Embark on a captivating journey through time and tradition with Calleva Horse Adventure Programs (CHAPS). We will delve into the rich heritage that forms the foundation of our exceptional equestrian experiences. Discover the legacy, passion, and dedication that make Calleva’s horse programs not just an adventure, but a celebration of equine history.
Join us as we explore the profound connection between riders, horses, and the timeless spirit that defines our equestrian heritage. Saddle up for an immersive ride into the past, present and future of CHAPS. Where the legacy of horsemanship meets the thrill of adventure. Welcome to the captivating world of CHAPS!
Who is CHAPS?
Get an exclusive glimpse into the heart and soul of CHAPS with Director Megan Schwartz and former Director Tess De Smedt.
Meet Tess De Smedt
Tess DeSmedt is our esteemed former Director of CHAPS. Her journey with Calleva began in 2008. Starting as a head counselor, Tess quickly found her passion as the equestrian director. As a matter of fact, it was a role she embraced wholeheartedly.
Since stepping down as CHAPS Director, Tess has focused on her career as a therapist. In addition, she is now serving as one of our CHAPS instructors. Tess brings a wealth of experience and love for the diverse Calleva community.
Tess is a passionate rider. She seizes any opportunity to trail ride, embracing the equestrian sport on a personal level. Tess’s journey with CHAPS and her invaluable contributions to the Calleva community are an integral part of the rich heritage of CHAPS.
Meet our Director, Megan Schwartz
Megan’s journey with Calleva began in 2017. She was drawn in by both familial ties and an unyielding love for horseback riding. Horseback riding is a passion that has fueled her spirit since childhood.
As the Director of CHAPS, Megan’s dedication goes beyond mere leadership; it embodies a profound commitment to sharing her lifelong passion with others.
We will uncover Megan’s transformative impact on CHAPS. As the current driving force behind CHAPS, Megan brings years of expertise and an infectious enthusiasm for equestrian adventures.
Ultimately, equine enthusiasts will find not just adventure, but a home for their equestrian dreams. The women steering the reins of CHAPS are an inspiration. With every hoofbeat echoing with a legacy of love for equines.
I had the privilege of chatting all things CHAPS with Meg and Tess. Here is what they shared:
What inspired the creation of CHAPS, and how has it evolved over the years?
CHAPS was started by Mary Markoff, who is the mother of the three Markoff brothers who started Calleva. Her family was involved in summer camps when she was growing up. So, the CHAPS program evolved from summer camp offerings. Our year round programs came after that. It started as a way to give the horses a job over the year.
When Tess took over in 2014, there was no lesson program. Additionally, only one working student remained. From there, Tess built the lesson programs along with the working student program. The emphasis was to create a community of riders and horse enthusiast in it for both the outdoors experience and love of horses. There are a lot of barns that offer lessons, but tend to be focused on “in the saddle” skills. Consequently, children have little time to interact with horses and connect. So, this has been a drive over the last 10 years.
Meg has been our director since September 2023 and we are excited to see where things go from here under her leadership.
Can you provide an overview of the CHAPs program and its significance within Calleva’s equine programs?
CHAPS is Calleva’s equestrian program. We offer a wide variety of programs that are primarily geared towards accommodating young, inexperienced riders. In addition to our regular lesson program, we offer group programs. These include: one-time experiences for birthday parties and girl scout troops. Additionally we offer an after-school program that combines farm immersion, horsemanship skills, and riding skills. CHAPS is also critical for our HBR camp. The summer camp horses who begin their training in CHAPS programming before moving into summer camp.
What are some of the unique features that set the CHAPS program apart from other equine programs in the region?
The uniqueness of CHAPS lies in its holistic approach to outdoor education intertwined with horseback riding. Unlike traditional equestrian programs, CHAPS places a significant emphasis on horsemanship and instills a sense of responsibility for the well-being of the horses. Participants not only learn to ride but also develop a deep understanding of the caretaking aspects integral to horse ownership.
At Calleva we are committed to the ethical treatment of its horses. We ensure they are not overworked, maintain their health and weight, and keep the environment clean and conducive to their well-being. The friendly barn environment, coupled with patient and kind staff, creates a nurturing space for participants to learn, fostering a connection between riders and their equine companions that goes beyond the saddle.
What unique opportunities or experiences does CHAPS offer to participants compared to other equine programs?
The working student program is a unique opportunity for teens. Our working students help riders gain skills both in and out of the saddle. They also help with farm and barn chores. The working student program trains youth to be skilled equestrians. As well, they learn to be leaders who model to younger riders.
The working student program aims to create a community of riders within Calleva. We also invest in training our working students into becoming instructors. Once you’re with us, we don’t want to let you go, haha!
Another unique opportunity at CHAPS is the endless trails at our disposal. Riders as well as boarders take advantage of the C&O towpath for trail riding. Easy access to the towpath offers a seemingly endless trail riding experience. You will run out of time and energy before you run out of trail.
Ultimately, being a part of the broader Calleva community is something very special about CHAPS. Not only is there community in the barn, but we are able to participate in events like Pizza Night, Tastes of Calleva and Markoff’s Haunted Forest.
Could you share a memorable success story or transformation you’ve witnessed from a participant in the CHAPS program?
One of our most dedicated staff, Emma Parker, began as a quiet and timid rider. She started in our after school Saddle Club in 2014. Through CHAPS, she grew more confident and more connected to both other riders and the horses. We were happy to welcome her back in 2022 as a riding instructor. We were not surprised when she was adored by all of her students.
Little Bit came to us as the youngest horse we had adopted. At the time, he was only five years old. He was a spirited and spicy horse. Also, he liked to buck his rider off on occasion. Over time, he grew into the program. Now, he is a pillar of the program.
We met Cisco at an auction-type event where we’d pick out horses for camp each year. We were on our way out after trying out a few and deciding on a couple horses to lease for summer camp. I looked at Cisco as I walked past and his blue eyes were just staring at me, looking sad.
This place is not always an ideal home for horses. They can get tossed around from barn to barn and can have bad experiences with negligent leasers. Something compelled us to give him a try. He was not attractive and also pretty shy. He turned out to be an amazing lesson horse who really has taken care of his riders (with the occasional nip!).
One of our staff really connected with him. When it was time to return him, they decided to buy him for Calleva and the riding program. Cisco is now one of our pillars too.
How does the CHAPS program align with Calleva’s ethos of outdoor education and personal development?
CHAPS is similar to other Calleva programs by pushing kids outside of their comfort zone in a safe environment with supportive staff. It is most important for our staff to support a rider pushing through a fear, at any level of riding or care.
We emphasize participating in all aspects of the experience of handling horses: barn chores like mucking, horse care like grooming and caring for wounds as needed, keeping an organized environment, getting horses from and to fields. The horse-human connection is also a powerful benefit to mental health, so we help foster that.
What type of activities or sessions are offered within the CHAPS program, and how do they cater to different age groups or skill levels?
- Private lessons: beginner to advanced intermediate (ages 7+)
- Saddle Club: beginner to advanced beginner (ages 6 – 15)
- Girl Scouts: beginner (ages 7+)
- Birthdays: beginner (ages 7+)
- Summer Camp: beginner to advanced (ages 9 – 15)
- Leasing: beginner to advanced intermediate (ages 7+)
- Tiny Tots: beginner (ages 3 – 6)
In what ways does the CHAPS program emphasize safety, education, and personal growth for participants?
The Calleva CHAPS program prioritizes safety, education, and personal growth for participants through comprehensive measures and engaging experiences. Safety is paramount, as our instructors are certified by the Safety Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA), ensuring they possess the necessary skills to provide a secure environment for all riders. Additionally, our in-house training programs further reinforce safety protocols and best practices, instilling confidence in both participants and their families. Our staff members are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain a safe and secure environment for riders of all levels.
Education is a fundamental aspect of our program, woven into every activity to promote a deeper understanding of horsemanship and farm management. Through summer camps, saddle clubs, and Girl Scout programs, participants learn about herd management, feeding practices, and caretaking responsibilities. Tasks like mucking stalls not only contribute to our compost pile but also teach valuable lessons in responsibility and environmental stewardship. Our aim is to empower participants with practical knowledge that extends beyond the arena, fostering a lifelong appreciation for farm life and animal care.
Furthermore, personal growth is at the core of our program, with each activity designed to challenge and inspire participants to reach their full potential. Whether experiencing the daily routines of farm life during summer camp or assisting caretakers during saddle club visits, participants develop valuable life skills such as teamwork, empathy, and resilience. By providing opportunities for hands-on learning and meaningful interactions with horses, we nurture personal growth in a supportive and enriching environment.
We encourage participants to challenge themselves, overcome obstacles, and discover their full potential both in and out of the saddle. As part of the larger Calleva community, we practice the challenge by choice approach. Through positive reinforcement, goal setting, and experiential learning opportunities, we empower individuals to cultivate essential life skills and thrive in all aspects of their lives.
Looking ahead, what are some future developments for the CHAPS program at Calleva that participants and the community can anticipate?
The future of Calleva CHAPS holds exciting prospects as we envision expanding our program to incorporate more equine therapy and equine-assisted therapy. Recognizing the profound impact horses can have on emotional and mental well-being, our goal is to provide therapeutic experiences that go beyond traditional horseback riding. Equine therapy offers unique opportunities for individuals to connect with horses, fostering personal growth, and enhancing emotional resilience.
In addition to advancing our therapeutic offerings, we are passionate about extending the benefits of horseback riding to underprivileged youths and communities through outreach programs. Our commitment to inclusivity and accessibility drives our desire to make the transformative power of horse interactions available to a broader audience.
By creating partnerships and outreach initiatives, we aim to break down barriers and provide meaningful equine experiences to those who may not otherwise have access, promoting a sense of empowerment and connection within diverse communities. The future of Calleva CHAPS is not only about expanding our therapeutic horizons but also about making a positive impact on a wider scale, ensuring that the joy and healing potential of horse-human connections reach everyone who can benefit.
See you at the barn!
In conclusion, Calleva CHAPS stands as a beacon of safety, education, and personal growth for all participants, embodying a commitment to excellence and holistic development. Through rigorous safety standards and certified instructors, we ensure a secure environment where riders can thrive and explore their passion for horsemanship. Our dedication to education extends beyond riding skills to encompass a deeper understanding of herd management and farm care, empowering participants with practical knowledge and fostering a lifelong connection to the equestrian world.
Moreover, the CHAPS program is a catalyst for personal growth, offering transformative experiences that challenge individuals to push beyond their comfort zones and unlock their full potential. From overcoming fears to building resilience and teamwork skills, participants emerge from our program with newfound confidence and a profound sense of accomplishment. As we look to the future, we are excited to expand our offerings ensuring that the benefits of horse-human connections are accessible to all. Together, we embark on a journey of growth, empowerment, and community, guided by the enduring legacy of Calleva CHAPS.