Equestrian camp gives kids the chance to bond with horses and spend time unplugged and enjoying the great outdoors with their peers. What a great way to spend the summer!
“Kids love horses in general. They are therapeutic,” says Jill Lanphere, an employee of Freedom Woods in Morton Grove and mother of a child who has ridden there for 11 years. “They don’t talk and they don’t judge.”
In addition to riding the horses, campers learn about basic grooming and tacking as well as general horsemanship and care of the animals. “Kids can learn responsibility with horses,” says Gig Bellows, co-owner of White Pines Ranch in Oregon, Ill. “Kids can nurture and be nurtured by these large, lovable animals.”
For children who want to saddle up this summer, there are several great equestrian camp options.
Local Equestrian Day Camps
These camps offer one-week sessions, but campers are welcome to sign up for more than one session. Though times vary, the camps all last between four and five hours, ending in the early afternoon. Freedom Woods, voted the Make it Better Best of 2014 Best Horse Riding Stables, offers half-day summer camps for children age 8 and older.
“At the end of the week, there are people who come into the office and ask to sign up again for the next session,” says Lanphere, who attributes the popularity to both the counselors who have ridden at Freedom Woods for many years and to the horses, with whom kids often feel an immediate bond. She says the camps have been very popular and the sessions have been full for the past two years.
If your child is an early riser, Freedom Woods offers an early-bird program that starts at 7 a.m. and allows kids to help with morning feeding and watering of the horses, daily turnout, and preparation of equipment for the day.
Palladia Farm in Libertyville offers weeklong camps for children ages 6 to 11. In addition to a daily riding lesson, campers also learn about all things equestrian, including breeds of horses and riding styles, as well as enjoying some traditional camp activities like scavenger hunts and arts and crafts.
In Morton Grove, the Glen Grove Summer Riding Camp campers must be between 7 and 13 years old and they enjoy one hour of riding lessons daily, along with instruction in grooming, tacking and horsemanship. All the sessions filled up last summer, so don’t delay when registration opens in February. A small discount is available if campers sign up for multiple weeks, and those weeks do not have to be consecutive.
Wheaton’s Danada Equestrian Center is now operated by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Dan and Ada Rice established the stables in the 1940s and were the owners of 1965 Kentucky Derby winner Lucky Debonair, who made his home at Danada in the Kentucky-style barn. It hosts two summer camps: “Horse Sense,” for kids age 11 and younger, is perfect for new equestrians; and “Riding Sense Camp,” for campers age 12 and older, is more riding-intensive.
Overnight Equestrian Camps
If your child is ready to hit both the road and the trail and head to a full week of sleepover horse camp, White Pines Ranch is located on 200 acres of woods, pastures, and horse trails. It offers week-long overnight equestrian camps in July and August, although campers (ages 8 to 15) are welcome to stay for consecutive weeks if they wish.
Overnight camps offer more time with the horses. “Each evening we have different activities going on, like an evening trail ride, and the campers also help to ‘turn the horses out to pasture’ in the evening after the ride is over. They help with sweeping the barn and getting it ready for the next day,” Bellows says.
Bellows notes that “living away from home for a week is a big deal for most kids” and that the benefits often aren’t directly related to the horses, including thinking for themselves and making new friends on their own. Kids also make memories that last a lifetime at overnight camp and sometimes start a family tradition. “We now have many second generations of campers whose parents were here and want their kids to have the same great experience they did at our ranch,” Bellows says.
Adventurous kids (ages 9-17) will love their four weeks at Cheley Colorado Camps, located 75 miles northwest of Denver. In addition to horseback riding, campers can go rock climbing and river rafting or explore more than 600 miles of trails.
Other overnight camp options include Camp Cedar Lodge, located in Lawrence, Mich., for kids ages 8 to 16. Camp Timber-Lee Horsemanship Camp hosts children in fourth through sixth grades in East Troy, Wisc.