Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter
August 8, 2023 // Diocese

Camps Offer a Chance to Enjoy Farm and Faith Life

Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter

Young Miss Rita has a farm
And on her farm, she has some horses, chickens, cats, a dog, and a donkey

What makes Miss Rita’s farm, Oak Top Hill Horse Farm, unique, is that this year they began offering Catholic Summer Farm Camps. Youth ages 6-14 enjoyed a few days on the farm where they practiced their faith life, made new friends, explored nature, participated in crafts and games, interacted with horses, and so much more. The activities had a retro theme like using sidewalk chalk, relay races, and several rounds of foursquare.

Photos by Lisa Kochanowski
Rita Lyden enjoys some snuggle time with this beautiful pony at the Oak Top Hill Horse Farm in South Bend, where she holds a Catholic Summer Farm Camp for youth ages 6-14 to enjoy nature, learn more about farm life, and practice their faith with new friends.

“It’s just four hours in the morning, so 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.,” said Rita Lyden, Farm Owner and Camp Organizer. “We want to fill that time with good camaraderie socializing with other good, fun-loving kids. We want to expose them to the animals because a lot of kids don’t get that, and to be on a farm since a lot of these kids are coming from the city, and just to be in an open space like this and see animals in their environment is already new to them. Then they have a chance to kind of romp around and interact with them (the animals) and we include learning some of the basic chores. We include games with the animals, games with each other, we have playtime together, and we have prayer time together,” said Lyden.

Youth also have group activities, arts and crafts, and moments where they come together and talk about the day’s activities and make plans for the next day.

Each week included a theme linked to a feast around the time of the camp. The first week was in June and themed Sacred Heart Camp and the second camp in July was themed St. Benedict Camp.

Rita Lyden, Owner of Oak Top Hill Horse Farm in South Bend, holds a Catholic Summer Farm Camp where youth ages 6-14 enjoy nature, learn more about farm life, and practice their faith with new friends.

“We want to incorporate our faith because that’s essential to everything we do, and I feel the notion of giving glory to God in everything we do is important,” noted Lyden. “When I look at the nature around us, I see His glory in all of it. So, when I’m interacting and just doing my chores, I feel like I can kind of participate in that. Yes, I’m mucking a stall, but I’m giving glory to God through mucking my stall or attending to the horses or mowing pastures. I want that notion to be present in the camp as well, that even through our play, like playing together or anything that we’re doing, we incorporate prayer because we’re thinking about how we can give glory to God and that’s really beautiful.”

Oak Top Hill Horse Farm is guided by living, learning, and loving. Nestled on 30 acres in South Bend, visitors are offered the opportunity of a life-changing experience. Wellness through equine-assisted learning offers a chance to heal, revitalize, challenge, enlighten, and love. Experiences include corporate retreats, youth development experiences, personal growth workshops, and mindfulness sessions. People can take horseback riding lessons or use available boarding services. They added personalized events including farm tours, summer camps, and birthday parties.

“My family has been so truly blessed to be here and I see the fruit of it on a regular basis. And then we have people who are here riding horses, and we have a community and I see the fruit happening there,” said Lyden. “The summer camp is a new way to share their blessings with the next generation.”

A unique aspect of this camp is the interaction with horses the children are exposed to during their time on the grounds.

“We’re assuming people have zero experience with horses. They’re fascinated but they’ve actually never even been this close, so we start with gentle grooming and just kind of an introduction to a horse, what things to look for, and what to watch out for,” said Lyden.

Once a child has learned extensive details about being around horses, they advance to having the opportunity for a pony ride and being put on a horse. Being certified in equine-assisted learning has helped Lyden structure her curriculum for the camps.

Participating in a faith-based camp allows for many memorable and impactful moments for everyone.

During one of the camps, the group participated in a Eucharistic procession. It was a beautiful moment of praying together and giving glory to God together in a very casual setting.

“Everyone helped. Part of our arts and crafts was to make a frame that they all decorated, and they decorated it throughout the week. We did a background and then had the kids think of a word that describes your special talent, like something special, a special aspect of you that you bring to the Body of Christ. And so, we would talk about that in various games, in examples of stuff, like I see so and so is so courageous. I would notice stuff for them and have them keep thinking about what you think is your special gift that God is giving you that you bring to the Body of Christ. On the final day, they chose their word and put it inside the frame and then we offered that in our little prayer corner. Then they also all made flowers that went on their banner and put all their banners together and then we did a little procession together,” shared Lyden. Many kids noted this moment as a highlight of the camp experience.

Lyden loves to see how camp offers physical play along with personal growth.

Families bringing multiple children are welcomed, which is a benefit for families knowing they can drop all children off in one place, that they have someone they know with them, and they can all be picked up at the same time. At the beginning of camp, siblings could be grouped for activities and once they felt comfortable, they were paired with new friends.

This friendly rooster is one of many animals that campers meet at the Oak Top Hill Horse Farm in South Bend.

Lyden recalls one young man who was a younger camper and smaller in stature who seemed apprehensive at first, even struggling to make eye contact with campers. Each day, children had the chance during wrap-up time to share something they liked most about their day at camp.

“I forgot to do it on the second day of camp because we ran out of time,” Lyden said about this one particular week, so she posed the question in the morning of the next day. “After morning prayer, I was asking what do you guys remember from yesterday’s camp. He was the first one to raise his hand and I was excited and a little shocked. I said his name and called on him and he said, “Well just actually basically everything.’ It was the cutest thing and one of those moments where I just wanted to giggle and laugh because I was very happy that we were reaching all ages. That was a highlight for me to see that even the ones coming in a little bit nervous were really enjoying it.”

The group is always trying to fine-tune logistics and keep the flow of the activities going. They are challenged by not being sure about how to grow, how to have enough spots, and not over-commit. They don’t want to get too big and lose the hands-on, personalization of the program. The four-hour morning program was successful, and, in the future, they may consider longer days and possibly increase the equine interaction with the addition of horse-riding lessons.

“I want them to leave with that phrase that I think a lot of teachers use with a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature, that it’s something that draws them and they know that they need that from time to time just to feel more refreshed. I would like them to feel exuberant joy. That’s a very high standard, but that’s what I want. I want them to come here, have at some point or another during those four days, a time where they just felt exuberant joy like the happy-go lucky, carefree kind and with friends, new friends, and family. And if we hit that mark, I think that’s my top goal,” said Lyden. “We want to incorporate our faith because that’s essential to everything we do. And I feel as if, you know that notion, give glory to God in everything we do. When I look at the nature around us, I see His glory in all of it.”

To learn more, contact Rita Lyden at [email protected] or visit

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