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Special needs children ride, learn about horses at EFMP equestrian camp

By David DeKunder | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | July 19, 2019


Special needs children learned about and rode horses during a three-day equestrian camp held at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Equestrian Center in late June.

The JBSA Exceptional Family Member Program Equestrian Camp provided equine-related activities for special needs children and their siblings from June 25-27. EFMP is a program that provides comprehensive support and services to special needs children from military families.

Melissa Reyes, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Military & Family Readiness Center EFMP manager, said 12 students, 6 to 13 years of age, participated in the camp. An $8,000 grant from Wish For Our Heroes, a non-profit organization that assists servicemembers and provides resources to improve the quality of life of military families, helped to reestablish the equestrian camp that previously had been held from 2011-17.

Reyes said the camp allows children, who may not have the opportunity otherwise, to be around horses and gain the experience of riding one.

“They are able to be comfortable around a horse,” Reyes said. “It gives them an opportunity for independence, to experience a new opportunity and to meet new friends.”

Karen Wright, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Equestrian Center supervisor, said the camp teaches the children the basics of horsemanship, including how the horses function, how to act around them, how to take care of them and what the horses eat.

Wright said she and her staff of instructors are teaching a diverse group of EFMP children and their siblings about horses, including those children who are autistic, have behavioral issues and have physical limitations.

Also, she said it is helpful that the horses are accommodating to the needs of the children. Children who ride the horses are led by camp volunteers and equestrian center staff members.

“We are trying to do whatever each child can do or is capable of and add to it,” Wright said. “Our horses are therapeutic horses. Our horses are very kind and approachable and patient.”

Monica Petteway, an EFMP parent, had her 11-year-old son Jaydan, who is autistic, in the camp.

“He loves to ride horses; it calms him,” Petteway said. “It’s therapeutic for Jaydan. He isn’t yelling, he’s not spitting. Once he’s on the horse, it relaxes him. There’s great staff that support him and give him a lot of praises. It helps him and I think he recognizes that.”

Joshua Ronk, 12, participated in his first equestrian camp. He said his favorite part of the camp was riding the horses.

“It’s pretty nice getting an opportunity to ride them, which is something you don’t’ do every day,” Ronk said. “They’re pretty gentle creatures. I mean there’s no reason to be mean to them when they won’t really do any harm to you.”

Wright said from what she observed the children were having a fun time at the camp.

“They’re all kind of happy, bouncing around,” she said. “It’s like a release. They’re here for some fun activities because some of the kids go through really extensive therapies that are really not a lot of fun. So this is kind of a fun place to be. This is the good place.”

Three more EFMP equestrian camps are scheduled for July 30-Aug. 1, Aug. 6-8 and Aug. 13-15, all at the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Equestrian Center. For information on camp registration, contact JBSA-Fort Sam Houston M&FRC at 210-221-2705.