Last week was Lukka's second year of attending an annual Miniature Horse camp out in Ferndale, WA. For less than $100 (that we had paid months ago to reserve our spot!), Lu was treated to his pony Ali for a week, learning about the ponies and how to care for them, and practicing obstacle courses and showmanship skills.
There are only six spots per class and only two or so weeks of camp per summer, so when I saw the ad for it this year, I jumped at the chance because I knew we'd still be in the states during June. Lukka was so excited to do the camp again, even though the basic outline is the same year to year.
The camp focuses on horse care including daily grooming, water and feeding, and mucking, along with learning to show one's horse in 4-H-like competitions. Here is an example of a large mini-hose jumping course. The final day of the camp is competition. The students get 30 minutes to groom and dress up their ponies with ribbons, flowers, etc. in their tails and manes, and then the show gets started. There are two courses, one jumping, and the other more like an obstacle course (getting the ponies to pivot on their hind legs, cross their legs over a pole, and back up into a figure 8), preceded by showmanship, where the students are asked a random question about their horse that they need to answer.
As far as camps go, it is very basic and casual. Parents, siblings, and friends can stay for each afternoon or come and go as they please. We chose to stay one full day (it was a bit long) and the other days Ani and I took off to run errands, get groceries, or have a Mom & daughter date in nearby Lynden.
The family who owns the horses are homeschoolers and the kids fully run the camp, aside from one of the parents helping with first day 'camp safety requirements'. The kids do a great job (the youngest is maybe 12) and are very sweet and kind to the participants. Both years Lukka has been the youngest by far, and most of the students have been in the program for years! They keep coming back, just like us, because it's inexpensive, unique, and very fun to work with the animals.
Before camp started each day, the kids would find stray hay to feed to the horses, who always love a snack. That way Ani got to pat a few ponies before the other kids came to bridle their horses. I wish Ani was old enough to do this camp, but she was still too young. Next year she could participate. I'm not sure if we'll come down for it, but I'll try to find her something similar. She really felt left out and on the first day cried because she wanted to do it so badly. Poor little one...not too fun to watch your brother get to do something when you love horses so much.
Lukka really enjoyed his time at camp and this year won three first-place ribbons, although his pony was finicky and giving him a hard time. He continued to stick to the course and not let her orneriness get the best of him. Having grit, he didn't give her an inch, and made her follow through every single part of the course, which impressed the judges for his age and size. Because he often volunteered to take care of ponies whose 'caretakers' were not around for a day, he also got awarded "best care" award this year as well as last. He always made sure each pony was exercised, watered, and fed daily!
It was really fun to watch him and the other kids with their horses. Working with an animal gives kids confidence, a new experience, and delight in a pet they may not ever have much of a chance of seeing let alone caring for. It was something Lukka had marked on his calendar and had weeks of counting down to. Pony camp has been a great memory for him these past two years!