps and nurturing plans needed to achieve this goal. Planting seeds serves as a metaphor for growing dreams and the responsibilities, time and process needed to achieve.
Gains: Goal-Setting; Task Analysis; Planning; Patience; Sequencing; Responsibility