Friday, April 20, 2012

Pony Farm Summer Camp - The Over-Under of Horse Matches

At Touchstone Farm, we have horses and ponies of all sizes. Some love to canter and jump. We have some whose favorite gait is “Whoa.” All of them love being ridden and cared for by our Pony Farm campers. Each camper not only rides but is also responsible for feeding, grooming, and – as Boo would say – “lovin’ on” her camp horse or pony.

For Pony Farm Summer Camp, we make the best and safest match between horse (or pony) and rider that we can.  A lot of parents ask about our process for horse matching, and it really is a great question. Here’s how it works.

Matching camper and horse begins with the information campers provide on their forms. (Yet another reason why getting those forms to us is so important.) We consider each camper’s riding experience, and even her size and weight when making the initial assignment. Parents sometimes come up to me and question their daughter’s horse match, even before she has even ridden or seen the horse! My response is often that we had only their daughter’s height and weight from their forms and no other info to work with. But that’s not the end of the story.

On Monday morning, campers have a trial ride on the horses they are assigned.  Our head riding instructors watch carefully for correct matches.  Based on their observations, input from the riding staff and from the campers, we confirm or change the horse matches.  If a camper is not happy with her match, she rides again in the afternoon to find her equine soul-mate.

On Tuesday morning, we double check that campers are in the appropriate riding groups for lessons. We wait until Tuesday because it is hard to make sure the campers are in the right riding groups if everyone isn’t yet on the right horse.  We also find that for the campers,  camp is a lot of physical activity, excitement and change they aren’t used to, especially right at the end of the school year.  We want to make sure the campers are  fresh when we are checking to see if they are in the correct riding group.

We strongly encourage  campers to let us know if she thinks her pony is too fast, too slow, or just plain isn’t pretty enough.  (I joke about the last part. Who could ever find a Pony Farm pony or horse anything less than adorable?)  Seriously, this is horseback riding camp, and we want every camper to be comfortable and happy with their mount.  That’s why we want to know if a camper isn’t happy with her assigned horse. I know that speaking up is a life skill that some adults find hard to do. So camper parents, please talk to your camper about speaking up for themselves before they come to camp.

Disclaimer:  We know that it is not mathematically possible to make everybody happy all the time, but we try really hard!  Sometimes in a less-than-ideal match, a camper and a horse or pony can learn a lot from each other.

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