Some of the best times I ever had with horses was during my summer horsemanship day camps when I had my little barn in Plymouth, NC.. It always amazed me how kids who’d never touched a horse, much less ever ridden one, could by the fifth and last day of camp confidently ride in the little programs we put on for the parents to see.
My riding program included teaching children to understand horses were living, feeling creatures that needed us to care for them in a fair and compassionate way. There was hard work involved if they were to ever have a horse. They groomed, cleaned stalls, fed and watered the horses every day they came to camp. They learned to tack up by themselves, how to care for the tack – because it was expensive and needed to be safe to use.
We rode of course, playing games and working through obstacles so the horses didn’t get bored and the children had to focus on things like asking the horse to turn and stop and back up. It gave the riders a sense of accomplishment with each obstacle they and their horse executed successfully.
The arts and crafts time was not only a way for the children to express themselves creatively but also a time to cool off and get out of the heat in the afternoons – and let the horse rest and munch hay. But, that part of the schedule again gave the day-campers a sense of accomplishment. It was something tangible to show their parents and grandparents and to take home from camp. I always made it a project that would teach a skill related to horses.
One year the moms decided they wanted a camp for themselves. So, we had grown-ups evening camp. I think it gave them a real appreciation of what their children had been learning in camp and riding lessons. I remember the craft project was making a rope halter. I had a lady who was expert at making the halters come teach their class. The ladies, myself included, were not very successful in that project. More like we were completely frustrated and ready to give up, but finally each of us did end up with a finished and usual halter. Maybe that was a lesson in perseverance.
I conducted those camps year after year with no casualties I am happy to say. Parents and older teen students helped. Gerda Rhodes, our county livestock agent, would visit and do programs on things like equine nutrition and hay identification. I could not have survived horse camps without all that help.
Those were some great times. Lots of wonderful memories from my youth. Where did that energy come from? Hot and humid weather, heavy lifting, helping kids on and off horses, on my feet most of the day. It was the most fun of my life, those crazy summer days, watching kids beam with pride as they rode to the tunes of Herby Hancock, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA. No one ever accused me of not being versatile in my music selections!
My hat is off to all the riding instructors who will be sweating in the heat, helping children learn to love a horse this summer. To parents reading this blog, find a good stable near you offering horsemanship camps. It doesn’t have to be a fancy place, but one that shows the horses are cared for well and an instructor that loves kids as much as horses. Sign them up so they can learn about compassion, and that good things come from hard work and where they will get a sense of accomplishment through communicating successfully with another creature. And find one that includes arts and crafts, because learning to create with their own hands is something tangible they can take home with them.
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