The organizers of the 2012 Area V Young Rider Camp, Cheryl Stephens and Diane Pitts, hold one philosophy in particular close to their hearts: The young riders of today are the equestrian leaders of tomorrow, and without them, our sport has no future. Both organizers work tirelessly to make that future possible. Each year a few lucky youths --competing at Beginner Novice to Preliminary level—have the chance to attend this camp. This year I was fortunate enough to be one of them.
For a young rider like myself, four days to study under the careful tutelage of Olympian Mike Huber couldn't have been more exciting. For many of the young riders who attended camp, this was their first time to ride with an instructor of such high caliber. As the date of the camp approached, a certain amount of nervousness began to mingle with the ever-increasing anticipation. Friday afternoon finally came, and one by one, each of the riders began to arrive, the excitement evident on their faces.
After a brief meeting to make introductions and review rules, we were treated to a relaxing trail ride through the beautiful fields and woods of Bruenig Ranch in Mineola, Texas. Horses and riders alike seemed eager to start work bright and early the next morning.
Beginning at 7 AM Saturday morning, the riders experienced their first lessons with Mr. Huber. Riders rode dressage in the covered arena in pairs of two for 45 minutes apiece. At the beginning of each lesson, Mr. Huber allowed each rider a few minutes to explain briefly where they and their mounts were currently as far as training and skills and to discuss future goals. Once the lessons were underway, the rigorous work and careful fine tuning of both horse and rider began. In addition to instructing us in dressage, Mr. Huber took the opportunity to interject quick lectures relevant to each rider. For example, he discussed how to properly wrap polo wraps, the importance of good equitation, and his philosophies on saddle type and fit. Whenever the campers weren't busy riding or caring for their horses, they could be found by the side of the ring, soaking up Mr. Huber's words of wisdom.
Area V Young Rider Camp Slideshow. Cheryl Stephens Photos.
In addition to the challenging riding lessons with Mr. Huber, each day the riders were provided an in-depth lecture on varying topics of importance. Some of the subjects included the differences between a CCI competition and a CIC horse trial, the importance of studs, and at what level they should be implemented; the factors that must be evaluated when selecting a team for a one or two star competition, and the importance of correctly jogging a horse and the protocol to follow when doing so at a recognized event. Many riders found this information extremely helpful, regardless of their level of experience. We also loved the fact that Mr. Huber was generous enough to let us “pick his brain,” so to speak, during our delicious meals, prepared by our dedicated cook, Laura Clarkson. It was a privilege to have that level of access to someone who has such vast equestrian knowledge and could teach us all so much. I believe I can speak for all of the campers when I say, I learned even more than I'd hoped.
Once all of the dressage lessons had ended, all of the campers met with Mr. Huber out in the stadium jumping field to help set the course for lessons the following day. There was some excitement when a nest of wasps was discovered inside one set of jump standards, but everyone escaped unscathed except for one minor sting, and of course, the deaths of the wasps themselves. Overall, we proved that many hands really do make for light work, and our course was set in a relatively short amount of time. This exercise presented yet another learning opportunity, as Mr. Huber taught us all how to properly set a course.
The next morning, we all rose bright and early again, but perhaps a tad less energetically than the previous day. The show jumping lessons were organized into groups of four or five riders, with each lesson lasting a full two hours. Although two hours of jumping originally sounded daunting, Mr. Huber stopped and conversed with each rider after they jumped, carefully analyzing both horse’s and rider’s actions over each obstacle, discussing ways to improve the pair's form. Not only did the method provide more knowledge to the campers, but also helped to prevent horses and riders from overheating or otherwise exhausting themselves. The lessons were as much theory as they were hands-on practice, providing the campers with a unique opportunity for personal growth and improvement. We retired to the barn at the end of our sessions, thoroughly worn out but pleased with the progress we'd made.
That afternoon we played an impromptu round of "Horsey Jeopardy," when the planned mini-show had to be cancelled due to the 105 degree heat. Some players were more enthusiastic than others, but in the end, only one team prevailed. Sadly, it was not my team! Ribbons were awarded to all, and everyone ended the game with smiles on our faces.
After dinner, the camp organizers presented medals to a select few riders who had consistently stood out as exemplary. The "Best Turnout" award went to Brynn Waley, "Most Improved" to Courtney Cooper, "Most Helpful Camper" to Gaby Stephens, "Most Tolerant" to Will Fettig for good naturedly accepting his role as the only boy in a camp of 17 girls, and finally, the "Above and Beyond" award went to myself, Kaitlyn Conner. As we got ready for our last night at Bruenig Ranch, we made an effort to make the most of our remaining time together. We started a rowdy game of volleyball. We may not have been the most talented players, but we certainly had fun. We wrapped up the night with a goofy game of cards. Even Mr. Huber joined in for a few rounds! It was a great end to a fantastic stay.
On the morning of our last day, we tacked for our final lessons with Mr. Huber. We were to do two hour cross-country jumping sessions in groups of five and six. Depending upon the level of each horse and rider pair, we jumped combinations of varying difficulty at each of the major obstacle complexes. After a quick stadium warm up, we moved out to the banks and drops. From there, we progressed to the ditch and trekkaner section, and finally to the water obstacle. Each horse and rider faced challenges at different places in the course, but overall, everyone ended on a positive note.
As a camper, I had an absolute blast, and I learned many things I know will be useful in my riding career. Each rider overcame individual obstacles, whether in dressage or over fences, but with the careful guidance of a great coach and the support of our fellow campers, we all worked through them, leaving the camp more skilled and better educated riders than we were when we arrived. I look forward to seeing the other campers at upcoming competitions, and I can't wait for the 2013 Area V Young Rider Camp.