Horse-crazy kids are like sponges when it comes to learning about their favorite animal. They take every opportunity they can to absorb information about horse care and new equine facts. Summertime gives them a chance to focus on horses instead of school, and what better way to learn about horses than to go to summer camp?
Types of Camps
The first step in finding the right camp is deciding which type your child wants to attend: overnight or day.
Day camps are great choices for younger children or those who easily get homesick. Some camps offer morning, afternoon and all-day sessions, so your camper may need to bring a bagged lunch.
Overnight camps can range from one week to all summer long. Depending on the location and duration of the session, the camp may host parents’ and visitors’ days. Some programs offer both overnight and day camp options.
Ways to Find Camps
Camp location, activities, websites and more can be obtained from one of many online camp directories.
However, the internet isn’t your only resource. Ask parents in your community who have sent their children to horse camps for recommendations. Find out what they liked and didn’t like about the programs their children have attended. Their tips can help you gauge what will be best for your child. Encourage your child to talk to friends about their camp visits and speak to their parents about possibly sending your children together.
Also check local resources such as tack shops, newspapers and bulletin boards where camps may have posted information. Riding schools and lesson barns often run camp programs in the summer or even during school holidays. Youth groups, such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the YMCA, Pony Club and 4-H, often have riding activities as well.
Call the Camp
After you’ve started to narrow down your list, call each camp office and ask to speak with the director or head riding instructor. Talking to camp management will allow you to get a good feel for the riding program and general environment at each camp, and most directors are happy to answer any questions you may have. Most camps have brochures and DVDs they can send potential campers, and some programs even hold an open house for visitors.
The perfect camp will give your child exactly what he or she wants to get out of her time spent away from home. That means you need to include your child in the decision making process.
Ask about your child’s riding goals and expectations. Is your youngster an English rider who would like to give western a try? Maybe he or she is interested in learning about horse care and barn management. Some camps are very goal-oriented and have written tests and horse shows throughout the session, while others are focused on getting out on the trail and learning about horses in a more relaxed environment.
Typical horse-related activities include learning how to properly groom and tack up a horse. Find out how many times campers ride per day and if the program specializes in arena, trail, English or western riding. The average riding level of campers is important to research as well.
Also consider extracurricular activities—even specialized riding camps typically offer well-rounded programs involving arts and crafts, games and more. Depending on location, camps may also offer team sports, water sports and dance.
Remind your child that it’s impossible to be in the saddle 24/7. Even if he or she attends a strictly horsey camp, all horses need a break.
Safety must be the No. 1 priority at horse camps, and a reputable camp with well-trained staff will integrate fun activities with safety. When researching potential camps, pay close attention to safety requirements.
Be sure the camps you look at have some form of accreditation. Many camps are members of the American Camp Association (ACA).
Some programs require instructors to be certified by the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) or American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA), or to have an H-B or higher Pony Club rating. Many camps also require that instructors have their CPR certification. Look into the age requirements of instructors and counselors as well. You don’t want to send your child to a camp to be taught by someone only a couple of years older. Also find out the ratio of campers to counselors.
Camps should explain their safety requirements somewhere in their literature. They should require ASTM/SEI approved riding helmets, and appropriate footwear—riding boots or shoes with a heel. Tennis shoes aren’t safe to ride in because a rider’s foot can easily slip through the stirrup and get caught. Some camps provide helmets; however, many riders prefer to bring their own.
If a camp advertises mounted riders without helmets, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.
Food and Lodging
Every camp’s menu is different, so it’s highly likely that your child’s food choices and meal times will be a bit different at camp than they are at home.
If your child has any food allergies, is diabetic or a vegetarian, or has any other meal requirements, talk to the camp director.
If your child attends an overnight camp, sleeping arrangements will be a concern. Depending on the camp’s location and if it is co-ed, all-girls or all-boys, campers will stay in dormitories or cabins, and often live with one to eight other campers and a counselor.
Bringing a Horse
If you own a horse or pony, you may want your child to take him to camp. Your dynamic duo will get the chance to learn from different instructors and ride in a new environment. However, keep in mind that this lengthens the packing and planning routine.
It’s important to get details on the facilities the camp has for your horse. Transporting him to and from the camp requires a great deal of preparation. Depending on the length of your child’s stay and if the camp is located far away from your home, you may want to locate a farrier and equine vet in the area. Camps can usually recommend farriers and vets and may even have equine healthcare professionals who visit the camp frequently. Your horse must be up-to-date on all vaccinations and have a negative Coggins test before he can live at a camp.
Reminders for Campers
Hopefully your child will be full of anticipation when it’s time to leave for camp. Here are a few quick reminders that you’ll want to mention to your soon-to-be camper:
- Drink a lot of water! The heat can really sneak up on you when you’re having fun with horses.
- Don’t be afraid to tell a staff member if you’re uncomfortable with something, whether it be riding, grooming or participating in any other group activity. The point is to have fun, not be fearful.
- Try to get some sleep! Chatting with bunkmates at night is fun, but you don’t want to be so tired that you can barely stay awake on your horse in the morning. That’s not fun or safe.
- Pack bug spray and sunscreen.
There is a camp out there for any young rider. With some research, discussion and thought, you and your child will be able to select the perfect camp. Remember to start your search early. Many popular camps can start to fill up as early as January or February for the upcoming summer.
Assistant Editor Allison Griest spent multiple summers as a horsey camper and horse camp counselor.
This article originally appeared in the 2010 issue of Horses USA. Click here to purchase the most recent issue.