KART-Easter Seals

Marco Belperio instructs a group of campers from Camp Fairlee during a game of red light, green light Wednesday, Aug. 2. Horseback riding is part of the activities offered during the Easter Seals summer camp for children and adults with disabilities.

WORTON — In the open expanse of the ring, 14 campers from Easter Seal’s Camp Fairlee spent their Wednesday morning horseback riding at Worthmore Equestrian Center.

This activity, in collaboration with Kent Association for Riding Therapy, is among the programs that the summer camp offers for children and adults with disabilities.

With help from KART volunteers and Camp Fairlee counselors, the campers mounted horses and circled the ring, assisted by “leaders” — those who guided the horses — and side-walkers — those who walked alongside the campers — for support. They played red light, green light and learned how to use the reins to dictate the horses’ motions.

“People don’t realize the benefit of riding therapy, of therapeutic riding, is moving with the horse. [It] strengthens the muscle, improves the self-esteem,” Marco Belperio, PATH certified instructor, said Wednesday. “There is a strong benefit from the physical aspect.”

When the campers arrive and sign up for horseback riding, Belperio travels to Camp Fairlee to review the medical form to make sure the campers are fit to ride. He has to consider aspects such as weight limit, frequency of seizures and strength of the rider, among other things.

“Also to make the campers know me,” he added. “I’m fairly engaging, as you can tell, so when I see the riders, I want to try to make them know me.”

After, he decides on how to break up the campers into groups and which horses will suit their needs. On Wednesday, the 14 riders had 12 different disabilities, each requiring a different level of care.

Part of the support that makes the two-hour session possible comes from the camp counselors, said Belperio. They know their campers well and know when to guide or allow more freedom.

“I think they’re amazing,” he said.

He mentioned that the counselors come from all over the world, sometimes in medical school, studying psychology or physical therapy.

“Spending their summer here is a good experience for them to move on to their career,” he said.

Bart Stolp, a volunteer for KART, echoed the sentiment.

“Their dedication to these students amazes me,” he said.

From Australia, Laura Watt is five weeks into her first year at Camp Fairlee. She said that she is definitely coming back next summer.

“I think summer camp for disabled is a challenge, but it’s so rewarding,” she said while circling the ring, supporting one of the campers.

Watt works full time in childcare. Camp Fairlee caters to more adults, but she was still interested in the program and its initiative.

For her, it’s a nice break from the Australian winter and a chance to bond with other counselors and campers.

“You all come together and you leave as a family,” she said.

The camper Watt walked next to has severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, she said, but on horseback, he was much more relaxed.

“It’s so good. They get to do things they don’t get to do at home, ever,” she said. “Some of them come from homes, nursing homes or disability homes, where they don’t get to get in the pool or anything like that. But for five days, they get to do everything. It gives them a break, too.”

The camp offers participants a chance to canoe, climb rock walls, complete arts and crafts, experience a 300-foot zip line and, of course, ride horses.

Groups of five, four and five took to the ring at different times on Wednesday.

Today they will have an opportunity to come back again for a second lesson.

For summer sessions, said Leslie Price, president emeritus of KART, it isn’t so much about tracking the growth of the riders, as these campers have only a few opportunities to horseback ride, but about exposure and freedom.

“Just seeing the response from the riders, it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s incredible.”

For the KART volunteers, they’re rewarded by the excitement and joy, Price said.

On Wednesday, the reactions from the campers were all positive.

“It’s all smiling; they’re happy, they’re a lot calmer,” Watt said.

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