Camp Cowboy holds opening ceremony for summer session
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Robison Ranch, located at 2700 Sikes Drive in Kempner, Texas, held the opening ceremony Monday morning for their summer session of Camp Cowboy.
Camp Cowboy was started by Army veteran Scott Robison unofficially nearly 20 years ago but became an official 501c3 non-profit organization in 2016.
Camp Cowboy offers an opportunity for veterans, first responders and even active-duty personnel to go through a 90-day session, at no cost, where they will learn about taking care of a horse, being around horses, riding horses and more.
“It’s 90 days of day one, here’s a four-legged furry animal horse to day 90 go catch your horse, I’ll see you in the arena, and it’s not just an equestrian program,” said Lane Robison, Program Director. “We might go work with cows one day, branding, tagging, vaccinating, that good stuff, fixing fences. There's different things that pop up on the ranch. We have kind of some impromptu classes, but in essence, it's a basic fundamental horsemanship course, so not only are they learning how to ride and work with these guys, but they’re learning how to take care of them.”
Lane added that although Camp Cowboy offers the basics regarding equine knowledge, there have been several students who were very experienced horse riders as well as several new beginners with absolutely no knowledge.
“Everybody comes out of here learning something,” Lane said. “You can always take something from anybody, good, bad or ugly. We teach ‘a way’, not ‘the way,’ but it's the way that works for us and work for the program.”
While the focus of the program is on taking care of horses, often the students of Camp Cowboy end up leaving with a part of themselves healed as well.
Founder Scott Robison has a saying that has become the mission of Camp Cowboy.
“Scott talks about making a difference every day, and what Camp Cowboy tries to do is we want to make a difference in the life of these veterans and these first responders and help them make their transition, help them figure out their next steps,” said Education Director Robert Abney.
This year, Camp Cowboy has another component to it called Cowboy University, which is an online learning management system that is free to use for the veterans and first responders who go through Camp Cowboy and their families.
“What they can do is they can get some job-based certifications. There's a certification in customer service, certification in small business ownership, project management, things like that,” Abney said. “They can also claim specific courses that they can take to help them become more employable. The other thing I do I kind of support people when they need to talk to Central Texas College, for example, because a lot of people realize, ‘Okay, I need some vocational training,’ but they go to schools, and they're like, ‘What do I do?’ That's my role is to help them navigate that stuff.”
Lane said that he has seen the difference that Camp Cowboy and the horses at Robison Ranch have made in the lives of the participants each session.
“I'm not a mental health specialist by any means. None of my staff is either, but I just facilitate the horse/person connection, and the horses do that on their own,” Lane said. “In working with horses, you've got to be able to regulate whatever's going on. You can't bluff a horse, and you can't lie to a horse. They pick up on it. If you're real high energy and nervous, they feel it and feed off of it. If you're calm, cool and collected, same thing- they can feed off of it. So, a lot of the things, especially on the groundwork when we go into doing what we call our join-up follow-up, we go in there, and you've got to be able to regulate your energy and kind of ground yourself to get done the things you want to do.”
Lane added that it doesn’t take very long before the students who were maybe nervous and tense at the beginning are then able to relax and see the horse react to that. They can then take those skills and apply them to their everyday life.
“I've been so blessed to be a part of and see that happen since 2019, when I took over the program, and you see it in every class to a degree,” Lane said.
Veterans are at a higher risk for suicide than their peers who have not served, with the latest statistics reporting an average of 16.8 veterans committing suicide per day as of 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“There are three things that help keep veterans from doing that,” Abney said. “One is the dog, helping take care of a dog. The second is a horse, and the third is a boat, going fishing on a boat. This is one of those one of those things where Scott's real passionate about caring for veterans, making sure that that they're cared for when they come back after their service.”
This summer’s session marks the biggest class, with 30 students enrolled in the morning or night classes.
For Army veteran Sara Robles, this summer’s session is a chance for her to build relationships and try something new. A mother of four and grandmother of eight, Robles said she even plans on bringing her grandchildren out to see what the ranch has to offer. She said she found out about the program from the V.A.
She said she was looking forward to getting to know the people at Robison Ranch and experiencing the camaraderie with her fellow Camp Cowboy participants.
“It’s kind of like coming into a different brotherhood,” Robles said. “We had the Army and now we have this.”
Robles said she has no experience with horses, and she is looking forward to getting to ride a horse during this experience.
For more information on Camp Cowboy, visit their website: https://www.campcowboy.org/.