Though it’s just a stone’s throw away from civilization, walking up the long drive to Diana Camerin’s modest ranch provides instant peace and serenity.
Camerin’s abode, nestled in among the trees away from busy Willis Road, is the ideal setting for calm and quiet. Ideal for overactive kids to come and see the beautiful rescue horses roaming through the grass.
“If you have a kid that comes down the driveway, if they’re ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), you can hear them because they’re amped up, it’s new, it’s exciting,” Camerin says. “The horses will look up, the kid will come up (to the fence). It’s about asking them questions and getting them to observe their environment.
“A lot of ADHD kids are academically brilliant but their brain is going so fast that they can’t get (their words) out.”
The kids come to Camerin’s place as part of a program called Kidz Communicate which is limited to two 10-year-olds One boy has ADHD and another is autistic and they visit Camerin’s eight horses, five of which she rescued from the slaughterhouse.
But Camerin, a teacher at Timberline high school, wants to expand the program to accommodate more children with learning disabilities. She would like to turn a small house on her property into a classroom where kids can use computers to make scrapbooks documenting their day with the horses.
Camerin says the goal is to use the horses to assist the kids in their everyday lives.
“You want to take whatever they learn here and take it out,” Camerin says. “When you yell at people they walk away from you, so we talk in quiet voices – we never yell at the horses. Where you want to get to is that you never choose the horse, you make it come to you. So they’re thinking, ‘okay what makes people come to you? You’re kind, you’re generous, you’re quiet.’ That awareness of how they interact with the world is huge.”
According to horse trainer Franklin Levinson, it has been clinically documented that just being around a horse changes the brain wave patterns of humans. They have a calming presence and are therapeutic to both children and adults.
“Calming the brainwave patterns sets the brain up for learning,” Camerin says. “The Kidz Communicate program helps all children but especially children with learning challenges to learn to communicate more effectively. Because horses are fight-or-flight animals, the child also learns that, in order to interact with the horse, they must be calm enough to allow the animal to feel safe in their company.”
A typical session includes having the child brush the horse – and in the process understanding how their hair feels different from a horse’s mane – feeding the horse, and then working up to having the child lead the horse around.
“Children with Attention Deficit Disorder would magically focus on the horse for long periods of time when either grooming or leading the horse,” says Levinson in his book Way of the Horse. “Once they understood how to ask for and receive co-operation from the horse, their self-esteem went sky high.”
Camerin, who’s idea for Kidz Communicate was born from Levinson’s material, said getting the child to walk the horse through a series of obstacles is the ultimate goal at the end of the day.
“Here you have a kid that’s completely insecure moving around an 800 pound animal,” she says.
Camerin says she would love to be able to offer her program to more Campbell River kids, preferably those over the age of 10, and she’s in the process of writing proposals for grant funding and doing her best to fundraise.
Ideally she would like to hire two Educational Assistants to allow for initial one-on-one work with each child.
She’s also looking into putting an up an overhang over her barn so she can run the program mostly year-round.
“We’re starting small and seeing where we can go with it,” Camerin says. “It gives the horse purpose.”
And the same holds true for the children who get a reprieve from their racing thoughts.
“It’s always really peaceful here and it’s really quiet,” Camerin says. “It’s safe.”