BRADENTON, Fla. - The slogan at Dream Oaks Camp in Bradenton contains words to live by: "Where the things that make us different make us beautiful."
The camp celebrates kids of all abilities, ages 7 to 17, and it turns out, some of the horses in the riding program are different, too.
Horseback riding at Dream Oaks Camp isn't just fun. It's therapy.
"That's why you always hear us saying, ‘Sit up straight. Sit up straight. Use your reins.' They're not just here for a pony ride. They're here to do some work," explained riding instructor Maryann Romanello.
So are the horses and they seem to know that kids depend on them.
"I feel like it helps me calm down more," said student rider, Zack, who was riding a genuine American mustang named D'Jango. "It gives me calmness."
Kathy Wolfe says 5-year-old D'Jango is unflappable, whether her husband is shooting targets from the saddle or carrying a vulnerable child through the woods.
"Things that would normally spook a lot of horses, I practice with these guys. Yell, scream, throw things, whatever, just so they're used to it," Wolfe said.
11-year-old Emalynn was riding mustang Tank in a special saddle.
"This is what we call an adaptive saddle for our wheelchair kids and what it has is a seatbelt configuration so that we can hold the kids in place," explained riding instructor-in-training Kalee Hartwig.
It turns out, Tank has quite the fan club.
"We have a few kids who consider him to be their favorite horse. I have one little boy who's very little verbal, but he can say ‘Tank' perfectly. Who do you wanna ride? Tank!" Romanello said.
Dream Oaks Camp uses three mustangs in its riding program, provided by Kathy Wolfe's organization, Born to Ride, and Prospect Stables.
Summer camp is over but weekend camps run all year long. Learn more at https://www.veryspecialcamps.com/summer-camps/Dream-Oaks-Camp-2100.html