My daughter, Rachael, is 12 now, and we are in the full throes of the sleep away camp experience. Since she was born, I have heard from friends with kids their stories about sending their 6-year olds off to eight or even ten weeks of sleep away camp. They touted the independence their kids learned, and the “summer friends” they made and returned to see every year. But the idea of sending my child away for that long, especially so young, just didn’t work for me as a mom.
Then I got a great piece of advice: When sleep away camp enrollments come out, bring the subject up to Rachael, and when she is ready, she will tell you. If she says “No,” that’s alright. Just let it go, and move on.
Since then, she has spent several weeks at multiple horse camps, ridden numerous horses, and made several new friends. It has been a great experience so far, and we look forward to many more great horse camp experiences.
So how do you go about finding a horse camp for your child? Try some of these strategies and questions as you consider your options for horse camp:
- Start looking for next summer’s camp now
Start your research when you aren’t rushed, and don’t have to hurry up and make a decision. This will give both you and your child time to think, assess, and choose wisely.
- Go to camp fairs and horse shows
Look in local newspapers and online for summer camp fairs. When the fairs are in town over the winter, go check them out.
Go to some of the larger horse shows that have a significant exhibitor presence. In DC, that’s the Washington International Horse Show. What horse shows are there in your area over the winter?
When you stop at the camp booths, talk to the camp staff, and see if there is a match between their programs and your child.
- Mark you calendar
Make a calendar of when the camps of interest open their registration. Find out in advance and find out when the camp usually fills up. This will tell you when your decisions need to be ready.
- Involve your child in the process of researching and choosing a camp
Don’t do this on your own. Involve your child in the process of looking for and choosing a camp. Their observations will be different from yours. They will have insights that may surprise you. The things that are important to them will come up in an unhurried conversation. Give that conversation time to unfold and develop.
- What style of camp are you considering
Some camps are pretty rustic, while others are more posh. None of them are going to be the Ritz, but some have more facilities than others. What do you need for your camper to feel comfortable? This will be their home for a couple of weeks.
- Ask your child’s peers where they go to horse camp
As the summer winds down, ask the kids at your child’s barn where they went to camp this year. Where did they go in past years? Ask their parents. And ask the older kids at the barn who may have experience with several camps themselves. Take advantage of their knowledge and experience.
- Ask your child’s instructor what camps they recommend
Your child’s instructor or barn manager will know the camps their other students attend. They also know which camps are focused on specific kinds of riding — dressage, hunters, eventing, etc.
- What other activities does the camp offer in addition to riding?
As much as we love horses, it’s always fun to do other camp activities like swimming, archery, golf, crafts, and drama.
Does the camp take campers off the property, and into town for activities like movies or bowling?
And for equestrian-focused camps, what non-mounted lesson experiences do they provide? Look for topics like equine nutrition, wrapping legs properly, saddle fitting, equine first aid, hoof care, breeds, and the like.
- How many times a day do you ride in camp?
Some camps offer two mounted lessons per day. Others only offer one lesson a day. How intense a riding experience are you looking for?
- Where does the camp get its horses?
Some camps have their own herds. Others bring in horses from surrounding college equestrian teams. Ask the staff what they know about the horses. Look for a familiarity with the horses — their backgrounds, their training, their strengths, the consistency of their participation with this specific camp.
- Consider the distance and travel required to get there
Consider how far you are willing to travel for camp, and how you are willing to travel. And hour of driving is a different distance than a hour long flight. Can your child fly unaccompanied?
Think about how the distance will affect your child, and thus the likelihood for homesickness.
- Sign up for online access to photos and e-mail
Once you have chosen a camp, sign up for access to the family section of the camp’s website. Send e-mails to your camper often. Notes from home will help if your child experiences any home sickness.
Remember to check the site daily for pictures of your happy camper!