HOULTON, Maine — Amy Woods Metherell, who owns and operates Horseplay Farm, acknowledged recently that while most children love horses, they can be “really intimidated by them” at the same time.

“When you think of how a child sees a horse in a book or a drawing and then they get up beside a real one and realize how big it is in comparison to them, it can be really scary,” she said.

With that in mind, Metherell began to think of ways to introduce the seven horses she owns to area children in a fun, less stressful environment. Her effort coincided with the annual Time To Ride challenge issued by the American Horse Council, which prompted stable owners, veterinarians and related organizations to think of ways to connect newcomers to horses.

The competition to attract new riders sparked the idea for Metherell’s mini-camps, short sessions on her stable property on the McSheffrey Road that strive to introduce young children to horses while also teaching them about kindness and creativity.

“I love working with young children and introducing them to horses and seeing that spark in their eye when they first see a horse for the very first time,” she said. “It really is magical, especially if they truly have never seen a horse in a parade or on a farm, just in a book. They are just absolutely in awe; it is complete joy.”

As part of her mini-camps, Metherell, who has a degree in equine facilities management, works with children between the ages of 3 and 5 in groups of 10. At the start of the session she introduces the children to one of her most docile horses, Henry, and teaches the youngsters the basic parts of the animal. Each child also gets his or her picture taken with the horse. After a session of horse related arts and crafts, the children undergo a short lesson in how to care for the animal, Metherell said.

“We show them how to brush the horse,” she said. “We teach them that it is important because we need to take care of its skin and it makes them feel better to be brushed. We stress that you need to brush the horse because they are going to feel more healthy, not because they are going to look pretty, so that is a little lesson for them.”

A short time later, the children get to sit on the horse and wave to their parents.

“It is great because the kids just think they are doing an easy, fun thing,” she said. “In reality, they are learning how to balance themselves and stay on the animal at the same time.”

Metherell said that after the session is over, the children get to paint the horse with nontoxic washable paint, which they “love.”

“They put their handprints on him and fingerprints, and then we wash it off quickly for the next session,” she said. “It is a lot of fun.”

Erica Peabody of Houlton, whose children, Aimee, 6, and Barrett, 4, took part in one of the mini-camp sessions said she was “shocked and surprised” when her ordinarily “very shy” children came out of their shells around the horse during the session.

“I was surprised about the number of activities that she did with them in such a short time,” Peabody said. “She was doing the grooming and brushing, and my children got a chance to brush the horses. My children are quite shy so it helped them to be around these large animals. At the end of the session, the kids got up on the horse with no problem. I was really impressed.”

Peabody also said her children enjoyed painting the horse.

“They both walked right up there and put their handprints on the horse,” she said. “By the end of that two-hour session, they were completely comfortable with that animal.”

Metherell said the best part of these sessions is teaching the children essential skills, the most important being “kindness to animals.”

“To me, that is the best one for me to see them learn,” Metherell said. “They also learn others, including that they have to pay attention and wait their turn, but kindness to animals is the essential one. That one makes me very happy to teach.”

Metherell has two mini-camp sessions remaining on Aug. 13.

For more information, visit her Horseplay Farm Facebook page.