By Grace Oborne
If your child is bored of participating in the same activities, hold on to your horses, because Abbey Gardens has a program that will be exciting and different for everyone.
Every Friday, for about an hour, starting at 11 a.m., Abbey Gardens invites children and their families to join pony trainer, Lesley English, to learn about Ojibwe horses on a guided hike in a program called Pony Trekking.
“Families will learn all about Ojibwe horses, which we have two of. They’ll come into the paddock and will be introduced to the horses so that they get to know each other. This sometimes incudes a grooming session. Then the children and families will take the ponies out for a walk in the fields and forest while asking any questions they have about ponies,” said program coordinator, Cara Steele.
All children have to be at least five years old to participate in the Pony Trekking program. If children under five would also like to participate, there is a modified program called, Kids Rein, where younger children must be accompanied by their parent and only spend time with the ponies in the paddock.
There are three different ponies that children can choose to work with. Maple and Sammy are the two Ojibwe horses and Flapjack is the miniature Appaloosa. Many children tend to gravitate towards Flapjack because he is smaller.
“We generally let the family or participants decide who they want to work with of our three horses that we have. Some people naturally gravitate towards Flapjack, because he’s little, he’s the smallest, but all three of our horses have very different personalities. A lot of times we notice people gravitating kind of to the horse that best suits them, which is really interesting for us to watch,” said Steele.
Pony Trekking has been a program that’s been around at Abbey Gardens since 2019. Luckily, with the pandemic, Abbey Gardens has been able to keep the program running with only few modifications made.
“Group sizes are now smaller, and it has to be one bubble or family unit. We’ve also enhanced cleaning protocol. Everything is sanitized before and after. We do screening protocol before our participants come, and that’s about it. In terms of the experience the participant has, it is going to feel very similar, it’s actually probably going to be a little nicer because it’s just you and your family on the trek.”
The fee for Pony Trekking is $12 per person, for a one hour experience. However, Kids Rein is $30 per parent and child for a shorter experience. Kids Rein ranges from about 30-45 minutes.
Abbey Gardens believe that it is important for children to learn new things and to be outside, especially after the past few years of COVID-19.
“Abbey Gardens has been committed to offering safe outdoor experiences as much as we can depending on what’s going on. We just believe that getting that connection with our horses, getting outside, and making memories with your family, is so important all the time, but especially right now,” said Steele.
“Pony Trekking also encourages children to be confident and to become leaders. Horses are herd animals, so if you’re walking a horse, and you’re not taking a leadership role, your horse is going to do just that, because they need a leader,” she added.
“We always find when children do these programs, not only are they getting kind of a nice connection with a horse, we notice really just their confidence increases throughout the session.”
Pony trainer, Lesley English, and Abbey Gardens’ volunteer team come in and conduct training exercises to prepare ponies for any programs that they’ll participate in with children.
English will bring in umbrellas, rain coats, or anything that could potentially scare the ponies. They’re introduced to new objects they might experience with children during program sessions so that they don’t react poorly around children.
Most children who participate in Pony Trekking, already have an interest in ponies. From the program, their interest grows and they tend to join Abbey Gardens’, Taking the Reins summer camp.
“I think it’s a nice way to introduce kids to horses. A lot of the people who are coming out tend to be families where the child has expressed an interest in horses but maybe they haven’t done anything with them yet. It’s a nice way to make sure their child’s interested and then maybe after a pony trekking they’ll move up to taking riding lessons somewhere or getting involved with our horse camp,” Steele said.
For more information or to register, visit www.abbeygardens.ca/product/pony-trekking-august-dates/.