I recently found myself mid-conversation with a friend about summer camp. Namely, the good nature of summer camp counselors who somehow manage to keep multiple young children alive at the same time. Sleep-away camps? Man, I don’t know how those guys do it. My hat is off to y’all.

And I did the camp counselor thing. In fact, it was my very first job. I was 14 and our barn ran a summer camp for different age groups. I remember receiving my (teeny tiny) paycheck at the end of the summer and thinking I was a rich girl. You’d better believe I ran straight to the track store to buy my very first saddle: a Wintec Isabell dressage saddle. (Honestly, that saddle is still one of the best-feeling saddles I’ve ever ridden in.)

It builds character, being a camp counselor. Not only are you learning how to communicate with kids – which is certainly challenging when you are used to only interacting with people your own age – but you’re also learning how to lead in an understanding way.

Learning how to manage varying attention spans, all of which were relatively short, around horses is a challenge. Our counselors were all younger teenagers, so it was a big responsibility, particularly with the younger age groups. But we had excellent management and training, and it was safety first. This teaches responsibility and awareness – once you’ve corralled five kids under the age of eight around a naughty pony, it’s safe you say you’ve learned how to watch out for trouble.

And not every kid learns at the same pace. Each week, we had a new set of kids with a different set of collective social skills. Patience was a skill we all had to learn, whether we liked it or not.

We had a few kids with learning disabilities or other impairments come to our camp. Working with these kids, who had varying degrees of experience with horses which adds complexity, taught empathy.

I think all of my former co-counselors would agree that we all grew up a little more that summer. We were given a lot of responsibility, and we took it seriously. Sure, we’d promptly get in a manure fight immediately after the last parent picked their kid up, but we learned a lot about how to care for and help others that year.

I drove past a camp drop-off the other day. The teenage counselors looked a bit nervous about the throngs of children surrounding them. I smiled a bit to myself, remembering that first drop-off for me. I think I got pretty lucky with my first job.

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