Growing up I never owned a pet. I was always told Mom didn’t like cats and Dad didn’t like dogs so there were going to be no pets in our house. The reason we couldn’t have a rabbit or fish or hermit crab was never fully explained to me, but the point is, I didn’t grow up with a furry (or scaly) companion. My friends would talk about how their animals were part of their family and when they had no one to talk to their dog or cat would always listen. I always believed them, I was glad they had this companion, but I never really understood how you could feel that close to an animal or find comfort in their listening ear when they don’t really understand what you are saying. Then I moved to Heartland.
I came to Heartland in September after being offered a spot in the Cornerstone Internship for 2017-2018. I was, and still am, in awe of the beauty of Heartland and I can imagine the laughter and joy that fill the fields and the trails during the summer months. One goal of this internship is to provide the interns opportunities to learn about and work in all the elements of retreat and camping ministry and at Heartland that includes caring for the 20 horses that call this place home. From feeding them to administering medication to tacking them up and leading a trail ride I am slowly learning how to care for these beautiful creatures. But my favorite times with the horses don’t occur when I am on the clock. I live right here at camp which means I have a 320 acre backyard with 20 horses just up the hill. Its moments when they don’t need to be fed or cared for and I’m not technically working that I find myself hiking that hill just to spend time with the horses.
The horses listen when I’ve had a bad day or I’m frustrated and need to vent. The horses listen when I’m so excited about a conversation I just had with friends or family or when I simply want to practice speaking a language other than English. In my first few weeks before I really knew the staff here, the horses were there to listen and make me laugh. They let me hug them and rub their necks and their noses or just simply be with them and take in the beauty of the nature around us. All of a sudden I understood what my friends had been talking about for all these years: a furry companion, a relationship with an animal. Upon my first time meeting them I felt a connection with these big creatures and a greater connection with the beauty of creation that surrounds us.
During the summer every camper who comes to Heartland gets the opportunity to ride a horse. To experience God’s creation while atop one of God’s most beautiful creatures. Horse campers have even more of an opportunity to build a relationship with “their” horse as they learn not only to ride but also to groom and tack. Even campers who don’t get to come to Heartland often get an opportunity to ride when our horses go on field trips to visit Traveling Day Camps. While a forty minute ride is a little bit different than three months of feeding and care, Heartland campers are also getting an opportunity to experience God’s creation through his creatures and that connection you form the minute you Saddle Up!
As the winter season approaches, our minds are shifting towards Summer 2018 when we want to continue to provide every camper with an opportunity to Saddle Up! and connect with God’s creation through interacting with and riding a horse. As camp continues to grow, in order to continue these relationships we are looking to purchase five more horses. During #GivingTuesday on Tuesday, November 28 and Wednesday, November 29 we will be hosting the Fall 48-4-Heartland: Saddle Up Campaign to raise money for these horses. Stay connected with us on Facebook and Instagram to learn how you can be a part of this campaign and provide more opportunities for campers to connect with God’s creatures!