Inaugural Spring Ranch Camp Allows Kansas Blind Students to Learn Horsemanship

Through a partnership with the Foreseeable Future Foundation and Envision, Inc., students from the Kansas State School for the Blind learned the basics of horsemanship.

Camp Wood has been a fixture in the Flint Hills of Kansas for over 100 years. A small group of farmers, businessmen, teachers and other visionaries set out to provide youth and their families access to healthy living through summer camps and other year-round activities.

Based on the belief that one size doesn’t fit all, the staff at Camp Wood offers a variety of camps ranging from week-long overnight stays to mini camps for small children. Activities include archery, swimming, boating and horse camp.

Traditional camps aren’t always an option for blind and visually impaired children. Through a partnership with Envision, Inc. and a group of women from Wichita State’s Delta Gamma Fraternity, Camp Wood has been the setting for Heather’s Camp, an annual event offering activities for blind youth ages 7-18. The idea is to provide hiking, swimming, horseback riding and other traditional camp activities in an inclusive environment.

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But the staff at Envision, which strives to improve the quality of life of all blind and visually impaired individuals, wanted students to learn horsemanship as well. While Heather’s Camp offered horseback riding, it did not cover the basics of bonding with and caring for a horse.

“One of the best things we can do to support students is to provide them mainstream experiences that are made accessible for them,” said Hannah Christenson, Envision’s director of community programs. “(We want to) work with community professionals, people who have specific skills in areas like horsemanship or other areas maybe we don’t have expertise in, and help them understand what it’s like to work with somebody who’s blind and visually impaired. That ultimately leads to amazing experiences for our students.”

Christenson contacted Foreseeable Future Foundation CEO Griffin Pinkow, who provided funding for a separate spring camp devoted to teaching horsemanship. The staff at Camp Wood enthusiastically agreed to host the event, which was named Heather’s Camp Ranch Weekend.

Each spring, the Kansas State School for the Blind hosts a Trailblazers Weekend, where middle school and high school students spend time on campus participating in recreational and leisure activities related to a specific theme.

When Christenson approached KSSB inviting them to partner with them and Foreseeable Future for the ranch camp, the school was happy to accept. Envision and KSSB had worked together on a previous project, so merging the two camps together made perfect sense. The event took place March 31-April 2.

“We really appreciate that partnership with Envision,” said Pam Arbeiter, who works on KSSB’s Field Services Team. “They have unique things they do as an agency and so do we. When we can partner together, it’s really nice. We were able to come together and create something unique.”

A total of 22 students from KSSB participated in the three-day event. Over 20 volunteers consisting of Envision and KSSB staff, along with young women from Wichita State’s Delta Gamma Fraternity, allowed for 1 on 1 interaction with each student.

“Having that 1-to-1 partnership increases safety for the kids to be able to participate in all of the activities,” Arbeiter explained. “We don’t have to prevent them from doing things because they have that support person alongside them to make sure that whatever’s happening can happen in a safe environment.”

During the horsemanship activity, each student was introduced to their horse and learned about the necessary riding equipment. They then mounted and rode around the arena before going on a short trail ride. The lessons, typically taught over a period of days for sighted children, were condensed into several hours. Arbeiter praised the Camp Wood staff for their ability to adapt.

“They really took a lot of time with our students and were able to do more intensive work from start to finish so our students could understand the whole piece of what is happening.”

Depending on their comfort level, some campers simply learned to brush a horse while others wanted the full experience of riding. Volunteers were available to walk alongside and assist in getting on and off the horses. Campers were allowed to pet and feed apples to their horse if they chose.

Some students had ridden horses before, others had not. But one thing was clear: they each came away with a positive, memorable experience.

“I must say that horseback riding was a very fun experience,” said Abrienda, a KSSB student. “It brought back some childhood memories. 

The horse trotting was very interesting. I really enjoyed rock climbing too.”

Addie, another student, said, “I liked all of it. I liked the adventure. I also liked how helpful and descriptive everyone was.”

The biggest takeaway for Arbeiter was seeing each student enjoy the bonding and camaraderie that comes with participating in a fun event with their peers.

“Being in a rural area in Kansas, you don’t always get to be around someone who has a visual impairment. That is always poignant at our events. The students want to be with their blind peers and want to have those shared experiences.”

Since this was the first Heather’s Camp ranch event, Arbeiter hopes the experience has laid the groundwork for more in the future.

“We are so grateful for Griffin and the Foreseeable Future Foundation because they made this weekend possible. I love their mission and what they’re doing. We’re grateful that Hannah was able to connect us.”