It all began at the Saddle Shop in San Carlos. Boots. Riding helmet. Gathering all the things required for Ava’s highly anticipated horse camp.
Rows of boots, all shapes and sizes. Some with sparkles, most without. Long rows of saddles slung over dusty wooden saw horses. A rich assortment of ten gallon hats. Big silver buckles and embossed shirts. We soaked in the cowboy ambiance and smelled the leather in the air.
We were assisted by a lovely sales lady who pulled a selection of boots for Ava. I said no to anything with glitter. They seemed, well, less serious than real cowgirl boots. So, we settled on pink and brown leather, a good in between boot; the choice made everyone happy. We selected a helmet. Black velvet; soft to the touch but tough enough to protect her head. Ava loved it and waned to wear it around the house. I had to hide it on the top shelf of the closet.
Since I had Mia in tow, she got a pair of boots too. Light pink leather, good for both fashion and riding. even though she only needed the fashion part. Her job was to be very busy creating statement outfits for her boots.
Day one of horse camp arrived. Ava was dressed and ready to go at six am. She shook my shoulder and asked, “Can we go? Is it open yet?”
Little girls and horses. Horses and little girls.
The day before my fellow moms and I plan out the carpool schedule. It takes a village to manage camp schedules, I am thankful for their flexibility and support. Playdates with her friends each afternoon. Games. Popsicles. Lemonade. Movies. Playing outside. Long days of fun stretched out in alignment of the light of the sun. This was summer.
Day one, I drove three excited little girls. My car filled with the high pitched giggles and squeals only seven year old girls can emit.
We pulled into to Spring Down Equestrian Center, nestled in the heart of Portola Valley. We are welcomed by bunches of colorful roses and bronze horse statues surrounding the main horse stalls and a large covered arena. The Spring Down logo embossed on each stall door.
The girls burst from the car and ran to their friend who was already there. Lots of wiggling. Lots of running. Lots of “Do you see the HORSES!” There are about thirty other little girls doing the same thing. Ava and her friends were put into the same group, more squeals erupted.
Each day was exciting. Each day was something new. The mornings I drove in, I was given a tour. The girls showed me this and showed me that. They knew every horse by name. We entered the barn, long and quiet with only the soft nickering of the horses floating on the dusty air. Horses poked their heads out looking for a possible treat.
Quirky folk art decorated the barn walls. These were a few of my favorites. I kind of wanted the stain glass horse piece.
This was Likely, Ava’s horse for her first two week session. Born in 2002, he was 15.3 hands high. White with gray spots dotted his coat.
This was Trevor, she loved Trevor. All the girls loved Trevor. He was a big horse over seventeen hands high. And he appeared to like Ava in return as he gave her a surprise kiss. We visited Trevor every day.
The camp was the right amount of balance between the education about horses, caring for the horses, and riding. Just enough to ensure each little girl understood how much work was involved in owning horse; ensuring she doesn’t come running home asking to buy one. Each day Ava built on what she learned the previous day. They were sensitive to her learning style and courage capacity. They held relay races and played Simon Says games on their horses. Thursdays were arts and crafts day, her favorite was painting a real horseshoe.
Besides the horse, the girls had some other favorite things. The barn cats, the vending machine, and the trading cards.
Barn cats wandered all over the property; ready for a pat by a friendly hand. The girls all loved one particular cat named Dracula; he had funny fangs, so the name was well…fitting.
Second, the vending machine. They discovered it day one. Begged for quarters on day two. Cookies and M&Ms, amongst other items, were their favorite. By day four, the novelty had worn off and Ava didn’t ask for anymore quarters.
One day, I even saw Dracula sitting on the vending machine. A double whammy of favorite things!
Finally, the trading cards. Individual cards showcased all the horses and cats on the property. Day two, Ava has to have Dracula and her horse, Likely. I gave her some extra money and she came home with several more horses. On the front of each card, a photo, and on the back, measurements and a little history. By the end of day three, all the girls had them.
There was also the giant Willow tree in an open field located next to the farm. The girls loved the willow tree, it’s long arms stretched towards the ground. The wind blowing the tendril like branches back and forth. Good for pulling and swinging. Good for running through the grass with a long branch dragging behind. I loved that tree too.
Day in and day out, Ava learned more about horses. I was impressed with her overall knowledge by the end of the two weeks. By the final day, she was ready to show us what she learned.
Her group had decided to decorate their horse as a unicorn. Of course, Ava nominated me to figure out this art project. Wednesday afternoon she says, ” Mom, we are turning Likely a unicorn. Can you make a horn?” What? To the computer I went in a flash. Searching. Searching for an easy way to solve this dilemma. Soon enough, we were off to Michaels to gather the necessary to supplies. I am not very artistic, but I do my best. Styrofoam horn, sparkly sticky paper, flowers, and ribbon. Some time later, I produced a unicorn horn. I’m sort of proud of it. I reminded myself to add unicorn horn creation to my skill set on my LinkedIn profile.
On the last day, Mia loved exploring the barn area and petting the horses. The other little girls surround her, she’s always a person of interest.
Her coach helped her decorate Likely, who I’m not sure actually liked his new accessory, but tolerated it anyway.
As she rode out into the ring, I was amazed how small she looked on a full size horse. She rode tightly to the rail around the arena. She guided her horse in and out of the little orange pylons. Round and round, she walked the arena. She wasn’t ready for trotting yet, just the riding the gentle gate of her horse was enough for her.
She was proud of herself. She left the ring and walked with her coach to untack her horse. She gave Likely one last hug before leaving camp. I could see the relationship the two had built over their time together.
At the end of the summer, she was able to go back for one more week with a couple of her friends. This time she rode Dina. This time she trotted the ring.
After untacking, Ava and Dina posed for some photos. Based on this series of photos, it appeared Dina had a sense of humor.
Ava explored a lot of new things this summer. Horse, theater, Girls Scout, art, and regular day camp. She sang and danced in a broadway show at the local middle school theater. Learned to tap dance. Made a solar oven and baked cookies. Hiked through the woods. Slept under the stars. Created some amazing works of art both in studio and out in nature. Sang songs at the top of her lungs on the bus and around a campfire. She came home tired and super dirty most days. She deepened her friendships.
But across a busy summer of new experiences, horse camp was her absolute favorite.
Little girls and horses. Horses and little girls.
There’s just something magical about it all.