Equestrian camp gallops off ‘with a hitch'

News photo by David Barr Matti leads Amy on horse, Mac, during her lesson.

This was the first year for the Shady Hollow Assisted Riding mini-camp and it almost didn’t happen. “We didn’t really have a lot of interest, so we considered canceling,” Program Director Michele Cooper said. But at the last minute, local moms called Shady Hollow and pleaded to have the camp. Cooper had planned on having two kids at the most, but there was a turnout of five kids, which was a surprise.

Shady Hollow hosted a full camp in June, with the days lasting from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Instead of having a full camp this time around, Shady Hollow decided to have a mini-camp with the day lasting from 9:30 - 11:30 p.m., essentially cramming five lessons into one week. The camp, held July 15 through 19, was for children ages 6-12 with the experience levels ranging from none to quite a bit of time spent on a horse. Monday and Tuesday were the “classroom days” where the campers were introduced to the barn and the equipment and the horses. They learned about the rules of the barn, getting familiar with the horses, the different breeds of the horses, grooming instructions, and tack and other equipment. Wednesday through Friday were riding days where the kids put all their time spent learning on Monday and Tuesday to use and show off their abilities.

Shady Hollow started in 1998 as a non-profit organization for therapeutic horseback riding by Tony Giangiacomo. According to Cooper, her father “felt a need to give back to kids.” They would offer lessons to individuals with physical, mental, or emotional special needs. Now they have expanded to include horseback riding lessons for individuals without special needs, and learning opportunities for children of preschool age up to 1st grade. “They did research on this type of therapy and it went from there,” she said.

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The camp and the entire business wouldn’t be possible without all the volunteers who donate their time. According to Cooper, 90 percent of the help at the business is volunteer-based and their biggest need is volunteers. Two of those volunteers, Savannah Baller and Rachael Ewing have been riding at Shady Hollow since they were in elementary school and want to help others have the same experience that they had.

“I want to give them what the barn gave me,” Baller said. “They have so much fun,” Ewing said.

Other helpers at Shady Hollow include kids from the SafeGuards Foster Care of Reading, Pa. in a summer work program. These kids help the company by taking care of the property and cleaning up the land, from weed-wacking to pruning trees and repairing fences.

Both Amaya Waller, 9, of Birdsboro, and Megan Salamone, 6, of Shillington, both agreed that they were looking forward to riding the horses the most out of all the things that were taking place at the camp, while Amy Ipsen, 6, of Exeter said she liked grooming the horses the most.

“Hopefully we’ll do it again next year,” Cooper said.