It is late morning on a warm and slightly muggy day in July and a half-dozen children are gathered around Allison Mills and her horse, Doc, at the Stables at Meadowood in Lorton. "How much do you think Doc weighs?," asks Mills. The guesses range from 50 to 1,000 pounds and the children are a bit amazed when Mills tells them that 1,000 pounds is an accurate guess. This hands-on opportunity to learn about horses was organized by the Lorton Community Action Center (LCAC) and CAS Company Management Services, LLC, the business that manages the Stables at Meadowood. The "Pony Time" class was offered, at no charge, to children of local military families who are stationed at Fort Belvoir and served by LCAC.
During the two-hour program, children learn about the food and shelter needs of horses, their anatomy, aspects of grooming, how to behave around horses and how to feed them a treat. Each child had the opportunity to pet Doc, brush him, learn how to inspect a hoof, and lead Doc around the paddock. The children's enthusiasm and excitement of interacting so closely with such a large animal is evident when one young girl raises her hand and asks "May I give Doc a kiss?"
Before taking a lunch break, each child took a short ride (with stable staff walking alongside holding a lead) around one of the outdoor rings. Children had the choice of riding Doc, a 14-year-old American Quarter horse, or Pal, a mellow fellow at the wise old age of 32. (Yes, that is old for a horse!)
The "Pony Time" class is not about learning how to ride a horse, rather it provides an avenue for young children to get "up close and personal" with a horse in a supervised setting and understand some basic horse body-language and why horses behave in certain ways.
Mill offers the "Pony Time" class as part of a business model to paying clients; however, she has offered it free of charge for other groups, including a Head Start program in Fairfax County where funding was an issue and for a group of students from a high risk high school in Greenbelt, Md.
LCAC and the CAS Company are planning to offer other free "Pony Time" sessions in the coming months. To learn more about LCAC, visit www.lortonaction.org; to learn more about the Stables at Meadowood, visit www.stablesatmeadowood.com.