PURCELL — It was a cool November morning, horses were running in the pasture and small children were standing next to a campfire eager to take their first ride on a horse. In the country landscape of Purcell, south of Oklahoma City, more than 60 kids from Oklahoma National Guard families enjoyed a day of riding and caring for horses as well as fellowship with other children. They were participating in an inaugural event called Horseback Heroes.
Take Off Farm in Purcell staged the event on Nov. 3.
Amanda Eggleston is the owner and lead trainer at Take Off Farm. Eggleston said some kids rarely get a chance to be around horses.
“We wanted to give these children a chance to experience what it is like to be on a horse,” Eggleston said. “These kids need the chance to get out and experience nature, to be connected with one of God’s greatest gifts.”
Volunteers worked several stations to keep the children informed and entertained. The children were able to see and help shoe a horse, groom a horse, rope cattle and train a horse for riding. There was also an arts and craft area where they each painted a horseshoe to take home as a memento.
There were many demonstrations and a horse carriage ride, but the main event for the more than 60 kids in attendance was when each of them had the opportunity to sit upon a horse and hold onto the reigns. Once each new rider was comfortable and at ease they had the opportunity to take a few laps around the riding grounds.
“I have never been on a horse before. It was cool,” said Frances Sherman III, son of Capt. Frances Sherman, a member of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Frances and his sister Maria were all smiles while riding and enjoying their day out at the farm.
“I like horses,” Maria said. “I hope when I’m older I will have enough money to make my own horse farm.”
Capt. Sherman just returned earlier this year from a deployment. As Maria was making friends, she was consoling with other children who were dealing with the same things she had been through.
“Our dad was gone last year, but he got home safe,” Maria said. “We want to tell these other kids it will be OK.”
Eggleston showed the kids two horse riding styles, English and Western. She also demonstrated hunter jumping using students from the farm. Several young students guided their horses in and out of several jumping stations. The kids watched intently as each horse took to the air to clear the obstacles.
The kids were really impressed when Eggleston showed them how high an Olympic horse can jump.
“This bar is higher than me,” one child exclaimed.
Eggleston started her hunter jumping at a young age and she hopes some of these kids will like it as much as she does.
“I had my own horse when I was very little,” Eggleston said. “I started hunter jumping professionally as a teenager and have been doing it ever since.”
Pam Deering, the wife of Maj. Gen Myles Deering, The adjutant general for Oklahoma, worked with Eggleston to set up Horseback Heroes for the military kids, many of whom have a parent currently deployed.
“We just want the kids to have a day of fun, to take a break from stressing over missing their deployed parent,” Deering said. “My husband and I enjoy riding horses and being around fellow soldiers. We thought this would be a great way to show the children of our soldiers a little about horses and what goes into taking care of them.”
Gerry Shepherd, owner of Oklahoma Roofing and Sheet metal, also heard of the event and wanted to help. He donated money and his time to volunteer. He also got other volunteers in his roping community involved. Some of his volunteers came from as far as Texas to help.
“Being former military and knowing first hand about the strains and sacrifices every family member feels when a parent or loved one is deployed, I just want to help them anyway I can,” Shepherd said. “We want these kids to know we understand their sacrifice and thank them. We want them to know they are not alone.”
This isn’t Shepherd’s first time to help the Oklahoma National Guard.
He was a key player in the construction of the Thunderbird Chapel at Camp Gruber near Braggs, Okla.
This event is the first of its kind for the members of the Oklahoma National Guard and their families. With the success of this event, Eggleston plans to do more throughout the year.
“We have had a blast today, we can’t wait until the next event in the spring,” Eggleston said. “It will just get better and better.”
Spc. Jason Lay is attached to the 145th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Oklahoma National Guard