I had just finished grade six the summer I went to camp. I had a lot to be excited about. Even though the camp was thirty minutes from town I was going to stay over night. I would pore over the brochure in the evenings after school. There was roller skating, a pool, and a tuck shop where I would have an allowance to buy candy ... every night. My best friend Sarah was going, she was going to be in my cabin. Sarah and I always had a lot of fun together. We seemed to think the same way. We often made tapes of ourselves doing silly radio shows. This was before video and her dad’s little mono tape player did most of the hard work. I remember one show in particular where we painstakingly spliced Wham songs into our version of a George Michael interview. She was much better at doing voices than I was. I was too busy giggling. Oh yes, sleeping over, junk food and best friends were enough to keep me buoyant for days but the thing that I was really excited about was getting to ride a horse. When my mom asked me if I wanted to join the extra horse class I practically jumped across the table.
“Yes, oh yes, pleeeease!”
Oh, I knew all about horses. I had read lots of books. In the stories they raced across fields, leapt over fences and stood by the ocean with their manes flying. I wanted to do all that. Never mind that I had never ridden a horse. I would be the best rider ever and when I finished they would probably have to send the horse home with me.
That was my bright and sunny attitude as I raced across the yard to the barn for my first lesson. Let the other girls complain of the stench! I was only disappointed that I had to wear rubber boots, not riding boots, and I did my best to tip toe through the mud and poop without getting my boots dirty. After all, I had yet to read any book where the horse riding heroine had poop on her boots! I did my best with the rest of my outfit. In jeans, a plaid shirt, and hair pulled back in an elastic, I was certain I would make a great impression on the majestic stallion that was waiting. My teacher soon arrived and I silently scoffed at her attire. How could she be a real horse rider? She had a short brown bob haircut and floppy rubber boots. Jodhpurs were no were to be seen. I missed most of what she said as I gazed into the dark barn behind her. What kind of horse would I get? Palomino? Half wild stallion? Appaloosa? I just hoped the horse would be beautiful. My teacher stood back as the horses were led into the yard. I nervously eyed each one. Too gentle, too old, too sad. Then a beautiful brown horse trotted out of the barn. . He was tall, majestic, and his mane fluttered in the breeze. He had to be mine. Each horse was quickly paired with a rider, shortest to tallest. I held my breath and squeezed my toes to keep myself from running to the brown. I cringed as the last two horses remained. The brown and an old raggedy white horse that had all the grace of a hung over bum, Barney. I couldn’t even bear to open my eyes as another kid and I were carefully measured. When I finally opened them I was gazing into the tall brown nose of my favorite, beautiful horse.
For two days I held my head high as we pranced around and around the ring. My horse had verve and spirit to spare. I lightly tapped my heels on his side, off we went. I gently pulled the reins, we stopped. While waiting in line I snickered as the poor boy on Barney tried to get him to stop biting the horse in front of him. Barney was a grumpy, crass old horse. He bit, he farted, and he moved whatever speed he pleased no matter what his rider did. Most often, that speed was a slow crawl and the rest of the group did several tours around the pen to Barney’s one.
“It pays to be an inch taller,” I thought as I whipped by. My horse was royalty! He had class! He and I were destined for greatness!
On day three, things changed. Someone had set up a series of jumps in the middle of the ring.
“Oh good,” I thought, “Maybe tomorrow they’ll let us jump over a real fence.”
My sensible teacher soon quelled my excitement. She laughed.
“A beginner class? On day three? Sorry little girl.”
Well, what did she know; she was still wearing rubber boots. We did a simple warm up, going around the circle once, then twice; all the while I was eyeing those jumps.
“It would be so much fun. And it would sure beat going in a circle.” I muttered.
The third time around the ring my brown pulled his head to the side and took off for the jumps. A whole new emotion washed over me. Sure, I wanted to jump, but now that we were actually headed there…! I pulled hard on the reins and my brown reared a few times, tearing his head back and forth. It should have been exciting, and it was, a little, but I was terrified that any moment the horse would win the battle and I would be thrown. I hoped that I would land on something soft. A pillow perhaps. Then I hoped the horse wouldn’t land on me. I wondered if they would still let me take the horse home. Next thing I knew the teacher was beside me gently taking the reins, stilling the brown and letting me down.
“He needs to go for some jumps.” She said.
“No kidding” I thought and I watched as she took him over the piles in the middle of the ring. When she came back the brown was still anxious to go over the jumps again and kept leading to the centre of the ring. She frowned.
“We’ll have to get you another horse.” She said.
“Why?” I could not imagine another horse. I would not. “I’ll take him over the jumps, I will, you just have to show me once!”
“No,” she bit her lip, “you did well reining him in but I’m afraid he’s too young. He needs more training. You ride my horse today and we’ll find you another one next week.”
I back to my cabin that night in a deep funk. I thought a lot about rescuing the brown and jumping over fences. I decided I was a much better thinker than a doer. Mostly I worried about what the next day would bring.