Horse Camp (2014) – A movie overview

You may be thinking, why is Courtney doing yet another movie review? She must have no life to write about. And you would be right! I have nearly nothing of interest going on, but I probably will next week, so perhaps check back then, you know, if you feel like it… and you’re not too busy…

But onward to the movie! (Small note: I wish I was reviewing an actual camp… like I took my horses camping or something. Because that would be pretty cool!)

This movie feels like an odd combination of different teen movies. The first one I thought of was Not Another Teen Movie, as the main character Cathy, looks almost exactly like the main character in that movie, right down to that dorky ponytail and glasses. Then, it turns into Mean Girls, except a horse camp version. Since I’m already sick of Mean Girls, hearing about Mean Girls, and people quoting Mean Girls, this raises my hackles against this movie. Sorry movie, I’m already biased against you.

The opening credits shows the camp. There’s a lot of girls having fun, dancing, singing, etc. Then there’s a scene of tons and tons of horses coming through a gate. I have never seen so many horses out in one pasture. There had to be 80 or more horses coming through that gate. I’m very surprised that a camp catering to inexperienced girls would want all those horses pastured together, as the girls would have to wade through many horses to get to whatever one they wanted. Also, how many girls are at this camp that it requires so many horses?!

Flashing back to the non-horse camp world, Cathy loves horses, lives on a large farm, but apparently is both a complete loser with no friends, and also isn’t allowed to ride at all. I think the first part is related to her parents being super judgmental of her, as one of the first scenes is them all sitting together at the table, her parents discussing her faults, ignoring Cathy, even as she informs them she’s sitting right there, and can hear every word. I’m surprised she’s not allowed to ride, as her mom is/was into barrel racing, and he competes and trains guys for rodeo riding. In real life, these two would probably love that she’s into horses.

She runs off from dinner, and her dad follows, as mom doesn’t seem to really care about her, judging by the way she never really talks to her the entire movie. Dad tells her she just needs one good friend. This is repeated in voiceovers probably about 10 more times through the entire movie. I feel like the message here is exclude everyone else except that one good friend. No more allowed! Don’t bother being friends with anyone else, if they didn’t win the one good friend title, they are unworthy of your time.

That night, she has a dream of wandering into a field in her sparkling white long john’s, and coming up to a horse with a very distinct facial marking. She climbs on up, and rides around bareback.

If it was my dream, I would have worn an amazing dress or riding outfit. I guess when you’re as much a loser as Cathy, you can only aim as high as wearing clean clothes.

I couldn’t hear the sound very well, so I’m not sure how it’s decided, but her helicopter parents decide it’s okay for her to go to horse camp, so off she goes!

Thus we move into one of a million montages about this camp. Dave and I were starting to get really irritated by this, as it feels like a big ad for this camp. Then, shocker, we discovered it is an ad for this camp! This camp really exists! That explains all the chants/songs that specifically reference this camp. We were trying to figure out if they wrote all these songs just for this movie, but it seems they existed already for the camp. There is no doubt that it is an impressively beautiful camp, and everything looks well maintained, the movie is just a bit heavy on the songs.

Today is check in, and the girls are lining up to get in. Except for Cathy, who is driving there with her father. She tells him check in starts at 2 and they need to hurry, and he tells her it’s fine to be an hour and a half late, doesn’t she want to spend time with him? Well, dad, she’s been spending time with you all her life! Is this some kind of passive aggressive control thing? Just get the girl to camp!

She arrives, and her dad doesn’t even bother to make sure she’s in the right place, or accompany her to check in, or even move from his car. Drops off, drives away, without even waiting for her to walk up to the door. She awkwardly walks to the building, and gets checked in. She’s then assaulted by the overly perky camp counselor, who gives her a very basic tour while walking her to her bunk. She leaves her at the door, without bringing her in and introducing her, so now I’m thinking this is some kind of Michigan etiquette, to abandon people when they are feeling scared and vulnerable. Absolutely no assistance in social interactions! Strength through awkward encounters!

The cabin is full of the resident mean girls, headed by a Regina George named Stacy. Cathy tries to set her stuff down on an empty bunk, and Stacy tells her that’s her second bunk and she can’t have it. Stacy is apparently territorial in many ways, and she comments frequently how weird it is that Cathy is showing up in their final year. I guess no one is allowed to attend a camp unless they start out early. Also, these girls are 17ish. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be at a camp, but when I went to riding camp, I was the oldest at like 13. And I felt super old. I find it hard to believe that these older girls would want to spend their summers being so restricted. At that age, I feel like they would be working students somewhere, or just hanging out at a barn without the camp aspect. Or hell, they’d be the counselors themselves!

Back to the story though, luckily for Cathy, there’s some other girl (Lisa) who sleeps in the reject alcove by the door and welcomes Cathy to join her. This immediately turns into a beautiful friendship, as they explore the camp together in a montage (one good friend). It starts with “Let’s go feed the chickens!” and then seconds later they are playing with goats. I can understand being confused, one is a small fluffy bird, and the other is a larger 4-legged mammal, so really, they are so similar it is an easy mistake to confuse one with the other. The goats randomly pop up the rest of the movie too, just hanging out in various scenes, doing their goat business. In one scene though, they switch it up, and there’s a pony randomly hanging out in the riding arena. I’m kind of wondering about that one.

Lisa also introduces Cathy to an 30 year old pony named Moses, who is so hairy, I’m sure his cause of death will be directly related to that. He will choke on a hairball, or get tangled up someplace, or go for a swim and be water logged. The girls pet Moses, admire him for being the best pony in the world, then wander off, and as soon as they leave, Moses makes a nasty face at his adorable donkey friends, and they scatter. I knew that pony was just putting on an act!

As Lisa shows her around (and knowing the rest of the movie) it kind of seems she is a bit obsessed with Cathy, taking it a step further than Mean Girls. She might legitimately have a crush on her.

The next day, it’s time for the riding lessons. Lisa brings Cathy around to introduce her to the horses, and Cathy spots one standing a little ways away. She inquires, and Lisa says that’s Sundance, and he’s the resident mean/bad/brat/misunderstood horse. Shockingly, it has the same distinct facial markings as in her dream! Are we supposed to feel like they are destined to be together? I’m not sure if this was supposed to be a plot point, or if maybe the actress only wanted to ride this one horse, as it was never acknowledged at all. Maybe it was just a coincidence that this horse had the exact same marking. Maybe she feels this is a common marking and therefore not notable. But you can sense immediately that this inexperienced girl will be the one to tame that lethargic beast.

She begins to learn about horses, and it starts with a grooming lesson. Although the counselor has to go into detail about how to groom, when it comes time to lead, she just asks “You know how to lead right?” and leaves it at that. I’ve shown enough people my horses to know that leading the horses is not something they are immediately comfortable with, so I guess she’s going for the “shove you into the water to learn to swim” method of teaching her.

They head out to the riding area, and it’s the most unusual I’ve ever seen. There’s pictures on the camp’s website above, if you want to check it out. I feel like my brain can’t comprehend what’s going on. Are they restricted to only riding the circles? Can they use the entire area, crossing over grass and sand alike? Was this an effort to save money on buying footing? Or maybe they are limited on turnout and this is a multiuse area? If they were all linked together, maybe with some jumps, it could be a crazy winding course!

I guess I was naïve to Cathy’s ability, as she gets on the horse and knows exactly what to do. Within minutes, she’s trotting around happily. The mean girls from her cabin are deeply impressed, except for Stacy, who complains that Cathy’s not that good. Her fellow mean girls disagree with Stacy, and aren’t shy about voicing this. This leads me to believe they aren’t mean girls at all, just a group of friendly girls, that happen to have one mean girl in their group. So it annoys me a bit that the movie tries to make them out to be mean girls, as they aren’t mean the entire movie, just Stacy is.

Cathy does get in trouble for failing to stop at Red Light, which since this is a family movie, I’m assuming is some kind of variation of red light/green light, so she has to wash dishes that night. Lisa announces she wants to be with Cathy in the kitchens instead of having fun with everyone else, bewildering everyone else, but after an awkward moment, the counselor agrees she can wash dishes too. Then there’s a very pointless scene of them having fun doing dishes, which I think is only included to show that even doing the dishes is fun at this camp.

The next day, Cathy has her usual lesson, and Sundance is cross tied next to her lesson horse. She asks a counselor about it, and is told he’s untouchable, and to stay away from him. Which begs the question, how did they manage to touch him enough to halter him, cross tie him, and if he’s so dangerous, why is he cross tied in the grooming area with all the lesson students? As proof of his aggression, the camera zooms in on him stomping his hoof, probably due to a fly.

I wonder why it’s so common for horse camps to get unruly, wild horses. This seems to happen a lot. Maybe it’s some kind of scam, they keep telling the campers to stay away, which of course means they have to touch it! And then Bam! Free novice horse training.

To fast forward the movie a bit, they keep riding (although Cathy is apparently an expert rider now), and she decides to tame the wild beast that is Sundance. He’s kept in an open front stall, that basically has three sides and then a chain draped across the front, so even though he’s completely wild, he’s still respectful to not push aside the low hanging, single chain and casually wander away. Cathy sneaks out of her cabin at night to use the subtle art of meekly approaching him, stretching out a hand, and withdrawing quickly, until she graduates up to tiny little strokes. He blandly stares ahead and ignores her, so next time she brings apples, which he clearly likes more. Eventually she works her way up to putting a saddle on him, and then talking him for walks, and then finally, mounting and cantering around. This entire time, Sundance has shown nothing that would suggest he is in anyway aggressive or uncontrollable.

Stacy keeps being mean, so Cathy complains to Lisa that everyone hates her and that she’s ugly. Lisa repeatedly tells her that she likes her, but Cathy doesn’t care about this. So Lisa offers to give Cathy a makeover, as she knows a bit about makeup and hair. This may be a surprise to everyone watching the movie, because Lisa’s appearance gives the distinct impression that Lisa cares for neither makeup, nor hair, and probably not even for regular showers.

It turns out that she can do these things, as she dramatically pulls out Cathy’s ponytail, and takes off her glasses. She puts makeup on her, and curls her hair, and then buys her a fancy-pants $60 polo from the camp store (a weird point in itself. I guess this is a really big camp that has a need for its own general store, and they stock it with fancy polos. The campers must regularly bring large bills with them to camp.)

She then has her dramatic reveal by riding Sundance out during her lesson, revealing her new look, and her amazing training abilities. Everyone is super impressed, and suddenly Cathy is the popular one.

Cathy proves her popularity by joining the mean girls’ singing group, and promptly kicking out Stacy. The girls all sing that night, although singing would be a loose way of describing it. It’s more like a chant. They had been calling the song they would be doing “Titanic” so I assumed it was a song from that movie, you all know the one. Turns out, it’s not, and instead it’s a oddly disturbing chat about the Titanic sinking, lots of people dying, children losing their parents, and how the lesson that should be learned is that everyone should wear a life preserver. I’m sure that would have helped them keep away the freezing water that caused their hypothermia. Also, the song went on way too long, and was super repetitive. They went down, down, down, but apparently in a good way, as everyone liked their performance.

There’s something called “Camp Princess” which is some kind of contest, and I hope was just created for this movie and doesn’t actually exist because it is basically a popularity contest, and doesn’t seem to do anything but cause bad feelings among the girls. Now that Cathy is popular, she’s suddenly a favorite to be the Camp Princess.

Cathy immediately neglects her friend Lisa so she can hang out with her new friends. Lisa doesn’t take kindly to this, and decides the best thing to do is convince Cathy to take a trail ride with her while she rides bareback. While on the trail, she confronts her. Dave and I agreed this scene is much funnier if you imagine the horses doing the talking.

Sundance: I think I’m going to do some pawing in the talent show!

Gray horse: What about me doing something in the talent show?

Sundance: You aren’t meant to be in shows! Also, you never expressed interest in the  show!

Gray horse: You never asked me or gave me a chance!

Sundance: You should have said something!

Gray horse: You left me for those other mares!

Sundance: You’re just jealous!

Gray horse: Maybe I am jealous! You’re a much better horse than me!

Sundance: I’m naturally talented!

Lisa did an odd combination of complimenting Cathy, and also pulled out the “Woe is me” card. Maybe that’s why Cathy doesn’t want to hang out with you, Lisa, you Debbie Downer!

They both ride off in disgust, but since they are heading the same way, on the same trail, they basically ride parallel about 10 feet apart. One day, a horse movie will figure out how to do the “ride off dramatically” scene.

Back in the cabin, Cathy is hanging out with her new friends when the counselor comes in and announces that Lisa broke her arm riding bareback on the trail. Since Cathy was riding with Lisa, I thought maybe she would be held responsible for abandoning someone in distress, but perhaps the riding off dramatically happened when they finally parted ways off camera, and that’s when she broke her arm. The counselor informs them that bareback riding is strictly forbidden now. Way to ruin it for everyone, Lisa!

Now Cathy reevaluates her terrible life and thinks about what her dad told her. (One good friend). Additionally she finds out that Moses had to be put down, so that was probably her fault too.

I guess Lisa really broke her arm, since she stays there for several days. Cathy goes to the camp boss, and asks to go to the hospital to see Lisa.  The camp boss, who will respect Lisa’s wishes, but not Lisa’s privacy, informs her that Lisa specifically requested that Cathy wasn’t allowed to see her. Even though it’s against camp rules for her to leave the camp anyway, and could have just left it at that. He really wanted to rub in what a terrible person Cathy is.

Eventually Lisa returns, and Cathy tries to apologize, but Lisa’s not having any of that. Cathy is all depressed and sad, until a counselor asks if she’s still competing for Camp Princess. Cathy doesn’t want to anymore, but she’s told she can make a speech when appointed, and could say anything she wants. She’s immediately inspired to win, so she starts being nice to all the girls in camp. Truly a sincere gesture of kindness, I’m sure.

Camp Princess is won by a combination of votes, and a horse show. I’m a little confused on how that works, but I’m trying not to overthink it, other than, is it some kind of points system? Do they calculate camper votes, and then the placing on show day is worth a certain amount of points? Sadly, it is never explained.

On the day of the show, everyone parades out into the ring for some exhibition riding. There’s a girl riding bareback in the group, and I’m a little confused by that, but maybe the ban was lifted? In general though, everyone seems to be a decent enough rider. Throughout the whole movie in fact, no one is glaringly bad, so that’s a positive.

Stacy comes over to tell Cathy that it doesn’t matter who wins. At first, it seems she’s being nice, but then she adds “Because tomorrow I’ll be picked up by my father in his Mercedes, while you’ll just be picked up in a truck.” Mercedes gets a lot of bad press in these horse movies. Also, I looked at some trucks at the dealership recently, and they are not cheap. I feel like it’s a bit naïve to compare the two.

They announce the competitors for Camp Princess, and one at a time they come into the ring and do a demonstration. Stacy, who has been shown practicing religiously for this event, canters in, pops over a few tiny jumps, and the crowd goes wild.

Cathy is still getting ready and did not see the performance, but a counselor comes up to her to tell her that Stacy is so good, there’s no chance she’ll win. She does it under the guise of “just have fun!” but I’d be a bit annoyed if I was Cathy. I guess none of us should ever try, because we’ll never be as good as Stacy.

Cathy takes this as a challenge, and removes Sundance’s saddle. She flies into the ring to gasps of horror, with the camp director and her own mother exclaiming “No! It’s too dangerous!”

She rides around, goes over a few of the tiny jumps, and even though she was not shown practicing for this event, and has been casually trail riding or playing tennis leading up to it, is immediately declared the Camp Princess. No one else compares to Cathy’s daring bareback ride.

She gives her speech, which I don’t remember, but it’s about how she should be a nice person always, even to horrible mean Stacy (who she points out is mean), and obviously to her best friend Lisa. Then, just like Cady, she gives her crown to Lisa. Stacy comes up on stage too, not at all angry about being insulted in public, and they all hug it out.

I learned so many important lessons from this movie. I should only have one friend at a time. The Titanic didn’t need more life boats, it needed more life preservers. An already tame and trained horse can be tamed and trained by slow motion kindness and apples.

There’s going to be a sequel to this movie, and it just filmed in September. They had a website collecting donations and offering background parts. If I’d known about it, maybe I could have contributed money and been the movie!

Since I missed it, I can only hope the lessons in the next movie are as grand as they were in this one.

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  1. I worked at camps and we did have 16 yr olds as campers. Not 17 though – they’d have been counselors in training. I also worked at a different camp where even the 14 yr olds were CITs so I think it just depends on the camp. And yes, you do need to start going as a little kid in order to fit in when you’re older. By the time they’re 16, all of the kids would have been to the camp together for years. It’s a weird society.

    Also, riding camps generally DO have crazy, barely-trained horses. Most good horses have permanent homes. Some of the best camps will winter over their stock and keep on good horses, but most get a new batch in from a vendor for the summer. The one place we got our horses from would winter over the horses that were requested back and send the rest to auction. It’s actually why fall is a great time to buy cheap, broke horses. Excess camp and dude ranch stock all go to auction then. We once had a horse come back from winter without an ear. They don’t check on them over the winter, so he just showed up in the spring missing an ear. The new horses purchased from auction to add to the stock in the spring are sometimes crazy. I was once sent a horse that had only ever been driving trained to be a summer camp riding horse. I was once sent a 2 year old. The amount of crazy I have received could go on and on.

    1. very interesting! Have you written a post about this? Cause if you haven’t, you should!
      That is strange about starting early. I really would have never guessed it happened like that, but it makes sense that the campers would come back if they were enjoying it. Just seems like there would always be new people coming through.
      I bet the early weeks of camp had some exciting riding days! I suppose it makes economical sense, but wow, that is so crazy they would downsize so much!

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