Much more than horseplay at equestrian summer camp

Penelope Leo painstakingly took her time preparing her horse for an early afternoon ride.

The 11-year-old from Los Angeles checked and rechecked as she got everything together in what equestrians call tacking. From making sure the saddle is on correctly to checking the stirrups, bridle, halter, reins, bit and harness, everything had to be just as she was taught.

"You just can't get up and ride on the horse, you have to get it ready first and that's a lot of work," Leo said. "You need to do a lot of things to get it ready."

Leo was among a group of nearly 30 riders who got the opportunity to learn and experience a great deal about the riding, handling and education of horses at the Traditional Equestrian School's Kids Horse Camp at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center on Riverside Drive.

"If I could eat, sleep and breathe horses, I would live here if I could. That's how much I love horses and how much I love being here," Leo said. "I'm here every summer and I take a lot of the camps, because this is where I want to be. I can't think of anywhere else I would rather be. It's so fun here."

"In my regular lessons, I work on jumping and I work on some other things. But here, not only do we get to ride the horses, but we get to learn about them and even how to take care of them and what they need."

The Traditional Equestrian School runs a series of 12 weekly camps throughout the summer, beginning the week of June 6 and ending with the final session Aug. 19. Campers are separated into two groups: beginning and advanced. At the camp for boys and girls ages 6-12, youngsters take part in horse-related games and activities, they learn about the care of horses, their characteristics, breeds, colors and safe handling — both on the ground and while mounted. And there's plenty of riding.

With an attentive staff with a wealth of equestrian experience, novice riders saddle up and ride with constant one-on-one supervision. For the most experienced riders, they get the chance to take part in equestrian specialties like hunt seat, dressage or western. They are under the supervision of specified jump coaches.

"Actually, how we run it is, we have two different camps," Traditional Equestrian School director Andrea Call said. "In our beginner class, we have some kids who are having their first experience with a horse and they have never ridden before. For our advanced riders, it's a chance for them to come every day in a week and really immerse themselves and learn things like stable management, grooming and show prep and some of the more in dept aspects. That is more for riders who maybe want to move into competitions or just get more involved in the sport, more than they would get from say just their riding lessons.

"We have riders who take part in many different camps during the summer: they do soccer camp, fashion camp, acting camp. But when they come here, I hear from so many of the parents that this is all they want to do now and can we come back next week? They have fun here and they learn and they want to come back. A lot of these kids are the horse crazy 7-year-olds like I was at their age. So I really get where they're coming from."

Along with daily riding lessons, campers learn about grooming, tacking and bathing their horse. In addition, there are weekly outings, horse crafts, educational games, scavenger hunts and trivia contests.

Some of the riders also get to experience a special bond with their horse.

"I really like riding the horses and I've been here a lot of times," said 7-year-old Grayson-Belle Lavine of Los Angeles. "But my really favorite horse in the whole wide world is Mississippi. She is a a very good horse and she's very well trained. ... I just love riding her.

"The fun part other than riding is learning all about the horses. Plus the teachers are very sweet and kind."

The director of the camp is Liz Peltola. She said the Equestrian Center provides an oasis for horse lovers who have the benefit of a unique venue in the middle of an urban sprawl.

"We are right next to the big city, but here we have this great place that people who love horses can come to," she said. "It's such a great opportunity that many big cities just don't have.

"It's great to be able to provide camps for young riders who can experience the horses first-hand. For many, this is their first time experiencing anything like this."

One of the regulars at the summer camps is Eva Amaya, 12, of Los Angeles.

"I really like jumping, so this is an opportunity for me to get better at my jumping," said Amaya, who was in the advanced class. "I'm also really able to learn more about the horses, more than I would with my regular lessons. If I could ride all day I would. ...For people who love horses this is the perfect place."

In addition to its summer camps, the Traditional Equestrian School also provides private riding lessons, winter and spring camps, as well as other opportunities. For more information, call (818) 569-3666 or visit www.traditionaleq.com.

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Jeff Tully, jeff.tully@latimes.com

Twitter: @jefftsports

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