Lessons in Horsemanship: Equestrian Camp at William Woods

“It was definitely hot this week, but we handled it with lots of ice cream and cookies!” says Melanie Norby, a 17-year-old dressage rider from St. Peters, Missouri. Norby is one of the participants in the William Woods University Equestrian Academic Camp, which took place on campus last week.


A New Camp Format

For the past 26 years, horse enthusiasts from across the country (and the world) have attended the university’s annual week-long summer riding camp. This year, the equestrian faculty decided to focus on a smaller group of older students in only the dressage and western seats. The curriculum was redesigned to give campers a collegiate equestrian experience in only five days. The professors wanted the camps to be an exclusive opportunity for high-school-aged equestrians looking to pursue a career in the equestrian industry.

The application process for the camp was particularly competitive and the small number of slots filled up quickly. Similar to when equestrian students apply to enter the William Woods equestrian program for college, prospective campers had to submit an application and a riding video demonstrating their skill set on horseback.

Campers moved in on Sunday and spent some quality time with Jennie Petterson, professor and director of the William Woods School of Equestrian Studies.

“I loved seeing the enthusiasm and joy in the faces of the next generation of equestrians,” she shared. “It reminded me of how I started my equestrian career. I found myself just as excited talking horses with the campers as the campers were talking to me.”


Meeting Four-Legged Friends

As a result of only having 13 riders this year, the students received lots of personal one-on-one lessons with professors and even rode horses that have earned national championship titles.

Dressage rider Reagan Marshall from O’Fallon, Missouri said she loved gaining new experiences from the various horses.

15-year-old western rider Keziah Gragg from Springfield, Illinois smiled from ear to ear when she was asked about Butters, the beloved campus quarter horse she had been working with. “Butters is really responsive and listens very well to aids. He’s so cute too!”

Gragg guides Butters in a circle, while learning how to properly hold a lunge line and position her body.

Dressage rider Melanie Norby from St. Peters, Missouri had a similar reaction when asked about dressage horse Dillon. “Dillon has been willing to work well under saddle the whole week. He always tries so hard and he’s so sweet on the ground and always nudges up against me.”


Learning Groundwork and Desensitizing

Besides riding classes, campers experienced horse handling 101 with their applied groundwork sessions in the afternoon — a new addition to the curriculum.

“Round pen work, showmanship, jogging, long lining, lunging and desensitizing are all parts of training the horse,” said Professor Petterson. “Training the horse doesn’t just happen on the horse’s back.”

Students thought this was a great experience.

“I had never really done groundwork training until I came to camp,” said Gragg. “I’m really glad they incorporated it this year.”

The faculty also set aside a day to focus on desensitizing. Students learned how to guide their horses through pool noodles and various foreign objects, helping them become familiar with unknown objects. The students all agreed that they were able to learn great patience skills from the training.

Students gather around to watch dressage professor Bailey McCallum introduce a horse to an unfamiliar object in the desensitizing portion of the camp.


In the Equestrian Classroom

When not on horseback or learning applied groundwork, campers were attending class. This year, three different classes were offered.

There was a horse health sequence taught by the William Woods associate professor and on-campus veterinarian, Dr. Paul Schiltz. Campers got an in-depth look at horse anatomy and participated in various fieldwork activities. At the end of the week, campers did a series of practicum tests to see if they could replicate what they had learned with Dr. Schlitz.

“The horse health class was my favorite part of camp,” said Hensley Moses, a 15-year-old dressage rider from Norman, Oklahoma. “Getting to learn horse anatomy was awesome.”

Western professor Liz Haben shows students how to separate their hands when riding western horses in a specific bridle.

Laura Ward, associate professor of equestrian studies, taught a split class that met every day. The first section was on competition and the rules that apply to western and dressage; the second section focused on safety protocols and helping the students develop their own teaching methods.

There was also an evening film series organized by Michele Smith, a hunter/jumper associate professor, that showcased all the great masters of the equestrian industry and prompted great questions and discussions.

Hannah Hefflinger from St. Charles, Missouri said that the film series offered her a ton of valuable information that she probably wouldn’t have learned if it weren’t for the videos.


A Willingness to Be Pushed

The students had a jam-packed week and may have been tired by the end of camp on Friday, but their hard work and determination throughout the week definitely did not go unnoticed.

“It is really amazing how much they can progress in just five intense days,” said Petterson of the students.

“Sometimes the result of camp is an improved ride on a horse from home long after camp is over,” she continued. “Our challenging rides are the ones that often teach us the most, and riding unfamiliar horses is a challenge. I’ve been very impressed with this group of campers. They are approaching every ride, every technique and class with an open mind and a willingness to be pushed.”

Evie Doles, a seasoned western rider from St. Louis, Missouri, said she had an amazing time at camp. “By the end of the week, I learned to adapt to the changes in each horse. Every horse was different, which allowed me to expand my knowledge as a rider. But my favorite part was living on a college campus and making new friends.”

Dates for the 2019 camp will be announced in late August and applications will be reviewed starting March 1, 2019, with invitations to attend sent out by March 15th. The equestrian faculty hopes to offer all four seats for next year’s camp.