PRESTON — “Happily exhausted after finishing up our first session of the Time To Ride program at the farm with Positive Strides,” said Kim Hopkins last week as smiling youth said goodbye to their horse companions. “Nothing is more fulfilling than witnessing the joy and curiosity in the faces of our riders as they journal, ride and learn about horses and themselves!

“They thoroughly enjoyed having our Bella participate as a live canvas so they could express their artistic talents,” Hopkins added.

The pilot program, funded by a grant from the United Way of the Lower Shore, combined history and art and science education with riding horses to provide fun and engaging activities in an outdoor setting at Timber Grove Farm in Preston, for children ages 7 to 14. While the program was run in Caroline County, eight students from Dorchester County participated.

Hopkins partnered with Harvesting Hope in Cambridge to select the eight students chosen to participate. Transportation was provided by Shore Shuttle services via another grant.

The first class was held in 2020 just a week before COVID forced everything to close, Hopkins said.

“We had really wanted to bring a program to fruition for at risk youth,” she said, adding they were very excited to be able to pick up where they left off at the beginning of this season.

At the end of April, riders and volunteers were welcomed back to Positive Strides, for the first time since COVID, for the re-opening of their therapeutic lesson program.

All lessons were aligned with Maryland State Department of Education Social Studies Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and the Maryland Environmental Literacy Guidelines. The lessons were based on a curriculum guide provided by The Maryland Horse Industry Board – Horses for Courses.

With the support of volunteers, Hopkins was in charge of riding that consisted of safe and exciting close encounters with therapy horses, and LeeAnn Hutchison coordinated lessons using the HFC curriculum. Sarah Focht, a fine artist from Ridgely, was the invited speaker to conduct the lesson on The Art of the Horse.

Helmets and riding boots were provided for all students; the helmets were theirs to keep and maintain. The first introduction to the farm included safety rules and appropriate behavior around horses. By the second visit, students were in the saddle.

Pre-assessment and post-assessment tools, as well as student and parent/guardian anecdotes and journal records were used to measure the success of the program. Data from these tools will be provided once they have been compiled and data analysis is complete, Hutchinson noted.

In addition to learning to ride, students participated in several lessons including: the Equine Landscape, history of horses in Maryland, different horse breeds and their purposes; the Healthy Horse, horse anatomy, equine veterinary care, horse behavior, relationship to human health; Sporting Horses, use of math skills to measure horses in hands, equestrian activities; the Art of the Horse, horse markings and colors, history of equine artists, equine illustration, designing and painting helmets; and Careers with Horses, careers in equine industry.

“Lee was really able to tie the lessons in horse health into individual health and really helping those students them learn about themselves and how they can be healthy and maintain a healthy environment,” Hopkins said.

Hutchinson said, “It was great to see the relationships develop between riders and horses. Learning to muck stalls made a big impact, and the girls really took pride in the job and demonstrated appreciation of how your surroundings being clean can contribute to your overall health.”

“Journaling was also a really enjoyable and positive overall experience,” she added.

Hopkins said she hopes they are able to continue to follow with these particular students throughout their school career. But the biggest need at the present is funding.

“We can help so many kids from area schools, and have the potential to make a great impact on tri-county students through partnerships with local schools,” Hopkins said. “For many of them, school is their most solid place. COVID made that more apparent than ever.”

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Positive Strides uses horses to provide life-changing therapy to residents of the Eastern Shore with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges. Our programs help young children, teens, adults, veterans and seniors build their confidence, self-esteem, feelings of competency and independence.

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