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Things I Wish We Knew Before Our First Horse Camp

I'm a graduate of the school of hard knocks, and not shy to share my experiences when they may help others. Our first kids camp was a huge success (kind of). The lessons we learned led to several very successful camps later in the year.

The good: I'm a decent marketer, or at least we did something right, because we had a huge turnout for our camp. 99.5% of the survey reviews were very kind, and several of the kiddos were return campers or became members later in the year.

The bad: well . . . here we go.

Insurance Insurance Insurance. Double, triple, check that your insurance understands exactly what your camp is and what it includes ahead of time. Turns out our insurance wasn't actually approved ahead of time like I had thought, so the morning of our first camp instead of helping to set-up I found myself sitting across from our insurance agent signing paperwork. Ironically enough, she also happened to be my neighbor growing up, and she's one of the few people I've ever had a horse bolt with. (I had brought my mid 20s appy over to her birthday party for pony rides and he ran home with her) So yes, my first kids camp insurance was signed off on less than an hour before it started by a woman that had been traumatized by one of my horses as a child, Win #1.

No tents. This statement is said in the same tone Edna says "NO CAPES!" in the movie The Incredibles. It being a spring break camp we wanted to be prepared for the inevitable Pacific Northwest spring showers, and set up a few tents (because derr we didn't have any facilities yet besides a few run-in shelters). Anyways, if you're worried about wind and tents, staking them down isn't actually a great idea. You see the problem is, with a sudden and strong enough wind if a tent is well staked down the wind will actually snap the legs of the tent like a toothpick. You bet. And if you're lucky enough, the tent leg will snap just as a child is handing you a peanut butter sandwich, smack your hand, and PBJ your face for you (ask Mikkayla). No children or horses were harmed in the destruction of the tents, and my husband built us a very sturdy "viewing" area near the arena the following week.

Prepare your team, and have a back-up plan. One of our staff members that had also volunteered to bring some horses backed out THE NIGHT BEFORE our first camp. We had sent out the itinerary and she found it overwhelming and flaked. Imagine my horror as I called my best friend and literally begged her to come help us. She did, because she's amazing like that. If you have new staff prepare them with the itinerary well in advance. We did one thing right, no second chances when you do us dirty like that. Bye Felicia, no hard feelings.

One staff member per 5 kids. Non-negotiable. Our staff had experience with youth organizations managing 20+ kids by themselves, but you know what, that's just a bad idea. We had a better ratio than the local youth organization, but I've got higher standards than that. For safety reasons 1+ staff member per 5 kids AND a float (person that bee-bops between staff and assists and helps where needed). End of story.

Set parent expectations. We did an ok job at this, but over-communicate and spell it out more than you think you need to. Print them each an itinerary. Outline clearly what is provided in the camp and what isn't. Make it their responsibility to inform you upon sign up if their child needs special accommodations. Also, print a separate list of just kids names and parent/emergency contacts. You never know when a kid is going to break their finger walking across your lawn (it happened).

Crafts should not include paint, glitter, or glue. (Self explanatory)

Luckily the only thing wounded at the end of our first horse camp was my pride . . . and a few tents. I do highly recommend sending customer surveys so that A. Your customers know you care about their experience and B. You can receive some constructive criticism and come back better.

Much love and wishes of great success for you and your horse business,


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