11 Tips from the Experts on Developing an Equestrian Camp Program

By Sarah Evers Conrad

This week we have two Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) certified instructors and equestrian camp experts sharing tips with professionals wishing to start a camp program. Teddy Franke, a CHA Level 4 Certified Instructor in English and Western and a Level 3 Packing Guide, currently manages Morrow Ranch Camp in Wamic, OR. Corinne Lettau, a CHA Level 4 English and Level 2 Western Certified Instructor, owns Denver Equestrians, LLC, and the Colorado Equestrian Center in Littleton, CO. *For their full bios, see below.

Franke and Lettau shared 11 great suggestions with CHA for those who want to plan a riding camp, and CHA has multiple programs and certifications that can help camp managers develop and run their programs.   

Lettau’s suggestions include:

1. Always use safe horses. CHA has a variety of educational materials, including its CHA Standands for Equestrian Programs, its CHA Composite Horsemanship Manual, and articles that have been published in The Instructor magazine that can help educate people on how to find a safe horse, and how to have a safe facility, as well. In addition, the book Horse and Stable Management is part of CHA’s equine facilities manager certification program. Our last blog, titled “Finding a Great Lesson Horse: What to Look For and Consider Before You Shop,” can help camp managers determine if their current horses should be used in a camp program, or if they need to purchase or lease new horses, what qualities a camp horse should have.


2. Use CHA Certified Instructors. One of our first blog posts looked into “Why You Should Find a Certified Riding Instructor.” Many of the reasons listed apply to why a certified instructor should be used in your camp program. One of the top reasons is that CHA riding instructors have been thoroughly tested at a certification clinic to ensure they can teach safely while being effective and providing the student with a fun lesson. CHA certified instructors are tested on five of the most important aspects needed for a good instructor. These are: safety, horsemanship knowledge and ability, teaching techniques, group control, and responsibility and professionalism. A certified instructor knows how to teach and make judgment calls on the fly and deal with situations as they arise. In addition, having instructors with a certification shows the professionalism of your camp program and that you value hiring knowledgeable staff.


3. Develop organized lesson plans. Camp instructors and managers can learn how to develop quality lesson plans through CHA’s continuing education opportunities. Sessions at the CHA International Conference, Regional Conferences and at a Certification Clinic often showcase how to plan lessons and organize lesson plans.

4. Develop fun games and horse-related educational activities for the kids. The key to this is to make sure the activities are safe, and since a camp is already using safe horses and has a CHA instructor, then this is a good start. It’s just a matter of letting creativity fly.

5. Provide an outline for the parents so they know what to expect. Good communication is always important between staff, parents, and the campers.

Franke’s suggestions include:

6. Develop leaders. “Camp horse programs can be life sucking for those who try to do it all on their own,” said Franke. “One thing that is especially hard for us horse people is to come to the realization that there are others who can do things as well or better than we can. Part of developing a program means being willing to give parts of your program away. Realize that when you empower another person to help you lead, it WILL be different than you would have done it, but that’s often okay.” One great way to empower staff and to help them succeed is to send staff to CHA skills clinics, regional clinics, the International Conference, and other continuing education events within the horse industry. This allows staff to learn the latest in horsemanship, horse care, horse training, riding, and teaching students.

7. Do what you like. When anyone is teaching a topic, whether it be a school teacher or a riding instructor, learning from someone who is passionate about the topic always makes for a better experience. And by teaching what you love, then you will love what you do and find fulfillment in your chosen profession. “If you don’t follow your passion, you won’t last long,” said Franke. “We sure aren’t in this for the money. Build your camp programs around the disciplines you find captivating. Chances are, if you really love it, you will draw others to it, too. Then down the road you will feel rewarded rather than drained.”

8. Follow standards. “In the horse industry every person has an opinion and no two people agree. At least that’s what I thought before I discovered the Certified Horsemanship Association,” said Franke. “CHA provides a set of industry standards for group riding programs. The standards provide the solid foundation for instructors and for your facility. If not CHA, find an organization that clearly defines your operational practices. This will help you ensure that your program is up to par.” For all of CHA’s standards, read the “CHA Standards for Equestrian Programs” manual, which can be purchased online at https://cha.horse/why-becoming-accredited-is-important-for-equestrian-programs-and-facilities/.

9. Build relationships. One way to build relationships is to network with other CHA professionals at CHA’s in-person events or through other forms of communication, such as email, social media, or by phone. CHA members often share valuable ideas and techniques with each other. “Camp programs of all types, horses included, are about relationships,” added Franke. “Set relationships as a priority, and people will want to be involved on many levels.”

10. Improve communication. “Require frequent, clear communication amongst your staff,” said Franke. “Communicate expectations and allow for failure. When you demand constant perfection, your staff and clients learn that you value tasks and programs over them. Camp should be about learning and growing together towards a goal.”

11. Find effective marketing techniques, and make sure that the general public is aware that you exist. Franke also recommends that you evaluate what types of marketing are effective by asking how people found your program and what made them want to check it out. “We have found that word of mouth is always the best advertising,” said Franke. “That said, nowadays having a simple, functional website that is easy to read, visually appealing, and easy to find is a critical piece, because it’s a landing zone where people first learn the details of your organization. We use a combination of web, social media, word of mouth, radio, billboards, and special events, such as parades and fairs. Showing horses can also help spark interest in a camp program.”

Franke also offered a list of questions that camp managers can use to evaluate their needs and determine what needs to be done before those first campers arrive.

  • Who are you trying to reach? Who is your clientele?
  • What types of programs do you have the expertise to run?
  • Where will you operate? What resources do you need?
  • What is your mission? Why are you starting this program?
  • What business model best fits your mission?
  • Who will manage or run the operation?
  • What legal hurdles could you potentially face?
  • How will people learn about what you are offering?
  • What is your marketing strategy?
  • How do you measure success?

Teddy Franke has been around camp programs most of his life. He grew up around Living Water Ranch Camp in Fairbanks, Alaska, where his parents were camp directors. He learned from the professionals that taught at Living Water Ranch Camp, and he learned from the programs that were offered to hundreds of people every year. In college, he pursued camping horsemanship and ministry by interning at a large camp in the Pacific Northwest. He currently spends time cowboying, starting colts, and managing the camp’s horse program. Camp Morrow provides faith-based programs in two separate facilities, Morrow Lake Camp and Morrow Ranch. The equine program includes day camps, overnight cattle drives, back country pack trips, week-long horse camps, school field trips, and themed camp sessions. For more information, visit CampMorrow.org.

Corinne Lettau said that CHA’s manuals and standardized testing motivated her as a young rider. She has not only become certified but she has studied dressage with some of the best instructors and clinicians in the United States. She took a hiatus from working to be a stay-at-home mom, but when her youngest started kindergarten, she started teaching again. “The transition into growing my own horse camp program was a natural one, and CHA was the company I wanted to model after, given my wonderful experience with them since the late 1970s,” said Lettau. Continuing education is important for the staff at the Denver Equestrians Riding School, which hosts CHA Instructor Certification Clinics, which are open to staff and non-staff. Denver Equestrians offers lessons for adults and children in hunt seat, dressage, jumping or western pleasure, as well as offering boarding training, youth riding clubs, show teams, adult programs, summer camps, birthday parties, leases, and horse sales. For more information, visit DenverEquestrians.com.

Sarah Evers Conrad is currently the Digital Content Editor at Horse Illustrated and Young Rider magazines. She also owns All In Stride Marketing. She is an award-winning equestrian journalist with a background in magazine publishing, feature writing, news and event coverage, editing, digital marketing, social media, and website management. Conrad has been published in equine publications such as The Horse, Blood-Horse, Equestrian, Arabian Horse Life, USDF Connection, the American Quarter Horse Journal, Paint Horse Journal, Off-Track Thoroughbred, Stable Management, Camp Business magazine, Lexington Family magazine, and HorsesDaily.com and DressageDaily.com. She is also the current editor for the Certified Horsemanship Association’s official publication, The Instructor magazine. Conrad has also edited several books, including CHA’s “The Equine Professional Manual—The Art of Teaching Riding.” Learn more at www.equestrianjournalist.com.

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