By Sarah Evers Conrad
Is everybody as ready for warm weather as I am? I am also ready to enjoy all of the great outdoor activities in spring and summer. Now is the time of year that people start planning their spring and summer events, vacations, and other special things they want to do. This is also the time of year when many people start looking toward planning a camp experience for their child, themselves, or their family.
Now is the time to figure out which camp you want to use and get registered. The Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) accredits equine facilities, such as stables at camps, and CHA also accredits camp staff that are involved with the camp’s equestrian program. You can’t go wrong with going to a camp that has an accreditation or a staff with certification from CHA.
Finding a possible camp involves some options that were discussed in our last blog post, “Attending a Camp with Horseback Riding.” The first step to finding a camp that is right for you is to consider the options discussed at the link above to figure out what is most appealing to the camp attendee(s).
And if you haven’t looked up any camps yet, then visit www.CHAInstructors.com to find camps accredited by CHA or camps that have CHA certified instructors involved in their programs. Use the search on the left with the keyword “camp” in the Query box. Once you have some options, the next thing to do is evaluate your options.
Things to Look for in an Equestrian Camp Program
To evaluate a camp that you have under consideration, many of the points made in a previous post on how to find the right riding instructor would apply. In addition, the tips below can help you make your final choice.
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– If you want a camp focused around only equestrian activities, then some camps do cater to this. They might focus on a particular discipline (like jumping, dressage, distance riding, rodeo, etc.) or be focused around a particular breed of horse. However, these are usually geared toward those who have ridden to some extent or to more advanced riders.
Those who have never ridden may find it difficult to spend many hours or most of the day in the saddle. And those who have never been to camp before may want to have a more balanced camp experience with other non-equine related activities. These multi-activity camps should have other activities in addition to equestrian activities. Options might include: arts and crafts, swimming, tennis, games, contests, volleyball, canoeing or rafting, biking, drama, music, computer activities, camp fires, hay rides, field trips to local tourist or educational places, camping in the great outdoors, etc.
– Most camps with equestrian activities will make sure riders learn basic western riding skills or hunter/jumper riding, or both. However, riding shouldn’t be the only equine activities. Educational activities that revolve around horse care and horsemanship should be included. Campers might be taught how to take care of horses, clean tack, braid and bandage, and how to saddle and bridle. In addition, they can learn about the various breeds of horses, equestrian sports, the equestrian lifestyle, etc. Teaching might be through watching videos, lectures, or through hands-on activities. Hands-on activities might even include being assigned to care for one particular horse, such as feeding, watering, grooming, turnout, and mucking that horse’s stall. In addition, the camp may include horse-related games and events, demonstrations, movie nights, trail rides, gymkhanas or small shows, field trips, etc.
– Hopefully, you will be able to tour the camp in advance to determine if it is the right camp for you or your child. And if you are not a horse person, try to take along a friend that has experience with horses to evaluate the riding program and the facility. In addition to the overall feel, you will want to keep CHA’s motto in mind: Safe, Effective, and Fun.
Safety: Are all facilities safe? Obviously, this includes living and dining facilities, barns, classrooms, gates, fences, roads, pools, sports courts, etc. A rundown facility is a red flag, although if you happen to tour in an “off season,” keep this in mind. Is there a lot of clutter, or is everything organized and in its place? Are bunks and bathrooms safe and resistant to the elements (i.e., no leaky roofs)? Is the dining area and kitchen safe, and are meals prepared according to food safety guidelines? Does the camp use quality ingredients in their food, and how fresh are items served at mealtimes and snack times?
Are facilities clean, especially the bunks, bathrooms, kitchen, and dining hall, barns, and stalls? Even horses need clean living quarters and should not look like they are living in stalls that have not been mucked for days. Do horses look healthy and in good body condition and have well-cared-for feet? And are they suited for the types of riders that will be assigned to them? Are they well-trained, experienced with all types of riders, and are they what us riders call “bomb-proof” (aka, spook-proof)? Is all tack well-cared-for, clean, and in good repair?
Is a medical professional on staff, and does staff know CPR and first aid? Are there first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and emergency phone numbers available? If the camp takes campers with special needs, how do they meet those special needs, and what accommodations are made? Have they had any major accidents and how do they deal with both major and minor accidents and injuries? When are parents contacted?
Do they require helmets at all times when mounted and during any unmounted times? Do they provide helmets? Even if they provide helmets, you will want to buy one for the camp-goer because then the helmet is fitted perfectly for the rider. This is because a camp may not have the correct number of helmets for riders of a particular head size, leading them to provide a helmet that is not the best fit. In addition, you have no idea of the history of a helmet, and would not know if it has been dropped or been in a minor accident, which would mean its safety had been compromised. This is also true of helmets that are past a certain age, since the internal parts of a helmet begin breaking down with time. Therefore, a borrowed helmet is not the best in case of an accident. However, helmets from the camp could act as a back-up in case your child’s helmet is damaged or lost.
Honestly I could go on and on about safety. At least if you are visiting an accredited facility through CHA or through the ACA, then you know certain standards are already being met. You may want to validate how current the certification is, and if the camp ever had any revocations of their accreditation or any licenses. For more specifics on those standards, contact the accrediting organization. If it is not accredited, you may want to ask why they have not sought accreditation, and what other laws and regulations must they follow? How well are these requirements met, and have there been any violations?
And finally, do you feel safe sending your child here? After all, if you have specific doubts, or even ones you can’t pinpoint, but you have an unsettled feeling, then maybe your instincts are trying to tell you something.
Effectiveness: Are personnel and instructors trained in what they are teaching? How much teaching and horse experience do they have? How much experience does staff have working for a camp or equine facility? What do campers learn while they are there? Do campers have set goals or milestones set by the camp or set by the camper themselves? How many reach these goals? What is the return rate? Can you talk to previous campers for testimonials?
You will want to talk to the employees, if you can. Does the staff have a good attitude about the camp and their employer? How many camp employees and volunteers were once campers? This may give a clue to how well loved the place is and how loyal campers are. How is staff found and what guidelines are used to actually hire applicants? How are horses “vetted” and chosen for the program? Are parents welcome to visit? Has the camp or any of its staff won any professional awards? Can the camp claim any past attendees who became famous riders, horsemen or horsewomen, or upstanding citizens? What was the camp’s role in this person’s success?
Fun: One major key to a camp’s success and suitability is showcased in its campers’ faces. If you visit during a session, do campers look happy and like they are having fun? If there are candid photos anywhere, such as hanging on walls or on the camp’s website, or on its Facebook, Instagram, or Flickr accounts? As long as they are candid and not posed shots, then these photos can give a clue to the environment and whether campers are engaged and having fun. What do past campers say about the place in official testimonials, through any official organizations it belongs to, or on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or other social media sites? Perform an Internet search using various keywords to get an overall feel for the camp’s reputation, quality, and to look for any “red flags.” Is the camp rated on any websites? Does it have any current or past complaints against it, especially through a search on the Better Business Bureau website or through any other organizations it may belong to? How is the food there? Feel free to taste test if you dare, and if you are allowed to while you are there. Does the camp seem like the right fit for the possible attendee(s)?
While this post and the one about choosing a riding instructor offer a lot of questions to ask and suggest a lot of things to observe, these things can be important if one is going to leave home and attend camp. After all, picking the right camp can make for an amazing experience full of personal and social growth. But choosing a camp that might not stack up could make for a miserable experience. And if a child is the one going and if he or she has a bad time, then he or she may never want to go to camp again. So take your time, use a CHA accredited facility or one with CHA-certified staff, and look at all aspects before you decide. And then go, or send your child, knowing that you did the best you could to pick the right camp.
We would love to hear about your camp experiences. Feel free to comment below if you have had some great camp experiences in the past, or if you go this year, please come back and let us know how it went. And don’t forget to share all about the horsemanship and riding opportunities and experiences. And if you have any other suggestions for questions to ask at a camp or things to think about, feel free to add a comment below for your fellow readers.
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.