Sarah Parks Horsemanship celebrates 15 years of summer horse camps

 

 

When Sarah Parks reflects on her life-long love for horses, she is happy to say that is one passion that she has never outgrown.

Parks melded her passion with purpose in 2003 and ran her first summer camp, offering a “nature-centered week of horseback riding, self-expression and adventure.” She is now proud to say that 15 years later, over 100 children per year experience the “powerful impact” of horses through her camps and programs.

“The best advice I ever received was to start small with quality programs and build your business from there,” said Parks.

Parks added that one of her most proud moments has been her collaboration as a community partner with Firehorse Leadership Organization, who specializes in developing their power-packed leadership curriculum and programs through the art of horsemanship. Relationship, communication, awareness, presentation and responsibility are all taught at their camps.

“The best part,” she said, “is that the horses are the greatest teachers of this.”

For her first camp, Parks recalls owning two horses of her own and having to borrow more from friends to run her riding sessions. As the success of her riding programs has grown, so has her herd, reflected by the nearly 30 horses and ponies that now call her sixth generation farm home.

“We have horse and ponies here of just about every breed,” she said. “The diversity is wonderful and a great example to the kids that just because a horse is designated with the label of a certain breed, it doesn’t necessarily make it any better than the others. Each horse is looked at as an individual; strengths and weaknesses included.”

A group of students from a recent camp presented by Sarah Parks Horsemanship and Firehorse Leadership Organization gather for a group photo after a recent show.

“All of our animals have their own story,” she continued, “meaning their life experiences and learning prior to them coming here. For many horses and ponies who are deemed with behavioural problems, we are often the last stop before the auction sale for owners who have exhausted their ability to handle them. Many people come here and say ‘I can’t believe how gentle and well-behaved your ponies are!’ The irony is that very few of them arrive that way.”

Garnering a lifetime of experience in the saddle, Parks assesses each animal and then customizes their training program from there. Students at her County Road 20 ranch have observed that time, patience, kindness, consistency and assertiveness are key factors in developing a horse to their potential. With the right training and guidance, Parks said that changes in a horse’s behaviour can be instantaneous.

“It’s an incredible lesson for our students, who see what would be deemed a ‘problem’ horse when they first arrive, and then quickly see a quieter, more respectful animal after being worked with. They learn that a horse isn’t necessarily ‘bad’ as often times they have simply not had someone invest the time and effort into them. Students are reminded that the same lesson also applies to people,” said Parks. “We all come from somewhere. Our background is a collage of our history and previous life influences. Our job is to keep adding to that collage with elements of compassion, empathy, boundaries and responsibility – all of the things that make a well-rounded horse and person. These are also important parts of our camp leadership facilitated by the Firehorse Leadership Organization.”

Hunter Baribeau, a 2018 camp leadership mentor, said he started out at Sarah Parks Horsemanship many years ago as a participant of her after-school riding program.

“From what I remember, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” he said. “Riding horses is fun, but what made it so awesome was all the staff and volunteers because each and every one of them were so kind and fun to be around even if we were cleaning manure.”

Baribeau said he started volunteering there because he enjoyed it and that eventually led to a paid position.

“The team at Sarah Parks Horsemanship is so fantastic that they make this job so amazing. I wish it wasn’t just a summer job and there is not a single person here at this ranch that I don’t like. Every single one of them is just so nice to not just the participants, but also their fellow volunteers,” he said.

Several young participants of the most recent camp also shared their endorsements.

Participants and volunteers recently put on a show at a horse camp at Sarah Parks Horsemanship.

“I think that Sarah Parks and Firehorse Leadership Camps are amazing!” said Isla Ciarlariello. “It is amazing because Sarah has so many horses and ponies and each week the instructor picks a pony or horse to take care of for one week.”

Ciarlariello added that people from around the world come to the camp, citing example of one student coming from Tokyo.

“My favourite thing about my pony is her personality,” added Bristol Topham. “I learned how bathe a pony. My favourite thing about camp is my pony.”

JoJo Bezenah said her favourite part of the camp is making new friends and riding, adding that Sarah Parks Horsemanship “is so fun that I want to come to her camp every year. There are a lot of games and ponies and all the things are fun.”

Savannah McGuire said she learned how to bathe a horse and said she likes the chores around the farm as well as riding the ponies.

“My favourite thing about horse camp is that we get to ride,” said Edith Klinger. “My favourite thing about my horse is that she is gentle.”

Savannah Thomas said she loves learning new skills and making new friends, noting her favourite horse to ride is “Raggedy Anne.” The horse is “so sweet and great for me,” she added.

For more information on their camps, call 519-324-7986 or visit www.firehorseleadership.com/sarah-parks-horsemansnhip. Their Facebook page is www.facebook.com/Sarah.Parks.Horsemanship.

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