Twelve girls attending Katie Johnson’s July 22-26 Calvary Horse Camp at the Grant County Fairgrounds in John Day saddled up on horses including appaloosas, quarter horses, a pony and a Kiger mustang.
This is the second year Johnson, a 16-year-old Mt. Vernon resident, has held the camp for girls who are in foster care as a way to help them gain confidence as they learn to ride and care for the horses.
Learning from the Bible, singing and fostering friendship is also a part of the program.
The girls come from Lakeview, Baker, Salem and other Oregon cities, including one youth from the local area.
On the first day of camp, the girls, ranging in age from 10-13, were paired with one of 15 horses.
“They come down, pick a ribbon from a helmet — there are 15 colors of ribbon,” Johnson, a home-schooled high school junior, said. “Their horse has the same color in their mane, horse tack and pen.”
Most of the girls are given nicknames.
A girl nicknamed Chocolate was paired with Houdini, Ginger rode a horse named April and Jellybean was paired with Georgia, aka “Georg-eous.”
Saralyn rode Kiger, a 25-year-old Kiger mustang, which is a wild horse that has been domesticated.
Kiger was gentle, as were all the horses at the camp.
“She likes to eat carrots and anything I hold out for her,” Saralyn said.
Ginger said pole bending went well with her horse, April.
“She listened this time,” Ginger said.
She and others said they’ve enjoyed the camp.
“You get to do more activities than just riding a horse,” Ginger said, noting she especially enjoyed the slip ‘n’ slide at the park and swimming.
“I like that they actually care about you,” Chocolate said of the camp leaders.
Johnson was impressed with how the returning girls have grown, including Kiera who warmed up to her horse quickly and was trotting on it the first day.
“She’s just blossomed,” Johnson said.
Julie Bowling of Canyon City taught the girls to ride, along with Johnson, and was among at least 35 volunteers helping throughout the week. There were also others who provided food and loaned their horses to the group.
“It’s nice to see the girls come back and see how quickly they become comfortable again,” Bowling said. “They’re supportive of the newer girls — they’re a good group.”
When Johnson was younger she wanted to serve a mission in Mexico and later realized a great need close to home, she said.
Operated through her family’s nonprofit called Double J Ministries, the camp is supported by fundraisers.
When campers are not at the fairgrounds arena, swimming or playing games at the park, the group gathers at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship where they sing and have worship time.
A camp with horses was a natural move for Johnson — she said she loves horses and kids.
“When I was little, I was obsessed with horses,” she said. “Horses are just a magnet for girls.”
Johnson said the horses are an example of trust.
She said the horse trusts the rider, just as people can trust in God.
“The horses trust, even when they’re terrified,” she said.
She said horses can also teach about relationships, as shown in horses’ attitudes when they are treated well versus when they are mistreated.
Johnson said having a group of girls who are in similar circumstances helps them relate to each other.
“It’s easier to minister when you’re with people who understand you,” she said. “God understands what these girls are going through — that’s key for them, that God really does understand.”