One of the definite pros of Florida universities is their proximity to nature. While USF might be in the city of Tampa, Campus Recreation’s second horse camping adventure trip will take place this weekend as a reminder to students that a journey through rustic Florida is at their fingertips.
The trip was first held last fall from Nov. 14-15 after Alexandra O’Brion, an administrative intern for the adventure trip program and trip reader for Campus Rec, pitched the idea.
“I’ve always loved horseback riding. It’s always been something that I’ve been involved in. I’m also a trip leader, so I love to go camping and I wanted to combine the two,” O’Brion said. “I was really surprised that nowhere in Florida, or any of the other schools, offered this as a trip, so I called a bunch of stables in Florida, and I found one that would take us camping.”
USF is still the only school in Florida that offers an expedition like this, starting early Saturday morning and ending late Sunday night. The last day of registration for this semester’s trek was Monday, so students who are interested but didn’t get a chance to register should look out for it next fall.
This year’s registered party of eight is slightly smaller than last year’s 12. The registration cost for students was $300, while staff and USF-affiliated members of Campus Rec paid $350.
The price includes transportation to and from the stables, food, snacks for the trip, camping equipment, staff salaries, horses and horse gear. Each participant also gets a water bottle and a Buff, a piece of multifunctional cloth headwear, made popular by reality TV show “Survivor” and used during many outdoor adventures.
Students travel to the Florida Panhandle for the excursion, which is coordinated through the Sunshine Riding Trails stables. The horses provided are mostly Tennessee walking horses and the employees at Sunshine Riding Trails also do a “horse matching” service for the students.
“They talk to each participant individually and learn how comfortable they are, whether they’ve gone riding before … how tall a person is,” O’Brion said. “They have (about 16) horses, and since we bring less people than that, they’re able to match up each person with their specific horse so that they’re both going to be compatible.”
O’Brion said the initial reaction from students last year when the trip was originally advertised was one of excitement. However, many of the interested parties decided to hold off on signing up because of the cost.
The trip is open to people of all skill levels, so beginners shouldn’t shy away from the experience.
“We do spend about an hour and a half on the stables’ property in the ring getting people accustomed to their horses, especially those who have never been on a horseback before,” O’Brion said.
Students learn how to make the horse respond to their commands at this session, including how to go start, stop, go in circles and turn.
This doesn’t mean that experienced riders can’t look forward to riding at their skill level either.
“At the end of the trip we are actually allowed to gallop the horses,” O’Brion said. “A lot of people who have never been on horseback (riding) before tend to not want to do that, but it is an optional thing. People who do want to gallop are able to and the people who don’t, (or) who aren’t comfortable with that, are able to just ride back to the stables.”
More than just horseback riding, the trip will also allow students to participate in traditional camping activities, such as building a campfire and making s’mores. There are also a couple new activities people can take part in.
“We’re offering hammock camping as part of this trip. So instead of sleeping in the tent all night, people have the option to sleep in a hammock and their sleeping bag and look up at the stars,” O’Brion said. “And we will also end up doing a midnight ride. We take the horses out at midnight and we go ride around in the dark, which is something that is pretty unique.”
She also said the trip was planned around midterms so that students who sign up can spend some time with horses and other animals as a way to relax, similar to the therapy dog events on campus.
When preparing for the trip, O’Brion only had one recommendation other than personal hygienic gear and clothes.
“The only thing (students) need to bring is a positive attitude,” she said.