It's back in the saddle again or maybe for the first time. But before taking the reins, a few preliminaries must be performed, such as combing the horses, picking their hooves and cleaning the stalls. None of those tasks bother 9-year-old Carina Barnes of Hopewell. Those are all part of the drill of summer riding camp at Little Neshannock Stables in Wilmington Township. Carina was with a group of Girl Scouts attending Camp Elliott for one week. The campers spent three hours daily learning the ropes of being an equestrian. In this quiet, woodsy setting, it's understandable how a rider can easily forget that time quickly goes by. Stables owner/program director Mary Roach McKinley ensures each group learn all the proper elements. "This is the optimal place to ride," she said, noting there are both indoor and outdoor arenas. "Riding teaches respect, self-esteem and self-confidence, and we're always geared toward safe practices in mind with the animals." Riding camp is also about creating memories for the kids so that when they're older, they can look back to those good times, McKinley elaborated. "The riding facility is providing an outlet for horse-crazy boys and girls to learn about the animals they have a passion for." Besides the horses, friendly dogs, cats and a goose roam the premises, making this an ideal place for animal lovers. In the barn, two young people were assigned to groom a horse. Instructor Mackenzie Renz kept an eye on the activities. "Horses like you and can be really nice," Carina offered. Her favorite horse is Belle, a gentle brown and black animal. Latrobe resident Melanie Perna, 16, said this was her first experience at the stables, but has been to horse camps before and knows how to ride. "I enjoy the feel of being on a horse and it's fun to walk the horses around the arena." Today, she rode Chance, another gentle and handsome brown giant. Nearby, two Scouts combed Barney, a retired Amish buggy horse. Riders often bring carrots, apples and peppermint candy as treats. In a corner stall, Shaevaughn Goode, 11, of Conway, Pa. and Jessica Landis, 16, of Murrysville gave horse Jon-T a good once-over. "We love horses," Jessica said, smoothly moving the brush over the silky coat. Shaevaughn, who grew up with horses, has been riding since she was very young. Girl Scout counselor Pam "Pearl" Laughlin said the campers learn a lot at the riding sessions and develop a closeness to the horses. At the inside arena, four Scouts wearing special safety helmets rode slowly in various patterns. The girls are at beginning level, learning to first just walk the horses and then trot, McKinley said. Later, obstacles courses are set up. Riders are required to wear long pants and shoes with a heel such as boots. As the four riders circled the arena, Mackenzie coached them to sit straight in the saddle, since posture is very important, McKinley said. "This is all positive reinforcement with the kids. The instructor is like a conductor with an orchestra and must deal with several different things at once." Once she dismounted, Ellen Harris, 11, of Wexford said, "I've loved horses for a really long time and admired them from afar. You feel like you're something special high up and you know the horse is your friend." As for grooming, "You're doing it for the horse and the horses are doing so much for you already." That's love. There's more going on than just learning about riding at this summer camp and it all takes place in a stable environment.

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