Dear readers, it has been five months since I returned home from my epic summer adventure. Many lessons were learned at Camp Echo in 2014, and it was a trip to remember. Certainly, I have reflected on my time there for many months and I am now ready to share with you my final thoughts on this experience. Foremost, let me say that it was an honor and a privilege to work as the Equine Program Coordinator. Camp Echo serves more than 1500 campers in the summer, and I worked with well over 200 of those campers on a daily basis. Take a moment to consider that: I was blessed with the opportunity to shape an equestrian experience—possibly the beginning of a life-long pursuit—for more than 200 campers. That is amazing. And that is exactly how I feel about my summer experience—it was amazing.
Now, let me get into the meat of the matter. I am going to break the summer down into bite-size chunks, and then summarize at the end.
I would be lying if I didn’t tell you all that Samuel’s experience at camp mattered to me in the big picture. If at any time the summer experience had been bad for him, I would have called it quits in the blink of an eye. His experience was of utmost importance to me. Remember that. That is an important point later.
Samuel had an amazing summer! Most of the summer he was able to spend his days with one of two very devoted teenagers. There was Nancy, his 15-year-old caretaker, and Team Sam—a 17-year-old young man also named Samuel (but he preferred to be called Sam). Let me tell you, I could not have been happier with the care these two young people bestowed on my little guy. I will be proud if my Samuel grows up to be the kind of young person that either of these kids were. They were kind, engaged, devoted, responsible, dependable, and genuinely loved spending time with my Samuel. I never worried about him while he was under their care. They filled his days with adventures, fun, learning, and experiences that I am sure I could not give him. In short, my little guy, at just shy of 2 years old, got to spend his entire summer as a camp kid having camp experiences. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. He grew in so many ways. He became more social, more independent, and his naturally inquisitive nature was nurtured such that it blossomed and expanded. I am eternally grateful to Camp Echo for being game to include Samuel, and to Nancy and Sam for the care they gave him.
Oh man. The campers. I loved—LOVED–working with them. Kids and horses are an amazing combination. Sometimes you whence, sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cry, sometimes you celebrate. It is a real roller coaster, but it is one of my favorite experiences with horses. I love watching kids interact with horses, learn how to work with them, communicate with them. It’s amazing how they grow in the barn, both as equestrians and people. They find new confidence and strength, tools for overcoming fear, and a community that will support them in their ups and downs.
I was genuinely touched by the love these children felt for the horses. In Session Six—the last session of the summer—the barn hosted a closing campfire and going away party for the horses. We invited campers to groom the horses, feed them treats, write goodbye and thank you notes, and honor the horses at a “campfire” in the barn yard. Campers age 7 to 13 filled our yard to capacity and then some. They wrote thank you notes and goodbye letters on the horses (using chalk. It was adorable.), they cried as they hugged them, and they said some of the kindest most honest things at the campfire.
Camp horses are a different breed. At least, camp horses that are leased for the summer and not owned by the program are a different breed. Camps that do not own their horses must fill their summer program with horses that they lease. Often, they can strike up a long-term committed relationship with one or a few sources to meet their program needs. Camp Echo is no different, and they have been in a 10+ year relationship with a local breeder/owner who provides camp with the 17 horses required for the program. Like most leased camp horses, these guys are not what we would call the cream of the crop, but they are kind, safe, and reliable. They also taught me a lot. These horses, who do nothing 9 months out of the year, came into camp, spent two weeks adjusting and dusting off the cobwebs, and then proceeded to do their jobs same as they had done for countless summers past. We got a few newbies that we trained along the way, but most of them were seasoned veterans and familiar faces to the campers.
These horses. Let me tell you, they were saints. They quietly carried children through three hours of lessons in the morning, then provided trail rides in the afternoon, and ended the day with a program I called Open Barn, which could be anything from chalk painting the ponies, to yoga on horse back, to mounted games and beyond. The days were long and probably tiring for the horses, but they rarely objected more than a refusal to go forward or simply dragging their rider back to their lead rope on the fence. I could not have been more impressed. These horses, that do nothing for 9 months of the year, just came in and settled right into doing this hard job, and they barely complained about it at all. Talk about heart. These horses had a lot of heart.
The program at Camp Echo is a well-oiled machine, and it works well. I had the privilege of creating a new program for the barn, and I believe it will continue into the future for a long time. I called it Open Barn, and it was a program at the end of the day that opened the barn up to all of camp, free of charge, and gave campers an opportunity to interact with the horses in a variety of ways. Some days we offered unmounted programs, sometimes it was in-hand programs, and other days we had mounted programs. Each day had a different theme, and each day we attracted a wide variety of campers. My goal with the program was to reach a broad spectrum of campers, not just barn devotees. In the end, I succeeded. In fact, our three most successful event were all unmounted, which was amazing. I am proud of the legacy I created and I hope that it will grow and develop as the years go by.
Managing a Team
This was the hardest part of the job. It was also my least favorite part. It took me nearly four months of reflection after leaving the job to realize that honestly? I did not enjoy managing people. I believe that I am capable of doing so. I believe I could learn to be a better—even good—manager. But what I really learned is that I don’t have a desire to manage. My gift is in teaching and developing programming, not managing people. I understand that a manager has the opportunity to teach as she manages. I understand that managing is just a different kind of teaching. However, if there weren’t nuances to that, teachers everywhere would not cringe at the idea of leaving the classroom in exchange for heading up the school.
I feel that I did a reasonably good job this summer. I know I gave it my all. Furthermore, my supervisor feels the same way. However, I also can see ways in which I could have done a better job. A much better job. I could have communicated more proactively to my team. I could have made myself more available to them. I could have been more approachable at times. I could have held it together better sometimes, and been a stronger leader in those times. Those are my lessons learned, and I have tried to carry them forward with me into my business.
So, how do I feel about my summer adventure overall? It was amazing. If I take the sum of all that was good, bad, joyful, and stressful, it all still adds up to amazing. I could not replicate my experience this summer at home, or possibly anywhere else. My opportunities for personal growth cannot be described in any way but to say amazing yet again. The core leadership team I worked with was awe-inspiring. It was really neat to be a part of a team that was so forward thinking and passionate about summer camp and kids. Being a part of that group allowed me to tap into my leadership skills and think about building a program in a way that I have never had an opportunity to do before. It was special to be a part of that group, and probably one of my favorite things about being an Area Head.
Still, would I do it again? Well, that is a difficult question to answer. At the end of summer I was ready to sign on for another year, but I gave myself time to recover and reflect. Life happened (I’ll get to that in a minute), and I didn’t do it again. But would I? I don’t know. I really loved the programming, core leadership, and the kids. I did not love managing. At all. And running a program as big as that means managing too. There is no way to separate this fact.
I also have to consider what affect Samuel had on me. I am currently the mom of a toddler. That means I cannot ignore his needs (not that any mom ever does ignore the needs of her children at *any* age), and I sometimes must put him first. I admit that having Samuel at camp with me may have been a big reason that I did not manage better. I was less available because of Samuel. I sometimes left the barn because of Samuel. I was less helpful to my team because of Samuel. It is true. Can a mother of a toddler do the job? Yup, I did. Could I have done it better without him? Maybe I could have. I won’t know because that is not my reality. But I do think his presence affected my job performance in some ways that I cannot deny. Remember that part where I said I would have quit in the blink of an eye if Samuel was not happy or properly cared for? Yeah, that means my child came first, and that’s exactly as it should be as far as I’m concerned. But maybe that also means that I wasn’t the best person for the job. I am so incredibly grateful that I was given the opportunity to do the job, and blessed that my supervisor stood by me and supported me the whole summer, right down to inviting me AND Samuel back for another summer. But maybe I wasn’t the best person for the job.
A good epilogue is about going forward into the future. It’s not a wrap up to the story, it shows you how the story continues, how the lessons learned have been applied. I could never have dreamed how this summer was going to change my future. I suppose the things I am doing now could have come my way no matter what, but I really believe that Camp Echo somehow prepared me for this future and primed some folks to contact me.
Upon my return, I emailed my regular clients—including a couple that work for Agape Therapeutic Riding Resources. When the Agape clients got back to me, they asked if I’d be interested in teaching lessons to most of the staff rather than just a couple of individuals. I was astonished. I now work with almost the entire staff at Agape, helping them to improve their own teaching and riding skills, to recognize strengths and weaknesses in their horses, and how to improve their horses.
In October, another wonderful opportunity came my way. I was given the chance to coach the Indiana University Hunt Seat Equestrian Team. I merely (ha!) had to come up with a barn and horses to use. Agape stepped up in this department too, and graciously offered us the use of their Bradford Woods facility and their horses. In exchange, we would keep their horses fit enough to do the IU job and volunteer hours in their therapeutic programming. It has been a wonderful partnership thus far!
I LOVE working with IU. I have always wanted to work with a collegiate equestrian team, but figured it was not possible without a barn of my own. Through the generosity of Agape, I was able to change that. I am now looking forward to the post-season with IU and then many more years in the future coaching their team. I see good things ahead of us!
These new ventures have taken my career to a new level, and because of that I feel obliged to show that I meet industry standards. This desire for certification was, after all, the entire reason I pursued Camp Echo in the first place. While I was not able to attend a certification clinic last year due to timing, Camp Echo’s adherence to the Certified Horsemanship Association’s standards solidified for me that I want to be CHA certified. At the end of April I will attend a CHA standard instructor certification. After completing this certification I will follow up with IU and the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association to become recognized officially as the head coach for the hunt seat team. I believe that these certification will only help my business and my community. I hope that the CHA certification will put me in the unique position to give back to Agape by certifying their volunteers, and that it will raise my level of professionalism in my own career.
As you can see, I am now quite busy. While it was fun and nice to have the flexibility to “take a break” from the “real world” and play at camp all summer, I no longer have that flexibility. Now, I must nurture my own business and carry forward the lessons learned at camp. The motto at Camp Echo in 2014 was “A summer like none other.” It certainly was. I am blessed to have experienced it and honored to have been given the opportunity to shape it. Now I will see how Camp Echo will shape my future.