Finding Help

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What’s a parent to do during summer break, when suddenly children are desperately in need of something to do? It’s likely to entail summer camp, and this is where you come in. A summer day camp at your barn can mean plenty of additional revenue if you do it right. And you can, with the right help.

When looking for help, look close to home if possible, recommends Jessica Jahiel, Ph.D., popular author, clinician and consultant. You’ll want to staff your camp’s management team with your regular instructors and “local talent,” as outsourcing could seriously cut into your profit margin. “Barn owners can stack the deck in favor of safety by using an instructor whose knowledge, teaching ability and safety orientation have been tested, evaluated and approved by a good certification program such as the American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA).”

There are probably many good staff candidates in your backyard—high school and college horsewomen who have worked hard for years to keep their horses and have very useful and applicable horse knowledge. Practical experience is a must-have in hiring a person to work with horses, and a desire and ability to work with children is a second must. And of course, they must be safety-conscious. Word of mouth through trainers and barn managers in the area can get you linked up with local riders who are capable of working in or even running a camp.

There are other ways to find local talent as well. Samantha Gardner directs camp at Essex Equestrian Center in West Orange, N.J. “We’re a riding school and teach anywhere from 50 to 100 lessons a day,” says Gardner, who posts help-wanted notices a few months prior to summer. Teenagers apply who want quality time in the barn or more hands-on experience, she says, and they start as volunteers.

Gardner knows high schools often require community service hours, so she reaches out to those schools to fill her camp staff ranks, under the direction of a head counselor.

Once teens are signed on, “We do a training session to go through what’s expected and to see if they have ‘horse sense,’” says Gardner. Several of those who have worked camp previously return each year, and soon are on the paid employee roster to supervise the 30 campers per week.

Here’s another idea: Mary Pierson, communications director of the United States Pony Clubs, suggests being proactive by placing an ad in the classified section of the quarterly USPC News. Scroll down the page at www.ponyclub.org/sponsorships.htm for information.

“For many years, members have been teaching or taking care of horses,” says Pierson, who cites the universal credibility and experience that comes with a respected Pony Club rating. “A ‘B’ rating in Reno is the same as it is in Los Angeles, so you know what that person is capable of doing.” She says it’s not uncommon to see an ad in “The Chronicle of the Horse,” for example, placed by camps looking for “Pony Club members” to work during the summer. “Our Horse Management educational requirements are recognized by many, many camps, especially those that have been in existence for a number of years.” Of course, our own publication is another great place to advertise for camp staff (www.stable- management.com under classifieds).

At the American Camp Association (www.acacamps.org), the roster includes 2,400 accredited camps—not day camps like you’ll host—that must meet more than 300 specific health and safety program standards.

At ACA, the term “supervisor” is the individual that oversees facilities and programming. ACA asks, as you might, too: “Does that person hold a certificate from a nationally-recognized organization or riding school? Do they have documented endorsements of success experienced in formal horseback-riding instruction?” For ACA accreditation a supervisor must have at least six weeks’ management supervisory experience at a horseback-riding facility and be at least 21 years old. ACA currently approves 11 organizations to certify instructors for camp horseback-riding programs. On the list are: USPC, Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA), North American Riding for the Handicapped (NARHA), ARIA and the United States Dressage Federation (USDF). To see the list in full, visit ACA’s website at www.acacamps.org/accredita­tion/horsecert.php.

Your own website can also bring in recruits. An ad on Criswood Farm’s website reads, “Riding Instructors Needed: Criswood Farm is looking for qualified instructors to teach English Balanced Seat and/or Western lessons.” Owner Doris Christopher says her website does stimulate inquiries from qualified applicants.

“Most of our camp instructors have been at our stable,” says Christopher. Her “graduates” then go on to attend schools with strong equestrian programs like Virginia Intermont College and Averett University, and she recommends you look at those types of places, too. Kids return to teach at Criswood in the summer, where Christopher says her strong network of contacts in the Virginia equestrian community also pays back with good recommendations for camp staff. Then, she does a thorough reference and background check.

“People call us all the time for jobs,” she says. “One person tells another.” But simply saying “I like horses” doesn’t cut the employment mustard at this 35-year-old facility. “We’re very strict and safety conscious once they’re hired,” she adds.

Colleges also prove a fruitful hunting ground for the associate executive director and summer camp director of YMCA Camp Wilson, Maggie Haverfield, in Bellafontaine, Ohio. Those college job boards on individual school websites are rich in applicants. Simply go to the school’s site and find a link to “Career Center,” suggests Wilson. You can usually post an ad for free. Other more general sites have also been good resources. She likes EQUIstaff.com, as well as CampStaff.com, and she advertises on the job board at ACACamps.org.

Or, add an accent to your staff: YMCA hosts the International Camp Counselor Program (www. iccpymca.org) to bring staff from 122 nations to day and resident camps in the United States.

For Haverfield, applicants must be between the ages of 19 and 23. And they must be committed. Nothing is more frustrating than hiring someone who leaves halfway through.

After interviewing and reference-checks, camp instructors go through a CHA (www.cha-ahse.org) certification on-site, getting to know the arena, 50 horses, equipment and more. This process transforms “good help” to “great help.”

Commit to a strong summer camp program with talented personnel running it. Often, you’ll find that campers here today aren’t gone tomorrow (even though school is back in session)—they’ll remain in your lesson program.