Congratulations to our two honorable mention entires in the fall 2015 Time to Ride writing contest. Each writer receives a Time to Ride prize pack!
Dear Feedbag Fairies
By Cathy Thacker
At Circle C Equestrian Center, a year-round riding program owned and operated by Girl Scouts Carolinas Peaks to Piedmont, we have a strange and wonderful species of Fairy that live in our woods. During the summer, on a secluded and quiet trail, if you are very quiet, you might just see a few Feedbag Fairies. Their wings are made out of feed bags and their bodies (to the uneducated eye) look like they were made from brightly painted and glittered clothes pins. Legend has it that, every time a camper overcomes a fear at the barn, a new Feedbag Fairy is born. We tell stories about the Feedbag Fairies as we walk the trails and while there are some skeptics, it has become a fun and incredibly valuable camp tradition. On Monday, most of our riders are inexperienced or first time riders; by Friday they are learning to guide their horses with confidence around the ring, through obstacles and on trails. While our lessons focus on riding and horsemanship skills, we also try to make room for the larger life skills that can be learned at the barn. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to lose sight of those broader goals as the weeks of camp grind away at your energy and patience. Two summers ago, we started asking our beginner riders to write letters to the Feedbag Fairies and horses on their last day at the barn. The letters started as a way to fill some time, one of those things Instructors think up on the fly because another planned activity took less time than anticipated. It has quickly become one of our staff’s favorite activities and more importantly something that helps us keep the “bigger picture” perspective. From a practical stand point, these letters are a great way for the staff to receive feedback on the week and see what the campers remembered the most. It gives us an idea of what worked and what needs to be changed for the next week. It’s also an activity that the girls really enjoy; we pass around paper and craft supplies, some of the letters are beautifully illustrated and some include poems to their favorite horses. The best part, is reading between the lines and seeing the larger, meaningful experiences that were had by our riders. Many of the riders repeat something that their Instructor said to them, some message that got through and made an impression on them. This camper was reluctant to ride at first and was going through some difficulties at home; her instructor spent a lot of time helping her work through her issues and fears, while she doesn’t address her instructor in the letter, echoes of that positive interaction come through. “Dear AJ, I love you so much. Also, I wanted to say that if it wasn’t for you, I would’ve never found out what I was supposed to be. You were so alert and cooperative. From, your caring and loving and beautiful cowgirl and student rider.” This Riding Instructor had a positive and powerful effect on this child’s perception and outlook on life that she may not have achieved otherwise. Some of our riders make connections about feelings and behavior through interactions with the horses. We have a mare who communicates her frustrations very clearly, which can sometimes intimidate beginners. Her instructor did such a good job explaining how the horse felt that the camper wrote, “Dear Cady, I understand how you feel today. All people understand, it’s ok.” Who hasn’t had a day like that? As they learn about horse behavior they can relate it to their own experiences, and it becomes a way to understand themselves, other people and develop empathy. The connection between girls and horses can be hard to explain to outsiders, our letters help us explain and illustrate that connection and unconditional love. One letter in particular is very special to us, it is an emotion filled and tear stained declaration of love for our miniature donkey, Jenny. It starts, “Dear Jenny, even though you and I just met, we are like two souls combined….I love you so much, I can’t even tell you how much I love you”, in another letter to the Fairies, a camper asks them to, “…please take care of Presley when I am gone.” The love our campers feel is real, meaningful and profound to them. Regardless of the disobedience during lessons or the accidentally stomped toes, we have never had a letter that blamed or disrespected a horse. One of my favorite letters, from a young beginner said, “…I fell like I born a new fed bag fary every day.” This rider recognized the fact that she had done something amazing by overcoming her fears and creating a whole herd of Feedbag Fairies. While she didn’t have the vocabulary or spelling to express herself fully, her sentiment is clear and beautiful. It could be argued that a lot of activities inspire children to overcome their fears and gain confidence. I would argue that there is a strange and special alchemy that takes place only at the barn. Children learn to put others before themselves, work hard, overcome their fears and develop a confidence that they can take into the rest of their lives. If we could figure out a way to explain it and measure it, that would be helpful. Meanwhile, what I do know is, when you put a child, a horse and a Riding Instructor together, amazing things happen. We are so grateful to our Feedbag Fairies for helping us see the profound benefits and appreciate the importance of teaching beginners.
Cathy Thacker is a graduate of Averett University, with a degree in Equestrian Studies, and a CHA and PATH Intl. certified Riding Instructor. She is so lucky to have found a full-time position doing something she loves. She lives onsite at Circle C Equestrian Center in Sophia, NC a year-round riding facility owned and operated by the Girl Scouts Carolinas Peaks to Piedmont Council.
Just a Dream and a Challenge
By MacKenzie Waro
The love of horses was bred into me; I had no choice but to love, ride and be owned by horses. Growing up, I took for granted what was out my back door. I never fully understood how lucky I was to go out, tack-up and ride with the wind. I grew up being able to take riding lessons with some of the best instructors, showing at the local shows and being able to own my own horse. It was not until this summer, when the farm opened its doors to the Time to Ride Challenge that it hit me; horses are magical. The farm hosted many Time to Ride events throughout the summer; but there is one day with one kid that will stay in my memory for time to come.
Robin is a local girl; her grandmother is friends with the family who owns the farm. Robin’s family does not have the financial means to take riding lessons as Robin is ill and spends a lot of time traveling from Cooperstown, NY to Boston, MA for appointments. By participating in the challenge the farm decided to give free pony rides at their open house; gaining newcomers and hoping they become hooked on horses. The moment Robin saw the horse she was going to ride, her eyes lit up and she smiled from ear to ear. She had been reading about horses her whole life so she knew to sit up tall, put her heels down and to look forward. One of her dreams came true that day, and Time to Ride had a part in that. But it is not just about the rider or the newcomer; it is also about the bond between rider and horse. I spent time watching the horse she road with other, more able bodied students. That horse spent time looking around and trying to eat grass that was on the outside of the riding arena. The moment Robin was in the saddle, the horse changed. It was as if he was listening to her, as if there was an unspoken language between the two. She was putting all of her trust into him, and he was answering her silent questions with little flicks of his ears and the softness of his eyes. Before I could stop myself, there were tears streaming down my face. I have been following this young girl’s story, and knew the struggles that family has had to overcome. That horse took care of Robin that day; he never saw her wallet or her disease; he felt her love, excitement and compassion and in return gave her courage and the belief that dreams really do come true. What other sport depends on a 1,200 pound team mate to keep you safe? What other sport makes you trust that 1,200 pound team mate to not to hurt you? After Robin finished with her ride, she dismounted still grinning and asked when she could come back. When she leaned over and kissed the horse on the nose the horse perked his ears forward and nuzzled into the kiss.
With tears on my cheeks and a smile on my face I walked over to my own mare. She stuck her head out as if to ask, ‘are you okay? Why are you crying?’ and draped her head on my shoulder. I have been riding for 22 years, and it took a newcomer with a dream for me to see that horses are more than a team mate; they are our soul mates.
MacKenzie Waro is from Hartwick, NY. She has been riding for 22 years and is owned by a 9 year old Quarter Horse. Dolly Holiday is a registered quarter horse who is showing first level dressage and is the Zemi Farm Vaulters vaulting horse (kids stand on her back!)