AUSTIN -- When a child is born with Down's syndrome, or any developmental disability, many parents aren't sure what to expect.
Of course you want to protect your child but also find ways to help them develop the confidence and independence they'll need.
Camp starts early at the Healing with Horses Ranch in Manor. With a smile as bright as the summer sun, Sophia and a gentle giant named Dawn are on their way.
“Riding horses is part of my life, like it makes me so happy,” Sophia said.
This week 16-year-old Sophia and other kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities will undergo equine-assisted activities and therapies. It’s a way to help promote healing and independence.
The kids do exercises on horseback that help build core balance, coordination and strength.
The campers not only learn to ride, they also learn to feed, bathe and even paint their horses.
This is the first year the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas has done a camp like this. And they hope more families sign up next year so they can help as many children as possible.
Sophia's dad, Gerard Jimenez, says it's obvious the benefits are overwhelming.
“Emotionally it gives her confidence builds her self esteem,” Jimenez said. “She gets the opportunity to control a 1,000-pound animal. It makes her feel empowered. It brings her joy.”
The ranch executive director, Patty D’Andrea, says the camp isn't just good for the kids. The horses find emotional healing as well.
“Rocky the horse was abused before I got him,” D’Andrea said.
For years the horse was skittish and afraid--until now.
“Now he chooses riders, and he says, ‘I can help you. What can I do for you? Pick me.’ They don't care whether you have an emotional challenge or physical challenge. They just give,” said D’Andrea.
For the rest of the week the kids and the horses will learn to trust each other, building a bond and learning how that will last a lifetime.