University of Vermont AAHS

HARMONY: Competency of Summer Staff

Jan Dawson
President of AAHS

[reproduced from Summer 2002 Caution:Horses]

The summer clinic season is over and I believe that we are seeing a trend, at least in the hiring practices of the camps that have been with us for several years. We are seeing older staff. We are seeing staff with more experience. We are seeing staff with more documented formal training and we are seeing more money spent on hiring more qualified people backed up by personnel that function as assistants. This has been refreshing.

In previous years we have had to deal with the young, inexperienced people as potential riding instructors and it is difficult. The problems are many. If the person has been riding without supervision all his life he may have many bad and dangerous habits. It is not the same as if the person has made a living riding 8 or 10 horses a day or training that many or taking that many lessons.

If the person has been showing many years but has ridden very little outside of an arena and has ridden mostly her own horse and/or only nice horses, life with a string of 22 leased camp horses, and a system of rocky trails and mountain lions may be just a bit different.

A 40-hour clinic is not enough time to make up for the difference in experience.

Unfortunately the person doing the hiring may be a horse fan but not a rider and certainly not an instructor or trainer. This is compounded by the problem that what was okay in the early 60’s is probably not okay today. Much of this has to do with what the medical community now knows about many injuries that were formerly thought to be minor. One only has to consider the former attitudes towards a concussion to understand this.

We also used to think it was fine to make a person get right back on a horse after an accident. Now we insist that everyone be checked out be a physician. At least one major organization has a rule that following any fall on the event ground the victim must be examined by the show physician before being permitted to remount. Period. No matter to whom the fall happens or where it happens.

Another problem is what the parents believe they have given permission for their children to do and under what circumstances. If we were to tell the parents that we were going to keep their kids hundreds of miles away, take them for horseback rides into rugged country on horses that we didn’t know very well, and that we might have really bad, scary weather that could spook the horses, they might have second thoughts. Now suppose we tell the parents that the ride will be led by guides who, before this summer, have never ridden in this terrain, or even outside of an arena very much, don’t know these horses and, even though the camp brochure advertises (promises) “riding instructors” these kids have never given a lesson before this summer.

If we have an accident do you think that the parents will have a valid argument when they say, “I didn’t know all that when I signed the release that they sent me.” Other parents would understand that statement and parents sit on juries.

For that reason I am ecstatic that we are seeing older, more experienced, formally trained summer staff. Relieved is probably more accurate.

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