WILLARD – The first words you hear when you enter the Sac River Stables arena are from Dawn O’Connor: “It’s a beautiful day.” Then students reply, “That the Lord has made.” O’Connor continues, “I will rejoice” and the students reply, “be glad in it.”
O’Connor, a member of First Baptist Church, Willard, is the owner of the nearby Sac River Stables.
“I have been offering horse and riding camps and riding lessons for children to learn how to become riders and familiarize them with the horses for more than ten years,” she explained. “Then God spoke to me and called me to organize Christian camps.”
Her response was for Sac River Stables to host the Wrangler Worship Day Camp. Two half-day camps and two full-day camps were held in June, attracting 87 children. “My goals for the camps are to be safe, for the children to have fun and for them to learn about horses and we accomplished all three goals this year.”
But the camp is more than learning about horses. Each day the camp begins with a time of prayer. Then the kids go to a variety of stations including grooming, saddling, catch and lead a horse, tying a horse and riding horses. One group joined Dawn and another worker riding around the area on draft horses before stopping to vault on the horses. Another group used one of the white horses as a canvas and painted words with red paint on the side of the horse. Another group went to devotions and studied the book The One-Year Devotions for Animal Lovers by Dandi Daley Mackall. In addition during the devotion time the camp used the Vacation Bible School musical, “Saddle Ridge Ranch.” Others played bridle games to teach children how to communicate with the horse, while a different group was on the vaulting barrel learning how to pose.
Not all of the children attending came from families who regularly attend church. “One student came from a home where the parents did not allow the child to attend any form of church,” O’Connor said. “The grandparent brought the child so they could learn the memory work and hear the devotions.”
At the end of each camp a local deacon or pastor brought a devotion. Each child was asked to go to their wrangler (leader) and recite their memory verses they had learned all week and then could choose a prize if they said them correctly. Then O’Connor saw that each child received a Cowboy New Testament.
“I think it is remarkable that Dawn has been able to take her love for horses and children and put together these camps for the cause of Christ,” said Benny Gard, pastor, First Baptist Church, Willard, and a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board. “With her pioneer spirit, Dawn, has done something different in the Springfield area in order to give a witness for Christ to children.”