Developing a Culture of Safety at Camp - Part 1

April 12, 2011 by John Oliver

It’s time to increase the investment in your staff. And no… we’re not talking about 401ks or health plans.

Our new four part blog series, Developing a Culture of Safety at Camp, is all about investing more time and resources in regards to training your staff. Over the last two years, Midwestern summer camps have struggled with high frequency and severity in worker’s compensation and liability claims. One overarching factor in this trend was a de-emphasis on summer camp counselor training. Undertrained or underqualified employees were put in compromising situations, ultimately putting themselves and the campers around them in danger.

Between high ropes courses, blobs, horseback riding, archery and rifle ranges, there is no doubt that summer camps know how to show kids a good time. Unfortunately, without attention to detail and cooperation from management and staff, each of these activities has the potential to result in a devastating injury and a huge claim. In a cooperative effort between your camp and all of us at West Bend, we’d like to see summer and day camps get safer in 2011.

We spent some time chatting with Su Rider, the Equestrian Coordinator at Wesley Woods Camp in Indianola, Iowa. Over the last several years, Su and her staff of trainers have maintained a near perfect safety record. Horseback RidingWe picked her brain for training ideas and added commentary on ways to correlate her experiences to your camp. Enjoy.

Good afternoon Su. Before we start discussing your role as the Equestrian Coordinator at Wesley Woods Camp, can you explain where your passion and experience was first developed?

My experience began as a camper at Wesley Woods, but my training really got a jump start in college. I minored in equine studies, which included coursework in equine anatomy and physiology, reproduction, training, riding, and equine business. I taught the horsemanship classes in my last two years of school, where I taught beginner and intermediate riders (college students) safety and riding skills. I also worked at a show barn as a groom and exercise rider. Through these varied experiences, I gained a wide foundation of knowledge about the horse industry.

During the summers of my college years, I was summer staff at Wesley Woods, and the majority of my time was spent serving as a head wrangler. A few years after college, Wesley Woods decided to build an indoor, year-round riding facility. My current position, equestrian coordinator, was created and I was hired. Since I was hired, I have increased my certification level with the American Association for Horsemanship Safety, or AAHS, and gained Registered Instructor certification with NARHA, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

Lesson #1

There is no substitute for passion and experience.

Confucius got it right when he said, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” When someone is passionate about what they do, mediocrity is never an option. Enthusiasm pushes us to set new goals and hold the people around us to a higher standard. Coaches like John Wooden and Pat Summit always expected the most from their athletes. Political and spiritual leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Rosa Parks forced an entire country to strive for something better.

Every member of your summer camp staff should have a similar passion for the job they do. Su Rider, for example, has devoted her life to developing the interactions between people and horses, and her long resume of accomplishments supports this. Do the associates at your summer camp – especially the supervisors – exhibit Su’s level of enthusiasm? If not, it may be time to consider adjusting work duties.

What do you do at your summer camp to foster a passionate staff?

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