“Oh it’s Mrs. Connie the horse lady! Mrs. Connie, Mrs. Connie, where’s Tag?” a student asked Mrs. Connie Washburn at Open House for her Special Education class.
“Look, he’s right here!” Mrs. Connie pointed to a photo she keeps in her classroom of her tried and true Appaloosa, Photo by Richard Washburn“And he’s right here by your desk so he’ll always be able to watch you!”
For the past five years, Shakerag Hounds has been the sponsor for the riding program of Extra Special People Camp, a summer camp for people with special needs in the metro-Athens area. Mrs. Connie Washburn took on the task of organizing the program when she heard about it from the parents of her students.
“It used to be held in a field, with no shade for the kids and no bathrooms. Then several of them weren’t even allowed to ride because they were told they were too heavy,” Mrs. Washburn said.
Mrs. Washburn was quick to take the riding program under her wing. Now, every Wednesday from June through July, campers with the program take a bus to the location of Shakerag Hounds’ kennels and clubhouse. The air-conditioned clubhouse provides a full bathroom facility and the wide doorways make it all wheelchair accessible. Activities and games are set up near the clubhouse under the soaring oak trees that shade the area. Every rider has a side-walker on each side of the horse, in addition to a helper leading the horse on the ground. To say that the program has made a turn for the better would be an understatement.
“It begins in the bus, before they even get off,” said Jean Carnet, member of Shakerag Hounds. “Their energy, their excitement, they just light up as soon as they pull into the driveway. It’s really incredible.”