The Relationship Between Personal Growth and Equestrian Programming
By Catherine Limkeman, Equestrian Director
Camp Ondessonk’s staff strives toward its motto, “teaching what matters most.” On one level, Ondessonk’s programming teaches many complex skills: Canoeing, tying knots, building fires, riding horses, and shooting a bow and arrow. But on a deeper level, those hard skills are pathways to learning secondary competencies: independence, courage in new situations, comfort in silence, perseverance, camaraderie, and compassion for others. The question is, how do we take the lessons learned at Camp and apply them back home?
Much research is being done about transferring lessons from one environment to another. Someone can attend a conference, a retreat, or a summer camp and feel inspired, but then go back to their routine, and many lessons discovered soon fade away. No lesson learned is in vain, but everyone wants to know how you make a lesson “stick” so that the confidence you learned, that obsession you conquered, and the attitude you achieved stay with you.
In many ways, the research validates that Camp programming is ideal for learning! It engages your whole body and all your senses, is a different environment than is typical, has a social component, and has a clear beginning and end, is the ideal learning environment, and produces the most growth! That essentially describes summer camp! So, the question is, how do we take that growth home and apply it in an environment other than Camp? A kid can find the courage to climb up to the top of the climbing tower. How do they take that courage and apply it to the schoolyard?
One of the essential components of transferring growth home is 1) naming what has happened, 2) defining what they have learned, 3) having that growth affirmed by a community, and 4) having a tangible object representing their lesson. At Ondessonk Stables, we are fortunate to have the ideal learning environment. The therapeutic properties of horses help make the Camp experience more impactful to our campers.
To help transfer the personal growth home, we have an aspect of our Horse Camp and Horse Adventure programming to help name the learning that has taken place. We give them a horseshoe belonging to an Ondessonk horse so they can have a physical object to help them remember their experience.
During the “Final Debrief Ride,” we have them name something like an emotion they were without while at Ondessonk and that they want to continue to be without when they return home. Some examples are: anger, fear, self-doubt, screens as an escape, judgment, self-harm, etc. Depending on the group, we either give them a rock that represents the feeling or emotion they want to get rid of, and they throw it into a pond as they ride by it, OR we have them write that thing on their horse with chalk and have them groom it away so that it is erased. Naming that thing and removing it from their lives with their horses adds a social aspect to affirm their growth. We then have them think about what they learned at Camp that week and how far they have progressed. That aspect is part of their final goodbye to the horse they were assigned all week.
After turning their horse out to pasture, they write the thing they learned on a piece of poster board that all the campers of that season have written. Examples range from: “saddling” or “steering a horse” to “it’s fun to go out of my comfort zone” or “that I am worth loving.” Lastly, the campers name something they want to take back home. The campers receive a horseshoe that once belonged to an Ondessonk horse. Campers choose a word and write on the horseshoe along with the name of their camp horse that week. This horseshoe is their keepsake and physical representation of their summer Ondessonk journey.
Seeing the horseshoes lined up with their words is a clear picture reminding us why Camp is important. We will get comments like confidence, love, belonging, perseverance, courage, etc. This personal growth is why we work hours in the hot sun! Camp teaches invaluable lessons and changes lives. But the best lessons learned at Camp involve a horse friend who silently loves you and is happy to wait until the next time the campers return to embark on a new adventure together.
To learn more about Camp Ondessonk Equestrian Programming Click Here.
To learn more about the Certified Horsemanship Association Click Here.