Corralling Your Camp Horse Program

by Jim Glunt

Thousands of campers take part in riding programs each year. Serving the needs of these campers responsibly requires reasonable and accepted standards of operation. One of these standards is a need for written procedural manuals.

Generally, facilities have some written policies and procedures that they have either developed on their own or copied from another facility or organization; many also have a number of policies and procedures that are understood by those involved, but do not exist in written form. Many times the written version cannot be readily located or circumstances have changed and what's written is no longer accurate.

Why Are Policies Necessary?

There are two main reasons for concern about what policies and procedures you have written. One of these is quality control. Any time there is more than one person responsible for a program, there is a need to have in writing at least
basic understandings regarding how the program will function if quality of service is to be maintained. The other reason for concern relates to the need to manage the risk involved in horse activities. As most campers are not experienced horse people, appropriate standards should be in place to manage or reduce the risk involved. Should there be an incident and resulting claim, written stable policies and procedures relating to the questioned activity - for example, suitability of the horse to rider, care of tack, and supervision of riders - can be extremely helpful in dealing with a lawsuit. Written records indicating established policy of that facility in regard to the issue in question demonstrates an understand of the risk and a plan to reduce and/or manage it.

The standard of the industry in this context is the procedure or practice that a "reasonable" person or facility engaged in camp horsemanship activities would follow. A review of standards developed by the American Camping Association, the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA), and the North American Horsemen's Association (NAHA) reveals requirements regarding a variety of policies and procedures. With organizations such as these requiring written policies and procedures, it seems safe to assume that a written manual of practices has become the standard in the industry. The only question remaining is what areas should be covered in such a manual.

The foundation of your written policies and procedures should include routine care of horses; general guidelines relating to customers, program, and staff; and emergency plans. Let's look briefly at each of these and start to develop the information necessary as it relates to your facility. Although there are many similarities in camp horse programs, most facilities have certain unusual or unique circumstances making a "generic" policy and procedures manual not very useful.

Routine Horse Care

Maintaining healthy horses is important to your program. Monitoring and documenting the care your horses receive is key to a good horse program. Routine care of horses would include information such as:

  • feeding and turn out practices
  • inspection of horses regarding their soundness prior to use
  • records of de-worming, vaccinations, and hoof care for each horse
  • work schedule for the horses
  • tack adjustments and fitting

A separate record of health history, use, shoeing schedule, unusual characteristics, and incident records should be kept on file for each horse. There should also be an indication of tack inspection and repair procedures and a method of recording track care and repair.

Information regarding equine first-aid kids should also be covered. This would include the contents of the equine first-aid kits, where they are kept, and when they are reviewed and replenished. Depending on your particular circumstances (number of horses, staffing, and location, among others), you may wish to incorporate additional policies relating to horse care, such as how horse injuries or sickness is handled and who determines then the veterinarian should be called.

Additionally, although not exactly routine care of horses, there should be a written plan on selecting horses based on the needs of the riding program. If your facility is involved in leasing, boarding, or training, you should have policies regarding these activities as they relate to your other programs, as well as a written contract policy requirement.

Participant Guidelines

Your general guidelines relating to participants should:

  • detail an orientation and demonstration for riders prior to any equine activity taking place
  • list safety rules, warnings, restriction, and where they are posted for viewing by all
  • require staff supervision of equine activities
  • state your policy on rider attire - helmets, pants, boots
  • specify eligibility requirements of riders
  • require the use of a release or waiver by participants
  • contain a statement relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act regarding safe inclusion
  • identify areas for participant involvement for grooming and handling, in addition to riding.

Again, in the area of participant involvement, there may be particular policies that are indicated due to the nature of your program. This might include certain program activities for specific camper groups; age or size requirements relating to programs, and so forth.

Program standards that should be in writing include the ratio of riders to staff; designation of program and non-program areas; and level of training for horses in program, for example, horses should stand still during mounting, move forward at appropriate cues, etc. As with all written standards, there will probably be some unique to your program that you should also include.

Staff Policies

Written policies for staff may be included in separate personnel manuals at some facilities, especially the larger ones. This manual will specify things such as pay dates, benefits, policies in areas such as sexual harassment and child molestation, as well as regulatory requirements involving such things as OSHA standards. Specifically in relation to the horse operation, you should include information regarding staff qualifications, such as:

  • age, certification, experience
  • appropriate attire, including the helmet policy for staff
  • specifics as to duties such as feed, water, and so on
  • specifics in program preparation - grooming, saddling, etc.
  • specifics in program execution - riding demonstrations, mounting riders, and such.

You may also want to include policies for boarding staff horses, riding instruction or certification programs available to staff, and other staff topics appropriate to your program. The stewardship responsibilities of a livestock program often dictate variances to regular personnel policies as to starting times, weekend or non-season work, etc.; these should be noted as well.

Emergency Plan

Your most important policy - your emergency policy - must cover areas such as riding accidents whether in the arena, barn, or on the trail. The specifics as to which staff person does what and when, and how help is to be summoned when necessary must be spelled out in detail and gone over with every staff person. Generally, it would be a good idea to practice these in a role-play situation so all concerned realize their duties.

The other type of emergency deals with weather - thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and such. Your written guidelines should spell out specifically the circumstances that result in horseback activities being canceled and when they could safely resume (twenty minutes after a clap of thunder, for example). The guidelines should also specify what actions staff and participants should take during a weather emergency, for example, where they should congregate and what should be done with the livestock.

The other necessary emergency plan involves procedures to be followed should a fire occur. This policy should cover issues such as where is a safe place for participants, what should be done with the horses, who should summon the fire company, and who should meet the fire truck.

Peace of Mind

Time spent preparing your written policy and procedures manual is time well-spent as it should result in a policy that is timely, appropriate to your situation, and clearly explains the policies and procedures of your horse operation. It is critical that the procedures and policies are clearly written and easily understood, especially by new staff. Before you carve them in stone, have several other staff members review them to be certain they will be easily understood. Then review them regularly and update and change as necessary. It will help you sleep better at night knowing you have made a concerted effort to develop a clear state of your policies and procedures to help minimize the risk to your program participants.

Jim Glunt is owner/operator of Jim Glunt Equine Services, located in central Pennsylvania, which offers consulting services to horse camps, staff training programs, and saddle repair.

Originally published in the 2000 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.

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