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Fall Horse Camp Teaches Youth the Cowboy Life

Horse camp participants help David Antone and his team load the calves into his horse trailer after they were branded and tagged; the youth make a wall and noises as the horseback riders try to drive the calves back into the trailer.

On September 13 to 15, the Salt River Rodeo Committee hosted a three-day Fall Horse Camp for more than 20 youth ranging in age from 7 to 17. The camp provided horsemanship training and featured a number of motivational speakers and horse professionals.

The camp started on Friday afternoon as campers arrived at the campsite, then spent time petting and feeding the horses. As evening approached, the campers gathered for a roll call, introductions and reading of the camp rules before dinner.

On Saturday morning, the campers started off the day with a prayer run to pray for their families, friends and Community. Following the run came breakfast and motivational speaker Steve Saffron, who talked to the children about how their attitude could make a difference in their life if they made positive choices.

Following breakfast and Saffron’s talk, the youth were invited to help Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member David Antone and his crew tag and brand three calves. Some of the more experienced youth took on the task of roping the calves on horseback.

The camp continued with presentations by Ana Cuddington of the Scottsdale Community College American Indian Program; Jessica Wellington of Gila River, who presented on autism; and SRPMIC member Jessica Ruiz, who taught the young girls the traditional O’odham game of toka.

After lunch, the youth had two presentations and took part in dummy rope training. Following their hard work, they were hosed down by the Salt River Fire Department. Everyone had the chance to hold the fire hose and spray their peers.

Each evening ended with the youth feeding and watering the horses, dinner and bedtime.

On the final day, following their morning routine, the youth were invited to join the “Tools of Yesterday” presentation given by SRPMIC member Royce Manuel. Manuel shared his knowledge of making bows, arrows and traditional burden baskets.

“I have been to the horse camp 10 times over the last five years,” said participant Sivilik Stepp. “I have learned how to stay safe out here in Arizona, especially … outside; we have to drink a lot of water. I also learned how to saddle a horse and to respect my elders. My favorite part is the calf tagging and branding; they bring calves and we catch them in the arena and we brand them.”

The camp is open to all Community members. Some members from the other O’odham tribes come out and participate as well, explained Brian Gewecke of SRPMIC Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Range Management. Gewecke played a major role in getting the campsite ready for the three-day camp by cleaning out the horse manure and relocating snakes. He also fed the wild horses near the campsite so the children could see them up close.

As with previous years, the goal of the horse camp is to help teach children how to deal with life’s obstacles in a positive and healthy way. They learned how to respect and care for not only the animals, but also their peers and adults.

“We do this for our uncle, the late Emmet King, who was one of the founders of the horse camp,” said Horse Camp Committee member Andrea Stepp. “We hope that the things we bring to the kids through this horse camp will help them know that there are things out there for them to do. The kids enjoyed the activities that were provided to them, from the bow and arrow making to Steve Saffron’s mentorship presentation. They love working with the horses. We hope they get more involved with the cowboy lifestyle.”

The camp ended with a closing prayer and the “Going Home” song, a traditional O’odham song sung by SRPMIC member Bruin Reina. The next horse camp will be held in the spring of 2020.

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