“Do we want to bring the hard saddle or just the fluffy for Jazzy?” Kate, age 15, is looking at me intently, finger poised and ready over her iPhone with the Notes app open. It’s 10:10pm. We are both sitting in the front seat of my car. I’m staring glumly at the back of her parents Toyota that’s parked in her drive way hoping this is going to be over soon and I will get to go home.
Kate is relentless, “Which girth should we bring? Oh, and we have to talk about meds.” The light dawned on her that Jack Brook was six days a way moments after getting into the car at Quail. I suggested that she should take it easy on Dancer on Saturday because horse camping was Sunday. She said, “Horse camping is Sunday?!” Moments later she had her phone out. “We need to get organized!” By “we” she means, she will organize me.
Kate had plenty of time to work at it in the car. I had to drop Sophie off in Mountain View and Arya off in south Los Altos first. Arya’s plan was to drop Kate off first and her off last. Actually, Arya’s plan was to never leave the barn at all, but even in summer, 9:30, the time that Arya got dropped off, is pretty darn late for a ten year-old to get home.
Arya, age ten, and Sophie, age nine, are lucky they get to stay out late in the first place. In fact, they are lucky they get to come and ride in the late afternoon and evening. Most parents are set in the idea that they need to “have an activity” for their kids in the morning. I sympathize. I’m teaching four mornings a week all summer long. But by 10am, the glare in the staging area at Campo is almost unbearable; the glare from the roads and cars not as bad, but still constant aggravation. And Los Altos Hills doesn’t stop because it’s summer. Far from it. On our hour long ride on Monday morning, we crossed paths with three dump trucks, two garbage trucks and one tree shredding truck and trailer. The majority of these vehicles are driven by Latinx who are wonderful about how they drive so carefully and considerately when they see the horses, so it is less of a problem that it would appear. But it’s not fun.
By 7pm, we have the town to ourselves. Not only that, but we are now in rebound time. The majority of humans experience the energy pattern of peak, recovery and rebound. Mid-afternoon is for resting, but evenings are for fun. Evenings are also the natural play time for horses.
During the school year, there’s not much that can be done about it. Kids need to get home for dinner, homework and bed. But in summer, the idea that there might be an activity that will take place during what would normally be dinner time doesn’t seem to connect for parents. Except parents like Shaliza, Arya’s mom, who brought us all dinner at the arena at 7.
Sophie and Arya are both in the plan for horse camping. Horse camping wasn’t supposed to happen this year. Last year, the parent who was supposed to transport the hay up, cancelled last minute. The parent who was supposed to provide Saturday night’s dinner, along with deciding it was also a good time to take up the issue of how she thought I was stressing her kid out, off-loaded the task onto the one already overloaded parent who was actually providing some help with the camp who then then complained abundantly about it to me and two inebriated women affiliated with the yearly San Mateo Horsemen’s Association camping trip for whom the rules don’t apply, spent one entire evening bullying me because I had the nicer campground reserved and was clearly, in their mind, just a bunch of kids was not using the good site to it’s full potential. There wasn’t any family drama last year, or snotty clique behavior from eighth graders, no one called from the gate (2 miles from the camp) and demand that I immediately come up and open it for them and no parent drove down the one lane road at the wrong time; all past horse camping events. But it was enough.
When you put the word camping in a sentence, it automatically conjures up images of burning marshmallows, latrines buzzing with flies and dusty hikes with bored children.
If the parents don’t hear “camping”, they hear “camp.” “Oh, you’ll do it all! It’s an activity provided for my child where they just have to show up! Where do I drop them off?” Followed by complaint about the expense. “How can a camp site cost $200 a night?!”
Jack Brook was a hunting camp before it was a horse camp. There is an out door bar with dancing pavilion, huge, cement fire pit with permanent, comfortable benches on all sides, a small cabin which contains microwaves and refrigerators, flush toilets, hot showers, a shed stacked with several cords of split logs, an outdoor double sink with overhead lighting and hot water and San Mateo County Parks trucks out the manure once a day.
When I describe all this, the parents say, in a derogatory tone, “Oh, that’s glamping!” The idea that there are many hours of preparation involved, as demonstrated by Kate’s list, in moving horses in the first place because you are essentially moving the entire barn, much less that their child would benefit enormously for the development of organizational skills, responsibility and hard work, plus the huge boost in self esteem they get from the obvious accomplishment in their contribution towards making the trip happen, isn’t on their radar.
When I tell the parents that the fee only covers expenses, that I will am on call 24/7 for five days straight, that I don’t get a penny for any of that time and neither does my husband who also volunteers his time for several days and that we all work together doing the food organization, cooking and clean up, they get a momentary glazed look in their eyes, then quickly dismiss the slightly uncomfortable thought and return to this image of dropping their kid off at the barn with a sleeping bag and tooth brush. When they do so they will say something like, “Whoopsies! I forgot the tent I’d promised! You’ll be OK, won’t you?” And of course the whole experience should be provided for $50 a night.
To be honest, not all parents are like this. But most of them are to some degree or completely.
No, I wasn’t planning on taking the kids camping this year. I was planning on taking myself camping. LAHHA, the horsemen’s association, takes a yearly trip. Turned out, I was the only one planning on going. Kate had been so much help, she really deserved to come along. And what about Sophie? It would be so much fun to have Sophie come. If Sophie came, then Arya should come also. And there you have it. A KLH horse camping trip. But it’s for the children of the few parents who when I say, “riding in the evening is so much better!” they say, OK and then also show up with dinner.
Arya almost didn’t get to come. When pleading with her mother, she said, “Mom, if you knew me and you knew how much this meant to me, you’d make it happen!” Actually, the first scheduled time got cancelled because the shifter in the truck malfunctioned, which turned out to be a small detail that was overlooked in completing the last repair. Unable to bear a summer without time at the horse camp, I reserved another date, which worked for Arya. I don’t think her mother does understand how much it means to her. We just figured that God intervened on her behalf.
Years ago, when KLH had just moved to Los Altos Hills, I was able to take the kids on overnight trips down to a ranch in Paicines; south of Hollister. The caretaker of the ranch was formerly affiliated with Trinity Ranch, a now defunct therapeutic riding program whose umbrella I had initially worked under. Taking the kids to the ranch was like watching flowers blossom. It was like drinking water or breathing for the first time.
Even though we love them because they are full of horses, boarding stables and equestrian centers are barely better than zoos. The riding that is learned is tense, fraught with fear and distress and only just functional. The riding the girls do on the pathways develops their skills as equestrians to a far greater degree than the stables, but it’s like trying to learn how to ride with someone throwing trash at you all the time. The girls do it because they love the horses, but it’s far from ideal. At the ranch, without the constant oppressive presence of thousands of automobiles, with the sounds of birds and the rhythms of daily animal care taking naturally woven into life, they got a glimpse of what horses are really all about; a vision of life as it could be lived.
Access to the ranch was curtailed by the owners. Horse camp is what has filled in.
Sophie has made her own packing list for camp. Arya has volunteered her parents to bring Indian food for dinner, though she hasn’t told her parents. I’ve ordered full seat breeches for both girls, a purchase that was overdue as the breeches help them stick to the horse.
Odds are in our favor that we will not run into any bullies so all should be good.