Bad pony camp experience? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 08-14-2019, 11:38 AM Thread Starter
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Bad pony camp experience?

So I'm 16 years old, and during May I booked a week-long residential camp, to take place from the 12-16th August. For the following two months, I took an extra lesson each week and bought anything I might need for it. (As you can tell I was very excited about this!)

Now where I take my lessons is very relaxed, as it's a trekking/therapeutic centre- I took private lessons and hacks, it's a quiet and calm atmosphere. I'm a sensitive rider, and I benefit from positive reinforcement, which my instructor back home understands completely. After a fall six months ago, I'd even built up my confidence to re-learn how to canter in the last 4 or so hacks. I'd become extremely confident at this place, and could walk and trot with confidence and good balance. The pony camp owner had reassured me I would be put into a group with people of my ability, and since it was also a trekking centre, I figured it wouldn't be too intense.

So I arrived on the Sunday night, and everything was fine. There was about 7 other people from 10-16, including me, and 6 young children. The groups were separated by age at day 1. We groomed, tacked up and mounted our horses.
I was put on a pony with terrible sweet itch, who not only was constantly irritated by this, but would not listen to me at all, constantly stopping and not restarting, drifting into the arena centre or the likes. The other horses were also very fresh and excitable, and would stomp/kick out/lunge at the other horses. However, this was fine for the other members of my group, as many had been riding for years, (up to 10 years!) and were competent jumpers and could ride any horse at all gaits. I spent the first two lessons watching them jump and canter between my trots around the arena, although I must give credit to our instructor, she even led me over trotting poles and around the arena when my pony got stubborn.
Between rides, 4 of us older riders would have to help lead the children. I know this might sound snobby maybe, but in my opinion, spending an insane amount of money to take an hour out of your camp time do an instructor/volunteers job isn't something you expect to do.

On day 2, I was put in the children's group. We had a different instructor, who had constantly publicly announced every time I did something wrong when leading the day before(I helped a child unbridle their horse that day, and she rudely commented on it, as well as ask the other campers who were also leading to point out something she thought I did/which I didn't)
Anyway, she constantly shouted at me for doing things wrong, insulted and mocked us if we did something wrong, especially when I couldn't halt the new horse I rode for this lesson, and although I did quite like her, she would also "lock on" to a horse and follow them around the arena to try and kick or bite them.
Then lunch came. Our instructor (also yard owner) asked me to watch the children while she had a cup of tea. I don't like children very much, but I assumed it would only be 10-15 minutes, and they were quiet at this time, so I agreed, and our instructor said she'd find someone to watch them tomorrow (felt I couldn't really say no anyway).
Lunch lasted 30-60 minutes. During this time, the older group got annoyed with me for struggling to keep the children quiet during their cross-country schooling, and my first instructor's boyfriend, who works at the yard I'm sure, stopped by, asked how I was, saw how distressed I was, spoke to one child, and just wished me good luck and went back inside. I was alone for about 15 minutes at least before my instructor came back.
Then, our second ride went a bit better, despite my instructors constant comments. I switched to a different pony halfway through, who was a bit more lively, but I liked her. We did a few games, and she was being a bit unresponsive to my aids.

On the third(this) morning, I arranged with my mother to leave late-morning. I told the first instructor, she rang ahead with my current one. I got to ride one more time, with my instructor being extra nice and chirpy. We did posture work, no stirrups/hands etc., which went very well, but I knew it wouldn't work out if I stayed.
I said goodbye and left, on morning three instead of afternoon five, after paying full price.

I know it's kind of a long post, sorry! I wanted to get as much detail as possible. Basically just wondering if this was actually as bad as I think, and what you all think of it? I'm disappointed, but try to be thankful for the experience and insight it gave me for my short stay.
Spirit3106 is offline  
post #2 of 11 Old 08-14-2019, 11:53 AM
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At the horse camps at our barn, they expect the more experienced riders to do all the stuff you mentioned (lead horses, help tack / untack, watch the younger kids). This is not explained up front, and I can't imagine that anyone except the barn owner (who saves money by not having to have real instructors) is happy about it, especially as you said after paying that much money, but that's how it is. My daughter did a horse camp somewhere else as well, and it seemed to be that way there also.

Also about the horses. When you have a camp with a large group of kids, they have fewer "good" lesson horses to go around, and they tend to assign them based on their perceptions of your skills. So if they think you're a good rider, they give you the less obedient lesson horse because they have to give the easy ones to the brand new riders.

I'm not saying that any of this is right or good, but in my experience that's the way it is. I think you should voice your concerns to the barn and then try to go back for the last day. I get that you are a sensitive rider, and I think it's really great that you realize that, but this could be a growth opportunity for you.
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post #3 of 11 Old 08-14-2019, 12:31 PM
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@Spirit3106 , sounds like a pretty un-fun way to experience what was supposed to be a very exciting week! To me (former instructor) being sarcastic, demeaning, argumentative, and rude with students is never acceptable. Yes, some students thrive under pressure and being harsh and critical gets through to them. There's lots of people here on this Forum over the years who have explained that's how they learn best. But on the other hand, there are also plenty of others who learn best with more gentle encouragement and firm but compassionate support. In teaching, that's called being a "warm demander"- having high standards that you expect your students to meet, but supporting them to get there by building a trusting relationship. Not making them feel small and incapable.

I've helped run summer camps at a therapeutic riding center, and that's absolutely not the type of environment where hard criticism is the right approach. Running a camp, your job is to make it a fun time for everyone who is there for the week. I agree with @ACinATX that it is common at camps to expect the older, more experienced participants to help out with the younger students. In some ways, it's an opportunity to take on a little bit of leadership and responsibility, refine what you know by teaching it to others (e.g., why you might be asked to help a younger student tack up), and frankly, yes, it does help the camp leaders get a bit of a breather during what is a very hectic time where they are often short-staffed. I wouldn't publicly criticize an older student helping out though, I would pull her aside and show her a better/more correct way to do something and make sure the younger students knew how to do it correctly. I think @ACinATX is also right to point out that camp weeks are hard and stressful on horses too- often, it's more work than they are accustomed to, and sometimes it's more work for them with less experienced riders, which can be hard to handle. It's not necessarily an excuse- if you are running camps, it's your responsibility to have appropriate horses. But that said, even the saintliest lesson horses get tired and annoyed and stressed, and that can show up in their behavior.

All in all though, sorry you had a bad experience, and I hope that you get back to good lessons at your regular barn!
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post #4 of 11 Old 08-14-2019, 12:59 PM
Join Date: May 2017
Location: NW Connecticut
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The only valid complaint I can see is that you had a mocking or belittling trainer. Given that you describe yourself as a bit thin-skinned, I wonder however just how bad it was.

Horses that are not push-button horses are a great way to become a better rider - by figuring out how to communicate with them. I have my own horse, but I went to a barn to ask for lessons on a green horse. In fact, I just returned from a ride with him. I'm becoming a better rider every time I take him out, because he throws me a new curveball to handle each time. (Today he confused a branch brushing up against his belly with an attacking mountain lion...)

Your helping with leading/babysitting helps to keep the cost down. Profits in horse riding instruction are razor thin, and you don't describe that place as one with cash just sloshing around.

So, I'm halfway on your side. It's too bad that you didn't get proper instruction on how to handle a more challenging horse, but the fact that you got one as well as the other stuff are non-issues for me.
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post #5 of 11 Old 08-14-2019, 01:13 PM
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Camp should be fun. Plain and simple. A participant should leave feeling that they have had an enjoyable week and learned a lot.

As a child I participated in Pony Club camps. The difference was that we had our own ponies (most were hired from the riding school you rode at)

Instructors who teach by putting orders down all the time are useless and should be stopped.

As an adult I taught at camps, I was tough, took no nonsense and expected the riders to try 100% of the time. However, I also had a lot of fun with the children. I would tease them but I would not pick on them. After riding was finished I would be e first to start the high jinks, water fights and other silly but fun things.

Last camp I taught at a youn girl on her own pony which was a bit hot for her, looked very miserable at the end of the day. (Ponies stayed, children went home) I promised her I would get to the bottom of her pony, Champagne, so he lost all his fizz and would be like a glass of water.

I did!

At the end of the week I awarded that girl the most improved cup. Her mother told me that she had done two previous camps and had asked to come home after the first and second day but, this year she couldn't wait to get there.
An instructor who had taken her the year before took great delight in telling me how bad and useless she was. Should have seen her face when that girl jumped a round of show jumps without any problems.

For me, any place offering camps should have horses and ponies that are suitable for the work intended. People are paying good money to learn and if the animals are unwilling then the chances of learning decrease greatly.

As for helping the younger ones, if all are having fun and enjoying the experience then they are usually more than willing to help for a while.
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post #6 of 11 Old 08-14-2019, 01:42 PM
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What about the rest of your residential camp? I mean, to me, residential means you stay overnight at the place. Was it a better experience?

The riding and the helping other kids sounds a bit normal to me. But, what caught my ear was the instructor asking YOU, a teen, to take on the responsibility of wathcing younger kids while she went off for almost an hour, for tea????!!!

That's a no-go, in my mind. In the USA, people are so concerned nowadays with fear of being sued that they are hyper concisous about that sort of thing. To me, that is very negligent, and risky.

When I went to horse summer camp, many years ago, the attitdue was very 'laissee faire' . They told you which pony you had, handed you a bridle and told you to go catch your own horse, in a huge corrall, full of crabby horses. That no one was kicked and killed was a miracle. If you fell off, they forced you to get back on, if you didn't, you were mocked by the other kids. It was a hard sort of environment. I am not saying it is normal, or good, but that the whole 'camp' thing probably has a wider range of experience than we know.
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post #7 of 11 Old 08-14-2019, 02:00 PM
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Originally Posted by tinyliny View Post
If you fell off, they forced you to get back on, if you didn't, you were mocked by the other kids. It was a hard sort of environment. I am not saying it is normal, or good, but that the whole 'camp' thing probably has a wider range of experience than we know.
Yeah, I agree. That can suck the joy out of the experience. The only thing giving you a hard time should be your horse, but the people around you should help you to deal with it and hop off a better rider that you were an hour ago.
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post #8 of 11 Old 08-14-2019, 02:48 PM Thread Starter
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A few points to add on to my original post:

- I know that horses are unpredictable and not machines, nor do I expect them to be (my favourite horses at my yard have plenty of their own quirks) but if you're offering a service to inexperienced and beginner riders, the horses used should be manageable, fun and safe to learn with. Having an instructor ready to belittle and criticize every mistake is very discouraging for learning.
- I don't mind helping with barn management, it is a pony camp after all, but it is not an inexperienced teenager/paying customers' responsibility to pick up the slack for experienced adults who bit off more than they can chew, or are just looking to boost profits- for anyone's sake.
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post #9 of 11 Old 08-14-2019, 03:12 PM
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Have you searched online for reviews on the facility?
Generally speaking, a place that gets a lot of negative reviews won’t get many new or returning customers.
Do they run as a riding school as well as the holiday camp
Where is the facility based - what country?

Just winging it is not a plan
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post #10 of 11 Old 08-14-2019, 05:47 PM
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I think it is really too difficult for a total stranger who is neither familiar with the camp nor you to really evaluate anything objectively.

I also think that it's not at all a bad thing to know when to pack it up and cut your losses.

Your experience was your experience. It was a bad fit for you, whether it was run fairly or well or poorly is not as relevant as that you were unhappy there. You have to learn and respect your own limits and figure out how to get what you personally need to grow as a rider. One size does not fit all.

For example, no matter how many clinics I went to that other people loved, I never seemed to get much value out of them and finally I realized, duh, I just don't learn that way. Same with videos. Can't watch 'em. I do best with one on one lessons with someone who is supportive and professional. Other ways of learning are a waste of time and money for me no matter what they are for others.

The only way to find this stuff out is to get out there and have a miserable time, so chalk it up to a "learning experience."
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