Saturday, May 27, 2017

Horsemanship Day Camp Memories

Some of the best times I ever had with horses was during my summer horsemanship day camps when I had my little barn in Plymouth, NC.. It always amazed me how kids who’d never touched a horse, much less ever ridden one, could by the fifth and last day of camp confidently ride in the little programs we put on for the parents to see.

My riding program included teaching children to understand horses were living, feeling creatures that needed us to care for them in a fair and compassionate way. There was hard work involved if they were to ever have a horse. They groomed, cleaned stalls, fed and watered the horses every day they came to camp. They learned to tack up by themselves, how to care for the tack – because it was expensive and needed to be safe to use.

We rode of course, playing games and working through obstacles so the horses didn’t get bored and the children had to focus on things like asking the horse to turn and stop and back up. It gave the riders a sense of accomplishment with each obstacle they and their horse executed successfully.

The arts and crafts time was not only a way for the children to express themselves creatively but also a time to cool off and get out of the heat in the afternoons – and let the horse rest and munch hay. But, that part of the schedule again gave the day-campers a sense of accomplishment. It was something tangible to show their parents and grandparents and to take home from camp. I always made it a project that would teach a skill related to horses.

One year the moms decided they wanted a camp for themselves. So, we had grown-ups evening camp. I think it gave them a real appreciation of what their children had been learning in camp and riding lessons. I remember the craft project was making a rope halter. I had a lady who was expert at making the halters come teach their class. The ladies, myself included, were not very successful in that project. More like we were completely frustrated and ready to give up, but finally each of us did end up with a finished and usual halter. Maybe that was a lesson in perseverance.

I conducted those camps year after year with no casualties I am happy to say. Parents and older teen students helped. Gerda Rhodes, our county livestock agent, would visit and do programs on things like equine nutrition and hay identification. I could not have survived horse camps without all that help.

Those were some great times. Lots of wonderful memories from my youth. Where did that energy come from? Hot and humid weather, heavy lifting, helping kids on and off horses, on my feet most of the day. It was the most fun of my life, those crazy summer days, watching kids beam with pride as they rode to the tunes of Herby Hancock, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA. No one ever accused me of not being versatile in my music selections!

My hat is off to all the riding instructors who will be sweating in the heat, helping children learn to love a horse this summer. To parents reading this blog, find a good stable near you offering horsemanship camps. It doesn’t have to be a fancy place, but one that shows the horses are cared for well and an instructor that loves kids as much as horses. Sign them up so they can learn about compassion, and that good things come from hard work and where they will get a sense of accomplishment through communicating successfully with another creature. And find one that includes arts and crafts, because learning to create with their own hands is something tangible they can take home with them.

PS Like my Facebook page Donna Campbell Smith Books where you can keep up with my book doings.

Friday, May 26, 2017

I Have Horses in My Blood

My Aunt Myrtle once told me I had horses in my blood. She grew up in a time when horses were still used for farm work and to pull the family wagon into town on Saturdays to fetch supplies. But, stories my Daddy told me about their horses and photos of Aunt Myrle riding on the wide back of one of their work horses is evidence that the horses were more than work animals. Daddy and Aunt Myrtle grew up loving those horses.

Aunt Myrtle Riding One of the Family Work Horses
Daddy told me a story which seems to suggest one horse named Dan felt the same about him. Daddy got a red sled for Christmas one year. Apparently, the horse pasture was on a slope, perfect for going sledding downhill. One day after having played on the slope with the sled, Daddy, perhaps called to supper or chores, left the sled in the pasture. When he remembered, and went back to get it he found Dan standing over the sled smashing it all to pieces with his hoof. Daddy was sure that Dan was jealous of the time he had been spending with the sled instead of the horse.

That story made Daddy chuckle whenever he told it. But, often times he’d stop laughing and reverently tell me that Dan died of nightshade poisoning, a weed that he’d accidentally eaten while grazing.

My Great Uncle Jerry Boda raced Standardbreds at a small track in Up State New York. A cousin on my Daddy’s side of the family had her own horse, too. Mama had horses growing up as well. She was one of five children. Their first pony that had to be put down after it was bitten by a rabid dog. Her sister had a horse as a teenager. Mama told how she’d ride her sister’s horse all the way to where the paper mill is now. She said Main Street wasn’t paved then and she could gallop all the way and not worry about traffic.

My first horse was imaginary. So, while other kids had imaginary friends, I had a horse. I galloped “Leafy” all over my grandfather’s huge front yard. He got his name because his favorite food was leaves. We had lots of adventures playing cowboys and Indians.

My first time on real horseback was actually on my Uncle Cory’s mule. Once Daddy lifted me onto its back I cried to get down. My next memory of a real horse (pony) ride was when a photographer came through our neighborhood taking pictures of the kids sitting on a pony. Mama couldn’t afford to pay for the photo shoot, but he let me sit on the pony for free.

Then there was a time I rode in a pony-drawn cart at a Halloween carnival at school. I was dressed as a princess in a pink ruffled dress Mama made for me from some old curtains. The teenage boy doing the driving told me I looked beautiful. Be still my heart! I surely felt like a princess in her gilded carriage, drawn by a prancing white steed.

My very first ride “all by myself” was on Candy Etheridge’s pony. Candy rode all the way into town sometimes on that pony. She earned the title as “horse crazy.” I was in awe of Candy for having her own real horse. She invited me to a sleep-over at her house. The next morning, we walked to the stables where she kept her pony. I helped with some chores before she saddle-up Cheetah, so named for that fastest of all land mammals. . First, she led me around the barn. All seemed well, so she handed me the reins and left me to go by myself. Well, Cheetah walked about half the way, then took off running (maybe it was only trotting) around the corner to get back to its stall. Candy intervened and all was well. I didn’t fall off, but that was the end of my ride.

But, it was only the beginning of my long association with horses.