PLEASANTON -- From teeth to tail, the kids at Bay Area Equestrian Club's five-day equine-centric veterinarian camp love everything about horses. Everything.
They love horse heads, feedstuffs, abdominal organs, tendons, ligaments, manure production, breeding, training practices and biomechanics. They adore building robotic replicas of horse legs, or launching microwave oven-size horse toys into space, attached to weather balloons. They even like observing dissections, surgery, anesthetic activities and seeing a horse suspended in a sling for an MRI at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. A trip to Pleasanton's Sherman Ranch to meet a breeder and a real rodeo rider is like a visit to heaven.
Open to students in grades 4-12, BAEC's Vet camp is the brainchild of Taylor Alyssa Lai, the 12-year-old daughter of Shanna Gage Lai, a Moraga native, award-winning horse rider and breeder and the camp's director. In addition to the curriculum/workshop-saturated summer camp, BAEC runs an active horse rescue program and equestrian-related educational events, and provides volunteer leadership training for young people.
At the BAEC stables in Walnut Creek on the final day of camp, 23 students -- including seven scholarship students from Oakland's Ascend School -- clustered around Dr. Jamie Textor. The Martinez-based equine surgeon was about to demo yet another hands-on lesson and the students' enthusiasm was barely contained. Like race horses released at the gate, they charged into the session, pelting Textor with questions, taking notes, exclaiming in wonder at a horse's inter-workings.
Textor said their lack of jadedness meant even the shy kids were motivated. "They light up. They're not limiting themselves. This camp tells them to be exploratory, be brave, don't stop reaching," she said.
Textor remembers that when she was 5, she had a vet kit, not a doctor's kit. Although she never had riding lessons, she was intensely interested in horses and veterinary medicine. Regenerative medicine is her specialty, but working with the kids at Vet camp is "phenomenal" and "a joy."
The light shining in the eyes of Yarley Cuevas Coria, 13, was also pure joy, as she said, "My dad taught me not to be afraid of big animals and how to ride. I liked the anesthesiologist most. She watched and made sure the horse didn't wake up or feel pain. After they showed us the brains and inside parts, I talked all night and told my dad everything I learned."
Rosa Lopez-Cazares, 12, found herself most interested in how a horse gets injured. She said a camp made up by a kid is "cool" and rescuing horses while working as a vet is her newfound goal.
For Jennifer Sheehy, 17, the camp tapped into the Northgate High School senior's wellspring of ancestry and ambition.
"I dedicated my camp experience to my dad's uncle, who connected me with nature, and my biological mother, about whom I know very little," she said.
The many people involved in the care of a horse are like a puzzle, she suggested. Pieced together, they become a whole, clear picture. Animated when speaking about horses, Sheehy said she's torn about her specific career direction, but certain it will involve future veterinary trends and being a change-agent in the field.
Kas Baker, entering 10th grade at Bentley High School in Lafayette, owns "Surreal Bey," a 12-year-old Arabian bred by her grandmother. Champion equestrian and breeder Jill Sherman's talk at Sherman Ranch fascinated her.
"They have a device they put in a horse that calls Jill's cell phone when it's about to have a baby," she said. Relieved to find that "blood and stuff" doesn't disturb her, Baker said the camp's experiential, real-life learning made her more confident about becoming a veterinarian.
Animal sciences have always intrigued 15-year-old Rebecca Lamotte, a sophomore at Lafayette's Acalanes High School. From an early age, she accompanied her family's pets to the veterinarian office.
"Trying to figure out how to prevent injuries interests me. I like the biomechanics," she said.
The camp taught her she doesn't want to "get into studying the blood stuff," but that she definitely is attracted to oncological or orthopedic surgery relating to animals.