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EFMP members learn, grow at equestrian experience

  • Published
  • By Lori A. Bultman
  • 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Exceptional family members at Joint Base San Antonio had the opportunity over spring break to learn and practice horsemanship skills with the help of a generous grant from a community partner.

“This was an amazing experience,” said Timmy Milligan, Exceptional Family Member Program system navigator at JBSA-Lackland. “We saw several exciting breakthroughs during the week.”

One child, who was previously non-verbal, spoke during his experience, shocking parents and staffers alike.

“Everyone was so excited, and emotional,” Milligan said. “They didn’t recognize previously that this was something their child might enjoy.”

Participant Lexi Pacini, 11, said she learned a lot during her class and was excited to ride her assigned horse, George.

“I learned that the grooming takes a long time,” she said, in anticipation of the riding portion of the day. “Now, I am ready to go fast.”

According to Deanne Shead, 502nd Force Support Squadron equestrian center facility manager, there were many breakthrough moments during the week.

“For them to be able to come out and, (A) learn how to safely walk around a horse, (B) learn how to do all the work themselves, and (C) be able to control a horse that is, on average, 1,000 pounds, is a real confidence booster for the kids,” Shead said. “It’s been a long week, but it’s been so fun to be here with the kids. They come in and no one wants to talk or smile in the beginning, then we, and the horses, pull those smiles out of them.”

The spring break classes could not happen without volunteers like U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class Haley Rivera, who assisted young riders throughout their equestrian experience.

“I loved it so much on Monday that I decided to volunteer to come back all week,” Rivera said. “I had never been around horses before this week, and it has been awesome. I have absolutely loved it.

“We got to see such a wide variety of kids, age ranges, ability ranges, and such different personalities,” she said. “Everyone, from volunteers to EFMP staff members, has been so good with the kids.”

Fortunately, events like this will continue for several years at JBSA. 

“This week was possible because of an amazing grant allowing us to offer the equestrian experience to EFMP participants,” said Sally L Gonzalez, Exceptional Family Member Program manager. “We had space for 50 eligible EFMP children ages seven to 18 to participate in the one-day experience, and, thanks to our amazing community partner, we will continue these spring break classes for the next four years.”