There are a plethora of activities to try every day here at camp. From morning activities to chugim in the afternoon, evening programs to unit activities, each hour offers new opportunities and experiences. But many campers arrive on site with a specific destination in mind – the corral. It’s no surprise that horseback riding is one of the most anticipated activities of camp. With the horses etched into the camp sign and the saddles adorning the front gate, it’s made obvious from the beginning that the horse programs are an integral part of JCC Ranch Camp.
Each camper’s relationship with the corral begins on the first day of the session. With their cabins, everyone takes a trip to the “boot barn,” trying on the riding boots that are offered to those who do not possess their own pair. Once everyone’s comfortable with the boots they’ll be wearing, they learn about what they’ll get to do once they come for activities, maybe even getting the chance to pet a horse or two. As cabins leave for the next station, daydreams of trail rides float in their minds’ eye, excitement for the activity nearly tangible in the air.
This excitement has not yet abated by the time campers have the chance participate in the corral activity. The hour starts out with campers meeting their horses. Though many of these docile and well-trained creatures are new to camp this year, there are several who have come to call Ranch Camp a home in much the same way as the community’s human members – Seuss, Rojo, and Bones are some favorites, though every horse is well loved and cared for. The first time riding is usually spent in one of the arenas, learning the ropes of horse riding – spacing, steering, and commands are all quickly picked up.
The second (and sometimes even third) trip to the corral holds even more in store. Now that they’ve had some more basic experience, the campers are ready for a trail ride! A journey into the Outer 400 is always a peaceful and beautiful adventure, and some of the trails that the horses follow are also used for activities like hiking and mountain biking. But even if a camper has traveled a specific path before, going through the woods on a horse is an entirely new experience. A trail ride is the perfect way to connect with nature – there’s less talking in these activities, and quiet self-reflection is only natural in these moments, surrounded by trees on either side, sunlight filtering through the leaves and pine needles above, the setting punctuated only by the rhythmic thud of hooves on dirt.
At times like these, it’s obvious how important the corral is to camp, how integral these activities are in fostering the community and camaraderie that everyone leaves with. When given the opportunity to interact with these animals, the horses own calmness and quiet content spreads to those around them. The hard work that both campers and staff alike puts into their time at the corral comes back to reward them, building a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, leaving everyone who comes through the corral with the knowledge that they have contributed a job well done.