I hate complaints. I wear my heart on my sleeve and have an unhealthy tendency to take criticism personally, unless I know that I’m right and the complainant is wrong. The most difficult children and parents we come across are the ones who have specific expectations of what we offer, particularly when they feel that those expectations aren’t being met. It’s more common in the campers who ride year-round, rather than those who only get the opportunity to ride at camp, and this mismatch increases rapidly when they haven’t been to our camp or any other multi-activity camp previously.
One of our problems is that we don’t say no to anyone. Classes don’t have a size limit, although we only have a certain number of horses, staff, arenas and hours in the day. This leads to situations such as having two beginner classes per hour – one for each discipline we teach – both containing 20 children. Within that hour, we could also have eight intermediates riding English, four riding Western, and a token advanced rider. And only 20 or 30 horses, depending on which end of the summer it is. Plus, of those 20 or 30 horses, 10 to 20% will be staff-only rides. Clearly, the maths doesn’t add up.
No child rides for an entire hour, even if they are the only one in their class: it’s not fair to those in larger classes that, by co-incidence, it’s physically impossible for them to ride for an hour, and it’s also not fair on the horses. If a child is alone in a class, they’ll ride for about 20 minutes, roughly the same as a child in a class of six. The beginners in a class of 20 will still ride for about 15 minutes, as their class will typically be allocated five horses.
There are other rules and restrictions too, which my boss has honed over years of running the barn. There’s a moratorium on cantering in lessons and on the trail during the first week of the session – the horses have had two or three days off at this point, so are pretty fresh, and most of the campers are still getting used to our horses and the way we do things. It makes complete sense. Unless you’re a child who rides the same horse week in, week out at home, and can’t see that this makes them unqualified to hop on a strange horse and immediately canter around for an hour whilst the rest of the class stands in 30 degree heat watching.
Everything we do, as my boss says, is done for a reason. Certain things are absolutely negotiable: if one of us has a good idea, we can pitch it to her, discuss it and thrash it out. But the rules have history, and are there for protection.
However, there are still those who are complete strangers to us who think they know better, or are qualified to dictate their child’s learning. I am happy to be proven wrong: if there is a parent out there who really and truly knows their stuff, and we have made a mistake with the level their child is at, I’m happy to have this safely pointed out to us. It could happen. But it hasn’t yet.
Until it does, or until our level of resources matches the potential demand and parental expectations, please let me tell you, dear parents: your child will not have an hour-long ridden lesson. They are welcome to watch the rest of the class, or help us out at the barn, or take care of a horse if a horse is available. But they will not spend an hour in the saddle honing their skills. I wish they could. If our classes were capped, or we had 100 horses, perhaps they could: the former option would mean that we could serve only a small percentage of the campers we currently support, the latter would be physically impossible with a campus our size.
If anyone has a better suggestion, I’d love to hear it. For the moment, with the resources we have, I truly believe we’re doing our best.