Written by: Doug Breen

Humour columnist Doug Breen pokes fun at the parents who see horse camp as nothing more than daycare for tweens.

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Well, camp season has just ended and it got me to thinking about the difference between the camp experience of today vs back in the day.

When I was a kid, from the moment school ended in June, until it started again after Labour Day, it was pretty much a kid free for all. Summer days were for fishing, building forts in the woods and figuring out which swimming holes had the least leeches in them. Okay, that last part isn’t true, I never actually swam in leech-infested creeks, but we did always know which houses had pools and a mom who’d feed you lunch. Growing up on a farm, I had more responsibilities than most kids, but there was still ample time to race your dirt bike through the woods until it was too dark to see which tree you were hitting.

But no more! Today’s over scheduled kids couldn’t possibly amuse themselves beside a pond with a pile of flat rocks. Many spend every waking hour of their summer at day camps. If these existed when I was a kid, I was blissfully unaware. I went to camp camp – where you slept 10 boys to a spider-infested cabin, and came home with poison ivy and a good marshmallow burn. But now there’s art camp, golf camp, theatre camp, football camp and naturally – horse camp. It’s a multi-million dollar business (don’t tell the CRA, as it’s mostly cash), which essentially fills the hours where the kids would normally be in school.

My wife Krista’s been running horse camps for as long as I can remember, just like every other barn that has more than three ponies in it. There’s an interesting cross-section of parents that sign their kids up for camp, and it’s fascinating to watch the interaction between the councillors and parents at the Monday drop off.

Some parents see horse camp as nothing more than daycare for tweens. In a couple more years, they’ll save the cost of the camp and let their kids loose on the streets, where they can spend the summer in search of their first petty misdemeanor. Kids like this are easy to pick out, as they’re the only eight-year-old with a tattoo, cut-off camouflage pants and a Tapout shirt. You’ll seldom see the mother, as she barely slows down enough to push them out of the van. Next week they’ll be at MMA camp. These kids will shock you, as they’re usually incredibly gentle and respectful of the horses.

The hover mothers will arrive early, sporting a fanny pack full of sunscreen and antiseptic wipes, and will demand to see a copy of your insurance policy. They won’t consider buying a helmet, but come bearing a consumers report on the ones you should have for her child’s use. This mother won’t leave all day, and will have many suggestions as to what you could do to make your barn safer. Her kid will also constantly tell you what to do and saw the bit in the pony’s mouth, no matter how many times you tell her not to. She will also tell you five times a day how much better the horse camp she went to last year was and how they let her canter on the first day. God help you if she falls off at any point. Or trips over a hose. Or sneezes.

The Kumon set will arrive late, in a Lexus SUV, wearing a brand new, freshly pressed riding jacket, with their private school crest stitched on to it. Mom (and her $500 haircut) will demand that her child produce a three-page report each day (with notes from the instructor). The camper will require constant attention, feedback and above all – grading. Your horses “really aren’t as good as the ones Mercedes is used to” – she’ll tell you that, a lot. All these girls are named after cars for some reason – Mercedes, Porsche, Ferrari and such – no idea why. Kumon mom also won’t leave, but she won’t talk to the hover mother about anything except report cards. Sometimes you get the hover/Kumon combo mom. My advice is to cut your losses and give them their money back on the first day.

My kids went to horse camp this summer, which is crazy because their whole life is a horse camp. But it was interesting to watch the Monday drop off from a parental perspective. There was a particularly jumpy hover mother, engrossed in a heated conversation with a special dietary needs mother, about whether there were nut products in horse rations – but as always, the vast majority of people were just like me, hoping the kids would have a good day and secretly wishing that there was some way that they could still be jumping off cliffs into a quarry without supervision.