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Start Horsing Around! Try a Local Horse Camp

Top tips for finding the right horse camp

Published on: February 01, 2019

little girl at horse camp

Adding horses to the itinerary introduces a whole new level of inquiry when it comes to choosing a summer camp experience for your child. That’s why we wrangled experts and parents of horse-loving kids to get their pointers on picking the perfect equestrian camp. Along the way, we found out why families are thankful for the lessons learned from structured time spent with these majestic animals.

Horse camp can lead to rewards beyond horse handling and riding experience, says Christina Wilsdon, author of “For Horse-Crazy Girls Only: Everything You Want to Know About Horses” and mother to a now grown daughter who was smitten with horses as a child.

“Being horse-crazy gave Sophie an interest that sustained her during the turbulent years of adolescence,” says Wilsdon of her daughter. She notes that attending and then working at horse camp imparted skills that helped her daughter in all areas of her life.

Sophie Wilsdon seconds her mother’s opinion. “I learned about deadlines and responsibility, how to treat animals and people with respect, and that hard work pays off,” she says.

Whether your child has a budding interest in horses or is ready for an immersive seven-day, all-horses-all-the-time camp experience, Wilsdon recommends that parents research options carefully. Here’s her checklist, chockfull of horse sense:

  • Make sure the instructors are experienced. Find out how many years the camp or stable has been in operation. Ask if the camp’s instructors are certified by an accrediting organization, such as the Certified Horsemanship Association.
  • Kids should learn about horses on the ground first, adjusting to being in the horse’s presence before they attempt to ride.
  • Horses 101 should be part of camp, imparting fundamentals about leading, grooming, tacking (saddling) and untacking, as well as learning about horse psychology, behavior and anatomy.
  • Research horse camps online, and, if possible, check them out in person during pre-camp visiting days and when dropping off your child. The barn should be tidy and smell pleasantly of hay and horses. The animals should appear friendly, curious and contented.

Lastly, find a camp with an activity balance that will work for your child, whether that means a horse-centric experience or a camp that furnishes a mix of activities alongside directed equestrian time. Here’s a roundup of camps that come highly recommended by experts, parents and campers alike.

Camp Sealth (Vashon Island)

Camp basics: Camp Sealth offers eight one-week sessions of horse camp and teaches Western riding, with beginner, intermediate and advanced programs. Age ranges vary by session, but are generally open to grades 4–11; sessions can accommodate campers with mild to moderate disabilities, too. Riding instruction includes arena lessons, ground lessons and trail rides.

Day or overnight camp: Overnight camp.

Horse facts: Horse time comprises about 50 percent of the total activity time each day, with two hours of riding and two hours more for grooming, feeding, ground lessons and chores. Each camper is assigned a horse for the week.

Price range: Short week (four-day session) starts at $460 with rates increasing from there.

What makes it different: Kids and parents love this horse camp because it offers a balance of horseback riding and other camp activities. Kids get a chance to develop a personal relationship with their horse, learning from and bonding with the animal throughout the week. Campers also get a chance to experience the whole horse-care experience, including feeding, chores, grooming and ground lessons. Camp Sealth is located in a beautiful setting, with miles of riding trails through the woods and on the beach. 

Camp Wahoo! (outside Cle Elum) 

Camp basics: These weeklong camps are designed for children ages 9–18 who love horses and being outdoors. Campers ride daily while living in a rustic pioneer camp and gaining skills in horsemanship and wilderness living.

Day or overnight camp: Overnight camp.

Horse facts: All campers are assigned their own trail-wise horse for their entire stay.

Price range: From $900 to $1,200, depending on applied discounts and level of camp.

What makes it different: Campers ride daily in the gorgeous Cascade Mountains. The camp, which operates entirely on U.S. Forest Service land, is in the heart of the Esmeralda Basin, which boasts endless trails through the Stuart Range and surrounding wilderness. The weekly highlight for younger campers is an overnight trip with pack mules to an outcamp. Campers learn and use mule-packing skills in a noncompetitive team-building experience. Camps for older riders include a two-night, four-day pack camp or a weeklong pack camp. 

Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center (Dunmire Stables, Redmond)

Camp basics: All kids are welcome at Little Bit, thanks to its well-established therapeutic riding program, founded in 1976. Weekly summer day camps employ stables full of patient, placid horses and a convoy of trained, caring counselors. Camp sessions for participants ages 5–25 run from Mondays through Thursdays.

Day or overnight camp: Day camp.

Horse facts: Campers have a daily riding lesson from a therapeutic riding instructor certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH). Besides riding, campers will take part in one or two unmounted activities with Little Bit horses each day, including grooming, bathing and leading horses. Campers will learn about stable management and horse health, as well as help feed lunch to the Little Bit herd members.

Price range: $400 for Monday–Thursday day camp session, 9 a.m.–1 p.m.

What makes it different: Little Bit aims to improve “the bodies, minds and spirits of children and adults with disabilities.” Its integrative approach unites campers with and without disabilities and aims to break down stereotypes about people with disabilities in a fun and engaging way. Learning and riding together forges a path to friendship and understanding. Campers have fun with games and crafts, including designing obstacle courses and barrel-racing patterns to run through on hobby horses, and painting with horse brushes.

Northwest Natural Horsemanship Center (Fall City)

Camp basics: The center provides camps for children ages 5–16 at any skill level, with camps blending focused horse time with creative time directed by a professional art teacher. Campers get to trot out their newfound horsemanship abilities during a skills show for parents. The camps can accommodate any minor emotional, attention-deficit or physical challenges.

Day or overnight camp: Day camp.

Horse facts: Each child is paired with their own horse. Children spend half of their time with the horses and the other half in art class.

Price range: $275 for half-day camp, $575 for full-day wrangler camp; discounts offered for multiple camps and for early-bird registration.

What makes it different: This camp balances time and instruction between horses and art. Its natural horsemanship approach starts on the ground and works its way onto the saddle. The goal is to build a well-rounded horse person who not only understands riding techniques but the mind and spirit of the animal. Campers acquire safety skills and learn to ride with lightness, balance and confidence. The goal of the art program is to help young people express their creativity through different mediums, styles and materials.

Lang’s Horse and Pony Farm (Mount Vernon) 

Camp basics: Lang’s offers camps for kids of all ages, with more than 50 different sessions (including a Ladies’ Weekend Camp — yeehaw!). No experience is required, and special programs are offered for advanced riders. Most camps include a riding show for campers’ parents on the last day of camp.

Day or overnight camp: Both are offered.

Horse facts: Each child has a horse assigned to them for the week.

Price range: From $105 for a three-day Mommy and Me Pony Camp up to $1,750 for a two-week overnight camp.

What makes it different: At Lang’s, it’s all about horses. The kids ride all day; no one goes home lamenting, “I wish I had more time on my horse.” Lang’s has an extensive trail system and multiple riding arenas. Its large number of horses (90) means campers will be matched with just the right horse or pony pal.

Camp Don Bosco (Carnation) 

Camp basics: Camp Don Bosco offers horse sessions for all six weeks of one-week resident camp (grades 3–9) and nine weeks of one-week day camp (grades 1–9), with a Wrangler in Training program for ninth- through 12th-graders. This CYO camp’s underlying mission is to challenge those who experience camp to live, learn and grow in the Catholic faith. 

Day or overnight camp: Both are offered.

Horse facts: A dedicated certified riding instructor manages the horse program, ensuring the herd is well cared for and ready for riders each year. Camps include three riding levels, from beginner to advanced, all using the Western riding style. Riders receive lessons in arenas and take trail rides throughout the week. The oldest riders go on an overnight trip with their horse.

Price range: $375 and up for day camp; $625 and up for resident camp.

What makes it different: Camp Don Bosco’s program encourages horse campers to grow and build on their horsemanship skills, giving them the right amount of challenge, whether it is their first summer or their fifth. An equestrian specialist trains the staff to work with the horses and learn the property to best prepare for summer campers. The camp is situated on 179 amazing acres of wooded trails, where campers can roam under the supervision of the staff.

YMCA Camp Orkila (Orcas Island)

Camp basics: YMCA Camp Orkila Horsemasters camp is a weeklong overnight specialty camp for young people entering grades 6–9 who are interested in learning to ride and care for horses. Campers will spend half of each day of camp at the barn with their riding group, and the remainder of the day participating in traditional camp activities, such as swimming, boating, arts and crafts, archery, playing capture the flag, enjoying campfire time and more.

Day or overnight camp: Overnight camp.

Horse facts: Camp Orkila provides each camper with a holistic equestrian experience, with participants helping to care for its herd, learning new skills in ground lessons, and practicing riding in the arena and on trails. Campers will be matched with a horse on the first full day of camp and spend the rest of the week riding and bonding with their horse.

Price range: Starting at $650. Financial assistance is available.

What makes it different: Horsemasters participants experience the magic of camp on horseback, exploring forest trails with their trusty equine friend. In addition to time at the barn, campers participate in traditional Camp Orkila activities (like swimming in Puget Sound) as a part of the Horsemasters unit. The opportunity for campers to learn alongside one another in lessons, cheer each other on at the climbing wall, and share their thoughts and experiences in evening circles creates an amazing bond among their small cabin group of five or six. Each cabin is mentored by a counselor and a riding instructor, who provide coordinated leadership at the barn and around camp throughout the week. 

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