Photo courtesy of Camp Carefree | Large and white, Cody is one of Camp Carefree campersí favorite horses. Shown in photo, Brayden Hughes, who is volunteering at the camp this summer, sits behind camper Elianna Horner, while Cody Little (left) and Dan Freeman follow at the side and Alyssa Potch takes the lead.
Photo by Annette Joyce/NWO | Staff member Brayden Hughes (behind donkey) and camper Liam Fiddler give Larry a treat before dinner.
by ANNETTE JOYCE
Camp Carefree has been a retreat for thousands of campers, counselors and visitors for over three decades. However, most people don't realize this Stokesdale-based camp is also a permanent home to a variety of furry, four-legged residents that include a small herd of horses and donkeys, a couple of miniature horses, a trio of llamas, a goat and a rowdy dog that enjoys tangling with the local wildlife.
Being able to interact with these animals has always been a favorite activity for the campers who have illnesses and disabilities such as spina bifida, epilepsy, cancer and hemophilia.
"When they (the campers) talk about their experiences, it seems like nobody loves any part of the camp more than they do the horses," said Chis Rodenbough, caretaker for the animals that reside on the property.
Brayden Hughes, a sophomore at Virginia Tech University who has spent this summer overseeing the horses and the camp's riding program, agrees with Rodenbough.
"The kids love all the animals," Hughes said. "Any chance they get, they'll run to the fence just to feed or pet them."
According to both men, each animal has its own unique personality and brings a little something different to camp life.
There are currently 13 camp horses, but only a handful of those are used in the riding program. Three of the horses, which have medical issues and can no longer be ridden, are retired and simply enjoying lives of leisure at the camp.
Hughes described Cody, a large white horse, as the "star of the show." A sweet, gentle boy, Cody immensely enjoys eating - so much so that he wears a muzzle to prevent him from eating everything in sight.
"He's the best-behaved horse when people are riding him," Hughes said. "I think most of the kids want to ride him because he's so big and white."
Cody shares his pasture with Barbie and Ken, two miniature horses who got their names from their long, sun-kissed manes. With all the blonde hair covering their eyes and necks, they do remind you of a couple of Malibu beach babies. A pair of lovable donkeys completes this little herd.
Two other donkeys, Larry and Honey, the newest addition to the camp, hang out in the petting zoo. Although she's very friendly, Honey is not halter-trained - to make her move in any particular direction she has to be pushed and prodded along, something she doesn't seem to mind at all.
Larry is another friendly soul who gets a lot of attention for his looks. Rodenbough enjoys pointing out that, because of Larry's "hairdo," he bears a slight resemblance to the actor Samuel L. Jackson in the movie "Pulp Fiction."
Hughes said both Honey and Larry love attention and are quite vocal when attempting to get it.
"They will yell all day until someone goes to talk to them," he chuckled.
The llamas are another huge attraction. Just like his name implies, Prince Chocolate has a warm cocoa-colored coat and walks regally around the pasture. While Rodenbough joked that Prince Chocolate is "good to torment the other animals," he also said the kids love him and the other two llamas, Tate and Tot, who are quite a bit more skittish.
Then there's Max, Rodenbough's dog. Although he doesn't belong to the camp, this feisty Jack Russell/beagle mix spends most of his time onsite.
"He's responsible for giving the horses a good workout," Rodenbough said, explaining that Max likes to chase them.
Rodenbough also mentioned there's a red fox living nearby that Max has played tag with a time or two. Unfortunately, Max has also tried playing with a few skunks in the woods around the camp. Needless to say, the results have not been aromatically pleasing.
Because the animals have been so important to the campers, Rodenbough would like to see more of them added to the petting zoo, including goats, sheep and maybe even a few rabbits. Since the camp is funded through donations and there's no extra money to purchase animals, however, he is considering looking for people in the area who would be willing to loan their younger animals to the camp, especially during the summer.
While having so many different animals is both expensive and time-consuming, Rodenbough firmly believes the joy they bring to the campers is well worth the investment.
want to help?
Donations to help pay for the animals' care, including their food and upkeep, are always needed and appreciated. There's also a need for help with the horses, which require riding and grooming.
For more info or to volunteer, call (336) 427-0966. Donations may be sent to Camp Carefree, 275 Carefree Lane, Stokesdale, NC 27357.