A glance at the benefits of horseback riding camp
Not only is riding good exercise, it also makes you think. Controlling a large animal that relies on you to make decisions improves judgment, critical thinking skills and concentration. It also just feels good to get on a horse and ride!
The emotional benefits can be just as important as the physical and mental benefits. Riding can reduce anxiety or stress, boost self-confidence and generally increase the feeling of well-being. Plus, building a relationship and trust with a horse or pony is a reward in its own right and can translate into better relationships outside the barn.
Read more about the benefits of the camp experience for any child.
Find a horse camp near you
Horseback riding camps are found across the country, really, with rural areas more amenable to this kind of camp than cities. For families on the go or who simply want ot look further afield, here are select lists of horse riding kids' camps by province:
Broad types of horse camps
Some kids do better away from parents and home than others. Although there are ways of alleviating homesickness, some will simply not enjoy camp too far from home. Below, find links to lists that separate major camp categories.
Overnight horse camps offer an ideal outlet for more independent girls and boys who want to fully engage their love of horseback riding adventure. For example, camps in this category may offer out-trips to the local countryside and other unique experiences. Overnight or residential camps are one of the healthiest ways to encourage your teen's or older child's independence, maturity and self-reliance.
Day camps are ideal for younger girls and boys who wish to remain closer to home, and meet other girls and boys from the area who also love horses.
What to look for in equestrian programs and camps
When searching for the perfect horseback riding camp, it’s always advisable to visit the camp. Does the facility and riding program look professional, and well-managed?
Facilities at these horseback riding camps don’t need to be fancy, however, they do need to ensure safety at camp, that everything is in good working order. The area where the horses are being handled before and after lessons should be clear of hoses, buckets and other trip hazards. The riding arena should be enclosed by a fence or wall, and gates should be closed during the lesson.
In addition to being kept clean and in good repair, the camp also needs to match your child’s goals and skill level. Talk to the manager or operator about the program they offer. Are the activities suitable for your child’s age and interests?
“Equestrian summer camps can be quite different from each other, so research what‘s available to find the best fit for your child,” says Pam Coburn, the administrator of the Ontario Equestrian Federation’s Horse Facilities Program. “Some specialize in working with first-time riders while others have programs to help more experienced riders build their skills.”
And don’t forget to ask questions about your child’s accommodations and the overall camp structure and policies!
“Accommodations and the overall camp structure and policies will vary widely between different horseback riding summer camps,” says Coburn. “Ask questions to make sure you’re comfortable with the meals, supervision, camp activities, emergency protocols and sleeping arrangements if it’s an overnight camp.”
Partnering with the right pony
Photo by Natalie Banaszak
Healthy horses are usually happy horses. Good lesson horses are well fed, clean, with no untreated wounds and should be happy at their job.
Good horseback riding camps will have a range of horses and ponies of different breeds and sizes to suit the needs and skills of its various campers. While every horse is an individual and has different abilities, a good camp horse for beginners has good manners and an even, forgiving temperament.
“We know parents wonder how they can decide if the camp horses are suitable. A quiet temperament is what you want to see,” says Coburn. “The horse should be calm around children and not be bothered by a bit of noise and activity.”
She adds, “Another question that often comes up is whether ponies are more suitable for children than larger horses. My advice is that the temperament of the animal is always more important than its size.”
Who will be teaching your child?
The Ontario Equestrian Federation highly recommends working with certified coaches and instructors, although this may be more difficult to find in a camp setting.
“It’s essential that you carry out the usual due diligence that you would for anyone working with your child,” says Coburn. “Try to watch them teach and ask them about their experience. It’s also a good idea to get references.”
Riders should also be supervised by a qualified person while handling the horses before and after their lesson.
We recommend that group lessons not exceed eight riders, although it may be smaller if the riders are very young or inexperienced. In some cases, two instructors will assist larger groups.
If campers are trail riding, trails should be well marked, clear of obstructions and accessible in the event of an emergency. Campers should always be accompanied by an instructor or experienced horseperson.
Dress for safety at equestrian summer camps
If your child is going horseback riding for the first time, you may not want to invest a lot of money into purchasing a full riding wardrobe. However, there are a couple of must-have items to keep your young horse enthusiasts safe and comfortable:
- The most important item is an ASTM certified riding helmet.
- Riders also need footwear with a half-inch to one-inch heel to ensure their foot doesn’t slip through the stirrup.
Not only is wearing proper head protection and footwear a good idea, it’s also the law for riders under the age of 18, according to Bill 12, the Horse Riding Safety Act-2001.
A reputable tack shop will carry certified helmets and will help you ensure the helmet fits your child properly. Helmets designed for other sports (ex: bike or ski helmets) are not designed to protect against the type of potential injuries that can occur when riding, and should not be substituted.
“Some facilities will have helmets on hand for you to use or rent and those are fine as long as they fit your child,” says Coburn. “The instructor should ensure a proper fit if they are providing helmets. “
Each equestrian camp may also have its own rules for riding apparel. If there are no rules and buying riding pants isn’t in the budget, a pair of fitted jeans, preferably with no inseam that can cause rubs or bruising. During the hot summer months it can be tempting to ride in shorts, but they won’t protect the rider’s legs. Running shoes or sandals should never be worn.
“What we hope for all kids who go to riding camp is that they have an amazing time, make lots of new friends, find their love of horses and come home safe and sound with great memories and excitement to go back the next year,” concludes Coburn.
This article was provided by the Ontario Equestrian Federation, the provincial sport organization for equestrian activities in Ontario. The OEF advocates safe riding practices for all riders and riding facilities. Visit www.horse.on.ca to learn more.