Make Your Equestrian Summer Camp Offering The Best It Can Be
By Nikki Alvin-Smith
Successful summer camps offer a blend of education, fun and fresh experiences to their patrons. Adult horse camps obviously cater to a completely different audience than those for children and running an equestrian summer camp for kids comes with many license and permit responsibilities aimed at protecting the safety of the patrons.
Equestrian facilities large and small want to cash in on the summer spend of busy parents and cater to children wishing to explore the world of horses and enjoy some healthy outside activities. Question is – how does your summer camp offering stack up against the competition? Whether you offer a day camp experience or a longer stay, principles of keeping children safe, secure, happy, and engaged requires some sincere planning and careful considerations.
In this article let’s focus past the obvious and on to the ‘extras’ that can not only earn the barn operator extra money but also provide a great all-around experience for the young guests.
Over The Wither
The equine contingent obviously plays the major role in an equine based summer camp experience. Trail rides, gymkhana games (such as apple bobbing, sack races with egg spoons and ponies in tow, pole bending, jump higher and higher), grooming competitions, and the like all provide plenty of entertainment and education around horses.
But if you look ‘over the wither’ beyond the time available in any given day to play with the ponies and enjoy some horse play, there are many other activities on the horse farm that also offer valuable education and provide pleasurable experiences for the kids.
· Provision of a playset on the property, whether store bought or home fashioned can add social interaction between the kids and encourage imagination while building balance andrelieving stress with such components as swings. A playset can be added to in stages to develop it each year as finances allow. Todays’ playsets may be made of low maintenance vinyl rather than wood. Consider the quality of the playset purchased carefully. Look for well-constructed and engineered sets that offer the utmost in safety of use. The cheapest option is not always the best option.
· Farm life is often not limited to horses. Hay production on the farm means you may have hay wagons available for hayrides, other livestock that the kids can be introduced to and learn much about such as pigs or cows. Chickens offer an opportunity for children to learn about egg production and a quick cupcake ‘bake off’ competition can provide oodles of fun for kids while teaching them valuable life skills such as how to handle raw eggs. Cooking school is a great social ‘bake off’ opportunity. Take advantage of a pavilion or pergola or other outdoor living structure to add shade from the sun for everyone. Baking projects outside of the use of eggs may include baking dog or horse treats and learning about nutritional needs of animals.
· Follow the arts for opportunities to engage the children in the landscape and develop their appreciation for Mother Nature. Canvas and paints, sketch pads and charcoal can be part of the luggage taken with a group for a saunter into the fields to explore nature. Fold up chairs can be conveyed on the farm UTV alongside coolers of lemonade and fresh fruit or a picnic lunch. Art provides a valuable opportunity to simply sit and pay attention to the beauty that surrounds us. Finish off with a toe dip and splash about in a stream. Kids love water.
· The music man should always be at play at a summer camp festivity. Invite children to bring instruments to share or keep a few recorders or inexpensive and portable musical instruments handy and play games such as the Pied Piper or set up dance competitions on a stage decorated with handcrafts the kids have completed earlier in the day.
· Put kids’ good energy to work and teach them how to plant a vegetable, set a fence post or hammer a board. Cleaning tack and learning to leg wrap a horse are fun but a variety of tasks around the farm always need attention. Have a paint the barn wall day, have the kids create their own container garden or teach them how to pickle some vegetables or can fruit.
Whatever activities you consider adding to your horse camp agenda always put the kids and horses’ safety front and center. There are some super resources for summer camp programs out there and many include both mounted and unmounted activities. Camps such as ‘Horses of the Ozark Hills” offer many innovative ideas that span life both on and off the horse.
Looking over the wither and passed the horse will ensure the summer camp experience offers a diversity of learning opportunities and open young minds to other aspects of farm and rural lifestyle.
While scavenger hunts across fields and plant ID games offer great activities during good weather also plan for those rainy days.
Create your own board game, make a pinata and other arts and crafts pleasures will help occupy the hands and minds of youngsters, but throwing in some horse care such as washing down stalls and competitions to see who can clean stalls out the fastest or best are also great lessons for kids and useful too.