Camp Jared helps kids with special needs find the freedom of riding a horse. It was the dream of Ky Smith, owner of Equine Company of Alabama, and Jennifer Head, then a 16-year-old girl with spina biifida and big dreams.
Published: January 27, 2013
By: Carol Muse Evans
It s a hot July day in Alabama when Ky Smith, owner of Equine Company of Alabama, is hosting his first special needs horse camp, “Camp Jared,” at the home of Donna and David Kellis in Columbiana.
Smith picks up and puts down a large piece of plywood over and over so that his rider and co-founder of the camp, 16-year-old Jennifer Head, can make her way to the center of the corral to mount her horse. This repetitive action is necessary so that Jennifer’s wheelchair doesn’t bog down in the dirt.
Jennifer was born with spina bifida and has lived her 16 years plus in a wheelchair. Yet, since age six, she has always ridden horses.
“During the last month I have been able to learn to ride without a backrider using a customized saddle,” Jennifer says. “Riding a horse helps my upper body strength and balance, which makes it easier to do transfers in the car, to the bed and makes it easier to dress myself and do other things. It also gives me a lot of confidence.”
Jennifer and Smith met at Harrington Equine Hospital this past May when Dr. Jud Easterwood invited Jennifer to observe surgery. Jennifer and Smith talked and he learned Jennifer’s dream of having horse camps for special needs kids, Jennifer’s mom, Vyckie Head, recalls.
Smith specializes in lessons and training for horses and riders, he says, “And the discussion began because Vyckie asked if I could teach Jennifer to ride. I sort of suggested the camp to Jennifer off the top of my head, half joking,” Smith recalls. “But it didn’t take long to get serious about it.”
“I asked Ky if he could do lessons with Jennifer…because she wanted to ride independently and learn everything she could about horses…Within three lessons, she was riding without a backrider,” Vyckie says. And Jennifer’s dad, Tim Head, of Jodie’s Tack Shop in Odenville customized a saddle that allowed Jennifer to balance and control the horse without the assistance of a backrider.
Vyckie says Jennifer always wanted to take riding lessons, but the waiting list for most places, because of her special needs, was 18 months to 2 years. When Jennifer and Vyckie shared this with Ky, he immediately said, “Let’s do one.” So Camp Jared was born, the brainchild of Jennifer and Smith. With the help of sponsors and volunteers, they made the first one happen in early July, followed by another on Aug. 6. More are planned for this fall.
The camp is free thanks to sponsors, including Smith’s own Equine Company of Alabama, Judy Smith, H & M Mechanical, Jim & Nick’s Barbecue, Aliant Bank, Consolidated Pipe, Harrington Equine Hospital, Grounds Unlimited, Professional Engineering, Brown Lumber Company, Lisa Biggs and Bobbie Head and a number of great volunteers, Smith says.
For information on getting your child involved in a future one-day camp at Camp Jared, contact Ky Smith at 205-516-1379 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.