Camp Skylark Ranch is overflowing with camp magic. Nestled where the mountains meet the sea with devoted and welcoming staff, Skylark Ranch encourages open hearts and light as the campers breathe in the nature around them and feel free to be themselves. There are so many amazing programs at Skylark Ranch, but one really special program that over 40% of campers choose to participate in is our equestrian/horseback riding program.

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With over 280 acres of land, Skylark Ranch is home to dozens of horses and quality riding programs that attract campers and staff members from all over the world, beginners and experienced equestrians alike. Knowledgeable and caring riding instructors come from all around the country (and even other parts of the world) to ensure that girls learn the ropes of horseback riding in an exciting and safe way. And when you spend every day saddling up, feeding, grooming, and exploring the dirt paths and redwood forests of Santa Cruz County with your horses, it’s hard not to develop a special bond. Three past staff members, Squirrely, Willow, and Phoenix, share some magical memories from their time riding and making friends with the horses at Skylark Ranch.

Squirrely aka Adeline J.

Horseback Riding Specialist at Skylark Ranch for 2 summers

The best way to describe my summer was something out of a dream: wake up, feed the horses, indulge in a huge breakfast full of pancakes and cinnamon buns, then quickly grab 10 horses to brush and saddle so they would be ready to meet the campers! Some of my happiest times were had at the horse stables on top of Jane Fonda Hill at Skylark Ranch. Getting to watch the joy and delight of girls learning to ride better, or experience their first time on a horse was the best way to spend the rest of the day. If I had a little down time, I would get to go riding off into the redwoods to enjoy nature with no one but my horse and the birds for company.

If you think that sounds great, wait until you hear about my evenings! Activities like being goofy (sometimes even horsing around—get it?), telling stories, and of course, eating more delicious food were just some of the highlights of my nights. The campfire is where the magic would really happen—it was always full of imagination and laughter. Sometimes one of the horses would get all dressed up in costume and come sing with us around the evening campfire! After eating a s’more from almost every group’s campfire, I would climb into my sleeping bag, let my sore muscles relax, and gaze up at the clearest stars I have ever seen.

The two summers I spent at Skylark passed so quickly, like a dream. Maybe one day I’ll fall asleep and wake up back in that dream again!

Horse Program Memory: Squirrely

Willow aka Virginia T.

Unit Leader at Skylark Ranch for 4 summers

All of my memories of Skylark are filled with blissful nostalgia. I went to Skylark as a kid and returned later as a counselor, drawn back by the camp magic that has stayed with me even a decade later.

The horseback riding program teaches girls how hard work can, and does, pay off. Learning what goes into taking care of their soon-to-be new, best (4-legged) friends is a sure-fire way to help girls grow not just as riders, but as people. It’s no wonder why year after year I saw the same campers returning—the change you see in the girls from when they arrive to the last day of camp is awe-inspiring.

I can’t imagine a place that’s better at filling girls’ hearts with joy as it strengthens their confidence and skills. I hope that if I have a daughter one day, she’ll be headed to Skylark where she’ll find her own camp magic and create long-lasting memories.

Phoenix aka Laura S.

Leadership Team Director at Skylark Ranch for 4 summers (Fun Fact: She’s from England!)

Before my first summer at Skylark, I’d never really been around horses, other than maybe one pony ride when I was very little. I arrived at Skylark with pretty much no knowledge of horses, no understanding of what to do around horses or even just any experience of being near them. Add in the fact that I’d accidentally caused one to spook slightly early on, but the first few times I was a counselor for horse programs I was rather nervous to say the least!

As a Unit Counselor with a horse program, I accompanied the girls to Horse Country and stood in the arena making notes for the Riding Instructor, and occasionally holding a lead rope. The first time I was asked to hold a lead rope I was a bit anxious, I was then asked to hold a second horse, so there I was a horse on either side of me, tethered by only a piece of rope and I was pretty much terrified. But I began to realize that these gentle giants weren’t scary, but sweet and beautiful.

Over the two following summers, I slowly overcame my fear of horses, learning to not only be comfortable around them, but actually look forward to spending time with them. I went from desperately not wanting to be given a riding program, to requesting mostly riding programs! Looking back on how nervous I was, I’m actually thankful that the Unit Manager gave me multiple horse programs, as it helped me to grow and develop in ways I didn’t know I needed to.

Horse Program Memory: Phoenix

I’ve seen many girls take the same journey I did, from fear to fearlessness, anxiety to confidence. I love watching young riders develop special bonds with their horses—there’s nothing like the way an elementary school kid loves their pony—just as much as I love being amazed by the ability, confidence, and fearlessness of my advanced riders. Watching them do everything from Wild West Adventure barrel races to Tally Ho show jumping is an absolute delight. My stomach still lurches whenever someone falls, but the girls just dust themselves off and get back in the saddle.

My experiences at Skylark have instilled in me an understanding of horses, a deep appreciation of those that work with horses, and enough knowledge that we joked that I could have covered a beginner lesson if needed! But the best part of this journey is seeing campers face their fears, tackle new challenges, and race towards their dreams.

What to do next:

  • Ready to hop in the saddle yourself? Find a horseback riding program at Skylark Ranch.
  • Mark your calendar, and stop by our camp open house events.
  • Do you have a favorite horse, an exciting adventure, or a cherished moment from your time as a camper? Share your own memories of Skylark in the comments section. We’d love to hear it!

Eliz AdemEliz Adem—Eliz is the Skylark Ranch Camp Director. It was through her experiences as a Unit Counselor at Skylark Ranch and then as the Unit Manager & Assistant Camp Director at Camp Sugar Pine, she embraced the positive impact camp has on developing confident and courageous girls. Her favorite places on site include Fern Grove to find fairies and the top of Chapel Hill to admire the bright nighttime stars. She invites girls, families, and troops to Skylark Ranch to partake in the programming and discover camp magic for themselves!

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