Unique horse-focused preschool and kindergarten program thrills Ottawa children and parents alike, writes Samantha Ball.
It’s an adorable combination sure to melt anyone’s heart: young children interacting with ponies.
Is it any wonder Beatrice de Vries, the founder of Horses Enriching People, which offers a specialized preschool and kindergarten program, enjoys her work?
“I love the kids and I love the ponies. I love my job. This isn’t work for me,” says de Vries.
Horses Enriching People offers Pony Preschool and Kindergarten from September to June at Wilson Equestrian Centre on Ramsayville Road and is operated by de Vries, who has more than 25 years’ experience in horse riding and education.
Pony Preschool and Kindergarten (www.horsesenrichingpeople.com) is the only program of its kind in Ottawa. It offers exposure to ponies and horses so children aged three to six can develop skills in riding, horse care and horsemanship.
And de Vries’ unbridled enthusiasm is contagious, according to parents Nicola and Steve Day, whose daughter Ella, 3, attends the program two days per week.
“Being a former military family, Ella has already gone to many daycares and this one is by far her favourite,” says Steve Day.
“She talks about it when she gets home and can’t wait to get back the next day.”
A typical morning sees the children taking part in farm life by caring for and grooming the horses, as well as cleaning the stable and gardening. The class will then go on a nature walk with the school’s miniature donkey, Nina, and have a picnic.
When the students return, it’s time to ride. The children ride year-round and start with leading the horse, progress to riding with a leader and side walker, and over time, learn to ride on their own.
With no more than five children enrolled at a time, the program offers an adult/child ratio of 2:5, as well as regular activities such as circle time and arts and crafts.
In addition, her education background and experience as a therapeutic riding instructor allows de Vries to integrate children with special needs.
“A great part about the preschool is the caring part of it,” says Nicola Day. “Beatrice really gets to know them and finds those teachable moments.”
Ella’s involvement with Pony Preschool will continue one day per week when she starts regular kindergarten. This is an option de Vries says not all parents are aware of – full-day kindergarten is not compulsory for four-and five-year-olds and children can attend other programs during the week.
Morgan Murray’s son Cameron, 4, loved his two summer camp sessions with de Vries in 2013, and his parents say enrolling him in the Pony Preschool was a natural progression. Summer camps are a good way for kids to try out the program, says de Vries.
Murray says she’s seen “definite changes for the positive” in her active son.
“It’s a good thing to hear at the end of the day that he’s been outside and gotten dirty.”
This sentiment was echoed by Roxanne Whiting, whose son Oscar Sackey, 5, is also thriving in the program.
“I would recommend it to anyone with small children to get them out in nature,” she says. “Especially in this tech world we live in.”
Veronica Carrington, whose son Thomas, 6, attends the program, has been so impressed with the nature-oriented program that she plans to register her younger child.
“It’s idyllic,” she says. “This is truly free play.”
Horses Enriching People offers:
• Riding lessons for children (ages 3-6) through their Pony Preschool & Kindergarten.
• Therapeutic riding to assist with physical or mental challenges (all ages)
• Personal growth using horses (all ages)
• Beginner riding lessons (all ages).
• Custom programs
Photo: Samantha Ball