GILROY - When Teri Patane died at the age of 32 of systemic lupus, she left not only a grieving family behind but also the seed of an idea. That idea grew into the reality of the Teri Davis Patane Horse Camp for Kids--a week long horse camp designed for children with disadvantages.
"We thought it would be neat to have a horse camp in her name because that was what she loved. It was her primary love. It's what she was starting to do at that time - she was giving kids lessons and wanted to start her own horse camp. We thought that would be a neat thing to do to remember her by," said Carmen Patane, her husband. Patane and his father-in-law, Lon Davis, began the camp nearly two years ago at Patane's farm off Pacheco Pass Highway.
This is the camp's second year. It began on a sunny morning on Sunday, Aug. 4 and will end this Sunday.
The group of six foster children, ages 8 to 12, from the Morgan Hill, Gilroy, and Hollister areas are being introduced to the new experiences of riding horseback and sleeping in a barn complete with kitchen, dining area and sleeping area divided into the girls' side and boys' side. "Kids love horses and it's something unique that they can look back on later in life that someone did for them and that would be a warm feeling they can reflect on," Patane said. "When I see a kid that loves to ride a horse, I think of myself when I was little and thought that would be a great thing to do for them."
The children who go to the camp are chosen by the Gilroy Family Resource Center - a division of the Department of Social Services. Counselors that monitor the kids through the foster placement system select which children will be going to the camp. Although the program has included mostly foster children in the past, it's looking to expand to other disadvantaged kids in the future, Patane said.
"It's a really good place for kids to learn to be healthy with other kids," said Erick Westphal, the kids' counselor at the camp. "They learn responsibility and leadership. They will understand if they take care of the horse, the horse will take of them."
The camp week is packed with horse lessons and activities to stimulate and excite the children. The first three days of camp are dedicated to teaching the basics of horsemanship - getting on a horse and getting comfortable, staying balanced and how to start, stop, make right and left turns while on the horse.
"My favorite part was learning how to trot," said Steven, 10, riding a velvety chocolate brown horse with a raven mane called Se. "It's bumpy and we're going really fast."
On most days, instructors get up at 6:30 a.m. to feed and start saddling up the horses. The kids wake up at 7 a.m. and by 8 a.m. are eating breakfast prepared by one of the camp's volunteer cooks. Spending two hours on the horses in the morning, the kids practice turning, riding in a line and trotting.
After a lunch break at noon, they return back to the horses for another few hours until they stop for the day for some recreation, which includes splashing and playing in the water trough, playing catch with a ball and board games.
The children and camp leaders load the horses in a trailer and drive to the Henry W. Coe Sate Park during the second part of the week.
"We take a seven-mile trail ride into a camp called Pacheco Camp and we camp there for two nights." Patane said. "It's a real adventure for the kids."
The kids were excited about their camping trip on Thursday.
"I'm looking forward to going camping," said one girl in a bright pink T-shirt, Christina, 12, proudly riding her dappled horse Shaman.
When the children return to the camp Saturday after the camping trip, they have one more chance to ride. On Sunday morning, they will mount up one last time before they go home.
Whether it's trotting, camping, or just playing games, this is a week that the kids will always remember.
"It's something that separates them,' said beginning instructor Bryan Scopazzi. "When they go back to school, people are going to ask them what they did over summer and not everybody's going to say they rode a horse on a trail, went camping while riding horses and slept in a barn."
The camp staff is made up of Patane's friends and family in honor of Teri, and the camp is funded by private donations. Initial funding was through friends and family of Teri after her death.
"Since then, we have had some corporate donations, we've had the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce donate," Patane said. "Right now, it's basically private and local funding. We're looking into getting a grant through some philanthropic organization that would fund our camp year after year."