| I've been to just about every horse camp in Iowa over the years, and for several years I was trying at least one new camp per year, but ever since my first week of camp at Cedar Valley in 2002 I haven't wanted to go anywhere else. This summer will be my 9th year as a camper and my 5th year as a counselor, and every year is just as much fun as the first. For people who may question my objectivity after hearing that I "work" there, let me first say that I am not getting paid by anyone to write this review, nor am I paid for the majority of the time I spend working there, and Nancy (the owner) will probably never even know that I wrote this. Now, on to the review.
Unlike other horse camps where campers get to spend maybe one hour with the horses every day and have to go to camp for years before doing more than walk around in a ring (which I was never patient enough to do), campers at Cedar Valley get to spend all morning riding or otherwise with the horses, and they get to try riding at a trot and canter by the end of their first week. The best part about the riding for me other than being with the horses was definitely the scenery. I grew up in a fairly large city, and I love getting out in the country and riding out in the mostly untouched forests and meadows of their acreage. Over the years I've seen all kinds of wildlife there, from deer and pheasants to turkeys, bald eagles and even a coyote once. Campers also learn how to groom and saddle their horse (they are assigned one horse for the week) and learn the basics of horse care and health. Some of the other camp activities include a trip to town for pizza night, a cookout over a real campfire (complete with s'mores), an afternoon across the river at the park for a picnic, and occasionally a trip to the pool.
Besides simply getting to do more with the horses, the thing I loved most about Cedar Valley was the atmosphere. It's a small, family-owned business and all the people working there have been campers and/or helping out on the weekends with trail rides for years and clearly love being there. The big traditional camps like Hitaga, Little Cloud and Conestoga tend to get all-new staff every year, and most of them were renting their horses for the summer when I was there, but by the time you've been around long enough to become a counselor at Cedar Valley you're part of the family, and that really makes a difference in the campers' experience. For me it was especially nice to go from places where the counselors were there for the money and spent half the time complaining to each other about their salaries or the work to somewhere where it was clear that everyone loved being there and spending time with each other and the horses. I'm pretty sure I can speak for everyone else working there when I say that none of us are in it for the money, and we would be happy to stay there all summer and not get paid a dime (or at least we would if we didn't have to worry about the necessary evils of jobs, school, and bills!).
Since they own all their horses, everyone at Cedar Valley knows each horse’s individual personality and quirks and can tell exactly which campers they would work best with. The horses themselves are great, and range from sweet, gentle, never-put-a-foot-wrong-in-their-entire-life horses for beginners to those with some spirit who will test an experienced rider's skills and teach them new ones. As campers return and improve their riding skills over the years they graduate to more challenging horses both to keep pace with their abilities and to let them get experience working with a variety of horses.
As far as facilities, campers stay in the lodge, a large log-cabin style building with bunk beds, a large table for meals, a fireplace, and a full kitchen (we pretty much just use the fridge during camp since all meals are home cooked by Nancy's mom Jo at her house, but people who rent the lodge for the weekend get good use out of it). The only thing it doesn't have is air conditioning, but there are plenty of fans to keep everyone comfortable and it wouldn't really be summer camp if you didn't get the full experience of summer weather. The bathhouse is a short walk away and has full plumbing with showers, and both it and the lodge are just yards away from the barns and Jo's house.
All in all, Cedar Valley is a great camp for any girl who loves horses. Everyone from beginners to experienced riders will have a great time and learn a lot about working with horses, and you would be hard pressed to find a better place to do so. Thank you for reading my very long review, and I hope it has been helpful in your search for a good summer camp. Please send me an email at vetwannab2007 [at] yahoo [dot] com if you have questions or would like more information.