Off the Horse

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For a child who loves horses, summer horse camp is a dream come true. But even a horse-crazy kid can get too much of a good thing. Every once in a while, the campers—and the horses—need a break.

Non-horsey activities are a part of any good equestrian camp, and can provide both camp employees and clients a healthy change of pace. These days, horse camps are offering a variety of different activities to keep kids interested and having fun.

Why It’s Good

Rebecca Ayres, equestrian director of Camp Redcloud in Lake City, Colo., is a firm believer in off-horse activities. She finds that these diversions provide additional learning experiences for campers.

“A lot of the kids that come to horse camps usually just ride horses and do nothing else,” she says. “While riding horses can present many challenges for those who have never ridden, for those who do ride, it can become very comfortable. We do other activities during the evening to stretch our horse campers in new areas.”

Ayres notes that her camp alternates different activities, giving campers a chance to experience a variety of sports. “Usually, we do mountain biking one evening, canoeing another and then some high ropes activities on another,” she says. “One camper might do well at canoeing, but not enjoy biking at all. This camper will be challenged by an activity that she really doesn’t like or want to do, thus allowing us an opportunity to teach life lessons. Our non-horsey activities stimulate growth in our campers’ lives; without tension, there is no growth.”

In addition to providing campers with opportunities to learn a life lesson, Ayres also believes Camp Redcloud’s off-horse activities also help build teamwork.

“It’s impossible to be an effective rider without the ability to work with your horse,” she says. “It is equally difficult to get through life without the ability to work with other people. Most of our non-horsey activities focus on building our horsemanship camper team. It is never easy to learn to work with people or horses who are different from us, but this is essential for success. Every time a camper learns to resolve a conflict with another camper, we believe it brings her one step closer to being a more effective rider and a more balanced person.”

Joann Boyko, camp director for Quiet Place Stables Riding Camp in Boulter, Ontario, Canada, finds that her camps’ non-horsey activities also provide a way for horses and campers to get some time away from one another.

“Even though there is nothing more fun than riding horses, we feel that both the children and the horses need a break,” she says. “Riding is very physically demanding, and resting those muscles is important. Our summer days are quite hot, so daily swimming refreshes everyone for our nightly riding lesson. Field games, such as volleyball and soccer, and archery and lasso lessons, also provide a time for all the campers to get to know each other.”

Just for the Day

But what do you do if you run a day program, without all the diversions of a swimming pool or mountain bikes? Plenty.

Ardith Turpin is the horsemanship director for SPIRIT Farms Riding Center at the YMCA Camp in Manitou-Lin in Middleville, Mich. The riding programs at YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin are operated on the 120-acre SPIRIT Farms Riding Center, and each summer more than 500 campers ages 8 to 15 participate in day camps or overnight camps. Weekly sessions are limited to 28 day campers, who are divided into four groups of seven based upon riding ability and experience.

Each day, horse campers have four rotations: a formal riding lesson, an interactive hands-on barn lesson, recreational riding time and responsibility time. The interactive barn lessons tackle topics such as grooming, horse parts, saddle and bridle parts, breeds and colors, equine diseases and sicknesses, different riding disciplines, tack, footfalls and the vital signs of horses and how to monitor them. In other words, there are plenty of things to teach students out of the saddle. Expanding on that, responsibility time was designed to help campers understand that there is more to riding than just showing up and hopping on. Activities could include cleaning tack, bathing horses, and washing out water tanks.

Because the YMCA camp is located on a lake, non-horsey activities do include swimming. They can also participate in arts and crafts, nature programs and other sports.

Turpin says, “I think that the non-horsey activities give the campers a chance to interact with each other and develop the life long friendships that camp is about. Also, the break from the horse related activities makes them more attentive and excited to learn when they are with the horses.”

Another summer program limited to day campers also relies on the popular arts and crafts diversion. Danielle Geisert, an instructor and trainer at Keezlenutten Farm in Harrisonburg, Vir., encourages students to use their lunch hour for more creative pursuits, such as drawing, and the finished pieces are put on display for family and friends at the end-of-session horse show.

But art is not limited to popsicle sticks and paper at Keezlenutten. “They get to ‘decorate’ the horses for the show, as well,” she says. “We spray paint patterns on their rumps and usually put glitter and hair coloring in their manes and tails (our horses are very tolerant).”

Geisert also feels that down time should be down time. “Our arts and crafts period is not very structured and allows the kids to just hang out, as well.”

Non-horsey activities don’t have to be expensive—just the cost of some crayons, a ball or two and a lot of water. At Red Jacket Farms in Litchfield, Ct., the summer program is run each day for four hours. “Even when you only have four hours,”?says program director Rachel Dwan, “the kids can get a little burned out on riding.” Favorite non-horsey activities at this farm include ball games, red light/green light, and arts and crafts.

“We have a big box full of art supplies and the kids draw or make bracelets,”?says Dwan. “The kids range in age from 6 to 12, and their attention spans are tricky. Generally we tack up and ride first thing, then we take a break and do something completely different, like badminton, and then we get back on the horses.”

Of the more favorite activities, Dwan notes that water fights on hot days are a big favorite, and kickball tends to get everyone involved, including the owner and several boarders.

Going Away

When it comes to the activities horse campers can participate in, sleep-away camps are only limited by a camp director’s imagination.

Consider Bluestreak Stables’ “All About Horses” program. Bluestreak Stables is a horse camp for girls located in Seguin, Tex., just outside of San Antonio. The camp offers an all-girl horsemanship program that provides beginner, intermediate and advanced riders the chance to improve their skills. Each girl is assigned a horse for the week, and receives classes on all aspects of care and management for that horse. Riding lessons are provided daily.

While the camp is designed to be horse intensive, owner Reba Martinez realizes the value of providing activities that do not involve the horses. “The girls are spending a week with us, and the entire day is filled with horse activities,” she says. “They just need a break from it to have fun, and then refocus.”

Extra-curricular activities offered to campers at Bluestreak include swimming in the camp pool and playing water games. The camp also provides fun evening activities.

“We offer Western line dancing in our new recreation room, and also have a Karaoke Night that the girls love,” says Martinez. “We have horse movie night where the girls bring a blanket and stuffed animal, and get popcorn served to them.”

Some camps view their horse program as only one of several valuable activities for campers. Taffy Owen, stable manager of River Way Ranch Camp in Sanger, Calif., located near Sequoia National Park, notes that kids at River Way Ranch can sign up for more than 60 different activities, including waterskiing, mini-biking, go-carting, gymnastics, tennis, sailing, team sports, golf, overnight trips to the national park, overnight canoe trips, and more.

At the same time, her camp provides an intensive equine program for campers ages 10 to 16 who want to better their riding. “Our horse camp is for kids who want to focus on developing skills in Western and English riding,” she says. “These campers learn to groom and care for a horse, and they learn to ride and jump. Campers are entered in local shows as they progress and demonstrate they are ready.”

At the International Riding Camp in Greenfield Park, N.Y., director Arno Mares notes that the camp’s riding program is stressed, offering three hours of daily time in the saddle. “However, we feel that it is important to have a well balanced program of other activities that teach various skills,” he says. “Learning different skills, from waterskiing to pottery, reinforces the camper’s sense of accomplishment at the end of the camp session.”

“Waterskiing is our most popular activity,” says Mares. “We use a top-of-the-line, professional waterski boat that is designed to produce a flat wake, which is great for beginners. We also use a special waterski boom mounted to the side of the boat which gives beginners instant success in learning this exciting sport. We offer our campers rides on our banana boat too, as well as our three-passenger Jetski.”

Non-horsey activities at International also include tennis, swimming, and arts and crafts. The arts and crafts center employs two instructors: one for ceramics and pottery and one in fine arts. “Two professional pottery wheels and a state-of-the-art kiln allows our campers to create high quality ceramics and pottery,” says Mares.

Getting Creative

Shady Grove Equestrian Camp, located in Colleyville, Texas, provides a five-day, five-night program designed to increase the camper’s knowledge of horsemanship safety, ground handling, grooming, and the use and care of equipment. “While the main focus at Shady Grove is equestrian activities, we do provide a number of other activities,” says Debbie Haberly, camp director.

“During the heat of the day, the girls look forward to playtime in the swimming pool or a soak in the hot tub to help loosen tired muscles,” she says. “In the evenings, we listen to music and work on a craft project. One of their favorites was decorating a wooden picture frame with colored markers. At the end of camp they received a picture of the horse they’d ridden all week to put in their frame.”

Dinner time at Shady Grove often centers on a festive theme. “We decorate the outside patio and pool area for Hawaiian night, give the girls leis, and enjoy Hawaiian chicken and virgin pina coladas,” she says. “Mexican night is make-your-own-taco night, and finishes with the girls breaking a pinata. Western night is when we grill, put the country music on and end with a campfire and smores.”

Later, the girls wind down on non-riding nights by watching a video. “Although we have a few campers who make it to the end of the movie, most fall asleep after we dim the lights about 9 p.m.,” says Haberly. “After all, being a cowgirl takes a lot of energy!”