DENNIS TOWNSHIP — Will Gresh, 7, trotted a quarter horse named Aladdin around the show ring in front of his mom, Lisa Gresh.
The child from Paoli, Pa., was among the 10 campers who displayed what they learned after a week at Meadow Creek Farm’s summer horse camp.
The Dennis Township horse farm, off Route 9 in Clermont, hosts a weekly summer camp for beginner and intermediate riders as young as 5 and as old as 12.
Campers pay $300 per week to learn how to care for, feed, water, tack and ride the farm’s horses and ponies. At the end of the week, they put on a demonstration of their skills for their parents in the horse ring, where they ride their ponies or quarter horses around barrels.
Will, wearing a black riding helmet, led his chestnut horse around small barrels, one of which the horse kicked over with a rear hoof.
“That wasn’t my fault,” Will said sheepishly.
Owner Bill Salveson, 56, of Dennis Township, grew up in Avalon and worked as a custom builder before buying the farm in 1994. He started the summer camp about eight years ago with his three daughters, who served as the camp’s original counselors. His oldest daughter, Jamie, earned a degree in equine science.
Today, Salveson runs the farm with his girlfriend, Barbara Dean, of Dennis Township, a Vineland public school teacher. She offers student tutoring after the five-hour camp, which also has organized crafts and swimming and canoeing in the farm’s lake.
The camp runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday with a school-tutoring option after 2 p.m. about 10 weeks per summer, this year through Aug. 30.
Children ride every day. They also learn about the anatomy of horses from fetlocks to forelocks and the tack — saddles, stirrups, bridles and reins.
But mostly it’s about being around the animals.
“It has enormous value. You can see how kids are attuned to the horses,” he said.
Will was a return camper just like his older sister, Julia.
“They look forward to it all year. And they can’t wait to come back,” Lisa Gresh said.
The family has a summer home in Ocean City, and the camp is a regular part of the children’s summer vacation.
“What I like is the owners are extremely cautious with the kids and the horses,” she said. “We’ve had other experiences where my daughter was thrown from a horse.”
Salveson grew up on his horse farm when it largely boarded thoroughbreds that competed at the Atlantic City Race Course in Hamilton Township and other New Jersey tracks in the 1970s and ’80s. But New Jersey’s racing industry saw a steady decline in the 1980s and many South Jersey horse farms had to look at other ways of sustaining themselves, he said.
The summer camp is a way to generate a little extra revenue, he said, along with the farm’s private riding lessons, private birthday parties and pony rides.
Children at camp feed and water the horses, muck out their stalls and groom them. The farm has 10 ponies, miniature horses and thoroughbreds in two large barns.
Camps have proved to be a resilient part of an otherwise weak economy, said Susie Lupert, executive director for the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey.
A report on camps in the Northeast commissioned by the association this year found that New Jersey had 1,010 day and overnight summer camps that employed 27,400 seasonal and 1,600 full-time employees.
“The numbers are really impressive. It shows how camp is such a vital part of the economy,” Lupert said.
Camps in the Northeast employ 11,000 full time and 190,000 part time workers, many of whom are in a demographic that has seen especially high unemployment.
“People coming out of college are so under-employed right now. At a time when it’s very difficult to find a job, the report showed there are opportunities out there for them,” she said.
At Meadow Creek, Alex Kosloski, 10, a fourth-grader from Middle Township, was back for his third year.
“In the beginning, we weren’t sure Alex would be able to do it because he’s hyper,” said his mother, Betty Lou Kosloski. “Being around the horses has calmed him down.”
The weeklong horse camp was just one of several Alex will attend this summer, including camps at the Cape May County Zoo, the Wetlands Institute and the Naval Air Station Wildwood in Lower Township, his mother said.
Despite the slow economy, parents are less likely to cut back on their children’s summer activities, Lupert said.
“There is a camp for every budget and for every family,” she said. “All the studies are showing that. It’s the last thing parents really want to cut from their children’s experience over the summer. They want to make it work.”
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