Kids learn how to ride and care at WCM Horse Camp
By B.C. Manion
When the kids arrive at WCM Horse Camp in Odessa, they troop over to check out a board to find out what horse they’ll be riding that day, then the group heads out to raise the flag as part of the daily routine.
Then it’s back to the barn, where they get an idea of what it takes to take care of a horse, such as brushing the animals and cleaning their feet.
Some of the time, they’re out with a camp counselor, learning how to handle a horse.
Other times, they’re doing arts and crafts or playing games near the barn.
Other parts of the regular schedule include lunch, a time for snacks and water activities at the end of the day.
“When they go home, they’re happy, wet and tired,” said Diane Tanguay, who runs the arts and crafts sessions during the summer camp.
The horse camp hosted by West Coast Morgans, a house barn at 17126 Boy Scout Road, offers campers a close-up look at the life of a horse, said trainer Valarie Siemer.
“So many kids, especially the young girls, are so horse crazy. I think this helps them focus a little more on the reality of it,” she said. “They learn good stuff here. They learn the reality of taking care of the horses.”
They also learn that horses offer more than just a chance to have fun while riding on them, said 16-year-old Taylor Ekovich, a counselor who began riding at the barn when she was 7.
“It gives them something to be close to – away from the kids and the drama of students, especially middle school.”
Alix Fiorino, the horse camp’s director, said she grew up riding horses in Ft. Lauderdale.
“I went to camp my whole life, every summer. I met my best friends through the camps I went to.”
“I learned that this was more of a lifestyle, not just a sport,” said Fiorino, who is attending an equestrian school in Missouri and majoring in equestrian administration.
Horses are excellent teachers, Fiorino said. They require care but offer valuable lessons, she said. “You have to learn that old saying, “If you fall off, you have to get back on.”
Much of horseback riding is mind over matter, Fiorino said.
“It’s not rocket science,” she added. “Everything that’s holding you back is your own emotions and your own mental state.”
Lisa Skidd was at the barn last week, dropping off her three daughters, 11-year-old Shelby, 8-yar-old Jackie and 5-year-old Kailey.
It’s the third year her girls have gone to the camp.
“The kids absolutely love it,” said Skidd, who lives in Twin Branch Acres.
“They learn all about horses, how to saddle, how to care for them, how to groom. They learn horsemanship. They learn safety. They learn the basics,” said Skidd, who went to horse camps when she was a girl.
She thinks the camps teach children how to appreciate animals and offer a fun way for them to learn about compassion and responsibility.
Faith Graves of New Port Richey, was at the camp for the first time last week. But she’s no stranger to horses, she’s been riding for seven years – since she was 4.
“I love it,” she said. “I love being outdoors and hanging out with horses. It’s relaxing.”
At the camp, she said, “you learn to position the reins properly.”
The campers come from all, Tanguay said, including Land O’ Lakes, South Tampa, Odessa, Lutz, Westchase and other communities.
The campers learn about a horse’s body parts and about riding techniques.
Instruction varies from camper to camper based on experience level, Tanguay said.
“We start our first day of camp evaluating everyone,” once they know the rider’s level, they go from there.
Some of the campers have never been on a horse. Some are a bit apprehensive.
They work with the children to help them feel comfortable, Tanguay said.
“You’d be surprised how quickly we can get them up on a horse,” she said.
Safety is emphasized at the camp.
Each camper must wear a helmet and shoes or boots with heels.
The helmet protects their head, of course. The heel keeps their feet from slipping all of the way through a stirrup, when they point their feet down.
“Each horse is accompanied by a counselor. We do not turn children loose with horses,” Tanguay said.
They also learn barn safety rules. For instance, campers shouldn’t stick their fingers into a horse’s stall. The horse might confuse it for a carrot and bite it.
Also, when a horse is coming through the barn, they yell, “Hug the wall,” so people can clear the way for the horse, which in most cases will weigh about 1,000 pounds.
The 30-acre facility, owned by Anne and Glenn Winograd, has a 30-stall barn and 27 acres. In addition to its summer camps, it offers lessons for people of all ages. It also boards and leases horses.
Each week of the summer camp has a different theme.
Parents drop their children off between 9-9:30 in the morning and pick them up between 4-4:30 in the afternoon.
The cost for the week long camp is $300, but the farm is willing to make arrangements for half-days or fewer days.
“We are very flexible,” Tanguay said.
She thinks dropping by the camp is the best way for parents to find out if the camp would be a good fit for their child.
“We welcome visitors,” Tanguay said. “Come and visit us. See what we’re all about.”
For more information call (813) 920-9870 or visit www.westcoastmorgans.com.