Equine Intelligence

By Peggy Adams
Photos Courtesy of Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA)

Since horseback-riding programs carry a few inherent risks, these activities should be managed by staff members who have demonstrated and documented experience teaching horseback-riding or managing horses. Unlike with most camp activities, horses have a mind of their own, so riding instructors must be able to anticipate what the rider and the horse will do in a given situation in order to prevent any negative incidents. Sometimes the best riders may not always be the best teachers.

T raining time is needed for both humans and horses. Make sure there is enough time in the pre-camp schedule for equine staff to ride and become familiar with each of the horses in the program. This will make it easier for seasonal staff members to make good choices in matching up horse and rider combinations. Practice rides give the riding director an opportunity to determine if any of the horses in the herd are undesirable for the activity. When horses are leased to the camp for just the summer program, they need time to adjust to the camp surroundings as well. This is also a perfect time for riding staff members to coordinate with the camp’s day-to-day procedures at the barn.

Practice all equine-related procedures and emergency plans before campers arrive. Make sure that staff members are familiar with written procedures at the barn, in the arenas, and out on the trail. Merely reading about a procedure in a manual is often not enough to prepare staff to act in a variety of situations. Do the members know what to do when a rider falls off, in the arena or on the trail? What happens if a riding group is separated on the trail? What skills must a camper master before he or she can begin jumping? Take these teaching procedures a step further by creating discussion groups or role-play scenarios for staff to act out and practice situations most likely to occur at the facility.

Hold a skills clinic during staff training. From the most basic horse care to the most complex riding pattern, there are a variety of ways to do most anything in the horse world. Industry standards can vary by horse breed, type of riding, and local and state regulations. A skills clinic is an excellent way to observe, teach, and document skills for all members of the riding staff. For example, give a new instructor practice time to teach first trot to his or her coworkers to simulate the experience with campers. The riding director can demonstrate to staff members exactly how to halter or catch a horse ”the camp way,” thus avoiding confusion for campers or staff. Holding a skills clinic can ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Inspect tack and equipment. Camp staff will need time to clean and inspect saddles, pads, bridles, halters, lead ropes, grooming supplies, and other related equipment. Good record-keeping in this area is a must. Once tack is clean and in good repair, it will need to be fitted properly to each horse. Tack should be checked for wear daily throughout the summer and when conducting a pre-ride safety check. All staff members should be familiar with making sure the equipment is in good repair.

Peggy Adams is the President Elect for the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA). She worked in the camping industry with resident and day camps for more than 25 years as a camp director, riding director, and camp administrator. She is a CHA master-certified riding instructor as well as a clinic instructor. Reach her at (859) 259-3399, or office@CHA-ahse.org .