by Mary Gallagher and Kathy Schmidt
For the last 17 years we have had the good fortune to visit the farm of Cindy and Gary Flood, in Long Beach, Washington, for our annual beach camp. They have graciously hosted our campers and horses, giving us use of their excellent covered arena and paddocks, with easy access to the legendary beach nearby. Our camps have taken many forms and included campers of all ages at one time or another. We are so grateful for the ongoing opportunity to be at such a beautiful facility!
This year’s camp was, in a word, outstanding. As many of you know, recent beach camps have been exclusively for our Hoof Beats riders. Well, the small but enthusiastic crew that came with us this year really excelled at making this camp about horsemanship, pitching in to help, being there for each other, and having loads of fun in the process! Together we set a new standard for the future.
Kathy Schmidt, who has partnered with me the last few years, bringing many years as a grade school teacher as well as a high level of horsemanship to the occasion, agreed that this camp was special. The question is, how to make it a success every year?
Here’s what we think:
Mary: In the future, I see our beach camp as a concentrated horsemanship experience. That’s why it is only for Hoof Beats members, specifically those members who demonstrate safe, respectful horsemanship and team membership throughout the year. The golden Hoof Beats rule should be
“Respect yourself, respect your horse, respect the people around you, respect the facility. Clean up after your horse and yourself, and assist others who need help, inside and outside of lessons.”
I wrote down what I thought this beach camp was about, to sort of paint the picture:
Lots of Liberty. Everyday, our groundwork warm-up included liberty. The first day was simple, each person and horse had a “property” box (square space in the arena). The horses were expected to stay in the box with their person while they were groomed, scratched, and moved around a bit. If a horse left their box, their person stayed just waited calmly while others discouraged the horse from hanging out with their horse buddy and encouraged the loose horse to return ‘home’.
The next two days, humans and horses circled up to form a ‘round pen’. We took turns being in the middle petting and scratching our horse, then asking for some simple yields, etc. Again, if a horse chose to leave their person, the others made it uncomfortable until the horse returned to their person. By the third day, the horses were so relaxed, several of them just lay down next to their humans!
By the last day, the kids could walk and jog around the arena with all the horses loose and the horses stuck with their people. By that point, if a horse did leave, they had to look around for their person, who just kept on walking without them! (Except for smart pony Chili Pepper, who had it figured out that all he had to do was wait and Daniella would come around again! )
Most of the kids have played with liberty at the farm, but we have not done it at camp before. It was amazing how doing this made such a difference with our walks to and on the beach! All of the horses stayed right with their person, without trying to get ahead or lag behind, or worry about their horse buddies!
Games on the Beach. Games on the beach were fun and full of learning. Mary always has such great ideas and can adjust the activities to build confidence, fit the needs of the horses and riders, and stretch their skills each day. Of course, we played the traditional camp favorite of both horses and humans – Duck, Duck, Goose!
Games Not on the Beach. One evening, the kids did an obstacle course challenge—bareback with one-rein. Every pair completed all the tasks with flying colors!
Two evenings were humans-only games (thanks to Kimi Robertson for bringing her Yardzee game – a giant game of Yahtzee). The first night was learning the game for some as others coached. The second night we played as pairs of experienced with inexperienced, which became wildly competitive – complete with special good luck gymnastics and creative dice rolling techniques!
And of course, play in general—the younger girls had a great time playing hide and seek in the barn, and everyone played with the dogs and puppy!
In the spirit of Mary’s new golden rule, I’d just say that if a Hoof Beats student aspires to go to the next beach camp, they should be…
- willing to put your phone away while you are on your horse;
- on time, ready to ride, and ready to learn during lessons;
- supportive and ready to help others during lessons, practice, and at horseshows;
- helpful with chores, joining in set-up and clean-up at lessons, practice sessions, and horse shows;
- responsible – always put your horse first, take care of your equipment, and clean-up after yourself and your horse.
Mary: So that’s what beach camp inspired in us, and hopefully the students, too! I think we’d all agree that we’d wish for future ones to be at least this enjoyable, and I want us to feel free to improve on a good thing. Creativity and new ideas welcome! So let’s have a great year of horsemanship and team spirit, and bring it to the beach next year!