Fourteen students at Silver Spruce Academy are better equestrians now after completing a seven-week riding and horse care course with Horse EmPower.
Silver Spruce provides enrichment activities for area homeschool students at locations in Bayfield and Ignacio.
Working with horses teaches youth problem-solving skills, communication, collaboration and self-esteem, said Kim Hardesty, the owner of Horse EmPower.
Some of the students in the equine program have special needs. One who has difficulty speaking really enjoyed the wordless communication with a horse, said Amanda Williamson, a teacher at Silver Spruce. One child who cried and wouldn't ride at the start of the course is now handling horses with aplomb.
On Dec. 13, the students presented an equine show to family and friends that they designed themselves, with lines of horses weaving through Sky Ute Downs. The students also decorated their mounts with Christmas finery.
The first time through, the older kids led younger students riding the horses through the pattern. Then for the finale, the older students rode the horses on their own.
The show did have a few glitches. One boy barfed right before they were scheduled to start.
Another girl was moping and said she missed her mom. Teachers kicked some dirt over the vomit and told the girl she would be OK, and the show went on.
Everest Shubert, 11, said his favorite horse is Taco, who is getting older and is probably the gentlest animal in the group. He liked learning how to get the tack on Taco, and how to rein and trot while riding him.
Horse EmPower provided five horses for the classes. Older students worked with the younger ones on learning how to handle a horse.
"Breathe!" Hardesty reminded the riders as they prepared for their program. "Focus on where you're going!" Getting kids off phones and electronic devices is a great way for them to learn new things, Hardesty noted.
Working with a horse also gets participants out of their comfort zones. In addition to working with youth and non-profit groups, Horse EmPower hosts corporate retreats and workshops for families and other groups.
Three foundations helped pay the fees for the course: the Ballantine Family Fund, LPEA Round Up Foundation, and the Homeschool Foundation. Williamson hopes to raise some more money in 2017 to offer the course for teens enrolled at Silver Spruce.