Last year on a cold Monday evening in February, the mighty D team headed off to Tannoch in my little white car. After I had missed the second exit of the night, Mairi decided to fill the extra travel time we had invariably accumulated with telling us about her plans for the summer. They involved going to America for three months to work at an equestrian summer camp. We all agreed that this sounded amazing but I said I didn’t think I could ever do anything so adventurous. However, Mairi sent me the details and on a bit of a whim I applied.
Within about two weeks Wildpacks had got me an interview and subsequently a job working for Frost Valley YMCA in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Retrospectively I can honestly say this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was hard work, it is a 23-hour day that involves living in a yurt with 10 children, getting them up and dressed, teaching them riding, monitoring them at meals to limit the amount of food being flung, kayaking, boating, swimming in creeks, hiking, trail-riding, newting, arts and crafts, dancing, karaoke (and if that doesn’t sell it to you what will…), lots and lots of poo-picking and raking.
But by far the greatest asset of this camp has to be the extended staff, the ponies. Unlike most set ups in the UK the horses live as a working herd in large pastures in the mountains and are wrangled every morning into a large barn with stalls not stables. The children are taught to ride western which involves more voice commands than leg as aids and no contact in the reins. This is a blessing to these ponies that work long days all year around but particularly in the summer. Some of these ponies may have funny feet, odd gaits, and Houdini like abilities to untie themselves in the stall but they are all absolute saints when it comes to teaching children to ride.
Most of the children at my camp came from the city or outskirts where the majority have no opportunity to ride other than the two weeks they spend at camp each year. If anything this does not dampen but heightens their enthusiasm. The children create a real bond with their designated horse as they are taught not just how to ride it but to care for it in their ground lessons. These lessons involved basic vet care, tacking and grooming, breeds around the world, different colours and markings, and stable management. Their excitement at seeing their horse from the moment they wake up each day and the tears they almost all shed when their parents come to pick them up is a real reflection on the ability of horses to bring joy into people’s lives. Especially for children for which the countryside is rather unknown or for those where bullying is unfortunately too commonplace in school. For myself and many of the other staff it was also an opportunity to look back on our experiences with horses and count ourselves lucky that we have had riding, in whatever form, in our lives.
The opportunities at camp are endless and the friends I have made are undoubtedly for life. I spent 10 days after camp had finished travelling the East Coast with a friend from New Zealand and I am going skiing with two other friends in the New Year. I would recommend camp to anyone and would be happy to talk to anyone that would like some more information about it. (In fact it’s harder to get me to stop talking about it).
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