Last year, Amy Ruppert saw a need for younger kids in the area and sought to fill it.
At Ruppert’s Roundtop Farm in West Auburn, Susquehanna County, Ruppert runs a week-long day camp which includes horseback riding and lessons, horsemanship, crafts, nature immersion, and fun.
For the second year in a row, Ruppert has opened her home to budding equestrians, to educate them in the finer points of riding and taking care of horses.
“We take a holistic approach to the entire camp experience,” explained Ruppert, who is Detroit born and Boston educated. She began her riding career at 24. “Our camp is from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Kids can’t learn it all in only an hour and half or so a day.”
In fact, the day is structured to allow for optimum opportunities for the campers to experience different things.
All the campers will ride up to three times a day, on one of the six ponies in Ruppert’s barn. “We have upwards of a dozen horses in there, but some are just for boarding, we don’t ride them,” she explained.
A typical day at Ruppert’s horsemanship camp includes riding, crafts, a nature activity, free time, another varied activity, and barn chores.
This week, the campers took nature walks along the peaceful dirt road to identify flowers and greenery that might be poisonous to the horses. They also spent time in a creek and a pond, where Ruppert showed them how to clear the water to make it safe for the animal to drink while out on a ride.
“As a wildlife biologist, and a mom, I noticed not a lot of the athletic camps out there focused on STEM education. They are singularly focused on the sport, which is fine, but not what I wanted to do,” explained Ruppert. “Here, the campers not only learn riding techniques, but they are also taught anatomy of the horse, how to check the pony’s vitals, and are also learning about wildlife. They also learn other things, like manners and how to get along with other kids, how to take turns, things like that. I tell them that ‘Good manners make good friends.’”
She also provides snacks and water all day every day, and a lunch on the final day.
On Friday, after a week of learning, growing, and experiencing all the camp had to offer, the kids had a ‘Camp Showoff’ for their families.
To open the show, the kids simply showed their vaults, or gymnastics on a horse, on a lifted barrel set to simulate a horse.
But when it was time to move to the live equines, every rider went and changed into boots and secured helmets on their tiny little noggins.
Ruppert, who has competed in polo, upper level dressage, jumpers, and upper level eventing, also worked for two Olympians as a groomer. Her barn boasts its own tack room, and the campers are able to use whatever they may need.
“We provide all the equipment, and disinfect and sanitize it, but they also have their own,” she said.
The youngest camper, six-year-old Charlee Guiton beamed as she looked at her favorite ride, Prince. Over the course of the week, she groomed and rode the animal, and it was only her second time around horses.
“My favorite part was trotting on the big horse,” she exclaimed. “But I also liked going to the creek and getting rocks, and seeing the crayfish with Riot (the farm’s mascot puppy).”
The rocks they collected from the creek beds were left to dry in the sun, and later used in a painting craft for the campers to save and take home with them.
Trinity Ely, an eight year old that Ruppert describes as “absolutely fearless,” learned vaulting this week and was proud of her skills. She explained how riders need to keep their balance and bend their knees.
“On Monday we looked at the flowers, I liked the daisies the best,” she said. “And on Tuesday we found bugs- ants, spiders, butterflies, and crayfish! But crayfish aren’t bugs, just so you know.”
Ely also learned how to canter on purpose. Canter is the term used to describe the horse’s gait, and according to Ruppert, is pretty amazing for an eight year old to do. Ely has horses at her home, and she said this made her a better rider when she is on her own horses.
“Even though I was tired at the end of the day, I love it, and I will tell any one who likes horses to come to camp,” she said.
Ruppert had some help with her charges this session, as her daughter Catherine is home from Centenary University, and some former riders have elevated their status from getting lessons, to helping.
“I am so proud of my mom and how she has taken this program- she started with her own two ponies and a cow barn- and made it into a camp and multi-lesson program,” said the younger Ruppert, who is studying business with a minor in equine science.
The college junior continued, “At first I was a little nervous about the camp…. I mean kids and ponies, kids on ponies…but both have proven themselves. I never would have expected the horses and kids to do the things they are doing by the end of the week, especially Brayden cantering up the hill.”
Brayden Kerr is a nine year old Springville boy who has embraced every minute of camp, even though it was his first time.
“When I first came here, I was nervous, but now it is so much fun. My favorite part was learning how to canter on purpose on Destiny and Cloudy,” he said.
He quickly launched into his other favorite parts of the week long experience, including learning to take the horses’ pulse and temperature, checking for their heartbeats, cleaning the stalls, making wind chimes out of horseshoes and baler twine, and of course, the watermelons and hot dogs.
“And I also learned the number one rule at camp,” he paused here for dramatic effect, adding, “if you catch a chicken, you get to keep it!”
Beverly Miszler never had a doubt that her seven year old daughter, Keira Griffiths, would be at Ruppert’s camp.
“Well, besides the fact that Amy is my foster mom, I never had a doubt about sending Keira here,” she said. “Amy is amazing with kids, and she just lets the kids be kids. She shows them how to enjoy life on the farm.”
Keira said one of her favorite moments in the camp was during the thunderstorm where they all crowded together on the couch and watched “Spirit” because it isn’t safe to ride the horses in the storms.
“I liked spotting the tadpoles and minnows in the creek too,” she giggled.
At the Camp Showoff conclusion, each rider had a chance to show off their vaulting stunts for their families on Rumble, a horse who performs at Level 4, or the highest level of American competition.
All the kids clamored on top of the big horse one by one and without fear, stood up, did a twist in their saddle known as “Around the World,” released their holds, and Kerr even attempted a backwards somersault atop the animal.
He might not have succeeded, but the crowd still applauded his effort and he grinned like a medal winner.
After that, the campers each climbed onto their own horse and played a game of Simon Says, and showed thier families how they can ride, trot, and communicate with their horses,
“Kids this age are always enthusiastic and have almost no fear,” explained Ruppert. “They don’t understand mortality and how they can get hurt. They just want to go out and have fun. Part of the lessons learned at the camp include ‘People safety first, horse safety second, and fun third’ for this reason.”
“I love to watch the growth of the riders from day one through day five. That, and I love to see them forge friendships they might not have had otherwise. Look at Trinity and Keira, they could be best friends now, they sure were inseparable here, but they aren’t even in the same grade at school. Would they have had the chance to meet? I’m not sure, but it has been fun to watch their friendship begin.”
Ruppert offered three camps last year, and all sold out. This year, she has upped it, hosting five for the 2020 summer. As of press time, three had sold out, leaving spaces in the July 6-10 and 20-24 camps. The fee is $300 for the entire week, open to boys and girls ages six through 15, and campers provide only their lunch Monday through Thursday.