Kids and Horses – A Fun and Healthy Combination

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horse4By C.J. CHASE

Just a few miles from the bustle of vast shopping centers and multi-lane highways, Grassfield Sport Horses of Chesapeake provides Southside Hampton Roads residents with a slice of country life. Grassfield Sport Horses is a full service equestrian facility specializing in the boarding, breeding, selling, and training of horses. The farm is home to 30 animals that cover the full range of equine breeds and literally every size and shape imaginable—from miniature horses to ponies to full-sized horses. Riders come from all over the area and range from toddlers to seniors.

Like many similar area horse farms, Grassfield Sport Horses offers a wide array of activities to the public including lessons in all styles of riding, summer camps, and a saddle club. However, barn and education manager Courtney Culpepper demands more. “My big thing is to keep youth active.” Culpepper, who currently lives in the Greenbrier area, was born and raised in Chesapeake and has been around horses her entire life. Her goal is to see kids step away from technology and get outside—and get dirty.

Kids with the Sheriff

Kids with the Sheriff

Youth learn about barn work and horse care by doing it. Saddle club members earn their riding privileges by cleaning stalls, filling water buckets, sweeping, raking, and pulling hay—to name just a few of the chores necessary for the proper care of horses. During summer camp, they receive hands-on horse care lessons through a visit from a farrier and a veterinarian. They even get to see an ultrasound on one of the pregnant mares. Grassfield Sport Horses currently has eight foals due to arrive in the spring of 2014.

They can also participate in parent-child trail rides that encourage family bonding. “Parents appreciate how it develops the full person.” Culpepper claims even parents step in and help out with barn chores!

Lillian McKay (11), pictured here riding a thoroughbred mare named "Chunk," spends four (and sometimes more) days each week at the farm. Lillian has been riding for four years.

Lillian McKay (11), pictured here riding a thoroughbred mare named “Chunk,” spends four (and sometimes more) days each week at the farm.
Lillian has been riding for four years.

Members of the club don’t need to buy their own horses. They can use one of the farm’s horses suitable to their riding experience and ability. “We have plenty of horses,” says Culpepper, everything for the novice as well as the competitive rider. The facility includes an all-weather indoor riding area, a cross country course for jumping, and over 800 acres of trails for horses and riders to explore.

Prior to coming to Grassfield Sport Horses, Culpepper concentrated on breeding horses, but a serious injury in April caused her to re-evaluate her focus. Culpepper, who credits her interest in and work with horses in her youth with getting her through some very difficult times, decided she wanted to make an impact on the lives of kids. That led her to her current job. “Horses were my therapy, and now I’m using them to give back.”

Caring for horses teaches responsibility and builds confidence. Developing a relationship with a horse is therapeutic, especially for kids going through difficult situations. And besides, a child who is holding the reins to a 1,000-pound animal can’t be texting.

Culpepper also uses the horses to develop teamwork and sportsmanship. “I’m really big on no bullying.” Young people learn to work as a team and to delegate to get the chores done. Furthermore, they have to keep up their grades, practice good manners and maintain a respectful attitude to keep their riding privileges. And members love it. They have set themselves the goal of developing into a huge saddle club.

Mackenzie Mobbs (11) of Chesapeake rides Harley, an American Quarter Horse. Mackenzie spends three days per week working and riding at the farm.

Mackenzie Mobbs (11) of Chesapeake rides Harley, an American Quarter Horse. Mackenzie spends three days per week working and riding at the farm.

This interest in helping youth led Culpepper and Grassfield Sport Horses to a partnership with the Children Today Leaders Tomorrow (CTLT) program founded and led by Chesapeake’s sheriff Jim O’Sullivan. CTLT works with Chesapeake youth to develop leadership skills, learn responsibility, and encourage academic excellence through sports, mentors, and community service. (The Citizen of Chesapeake’s June 2013 issue has more information about the CTLT program.)

“As sheriff, I see a lot of negative things,” said O’Sullivan. But of his work with CTLT, he says, “its fun!” By autumn, CTLT hopes to have in place a program with Grassfield Sport Horses that will allow kids to ride but also require participants to get out in the barn and work. “I’m looking forward to getting our children out there,” said O’Sullivan, who is a big advocate for getting youth outdoors to “work hard and play hard.” CTLT youth ride at Triple R Ranch in Chesapeake in the summer, and O’Sullivan has seen them learn valuable lessons. Horses are “big and strong,” and for children who haven’t been around them before, often intimidating. Overcoming one’s fears and bonding with such a large animal builds confidence.

O’Sullivan listed his two great outside-the-office passions as (1) protecting seniors and (2) interacting with youth. Interestingly, his partnership with Culpepper will allow him to cultivate both areas simultaneously through the miniature horse therapy program.

Miniature horses share the same proportions as full-sized horses. Ponies, while usually falling between horses and miniature horses in size, also have a different structure. There are currently three minis (all less than thirty-three inches tall) with the purchase of twenty more currently in progress.

Courtney Culpepper helps two-year-old Kinley Grace Morgan of Chesapeake ride Meadow, one of the farm's miniature horses. No age is too young to start!

Courtney Culpepper helps two-year-old Kinley Grace Morgan of Chesapeake ride Meadow, one of the farm’s miniature horses. No age is too young to start!

Why so many? Culpepper is currently working to create avenues to use the minis as therapy animals in nursing homes, a growing trend across the country. Many residents are from a generation that grew up on farms, and equine visitors elicit happy memories. Culpepper calls this a “full circle” approach where the elderly and youth share stories about farming. O’Sullivan notes that many residents suffer from common age-related disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. “I truly believe the therapeutic value of that will be amazing!”

Culpepper also has a pony party business available to provide rides at events such as children’s birthday parties. In addition to the ponies, Culpepper also brings a full-sized horse to the events so adults who want to get in on the action can ride too. But beware! Riding can be addictive, and that pony party today might lead you to a hot, sweaty job in the barn tomorrow.

And if you are like the youth who work at Grassfield Sport Horses, you’ll love every minute of it.

Grassfield Sport Horses is at 1641 Shillelagh Road, about four miles south of the intersection of Dominion Boulevard and Grassfield Parkway. Courtney Culpepper can also be reached via her Facebook page.

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One Response to Kids and Horses – A Fun and Healthy Combination

  1. Courtney Culpeper Reply

    July 31, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    Thank you Baxter Ennis and CJ Chase for this wonderful article!

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