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PEP engages young people with horses, 4-H’ers

COLDWATER, MI -- Since 1977, a special 4-H program has been held in Branch County, MI involving children with disabilities and horses. The Proud Equestrian Program (PEP) is a day camp for young people that exposes them to horses, socializing, crafts, and 4-H.

The weeklong event is on the Branch County fairgrounds in Coldwater, MI and depends upon a number of volunteers, both adult and 4-Hers, to assist in the various aspects of the daily activities. Each of the participants spent time riding the horses, doing hands-on projects, meeting new people, and learning about the horses and how to care for them.

The featured activity was the children experiencing the riding of horses in a show arena with the assistance of the 4-H members. Each participant learned to talk to the horses through commands and what those meant. They walked, trotted, and turned their horses and played games on horseback. As the theme related to the Olympics, the one game was throwing beanbags through the ‘Olympic’ rings. The riders stopped their horses and played the game a couple of times, moving farther away each time.

In the hands-on aspect of the week, the attendees painted boxes, created a set of ‘Olympic’ rings with paint and the edge of a cup, and made edible art. Each child was given a cookie that they frosted and placed colorful candies on top to make the rings. They were also given coloring books with horses as the main theme to practice those skills.

Throughout the week, horse care and grooming were topics the children explored. Regen Stahl, who has helped her mom with the program “all my life”, taught the participants about the parts of the horse, different tools for brushing the horses, and encouraged them to write down their own answers. “It’s fun to see how much the kids progress through the week,” she said. “And for the repeat campers, even to see how they are doing from year to year.”

The participants got to experience an obstacle course and a scavenger hunt on horseback with prizes for different accomplishments. The final day featured a grand finale show where family and friends came and watched the riders share the skills they had acquired through the week.

Each of the participants received a special horse trophy, PEP recognition, and a 4-H certificate at the end of the week.