WESTFIELD Children who have always wanted to know what it is like to live and work on a farm have the opportunity to get a glimpse at farm life during the Up on a Farm program, created by a collaboration between the Westfield Parks and Recreation Department and A.J. Stables.
The farm and Parks and Rec Department offer two programs Junior Farmhands for children between the ages six and nine and Senior Farmhands for children between the ages of 10 and 14.
Last week, one of the Junior Farmhand program sessions took place, which attracted 18 youngsters. The program can accommodate up to 25 children each session.
On the farm, the 18 junior farmhands separated into small groups to tackle different tasks.
One group was watering, another was feeding the animals and a third group was in the middle of its daily riding lesson.
Tammy Zabik, owner of A.J. Stables, which is located on East Mountain Road, said that she has been hosting the program for a number of years.
She said that the Parks and Rec. Department approached her about a collaboration and together they worked out the program that exists today.
"It's great for kids," Zabik said. "Not many kids realize what it is like to have animals and live on a farm."
The program is predominantly geared toward horses, teaching the children responsibility and management such as the basic nutrition for the animals, how to care and maintain the horses, how to respect the animal as well as how to ride the horses, according to Zabik.
The children do all of the chores necessary to maintain farm, including feeding, watering, grooming, saddling and cleaning up after the horses.
"They do all of it," she said, adding that the children are "pretty good" at completing the tasks. "Some parents say [their children] would rather clean the stalls than their rooms."
As one of the groups was feeding the horses, Zabik explained that they may not let the children inside the fenced area with the horses, depending on what horses are inside.
"For safety reasons, we try to keep them away from the horses," she said.
She added that, when the children are near the horses, she and the volunteers who help run the camp teach the children a lot about safety surrounding the animals.
She explained that she teaches the young farmhands how to handle the horses and how to walk around them in a safe manner.
She said that the older children who participate in the Senior Farmhand program can handle a little more on the farm than the younger children. She added that she has some children come back year after year to the program and are excited when they graduate to the senior program.
Zabik said that riding a horse can be intimidating to a young child because the horse is "massive" compared to the child.
While riding the horses, Zabik said that she teaches the children balance, security and basic control of the animal.
"We try to build the basic comfort level," she said.
Zabik explained that she has the children take their feet out of the stirrups and take their hand off the saddle because it helps teach them how to balance on a horse.
She said that a saddle can become "like a crutch" and children can learn to rely on a saddle and will carry that wherever they ride.
"Horses are one of the best things for kids," Zabik said. "Not many kids have the opportunity to ride."
She also said that riding horses builds character and a child's respect for the animal and keeps children outside and active.
Shannon Guin, a volunteer at the farm, said that it is good for children at a young age to see what it is like to work on a farm.
"They get an idea of what having a farm is really like," she said, adding that it is not just "fun and games," but is also hard work.
"It teaches them responsibility," she said, adding that she enjoys working with the children.
If it rains, the program is not cancelled. "Animals still have to be taken care of in rain, snow, sleet or shine," Zabik said.
Anna Grady, one of the junior farmhands, said that her favorite aspect of the program is riding the horses. She added that she likes to ride both the big and the little horses.
Eileen Fitzgerald, also a junior farmhand, said that she enjoys riding the horses "because it is fun and I get to do it for a half hour."
Said added that she is learning a lot during the camp, but "some of it is not very fun." She mentioned that she does not like the job of picking up after the horses as an example.
The Up on the Farm program has four sessions for junior farmhands and three for senior farmhands.
The remaining two sessions for junior farmhands are from Aug. 1 through 4 and Aug. 15 through 18. The remaining senior farmhand program will take place on Aug 8 through 11. The cost is $90 per session, which take place from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
For more information about the Up on the Farm program or any other Park and Recreation programs, visit www.cityofwestfield.org and click on the Parks and Recreation Department, or call the department at 572-6263.