Many camp and program directors are non-riders. Many will also say that they know nothing about horses. Yet these same people have the ultimate responsibility for the safety of many campers. Some of their camps have a permanent staff person in charge of horseback riding. Others must depend on the judgment of seasonal employees. Either can lack experience and/or judgment.

The "smart" camp director does not leave this weighty responsibility blindly in the hands of someone else. This does not mean that non-riding directors should run out and learn how to be expert riders and riding instructors. It means that they should become trained, expert, if you will, observers. They should have a trained eye so that they can go down to the stable and observe what is going on and know if it is right or not.

What kinds of things should the "smart" director know about? How deep should his/her knowledge be? Here are some examples though by no means a complete list:

Facility safety – Any camp director can be educated as to what to look for in a riding facility. Are the stalls or corrals adequate? Are they free of things that might injure a horse or person. Is there fresh water and shelter. Is there a safe place to tack up the horses so that each horse is at least twelve feet from any other horse? Fifteen is better. Are the riding areas safe from hazards such as holes, overhanging branches, or protrusions that could scrape a leg or knee. Do all arenas have gates that close easily and securely? Are all riding areas properly fenced off from roadways?

Equipment care – You do not need to be a rider to understand how to care for riding equipment and to check to see if the equipment at your facility is in good condition. It is also important to be able to recognize equipment made of sub-standard materials. Spending an afternoon with a saddle maker or at a reputable tack shop can save many thousands of dollars if it helps avoid an accident caused by an equipment failure.

Riding lessons – Riding lessons do not have to be a mystery to the non-riding director. Being a trained observer is often as valuable. Knowing how a horse should be bridled and saddled and how a lesson should be taught will certainly aid in the interviewing process. It will also allow the director to know if what he or she sees is what should be seen.

What this means in practice is that if a camp or program director does not ride it is still possible for them to educate themselves enough to be able to evaluate much of what happens when campers and horses come together. It’s possible to make some general statements. There should be no sense of crowding either with horses, students or both. All areas should appear neat, clean and well-maintained. Each horse should have its own well-kept equipment. Horses and riders should appear happy and comfortable. If something looks uncomfortable to horse or rider it is probably not safe. Comfortable horses do not usually hurt people. If something does not make sense or cannot be explained so that it does it is probably wrong or unsafe. The vast majority of horsemanship is good common sense. It can be learned by anybody.

Contributed By: Jan Dawson (President, AAHS)

Reprinted with permission of the copyright holder and the American Association for Horsemanship Safety.  P.O. Box 39, Fentress, TX 78622.