Having discussed how camp is meeting my general expectations in my previous post, it’s time to reflect upon my specific reason for being here now that the first session is over.
When I decided to teach riding at a summer camp, I shied away from riding-centric camps, as I was concerned that my limited experience would not be good enough to be an effective staff member at such an establishment. The camp I’m working at is theatre and arts-focused, so horse riding is not anyone’s priority: the campers ride horses to give it a go and have fun, rather than as a serious pursuit. We accept children who’ve never been on a horse before, those who come on an annual basis and don’t otherwise ride, and those who ride regularly at home, so we get a mixed bag in terms of ability and enthusiasm.
I had anticipated some of these things prior to my arrival, but hadn’t quite taken in how much of a change in approach this would require on my part. Fortunately, I’m not alone. Most of the horseback team are first-timers at camp, and we’ve also pretty much all grown up on horses. When we compare notes, there are huge similarities in our previous experiences: we were all taught to ride by instructors who were demanding and tough but fair. There is no room for toughness here.
When a child falls off a pony at any of the places I’ve learned to ride – even in the current era of health, safety and litigation – they are dusted down quickly and thrown back on the horse (there’s a reason the phrase exists). It seems harsh to the uninitiated, but it’s an approach which works. When a camper falls off a horse here, a radio call is sent out and two nurses and a doctor turn up on a golf buggy.
I spent hours – probably days, if you add the time together – walking and trotting in circles whilst being screamed at by many instructors, receiving orders barked incessantly from the age of four in an effort to improve my riding. At the end of each session, I’d get a small amount of praise – normally the damning kind, labelled “constructive criticism” – for my trouble. I currently find myself praising the minor victories I gain, as the campers are not in my arena to become star riders, but in order to stay on a horse and be able to tell their parents that they’ve ridden one.
The gear change is still causing me some communication and efficacy problems. The way I was taught to ride is as familiar to me as breathing – the commands and delivery are automatic, as is the language of horses. The challenge for me in the next session will be to translate that effectively, and ensure that my riders improve and have fun.