I am a college student (and equestrian) doing research for a marketing class, and I was hoping to get some insight from you all on what you look for in summer horse programs or camps for kids. What have you seen in the past that appealed to you or what would you like to see improved based on your experiences? If possible, I'd love to hear your thoughts about schedules, facilities, instruction, curriculum, safety, or anything else that comes to mind.
Thank you so much for your help!
I'm a college student, so no kids here, but I am working at a summer camp this year.
When I was looking around, I preferred camps that had at least some of their horses year round. I think it shows a level of dedication to the horses, they tend to be better cared for, and the camp knows the horses well.
The more instructors the better, even if they're just horse and kid smart junior counselors. You just need eyes and hands. Obviously the official horse staff should be knowledgeable not only about horses, but also about kids and how to teach.
Facilities should be clean and safe. This is where it really depends on the level of camp. If it's a $1,000+ a week "equestrian camp" I expect a quality barn with stalls and turn outs. Several arenas. Grooming and wash stalls. Well manicured property, etc. If it's a summer camp that happens to have a horse program, I expect shade and water for the horses. Safe fencing. A proper riding area whether it's trails, fences pasture type area, or manicured arena. It should be safe and decently maintained but doesn't need to be fancy.
I like a program that offers several different levels and "programs" but at a small camp this isn't always possible. Getting at least a couple hours on the trail and time in the arena is great. "Fun" activities like washing horses, painting horses, bareback rides, playing with horses in turn out (for those safe enough), etc is great in a more intensive camp. After all... it is summer camp! Those are the things the students remember the most.
For safety, proper pre-camp training. Everyone basic CPR and First Aid certified. First aid kit quickly accessible (and brought along on trail rides), and emergency numbers available. Basically, there needs to be a program.
I hope that helps! I know I'm probably not your target here, but I figured I would share anyways. P.S. definitely not a bad way to do a marketing project!
I'm a little in the same boat as wonders - too young to have kids, but I've worked at camps before. To me, the combination of small children and horses can be completely terrifying, so safety is my biggest concern. Having a high staff to student ratio helps a lot, along with staff that takes the time to teach kids how to behave around horses. Also, finding ways to teach kids about horsemanship and things like vet care and feeding while still keeping them interested can be challenging, so a camp that does that well would impress me.
I don't have children, nor do I plan to, but I did work at a summer camp with a riding program for four summers and was director of the program for two of those years. Not all campers participated in the riding program, and those that did paid an additional fee and rode every day, even if other activities were cancelled due to weather or special events.
The camper:staff ratio is a big issue when it comes to any summer camp program, but even more when it comes to a riding program. It not only affects the amount of instruction the child gets, but the overall safety of horses and students. Even if most of the kids were still very much beginner and not much was asked of the horses when it came to performance, the horses still needed breaks.
That may make it necessary to put a cap on the number of students allowed into the riding program. One of my frustrations about the program I worked in was that the camp directors wanted to make parents (and kids) happy, so they'd "give in" and allow more kids to sign up for riding. We'd end up stretched thin when it came to staff and horses, which made things even worse when a couple of the horses (owned by a local trader and leased to the camp each summer) came down with strangles.
At the camp where I worked, the riding director and barn manager did not live in cabins with the campers. That allowed full, undivided attention to the horses and facility.
Some of the other department directors initially took offense to the Riding directors not having cabin responsibilities. Apparently they didn't realize that horses still needed to be fed and cared for, and couldn't just be left "tied to the dock" like the canoes and kayaks when they weren't being used.
The rest of the riding staff (instructors and assistant instructors) were also camp counselors who had "cabin duties" in addition to their department responsibilities.
All students, regardless of how much riding they and their parents said they actually had, were given a riding evaluation at the beginning of each summer. It wasn't uncommon for students to come up for their evaluation in full show clothes, bragging about the 18hh thoroughbred stallion they owned at home and jumped 5' courses regularly. Then, when asked to lead the 14hh old reliable camp horse to the mounting block, the kid became a quivering mess.
When it comes to camp staff, it's vital to have people who are competent with horses, even if they are only "assistants" or counselors-in-training. Dealing with a bunch of kids and horses can be hectic enough as it is without having to constantly supervise and direct the "barn help," too. That, of course, is something that the camp directors (or those in charge of hiring) must be aware of.
Please copy and paste this to your signature if you know someone, or have been affected by someone who needs a smack upside the head. Lets raise awareness.