I feel like I’ve failed to properly explain the camp experience, so here’s a rundown of how my life currently works! The camp I work at is a specialist sleepaway camp: it’s theatre-focused, meaning most of the campers are Broadway-wannabes who spend most of their time singing, acting, dancing, playing a musical instrument, or a combination thereof. There are, however, many more activities offered – everything from cooking, woodwork and rock climbing to horse riding, tennis and mountain biking, as well as lots of arty activities like photography, painting and even knitting.
When I arrived last year, I was surprised to be placed in staff accommodation, but I was actually very lucky! I live right next to the barn, making for a short commute, and I’m not responsible for children 24/7. As a result, I have additional duties in the morning and evening at the barn, as well as having to supervise a few evening activities. But for the most part, if I’m exhausted enough to want to go to bed at 9pm, I can.
If it’s my turn to feed the horses in the morning, I meet a few other staff at the barn at 7am – on other days, I can choose to go to breakfast any time from 7:45 until about 8:30, or sleep in and show up at the barn for 9am. After breakfast (or my lie in), we start tacking up the horses for the first class at 9am, in order to have them ready for 9:30am. The summer is broken up into sessions, each of which is three weeks long – some campers stay for just one session, but it’s very common for them to stay for six or nine weeks, and less so for them to remain for the full 12 week summer – and in my department, we have a different teaching schedule for each session.
During the current session, I’m only teaching riding lessons for two hour-long periods per day, which is an incredibly light load for me – I was teaching four or five periods per day last summer! Just like all other staff, I do one barn work period per day (chores around the barn such as mucking out), and the remaining three periods are currently dedicated to horsemanship, something I’m relishing.
My teaching day begins with a beginner class, English-style – I also have no Western classes this session – and I co-teach it with two other staff. We have 15 campers in the class, but are typically given five horses to work with, so the campers get around 15 minutes of riding each. In some ways, it means progress is slow, but they are still riding daily, so it’s probably a good thing for their muscles for it to be such a short time!
I then have two periods of horsemanship prior to lunch: we’ve prioritised three of our 20 horses for some TLC, so I try to work one priority horse and one other horse within the hour. It doesn’t always work that way, but I’m making my way through the herd to see what may be done to help them.
Lunch is quick for me: the horses get fed hay first, then it’s a dash to the dining hall to try and beat the queue; eat and try to catch up on emails or social media, returning to the barn for afternoon tacking up at 1:45pm. I don’t teach after lunch, as that’s my barn work time, so it’s my responsibility to help get the horses and riders who are heading out on the trail ready to go. Once the main trail has left, I start chores around the barn, pausing to help do changeovers on the beginner trails (these are short trails, where campers are assisted by staff on foot – the more capable riders go on longer trails which involve staff escorting on horseback).
My final horsemanship period of the day does actually involve teaching: I have a student who we’ve approved (it’s the only class at the barn which we’re selective for) and she’s putting me to shame somewhat. My student is a great 11-year old who has ridden for five years and wanted to learn more. She’s chosen a horse to “adopt” for this class, meaning she’s seeing great progress in what they’re able to do. What surprises me even more is her dexterity: she’s got minute hands but handles a rope and carrot stick incredibly well, not once “dropping the knitting” and needing very little physical help from me. More to the point, she’s enjoying the classes, which is very satisfying. If we have time, I work with a horse whilst my student watches once we’ve finished with her horse.
The final hour of my main working day is spent teaching an intermediate English class with one other member of staff. We have four students and usually two horses, but the time is shortened due to us having to feed the horses prior to our own dinner. The intermediates are tricky: some of them are fairly capable, but we’re tough on who we classify as advanced, requiring a high level of skill and adaptability plus confidence on any of our horses. Some campers who ride at home are frustrated that in the intermediate class, there’s a week-long moratorium on cantering, but it’s necessary, as we have a “house style” for intermediate riding which we have to make sure they’re all up to at walk and trot first. I enjoy the intermediates: it’s nice to be able to discuss concepts such as contact, bend and a higher expectation in terms of balance and control.
Once the horses are fed, we turn them out, keeping any in who are to be worked with in the evening before heading down for dinner. My post-dinner jobs can be anything from raking the indoor arena to taking anxious horses out on a trail, and we’re usually finished by about 8:30pm. My evening is then usually my own, but on most nights all I feel fit for is a shower and my bed – my books get very neglected here!
Days of the week and dates in the month don’t matter at camp, it’s all about what my next hour will be spent on and how many days until the next day off (it always feels like it’s in double figures!). But sitting on the sofa in my bunk, listening to the horses chewing and snorting in the field as they settle down for the night and I process my day is time I treasure, and the excitement of new friends and experiences gets me through.