Among the numerous hats I've worn over my years as an equestrian, one of them was working for 2 years at a local tack thop. This time of year we have a plethora of very excited kids with very confused parents in tow for one thing and one thing only. Horse Camp.
There are two things most parents are concerned with. First of all, what they need and secondly, how much is this going to cost? After all, many kids are only attending camp for a couple weeks, they may decide they to continue riding, they may decide to not. What do they really need, and what are the options? Hopefully this blog can clear up some of the confusion, and help you make the right decision on this new adventure in you and your childs' lives!
Your best bet is to check with the camp and see what they require. Bare minimum they should require boots with a heel, long pants, and a helmet. Many camps have helmets available, but I highly recommend making the investment and getting your own for both sanitation and fit reasons. I can not stress this enough, if there is ONE thing you don't try and save-a-buck on, it should be your riding helmet. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but their bike helmet wont cut it either. Bicycle helmets and riding helmets are designed differently in shape and protection, and are tested for different types of impact. The risks of riding are very real, so it is very important you take the proper precautions when it comes to minding your mellon! I hear the question all the time, "What is the best helmet for my kid"? The answer is always "The helmet that fits the best". A poorly fitting helmet can result in serious injuries because it may shift, or fall off, so fit is the single most important factor when purchasing a helmet. Another thing you need to know is not all helmets are created equal. There are approved helmets, and unapproved helmets or hunt caps. Without getting into major detail, you want an approved helmet, meaning one that meets ASTM/SEI Requirements. There will be a tag in the helmet that has the ASTM/SEI stamp on it. It is best to bring your child with you when helmet shopping so they can try them on at the store, assuring you get the best fit possible. We carry 5+ 'schooling' helmets (budget friendly) that are all a little different. International brand helmets tend to be more oval shaped, ovation helmets tend to be more rounded, and troxel helmets are kind of in the middle. Devon Aire and Troxel both make helmets for super small kids (4 and under). All of the schooling helmets we carry come with what is known as a "dial fit system", or an adjustment on the back that changes the size and fit of a helmet. One last thing you should know is that all helmet companies suggest that you replace your helmet if you fall off or drop it. Many companies offer discounted re-purchase as well so check with your local shop to see what the options are. Lastly, do not store your helmet in the trunk of your car, or anywhere it will get really hot, wet, etc, as it compromises the integrity of the materials inside the helmet.
The next thing on your list is a good pair of boots. An important thing to consider here is what discipline your child will be riding, in other words, will the be riding English or Western. This matters because the foot placement in the stirrup is different, so the design of the bottom of the boot is different. Cowboy boots, especially more 'fashion' style, usually have a taller heel, which means a higher arch, and are very difficult to ride english because the stirrup is almost forced back to the heel. Boots that have a slick bottom also make it very difficult to keep the stirrup. In english riding, we have two different types of boots. Tall boots are knee high, black boots, and these are used for horse showing. Short boots, or 'Paddock boots' come just above the ankle, and are perfectly acceptable for summer camp, everyday riding, and general horse activity. There are many options for boots under $50.00. One of my go-to brands is Equistar. They have an all-weather synthetic boot, available with laces or zip up, and have a great, higher price look and feel to them. Other brands include Saxon, which tend to run wider, and Tuffrider, which tends to run more narrow. For wider and more narrow ankles, laces typically work best. Boots come in black or brown, and the color really is nothing more than personal preference.
Many camps simply require long pants for riding lessons, jeans or tights are usually fine. Your main goal is something that is not loose fitting, but that your child can move in (skinny stretch jeans are great). If you would like to get some riding pants for your child, again, there are many options! Obviously, it's summer time, so keeping cool is a major concern. Kerrits, Tuffrider, and Irideon are three companies that make riding tights that are comfortable, lightweight, and breathable. All three companies have tights in a bunch of colors, including tan (which your child can show in at local circuits should they continue riding). Plus since they are tights, you can typically go up a size and really get the use out of them! A little wrinkle is ok, but don't push it too much. Riding clothes should be tight fitting. Now you're probably asking yourself what the difference between riding tights and regular tights, and the main difference is a suede (or similar) knee patch that offers reinforcement to protect your little ones legs from getting incredibly painful rubs or pinches from the saddle or stirrup leathers. Riding tights are also constructed of more durable materials and stitching than typical fashion tights.
One of the accessories we add to our boots are called Half Chaps. Half chaps are a leather, suede, or synthetic 'boot' that actually go over your paddock boots to give them the look of tall boots. They offer more grip, and more protection from those same painful rubs and pinches. Dublin and Perris are two of my favorite starter half chaps brand. The Dubling Easy Cares can be thrown in the washing machine to clean them, and run about $39.95, and Perris suede half chaps are around the same price. Perris also makes a very classy smooth leather half chap for around $60.00. Perris makes very petite chaps for the tiny kids too. Half chaps should fit to the knee, and right up to the back of the knee,and as tight as they can be without being uncomfortable. Your half chaps WILL stretch, so if you have to struggle a little getting them on the first time or so, that's not a bad thing. They will also 'drop' about a quarter inch so if they are a bit tall that is ok too. Take in to consideration how much time your child has before camp to wear their boots and half chaps around the house to break them in.
Other things your child may want or need are gloves, shirts, socks, a riding crop, brushes, and many other 'but I need this for camp' items. Again, this is where it comes in handy to know exactly what the camp requires. Gloves are never a bad option. This is camp, they will get lost. That said, find the pair that fits the best for the lowest price. There are several lightweight riding shirts out there for around $30.00. These are great, but not a necessities. It is simply important, again, that the shirt is fitted (no big flowing t-shirts!) and of course breathable. Riding socks are thin, knee high socks that come in a variety of fun colors and designs. If you opted for the half chaps, go ahead and get some! Its summer camp, have some fun! Riding crops, brushes, and ANYTHING for the horses are not required by the camps. If you think this is something your child is going to stick with, you can cross those bridges when you get there. Treats are always fun though. Don't forget the essentials outside of riding clothes - water, sunscreen, towels - and most of all, FUN! Happy riding kids!
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