My horse camp experience and how it changed my life

Thinking of sending your child to horse camp? It's a great place to get introduced to horses, gain lifelong skills and friends.... And you just never know how what you learn may influence your later life.

by Darley Newman

Many people ask me how I first got into horseback riding. I was lucky enough to be first introduced to horses while at summer camp, an experience that changed my life. It was at Camp Ton-A-Wandah, where I first took a ride at the age of seven during my first time at sleepaway camp. The ride itself wasn’t spectacular. We just walked around a ring, but I remember being awestruck that this horse, so massive and strong, let me ride him, and moreover, was actually listening to me. It was amazing.

I was hooked. Horses are so powerful, yet sensitive. While riding, you become their partner–– a powerful experience. Lessons each summer at camp were the base for riding throughout my life. 

camp ton a wandah horseback riding

One of my first rides at Ton-A-Wandah. I even had a helper for my photo!

I spent three summers at Camp Ton-A-Wandah, where they teach a traditional hunt seat riding program, and then went down the road for a few summers at Camp Greystone, where I was also able to ride horses and get involved in theatre, proubly playing Annie in "Annie." My mom and grandmother made a special trip to camp to see the production.

Little did I know that I would later create and host a TV series all about horseback riding around the world that now broadcasts all around the world, Equitrekking. I wonder if I hadn't gone to camp and gotten that first experience with horses if I would be doing what I do today–– my dream job. For the past few years, I’ve literally been globe-trotting, riding in destinations as close to home as Virginia and Vermont and as far away as the Middle East and Africa—a huge challenge and an amazing adventure.

castle leslie riding in ireland

More recently riding at Castle Leslie in Ireland.

When you're a child, it's so great if your parents can expose you to a variety of activities, so you can begin to learn those skills early on. You may try something and think you hate it as a child, only to relish in it as an adult and be thankful that you did get that initial base as a kid. When we're young, we don't always have the same fears as when we're older-- probably because we don't necessarily fall as hard when we're kids... or maybe just not as far. Learning these activities and skills as kids can make it easier to take that hobby back up later in life.

I'm thankful that my parents worked hard to make opportunities like summer camp available to me. Not only did I learn to ride, but I gained confidence in being away from home and making my way in the world surrounded by my peers. I made amazing friends that I still keep in touch with today, learned new skills, was able to be challenged with a variety of actvities and wrote the funniest letters home that my mom saved. I recently read them and got a kick out of the memories that they provided. I definitely recommend parents today save letters, emails or whatever correspondence you're sent and also that kids keep a camp journal. 

camp riding schedule

My packed schedule for Camp Ton-A-Wandah.

One reason that we at Equitrekking recently launched an online guidebook to global Horse Camps is because there's no comprehensitve global guide to these amazing equestrian camps and camps with top riding programs where kids from all areas of the globe and walks of life can get introduced to horses. It may be that first ride that will hook them on horses for life.