Horsemanship programs cater to special needs

Horses

Special needs campers and their siblings enjoy activities outdoors at Camp Blessing.

By Cheryl Garcia
Contributing Writer

Population growth in local areas has expanded the need for services for those with special needs. Two local organizations that have been helping the disabled for several years are now getting the opportunity to reach more citizens thanks to additional resources provided by community donations, corporate sponsors, and more volunteers.

Camp Blessing has been providing a chance for disabled children ages seven to 18 to attend a specialized week-long Christian summer camp program since 2006. Campers pay a subsidized fee for the overnight camping opportunity where they can learn new skills, socialize and have fun without feeling “different.”

The camp was founded by Chuck and Jodi Ferguson, who wanted to give their autistic son to enjoy the same summer camp experience that other children have. This year Camp Blessing will have 364 registered campers, with 550 volunteers and 24 staffers helping to ensure their experience is something they will remember for years to come.
A unique feature of the camp is the sibling program, which encourages brothers and sisters of campers to attend with them. Special needs campers will take part in activities side-by-side with their camper sibling.

“We teach them their special needs brothers and sisters are a blessing from the Lord,” said Glen Elder, the camp’s Executive Director.

Siblings of campers that are 13-18 years old work in the camp as helpers, and those over 18 can be trained as counselors. In addition to catering to kids, one week of camping each year is dedicated to adult clients.

Camp Blessing has been renting space for its camp sessions from other camps, but it recently began building its own facilities on 70 acres of donated land in the Decker Prairie area. About half of the camp’s expenses are paid for by camp fees, and there are two annual fundraisers – a golf tournament in April and a dinner in the fall. For more information, contact director@campblessing.org.

Another local therapeutic riding program is SIRE, located just outside of Magnolia in Hockley. It was founded in 1983 by Cindy Lindh, a special education teacher who wanted to integrate the intuitive healing ability of horses with physical therapy to improve the lives of people with special needs.

At this time, SIRE has three locations, 15 full-time staffers, 16 certified therapeutic riding instructors, and approximately 400 volunteers. The organization treats more than 300 individuals, or clients, approximately two-thirds of whom are children.
According to Sabrina Strawn, Communications and Grants Manager, about 20 percent of the expenses are covered by tuition, with community support covering the rest. Most of the horses and two of the riding sites were donated, illustrating the importance of donations at SIRE.

Strawn became a therapeutic riding instructor herself after her husband suffered a brain injury that led him to SIRE for therapy. Later she began working in the administration side of the organization.

“I saw what a tremendous difference SIRE makes in the lives of everyone it touches, and I wanted to be part of it,” she said. She added that many of SIRE’s adult clients were not born with disabilities, but suffered brain injury due to accidents, war, strokes, or seizures.

“Therapeutic riding benefits all of them,” she said.

The main upcoming fundraisers for SIRE include a movie event at Vintage Park in Aug., the popular Saddle Up for SIRE Ride-a-Thon walk, run, and ride event in Cat Springs in Oct., and a Nov. golf tournament in Katy honoring veterans.
For more information visit the SIRE website at www.sirehtec.org.