Summer camp can be a life-changing experience for a child. Often it is the first time they've been away from their family for a prolonged period other than school and the experience can play a key role in helping them find their identity.
At Forrestel Riding Camp, an international all-girls overnight English riding camp between Niagara Falls and Rochester, N.Y., students not only learn horsemanship skills but also life skills. The camp, which offers one-, two- and four-week sessions throughout the summer, pairs each student with one of the camp's more than 50 horses for their stay to work on equitation, jumping, dressage, cross country, trail riding and more. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), many of their horses are off-track Thoroughbreds.
“I love a Thoroughbred's work ethic, their athleticism, and I love that they're multi-talented. After their racing careers they are happy to have a job,” said Kathryn Ferry, the camp's riding director. “When they come here, they also get a lot of love and attention from crazy horse kids that want to spend hours grooming, snuggling and taking selfies.”
Originally from England, Ferry came to the camp as an instructor for what was meant to be a ten-week stint at the nearly 200-year-old farm-turned-world renowned riding camp. Ten years later, she's still there.
Ferry has long had a love of Thoroughbreds and racing. Growing up, Thoroughbreds were often her breed of choice for riding and competing and she later worked with racehorses for several years before taking the position at the camp. She says campers often take keen interest in the backgrounds of their horses, and with Thoroughbreds' history being so well-documented and readily available online, it is easy for them to explore.
“Just yesterday I looked up a replay of a race that [camp horse and OTTB] Milo won,” said Ferry. “I talked about it with one of my campers and she could not wait for me to send me the link so she could watch him in action. She was thrilled!”
“Milo,” who raced 35 times as Celtic Cat, is a 9-year-old son of Bright Cat (by Tabasco Cat). Ferry purchased him from the track in 2011 two days after his last race. Today he is a beloved partner for riders of all levels, though he seems to quickly develop a special bond with beginner riders, taking care of his precious cargo as they learn to walk and trot.
While each horse has a different story, strengths and specialty, Ferry says Milo's tale is quite representative of the Thoroughbreds in the camp's stable.
“High on Silver, known as Elvis, was given to us in 2011 and is mister personality. He will happily pack a kid around a course of jumps in the arena – just point him in the right direction and he'll cruise around,” said Ferry. “Elliot raced as Shampel and was an awesome jumper and cross-country horse until he injured a stifle in 2014. Now we just use him when we go on trail rides. Fifi raced as Masterful Game and has been here since 2002. She has done the show circuit, Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) and Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) shows and eventing – she loves to gallop cross-country.”
Typically the camp welcomes 64 girls each week throughout the summer with a student to counselor ratio of approximately 3:1. They sleep in group tents, enjoy farm-fresh homemade meals from the camp chef, take part in extracurricular activities such as tennis and woodworking, and of course ride daily.
Many of the horses at the summer camp are leased out to colleges during the off-season and are used in intercollegiate riding programs, while others stay at the camp year-round. She says Thoroughbreds especially are well-suited for the routine and rotating lifestyle because it is reminiscent of their experiences on the racing circuit.
“Many of them go to college programs from September to May, then return back to me and stay at the farm from May to August, while others stay here with me year-round,” said Ferry. “[Thoroughbreds] are good with traveling and settling in elsewhere. They love to have a job to do and I think they need that to focus their minds. Most of them will return to the same college year after year.”
While the camp has had an exceedingly high success rate with Thoroughbreds joining their program, Ferry explained that being a camp horse – Thoroughbred or otherwise – is not for every horse.
“In the past ten years there have been two OTTBs that came to camp from the track, and while they were doing a good job, we could tell they weren't thrilled with having a different rider on their backs every week,” said Ferry. “So, we found them private one-rider homes, and that's okay. It takes a really special horse to be a camp horse and we've been lucky with each one that we've come across.”
For more information on Forrestel Riding Camp, go to www.forrestel.com.
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. While she currently has no plans to build an arc, she is the go-to food source for two dogs, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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