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Life At Horse Camp

Maddie’s spending the week at her riding stables in a five-day horseback riding camp. It’s all-day, every day, and it’s exhausting. 8 to 5 would wear out any third grader; add to that the fact that she’s in Texas heat, un-airconditioned, working and sweating outdoors the whole time, and you’ve got one worn out child by the end of the day.

She’s never been happier.

She gets a couple full lessons each day, of course, but she doesn’t spend every minute horseback: she grooms the animals, feeds and waters them, cleans their stalls, and so forth.

And then there’s the rest of the time, which is where I think the real lessons are.

These kids are given pretty free run of the stables, and for suburban sidewalk children, it’s a whole new world. They’re allowed to roam the farm a few times a day, playing with the barn cats, helping move horses into different pastures, bringing a horse into the ring and taking turns riding it bareback, and so on. It’s a heady freedom, and the girls revel in it – all under the watchful eye of a group of women who know that independence and trust and hard work go a long way towards shaping a young woman.

I love that the camp isn’t structured Every. Single. Second. There’s no busy crafts or filler stuff. The girls are either learning, working, or discovering how to occupy themselves.

Yesterday I went to pick up Maddie and her two friends at the end of the day, and before I’d even gotten out of the car they were dragging me off to see their “clubhouse”. They’d found a clump of clustered trees that form a natural little “room” and made a gathering space out of it. They’d gotten a grown-up to help hang an old tire for a swing/seat; a couple of threadbare horse pads were used for “rugs” and “seats”; horseshoes decorated the “walls”; and – my favorite – they’d created their own television: the girls scavenged an old board and drew cartoons on it in Sharpie – one story on one side, another on the flip side. “See! We get two channels!” they told me proudly.

They’d already discovered inside jokes and as they lounged in the “room”, giggling together happily, I could see – this is what they’ll take away from the camp, whether they realize it or not. A week spent exploring, using their own creativity, and having a fantastic time during nine un-airconditioned hours away from television and iPads. I have similar memories from summers I spent at my grandparents’ log cabin farm, and I’m so grateful Maddie has this place so close to home.

Her riding’s improved exponentially over the past few days, just because she’s in the saddle so much. But truthfully, it’s what she’s experienced out of the saddle that counts for more, I think.


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