Equestrian Division Offers C.I.R.C.L.E.S. Program for At-Risk Youth

Among the many summer programs William Woods University’s world-renowned equestrian program will be offering over the summer, the first to take place is C.I.R.C.L.E.S. summer camp.

C.I.R.C.L.E.S. (Community Inner Reach: Children Learning Equestrian Skills) will be held on campus June 1-5. The program focuses on at-risk children within the Fulton School District. Twenty students, all fourth and fifth graders, were selected as this year’s participants. In addition, six previous campers will return as junior counselors.

According to Linda McClaren, WWU assistant professor of equestrian science, “They are selected by school teachers for being at-risk and for the potential benefits this camp could provide them.”

C.I.R.C.L.E.S. is a free work-to-ride exchange program. Participants will spend four hours a day in the barn. They’ll perform stable chores, such as feeding, washing horses and cleaning stalls, for two hours. Then they will spend the remaining two hours learning to ride.

The youngsters will be divided into two groups. The first 10 will arrive for the 8 a.m. to noon shift and the other 10 for the 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. shift. The equestrian division will bus children back and forth, if they have no means of transportation.

“The program is designed to teach kids, with skills of care and riding horses, that education should be fun and rewarding. They get a big charge out of riding these horses. Most do not do well in school, but this [program] carries into their schoolwork. They know what it feels like to succeed now and it gives them confidence to try new things,” McClaren stated.

On Saturday, June 5, the last day of camp, the fourth and fifth graders will entertain family and friends by riding to music with a routine they create over their week at camp.

Every year C.I.R.C.L.E.S. provides participants with t-shirts, activity books and disposable cameras. At the end of the week, McClaren collects all the cameras, develops the film and gives the pictures back to the children to remember their summer camp experience.

McClaren says that youngsters benefit greatly from the program: “It makes a big difference in their self-esteem, provides a big boost to their confidence.”

Eight William Woods equestrian students and graduates will be instructors for the C.I.R.C.L.E.S. camp, but two new counselors will join them. Former participants Mario Lawson and Amber Johns are returning as teaching instructors.

Lawson inspired the C.I.R.C.L.E.S program when, at age 9, he approached the university’s equestrian division, offering to work at the barn in exchange for free riding lessons. Now, five years later, veterans Lawson and Johns will have the opportunity to teach what they have learned in their five years of riding experience.

McClaren is excited to have Lawson and Johns teaching alongside her eight instructors. “Mario and Amber have been a great help and have really grown through the program. I’m looking forward to them helping us teach.”

Over the five years that William Woods University has offered the C.I.R.C.L.E.S. summer camp, McClaren has only seen improvements. “It grows every year with regard to how many kids come back as junior counselors . . .(and) we’ve got more community support.”

Among the community supporters this year are Dollar General Co., Inc., Erdle and Wood Home Improvement Center, Inc., and Bourn Feed and Supply, Inc.

The cost to sponsor a child is $250. For more information on how to sponsor a child or how to support C.I.R.C.L.E.S., contact McClaren at (573) 592-1101.