Cape Cod camp pairs military families, horsesBy HEATHER WYSOCKI , Associated Press
Jul. 21, 2013 5:31 AM ET
FALMOUTH, Mass. (AP) — Through a bit of horsing around, military families that attend a new camp will have the opportunity to tackle the deployment-related challenges they face.
"It's about being together as a family ... and being with families who are going through the same thing," said Kerry Bickford, of Marstons Mills, coordinator of the Cape Cod chapter of the nonprofit Operation Military Kids.
Families in Transition Camp will run for a week in August. Along with support groups and shared dinners, it will feature daily time with the horses at Smithfield Farm in East Falmouth.
After running a children's-only horse camp last year, interest from other family members led camp organizers to open it to other ages this year. "There are still so many families experiencing a deployment around here," Bickford said.
More than 700 children on the Cape and Islands are affected by the "deployment cycle," meaning they have a family member recently returned, currently deployed or preparing to deploy, according to data compiled by Operation Military Kids.
The August camp has space for 30 people, and preference will be given to families with members currently deployed or those who have recently returned.
Although it feels like play, spending time with the horses can actually be beneficial, camp organizers said.
"Working with horses is so magical ... they sense your anxiety, and they calm you down," Cynthia Jones, of Mashpee, founder of the nonprofit organization Heroes in Transition, said. Her group is helping to pay for the $295 per-person cost for the camp, which is offered at no charge to the families attending.
When the group got involved with Operation Military Kids, Jones — whose son, Marine Capt. Eric Jones, was killed in Afghanistan in 2009 — visited the stables and immediately felt better. "Carrying the grief and everything else ... life is a challenge. But going up to them, to nuzzle with them, it really is therapy," she said.
Smithfield Farm has an equine therapy program for physically and emotionally disabled people that includes work with a therapist and the gentle, intelligent American paint horses, owner Jan Foster said.
At last year's Operation Military Kids camp, many children started the week "frozen in their footsteps" at the sight of the large animals. But by the end, they were sending pictures to their deployed family members of their new friends. "You can see them just beginning to relax," she said.