Pictured from left, Laura Rollins, Gemma and Sassy Tails founder Sherry Brown welcome families to Camp McClellan horse trails on Saturday April 3 for an interactive event.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
The Back Country Horsemen of America McClellan Chapter welcomed families to Camp McClellan horse trails Saturday, April 3 to experience a day enriched with excitement and happiness. Through a partnership with outreach program Sassy Tails, BCHA hosted its first event in a series of efforts to provide children with unforgettable experiences that garner smiles on faces and joy in hearts.
Enthusiasm bustled throughout the equestrian campground in Anniston, which filters into an assortment of serene, wooded trails resting atop the former Fort McClellan army post. Children bounded from station to station, visiting the collection of activities manned by BCHA members.
The event allowed children the chance to interact with horses and ponies under the supervision of professionals, free of charge. Laughter abounded as children participated in led horse riding, grooming and painting. At one station, guests could perfect their cattle-roping skills, while another encouraged fun games like bowling. If families wanted to relax for a spell and soak in the scenery, a wagon ride led by two mules toured the tranquil grounds.
BCHA McClellan Chapter President Jerry Roach collaborated with Sassy Tails founder Sherry Brown to bring the program to Camp McClellan horse trails. During high school, Brown discovered a passion for helping others while serving children with disabilities. She recognized a need throughout the community to provide children with the opportunity to grow and develop in a pleasant and loving environment. Inspired by her daughter, Gemma, who has Down syndrome, Brown’s desire to cultivate opportunities for Gemma and other children culminated in a nonprofit outreach program rooted in its community – Sassy Tails.
“The mission of Sassy Tails is to build something equine-related for these children and adults in this county and surrounding counties,” said Brown. “We’re not here to teach them to ride; we just want to bring a smile to their face, bring families closer together and share love.”
An avid rider, Brown’s love for horses proves a connection lifelong. She admires their kind nature and gentleness, noting that horses never judge children, they simply accept them for who they are. Drawing from Gemma’s own enjoyment of riding, Brown explored research that exemplifies how interaction with horses can result in life-changing developments for children, improving cognitive and social skills, confidence, behavior and endurance.
While Sassy Tails incorporates equine activities into its events for children, Brown hopes for expansion within the program. She aspires to offer other opportunities for children as they get older, brainstorming the implementation of horticulture in a possible greenhouse or hosting a camp out. Roach joins Brown’s vision for Sassy Tails’ future, striving to outstretch serving hands further into the community.
“This is not just about a bunch of people getting together riding horses,” said Roach. We’ve reached out to the community, we’ve done a lot of charities and Sassy Tails is going to be a priority here. It’s going to get bigger and bigger.”
BCHA member and Duck Springs resident Ponda Jones reiterated Roach’s emphasis on the group effort required to ensure the event operated smoothly. Jones and her husband Chad aided in the event’s preparation, traveling to Kansas to purchase a custom built ramp for the children to mount the horses safely. BCHA members Dick and Sarah Pritchett purchased the ramp, specially designed by Greensburg’s Ted Kyle. Northeast Alabama Mounted Services volunteers (former Etowah County Mounted Patrol officers) assisted with maintaining the children’s security during the event alongside BCHA members, while Anniston pediatric professional Dr. Tatiana Bidikov remained on site for health screenings if needed. Roach also commended the Calhoun County Commission, whose strong partnership with BCHA resulted in the horse trails’ inception and nurtures continuous support.
“This is a combination of a lot of people’s dreams,” said Jones. “Some of these kids don’t have the opportunity to see or touch a horse. It’s all about [the children] – to see the kids smile and have a good time. They’re so happy. They get so excited to interact with the horses and other kids. That’s why we do it.”
“We couldn’t do it if it weren’t for our membership volunteering,” said Roach. “It’s been a win-win for everybody. Today opened my eyes up. The kids, if they’re not even riding a horse, they’re playing. It gives them the opportunity to be with other children, and I think it’s as good for the parents as it is the kids. We’re going to use our resources and our time for these children with special needs who don’t have other opportunities.”
The Sassy Tails event marks the first chapter in a novel of community service BCHA strives to promote at Camp McClellan horse trails. With each new event, BCHA hopes to increase in quality and quantity for the community, expanding what the organization can offer and improving the methods through which the group gives back. While the initial event proved a success, Roach, Brown and all BCHA members plan to host future gatherings regularly in the future, spreading cheer and inspiring smiles on children’s faces, one act of kindness at a time.
“There’s always something to learn from a child, if you just take the time to listen,” said Brown. “These children have so much to share and these children can teach you so much. I’ve learned patience and understanding. My daughter inspires me every day. She’s what keeps me going.”