A Place for Hands

There’s a certain manual character of life at camp. Given all of the activities we have going on simultaneously, the community living structuring our days, and the constant outdoor experience, camp is a setting where we use our hands constantly. We’re doing things, making things, and exploring things with our hands everyday. Sweeping the dining hall, tying a climbing rope, gripping a tennis racket, steadying a ball of clay on the potter’s wheel— all that and more can happen before breakfast! …not to mention, pulling back the string of a bow, tying embroidery floss into an intricate pattern, smacking a tetherball or gagaball, steering the reins of a horse. Camp life is defined by action, by direct inter-action with the physical— all five senses! —nature of the real world, and thereby provides almost limitless opportunities to engage things with our hands.

Rope Hands
Potter Hands
Tennis Hands
Bracelet Weaving Hands
Archery Hands
Nature Hands

I think this is a significant benefit of camp because modern life, with its “conveniences” and “processing,” has made working with our hands less common and made hand skills less important. Perhaps, like spending time in nature, it’s good for us, and for our children, to do things with our hands. Maybe, this kind of “manual engagement” with the physical world is a core aspect of what makes us human, and it’s at great expense that we give it up.

If so, then that means our kids need chances to work with their hands. And I don’t mean pushing buttons or swiping the screen of a smart phone! Just the opposite; they need what camp provides— daily connections with the physical (and natural) world.

We might go so far as to say this manual character of camp helps explain why kids find life here so novel and fun. When their ordinary lives are limited by polished products, buffered by climate controlled spaces, and abstracted by technology, it feels really good, it —feels — refreshing to dig in with their hands. It probably means getting a little dirty, and maybe ending up with a couple of bruises and scrapes, but that’s simply part of living this fully.  This is another way that camp differs from ordinarily living, and I would claim, another reason why it’s so gratifying.

Camp is a place for our hands. And, that’s really good stuff.

Rockbrook-camp-girls

A Powerful Feeling

Horse Camp Riding ClassSometimes it’s easy to forget that while girls are jumping (in the lake), sewing (pillows), climbing (rocks), shooting (arrows), and acting (in improvisational drama games)… all up in camp, down by the river, they are also riding— horses, of course. Managing our riding program this summer is Kelsi Peterson who comes to us from the Equestrian program at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, NC where she is the show team coach. Directing the Rockbrook riding program is quite a job with 29 horses, 2 barns, 60 acres of pasture, and 6 staff members all needing attention, not to mention all the campers wanting to ride. Kelsi does a fantastic job with this, taking particular care placing every camper in a mounted lesson that matches her experience and riding ability. For those extra-excited campers, Kelsi and her staff also teach a regular class we call “Stable Club” where the girls learn— mostly by doing —how to care for the horses. Baths and brushing, hoof care and feeding, and mucking out stalls, there’s always a lot to know and do!

Girl learning to throw pottery on wheelGirls hands on pottery wheelThe girls taking ceramics are advancing through the different hand building techniques, experimenting with coils and slabs to make some pretty cool animal sculptures. Michele, who is our Head ceramics instructor this summer, is encouraging the girls to use their imaginations and create whatever comes to mind without much concern about what something is “supposed” to look like. They are learning that different color glazes and finishing tools can really make something unique. In addition, it’s been a big hit for the girls to learn wheel-thrown pottery techniques. Michele has been explaining and demonstrating all the steps to throwing a pot on the wheel: centering the clay, opening it up, pulling up the walls, and cleaning the top. Each of these can require some practice to master, so it’s a great feeling when the girls are successful at each point. Most of the girls are really excited to give it a try and likewise determined to master every skill. We are all looking forward to the end of the session when all of the kiln firings are done and the finished, colorful pieces emerge.

Kids Hiking by WaterfallThis afternoon, Clyde led a group of Junior campers on a hike in the nearby Dupont State Forest to visit several of the county’s largest waterfalls. With a snack, water bottles packed, and with cameras set and ready, they were able to reach both Triple Falls and High Falls while out hiking. This area of the Forest has recently become popular thanks to the first Hunger Games movie, part of which was filmed at the base of these waterfalls. Today the water level was a bit higher than normal making the crashing sound of High Falls a little louder and the spray you feel on your face at the base of the falls all the more surprising. It’s a powerful feeling to be that close to such a huge waterfall.

Summer Camp Drum ClassAfter dinner, during that hour of free time we call “Twilight,” tonight we held a drumming workshop in the Hillside Lodge. Our friend Billy Zanski from Asheville arrived loaded down with different sized drums and led the drumming session for any of the campers who chose to attend. He taught us several basic Djembe rhythms and the girls played along taking turns on the Dundun bass drums. Several of the songs included a call and response chant while others easily inspired several of the girls (and counselors!) to get up and dance along. The whole session illustrated that even for young girls, drumming, contributing to a group musical experience like this, is something really enjoyable.

Finally, today was “Twin Day” at camp, so if the girls felt compelled— and a great number did —they would dress together as twins. This meant switching the the left shoes, or wearing the same t-shirt, or in this case dressing as “Camp Carolina Boys.” I think I spotted several princesses too. You just never know what these girls will come up with!

Girls Camp Twins Costume

Testing the Birthday Paradox

With all of the adventure, crafts and sports going on in camp, it’s easy to forget that through the tunnel and across the road at the Rockbrook fields, there are campers riding horses everyday. They are girls being introduced to English horseback riding, with its emphasis on balance, posture and seat position, and others improving their riding skills in mounted lessons. They are getting to know the Rockbrook equestrian staff, led by Cara and Audrey, and the 29 horses at camp this summer. It can get pretty busy down there at the stables with horses being prepared and led back and forth from the barns, campers dressing in their boots and helmets eager to learn who they’ll ride that day, and lessons being taught in all three riding rings. If you add to that taking care of all those horses, for example when the ferrier makes his weekly visit, you have quite a hive of activity. During any of the activity periods, and even in between, you can see examples of this engaged enthusiasm and hard work. It’s impressive!

smiling camp girl horseback riding two small white ponies 2 point hunt jump horse seat

The middle picture here is of Cool Beans and his little sidekick Cloud Nine, two of our celebrity ponies at camp this summer. You may have met them on the opening day of camp. They have been well-loved this session, especially by the juniors.

Birthday cake and excited camp girlsHave you heard of the Birthday Paradox, the surprisingly high probability that two people in a group will share the same birthday? The magic number is twenty three; if you take a group of 23 randomly selected people the odds there will be two with the same birthday are about 50% (1 in 2). So what happens when you take an entire summer camp of 223 campers and 60 staff members? The probability is greater than 99.9999999999999999999999998%!

We tested this paradox tonight during our special all-camp birthday night dinner. We rearranged the dining hall so everyone with the same birth month could sit together at one giant table for each month. Everybody born in April sat together, May together, and so forth. This meant some of the tables, like September, were huge and others had only 10 or so. Throughout the meal everyone compared birthdays, and sure enough we had about 4 different pairs sharing the same day. Each table also thought of other famous people to whom they could shout out a birthday greeting… “Happy Birthday Justine Bieber!” Or, “Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!” It’s not clear how many of these were true, but that wasn’t particularly important. What mattered was coming up with funny examples for everyone to hear. The biggest bubble of excitement, however, erupted when the cakes came out, one elaborately decorated, in a “Candyland” theme, birthday cake for each month/table. As you can see in this photo of the April cake, Alison baked up simply gorgeous cakes, again, all from scratch. These were big cakes, and believe it or not, there were several tables that couldn’t finish theirs! An example of being good, but maybe a little too good!

All Year Equestrian Program

Equestrian Camp Program Riding

Down at the Rockbrook Stables, there’s lots of action these days, even now after camp. That’s because Brevard’s Free Rein Therapeutic Riding Program has begun operating its equestrian programs there. Free Rein is a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging human-horse connections for educational and therapeutic benefits. Children, teenagers and adults with a wide range of disabilities make tremendous physical and emotional strides through riding and caring for horses, through having gentle, trusting relationships with such large, powerful animals.  For many, these are life-changing effects!

Free Rein is a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) and its teachers are PATH certified instructors. There are over 800 accredited equestrian centers like Free Rein around the world promoting equine-assisted activities and therapies, and serving individuals with special needs.

Free Rein will operate its programs at the Rockbrook Stables during the school year allowing camp to run its equestrian programs during the summer.

Want to learn more about Free Rein? Visit their site!

Rockbrook Profiled in Horse Magazine

Great news! Rockbrook has been selected by Horsemen’s Yankee Peddler for the cover story of their current edition. Located in the Northeast (as you might guess), HYP is a print magazine covering “all aspects of the equine industry, from dressage to hunt seat to reining and barrel racing.” Given all the other horse camps in the country, it’s quite an honor for Rockbrook to be selected and profiled.

There is a short digital version of the magazine available online. Go check it out and read the spread about Rockbrook’s equestrian program (on pages 14 and 15). It’s an excellent article!

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!

Big (Horse) Hug!

Horse Riding Girl Summer CampHug your horse!

Why would you do that? Well, it’s because you love your horse. He or she becomes a really good friend of yours at camp. Like all good friends, you’ll grow closer with good communication, trust, and consistency. Horse riding requires all of these, and over time riders and their horses become more and more responsive to each other. A real emotional bond begins to form, a real feeling of care.

That’s what we mean when we say at camp you can “befriend a special horse.” Riding, you’ll develop a special relationship with someone wonderful. It won’t take long; soon you’ll be hugging your horse too!

Why do Kids Love Horseback Riding?

Kids Riding HorsesWhy do kids love horses so much? Certainly they enjoy the fun of riding. They like the freedom of being up high, the challenges of learning how to work with such a large powerful animal, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from perfecting different gaits. It’s easy to understand how being able to ride is a big part of being “horse crazy,” but don’t you think it’s a lot more than that?

And let’s not forget the physical exercise that goes along with horseback riding, and the bugs, and the stable chores. Some of the things about horses are definitely “work” too. So what is it that gets kids, and perhaps girls in particular, so excited about horses?

One way to think about it is to focus on the friendship that forms between a horse and a rider. It’s a big part of riding— communicating sincerely, trusting, respecting, sympathizing, really feeling the horse. Horseback riding creates a very intimate and powerful relationship that kids really appreciate and fuels their confidence, perhaps because it’s so different from most of their other daily human relationships. Beings friends with a horse, in this special way, is a big part of what makes riding so important to kids.

What do you think? Do you love riding because you love your horse?