There are now less than 80 days until my summer in the US begins! I’ll be working at the same camp I was at last year as part of a team of staff who work in a department which cares for 25 horses. When you factor in the kids in each class, it’s a lot of legs to have your eye on!
I’m busy coming up with all sorts of ideas for how better to approach the season – part of which is the horse care sessions, which I’ve already had lots of fantastic inspiration for, do keep it coming – and I’m hoping to improve on how I did last year. One of the most exciting things for me is that my boss has agreed, in principle, to me teaching a horsemanship class for one hour per day (the day is split into six hour-long periods), as well as her and me working with the horses in the evenings to try and get them more relaxed and communicate with them better. So I’m busily preparing for the horsemanship sessions in particular, as that’s all still incredibly new to me, nevermind the horses, whereas with my riding classes, I know I’ll be able to prepare with less time and on a more case-by-case basis.
I think one of the key things which marries up with the horsemanship classes is improved management of the horses’ workloads. It’s tricky with any horses, because they’re all different and their ability to manage a high amount of work depends on so many variables – age, breed, fitness, weather conditions, type of work to name but a few. I’m curious as to how other establishments manage this and would welcome your input on some ideas. Some facts about our setup to help are provided below.
How my camp works:
- Of the six periods, three are termed as “majors” and three are “minors”. Campers pick their majors at the start of the session, meaning they attend three specific classes every day (so we know exactly what we’re getting for half of the day, and assign classes to instructors and kids accordingly). Minors are picked daily at breakfast. Helpfully, our list generally shows up after the first one has taken place, plus they’re not even set in stone – kids can and do change their minds. We don’t refuse any child (so minors can be really busy or very quiet)
- Our head of department assigns horses to the classes for the majors – instructors get what they’re given. During the minors, the instructors choose which horse(s) they use
- All riding classes alternate each day between lessons and trails (this includes the minors): beginner trails are short – instructors walk and the campers ride – whereas intermediate and advanced trails are longer – instructors lead the trail from horseback
- If a horse isn’t being ridden, it’s either in a stable, in the field or being used for horse care. Horses stabled during the day are ones which need extra care – we’re keeping an eye on them for some reason. All horses are outside overnight, after breakfast and prior to lessons starting, and during lunchtime, unless there are extreme circumstances (I can count on the fingers of one hand how many horses were kept in for how many nights last summer – they generally do incredibly well health-wise)
What we did last year:
- As the summer progressed, certain horses were blocked out for specific periods during the day – these were ones with a high workload, or who were popular with the kids, or who we deemed as particularly old or injury-prone
- I tried to keep mental-track of what kind of work horses had done, as well as keeping a literal eye on how they were doing on any given day – if my boss or I felt a horse had done a lot of work, we may have told a white lie to other staff and said that the “off limits” list had changed
- Horses tended to be lesson or trail-based. Some horses weren’t allowed to go on trails due to their behaviour, some weren’t used for lessons because their skills weren’t up to it – I’ll be really interested to see if my horsemanship sessions will improve any behaviour and allow us to mix it up more
Ideas I’ve had:
- One person keeping track of what 25 horses do six times per day is a lot. The majors will be easy, because the horses are listed on a whiteboard for that so the information can be copied out at any time during the day. It’s the minors which will be challenging – there’s nobody who is free to pause and take note of who’s nabbed which horses for their sessions
- I think the onus will have to be on instructors to report which horses they’ve used in the minors, and what the horse has done, whether it’s been an English or Western lesson and at which level, a trail, a horsemanship session or horse care
- I’d also keep track of which horses worked in the evenings and what was done with them. I’d also possibly record how it went (this is quite important for natural horsemanship and tracking progress)
- I think it’s worth collating the data over the course of a week and each three-week session, to then review and check that horses are being worked as evenly as possible and managed appropriately
Does this work for others in industry? Who has the responsibility for monitoring and reporting on equine workload where you’re based?