Riding at summer camps was a big part of my early riding experience. As early as the age of 7, I was beebopping around on camp horses having the time of my life. While this wasn't a terribly educational portion of my riding carreer, it gave me lots of saddle time, confidence, and an appreciation for these hardworking saints. Someday, I'll write about those wonderful camp experiences, but today, I'm going to write about one of the most miserable weeks of my life.
It all started with a brochure I picked up at a local tack store. The camp was located in Canada, about an hour away from one of our favorite ski resorts. And it was a jumping camp. Up to this point I had ridden almost exclusively western, but I reeeeeeally wanted to try jumping. I figured this was the easiest way to get some good experience under my belt.While I was a year older than the listed maximum age for the camp, I was allowed to enroll. I worked my butt off in my riding lessons getting in shape to jump, and when summer rolled around, I knew I was ready to jump sweet jumps.
The camp was about a 10 hour drive from home, but it just so happened some friends were taking a long summer vacation at the ski resort nearby. She offered to pick me up from the airport and drop me off at camp. My dad had faxed all the paperwork in advance so there wouldn't be any problems. We thought.
When I arrived, the gal asked for my paperwork. And wanted a parent to sign forms. She almost didn't take me... I was so nervous. Looking back, that may have been a blessing in disguise. Over the course of the week I was accused of sneaking into the 14 year old boy's tent among a litany of other silly charges that I had nothing to do with. But this isn't a blog about crappy camp counselors.. let's get back to the horses. I was assigned a plump little appy mare with no mane or tail to speak of. She was cute and reminded me of a horse at home... we hit it off pretty well. Sadly, the camp owner was not impressed. The very first day, she stuck me in the beginner group, many of these students couldn't even steer. Her reasoning? Because I was "just a western rider". After the first day I was moved into a more advanced group, and we immediately started off jumping 2'3'". This camp did not focus so much on teaching you what you were doing as simply surviving. Luckily, I didn't scare easy. Even after watching lots of refusals and runouts, it was my turn.... the feeling of just riding up to a jump and knowing my horse was going to sail over built my confidence, even though I had no idea what I was doing.
Looking back now, I realize how sad those poor horses must have been. Many had physical issues- I saw stringhalt, eye issues, and enough lameness to make you shake your head. I couldn't pull the noseband tight enough to pass tack check, and I'm quite sure my little close contact saddle with a plain pad didn't do any favors for my saintly appy's back. I did learn a few things about jumping... mostly how to stay out of a good horse's way. At the end of the week show for the parents, the "just a western rider" won the equitation class. I'll never go back there, but I never want to forget my terrible week at camp.