In the Saddle and for Life, Youths Ride Tall at Special Education Camp

  • Camp volunteers Michelle Schuller (from left), Tyler McDonald and Tim Schuller start a day at High Riding Art and Equestrian Day Camp by bringing three horses into a barn at the Hartford City farm where the equestrian portion of camp is based. (Photo by Don Rogers)

A farm in Hartford City, Indiana, became a hub of discovery and personal growth this summer for more than two dozen Blackford County schoolchildren as well as an immersive learning experience for 16 Ball State students.

For a week in June, the children interacted with horses and participated in art, movement, music and science activities as part of a camp designed to improve their communication and socialization skills, as well as their sense of trust and self-worth. The camp’s second week involved cooking and other activities at a nearby high school. Ball State’s students were central to all those experiences, guiding children on horses, playing games with campers and being a source of encouragement.

The High Riding Art and Equestrian Day Camp was started by Ruth Jefferson, an assistant special education professor, and just wrapped up its sixth year. The children who attend have various learning needs, and some are on the autism spectrum. The Ball State students, most of whom are elementary education majors, enroll in a special education class that involves teaching children with disabilities in a general education setting.

Jefferson, who was involved in special education in Blackford County before coming to Ball State, said the initiative began with a request for help from a former colleague who noted the lack of summer activities for that county’s schoolchildren with disabilities.

“And I was just going to volunteer my time, get it started, and then I thought, ‘This needs to be an immersive learning class,’ ” she said. “So it just evolved.”

Photos by Don Rogers
Reporting by Christopher Rickett