Area camp empowers people with disabilities through horse therapy

Campers and parents at the Fowler Center for Outdoor Learning watch therapeutic riding course. (Photo: Courtney Wheaton)

MAYVILLE, Mich-- For the last 60 years, The Fowler Center for Outdoor Learning has given people with disabilities the chance to learn new skills.

For campers, it’s a rare opportunity to learn independence, spend some time away from parents and make new friends.

Twenty-seven-year-old Kristen Teschenndorf has down syndrome. She’s participated in therapeutic riding here since 2011. Every year she spends a week at camp. and Her parents say they’ve seen her grow in ways they never imagined.

“I was apprehensive the first time I brought her to camp, but as it turned out she loved it and cried when I tried to come get her. She didn’t want to leave her friends, said her mother, Christine Teschendorf.

Like Kristen when John Clare saddled up, he found a home away from home.

The 21-year-old has autism and doesn’t speak much, but his parents say the joyriding brings him is written all over his face.

“I can just tell he’s more confident ... It’s nice to see people saying hi john hi john and him say hi to all of his friends," said his mother, Jean Clare.

The camp's equestrian trainer, Mary Kate Anthony says activities like therapeutic riding, tending to the farm and caring for animals not only increases their social skills but their overall health.

“It increases motor skills, their cognitive abilities. It forces them to think ahead to get that horse to do what they want it do," said Anthony.

Horse riding isn't the only activity offered the center, there are cooking courses as well as outdoor living just to name a few.

Whatever tasks the campers decide to tackle while here .. each one of them is empowered to put their best foot forward.

Eager to share their next accomplishment with their loved ones. The learning doesn’t stop here at camp or with the campers.

“My students teach me every day. They teach me It’s okay to be different because they don’t see things the way we do or the acne on my chin, they see Mary Kate and say that’s my best friend," said Anthony.

To learn more about the Fowler Center or to get a camper click here.

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