Where learning to ride translates into self-confidence

Smiling, two participants in the Teri Davis Patane Memorial

The first day of camp is still more than four months away, but
it’s already time to get the horses ready.

We start working with them in the spring. We start riding them
to get them in shape,

Lon Davis said recently.

It’s a hot, steep ride through Coe in the summer.
The first day of camp is still more than four months away, but it’s already time to get the horses ready.

“We start working with them in the spring. We start riding them to get them in shape,” Lon Davis said recently. “It’s a hot, steep ride through Coe in the summer. Horses are herd animals, so we have to make sure they’ve been together and that we know what they will and what they won’t do.”

The preparation is for the Teri Davis Patane Memorial Horse Camp, a seven-day, sleep-away camp for kids in disadvantaged situations. In the past, this has included foster children, low-income children and children from single-parent households.

The camp for kids was created in memory of Teri Davis Patane, who died in October 1999 of systemic lupus at the age of 32. After her death, her father Lon Davis, her husband Carmen Patane and her brother Dustin Davis, came up with the idea of starting a non-profit horse camp that would be completely free for participants at Carmen’s ranch. In August 2000, thanks to the donations of friends and family, that idea was realized.

This August the camp will host its fifth group of kids, almost none of them with any horse experience. The kids show up at camp nervous and leave a week later as old ranch hands.

“They sure do have a good time. Most of them don’t want to leave,” Lon Davis said. “Last year. a couple of kids were skeptical at first, but by the time they left, everybody was riding and nobody wanted to go back.”

Davis said that many of the children want to return to the camp, but the small number of children that he can afford to host – only six each year – makes that difficult. He does allow children to visit and work on his ranch on Holsclaw Road.

Melicha Chavez, 16, of Gilroy, attended camp in 2003. She said she tries to work at the ranch every weekend, sweeping out stalls and brushing the horses. Her favorite is the buckskin, Danny, the horse she rode at camp.

“When other people try to pet him, he wanders away, but when I pet him, he stays until I leave,” Chavez said.

Chavez was like most kids who attend the camp. She was scared when she got there, but she now talks about becoming a horse trainer. She said the horse camp helped her feel comfortable around other people.

“I learned that I can be open with people,” Chavez said. “”I’m not open to a lot of people, but there I opened up. It was a really good experience for me.”

Chavez said that Davis has taught her a lot about communicating with horses.

“You have to give commands loud enough for the horse to hear, and give them clear signals,” she said. “When you stop, you go, ‘whoa, stop.’ “

Davis said the idea of the horse camp came easy to him and his son-in-law. One of his daughter’s great joys, he said, was giving horse riding lessons to kids and taking them on trail rides.

A two-night camping trip in Henry Coe State Park is the highlight. The kids arrive on a Sunday, ride around in an arena for a few days, and by Thursday they’re on wilderness trails. The operation relies heavily on volunteers and donations. It takes a lot of food and time to care for the horses year-round, and for every child riding in Coe Park, there’s at least one chaperone.

“It’s tiring as heck, but it’s worth it when you see these kids riding on the last day or two,” Davis said. “These kids, their lives are so screwed up. These kids have gone through stuff most of us wouldn’t think about. Anything that helps these kids feel good about themselves is a positive influence. Controlling these big horses is a big thing for them.”

For details on the the Teri Davis Patane Memorial Horse Camp, including how to apply and information on making donations, visit their Web site at www.tdphorsecamp.com, or call 842-0004.

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