By Dave Koy
It was a venture into uncharted waters. Although FCA has a long history of using sports and leadership camps to help spread the gospel, this camp was different. Never mind bringing your balls, bats, cleats or gym shoes to this camp; just bring your Bible - and your horse. Yes, your horse!
This past summer retired businessman, Sam Scaffidi, and Central Wisconsin FCA Director, Jeff Tarras, co-hosted a weekly FCA Horse Camp at the 100-acre Scaffidi ranch in northern Wisconsin. Held on Thursday evenings during the months of June, July and August, the 11-week camp was provided cost free to young riders, grades 5-8, and their horses.
What exactly is a horse camp? “The purpose of the camp is to help young riders and their horses bond together while learning what to do when confronted with an unexpected obstacle or occurrence,” said Scaffidi. “Horses have two sides to their brain - the reactive side and the thinking side. This camp teaches them to use the thinking side of their brain. Their mother only taught them the reactive side.” The first of its kind FCA camp also included trail riding, obstacle training, water crossings, horse games, evening camp fire devotions, and a special Bible for young horse riders
It was in January of 2018 that the recently retired auto/truck dealer approached Jeff Tarras with the idea for an FCA Horse Camp. “I loved the idea and quickly made sure FCA insurance would cover the event,” said Tarras. Not sure what the response would be for an unprecedented FCA Horse Camp, the two men turned to God for wisdom and guidance. “From the very beginning I could see God’s hand at work,” Scaffidi said. “Jeff and I set a goal of 12 kids and their horses. We got 25. I had no idea where I would find instructors and volunteers to help. Experienced horse instructors and volunteers offered their services free of charge. We thought special Bibles geared for our young horse riders would be appropriate. They were sent free of charge to us by the parents of Lane Frost, famous rodeo rider who was killed in a rodeo accident in 1989. They heard about our FCA Horse Camp and sent us New Testament Cowboy Bibles in honor of their son’s memory. It was clear God wanted us to do this camp,” said Scaffidi.
One question remained: how to incorporate God’s Word and the FCA message into the camp? “The evening campfire and devotions provided that opportunity,” added Tarras.
According to Scaffidi the premise for doing a horse camp came from an incident that took place several years before while he was horseback riding with a friend out west. “We were crossing an unfamiliar bridge when something startled my friend’s horse,” explained Scaffidi. “The horse suddenly reared back causing both of them to fall from the bridge into the water severely injuring my friend.” That accident prompted Scaffidi to create various obstacles on his own ranch to help train and prepare family horses for the unexpected. These obstacles became the basis for the FCA Horse Camp. Additional training aids were added creating four unique training stations for horse and young rider.
“Horses are flight animals,” said Scaffidi. “Their natural defense is to run away. Their mother said, ‘If a butterfly frightens you, run away from it.’ Here they learn to think before reacting which builds confidence in both the horse and rider.
Scaffidi used his more than 20 plus years of horseback riding in the rugged terrains of America’s cowboy country; Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, etc., to develop confidence building training for the FCA Horse Camp. “We had horse and rider walk across specially constructed wooded bridges, walk up and down steps, across a mattress, step through tires and pass through a dark homemade cave,” said Scaffidi. “They pulled ropes, logs, sleds and kids on sleds; followed riding mowers and mountain bikes and learned to maneuver a 42-inch soccer ball with their head or legs. Toward the end of the camp we took them on trail rides and river crossings.” Whether novice or experienced “cowpoke,” both rider and horse were building confidence, developing important skills, bonding together and having fun doing it.
It was through a Friday morning Men’s Bible Study that Scaffidi and Tarras formed a friendship prompting Scaffidi to sponsor various FCA events leading up to the FCA Horse Camp. “I told Sam he would have to run the camp from start to finish because I know nothing about horses,” declared Tarras. And that’s exactly what the rancher did - with some help.
Lowie Schultz, longtime friend and neighbor of the Scaffidi family, not only brought her twin 14-year-old daughters to the camp, she brought her volunteer spirit and organizational skills as well. “We could not have done the camp without Lowie,” acknowledged Scaffidi. “She not only helped organize the camp, she literally ran it for us.”
With more than 25 years of service as school teacher and volunteer, Schultz was happy to help. “Sam is always looking for ways to help people who share his love of horses,” she said. “My daughters were four years old when Sam started teaching them how to ride. During our 15-year friendship Sam often talked about wanting to use his ranch to spread the gospel. Jeff Tarras gave him that opportunity.”
What did the young riders think of the FCA Horse Camp? From novice to experienced cowhand, all expressed an unbridled enthusiasm for the camp.
“I’m learning how to control my horse.”
“I have more confidence with my horse.”
“My horse has more confidence in me.”
“I love the evening camp fires and devotions.”
“I learned a lot about Jesus from the camp speakers.”
“I made so many new friends.”
“Sign me up for next year’s camp.”
Parents, instructors and volunteers echoed the young camper’s enthusiasm. Mary Jane Hoppe brought her two daughters and four other young riders with their horses. “The kids absolutely loved this camp,” Hoppe said.
Psalm 37:4 tells us: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Kay Pickar had been praying that God would find a way to combine the gospel with her love for horses. When she first saw the flyer advertising the FCA Horse Camp it brought tears to her eyes. “This camp fulfilled my every hope and desire of bringing together the love of horses with the love of the gospel,” said Pickar, whose son and daughter attended the camp. “What a great, great idea!”
Following 90 minutes of horse training each Thursday, campers, parents, instructors and volunteers gathered around the evening camp fire for refreshments, snacks, and a time of fellowship. It was here along the beautiful setting of the Wisconsin River that the gospel was presented each week by 11 different speakers. As one of the camp speakers Jeff Tarras emphasized the important role of the FCA Ministry and how it helps individuals strengthen their walk with Christ. “A relationship with a horse is special, but a relationship with Jesus Christ can be life changing,” Tarras reminded campers.
Scott Weikel was among a group of men from Scaffidi’s weekly Bible Study to help at the camp. Weikel also spoke at one of the evening campfire sessions, sharing how his reckless living and drinking had cost him one of his legs in a motorcycle accident. “I lost one of my legs but I gained Christ’s forgiveness and peace in the process,” he said. Several young campers and parents personally thanked Weikel for sharing his heartfelt testimony.
“This camp was amazing in so many different ways,” Weikel later explained. “The kids not only learned to bond with their horses and other kids, but with their own family as well. I saw fathers with their arms around their kids, mothers holding hands with their daughters. The camp had a distinctive family atmosphere. I’m not a horse person but I loved being here.”
In addition to helping young riders increase their horse skills Scaffidi and Tarras hope the camp experience will encourage the kids to seek a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ. “I want them to know Jesus isn’t just for Sundays listening to pastors preach the gospel,” said Scaffidi. “They saw that horse people can talk about Jesus as well, even motorcycle guys like Scott Weikel.”
With requests already coming in for next year’s camp, Scaffidi and Tarras hope their first year FCA Horse Camp will provide a blueprint for others to follow. “I never realized horse people could have so much fun and honor God in the process,” said Tarras. Scaffidi agreed. “I think Jesus is really a cowboy at heart,” said the beaming ranch owner. “I’m glad He came along for the ride.”
If you are interested in starting a Horse Camp in your area, contact Sam Scaffidi at 715-340-3689 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.