First Day. First Lesson.
Ben the horse, Chelsea the seven year old. Although Ben has tutored many seven year old children, Chelsea only has lived with dreams of horses.
Those of you who have dreamed of having horses know what that's like. In dreams, everything works out right, you are instantly the expert, things are perfect. You and the horse are a team. Whatever you can picture in your mind always works.
In reality, the camp is almost overwhelming at first. So many things to remember, all at once. No matter how much you want it, nothing seems to fit together. "Hands up? How high? Put my leg where? Elbow back? What? Put my seat down? Does she mean my bottom? Ugh, I forgot what the teacher just said!" Too many thoughts for Chelsea. It's in her eyes, " Why can't I get it? I want it so much."
At the children's horse camp at Anchorage Farm in Pine Junction, Colorado, each child has a four day intensive experience with the horse - their "adopted" horse. This is not your average experience at a horse camp. This is not just trial rides or arena clip-clopping games. Here you learn all the parts of a horse from the large jowl full of huge teeth (except in the middle where the bit goes) to the vernacular of horse coloration - a paint, a pie-bald, a pinto, a bay, a buckskin. The children learn the names for all the various tack that goes on a horse or used around a horse. What goes in the horse must come out, so they learn feeding and cleaning stalls. It is still fun and necessary to keeping a horse. Whew! It's a very busy day.
"Oh yes, Grandma, these are called reins not ribbons" Livvy, her three year old sister called them that. Chelsea is getting it and proudly reiterating her knowledge. "I knew what a saddle was, Grandma, but not all the parts to it. I now know how to put the saddle on a horse and take it off." She looks off in the direction of three tiers of saddles along the tack room wall. "Actually, I didn't know that there were so many different types of saddles."
"When the horse pokes his nose out of the stall," Chelsea continues describing her morning, "his nostrils are quivering. When he touches my outstretched hand, he sort of snorts at the smell of me. Then he pushes his nose out even further and gives me that 'you're okay' look in his eyes.'" She stops and looks at me smiling, "He likes me, Grandma!" Her eyes shine with a brightness you only find in people who are passionate about what they are feeling.
All the kids in the class have different personalities. Some demanding, others shy, some loud and mouthy, still others intense. Yet, all with a common dream of "their" horse in mind. I sense an amazing amount of cooperation and genuine kindness in these young people to help one another.
Some of the group have a horse with a halter and a lead rope. They are learning the proper way to hold the rope, to lead the horse, and to stop the horse. The perfect way to teach a child how to safely handle a horse or to correct the horse. Basic training. Building confidence every moment.
Here they are taught, horse thinking. Quite different than people thinking. Learning about the horse's basic instincts, how to interpret the animal's body language and what might be running through the horse's mind, builds skills and a sympathetic relationship of trust and friendship.
One hour a day, each horse camper gets a one hour dressage lesson. How the horse moves, what makes him balance his weight, what makes him off balance, what pressure points does the horse move away from, how to feel the control of the horse through his mouth.
Although I try to be with Chelsea, she is not interested in being with me. "it's okay Grandma, if you want to sit on the high benches and watch my lessons." Then Chelsea is off to help groom the horse after her lesson, leading her horse to their outside paddock, and happily talking to other riders about horses.
One photo opportunity, that I reluctantly tell you I missed, happened when I came into the grooming and saddling room to find the Gray Arabian Gelding, Two Blankets, in cross ties - two ropes from the wall to each side of the horses halter. Swarming all over him with so much love and affection were no less than six small girls. One very small girl, standing on a step stool on his left side, was brushing his back. Another was brushing his side. The tail was getting a good brush and one girl was even kissing his nose. And the horse...my god, the half closed ecstasy in his eyes, I cannot describe.
It's nonstop busy here. Everyone has something to do, that is except me. I'm just sitting here thinking on my laptop computer.
"Grandma," Chelsea runs into the living room where I am working. "Grandma, my counselor, Lindsey, found this horseshoe and gave it to me to keep." This indeed is a great find for my horse dreamer. "Can you keep it for me?" Without even a glance backwards, she is halfway out the door again, "See you Grandma, I've got to go help with the horses."
And off she goes making her dream world into a reality.
1) Cover Story and Cover Photo, "Colorado Serenity Lifestyle Magazine" June 1999.
2) Publisher's Note