Horses make big impression on ‘littles’

Newfane stable offers free lesson to kids participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters

NEWFANE — Big Brothers Big Sisters, the nation's premiere donor- and volunteer-supported youth mentoring organization, is galloping to connect more kids with the equestrian activities it offers at Winchester Stables on River Road, saying those who've tried it overwhelmingly love it.

According to Rob Szpila, third-year director of BBBS in Brattleboro, partner organization and fellow nonprofit Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center has been extending his charges free hourlong riding lessons every Saturday afternoon since the beginning of November.

Four new children are allowed to ride each month, receiving instruction on how to safely and confidently ride and maintain a horse.

“The response has been unanimously positive,” Szpila said. “These kids feel so lucky to have this opportunity.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a 100-year-old nonprofit organization offering a variety of enriching activities for kids between 6 and 17, particularly children growing up in difficult circumstances.

“Littles” are assigned a mentor, or a “Big,” Szpila said.

“Growing up is hard, and most kids enjoy having someone special in their life to do things with them, and share life experiences with them,” he added.

Four Littles participated in sessions at the Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center in November, and they each were excited to ride horses for their first time, Szpila said.

Little Kierra Hoague was so excited to ride that she even researched the subject before meeting her steed, and arrived well prepared.

“It's a good thing I read my horse care book before coming,” she said.

The instructor showed the children how to brush their horses, how to read their “visage” to determine their mood, and how to walk them around the ring, to build rapport, before they start riding. By the end of the lesson, Kierra and her horse, Spot, had reportedly developed a tight bond.

Kierra's mother, Dee Kellom, said the program is a definite hit with her family.

“Kierra's been wanting horseback riding lessons for years, but this is the first time we've been able to give them to her,” she said.

According to Lorna Young, director of SVTRC since 2010, this partnership benefits her organization and the members of BBBS.

“I thought this would be a nice partnership and a great way for kids to enjoy horses in a safe, controlled environment. These Littles might not have been able to [ride horses] otherwise and it was a great way to spend time with their Big,” she said.

According to Young, SVTRC funds these projects through a variety of development efforts, such as their recent holiday silent auction. Most of their money comes from grants and collaborations with other community-minded organizations, she said.

Young explained that her mission is to “reach into the community to help more people experience the wonderful world of horses.”

“Horses provide someone for these kids to trust and bond with. They give unconditional love. The participants learn about horse behavior so they can effectively communicate with the horse, they learn about horse care and the sport of riding. It can help improve self esteem, confidence, balance, coordination and problem solving,” she said.

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