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Jul 01, 2013

Horses as Counselors: Summer Camp Stress

Children everywhere are rejoicing!  School is officially out and summer is finally here!  Many of these kids are busy packing their trunks and will soon be on the road to summer camp.  I have so many fond childhood memories of the camp that I attended for two glorious weeks each summer that I just assumed every kid loved going to camp.  Not the case.  I have talked to several kids over the past few weeks that are dreading the experience.  They may enjoy the focus of the camp, be it scouts, church, sports, art or academics, but they just don’t want to leave home.  I became curious about the cause of this fear and possible ways to overcome it or even prevent it from arising in the first place.  I also wondered how I could utilize the horses as a therapeutic tool to help these kids prepare themselves for a great summer. 

I first looked into potential sources of this fear.  The obvious culprits were there:  reluctance to leave a comfortable routine, worry about facing the unknown camp environment, separation anxiety, etc.  A few kids were anxious about “roughing it” and had a healthy fear of having to live with bugs and critters that carry germs.

I then researched various treatment protocols and brainstormed ways to incorporate the horses into a program to help clients prepare for time away from home.  I soon learned that many of the camps at issue include horseback riding as one of the core activities.  The camps that did not, such as the single sport camps, involve the development of self-confidence and leadership skills that are similar to those learned while working with horses.   Once again, the horses seemed to work their way into the process without any effort from me!

Once I realized how to include the horses, putting the plan into action was fairly easy.  I considered each client and tailored several activities to meet specific needs, ranging from ground work to improving riding skills.  We even had a great game of basketball on horseback!  So far, the herd has successfully helped several children and their parents identify issues related to camp stress and find ways to help the entire family enjoy the experience without anxiety. 

Have you helped clients that are stressed about leaving for camp or other types of travel?  I would love to hear how other professionals are handling these types of issues. 
________________________________________________________________________Lisa Krystosek is a counselor in St. Louis, Missouri. She specializes in Equine-Facilitated Counseling to help adults, adolescents and children improve their lives. To contact Lisa, please visit 

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