Creating Winter Camps

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When the school year is over, young riders and their parents look forward to summer horse camps. Whether the camp is a week-long, overnight program or a day-long experience, camps offer riders the opportunity to spend more time at the barn advancing their skills and learning how to properly care for a horse. Winter camps can serve similar purposes.

Summer camps not only benefit riders and their parents; riding facilities, too, benefit from summer camp sessions. A stable has an opportunity to develop new clients and offer additional riding/barn time for existing clients. Parents too look forward to summer camps because they provide an alternative to daycare while their children are out of school.

All these benefits apply to winter camps as well. School schedules include generous holiday time in December, mid-winter and spring. So, with the popularity of summer camps, why not consider offering winter camps? 

Mini-day camps offered during student breaks from school can make holiday gifts for families, serve as an alternative for parents that need to arrange day care for their children for short periods of time, and provide stables an additional source of income during months that can traditionally be slower.

Preparation

Stables that run summer camps already have a schedule of events and activities for campers. Simple changes to a summer camp program can be taken to accommodate the weather and change in seasons.

Like summer camps, winter camps can be half-day or full-day experiences. Depending upon the length of the session, the schedule can include morning and afternoon riding time. Campers can also be assigned basic horse chores designed to teach them about horse care, including feeding, turning horses out, caring for sick/injured horses, cleaning tack and mucking stalls.

Winter day camp programs can also include activities that take place off the property. Based on the stable’s location, field trips to nearby college equestrian programs, breeding farms or stables that specialize in specific disciplines can offer diverse ways for campers to enjoy horses.

Field trips can also include winter activities like sledding, snow tubing, ice-skating or learn-to-ski programs at nearby ski slopes. A schedule of events can be developed to complement any stable’s routine.

Offering an “extended hours” or “after camp care” option can also be a win-win situation for the barn and for parents. If the daily camp program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., consider providing parents with the option of dropping their kids off early or picking them up later in the afternoon for an extra fee.

Providing a flexible schedule will help parents who are constrained by hours determined by the workplace, and increase the likelihood they will send their child to another camp session later in the year.

Considerations for Winter Camp

Facilities: Does your stable have adequate space for campers to get in out of the cold, wind and snow? Including time for arts and crafts brings campers into a warmer area of the barn to warm up, and perhaps to make a keepsake to take home at the end of the day/week.

Barns without an indoor arena can still offer winter horse camps. Campers can assist with daily chores and participate in horse-related games or a horseless horse show designed to test skills they are taught during the day.

Pre-registration: Weather can greatly influence the success of a winter riding camp. Mandatory pre-registration not only allows staff to plan in advance, but also reduces last minute cancellations because “it’s too cold.”

A non-refundable deposit discourages no-shows who are simply fair-weather horse enthusiasts. However, contingency plans should be made in advance in the event that severe weather forces cancellation or rescheduling.

Tell Campers to Come Prepared

Trainers, instructors and stable owners understand the importance of properly dressing for a winter day at the barn. They have mastered the art of dressing in layers to conquer any winter elements. Campers, especially young campers, may not be as savvy. Even clients that take weekly lessons throughout the winter months may not realize how they should dress for a ½ or full day at the barn in the cold and possibly the rain or snow.

Provide campers and their parents with detailed guidelines about what to wear, and suggest they pack a bag with extra clothes in case the weather changes or their clothes get wet.

To ensure campers are prepared, and as a potential extra source of income, consider stocking a small supply of winter gloves, hand warmers and toe warmers, and let campers/parents know ahead of time the items will be available for purchase in the event they are necessary.

Winter Camps Are A Win-Win

Summer horse camps are a mainstay at equestrian centers catering to young riders. Riders spend more time in the saddle than during weekly lessons and learn more in-depth horsemanship skills than what is possible during once a week lessons.

Winter camps scheduled during school holiday breaks can be equally successful. Programs offered during the winter help stables increase income during slower months, and riders anxious to get to the barn can spend their free time grooming, riding and caring for horses in the barn. Parents too, appreciate the benefits of winter camp, which allow their horse-crazy children to spend time in the barn while also relieving the pressure of finding daycare for holiday vacation times. This is an idea whose time has come!