Close to 50 eager, young equestrian riders between the ages of 10 -20, and from throughout the province, gathered last week at the Dot Ranch, 30 km west of Merritt, for the 4th Annual BC Young Riders Camp.

Host and principal organizer Lynne Larsen, who owns the Dot Ranch along with her husband Jens, states that this year’s registration numbers were the largest in the camp’s history.

“We had to borrow panels from our neighbors in order to build enough stalls to accommodate everybody,” she stated.

Larsen’s passion for working at the grass roots level of her sport is evident in every conversation with her.

“Working with young riders is like playing with putty. They are so ready and willing to be shaped, and trained right.

“That’s the purpose of this camp,” Larsen added. “We want to get riders when they’re young and just beginning, and provide them with the best instruction possible.”

True to her word, Larsen assembled a stellar cast of coaches for this year’s three-day camp that included lessons in dressage, cross-country, steeplechase and show jumping.

Headlining the coaching team was 35-year-old Hawley Bennett-Awad, a recent member of Canada’s three-day eventing team at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England.

Bennett-Awad, who was born and raised in Langley, but now calls California home, also competed for Canada at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky and the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Also coaching at the camp was Nick Holmes-Smith from Chase, who competed for Canada at both the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea and the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain.

Completing the coaching team was Maeve Drew from Duncan, one of the busiest and most respected riding instructors on Vancouver Island and in the province.

“It’s all about muscle memory,” said Larsen, who instructed at a few of the sessions when she wasn’t busy organizing things. “Instincts [in riding] come from habits which come from good practice.”

One of those in attendance at the Youg Riders camp was 16-year-old Darian Beaumier from Surrey. He’s only been eventing for two years, but has already competed throughout his home province and even in Montana and California.

“I’m loving it,” Beaumier readily declared when asked how camp was going. He had just finished a steeplechase session with informative and entertaining Holmes-Smith in a large open meadow located west of the home ranch.

Darian’s mother, Debbie, was equally pleased.

“The facilities and the coaches are amazing. The instruction is so crystal clear, and I’d just love to have a place like this [the Dot Ranch].Everything’s so beautiful.”

Over at the show jumping ring, 17-year-old Jenaya Young, from Cobble Hill, and two other riders were being put through their paces by Bennett-Awad. The instructor’s steady stream of feedback was crisp, concise, and unconditionally positive.

“For years, I was sort of puttering around – taking lessons, doing 4H, competing at local fairs,” said Young of her early riding career. “Then, in 2009, our family went on vacation to England and we watched the Barbury Horse Trials [a three-day event]. Both my sister and I said, ‘Mom, this is what we want to do’.”

At yeat another venue – the cross-country field – an ever-enthusiastic Drew was helping a group of four really young riders and their horses get comfortable entering and exiting a water jump.

The Vancouver Island coach consistently re-inforced what she called ‘Maeve’s 5 Rules’ with her young charges: direction, pace, rhthym, balance and timing.

“”She cares so much for the riders and works so hard,” stated Lorna Humberstone, whose daughter, Taylor, was one of those under Drew’s tutelage.

Larsen conceded that organizing the three-day Young Riders Camp each year is a major undertaking as just about all the participants and their sizeable entourages stay on site for the duration.

Larsen and a large contingent of her campers were scheduled to compete at the Island 22 Horse Trials outside Chilliwack this past weekend.