With Horse Boy play dates, children & families utilize crafts, games & horses to enjoy each other & learn in a fun environment. Each month, a team of volunteers rally around families in an outdoor setting with children that may have autism or depression. The volunteers prepare horses, offer crafts and follow the interest of the children.
As a volunteer, we arrive early in the morning to organize our fun day. We prepare horses for families in the craft area and the arena. The horses are groomed or properly tacked. One big untacked mare is ready for her first family. Our sensory horse loves being doted on and waits patiently for someone to crawl on her back. I chuckle to find the adults are the ones to use this massive draft for sensory work. I’ve personally witnessed a dad fall asleep on her back so relaxed & peaceful! We have miniature ponies in our craft area. They are groomed and ready to be used as a blank canvas for children to paint. Lots of little hand prints fill the ponies coats with red, blue & yellow paint.
The sand arena is set up for our tacked horses to carry children & adults in games such as jousting, water gun fights & playing tag. The family has a blast keeping up with each other riding their 4 legged friend.
The craft area is set to entice children’s interest. Last spring, we set up twigs & twine for children to build mini-shelters. Also, we held boat races at the creek after the children constructed their sponge boats. In the summer, we set out clear glasses for the children to fill with water. They could add food color and make musical clinks on the sides of glasses if they wished. This fall, we had it available for the children to trail ride & hunt for bird seed. Once they gathered enough from bowls hidden in the brush, they could make pine cone bird feeders. It was such fun to watch the children glob peanut butter over their pine cone & dip it into the birdseed they collected.
It’s never been mandatory for any child to go through stations that we offer. We have seen firsthand what it means to follow the child’s interest. This winter, my volunteer sidekick was my son. He was tasked to help where needed & during his down time he spent crafting LEGO robots. A little girl with depression was visiting, but her anxiety was so high that she could not bear touching the horses nor participate in the creative stations. Instead, she came inside the lunch room with her mom. During this time, my son talked with her about his robot creations. It was the first time this little girl made eye contact during her visit. Another play date fell on a rainy day at the farm. My son involved on this day did not choose to ride horses for this event. Instead we set up water gun fights around the horses in the barn. Without mounting, this interaction incorporated playing with the child through the elements of rain & water guns.
During our Horse Boy play dates, we utilize mounted & unmounted time with horses, engage the child with tactile crafts, and follow the child’s interest. As a volunteer, it enriches my life to see precious moments with families. These families are offered a place where it is non-judgemental & a place to feel love. It is a blessing to help, learn from, teach & love these families on play dates.