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An equine education

A group of more than 40 children traveled in small herds around the Ohio University Southern Horse Park on Tuesday.

Members of the Youth Empowerment Activities group participated in therapeutic horseback riding.

The program is based on the 40 developmental assets and the eight domains, Mollie Stevens, prevention and development manager at the Family Guidance Center, said.

“Basically we provide adult and youth mentors for the young people, constructive use of time for them,” Stevens said. “We have boundary expectations in our guidelines (to teach the children) to not put people down and they’ll be respectful. And also, just to have a safe place to be for the summer and to keep them out of trouble.”

Kelly Hall, coordinator of equine assisted activities for OUS, said the children who are participating in YEA this summer will learn more than the daily operations of the horse park.

“Horses are herd animals and so are we,” Hall said. “ Horses teach valuable lessons on being in the moment, slowing down, not going too fast, being patient, respecting each other’s space. They just teach a lot of life skills in responsibility and self- care.”

Hall said children gain confidence through riding horses.

“I’ve had several of these kids tell me they have never ridden a horse before,” she said. “It is very empowering to get on a 1,000-pound animal and tell it what to do, and have it do it. It’s a big self-esteem builder.”

Lauren Morris, a 9-year-old girl who attends YEA said she is afraid of horses.

“They are really big,” Morris said. “I will get older and I will get use to them.”

She said she stayed home with her mother and grandmother for past summers and went to the pool, but this year she attended YEA because she does not have anything else to do and her friends are participating, also.

Cierra Brown, a 10-year-old girl who attends YEA, said she enjoys the activities the program offers and she learns something new every day.

Ashley Ferguson, a 16-year-old volunteer said she has seen some children change in the few weeks the program has been in session.

“It teaches them respect and discipline and important things they should learn in life,” Ferguson said. “It makes them excited and realize they can do whatever.”

Stevens said day programs for children are essential to healthy growth and development.

“All of our kids are at risk in this day and time and they need some place to go so they feel safe. And, it is structured so they can grow to be productive adults,” she said.

YEA is funded by the Appalachian Children and Families First Council, Access to Better Care and the Lawrence County Juvenile Court.

Prevention specialists and support staff from the Family Guidance Center along with other volunteers, staff the activities.

Spare Time Recreation, Community and Message Makers are upcoming activities, Stevens said.

Message Makers is a program where children select negative lyrics from a song and change them to positive lyrics, Stevens said.

She also said transportation to the activities is provided through Ironton Public Schools.

The activities are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lunch is provided for those who attend and tuition is free.