Ute Springs Experiential Learning Center concludes 2015 camping season
EAGLE — As local kids return to their classrooms, the summer of 2015 is a mere memory.
For some lucky youngsters, those memories include magical days shared with equine companions during mountain adventures at Ute Springs Experiential Learning Center.
During its second year of programing this summer, Ute Springs served 139 campers at its site located southeast of Eagle along Salt Creek Road. The camp’s stated mission is to offer something for every age range from elementary school through high school.
“With a focus on social-emotional learning, campers will spend all day outdoors, experiencing new adventures, meeting new friends and working on academics in a different setting. The goal is for each camper to leave with a positive experience and an understanding of how to cope with new situations,” said the Ute Springs mission.
One mechanism for helping to realize that mission has been Ute Springs’ partnership with Mountain Valley Horse Rescue.
Base camp for the Ute Springs’ summer overnight program is at the Mountain Valley Horse Rescue property where 19 animals are currently housed. From there, groups travel throughout the valley during the day for adventures at Beaver Creek and Vail Mountain, fishing and boating. But it is the daily interactions with the MVHR animals that strongly resonate with campers as they pitch hay, haul water and groom the horses.
After all, is there anything more natural than kids interacting with animals?
Amy Ben-Horin is the co-founder and executive director at Ute Springs. She has her master’s degree in education with a concentration in adventure and environmental education for special needs.
“Our focus is on increasing kids social and emotional wellness,” Ben-Horin said. “The way we do that is kids have all these adventures over the week.”
So when they are furiously paddling a canoe in a circle, they are actually learning about communication and teamwork. When they approach a formerly abused animal, they learn about sensitivity and caring. Ben-Horin said the Ute Springs program is about recognizing kids’ strengths and building on them along with helping them uncover other emotional resources.
The kids naturally love hiking and swimming and boating, but there is something about the time they spend in the pasture or in the corral with the MVHR animals that touches their souls. They quickly learn the names of the horses and their temperaments and relish the one-on-one time they spend with the animals.
Take Annie, for example. She is a former polo horse who suffers from intense joint pain. But when a half dozen campers quietly join her in the pen with combs and brushes, she seems to relish their attentions.
Little Indy seems to think he is one of the kids. He was born at the MVHR site just a few weeks after his mother Rosie was saved from a slaughter auction. When the kids arrive to lead a pack of horses to the day pasture, the other animals eagerly move toward the gate. Indy makes his way to all the campers, greeting each one in turn.
Little Sparky the donkey brays his greetings when the kids make their way toward his pen because he knows that breakfast is on the way. Even Turbo the Ute Springs barn cat can’t seem to get enough of the campers.
“He is in the middle of everything, all the time,” said Rachel Solomon, program director at Ute Springs.
By the end of the season, Ute Springs campers will have learned some new skills and journaled about their experiences. And they will have made memories populated with horses and other critters. Ultimately, they will have grown as people and undergone a transformation. That’s what the Ute Springs website promises when it says, “We transform lives. We transform futures. We transform communities. We transform ourselves.”
To learn more about the Ute Springs Experiential Learning Center, visit http://www.utespringselc.org.
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Vail’s updated plans regarding the state guidelines and isolation housing requirements is one of several pieces of information guests are waiting on heading into the 2020-21 season.