It is the time a year again when parents scramble to find camps and activities for their children for the summer. In many cases, some of these camps book up before March, but in many areas – you still have time. So many kids, teenagers too, look forward to summer camp experiences all year. Finding the right camp for your child is very important. Once found, you can often return year after year.
Summer Horse Camp comes in many “flavors” including:
- Girl Scout Camps with horseback riding
- Day camp at local stables
- Overnight camps with horseback riding
- YMCA or 4H Camps that include riding
Whatever your choice, you need to find what best suits you, your child’s needs and your schedule. Most camps do not require that your child have any previous riding experience.
Although there are may be many local barn camps in your area, few, if any, will be accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). This may not be important to some parents, but it is worth investigating. Camps must meet certain safety and other standards in order to receive accreditation. You can find accredited camps on the ACA website.
If your child is new to riding, you may want to consider starting with a day camp at a local stable if your schedule can accommodate the shorter hours. These camps usually run for about 4 or 5 hours each day and include horse related activities including a lesson at least once per day. This will give your child a “taste” of what horse camp is like without committing to overnights and more extensive riding everyday. This is also a great option for the younger child. Many of the day camps have sessions just for younger children with activities designed to keep their interest.
Local barns tend to staff these camps with teen boarders and riders from their barn as counselors with at least one adult “running the show.” This adds a nice ‘tone’ to the camp because children tend to be more interested dealing with and talking to other children about horses and their experience. It also makes these camps more affordable for parents.
The commitment to overnight camp is a big one. Your child needs to be comfortable with the outdoors and being away from home for a period of time. Since there is usually riding multiple times a day and activities around horse care and riding, children should be comfortable spending much of their day in this manner. That is not to say that most camps do not offer swimming, archery, tennis, arts and crafts and other activities, but the focus is usually on horsemanship and riding.
Overnight camps should usually have (and should have) certified instructors and your child will probably receive a higher quality lesson in this environment. Most camps offer options to learn more about horses including how to feed, simple medical care, cleaning the barn and more. Campers are encouraged to participate to get the most out of their experience.
Overnight camps are usual pricey. Part of this is because your child is being fed and housed in addition to riding. The certified instructors cost more to keep on staff and they often have more horses at these camps.
Many overnight camps do not encourage parents and children to talk to each other while camp is going on (phone calls, visits, etc.). The reason is “out of sight, out of mind.” When visited by their mother or father, children tend to miss home and start to get homesick. When they do not have verbal or physical contact, they will adjust better to their surroundings. Letters and “CARE” package are encouraged and many camps offer the ability to email your child instead of sending regular mail.
Musts for Any Horse Camp
Most camps will require that you have a boot with a heel. This is for your child’s protection. You do not need to go out and purchase “paddock boots,” but you should have something that will not cause blisters and will allow your child to keep their heel down while in the stirrups (this will keep them secure in the saddle). If your child does not already ride, you can find some inexpensive boots (zip ups are great) from some online tack shops.
You do not usually need to purchase a helmet for day camp, but most overnight camps require them. SEI approved helmets are required. Readers should take caution when purchasing used helmets. Helmets that have been involved in a fall often may no longer offer proper protection due to cracks or indents. Helmets can be purchased for under $50 and are worth the investment. Helmets must be worn at all times when riding.
Before you attend any camp, ask for a visit. It would be best to visit when camp is in session. This way you can see how the counselors interact with the children and can possibly see a riding lesson in action. Do not “surprise” the camp. This may seem like a great idea, but it disrupts the day and the schedule for the kids that are attending camp and can leave the wrong impression.
It is very important to ask for references. Get a list of names and contact more than one of them to see what the parents and the children think of the camp. Let your children talk to ones that have attended camp and get their feedback. You want to make sure that the kids as well as the parents had a good experience.
Suggestions for New Campers
Go with a Friend
A great way to start any camp is to go with a friend. This way, your child will have someone they know to share the experience. If they get scared or uncomfortable, the friend helps balance this for them. This is a great idea when going to overnight camps. This really helps to combat homesickness as well.
Before going to any overnight camp, make sure your child can stay away from home for longer periods of time…this is not a one night sleepover. Encourage your child to go stay with a friend for a couple nights away from home and not to call you. If they cannot do this, they may not be ready for an overnight camping program.
Enjoy the Summer
Horseback riding camp can be a very rewarding experience. It can help your child nurture that horse interest and provide a wonderful summer experience. Happy Camping and Riding!