“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,“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.”
Mrs. Washburn’s personal horses, Tag and Barrett, are used as the mounts for each rider. Each camper rides for a minimum of fifteen minutes, with Shakerag members and relatives working as volunteers.
“The horses take such good care of the children,” Mrs. Washburn said. “If Tag feels them start to get off balance, he’ll be so careful to slow down and make sure they regain their balance. And at the end of each ride, when the riders would call, ‘Next camper!’ Barrett would nicker at the same time!”
Foxhunters have the pleasure of experiencing some of the most incredible equines in the horse world. The sport demands a horse of incredible athleticism and the patience of a saint. Any foxhunter knows the physical and mental benefits of a good day in the field, and without a good horse, some of those good days could take a turn for the worse fairly quickly. However, as incredible as some hunt days are, what the participants of ESP Camp experience holds no comparison to the very best day out hunting. Regardless of age, abilities, or struggles past and present, Tag and Barrett are assuring the members of Shakerag Hounds, ESP Camp, and all who are associated with them that all things are possible.
Photo by Autumn Clarke