It was the second trip to the EASI barn this year for members of Polish, a girls-only mentoring group at CHS.
On their previous visit, the students helped special needs adults from Tuscaloosa with their therapeutic horseback riding lesson.
This time, executive director Melissa Searcy gave them a series of tests intended to build both camaraderie and character.
“The main point of today was lessening their fears, teaching them to be leaders and challenging their perceptions,” she said following the lesson.
Searcy began by introducing the horses used in the program. She stressed that they all have their own history and personality that must be taken into account during interactions.
Searcy challenged the teens to look beyond the labels they had assigned to their fellow students as well.
Before assigning chores, she divided the girls into groups by separating them from their friends and pairing them with students who seemed shy or isolated.
Most were put to work grooming, cleaning tack, raking the arena and washing EASI’s horse trailer.
However, members of one group were required to say five positive things about their teammates in order to avoid a task they all found revolting — cleaning sheaths.
Searcy said she was trying to show the young women that everyone is worthy of attention, especially those who can be most easily overlooked.
“Just because someone is introverted like some of our horses, you can’t shove them in a corner and say, ‘Oh, she can’t do anything,” Searcy said.
At the end of the day, the students were again divided into teams and instructed to lead the horses through an obstacle course.
Their success depended on how well they had listened to Searcy’s presentation on the horses and whether they were willing to communicate with each other.
Searcy said she was disappointed but not surprised when some students lacked the confidence to be proactive when two horses got too close to each other and one became slightly aggressive.
“I have found that this generation in particular is complacent to let life happen to them,” Searcy said. “I want them to learn the tools to recognize threats and know when they need to self-protect but also recognize when they can step up and be leaders and empower someone else as well.”
Polish advisor Michelle Howell said that in addition to team building, the field trip to EASI also reminded the students of the importance of community service.
Several Polish participants volunteered at EASI over the summer after the group visited the facility in March, and several more expressed an interest in joining the program after Friday’s visit.
Howell said she hopes her students will continue to seek out local programs like EASI that could benefit from their service.
“I want them to see that there are things out there that you can get involved in besides just going to school, going home and going to the movies with your friends,” Howell said.
EASI’s second annual Fall Horse Show is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 17. For more information, call 387-7486.