Kameriah, 9, timidly backed away from the stall where Chrissy, a horse with a coat that looks like Oreo cookie ice cream stood. She’d never been close to a horse and wanted no part of Chrissy.
“I’m scared,” she said.
So the volunteers at Fieldstone Farm, a therapeutic horsemanship center in Bainbridge Township, went to work. They got Kameriah to walk next to Chrissy — albeit six feet away — but watched her retreat once again when they asked if she wanted to brush the horse. Tears welled in Kameriah’s eyes. This was supposed to be her first horse-riding experience, and it wasn’t happening.
Then came another suggestion: Would she want to help her friend, Jaliyah, comb her horse, Dillon? “OK,” she said softly. Side-by-side, Jaliyah and Kameriah gently brushed the mane of the horse. Then a volunteer brought in a spunky reinforcement, Willie the Shetland pony, whose smallish, less-intimidating stature was just the right size for Kameriah. She brushed the pony and even braided his mane – big steps for a little girl who just minutes earlier looked ready to leave.
She took an even bigger step 15 minutes later – over Chrissy’s back and onto the saddle.
“I did it!” she said.
Kameriah, who lives in Cleveland, is one of more than a dozen inner-city kids who were recently exposed to horsemanship at Fieldstone Farm thanks to the support of Footpath Foundation, a nonprofit that provides outdoor experiences for youth who might otherwise not have them. The kids were members of Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland’s A.J. Rickoff Club.
Footpath Foundation President & CEO Mary Macias, who witnessed Kameriah’s struggles and triumph, said experiences in nature and with animals help kids reach their fullest potential.
“When the tears silently started flowing down her cheeks, I could feel her fear,” Macias said. “I asked if I could hug her and she said, yes. We took a deep breath together and a took a step toward the horse. Then, the volunteers and Jaliyah stepped in. After riding Chrissy she turned to me and said, “I faced my fear and overcame it!” I told her how proud I was of her and asked her how she felt. She beamed and said, ‘Good. Brave.’
“Kameriah will never forget that moment. She will forever remember the time she rode a horse for the first time and how she felt overcoming her fear. This moment was life changing. Kameriah now will remember what it feels like to overcome fear and she will know that she can overcome obstacles she will inevitably face as she grows up. These are the moments Footpath gives kids.”
Footpath is a nonprofit organization that provides the outdoor experiences all kids need to become productive and resilient adults. The organization believes every child should have the opportunity to reach his or her fullest potential in life. More information about them can be found on their website at: www.footpathfoundation.org or Facebook.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland provides safe, fun places for kids ages 6-18 after school at 13 locations throughout the city, focusing on healthy lifestyles, academic success and character development. Each day, about 1,000 kids attend a Club.