It is late morning on a warm and slightly muggy day in July 2012 and a half-dozen children are gathered around Allison Mills and her horse, Doc, at the Stables at Meadowood in Lorton, Virginia. “How much do you think Doc weighs?,” asks Ms. Mills. The guesses range from 50 to 1,000 pounds and the children are a bit amazed when Ms. Mills tells them that 1,000 pounds is an accurate guess. This hands-on opportunity to learn about horses was organized by the Lorton Community Action Center (LCAC) and CAS Company Management Services, LLC, the business that manages the Stables at Meadowood. The “Pony Time” class was offered, at no charge, to children of local military families who are stationed at Fort Belvoir and served by LCAC.
During the two-hour program, children learn about the food and shelter needs of horses, their anatomy, aspects of grooming, how to behave around horses and how to feed them a treat. Each child had the opportunity to pet Doc, brush him, learn how to inspect a hoof, and lead Doc around the paddock. The children’s enthusiasm and excitement of interacting so closely with such a large animal is evident when one young girl raises her hand and asks “May I give Doc a kiss?”
Before taking a lunch break, each child took a short ride (with stable staff walking alongside holding a lead) around one of the outdoor rings. Children had the choice of riding Doc, a 14 year old American Quarter horse, or Pal, a mellow fellow at the wise old age of 32. (Yes, that is old for a horse!) Jailyn’s response when she got up into the saddle on Pal – “Wow, he’s a big horse!” The “Pony Time” class is not about learning how to ride a horse, rather it provides an avenue for young children to get “up close and personal” with a horse in a supervised setting and understand some basic horse body-language and why horses behave in certain ways.
Mills comments that she remembers being a “horse crazy kid with no horse! So anyway I can share, I am happy to!” She offers the “Pony Time” class as part of a business model to paying clients; however, she has offered it free of charge for other groups, including a Head Start program in Fairfax County where funding was an issue and for a group of students from a high risk high school in Greenbelt, MD. Mills said that “If there is a need for low cost or free classes like these, I plan to look for some funding or grants through the horse community.”
LCAC and the CAS Company are planning to offer other free “Pony Time” sessions in the coming months. “This class provides children a chance to gain confidence, learn new skills in a setting that they otherwise may not have access to, experience one of the most beautiful farmland spaces remaining in southeast Fairfax County and spend time with their family,” said Linda Patterson, LCAC’s Executive Director.