‘Sleepaway Camp’ for Adult Eventers

When I was a kid, we went to sleep away camp. More exciting than day camp, we got to experience a trip away from home, bunking with new friends, generally including activities like archery, arts and crafts and canoeing.  Adult Rider Camp for eventers is way, WAY better.

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s River. Photo by D & G Photography.

This past weekend I attended the 3rd Annual Adult Rider Camp for eventers in Area IV. As my adult student and I loaded up the trailer to head to Otter Creek Farm, full of anticipation, she looked nervous. While I had gone to Adult Rider Camp last year, it was her first time. It was not the typical pre-camp jitters of a child, like, What if I get home sick? What if they don’t like me?

The nerves of an newbie adult event rider who works at a law firm by day, and is a weekend warrior adult amateur starter level eventer in her spare time, were legitimate concerns.  “Do you think their starter level logs are bigger in Wisconsin?” I laughed, but I knew what she meant.  “Will Dom and Jimmie Schramm make me canter my jumps?” “What if I fall off?”

As it turns out, she stayed on in all three sections of the clinic at camp.  I, however, took a rather gymnastic dismount, not unlike a balance beam routine, off my training level OTTB in stadium. I did manage to land on my feet, and knowing all eyes were on me, I raised my arms like a gymnast as my final bow.

“9.7” the photographer shouted.  I laughed it off, knowing that as a trainer, I come off some horse at least once a week. Jimmie Schramm asked if I was OK, and then gave me an enthusiastic leg up (she must work out, as I almost went flying off the far side of my horse when she did!). I grabbed mane as I was not about to let her throw me to the ground. I shook it off and was back on course.

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s River, with Jimmie Schramm teaching. Photo by D & G Photography.

In cross country, I had a blast. Aside from learning new techniques, schooling new questions, I had the opportunity to make new adult rider friends. As it turns out, we tend to all have the same struggles.  Balancing jobs, families (one Intermediate rider at camp had just gotten back from having a baby), and trying to fit in our passion for eventing.

We all faced the highs and lows of the sport, as Dom Schramm put it: “Sometimes you’re the windshield; sometimes you’re the bug.” We bonded over how we all look down over ditches and drops, and laughed telling one-up stories of falls and forgotten courses. We came together as a cheering section when a rider struggled with getting their greenie over that super scary log cabin. We roared watching the “pocket rocket” 14-hand pony with a 17-hand personality soar over the Training level course with ease, with the look in his eyes that said, “Is this all you got?”

Adult Rider Camp in Area IV was held at the picturesque Otter Creek Horse Farm in Wheeler, Wisconsin, nestled in an echoey valley in what seemed to be an eternity from the daily grind. Because of the location, and I can only assume the rolling hills surrounding the facility, NO ONE had cell service on course.

I was able to squeak out a text here or there to my husband anxiously waiting for news back home. Texts like, “I survived XC, dressage later” had to be resent seven times, holding one arm up in the middle of the road, with a coat hanger in my teeth to finally send. But to me, this was the BEST part of camp. Because at lunch, when we all gathered under the pavilion like excited little campers, we actually had to talk to one another.

We couldn’t hide, and bury our noses in phones, posting on social media and texting loved ones back home. Just like in the 80s, when I went to camp for the first time, we nervously asked if that seat was taken. We made small talk about the delicious lunches, and by the end, exchanged stories and experiences with our new life-long friends.

Amy Nelson and Amanda Kothe

We are now back home, tired, but hopeful. Our new-found skills in tow, ready to face the next horse trials. And instead of writing letters, we are Insta-Face-Ering and will meet up at the next show.  “Eventers are soooo nice,” I heard as we were packing up. A few of the campers came from the fill-in-the-blank horse show world. “You guys are so supportive.  I never saw that in my other horse world.”

I guess it’s because we’ve all been the bug at some point. This sport is hard enough as is it.  So let’s be friends. Let’s go to sleepaway camp.

3…2…1…Have a nice ride!