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The Importance of Fun: 5 Lessons Learned from Running a Kids’ Horse Riding Summer Camp

I recently organized and was camp counselor for a kids’ summer camp ran out of my family farm, Dragonfire. Dragonfire farm is an eventing facility built by my parents Jen and Earl McFall (who are both horse trainers) and it has all the amenities of an eventing barn; complete with dressage courts, show jumping ring, trails and a cross country course. Having grown up riding ponies with my friends, I’m grateful for all the times I just got to have fun with my pony and now appreciate the care and patience my early instructors had. The joy I got (and still get) from taking riding lessons is why I’ve dreamed of becoming an instructor and sharing this experience with young riders. With my goal being to introduce kids to the magic of horse riding while making some unforgettable memories, I decided to run a camp catered to both beginners and experienced juniors alike. Through this experience, I gained valuable insights into inclusivity among athletes, mentorship, and the importance of fostering a strong sense of community within the horse riding world. Here are the important things I noticed:

Diverse Skill Levels Fostered Growth:

At the Dragonfire summer camp, we accepted both beginners and experienced junior riders. Initially, I wondered how these diverse skill levels would mesh together. Lessons with extremely different riders can be difficult to teach and students can feel like they’re being held back or pushed too quickly depending on the experience level of their peers. However, I soon realized that this mix was a blessing in disguise. The more seasoned riders took on a mentorship role, offering guidance and camaraderie to those new to the sport. Their example also helped the first time riders learn quickly though demonstration; sometimes visuals trump descriptions. This environment allowed for dynamic learning, where friends encouraged one another to improve creating an atmosphere of mutual growth.

Community and Encouragement Over Competition:

One of the most beautiful aspects of the horse riding community is its emphasis on camaraderie over rivalry. Throughout the camp, I was amazed at how the students of all ages and skill levels encouraged and supported one another. Instead of fostering competition, there was a sense of community where everyone celebrated each other’s progress. That’s really what I love about the horse world. I think we all get drawn together since we can appreciate the difficulty of learning to ride. At competition you often hear riders wishing each other to “have a good ride”. Sportsmanship is a big part of being an equestrian for me and I really saw this quality brought out when the kids learned and rode together throughout the summer camp.This sense of togetherness is a crucial element in making horse riding enjoyable for young athletes.

Experienced Riders as Role Models:

Experienced riders played a pivotal role in shaping the camp’s atmosphere (and any lesson environment). They not only helped the newcomers learn the ropes of horsemanship but also served as role models for dedication and passion. Witnessing these older students stepping up to lead with patience and enthusiasm was a big moment for me, since it showed me that the older students had really paid attention during their lessons. If you can teach or explain something to another person effectively then you know you fully understand that thing. A student being surrounded by lower level athletes sometimes allows for stagnation but I felt this was not the case during the kids’ summer camp as I saw the experienced students actually put in increased effort when being used as examples for beginners. The situation was a win-win, where both parties improved and learned.

You Create Lifelong Passion Through Fun:

Reflecting on my own childhood spent riding ponies and enjoying the horse show world, I realized the importance of fun experiences in nurturing passion. The summer camp aimed to introduce the sport of eventing in a way that’s exciting without pushing anyone too far too fast, ensuring that every young rider had the opportunity to enjoy their time horse riding and not stress about their performance. By encouraging beginners to take their time and establish their skills, you help take the stress and scariness that comes from being pushed too quickly. By taking the time to make the learning process fun we’re helping the next generation develop a lifelong love for riding horses.

Nurture Future Athletes:

Not all trainers are willing to work with beginners, but providing learning opportunities to young athletes is a responsibility we should embrace. You have to start somewhere and it takes a lot of “up-down” lessons to eventually become a competition ready athlete. Introducing kids to the world of eventing through enjoyable experiences like summer camps ensures the future of horse riding remains bright. Beginning in any equestrian sport without any previous knowledge or connections is difficult and there has to be somewhere for beginners to “fit in”. Programs that allow first time riders are so important for this reason. I don’t mean to put myself on a pedestal for being someone who’s so great for teaching beginners, I just want to put myself in a position to have a future job in this industry. If no one is bringing in new people to ride or create passion through the sport, then we eventually cease to have a sport at all. I’ve seen it happen within other equine disciplines with no focus on grass roots beginners. Maybe the beginners you start up don’t become top athletes, maybe they become amateur competitors, owners, officials, donators or someone who volunteers at events. By imparting knowledge, instilling confidence, and sharing the joys of riding, we pave the way for a new generation of equestrians who appreciate and carry on the sport.

Running the Dragonfire kid’s horse riding summer camp was a deeply fulfilling (and extremely exhausting…) experience! It was really heartwarming to see the kids grow both as equestrians and as friends. The lessons learned extend beyond horsemanship and touch on the importance of community, mentorship, inclusivity, and passion. As instructors and educators, we play a crucial role in shaping the future of horse riding. By creating space for riders of all ages and skill levels, we ensure that the love for horse riding and eventing is passed on to a future generation of riders. I’m definitely inspired to run more kid’s camps next summer. I hope to keep bringing up beginners and passing along what I’ve learned!

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