The first-ever day camp might become an annual event.
After studiously sitting through sessions on horse husbandry, listening to a booming heartbeat and reaching cautiously into a 1,200-pound animal's mouth to feel its teeth, it was finally time for Zack Dawson to climb aboard.
"That one!" Zack said as he pointed at Chase, a 2,000-pound Belgian police horse serving with the St. Paul Mounted Patrol.
The 12-year-old St. Paul boy climbed onto the biggest steed of the day and soon was trotting in circles at the direction of mounted patrol officer Gerald Johnson.
Dawson was one of about 30 kids enrolled in a YWCA day camp who spent Friday at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Lake Elmo learning about horses. The first-ever camp, funded by a grant from the Minnesota Horse Council, was intended to build public trust. The mounted patrol hopes to make it an annual event.
"A lot of the kids who are out here may not have the best home life," said mounted patrol officer Charles Anderson. "We're connecting with them ... just allowing them to see us in a nonstressful situation."
Volunteer participants included members of the Washington County Sheriff's Office mounted patrol, a farrier, a veterinarian and helpers from Hardwood Creek Farm.
Johnson instructed Zack on proper riding techniques, teaching him to relax his body, as Chase picked up the pace from a walk to a trot, kicking up clouds of dust. At one point the boy led the hulking beige horse around a paddock by a halter with only the officer's voice as guidance.
"It's been a positive experience," Johnson said.
"A lot of people who don't want to talk to a police officer will come over and talk to an officer on a horse," Anderson said.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib