By Cheryle Oshman Blunt
I can remember when I was about 10-12 years old, I would sit for hours every spring reading the descriptions of horseback riding camps for kids my age. I was very dedicated to choosing just the right one. Did I want to swim in the pond with “my” horse every day, or did I want the camp where we would jump and jump and jump? I knew even as I pored over those brochures that we did not have enough money to supplement my weekly riding lessons with an expensive camp experience, but it was still a dream.
A few years ago when Ange started talking about adult dressage camp, my excitement bordered on the ridiculous. I told my husband that all I wanted for Christmas was to go to horse camp. Of course, we call it a winter workshop, but you couldn’t fool me, I was finally going to horse camp. Believe me, I wasn’t disappointed.
In the last couple of years, I have my role has shifted from participant to staff. We have some younger riders who participate these days, but most of my time is spent with the adults. And what I see is pretty special. I see a weekend when a bunch of grown-ups get to immerse themselves in their passion. I see people who leave their limitations behind – time limits, physical limits, and the limits of self-consciousness – to grow as dressage riders. Actually, we all grow as equestrians.
This year’s workshop had tons variety, from silly to serious. On the less-traditional-dressage side, we formed a semi-circle around a shivering woman in jingly hip scarves who taught us to isolate our abdominal muscles. Sure, she called belly dancing, but we weren’t fooled. “We call that lead changes,” Ange said, as we popped one hip to the side and then the other.
That wasn’t all. Later on that day, I watched riders grab swords, spears, and lances to try their hands and their horses’ hooves at lobbing heads (well, foam mannequin heads) and pig sticking (or, spearing tape-covered pieces of foam). Needless to say, there was a lot of laughter that day.
In the mounted work, I saw many riders stretching their riding skills in private, group, and seat lessons. Throughout the weekend, everyone was taught by Ange, Cara, and Kelsey, getting different perspectives and different words to help them progress as riders. And boy did they.
The unmounted events catered to dressage geek skills, overall horsemanship skills, and fun skills. The mounted upper-level dressage demonstration and the “how confirmation effects training” theory session satisfied the dressage geeks in the group. Learning to take a horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration, as well as how to wrap a horse and get tack pony-club clean, satisfied overall horsemanship skills. Then there was goal setting, and the history of those Medieval mounted games to round it all out.
At the end of each day, riders and horses went to bed tired and happy, to return next morning full of smiles and coffee. In all honesty, I’m glad that my camp experience has come to me as an adult. It’s sweeter now than it would have been during my childhood. Whether I participate or teach, full days at the barn surrounded by horses and friends who share my passion is an exquisite luxury I can appreciate keenly. Thanks, Ange, Cara, and Kelsey. And thanks to all who came.