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Summer Camp Jobs

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  • Summer Camp Jobs

    I'm starting to look for a summer job. For the past 3 summers I worked in an office job, and even though I learned a lot I hated every minute being inside.

    I'm VERY interested in working in the Riding area of a summer camp. I would consider myself an intermediate rider... can walk, trot, canter, and jump small courses on most horses. I'm willing to deal with "problem" horses, and for anyone familiar with IHSA I show at the novice level. Up until last year, I was only able to ride once a week so I've done a lot of learning via books, videos, watching other lessons, etc.

    I don't have any formal experience teaching real riding, just to friends occasionally. I did teach vaulting to special needs kids for 4 years. I'm a junior at a university, but am also taking Equine Science classes at the local JC.

    Do I stand a chance at teaching at a summer camp? Is there anything specific I should start working on now to improve my chances?

    To anyone who has worked at a summer camp: I know it's a lot of hard work and long hours, but is there anything I should know before getting into it? Also, suggestions of good camps are welcome. I'm in California, but am open to traveling.

    Thanks in advance!
    Proud member of the "I'm In My 20's and Hope to Be a Good Rider Someday" clique

  • #2

    You have an excellent chance!
    I've worked at two different horsey camps, and I interviewed at one in CA but I couldn't take my horse with me so I had to decline the offer.

    It's so much fun and very rewarding (but physically and emotionally hard too). And I didn't get paid very much ($250 a week but it included my room and board).

    I made the best friends ever at camp, and I miss them all! But it didn't pay enough and I had to find a real job once i got out of college....
    Foaling Around www.facebook.com/foalingaround
    Custom Equestrian Items and Bath Products


    • #3
      Working at camp was the best.... some of the most memorable times of my life, and I made life-long friends! (Also married the Director at the camp where I worked, but that's a whole 'nother story... LOL.)

      I was 18 my first summer at camp, and had owned a horse and shown locally. I would say I was an average rider. All the other riding staff were from the UK and had BHS certifications. They really taught me SO MUCH those summers, and I grew exponentially as a rider and horse person.

      Camp is very hard work. You don't always get paid a lot. IMO it is more about the experience. I don't think I ever worked so hard in my life but I loved every minute of those summers. The days are very long, especially if you are working in the barn. Some camps have barn staff that ONLY deal with horses, tho must will expect you to be involved with the kids and other activities.

      The level of riders and the quality of horses can vary greatly from camp to camp. IMO you want to find a camp that owns most of its horses, or else borrows them from lesson barns, IHSA or private owners. Places that purchase "camp strings" from dealers are hit or miss. Some will be ok, some will be really scary.

      You do kind of have to accept that even at the best camps, the horses work hard. Some camps are great about vet, farrier, chiro, tack fitting, etc. Some are not at all. And that can be frustrating.

      These two in our area have great reputations:

      Though Longacres only takes 2-3 staff members each year. If you are serious about this and want to speak to someone at Forrestel, let me know.

      Hope this helps!
      We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.


      • #4
        Check out this camp I worked out for two summers. They are always looking for a riding assistant or two--someone who teaches basic to intermediate level riding lessons and is supervised by a head of the riding program.


        As well expected to be a regular counselor in a cabin either for the half or full summer. Great location, great campers, but be sure you can deal with a sometimes hectic and stressful environment. However I made some friends there that I still keep in touch with today from all over the world! Plus the pay is excellent.


        • #5
          I have got a few for you!

          http://www.camptecumseh.org/ Talk to Aimee - Wonderful place!!!

          http://www.camptuckabatchee.org/ Talk to Kelly - A simpler place but completely magical.

          http://www.horserentals.com/woodlandmeadows.html small but unassuming super fun place - day camp only. Talk to Heidi
          "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there"


          • #6
            If you're looking for a horsey summer job, don't count out hack stables. I rode english from 8 years old until about 21 years, and then I got a summer job loading tourists onto horses and leading them through the woods.

            These places tend to have bad reps (and some of that may be well deserved) but not all places are terrible! Where I worked all the horses were well feed, had good shoes, had well fitted tack, and had full turn out when not in use. They worked very hard, yes, but were well loved. I did not agree with every horse care decision (I'd have loved a better quality hay and to have 'half days' on the hottest days and I think some of those horses deserved a retirement... but the guides often provided that if the owners didn't) but the horses had off from about mid fall through mid spring, and there are a few thirty year old horses there that are still working and SOUND and HAPPY, so they must be doing something right! The oldies do have a lighter schedule.

            That much saddle time can teach you a lot, especially if your boss is anything like mine. We'd get a new horse in with questionable history, and a guide would ride it up and down the driveway once... and then take out a ride on it. I was the first ride on many horses and learned to be creative and gentle in finding ways to deal with behavior issues in front of inexperienced riders. If you look like you're struggling, they'll panic... but you cannot lose your temper at all or yank or smack because many people (especially non-horse people) don't know the difference between well deserved discipline and abuse.

            I learned a lot, and both my horses came from there. I made some AMAZING friends there, and we had a lot of fun. Yes, it is western, but riding is riding and horsemanship is horsemanship. The increased saddle time (even western) really improved my english seat and training abilities and confidence. Horsey jobs are the best... as long as you're prepared for long hours in all weather (I did 8 hours in the saddle one labor day in pouring rain at 50 degrees... brrr...) and little pay. Go for it!


            • #7
              You asked how to improve your chances of getting hired for a
              camp job. If I were hiring, I would favor the applicant who has
              had a recent first aid and cpr course. I would definately find a
              person who has farriery experience (even if it was just to do
              sprung shoe removal). I would certainly find a vet tech trained
              person desirable. It might even help to have lifeguard training
              so you can fill in if the regular worker in that area is ill.
              Robin from Dancing Horse Hill
              Elmwood, Wisconsin


              • #8
                I agree with having CPR and First Aid experience -- more than that, find someone who has horseback riding first aid experience -- the camp I worked at made sure we took Red Cross courses, but when the first fall of the summer happened, no one else knew how to do concussion and head checks, how to calm, how to direct people to catch and remove the horse, dismount other riders in the lesson, etc..... It's a VERY good skill to have!!!

                I LOVED working at the camp :-) -- Most of the kids and horses were fantastic. There are always the possibility of a few bad apples (human and equine!), but it's very rewarding....and even after a long day in the sun with sweaty horses, you'll still probably be happy :-)
                To be loved by a horse should fill us with awe, for we hath not deserved it.


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks so much everyone! I am first aid and CPR certified through Fall of 2011. I also work at the Rec Center's climbing wall and have basic understanding of how to check for concussions, spinal injuries, etc. I was hoping to get my WFR this winter, but it turns out the school isn't offering it.

                  Thanks for all the suggestions and I would love to hear more. LoveGirl: do you remember the CA camp, and did you otherwise like it?

                  Are there any ways to go about picking a good camp? I've mainly been looking around online, but that's so subjective.

                  Also, when is a good time to start applying? I've noticed a lot of camps are putting up apps in November; is sooner always better?

                  And finally, how many camps should I apply to? I want to make sure I'll have a job, but I also don't want to short the camps by applying and not accepting.
                  Proud member of the "I'm In My 20's and Hope to Be a Good Rider Someday" clique


                  • #10
                    I would start with the American Camping Association


                    They have tons of info on their site and can help you with the search. They hold very high standards and you can be sure that ACA Accredited camps have gone through a very rigorous evaluation process.

                    Good luck and have fun!
                    We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.


                    • Original Poster

                      Thanks FlashGordon! I've seen quite a few websites with that logo on it. It's good to know that actually means something!

                      Anyone else?
                      Proud member of the "I'm In My 20's and Hope to Be a Good Rider Someday" clique


                      • #12
                        I spent 8 summers working at camp, three of those summers at a camp in California Gold Arrow Camp. Their riding program (assuming it is still mostly the same) is basic horse skills and trail rides. It is absolutely gorgeous up there and I had a good time. They did western riding, as most California camps do. A good friend of mine worked at Skylake Yosemite Camp which does the same thing (but according to her is more laid back than GAC.) Both get their horses from the same people (there's about 10 California camps that get their horses from them) and they're all sane and nice. With a couple exceptions we always got the same horses again the next summer. I actually ended up buying one of my camp horses ten years later. I also met my husband up there

                        I spent 5 summers working at a Girl Scout Camp and it was a whole different place than the one in California. Girl Scout camps have to hold up to Girl Scout standards as well as ACA. I have known no group as safety conscious as the Girl Scouts. The clientele is usually local kids, when the two camps I mentioned above come from all over the place (including international.)

                        You should definitely be able to teach riding at camp, as long as it isn't a horse specific camp. I had no teaching experience when I started. Your potential camp might ask you to get to get certified by CHA. I learned a ton at the clinic I went to. If you wanted to make yourself a more attractive applicant you could just go out and get the certification.

                        The biggest thing you need to know about working at camp is that you will work hard and be under paid. You're going to have days that you won't think it's worth it. Then the camper that came to camp scared of horses guides the horse around the arena on her own... that makes it all worth it.

                        My biggest consideration, if I were looking for a camp job now, is how much time off would I get. Basically, you need to make sure you'll get some. Camps fall in a fuzzy area where normal time off required by labor laws doesn't apply. I've been in a situation where we were required to have 2 hours off a day (and got in trouble if we didn't take it) and in another situation where we were lucky if we were able to squeeze in a shower. That's another thing, if you must shower every day (like me) make sure you've got that time. I applied to one camp that required their staff to shower daily. That was so attractive to me.

                        What sort of comfort do you want in your living space? There's camps that have electricity in the cabins and attached bathrooms (something to take into account if you frequently have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.) There's the ones that have tents or cabins with centrally placed bathrooms with electricity. And then there's the ones that have no electricity at all outside of main camp and the living units have port-a-potties. Take these things carefully into account, though I can say from experience port-a-potties have advantages: campers can't plug them up with the most random stuff. The level of comfort will also be indicative of the type of camper you'll get.

                        The only time I applied to more than one camp I applied to 5 or 6 and got job offers from two. I'm pretty sure I had my apps in by March. Many camps are still looking for staff up until the day camp opens, so if you apply to some and don't get any offers, find those camps and apply to more.

                        If you've got any questions, feel free to pm me.
                        Pam's Pony Place

                        Pam's Pony Ponderings


                        • #13
                          I spent a summer teaching at a camp in Maine. It was an eight-week camp, and I only got there a week before it started (they were short-handed and desperately needed more instructors). Most of the other riding staff was there for two weeks getting the barn set up and the rented horses sorted out. I had a blast, even though it was long days and low pay.

                          I didn't usually have more than two kids in a lesson and they ranged from one young girl who only rode off the lunge line once on Parent's Day to another who had brought her own horse and competed regularly in eq classes in NY. Safety first was always in mind, and your experience from the first aid/CPR point of view is helpful. Enthusiasm, flexibility and patience are very important. If you are at a camp where riding is an option, not the main focus, you may well get one whose parents want her to ride but the kid is petrified around horses.

                          And be prepared for anything, like a staff member who barely speaks English finding you in the staff lounge to tell you there is a horse grazing by the tennis court at 10:30 PM. Have fun!
                          Leap, and the net will appear


                          • #14
                            I also agree you should start at American Camping Association.

                            Don't know if you're dead set on a camp, I spent a few summers working on dude ranches in CO and highly reccomend it - one summer I led rides at a ranch that took in 75 guests per week, and two summers I worked at a smaller ranch that ran cattle. THAT was fun.


                            • #15
                              Ok, I had to present both sides.. I LOVED working at camps, I worked at a great one in West VA (camprimrock) that had a great riding program, took excellent care of their horses, and had excellent lesson horses.
                              HOWEVER, there are MANY camps that may take a different approach to horse care. ACA and CHA have great safety standards, but there's not much requirement in health care... so be forwarned. If you are as anal as I am about taking care of them, ask them a few questions about their horses.
                              I don't expect top notch care and gorgeous facilities, etc, etc, but I DO expect regular trimming year round, deworming, vaccinations, and no horses ending up in slaughter after being done with camp.
                              I worked for a while as an assistant equestrian director at a ymca camp. The horses had their feet done 3-4 times a year by a farrier that wouldn't know a balanced foot if he saw one. Sheared heels, navicular (not treated--they just short strided around on trail rides), cracked and flared feet were all too common. The equestrian director did her best to make sure saddles fit, they had proper saddle pads, but many were often retired WAAY past when they should have been working (as in spine and hip bones sticking out- had 2 like this that promptly gained 100-200 lbs in a new home) but when they were retired they found good homes. They were also dewormed about 3 times a year- colic was fairly common... as they also fed some crap grain that was about 75% corn. I did manage to convince her to buy blankets for some of the old guys (not much shelter for 50+horses), and got some old guys on beet pulp.
                              The horses were also not the best lesson horses either- I really was strained to find enough beginner horses- being a YMCA camp near the city we didn't get too many advanced riders. I had to teach about 10 kids in one ring how to canter- by sending them one at a time down the long side. Sometimes chasing them... and often had to run next to the horse to teach jumping or barrels. The kid could ride, but was often on a horse that would stick his head down and plow to the gate, or was too quick over a tiny xrail. That camp REALLY made me appreciate good lesson horses.
                              This is often what you end up with- lots of beginners in one ring. You have to be creative.
                              Just be careful-- DO have fun, there are great camps out there, but for some they are either a means of having another activity, or they are cherished and taken care of as well as the camp can afford.
                              And by the way, you sound like a great candidate for equestrian staff. I would have hired you! Most camps also either have "assistant instructor" positions or will definitely assign you to certain levels. The camp I worked at in West VA had 7 riding rings and levels- you were put where you more comfortable. They made sure they had an even balance of advanced and beginner instructors.


                              • Original Poster

                                Thank you all so much! I'm definitely going to start looking at camps and sending out some e-mails looking for more information. (I may also PM a few of you about camps you suggested.) Any advice for what I should ask?

                                Obviously living conditions (btw, I noticed in some camps "Equestrian Staff" live in staff housing, not with campers -I assume this is do to the early schedule- where did most of you stay?)
                                Time off
                                Horses- are they camp owned or borrowed? How often do they see a farrier?
                                What else?

                                As far as other jobs besides camp, I'm not set on a camp, but I do really like teaching. Can you give me some more information about what it's like doing trail rides or a dude camp? Do I need any western experience to be appealing to them?
                                Proud member of the "I'm In My 20's and Hope to Be a Good Rider Someday" clique


                                • #17
                                  At both the camps I worked at I lived with campers until I was admin. Personally, I think it's really hard for staff to be responsible for horses and campers 24 hours a day. Some camps have figured out how to balance it so it is possible for counselors to care for both, but other camps haven't. And sometimes it's on a individual summer's basis as to whether it works or not. It's fun living in a cabin with the kids, but it's also nice not to.

                                  A lot of camp directors (who are generally the ones who do the hiring) don't know a lot about horses. Ask if you can talk to their riding director. She/he will know everything you need to know.

                                  As for trail ride places, I worked at Yosemite Trails Pack Station (warning, website had music) in Fish Camp, CA which is a few miles outside the south entrance of Yosemite for a few months. It's been ten years since I worked there, and I know they've got someone else managing it so I can't say exactly how it would be now, but for me it was one of the best times of my life. They're the same people that provided the horses to the camp I worked at, so I even had a couple of my equine buddies with me.

                                  The biggest difference for me was that at camp you were always on duty. At the pack station when the end of the day came it was the end of the day. Sure, if one of the horses had needed us we would have been expected to help, but once the horses were off duty so were we. I worked there in the fall, so it was different than the busy summer season. It was laid back but still professional. They used to also have a camp in the summer, so you may still be able to teach without having to be in a formal camp environment.

                                  As for western experience, I found western extremely easy to pick up. I think it would depend on the individual place as to what sort of experience they'll take.
                                  Pam's Pony Place

                                  Pam's Pony Ponderings


                                  • #18
                                    Hidden Valley Camp!

                                    I worked there last summer and it was an absolute BLAST! You get paid peanuts (although a bonus for horse staff), but you get an hour every day, as well as every other night off and I think 6 36 hour breaks off over the course of 8 weeks.

                                    We got there 2 weeks before the campers to learn how to teach and had great fun giving mock lessons to the rest of the counselors!

                                    Some of the horses are camp owned, others are leased for the summer from private owners. None of this rent 30 horses from the same place shenanigans!

                                    Cabins are wooden, with attached bathrooms, electricity, warm showers, etc.

                                    Check it out and let me know if you have questions! I loved it there and would go back in an instant if I could next year.

                                    Originally posted by Wonders12 View Post
                                    Thank you all so much! I'm definitely going to start looking at camps and sending out some e-mails looking for more information. (I may also PM a few of you about camps you suggested.) Any advice for what I should ask?

                                    Obviously living conditions (btw, I noticed in some camps "Equestrian Staff" live in staff housing, not with campers -I assume this is do to the early schedule- where did most of you stay?)
                                    Time off
                                    Horses- are they camp owned or borrowed? How often do they see a farrier?
                                    What else?

                                    As far as other jobs besides camp, I'm not set on a camp, but I do really like teaching. Can you give me some more information about what it's like doing trail rides or a dude camp? Do I need any western experience to be appealing to them?


                                    • #19
                                      I loved my 2 summers as a camp counselor. I worked at

                                      www.bestcamp.org - based at The Grier School in PA. I was a camp counselor and assistant riding instructor because at the time I was only 17. That might be a good combination for you though because you mainly teach beginner lessons. Full Riding Instructors did not have units and had all evenings off. I had afternoons off because counselors switched off shifts in the evenings.

                                      www.foxcroft.org (About section/Summer Camps, It's called Summer's Here) - I was a Riding Instructor & Residential staff. This rocked because the main camp is day but they have 15-20 residential kids. The day program ran from 9-3, then Residential Staff worked evening shifts, either from 3-dinner or from after dinner - 9, then everyone was "on" for bedtime. I had my horse with me, so it was great riding her in the evenings when I was off. As an Intermediate rider yourself, you'd probably either teach the leadline lessons or be the "seconder" on advanced trail rides (=Fun! Middleburg is hunt country, Virginia - it's fantastic!).

                                      The horses at both places get TOP NOTCH care. At Grier they are actually the horses the school's riding program uses during the year. At Foxcroft they were leased just for summers, but the horses got regular farrier visits and obviously veterinary treatment (actually some of them were probably better cared for at camp than when they were at home...sadly...) when they needed it. Feel free to PM me if you have any questions.
                                      "Choose to chance the rapids, and dare to dance the tides" - Garth Brooks
                                      "With your permission, dear, I'll take my fences one at a time" - Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey


                                      • #20
                                        If you're considering the dude ranch option there's a little bit of everything. Some ranches attract well seasoned horse people, some attract people that have never touched a horse in their life.

                                        The first ranch I worked at has since been sold, is now private) was more 'generic' and had tennis and a pool and a child care program. Most the guests didn't know much about riding, and we led an AM ride and a PM ride, most were 2-4 hours. We worked 6 days a week, days began at 5am to feed/catch/groom/tack up 75 horses - and many nights we were required to hang out with the guests. This is where I learned that many guest ranches lease their horses - a few weeks before the guests arrive a few truckloads of horses are delivered and the staff has to get to know each horse. We rode them each for about an hour and gave them a name.

                                        I was offered a job at http://www.flatheadlakelodge.com/ toteach guests how to ride, in their arena, 7 days a week from 7am to 3pm. They do mostly trail riding (nose to tail) and most of their guests are novices. They own their own horses.

                                        I chose instead to take a job at http://www.focusranch.com/fish.html (MORE HOKEY MUSIC), they tended to attract people with a little more horse knowledge (not always) - 35 guests came for a week to assist with the 1000 head of yearling cattle. No childcare program, no pool, no bar. Riding/working cattle is the main activity. Most days started at 6am and lasted until dinner, one day off a week. I had never ridden a cutting horse before coming here and they didn't care (as long as you could establish you could ride well). I picked up the cattle thing relatively quickly. They were more interested in well spoken (mostly college kids) who would work their butts off and be hospitable to the guests.

                                        I'd highly reccomend you check some of these places out, you never know. Some of my best horse related memories are from these two places.