New Horseback Riding Arena!

Camp Horse Arena Rendering

Last summer we announced Rockbrook’s plan to improve its horseback riding facilities by building a covered riding arena and new modern barn. It was a quiet announcement really, but it included this architect’s rendering showing the open-air design we had in mind. Well, it’s time to announce it more publicly and officially! We’re thrilled to share the news that the construction is well underway and we’ll have the arena finished and ready for action this summer!

We began the construction in late August by using a bulldozer, a large excavator, and multiple dump trucks to prepare a large flat area of the upper pasture. This was a major job since we needed almost 42,000 square feet (almost an acre!) of flat land to fit the two new buildings, and redesigned outdoor ring. A civil engineering firm from Asheville helped us establish the correct grade, plan for storm water drainage, and survey a new road through the property. Since that time, Richie Case, Rockbrook’s full time Site Manager, has served as the project’s Contractor and led a team of workers through every step of the construction. We’ve received 90-foot steel roof trusses from Missouri, 30-foot long pressure treated timbers from Washington state, and bundle after bundle of lumber arriving on probably a dozen different trucks. More than 30 trucks have delivered concrete for the footers, post forms and sections of the barn floor. One highlight was the 100-foot tall crane that, over four days, lifted each steel roof truss into place on the riding arena.

The Rockbrook Camp Riding Arena

OK, so what’s it going to be!!?? The arena is huge! It’s 180 feet long and 90 feet wide, has a vaulted ceiling going up 26 feet, a 5-foot rail all the way around, a full lighting system, and a footing of sand, mixed with special additives ideal for the horses and hunter-jumper riding. On one end there’s an additional covered area for a mounting ramp, equipment storage, and observation. Certainly among horse camps, it’s the largest in western North Carolina, but more importantly, it will allow Rockbrook girls to ride all summer long no matter what the weather… rain or shine! In the shade and with fewer bugs to bother you while riding, it will be a wonderful place to ride.

The new adjoining 96×50 barn is wonderful too. It has 10 large 12×12-foot stalls, a heated feed room, separate tack room, a spacious 14-foot wide aisle, and a full 3,000 square-foot hay loft. Each stall has rubber mat floors, sliding stall doors, and rear dutch doors that open to the outside. Under a wrap-around shed porch, there are two wash stalls, equipment storage and more areas to observe what’s happening in the riding arena. It will be so nice to tack up, walk your horse down the barn’s aisle right into the arena, and ride— all under a roof.

Camp Riding Arena and Barn

Stay tuned for more updates. As you can see from this recent photo, we’re not quite finished, but we couldn’t keep it a secret any longer.  If you ride at camp, you’re gonna love it!

Finally, here’s a fun little video shot from a drone. It shows both new buildings and gives you a sense of how they relate to the other riding areas at camp.

Have any questions about the new arena? Let us know in the comments or get in touch.

Perfect Day

Making tie dyes with Sarah

It’s hard not to describe today as perfect. First we’re having amazing weather— crystal clear blue skies shining all day after a few pockets of fog lifted in the morning, extraordinarily low humidity making the high temperature (around 80) feel just warm and inviting, and the occasional breezes turning the leaves on the trees into rustling waves of green. Glancing up at the shining granite of Castle Rock, hearing the splattering of Stick Biscuit Falls, and breathing in the cool fresh air combined so delightfully. Spending the entire day outside— making tie dye t-shirts with Sarah, riding horses, climbing the Alpine Tower, or just reading a book on the hill —it was spectacular, pleasant in every way.

One of the highlights, and perhaps my favorite time of the day, was after dinner as the sun began to slip down toward the distant mountains. This “Twilight” time after dinner but before the start of each line’s evening programs lasts about an hour, and it’s a relaxed, friendly time for everyone at camp to play on the hill (tetherball, hula hoop, guitar, etc.), watch the sunset, or just hang out to talk with friends. It’s really special, and in the glow of the evening light, beautiful as well.

Blindfolded Girl Rock Climbing
Climbing Instructor and Camper

It was also a perfect day for climbing, which almost two dozen campers enjoyed today on our 50-foot Alpine Climbing Tower. The Tower can accommodate up to 6 climbers at the same time, each exploring a different route and overcoming different climbing challenges on the way to the top. All these options make it a wonderful place to learn how to climb. Even our youngest campers will start here, learning a couple of important climbing knots, understanding the equipment for rock climbing (What’s an ATC?), and practicing the belay commands used by climbers around the world. Some of the girls opt of an even greater challenge climbing the tower by blindfolding themselves. Not being able to see where foot- and hand-holds are located slows things down, but it also makes climbing more about concentration and balance (that’s a good thing!) than about reaching the next hold in sight. What a great feeling for a girl to have tried something that sounds really difficult, and with encouragement and perseverance, being able to do it!

Camp Girl Riding Horse
Love Rockbrook Calendar

The Rockbrook horses are also enjoying this perfect summer weather as they keep our many young equestriennes busy in the riding rings. From the beautiful thoroughbred mare Ava to the veteran Connemara pony Annie, most of the 30 horses here this summer were providing mounted lessons today. So far there’s no shortage of enthusiasm for riding at Rockbrook this session, keeping both our horses and riding staff happily busy.

Powerful crafting forces are at work now too! Armed with gallons of paint and glue, paper, fibers, cloth and clay, among so many other options, these girls are extraordinarily and creatively productive. There are so many examples. Our master instructors Maggie Kelsey, Alex Baker and Nancy McDonald have amazing projects planned for the girls. I’m sure you’ll be impressed with the colorful results that make their way home at the end of camp. Isn’t this calendar fantastic? Click the photo to see a larger version and you’ll find out what appears to be the most important days… so far! 🙂

You couldn’t ask for a more perfect day of whitewater rafting either. We took four buses and vans of campers over to the Nantahala river today to bump, bounce, splash, and scream their way down the rapids for a few hours. We practically had the river to ourselves, gorgeous weather, and with our top-notch Rockbrook guides and equipment, flawless trips all day long. It really feels special to paddle the Nantahala like this… a boat full of excited girls, warm sun, cold water, moments of intense, wide-eyed adventure, followed by full-bodied laughter. You might just call that “fun.” Yep, it was that too.

Rockbrook Whitewater Rafting
Girls Swimming Lake

A Haven of Encouragement

Camp dancing girls in mirror


I was talking with a CIT (17-year-old “counselor in training”) recently, and she told me something interesting. She said, “Rockbrook taught me how to dance.” She had been a camper for many years before this summer training to join the Rockbrook staff, so I wasn’t too surprised, thinking that she had probably taken our dance activity and learned different moves there. But she went on explaining that before camp she was too shy to dance at all, “so embarrassed,” she remembered “hiding at middle school dances.” And then she said something really profound. “Rockbrook proved that I’m stronger than I think.”

What a wonderful affirmation of our mission at Rockbrook! Driving everything we do— from the program activities, special events, adventure trips, to the silly songs we sing at meals, for example, there is a camp culture that emphasizes kindness and generosity, attention and care for all those around us. For the counselors and campers alike, camp is a haven of encouragement, perfectly suited to foster self confidence, resilience and ultimately self esteem. Our goal for everyone here at Rockbrook is for them to realize that their authentic self, who they really are, is strong and beautiful. We hope camp provides real experiences proving that deep strength and beauty. You might think, you can’t dance, because maybe someone once gave you a funny look, but let’s try it and you’ll see you can! Figuring that out, and applying that confidence to other things, is such a fantastic lesson for young girls to learn, and camp makes it possible.

girls horseback rider in two-point position

A trip down to the horseback riding facilities of Rockbrook, down past the Carrier House, through the tunnel, and left at the French Broad river, never fails to impress. Members of the equestrian staff (all nine of them) will be hustling with barn chores, working with horses and campers preparing for the riding lessons that happen throughout the day. With 30 horses in the RBC herd this summer, and at last count, 88 girls taking horseback riding lessons this session, there’s a lot going on! Many of the girls are brand new to riding, but have by now learned how to tack up, mount, and feel comfortable on a horse. Most have quickly progressed, confidently walking and steering their mounts, over poles and in the two-point position. This photo shows instructor Gabby leading Coby, a 20-year-old, chestnut Thoroughbred gelding, as he helps a camper experience her first trot. It’s a great example of how the Rockbrook riding instructors are excellent and genuinely love introducing girls to riding, teaching them new skills, and helping advanced riders grow stronger and more confident. With this kind of quality instruction, these Rockbrook girls are really getting good!

camp water slide splashing

On the far side of the lake where the waterfall splashes in, there’s a dock and bridge leading to a set of stairs up a 30-foot tower. The top of that tower is the launching point for our water slide, affectionately known as “Big Samantha” (for no other reason than a few years back a Junior camper named it that, and it stuck). Made of soft vinyl that’s nice and slippery when we run a little water down it, the slide provides a 50-foot screaming, cool ride into the lake. One by one, the girls climb the tower, hurl themselves down the blue vinyl tarp, with spray splashing up, and finish by shooting out into the lake below. A short swim back to the exit ladders awaits, and then it’s back around for another slide!

indoor climbing wall camp girl

When it turned drizzly late this afternoon, the climbing instructors moved from the Alpine Climbing tower into the gym so they could set up the climbs on our indoor climbing wall. The wall takes up one corner of the gym stretching about 25 feet from the floor to the rafters. Being in the corner, one route up uses both walls, teaching the girls a climbing move called “stemming” often used in a dihedral (inside corner). The wall has colored tape marking six different routes which vary by the size, shape and placement of the holds. The most difficult portion in slightly overhanging, which requires significantly more finger strength just to stay on the wall! Today each girl who signed up for climbing picked 2 different routes to attempt. The instructors coached them along the way encouraging the girls to focus on technique rather than simply getting to the top— balancing, shifting weight, and making each move slowly and smoothly. It was great to see the girls understand this coaching and climb beautifully.

Girls Camp Campers

Her Very First Ride

Little Summer Camp girl horseback riding

For little girls, taking their first equestrian lesson can be a mix of excitement and nervous jitters. It’s exciting because horseback riding seems so fun when you read about it or see it in movies, but for your first riding lesson, it can easily be a little overwhelming. There is so much to learn— special clothes, important safety rules, riding gear for the horse, how to mount, different riding positions, and communicating with your horse. The horses and ponies can seem so huge! And there is a lot to remember all at once.

That’s why it’s so important that a girl’s first experience learning to horseback ride be a safe, caring, gentle introduction. It’s crucial that her instructor be experienced working with small children, that he or she be kind and patient, and that the pony be calm and gentle in the ring. Taking small steps, gradually gaining confidence and greater understanding, is the best way to maintain a girl’s enthusiasm for riding. The best children’s horseback riding centers know how to pace this kind of progression.

The equestrian program at Rockbrook Camp has a long history of introducing young girls to horseback riding. Camp has just the right combination of skilled instructors and gentle ponies, enthusiasm for riding, and great equestrian facilities to encourage girls on their very first ride. At camp, we’re well prepared to make every girl’s first horseback riding experience a positive one. It’s the perfect recipe for a life-long love of horses and horseback riding!

Ready to Ride!

Girls Summer Riding Camp

Everything is coming together down at the Rockbrook equestrian center in preparation for this summer. Here’s a quick note from Cara, the Equestrian Director.

Many of the most popular horses are back like Gordon, Annie, Woody, Reagan, Buddy and Fritz. We have some new horses that we think you’ll love. Happy is a 16 hand Warmblood mare that has been a successful show hunter. Tobie is a Halflinger pony that does therapeutic riding during the school year. He is so fat and adorable! We can’t wait to show him off to everyone!

The Barn Staff has many surprises for riders this summer and is ready for campers to arrive!

Campers arrive at camp this weekend and we’re ready to ride!  There’s hay in loft. All 30 stalls are clean and prepared with fresh bedding. The fields or mowed. The fences are all cleared and strong. The feed room is stocked. The riding rings are groomed.

Let’s get horseback riding!

Girls Horses

Girls and Horses at camp

How many horses did Rockbrook have in its horseback riding program this past summer? With all those girls at camp wanting to ride horses, you might guess we had a lot! Some from St. Andrew’s College Equine Studies program, some from Sweet Briar College Equine Studies program, and some of Rockbrook’s own horses, we had 26 in all. Enough horses and ponies to let every rider, at every level of riding experience, ride almost every day.

Read more about the equestrian program at Rockbrook Camp.