Camp teaches equestrian empathy

Posted Aug. 13, 2010, at 6:13 p.m.
Jenny, 9, of Orono, Cassidy, 9, of Bradley, Emma, 9, of Glenburn, sit as they piece together their horses bridles on Aug. 11 during a lesson at the Wild Ivy Summer Horsemanship Camp at the Wild Ivy Farm in Bangor.  (Bangor Daily News/Aislinn Sarnacki)
Jenny, 9, of Orono, Cassidy, 9, of Bradley, Emma, 9, of Glenburn, sit as they piece together their horses bridles on Aug. 11 during a lesson at the Wild Ivy Summer Horsemanship Camp at the Wild Ivy Farm in Bangor. (Bangor Daily News/Aislinn Sarnacki)
Emma, 9, of Glenburn, jumps crossrails with her half-Arabian horse Galimar during a riding lesson at the Wild Ivy Summer Horsemanship Camp at the Wild Ivy Farm in Bangor.  (Bangor Daily News/Aislinn Sarnacki)
Emma, 9, of Glenburn, jumps crossrails with her half-Arabian horse Galimar during a riding lesson at the Wild Ivy Summer Horsemanship Camp at the Wild Ivy Farm in Bangor. (Bangor Daily News/Aislinn Sarnacki)
Emma, 9, of Glenburn (front) rides her horse Galimar, and Cassidy, 9, of Bradley, rides her pony Dancer during a riding lesson at the Wild Ivy Summer Horsemanship Camp at the Wild Ivy Farm in Bangor. (Bangor Daily News/Aislinn Sarnacki)
Emma, 9, of Glenburn (front) rides her horse Galimar, and Cassidy, 9, of Bradley, rides her pony Dancer during a riding lesson at the Wild Ivy Summer Horsemanship Camp at the Wild Ivy Farm in Bangor. (Bangor Daily News/Aislinn Sarnacki)

Emma of Glenburn just received her first horse this May. The half-Arabian’s name is Galimar.

At Wild Ivy Farm in Bangor, in the barn where 9-year-old Emma boards her new horse, she sat on a bucket beside two girls — Cassidy, 9, of Bradley, and Jenny, 9, of Orono — as they dismantled their horses’ bridles step by step: reins, bit, cheek pieces, noseband and browband.

When they held only the crownpiece in their hands, Cassie Elia, Wild Ivy Farm Summer Horsemanship camp director and farm owner, told them to buckle the bridles back together.

It was the third day of camp. The girls asked questions and discussed the puzzle as they fumbled with buckles.

Emma put the bridle on her head and laughed while Galimar munched on food in the dark stall behind her.

“The camp is designed so that children learn what it would be like if they owned a horse,” said Elia, who has been teaching riding lessons for 20 years. “They learn the stable chores, feeding, grooming, putting tack on and riding.

“I think the care of animals and developing empathy for them is good for any kid,” Elia said.

Each child attending camp is designated a horse or pony to ride and take care of for the week. Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., they have two riding lessons and two horse care lessons.

“What’s the purpose of the keepers?” asked Elia.

“So they don’t slip in the pony’s eyes,” said Jenny.

The girls dug into a bucket filled with different types of bits — loose ring snaffle, eggbutt snaffle, curb and Pelham — and lined them up from strongest to gentlest.

“You have to arrange the bit carefully so you don’t clink their teeth,” said Elia. “In the wrong hands, any bit can be unhealthy for a horse. In the right hands, any bit can be comfortable for a horse.”

The tongue goes under the bit. Emma offered up a comparison. When people get expanders, the device is anchored along the roof of the mouth, not underneath the tongue where it would hurt, she said.

When the bridles were pieced back together, it was time to ride. The girls, dressed in riding boots, leggings and T-shirts, disappeared into three separate stalls with a brush, saddle and bridle in hand.

“We get campers that have never seen a horse before and they’re quite surprised by the size and the movement and the smell,” Elia said.

All three girls take lessons at the farm and have grown accustomed to riding and caring for their animals. Jenny and Cassidy are half-leasing their ponies from Elia, and Emma boards Galimar at the farm.

Wild Ivy Farm summer camp began in 1999. The number of weeks the camp runs during the summer depends on the number of children who sign up.

The past two years have been difficult, Elia said. This year, she conducted only two weeks of camp. Many of Elia’s former campers were funded by the Libra Foundation through the Bangor Camp Scholarship Program, which provides summer camp admission funds to eligible children enrolled in Bangor public schools. This year, far fewer families applied for the funds.

“We’re kind of puzzling about it,” said Karen Tolstrup, community impact associate of United Way of Eastern Maine. “This is the last year the program is going to be funded. We expected parents to flock to it. It’s kind of a shame.”

Tolstrup surmised that the sluggish economy caused many

families to stop considering the option of summer camp.

Jenny led her brown-and-white pony, Koki, out of the barn, followed by Cassidy and her white Welsh pony, Dancer.

Seventeen horses were roaming the paddocks, but the riding arena behind the red-and-white barn was free.

“March, march, march,” Elia shouted as she stood behind the arena fence under the shade of maple trees. “Your horses aren’t warmed up if they’re dragging their feet in the dirt.”

“Come on, bud,” Emma said to Galimar. She made a clicking sound with her tongue and said, “You wanna trot?”

Emma is the most experienced rider of the three. During the lesson, she brought her horse up to a canter and jumped a crossrail — two wooden beams forming an X.

“I’m doing a horse show this weekend,” said Emma. “I’ve done four. I did my last show on Galimar.”

Emma first rode a horse at Coldbrook Equestrian Center’s summer camp in Hampden when she was 7 years old. She began riding at Wild Ivy Farm when she was 8.

As a young girl, Emma’s mother rode her neighbor’s horse. When Emma heard the story, she wanted to ride.

Her parents asked Elia to search for a horse for their daughter. In May, Elia found Galimar.

“Bend your knees, M&M [Emma],” Elia shouted to Emma. “If you straighten your knees and he stops, you fall in your saddle.”

Though registered as half-Arabian, Galimar is actually 75 percent Arabian. Arabian horses hail from the ancient deserts of the Middle East. As one of the most popular breeds in America, they are known for their intelligence, gentle personalities and energy.

“These little ponies zoom around,” said camp instructor Morgan Williams as she watched the tall horse kicking up clouds of dust. “The slowest is Galimar.”

His show name is “Go Galimar” because Emma and supporters are constantly yelling for him to speed up.

At the end of the lesson, the girls did stretches and strengthening exercises while sitting in their saddles. Hands on hips, they leaned back until their helmets touched the horses’ rumps, then forward to the horses’ necks.

“Nice dismounts,” Elia said. “See, all those exercises made you flexible and strong.”

For information about Wild Ivy Farm, visit wildivyfarm.com or call 942-9658.

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