Summer is just around the corner, a time when many parents are eager to ship their offspring away to camp, even just for the day to keep them occupied. We spoke to a few riding camp owners and organizers from around the country about what makes for a safe, fun, and educational horse-riding camp.

Vanessa and Cary Warren have run day camps from their Oakville, Ontario farm, The Ranch for over 40 years. Geared for kids 10-16, Vanessa suggests parents ask if the riding being taught will be English or Western in case the child has a preference or wants to learn a new discipline. And does the child need to have previous experience? The Ranch takes children from those who have never touched a horse before to more seasoned teens.

Timberline Ranch, located in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, has been running camps, both overnight and day, since 1961. Craig Douglas, the facility’s executive director, says that parents need to ensure a camp is properly accredited. “We are accredited with the BC Camps Association,” he explains, “which means we also follow all the guidelines for the Certified Horsemanship Association. Also, make sure it’s well established and has staff that have been properly vetted.”

Asking what other activities are on offer at the camp is a way to ensure it’s the right fit for your child. For example, at Timberline campers can take advantage of other activities such as swimming, archery, pellet gun target practice, rock climbing, 400’ zip line, low ropes course, team sports, crafts, a petting zoo, campfires, knife and axe throwing, and more.

Topping the list for everyone we spoke to said safety comes first. John Owens, who runs Bar Jo Ranch in Rocky View County, Alberta, listed the top questions parents ask him when planning to send their children to riding camp as a guide.

1. How experienced are the staff with both children and horses?
2. What safety measures are in place?
3. Are the horses well-trained and suitable for beginners?
4. What is the student-to-instructor ratio?
5. Are there age and skill-level appropriate programs?
6. Is proper safety equipment provided?
7. How are emergencies handled?
8. What is the camp’s refund policy?

How much riding your child will do is also good to know. Day campers at The Ranch get a heavy dose of riding, usually 2-3 hours per day. “Then at the end of the week we organize a fun horse show type event for family and friends,” she explains. “The kids get to groom the horses and ride in front of the group to show their parents what they learned that week.” While not competitive, it gives campers a chance to demonstrate skills such as western trail, pleasure, or rail class.

Timberline offers various types of riding classes from mounted games to vaulting, with kids spending an average of up to four hours per day around horses.

A good thing to be aware of is what your children are going to learn out of the saddle. “Some parents are big on having their kids learn all the horsemanship stuff,” Warren says. “We have our kids help the staff feed, water, groom, muck stalls, in addition to tacking up and riding.”

As for what kids need to pack for day or overnight camp, the list was unanimous from all camps. Here’s their suggested list:

  • Clothes for riding (long pants and boots with a heel)*
  • Lighter clothes for the remainder of the day such as shorts, tees, PJs, bathing suit, etc.
  • Raincoat
  • Hat for sun protection
  • Sunscreen and towel
  • Bug spray
  • Water and snacks if not provided

*All the camps we spoke with provided accredited safety helmets.

There are also some things your child should not bring; here is a basic list but always check with the camp:

  • money
  • cell phones, tablets, handheld game systems, etc.
  • digital cameras or video devices
  • skateboards or bikes

The bottom line is that when your drop your kid off at camp they will have to learn to make their own decisions; it’s part of growing up, after all. For the kids, Vanessa Warren has some advice: “Never do what you’re not comfortable doing, and communicate what your needs are, which is tough when you’re eight!” But wise words no matter what your age.