Some of my best childhood memories happened at summer camp. So when Lion Country Pony Club asked me to teach at their camp, I looked at my already-over-booked July, and said “Sure, why not?”
I do not have much history with pony club. I have some students who are involved, regularly teach dressage clinics for the local pony clubs, and am vaguely familiar with the rating system, but Pony Club wasn’t such a big thing in the Midwest. I was in for a year, but the area covered by our club was so large, and I was on the furthest edge of it, so I wasn’t able to participate in enough of the events to really get a feel for it. Not surprising, as Illinois is so agricultural, 4-H played a much more significant role in my early horsemanship training. Having never been immersed in Pony Club, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into.
Let me tell you, it was a great experience. The campers and my fellow instructors truly it special.
First, the campers. I told everyone I planned to corrupt future eventers with the mysteries of dressage, and that is exactly what I did.
I, as a dyed-in-the-wool dressage educator, started by teaching the kids the first three steps of the German training scale. I taught each and every camper, even the D-1s, about tempo, suppleness, and contact. I had them all singing the ABC song as they trotted around to steady their mount’s tempos. With the aid of cones, I had them ride deep into corners in both directions to feel the differences in their horse’s left-to-right (or lateral, in DQ-terms) suppleness. I asked them questions while they rode, to help them learn to evaluate their horses as they rode, instead of just steering around the arena. The kids soaked it all up like sponges.
And not only did their horses get better, they really enjoyed it. They were alight with smiles when they could feel their horses changing underneath them.
I took along the Unisit, one of my favorite tools for helping riders feel how deep their seats can be (yes, like any tool, it has advantages and limitations, but please, I don’t want to debate the Unisit in the comments--that is for bulletin boards). The kids embraced their new feel, and all made dramatic changes to their positions. I used trigger-word techniques to help them incorporate their new feel into their new seat-based half-halt.
With the older kids, I took it a step further, asking them training-scale based questions to help them create training plans for their mounts. Then I played coach while they applied those plans, and watched their confidence grow as they felt the improvements in their horses.
The best part, for me, was Saturday’s 3:30 theory session. That weekend was HOT, and 3:30 is nap-time on a good day, but the kids stayed awake, and asked great questions while I described how to get the most points out of your dressage test. I had all of them yelling out the training scale. How neat is that???
Then there were the other instructors. My schedule prior to attending camp was so crazy that I had skimmed over the credentials of my fellow instructors, which is probably best. They were pretty impressive. Gus and Ally are A-rated Pony Clubbers, Hannah has her B rating, and Erin is a World Cup polocross rider. Then there was me. The information letter listed me as “Ange Bean, Dressage Champion,” which sounds great on paper, and probably was a good call by the organizer, as my “real” credentials of ARIA certification, L graduate, YDHTS alumni, multiple USEF, AMHA, AHA, and USDF metals and awards, etc., really didn’t mean much in this setting.
I know how close-knit horse communities can be, and Pony Club is no exception, but my lack of Pony Club experience really didn’t matter to the other instructors. Very quickly, the “instructor’s cabana” (a stall decorated with tropical fringe and filled with snacks and sunscreen) became a comfortable place to hang out between lessons. In no time, we were exchanging ideas, showing each other photos of our horses, and doing the normal horse-crazy networking. Seeing the quality of instruction and professional demeanor of these young professionals renewed my enthusiasm for our next generation of horse people.
On Saturday, LCPH has a traditional “instructors vs. campers” polocross game. In my defense, I have never even seen this game played, so I didn’t understand the rules, so I was definitely a liablity to my team. But dashing across a field, chasing a ball with a lacrosse stick was still fun. Our team lost miserably, but everyone had a good time.
I guess my summer camp memories aren’t bound to childhood anymore.