An emphasis on the athlete.
That’s the type of environment for the past 10 years, professional Wendy Arndt, has tried to create each summer for the participants in the Team I.E.C., International Equestrian Connection, Summer Boot Camp and Summer Horse Show Road Tour at I.E.C. on Busby Road.
The camp’s participants exhibit in two shows during the five week period, having already shown at the Classic Company’s Atlanta Summer Classic, and they’ll compete this month in Tryon, N.C. Most of the students participating in the camp are not from the area and live at the facility. There are also several locally based children taking part.
“We add outside activities,” said Arndt, the camp’s owner and operator. “In Atlanta, we did a trip to the aquarium. In Tryon, we’ll go white water rafting, and do a Nashville trip.”
It’s an opportunity to expose the young horsemen to a number of experiences, so they’ll be well rounded individuals, said Arndt. The camp’s participants are able to place their focus on becoming better horsemen.
“We always have a schedule, so we can start our day super early,” said Arndt. “We do a lot of technical and more competitive stuff with the older kids. And with the younger kids the emphasis will be on the basics.”
The facility itself is open and spread out, and provides the opportunity for the camp’s participants to exercise and burn off calories, she said. The campers go to Hitchcock Woods every Friday.
“The kids are feeling lean, fit and healthy,” said Arndt. “We do an athletic program. We have an airport runway in the back, and we run through there and the woods. We try to create the feeling that riding is not just a leisure or a pleasure, but an actual athletic sport.”
There’s also an emphasis on nutrition and diet at the camp, said Arndt. Swimming is also among the athletic pursuits that are part of the camp’s program, and one of the students serves as the lifeguard.
“We do all of our own cooking at the camp, and there’s a mess hall here,” she said. “We offer a vegetarian diet. But, we also do a lot of barbecuing for our lovely meat eaters.”
However, the camp does offer a variety of activities including making s’mores around the campfire, singing with guitars, a talent search, and its own version of America’s Top Model. The camp’s participants will actually be assigned a horse product, have to research it, do a photo shoot with the item, runway modeling, and then a commerical, said Arndt.
“We have a judge of three panels,” said Arndt. “What the activity does is really break the ice. It gets them laughing, thinking and actually being aware of what they’re putting on their horse’s body. It’s kind of neat. They’re all googling the products on their phones.”
The camp itself provides the participants with a great deal of practical experience. Arndt’s daughters, Grand Prix rider Casey Mason, and younger daughter, Drew Santamarina, are also involved with the daily activities. Perry Lepard provides the students with a comprehensive education in working with the ponies, showing the proper way to handle a pony, how to be safe around a pony while working with them, how to groom a pony and how to use a wash stall. The camp provides the students with a number of invaluable resources to better understand the psychology behind a horse’s behavior. Samantha Bouzas, a working student for Arndt in Wellington, Fla., is also taking part in the camp.
“We want to be able to make them a better partner with the horse,” she said.
Arndt believes in providing every child who wants to be a part of the sport with the opportunity to be with a horse and learn how to ride.
“It’s an expensive sport, so I implemented a working student program, where I’m actually sponsoring several children who qualify, and they’re working in exchange for the opportunity to work on the farm, living with me, riding and being part of the program, she said. “What they’ll do, is contribute to their groceries, and that’s the only thing I require.” said Arndt.
A contract is drawn up for the kids in the camp, said Arndt. The contract focuses on short and long term goals of the student, not only as a rider but as a person.
“It might be making their bed in the morning, cleaning their room or checking in with their parents,” said Arndt. “We want them to have some type of personal goal because we want them well rounded in every way. We want them to understand it’s the total package, that they’re getting good grades in school, making an effort at home and with their parents, and the reward is having this amazing experience with these horses.”
The camp’s participants find themselves in a nuturing team environment as they help one another grow in confidence and increase their knowledge as horsemen, said Ardnt.
A junior week is also part of the camp, and the more experienced riders take on the role of senior camp counselors, sharing their knowledge and experiences with the younger riders.