A group of elementary school kids had the chance to hit the dusty trail alongside police officers as part of a week-long experience to give kids a chance to spend part of the summer beyond Toronto’s boundaries.
School Resource Officers Constable Mike Skelhorne and Terri-Ann Pencarinha started the Cowboy & Cowgirl Up program in 13 Division three years ago because of their affinity for horses and work with young people in their Division. The program is funded by Pro Action Cops & Kids, an organization devoted to linking officers with young people to act as role models.
“The first year, we took Grades seven and eight students who were bullied and those doing the bullying to Sallbrook Trail Ranch in Georgetown,” said Pencarinha. “We took the kids out of their comfort zone and put them around horses where they were a bit nervous and had to work things out.”
Last year, the officers received some money from a community member to supplement the Pro Action Cops & Kids funding.
“With the additional financial resources, we were able to expand the program,” she said. “Besides doing it over a two-week period, we brought students whose families can’t afford to send them to summer camps and those who might have been in trouble with the law.”
A total of 15 girls attended the camp last week while 11 boys are there this week, filling their days with outdoor challenges.
“They do an hour of horseback riding lessons followed by a trail ride and learning how to take care of the animals, build a camp fire and cook outdoors. They also build a fort in the woods and do several team-building exercises,” Pencarinha said.
Camilio Gislason, who enters Grade Eight next semester at Humewood Public School, relished the experience.
“This is much better than being at home playing video games,” said the 13-year-old. “The horses are nice, well-trained and respond well to the people who train them. We also like being around Officer Mike because he’s funny and tells a lot of jokes. This has been a real fun week.”
Rawlinson Public School student Donte Cox concurred.
“Officers Mike and Terri-Ann have been very good because they teach us how to do things the right way,” the 11-year-old said. “This is the first time I have ridden a horse and it was so exciting. I am happy to be here.”
A Crime Stoppers representative and Mounted Unit officers on horseback also went out to the ranch during the last week.
Since its inception in 1991, ProAction has become the largest private funder of Toronto Police Service programs for young people. Toronto businessman John Bitove conceived the program idea after seeing the positive effect that police foot patrols had on enhancing police/community relations.