A Christian ministry that began in a barn loft has turned into a summer horse camp for youths.
The Loft Country Children’s Horse Camp will host some 450 children this summer — almost double last year’s 273 — and organizers are anticipating 600 to 700 guests next summer.
This summer’s program started on July 1 and 50 to 60 children are enrolled for each four-day session, Mondays to Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The guests work with the horses in the mornings and various events and activities are offered in the afternoons.
It’s the brainchild of Trent and Sherry Sultz, who own the 20-acre farm on 248 Street, which has a riding arena and a large meeting room.
“We’ve been doing the camps for about ten years, at first just for the church kids, but it was too good, so we expanded it for the past three years,” says Trent.
“We have a lot of repeat customers and word of mouth has been great too.”
Trent, who was raised on a Merritt farm, began working as a farrier and horse trainer. He married Sherry, who shows and trains quarter horses, in 1994.
Trent had “an encounter with God in 1994” that he says “turned my life around,” and he became an ordained minister. The couple bought the farm on Otter Road in 1997 and in 2000 started a weekly ministry in a barn loft that grew so quickly the church rented the Aldergrove Secondary School gym for a few years.
The large meeting hall on the farm now accommodates the church and the biggest focus of the congregation is the summer camps for children.
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“We raise money with our Hat Program to keep it affordable. We hosted 50 kids for free last year and our goal is 100 this year,” says Trent.
The Loft also has a Wrangler Program, which is provided free to 13 to 17 year olds.
“We train on giving back, for teens who do not ‘fit in’ — it’s very effective, providing leadership, friendship and peer skills to help keep them out of trouble. They are a very welcoming group of 30 kids who meet every Thursday and who are all volunteering,” says Trent.
“Eight of them took a challenge to raise $3,500 to send 15 kids to camp, and they did it, with bake sales and fundraisers.”
There is a staff of three full-timers and three part-timers, along with 30 volunteers for each weekly camp session. The season’s seven camps are primarily for ages seven to 12 and are all coed except for one all-girls week in August. There is also one week of split days, mornings and afternoons for two groups of five and six year olds.
Trent, who is also into falconry, demonstrates his birds’ skills in the afternoon sessions, along with dog demonstrations. There is also a playground, waterslide, “rough and tumble” games in the field, drama and dance. There is also a 15 minute chapel service, which has an anti-bullying element.
The Loft also hosts Super Sundays, in which the parents join the youths in activities on the farm and in September there is a Roundup, open to neighbors and the community at large. The Roundup features hay and pony rides, shooting galleries, line dancing, barbecue food and music.
“Several hundred people attend every year, it’s very popular,” says Trent. “Our phone has been ringing off the hook.”
For more information on the Loft and for contact information see their website: www.loftcountry.ca