Confidence and skill aren’t normally adjectives used to describe youth.
But as 10 young equestrians led their four-legged charges out of the Wildwood Farm Stable in northwest Forsyth and readied them to ride, a calm confidence was tangible.
As the Wildwood Farm riders had their riding lesson Thursday, more than 20 kids from the 4-H Club day camp program looked in amazement, all part of a program that shows local kids different agricultural and skill-based activities in the summer.
According to group leader and 4-H Extension Agent Jack Lowery, they hope to take summer vacation time and use it to continue teaching kids about the world and what possibilities the future might hold for them.
“This is going to teach them life skills that they are not going to learn in the classroom,” he said. “They are going to learn how to take care of another living creature, which is a huge responsibility lesson … They are going to learn a whole different industry in agriculture that they aren’t really going to learn much about in the classroom.”
Lowery said they decided to pair 4-H campers with Wildwood Farm equestrian students so they could learn from one another and see that it takes to be a “horse fanatic.” According to him, 4-H has its earliest roots in the mission of agricultural education, but in the years since it has transformed into teaching other real-world skills kids will need in the world.
“I always tell people, if you know what BETA Club and Boy Scouts are, we are the two combined,” he said. “We are teaching kids all about what it takes to be a functioning adult.”
That’s where they say the confidence and skill come into play.
“It empowers them,” said Hannah Zapletal, owner of Wildwood Farm, pointing out at the equestrian students who have spent the week at her camp.
Zapletal said that over the last few days she has seen the students grow more confident when dealing with the huge animals. At the beginning of the week, many of the students had never even seen a horse in real life, let alone ridden and been in control of one.
“It gives them the responsibility of being empathetic to another creature that is bigger and more powerful than they are,” Zapletal said. “And in turn the animals are quiet and obedient to the children.”
She said that given time, that confidence and empowerment will strengthen them.
Forsyth County 4-H intern Alyssa Pawlik said she was once in the camper’s shoes, and in the years since has become the embodiment of what the program is about.
Beyond being the current Forsyth County 4-H intern, Pawlik is a former 4-H student, a Wildwood Farm equestrian and a long-time horse owner.
She said that in the eight years of owning and caring for her horse, Luke, she has gained confidence, responsibility, patience and a marketable skill.
“It’s a big commitment to have a horse,” Pawlik said. “It’s not like a dog that you can have at your house. Just feeding them isn’t enough. They are athletes, not just pets, so you have to keep them in shape and keep them groomed and bathed.”