published Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Special needs summer: Chattanooga area camps targeting children with disabilities

Jayme Salisbury, 11, who has autism, brushes off a horse before his therapeutic horse riding lesson at Eagle's Rest Ranch in Flinstone, Ga. Salisbury is planning to attend summer camp this year at the ranch.
Jayme Salisbury, 11, who has autism, brushes off a horse before his therapeutic horse riding lesson at Eagle's Rest Ranch in Flinstone, Ga. Salisbury is planning to attend summer camp this year at the ranch.
Photo by Erin O. Smith.


• Creative Discovery Museum Friends Discovery Camp; ages 7-10, June 2-13; ages 11-12, July 21-Aug. 1; 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; $200, includes one-year museum membership.

• Chattanooga Zoo Camp Zooability; ages 6-12, June 16-20; ages 13-21, July 7 -11; ages 22 and up, July 14-18; $75.

• Eagles Rest Ranch SpiritHorse Therapy; all ages, June 2-6; $200; for information, call Ginger at 423-421-3205 or email to

• Mystery Dog Ranch Hozho Therapy; June 2-Aug. 1; ages 5-7, $150 per week; ages 8-22, $200 per week; for more information, go to or call 706-935-5559.

  • photo
    Jayme Salisbury is planning to attend summer camp this year at Eagle's Rest Ranch in Flinstone, Ga.
    Photo by Erin O. Smith.
    enlarge photo

Kristi Salisbury cries tears of joy about her autistic son’s progress.

Within two years of joining the SpiritHorse Therapy at Eagles Rest Ranch, the 11-year-old went from being the child who ran wild around the ranch to the rider who sits until it’s his turn to ride. His communication skills improved from inaudible sounds to speaking in clear sentences.

“The first time he said ‘screwdriver,’ it melted my heart,” says Salisbury.

Eagles Rest Ranch Riding Therapeutic Equestrian Center also offers therapy to people with physical disabilities, those in wheelchairs, spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsy. It is one of a handful of camps and agencies in the Chattanooga area providing activities this summer for children with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities.

Other camps include the Creative Discovery Museum’s two-week Friends Discovery Camp, the one-week Zooability at the Chattanooga Zoo and the summer-long Hozho Equestrian Therapy at the Mystery Dog Ranch.

“All kids need to have a place to go,” says Marie Lawrence, co-owner of Mystery Dog Ranch.

Her ranch offers summer camp for typically developing children as well as those with special needs like autism or Down syndrome. The camp includes trail rides, swimming and arts and crafts.

Within the past two years, the Friends Discovery Camp at Creative Discovery Museum has expanded from one week to two and extended the maximum age of campers from 10 to 12. All campers attending Friends Discovery Camp get a year-long membership to the museum included with their camp fee.

The camp targets children with autism but also welcomes typically developing children, says Jayne Griffin, the museum’s director of education. Psychology students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga take a semester of training at the camp, serving as counselors and allowing a low ratio of students to adults, Griffin says. Because of that ratio, campers with special needs get all the perks that typically developing children have, including swimming and field trips, she says.

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    Jeremiah Moore, left, ranch manager and senior instructor, works with Jayme Salisbury on balance during his therapeutic horse riding lesson at Eagle's Rest Ranch. Salisbury has autism and going to the ranch has improved his behavior and his communication skills.
    Photo by Erin O. Smith.
    enlarge photo

Attendees at Camp Zooability, also staffed with UTC psychology students, dance in talents shows, play in water, sing camp songs and learn more about zoo animal, zoo officials say.

Salisbury looks forward to summer camp as much as he does because of the fellowship she gets with other parents caring for special needs children. Before attending the Eagles Rest Ranch, she felt alone and isolated, she says, but now she and other parents at the camp support to each other.

“It’s not only a place for Jayme to get what he needs,” she says. “But it has helped me. I’ve gain such good friendships from going there.”

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or call 423-757-6431.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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