Once a week I go to my “happy place” which, ironically happens to be a horse stable in Guelph-Eramosa. I say ironically because I have a deeply rooted fear of horses that comes from the realization that horses, though beautiful creatures, also come with an unpredictable temperament fuelled by about 600 pounds of strength. I learned this at horse camp in grade four.

I rode a pony named Mighty Mouse, (really). Batman was spoken for and I was relieved because Batman was big and I was not. I believe my body weight was a staggering 62 pounds give or take, and all I recall was that Mighty Mouse did not wish to move for me, ever. The instructor kept yelling to me, “Give him a nudge in the ribs! You are so small, like a fly on his back. Kick him like you mean it!”

Kick him? She wanted a fly to kick a giant? Was she insane? That was not the confident pep talk I needed as Mighty Mouse took her bellows as a sign to trot around the barn at what, to me, was break-neck speed, shaking my bony little figure around in the saddle like pop in a soda can until I was ready to explode.  Have you ever seen what horses do to flies? I can honestly say I have. Ah, good times.

On the final day of camp, my parents came to watch me ride. The campers were supposed to show off to our parents that their hard-earned money was not wasted. Ha.

My pride hurt, I refused to endure another trotting fiasco with Mighty Mouse. I am sure I was a stellar disappointment to my parents who secretly hoped I would be good a something (I may be projecting here, but go with me). Needless to say, my equestrian career was short lived. I would never have guessed the lessons of summer camp 1979 would make sense to me thirty years later.

My daughter is a lot like I was in grade school: in a word, awkward. Yet unlike me, she is fearless with horses. The barn is her happy place too; it is the place where she fits in with the cool crowd of teenage riders, where her best friend is a seventeen hand black and white beauty named Princess, and chores are a privilege.

Everything my daughter needs to learn about herself, she can learn through a horse. Lessons like hard work pays off but poop happens, so you’d best pick it up and be prepared to sweep. Stubbornness is better than quitting. It’s okay to be sensitive; horses are too. Finding your own voice means finding control, not to be a bully, but sure enough to stop one. That no means no, and whoa means whoa.

At the barn my child is equal and her independence is not only necessary, it is rewarded by a coach who fills her spirit with horse wisdom, teaching my daughter that her strength is in her focus and that when she believes in herself she is in complete control of an animal about the size of my car. Nobody is holding on, and my daughter can do it.  (Actually, I think that part of the lesson is more for me.)

Once a week, I leave the monotony of town behind to sit in a barn and watch in awe the silent dance between a little girl and her big horse. Heaven on earth. Giddy’up.