I have experienced Spence's Farm myself I find this article very over dramatic. When this article was written I may have agreed with a few minor safety concerns or the need for more supervision with the horses...but the old staff left and from what I have witnessed so did many of the unsafe practices.
Spence is the owner, and responsible for what happens at his farm, but with a program this large he has to rely very heavily on his staff. Luckily the new staff seem to run the programs seamlessly even when he isn't present. Spence does remain a familiar sight around the yard and barn, which he should be. The values on which he built his program are fabulous for teaching youth they are valuable and matter. Youth get to participate in many activities that emphasize partnership with nature-something that seems to be long gone with all the modern technology and gaming devices.
I have spent my life around horses. Spence's farm has fabulous facilities and great horses. What seemed to missing in the past was a knowledgeable instructor. The kids loved the previous instructor but kids also love freedom, which she gave too much of. I've heard of questionable practices in the barn with the previous trainer and even witnessed a few things here and there. With the new instructors the unsafe practices seem to be a thing in the past. I will hear the kids ask to do something, the new staff say no due to safety concerns, and then the kids go "But [old riding instructor] always let us do it." From what I've witnessed the new instructors are knowledgeable, attentive, and have made some very positive changes to the horsemanship program! In response to some comments I saw I need to say that horses are animals. They all have their habits and personalities. The instructors know every horse and it is the instructors responsibility to assign students to horses they can handle. I also read a comment regarding the horses attitudes and unsuitability to be in a lesson program. The reality is all levels of horses are needed in a program to make riders successful, period. As your skills advance you advance to the more advanced horses.
From what I've seen hygiene seems to be a priority. On a farm there's lots of dirt and your around animals. That won't change. But before kids eat their snacks (and on camp days, lunch) all of the staff, including Spence, make sure everyone washes their hands prior to eating. They do have sinks outside, which are homemade, as well as sinks inside. The outside sinks seem more convenient as most the kids eat outside. From what I've witnessed the outside sinks almost always have water and soak...and when they don't the staff is always near by and can easily replenish it.
I haven't witnessed many safety practices outside of the horses but the kids only go to the chicken coop with supervision of a counselor. Many times I've seen kids ask to go see chickens but are told they need to wait until the appropriate counselor is able to assist them. The yard seems safe and the rules in place to keep kids safe are always enforced. In the event someone gets hurt the staff looks over them, applies minor first aid if needed, and then notifies the parents upon pick-up. The hay maze can be scary for kids, it is dark inside. From what I've witnessed most kids love it. When a child does get scared counselors are always close by and sometimes another child even helps them find their way out! Which it is very refreshing to see children help one another with all the bullying that happens these days. I haven't witnessed the kids at the pond, when I was present it was always much too cold.
Spence has always emphasized all aspects of partnership which he teaches with the acronym CRAFTS. The R in CRAFTS stands for respect. I've always seen Spence teach the kids to respect all the animals as well as each other. He has always led by example and done the same. I find it very hard for me to believe Spence hit a dog on the way to Rainbow mountain but I wasn't present and can't say what really happened. Since this article was written Spence has seen more distant from his programs, which I hope changes. May parents as well as myself know Spence well and trust him completely. He is an asset to his own program and a great mentor to all the youth who come to his farm.
Overall, I think Spence's Farm always was and is a fabulous place for kids and I will always be grateful to have it in the area. If you have concerns about the farm don't listen to all the he said she said online. Everyone's opinion is fueled by their own motives. Make an informed decision by going to the farm yourself, meeting the staff, and viewing the practices first hand.
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Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
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