Kelsie Adkins, an 18-year-old Shady High School senior, isn’t like every other girl. Sure, she’s a busy scholar and social butterfly, but if there’s a free hour to be found in her heavily scheduled day, it’s likely to belong to Moonlight and Rocky.
“I have been around horses since I was little. I got one when I was 12, then another a couple of years ago. They are a very big responsibility. Sometimes I wonder why I do it, but it’s worth it.”
There’s a special place for girls like Kelsie and boys, too, with an interest in horses, a July summer camp now in its fifth season of fundraising and recruiting campers — the Raleigh County 4-H Horse Camp. The camp exists to support kids who own horses and to teach them responsibility for the same. Says program assistant for Raleigh County 4-H, Susan Richmond, it’s good for Kelsie and others from equestrian families to congregate and learn best strategies for taking care of their extra large pets.
“There’s a lot of responsibility to owning a horse,” echoes Richmond, who is a Harley owner, not a horse owner, but who has a farm and has become so enthralled with the animals since her involvement with the 4-H Horse Camp that she’s considering putting a few out to pasture. Horse kids, she’s learned, are a breed apart — and they deserve a program dedicated to them.
“At camp, when they have to get up at 6 a.m., they don’t complain. The girls throw their hair in a ponytail, put on their muddy boots and they don’t eat until the horses are fed. They know the horses come first.”
Horse kids, says Richmond, also exhibit a natural level of sensitivity that exceeds that of non-equestrian kids.
“You see 16-year-olds stopping and getting off their horses to help a 9-year-old who hasn’t buckled the saddle right.” But for every child with a horse, each needs to acquire more knowledge about how to be more conscientious caregivers. The girls and boys who will attend Camp 2013 will spend the night in the cabins at the Raleigh County 4-H Camp July 21-27, will acquire this specialized knowledge. While their horses are stabled nearby and each day is structured around their care, the campers still have fun and adventure in store.
The one-week residential camp is exclusive to 4-H girls and boys ages 9-21 who are horse owners committed to developing their horsemanship. Organizers established the program four years ago in Raleigh County, where before area kids had to trailer their horses and travel to Putnam County for such instruction.
“They do a great job there, but it was pretty expensive to travel,” states Richmond.
A collaborative effort among the Raleigh County 4-H program administrators, horse owners with children and the Raleigh County Horsemen’s Association, the camp now hosts approximately 38 children each summer, bringing in knowledgeable instructors, trail riders and experienced showmen who organize lessons for Western and English style riding, grooming, feeding, trail riding, low jumping, agility courses and poise.
Since many camp attendees show horses from the State Fair level upward, there are also classes on how to dress for competition. 4-H is still the heartbeat of the camp, turning kids into chiefs, setting chiefs over tribes, placing tribes around campfires, and keeping campfires aglow with song singing and s'more making.
Along with the fun, Kelsie learned enough veterinary information to help her with a serious problem experienced by one of her horses last summer.
“One got colic at camp. Horses get stomach aches, where their intestines actually twist and if you don’t keep them on their feet and walk them, they’ll die. They taught me how to help him recuperate from that.”
Aside from anatomy and physiology, riding techniques and the general care and feeding taught during the week-long camp, Kelsie says the sense of responsibility imparted is something each girl and boy carries home with them, benefiting both horse and kid.
“Some didn’t know how much to feed their horses. Younger kids learn more because most of their parents do it, but this is teaching them responsibility for their horse.”
Kelsie, who will attend West Virginia University in the fall, will rely on Dad and Mom to keep her horses only while she’s away at school, but her plans are to get them back immediately after and to continue showing, a goal Richmond hopes her campers resolve for a lifetime.
Applications for the July 2013 camp become available in March, and camp organizers are now working hard to raise funds to provide the camper’s needs for the week of activities, including the costs for attendees and horses.
This year’s fees to participate are $200 for each camper and horse. The camp has three major sponsors who provide support each year — Southern States, Tractor Supply and Party King — but more support from the community will mean a better experience for campers and will make it easier for families to afford to send their children, especially families who have more than one child vying for attendance.
One misconception is that families who have horses also have a good deal of disposable income, so affording camp shouldn’t be a problem. Not so, says Richmond.
“They may not have a thoroughbred to bring to camp; they may have a swayback horse, but these campers don’t care. Most are from middle class families, maybe with parents who grew up with horses and who love horses and know what they mean to the children.”
Camp Director Bridget Adkins has two of her own participating this year. This will be her oldest daughter Elizabeth’s third horse camp experience. It will be daughter Kellie’s first.
“(Elizabeth) is more well-rounded because of camp. Instead of Mommy having to do everything, it teaches them to do it by themselves.”
If horse lovers the county over, she says, could make modest donations to the camp’s efforts, it would make the difference between a child and a horse going to camp, or not.
“There are many people who have horses and have enough money to pay for camp, but then there are those who don’t have it. Someone might not be able to give $100, but if five people or businesses gave $20, that might mean another child will get to go.”
Those interested in the efforts of the camp can “like” Raleigh County 4-H Horse Camp on Facebook for events and updates.
For more information about donating to or fundraising for Raleigh County’s 4-H Horse Camp, or for information about attending, contact Susan Richmond at 304-575-6250 or e-mail Bridget Adkins, Camp Director, at email@example.com for an application. Camp is limited to the first 45 registrants and their horses. Campers must bring their own horses.