BOZEMAN — Teddy McLain is a fourth grader from Belgrade who still remembers his first time on a horse.
"It was a little bit weird because I didn’t know how to get on at first and I didn’t know what to do," said McLain.
A year later, Teddy is more confident around horses after attending camps and classes offered by Windhorse Equine Learning.
"It’s amazing to see your kids learning to do something like learning to be around horses. You know they’re gigantic animals and a little bit intimidating, even for grown ups," said Teddy's mother, Rachelle McLain.
Windhorse Equine Learning is a non-profit organization that provides reflective learning opportunities for kids and teenagers by encouraging personal growth through learning how to care for horses and horseback riding.
"It really builds self-esteem and gives kids an incredible sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy, which is a word we use a lot," said Darcy Minter, founder and executive director of Windhorse Equine Learning. "They realize there’s a lot that they can do that they maybe didn’t think they could before. "
An integral part of Windhorse’s curriculum is incorporating life skills with horsemanship, which Minter says go hand-in-hand.
"We teach partnership and communication. We teach responsibility and how to take care of another being like a horse. We teach empathy and trust," said Minter.
"And it’s not really us teaching these things, it’s the horse."
Just fewer than 400 kids have been participants in Windhorse’s programs in the last 7 years and roughly $20,000 in scholarships have been awarded.
Windhorse Equine Learning is run by a dedicated group of volunteers and partners with groups like Montana State University, the Big Sky Youth Empowerment Program and the YMCA, and class sizes are kept small.
As for Teddy, he looks forward to improving his skills and getting out for a ride this fall.