Let’s skip the opening line and get to the mane event of showcasing the Rock Creek Park Horse Center!
Rock Creek Park Horse Center is only five miles from downtown Washington and over 2,000 acres wide, yet the General Manager Amber Power-Shickler and Programs Manager Maureen Nelson still pleasantly surprise guests that stumble upon their center.
“People call us a hidden gem, but I tend to think of us as an open secret,” says Maureen. “We are the only public horse stable in Washington, D.C. because, in 1890, Congress wrote into law that horses had to be in Rock Creek Park. We have a total of 57 stalls at the barn.”
This recreational horse facility is in one of the oldest federal parks and the largest natural park in a metropolitan setting. The Horse Center has a variety of programs and trails available to all of those interested in learning more about horses, riding, or the park.
“Our pony rides actually go into the woods,” says Maureen. “These activities are affordable and are geared towards anyone. If you can sit up on your own, we will give you the skills you need to ride a horse on our hilly trails.”
Rock Creek Park Horse Center takes pride in being readily equipped to interact with the variety of guests that come to the barn.
Amber says, “We have a PATH certified instructor – Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, who coordinates our Therapeutic Riding Program. This instructor teaches several school groups and Wounded Warrior events. We collaborate with Pathways Schools and The Kingsbury School who both provide therapeutic, educational programs for children and young adults. Our programs focus on providing an experience with horses while enhancing their math, reading, public speaking, and general life skills.” To learn more information about PATH, check out their website. <<Link to https://www.pathintl.org/ >>
These school programs are generally 7-9 weeks in length and prove horses as incredible resources for all participants.
“Coming from downtown DC, many children have never seen a horse before,” says Amber. “But, by the end of the program, they are hugging the horses, smiling wide, and wanting to come back to volunteer at the barn. The horses make a quantifiable difference in their lives.”
Horses are considered highly in-tuned and emotionally-intelligent animals. They interact with guests who have been through very emotional life moments, and the Horse Center helps create a safe place for them.
“We have so many people come into our doors who have eating disorders, recovering cancer patients, depressed teenagers, drug problems, victims of gang violence; they all just want to come in and learn how to be themselves again. Horses don’t judge; they are authentic. If you are willing to be in the same place as them, they will help you think about who you are and who you want to be,” says Amber.
These acts of humanity and kindness felt from the horses aren’t rare at Rock Creek Park Horse Center. Both Amber and Maureen have incredible memories from their time at the barn.
Maureen says, “One day I got a phone call about an almost-nonverbal, wheelchair-bound Navy Seal veteran who wanted to visit the barn. As soon as he arrived at the Horse Center, his eyes lit up and physically communicated how thrilled he was to be there with the horses. At the very end, we introduced him to one of our administrators, who was also in the Navy, and you would be surprised at how verbal he became! When someone is close to being non-verbal, and they speak after becoming so comfortable with the horses and the situation, it is breathtaking.”
This year was the first time Rock Creek Park Horse Center hosted a reunion ride for retired Caisson Platoon that ended up being a huge success. Caisson Platoon, “The Old Guard,” is the mounted regiment that conducts memorial affairs to honor fallen soldiers.
“Once a year, the retired Caisson Platoon gets together, and we thought it would be a great idea to host a reunion ride for them,” says Maureen. “The 5-6 retirees invited active Caisson Platoon members, and we invited the Park Police Horse Mounted Unit; we all went on this long trail ride. In total, we had about 23 horses. It was so fun and well-received that we are already trying to make it an annual event.”
Many great things are coming in the future for Rock Creek Park Horse Center and its team members. Amber has become EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) certified, and she is becoming corporate training certified soon. Her goal is to lead corporate and business team building activities at the Horse Center with the horses. It is noticeable that Amber and Maureen love working with the horses and Guest Services.
“The internal phrase here is ‘horses save lives’; this place saves lives. We want to thank Guest Services for everything they have done for us. Most corporations often don’t understand horses, but Guest Services is trying to understand everything about what Rock Creek Park Horse Center thrives on, and we are ecstatic to work with this company for the next ten years,” says Amber.
We are so ecstatic to be working with Rock Creek Park Horse Center as well, and we thank and congratulate everyone involved for being an incredible resource to the Washington D.C. area.
If anyone is interested in experiencing the horses at Rock Creek Park Horse Center, Amber and Maureen encourage all team members to come out! They will be hosting their annual Reindeer Pony Rides on December 9th and 15th from 10 am to 3:30 pm. The reindeer-dressed pony rides combine with a celebrity visit from Santa on his sleigh! Reserved slots are sold out, but they are taking day-of walk-ins. All pony riders must be at least 30” tall and 2.5 years of age. To find out more information about the Rock Creek Horse Center programs, check out their website.