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How to Choose a Horseback Riding Camp

Learn about horse camps, hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. Then check out our list of local stables.



As a kid, Mallory Jaskolka was very bright, but she had some learning issues that led to emotional anxiety. Her mom, Maggie, knowing that Mallory loved animals, enrolled her in Ashford Farm horseback riding camp in Miquon, PA when she was 7.

“Everything about it just fit her,” says Maggie, from Elkins Park, PA, who watched her daughter blossom around horses. “Everything you do is part of a team, either you and your horse or you and the partner you’re sharing that horse with. It allows you to feel a sense of success. It’s really empowering.”

Mallory spent the next seven summers at Ashford Farm learning to ride and care for horses. She then advanced to their residential horseback riding camp in Virginia. Now 24, Mallory is pursuing equine-facilitated therapy as a career.

The benefits of horseback riding

Horseback riding offers riders physical activity while developing balance, coordination as well as mental and emotional benefits. It’s also an activity people can enjoy throughout their lives.

“It teaches them responsibility for another living thing,” says Caroline Canavan, owner of Ashford Farm, which offers a camp for boys and girls aged 7 to 14 who have a range of horseback-riding ability. “Kids love animals and have a passion for riding, so it’s an outlet away from school, their telephones and their parents.

“Campers learn how to do a lot of basic flat work (walking, trotting) on the horse and they also learn how to jump,” Canavan says. “The more advanced children get to take lessons out of the ring. They like to do cross-country jumping.”

Horseback riding is a unique sport where you become one with the animal, says Eleanor Robinson, owner and riding instructor at Pembrook Farm in Woodbury, NJ. “You have to think about what the horse or pony is thinking about, what it is feeling and its needs. It also gives the kids a lot of confidence when they work with the animal and love the animal. That connection is immeasurable.”

“Unlike sports and school where kids are competing against other peers, in horseback riding there’s no competition,” says Sue Campbell, owner of Sunset Stable in Bear, DE. “Children who are reluctant to participate in sports feel very comfortable riding. They don’t have that outside pressure.”

Choose a camp carefully

As with any camp, a personal visit will allow you and your child to see the facilities and speak with the staff.

“Not all camps are created equal, so parents should really check the camps out,” says Canavan. “Children can get hurt so they have to have good instruction.” Horseback riding is not for everybody, she cautions, so gauge your child’s interest before committing to a camp.

While costs differ depending on the camp, campers will need proper clothing, including a helmet and riding boots or sturdy-heeled shoes. Summer camp at Ashford Farm cost from $1,300 for two weeks to $4,960 for eight weeks, while Pembrook Farm costs $250 per week. Half-day camp at Sunset Stable costs $200 per week and $300 per week for full day.

Hippotherapy, therapeutic riding for children with special needs

Literally meaning “treatment with the help of the horse” from the Greek word “hippos,” hippotherapy is how physical, occupational and speech therapists use the movement of the horse as part of their intervention to help achieve their objectives.

“The horse’s movement has a therapeutic effect on the child because it imparts a precise repetitive pattern of movement that’s very similar to a person’s pelvis during normal walking,” says Lisa Newcomb, executive director of Quest Therapeutic Services in West Chester, PA. “It helps with balance, strengthening the core, and sensory input.”Hippotherapy

The goal is not to learn to ride a horse, but to use the horse’s movement as a tool. Children sit or kneel on the horse in any direction as three adults guide the horse, provide the therapy and make sure the child is safe. While on horseback, children can also participate in other activities like basketball, putting rings on poles, and working puzzles.

“We’re using the horse’s movement as that tool to facilitate the physical, speech and occupational therapy,” says Newcomb.

Therapeutic riding

Unlike hippotherapy, therapeutic riding focuses on using the movement of the horse to give a recreational experience or to teach riding skills to people with disabilities, says Barbara Wertheimer, executive director of Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Academy in Northeast Philadelphia. Through that process the rider derives physical, psychological, mental and emotional therapeutic benefits.

“Being on the horse gives the rider the feeling of self confidence, independence, and enjoying an activity that she can call her own,” says Wertheimer.

Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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