A Salute to Camp Horses
Learn how these hard-working, versatile and reliable mounts are helping teach the equestrian stars of tomorrow
Behind every successful summer riding program is a group of reliable camp horses characterized by their versatility and willingness to please. Each year, thousands of camp horses help young riders learn about everything from horse care and conformation to basic riding skills, jumping and more. Camp horses provide the means for young riders to establish a solid foundation in horsemanship, get the confidence that they need to become better horsemen, and perhaps most importantly, create memories to be cherished for years to come.
With former careers ranging from off-the-track Thoroughbreds to therapeutic riding mounts, camp horses come from different places, and each has a unique training background and a story to tell. They come in all breeds, colors and sizes––what unites them all is their willingness to please, ability to work with different riders and never-ending patience.
Their value lies not in what they are worth on paper, but in the peace of mind that they provide to the instructors and counselors who rely on them to be safe and consistent mounts capable of teaching beginner, intermediate and advanced riders. Read on to learn more about a few camp horses who are worthy of recognition.
A Heart of Gold
Chantilly Lace, who is better known as “Tilly,” came to Driftwood Stables in Northfield, N.H., five years ago following a successful career in a therapeutic riding program. When trainer Bri Gallo discovered that her close friend was selling the mare, it didn’t take long for her to decide that Tilly would be a great fit for the program at Driftwood Stables. “She takes such great care of kids that when she needed to sell her I bought her right up!”
Since her arrival, the 14.2-hand Haflinger mare has become a shining star in the summer riding program. Her list of talents includes but is not limited to English, Western, jumping, cross-country, swimming, bareback and even vaulting. Tilly is also extremely consistent. Bri explains, “I often say a gelding has a better temperament for a camp horse, but Tilly is an exception. She is willing to do anything! Anyone can ride her and those that do she takes care of. She has a heart of gold and will never fizzle out no matter what her day has been like.”
Although her work ethic is second to none, Tilly thoroughly enjoys the Horse Spa class that takes place during summer camp. This is marked by a day off from work when the kids spend time grooming and pampering the horses. Other things at the top of Tilly’s list include cinnamon Pop-Tarts, a deserving reward for this one-of-a-kind, all around pony. Tilly’s hard work certainly does not go unnoticed and while some camp horses may be sold to new homes from time to time, Tilly will be at Driftwood Stables for life.
A Fabulous Teacher
When asked to describe what makes Ethel, a twelve-year-old Appendix Quarter Horse, stand out from the other camp horses at Victory Stables in Stoughton, Mass., farm owner June Gillis-Ahern explains “she is very versatile and fills many shoes for us.” Ethel has established herself as a barn favorite since coming to the farm just a year ago. She is known for her kind temperament, consistency and comfortable gaits.
From jumping to bareback games and lunge lessons, Ethel is a reliable mount no matter what the task at hand is. She is versatile enough to accommodate many different riders and always does her job willingly with her ears forward. “Ethel is very sweet and a fabulous teacher,” explains June. “I love the fact that she is forgiving but she is also so well trained that the more experienced kids get to experience what a nice course of jumps feels like and she has perfect lead changes too,” she continues.
Outside of the lesson arena, Ethel has been caught more than once drinking from the hose during her routine baths. Her sweet tooth also sets her apart––not only does Ethel enjoy peppermints, but she has also developed an affinity for chocolate chip cookies. There is no doubt that Ethel will continue to be a valued part of the summer riding program at Victory Stables, willingly teaching countless young riders to become better horsemen.
A “Can Do” Attitude
Similar to Tilly, Kennebec Count Jubilee or “Annie,” as she is known around the barn, has an extraordinary work ethic and kind temperament. This special fifteen-year-old Morgan mare joined the program at Boo McDaniel’s Pony Farm in Temple, N.H., ten years ago.
“She is truly the old style Morgan…working all the time with her ears forward,” explains Boo, “she meets all challenges with a ‘can do’ attitude.” Annie accepts any and all tasks without hesitation. In addition to participating in the summer riding camp program, she is also a valued member of Horse Power, the therapeutic riding program at Pony Farm. Annie’s contributions were recognized three years ago when she was honored as the Therapy Horse of New England by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.
Boo attributes her overall success to her willingness to adapt to any rider. She instills confidence in the most timid rider and yet has the ability to step it up a notch for the more advanced students. Boo explains, “She is quiet without being dull, eager without being quick, and clever without taking advantage.” Annie is clearly a big asset to the program at Pony Farm, and young generations of children will continue to learn from her for years to come.
That Special Look
Mary Hebert of Forrestel Riding & Sport Camp in Medina, N.Y., describes Lacota as a “special horse.” Mary acquired the twelve-year-old Appaloosa gelding from a horse dealer nearly ten years ago. Lacota was originally on loan to Forrestel Farm. When it came time for him to leave, Mary was approached by the farm’s riding director, who suggested that she purchase the three-year-old gelding. Although she was impressed by Lacota’s innate talent, good conformation and nice personality, she was cognizant of the fact that he was
Mary gave the idea some serious thought and finally decided to purchase him. Looking back, it was clearly the right decision; Lacota was a natural fit for the program at Forrestel Farm. The camp counselors worked to bring him along slowly under saddle and he began participating in the summer camp program shortly afterwards. During this time, they allowed a limited number of riders to take lessons on him. At the tender age of three, Mary and her staff were thrilled with how quickly he learned his lessons. He became a steady, reliable mount in just a few short months.
Since his early days at the farm, he has continued to grow and mature. In addition to his talent and good looks, Mary notes “He has a spark about him; he does everything with a smile. No matter what, he is happy to do his job.” Lacota has helped create a positive camp experience for thousands of young riders and will continue to be a treasured part of Forrestel Riding & Sports Camp.
A True Gem
“We would love to clone him,” says Dani White of August Farm in Holliston, Mass., when asked to describe what makes American Pie, or “Pie” as he is better known around the barn, so special. “Pie is such a trooper,” she continues. Dani acquired the Quarter Horse Paint pony four years ago when his former owner needed to relocate.
Dani went to look at Pie, who was a roping pony in his former life, while in search of a walk-trot pony. He was a rather unlikely candidate for the job, given his background and his older age (18). Undeterred by these circumstances, Dani bought him and he came to his new home at August Farm. Since arriving, he has exceeded Dani’s expectations in every way.
All of the kids are comfortable handling him and he is safe and reliable. “Pie teaches all of our kids to canter,” explains Dani, “he is extremely patient and is the ideal pony in every way.” Many young riders go over their first set of crossrails aboard this popular pony. Currently in his early twenties, Pie shows no signs of slowing down and will continue to be a solid,
The Kids’ Favorite
A quick learner by nature, Wilbur is a seven-year-old Thoroughbred gelding who continues to amaze owner Amanda Lord of Northern High Farm in Brimfield, Mass. “He learned his lead changes in just two days,” explains Amanda. Wilbur has made the transition from life at the track as a lead pony at Suffolk Downs to that of a school horse without a problem.
Amanda acquired him this past fall. She explains, “He fit right in. He has the nicest personality and is always on his best behavior when the kids are around him.” He is also quite a ham and thrives on the attention that he receives from the young riders. Wilbur’s mellow temperament makes him the ideal choice for everything from leadline and walk-trot to advanced level hunt seat lessons.
When he’s not working, Wilbur enjoys learning the ropes from his pasturemate, Relentless, another Thoroughbred resident at Northern High Farm. Wilbur will continue
to settle into his new
role and do what he
does best—teach the
next generation of
Tilly, Ethel, Annie,
Lacota, Pie and Wilbur are just six of the thousands of camp horses used in summer riding programs each year. Their reliability, versatility and never-ending patience help create confident, well-rounded young riders who take cherished memories home with them from
camp year after year.