Starting a Horseback Riding Summer Camp

If you own your own stable, or if you currently teach lessons at one, then you might be able to set up a horseback riding summer camp. This is a great way to attract new lesson kids, make extra cash, and have a lot of fun with great groups of kids. Summer horseback riding camps usually attract lots of attention because there are ‘horsecrazy’ girls and boys all over the country.

Starting a horseback riding camp is a lot of work, but it is well worth it in the end. Many times, kids try summer camp to see if they like riding horses, and then sign up for lessons in the fall. If you already have lesson horses, an arena, and the equipment necessary, then it is just a matter of organization and planning.

Before you begin, here are a few questions that you must answer:

1. Does your insurance policy cover summer camp programs?

If you already teach lessons, then chances are that your liability insurance coverage will cover a summer camp. Just to make sure, however, you should check with your insurance company. In case of an accident, you want to have the proper coverage.

If you don’t have insurance at all, visit the Markel website. Markel covers farms and horse owners, and they have excellent package rates.

2. How many students can you handle at one time?

The answer to this question depends largely on your staff, volunteers, and the number of horses available. If you have ten lesson horses, then you probably won’t want to have classes containing more than seven students. If you have a student for every horse, and one of your horses becomes sick or injured, then one child will not have a horse. It is important to plan for those types of contingencies.

You should also consider space, tack, and the age level of students. Caring for thirty eight-year-olds during an eight-hour camp session is harder than you think! The amount of staff or volunteers should have at least a 1:1 ratio with your campers.

3. How will you advertise?

If you wish to have a camp, you must first have campers! Some stables only open their summer camps to current students, in which case you would not need to advertise. But if you want to open your doors to the public, you must have some way of advertising the summer camp. Flyers, brochures, newspaper ads, and direct mailings are all great ways of advertising your services.

4. When will your camps be held?

You should have dates, times, and lengths of sessions prepared well ahead of summer. If it is an overnight camp (assuming you have huts, tents, or cabins in which your campers will stay) then 5-7 days is average. Day camps last between one and two weeks, and some camps last all summer. Then, decide how long they will last during the day. Parents will need specific times to pick up and drop off their children. You will have to arrange for staff and volunteers during each session, so begin coordinating those dates and times well in advance.

5. What will your camp offer?

Besides riding, camps are usually places where students learn to groom, tack, clean stalls, and participate in other adventures. I like to have a veterinarian visit once during every session so that students can learn about illnesses and injuries. I also usually schedule a farrier to come out and demonstrate how to shoe a horse, and we have mini-clinics on horse anatomy and physiology, how to care for the animals, how to feed, and what to do during emergencies.

6. How will you group your campers?

Some camps have programs for riders that have never ridden before, while others are geared toward more experienced riders. You will have to plan based on those types of riding levels, and schedule activities that will be new and interesting to those levels. For example, an experienced rider doesn’t need to learn about grooming, but would probably be interested in a class on braiding manes and tails.

Those questions answered, you are ready to begin planning. I advise that you create a welcome packet for the parents of riders that will be attending your camp. The welcome packet should contain the following information:

1. An introduction to your farm and what your qualifications are.
2. A detailed explanation of what children will do and learn at camp.
3. A sheet listing the hours and dates of each camp session.
4. A medical liability form.
5. A standard waiver for all riders.
6. A list of things that riders should bring with them to camp.
7. Pricing, deposit and refund information

This will prepare the parents for what they should expect, and will diminish the possibility of confusion or mix-ups.

Next, decide what your students should bring with them to camp. I advise the following:

1. A helmet (either biking or riding, unless your furnish them)
2. A sack lunch (for Day Camp, if it lasts through lunchtime)
3. A thermos full of water.
4. Sunscreen
5. Shorts to change into after riding.
6. Tennis shoes to change into after riding

If this is an overnight camp, then the list will be much longer, including a sleeping bag, pillow, changes of clothes, etc.

Planning your summer camp should also include detailed plans for activities and recreation. It should never be a situation where you fly by the seat of your pants, guessing when you will get to certain activities. Managing groups of children can be stressful, and if there aren’t well-defined activities, you might end up with chaos. Sometimes, things run ahead or behind, but you can roll with the punches once camp starts. Until then, set definitive schedules for activities and ride times.

When your campers arrive, immediately organize them and deliver the rules of the barn. Barn safety is extremely important, especially with large groups of children. They should be warned of safety hazard, and given clearly defined rules. You should also have a staff large enough to enforice those rules.

You should also be prepared to handle any type of emergency. Keep a first aid kit where you can reach it in a pinch, and keep a cellular phone readily accessible. Accidents do happen, and you’ll want to be able to call 911 in an emergency.

And lastly, have fun with your students! This shouldn’t be like school, where it is all learning and no play. In careful observance of the rules, allow your charges to enjoy their time at your stable, and to learn while they have fun. Here are some ideas for fun activities:

1. Water balloon fights
2. End-Of-Camp Horse Show or Rodeo
3. Pin-The-Tail-On-The-Horse
4. Finger paints (let the kids used water-based finger paints to identify parts of the horse. It will wash off the horse’s coat in one bath)
5. Parades (let the students dress up the horses and have a parade through your stable)

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