Nestled among the neighborhoods of North Austin, Switch Willo Stables is an oasis for horse-loving Central Texans. Phoebe Johnson founded Camp Switch Willo in 1990 when parents began requesting opportunities for their kids to gain horse-riding experience outside of Switch Willo's traditional lessons program. The camp started small, hosting 6-8 campers per week. Over the past 26 years Switch Willo's camp program has grown, mostly by word of mouth, to enroll 40 campers per week during its summer, winter and spring break camps.
Switch Willo's camp offers children the experience of having their own horse for the week. Campers learn to ride horses plus many of the aspects of horse care and day-to-day horsemanship that other camps don't teach, such as learning how and why horses wear horseshoes.
"It is incredibly rewarding to see campers who may have zero previous horse experience become confident, competent little equestrians," says Janine Rosen, Switch Willo's camp director. "Many of our campers develop the 'horse bug' and want to further pursue a riding career or go into the field of veterinary medicine when they get to see just how fragile and special these large creatures can be." she adds.
Riding ability is not the only skill campers gain at Switch Willo. Kids build social skills and self-confidence during their week at the stables. When campers discover they have something in common with their peers, it gives them a way to break the ice.
"Some of our campers who are shy or not very confident really come out of their shells during camp. We get many comments from parents about how their child has just blossomed since attending a week of camp. Many long lasting friendships are formed at camp," says Janine. "Learning to take care of horses teaches great life lessons, such as responsibility, kindness and compassion. Plus it's great exercise!"
Campers are in great hands while at Switch Willo. All camp groups are supervised by an experienced adult as well as a staff of junior and senior counselors. "Safety is our priority, and fun comes a close second," says Janine.
Many of the staff members are former campers.
"Our camp is unique in that we have a very high counselor to camper ratio. We pride ourselves on the fact that many of our junior and senior counselors are, themselves, former campers who have gone on to become accomplished equestrians who want to invest time in the facility that taught them so much and gave them so many wonderful experiences and opportunities. Our youngest counselor is only 9. She may be tiny, but she's mighty! She does a fantastic job leading the inexperienced riders on their horses and making sure the horses she's assigned to are behaving for the rider." So whether your camper is riding, learning to care for the horses, or giving a horse a bubble bath, you know they're well taken care of.
Switch Willo offers week-long camps and a year-long lessons program, as well as a boarding and training facility for privately owned horses. For more information about the stables and camp registration, visit them at www.switchwillo.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/switchwillo.