GALLOP program teaches kids to take the reins
By Steve Huffman
Stacey Carter is this week introducing a bunch of city children to a type animal they’ve likely before seen only in picture books or distant fields.
Those mysterious creatures are horses.
“It’s difficult to communicate to a horse what you want them to do if you don’t know yourself,” Carter said, giving a group of 10 or so teenagers a crash course on all things equine.
As Carter spoke, Miranda Lewis, 16, cracked a whip at the center of a covered corral at Saving Grace Farm. A filly, Lollie, circled Miranda, picking up the pace each time the whip was snapped.
“There’s no question about her assertiveness, huh?” Carter said, referring to the nature by which Miranda commanded the whip and, thus, Lollie.
“Don’t you think Lollie knows what Miranda wants?”
Carter is program director and equine specialist at Saving Grace and is this week leading a program titled GALLOP. It’s an acronym for Growing and Leading Lives of Purpose.
This week’s camp attendees are participants in Rowan Youth Services Bureau’s Times 2 Mentoring program. The teenagers are at-risk students who have been referred to the program by either the courts, their parents or some other community member.
Times 2 Mentoring is a program through which youth are matched with adult volunteers.
This week, camp participants are getting the opportunity to ride horses in a corral as well as command steeds along the trails there at Saving Grace. They’re feeding horses and generally learning that the mighty beasts aren’t as intimidating as they first appear.
But more crucial, the campers are learning the importance of relying on one another. And, in the process, they’re learning to rely upon themselves.
“It’s all about teaching self-confidence and self-esteem,” said Liz Tennent, Times 2 Mentoring’s program director. “It’s about forming strong relationships through teamwork.”
She said the lessons learned about horses can be easily transferred to life.
Having trouble with a friend or classmate? Maybe they just don’t understand what you’re wanting out of them.
“We like to encourage children to look for challenges rather than limitations,” Tennent said. “The camp teaches specific skills they can put to use in their lives.
“It’s not about horseback riding, it’s about relationships.”
Carter, the program director for Saving Grace, said much the same. GALLOP has been in existence for years and it’s not just students from Times 2 Mentoring who take advantage of the program.
Other groups working with disadvantaged children have had their charges participate, and Carter has even led a group of area business leaders through a condensed version where the importance of teamwork is stressed.
“Unfortunately, it’s geared toward kids who can’t pay, and the money to operate the program has to come from somewhere,” said Carter, noting that donations from a number of civic organizations have helped keep GALLOP afloat, though there’s always a need for additional funding.
During the course of Wednesday’s activities, students from Times 2 Mentoring learned that leading horses around the corral wasn’t that big a deal.
Though the whip never struck a horse, it was used to lead the creatures ó either through a pop or even by the manner in which it was held. When students wanted a horse to stop, they merely laid the whip at the center of the corral.
The creature would immediately halt, awaiting a friendly nuzzle. Carter told campers the lesson was another that could be transferred to life.
“Even 80 percent of what humans have to say is through body language,” she said.
Though Lollie trotted around an open ring without hesitation, she drew to a halt when a pole was placed before her.
Carter told the student, Tommy Estes, who was leading Lollie at that moment, that the pole should be regarded as an opportunity, not a problem.
The next time Lollie circled the ring, Carter told Tommy to crack his whip as the horse neared the pole.
Tommy did and Lollie stepped over the pole without hesitation.
“When we communicated more clearly, it was no big deal, was it?” Carter asked.