Camp Pillsbury is not your typical woodsy, lakeside summer camp. It’s not remote, secluded or even a little bit rustic. Instead of cabins,...
Every summer, campers at Sunnyside Stables Horse Camp get lots of opportunities to ride horses.
Thanks to indoor and outdoor riding arenas — as well as horseback riding trails on 75 rolling acres in rural Rosemount — kids ride every day, rain or shine.
But they also get horse experience that goes far beyond “giddy up.”
Camp teachings include saddling and unsaddling, grooming, feeding and basic care. Campers also make keepsakes to take home at the end of the week, including a memory picture book and a steppingstone with their horse’s hoof print.
Those keepsakes aren’t just crafts. They’re an important part of what camp director Ashley Mosier sees as the most incredible aspect of camp life: “I love to see the bond between the kids and the horses,” she said. “It’s a real relationship that brings out amazing things in the campers. They grow up a lot during the week and develop a deep respect for these powerful animals.”
Mosier said working with the horses can be an especially positive outlet for shy kids, kids who have been victims of bullying or city kids who are stuck in a rut and craving a taste of nature and sunshine.
Melanie Klassen, an Eagan mother of three, has sent her two oldest daughters to Sunnyside Stables in past years. When her youngest hits the minimum age of 6, she’ll go, too.
In the meantime, her 4-year-old visits Sunnyside with her big sisters and plays with the farm animals while the older girls ride. Campers and younger siblings enjoy time with the horses, pigs, chickens and kittens.
Klassen enjoys the safe, family-friendly environment.
“I tell everybody that it’s just the best little secret. The confidence that girls in particular get — as they learn to care for and control these powerful animals — is pretty mind-blowing,” Klassen said.
Klassen’s daughters’ self-esteem carried over into the fall when they went back to school.
In fact, one of Klassen’s daughters became a better student as a result of her relationship with Sunnyside. An English teacher pulled her aside in September, wondering what work she’d done over the summer. Her reading comprehension was through the roof.
Klassen believes it was a result of learning to pay attention to and communicate non-verbally with the horses — a new language of sorts that led to her more advanced English-language skills.
Angela Hanson, a Rosemount mother of two, said her daughter attended the camp with her best friend and loved the experience. As a parent and horse-enthusiast herself, Hanson appreciates that the camp taught her child the reality of owning a horse, including how much work is involved.
Hanson also noticed the quality of the animals and skill of the instructors.
“Sunnyside’s horses are very well-trained and — more importantly — the staff knows their horses well.
They are great at matching kids and horses, and they really understand the animals’ cues.”
Perhaps the biggest benefit of Sunnyside’s summer camp is the chance kids get to completely unplug from technology, Klassen said.
“In today’s environment with the Internet and iPads and what not, this place takes that out of the equation completely,” Klassen said. “The kids experience a rare simplicity of being. They get dirty. They play hide-and-seek. It’s a complete absence of technology. I love that they have that and are able to take that knowledge home, where there are gadgets and screens and such.”
Horse camp can be a test experience for kids who have expressed interest in horse-riding lessons.
In one week, they can try it and see what it’s all about.
What’s the next step?
But what if they fall in love with riding?
Sunnyside offers lessons, a horse-leasing program and even the opportunity to buy and board horses. To most parents, of course, this sounds impossibly pricy.
Take heart. Mosier and the rest of the staff at Sunnyside Stables are committed to finding solutions for each young horse lover.
Sunnyside runs an extensive volunteer program in which students can pay off monthly horse leases (which might not be as steep as you’d think) or earn lessons by cleaning stalls, grooming and even working as junior counselors.
Klassen, whose girls went on to participate in the volunteer and leasing programs, said, “There’s a pride of ownership and a strong sense of commitment that comes from actually caring for their leased animals and earning riding time with work around the stables. The experience means more.”
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