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Equine Camp fosters youth personal development

Children groom horses during an Equine Camp on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Sept. 17, 2016. The Grand Forks AFB Exceptional Family Member Program sponsored the camp which supported development in self-esteem, self-confidence and team building by encouraging children to interact with horses through different activities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elijaih Tiggs)

Children groom horses during an Equine Camp on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Sept. 17, 2016. The Grand Forks AFB Exceptional Family Member Program sponsored the camp which supported development in self-esteem, self-confidence and team building by encouraging children to interact with horses through different activities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elijaih Tiggs)

Children begin Equine Camp activities by walking horses on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Sept. 17, 2016. The Grand Forks AFB Exceptional Family Member Program sponsored the camp which supported development in self-esteem, self-confidence and team building by encouraging children to interact with horses through different activities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elijaih Tiggs)

Children begin Equine Camp activities by walking horses on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Sept. 17, 2016. The Grand Forks AFB Exceptional Family Member Program sponsored the camp which supported development in self-esteem, self-confidence and team building by encouraging children to interact with horses through different activities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elijaih Tiggs)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- The Exceptional Family Member Program partnered with Walk by Faith Therapeutic Riding and Riding on Angel’s Wings to offer a horse camp here Sept. 17.

The youth who attended the event were encouraged to interact with the horses as a way to promote self-esteem, self-confidence and team building. These skills were developed through having the children guide horses through obstacles built and organized by attendees, using chalk and water to create drawings on the horses, and grooming the horses.

Kelly Painter, 319th Force Support Squadron School liaison officer, said due to the overwhelming response of those who enjoyed last year’s equine camp, she applied for a grant through the Air Force Personnel Center to make it possible to provide the experience again this year.

While no new information has been disclosed about the grant’s availability for next year, Painter and the school liaison office have provided a great resource for those who participated in the camp for the past two years.

The EFMP is designed to provide support to military family members with special needs, but they provided this camp as a unified program to have all children work together for the opportunity to learn and make friends.

Kristen Schwarz, Walk by Faith Therapeutic Riding center director, believes faith played a major role in the equine camp as the children are interacting with horses and expressing themselves.

Schwarz said faith is knowing you have the confidence to do something, and sometimes it takes her team a while to get the children to believe in themselves to interact with horses, but after a while the children begin to feel they are comfortable enough to try new things.

While children who attended this camp were not timid about being around horses, having faith in being able to work well with others is an area that had to be worked through. Working as a team was a critical part of the camp’s activities.

Bette Shipley, Riding on Angel’s Wings executive director, founded RoAW in 2002 and has worked with Walk by Faith Therapeutic Riding to provide opportunities for personal growth and development through equine-assisted therapy.

Shipley said the program offers the opportunity for military families to work through problems, foster healthy communication, and it establishes a safe zone for children.

The children had the opportunity to use creative expression in the obstacle course they organized and guided the horses through, and also when they made drawings on the horses of family traditions or what their families meant to them. The children interacted with the horses with trust and kindness.

“The children have the freedom to express themselves through the horse and with the horse,” said Shipley.

As long as the grant is available, Painter’s goal is to continue offering the camp.

“The group of people we have coming here are amazing with children; they have a heart to help all kids,” said Painter.