As a child, I never went to summer camp. My camp was my own backyard, a 42-acre horse boarding farm off Highway 119 in Shelby County, Alabama. Every day was a day at camp and every summer was “summer horse camp.”
We had a 24-stall boarding barn with pastures, ponds, and trails for exploring and an above ground pool for cooling off. The boarders (the kids) were my friends and campmates, and quite frankly, growing up this way, I had the time of my life!
I often gave horse riding lessons to the boarders, and we always did fun activities like swimming our horses through the creeks and ponds and ”showing” our horses (broomsticks) around the top of our flatbed trailer, normally used to haul hay. This makeshift show arena offered many an hour of imaginary and educational play. Have you ever whiled away a summer vacation playing horse show before?
Although never having attended an official camp, this childhood experience is as close as I can guess a summer horse camp might be. The kids of today, in Alabama, fortunately have the choice of many horse camps from which to choose. Traditional horse camps, like Camp Skyline and Riverview Camp, offer activities other than just horseback riding during the camp session and many offer overnight, resident camps.
Farm-based horse camps usually offer day riding lessons in English or Western style, perhaps with an emphasis on a particular discipline. These farm camps sometimes have other activities like water play and arts and crafts combined with the grooming, tacking, and riding.
School team-based camps are usually specialized camps for school teams that are practicing for competitions in middle school, high school, and college.
Some farms offer adult horse camps offered either during the week or on the weekend for those wanting to learn to ride or to enhance their previously learned riding skills, focusing on horsemanship.
What do you need to take to camp? Kids camps at horse farms usually require long pants, boots with heel, and a helmet at the very least. Some require the campers to bring snacks, lunch and water as well. The more traditional camps carry a higher price but often include meals and incidentals fees, as well as overnight accommodations.
How do you find a good horse camp? Parents looking to find just the right camp for their child will want to identify the type of riding done at the camp, the amount of time spent in the saddle (and more specifically, not in the saddle), as well as whether the instructors carry certification. Although it’s not necessary to go to a camp with certified instructors, certification gives peace of mind to the parent regarding the instructors ability to teach and level of equine skills known. Another important piece of advice for parents is to get references from past campers about the horse camp being considered.
What trends and benefits can you expect? Horse camps provide many benefits to kids, including the opportunity to develop social skills as well as riding skills. Having many different horses to ride also gives the campers a variety of experience dealing with different types and personalities of horses. Kids also have to learn to deal with different types of instructors. Overall, the trend is to have certified instructors at horse camps, and this has been of great benefit to the kids. And because of the trend to have not only summer camps, but winter camps, spring break camps and other seasonal camps, kids have quite a few chances to experience the thrill of learning about horses and horsemanship. Further, the trend of offering discipline specific camps allows children to focus on and develop special skills.
What can you do to prepare? Once a horse camp is selected, help your child (or yourself, if you’re going to an adult camp) to prepare by having them read about horses and horse behavior, paying special attention to safety practices around horses. Most of all, encourage them to explore their hopes, goals, and dreams and to have the time of their lives doing so!