It seems like yesterday and at the same time it feels like a lifetime ago.

That was the year I had this vaguely insane notion to start my own riding school.

I had managed the University of Toronto’s riding school for a few years and after it shut down, I managed to find temporary homes for all my school horses. Then began the search for a place where I could start again.

There were some moments where it seemed unlikely, but on October 1, 1985 the farm at Gormley came available for lease and so happily, my U. of T. school horses and me were back in business.

I am reminded of all of this because this week, Rochelle Morais has been up from the States for a visit to the farm. She was my first Camp Director all those years ago and having her here this past week has been wonderful. We’ve been reminiscing and cleaning, cleaning and reminiscing…lots of fun.

On Friday night, some of the original campers are coming to the farm for a reunion of sorts. These are kids that were as young as 7 back when Harrogate started operations. We have all tried to keep in touch over the years but getting together has proved problematic. Some are in other provinces and some are in other countries. Some are doctors, lawyers, paramedics, veterinarians and many have started families and have children of their own. But the ones who are able to are going to come for a visit.

It is a bit unsettling to think too much about the amount of time that has passed but I can’t begin to express how honoured I am that they still think enough of their experiences at Harrogate to want to meet up here this weekend.

We are already thinking of a bigger reunion in the future…where everyone could plan way in advance to arrange their schedules so that they could travel to the farm. Maybe in three years for the 35th anniversary…yikes…my fingers sort of hurt typing that…



Saturday, August 19 work-shop

As most of you know, our young riders, affectionately known as ‘barn rats’, get to learn a lot about horses simply because they get to spend a lot of time here.

But for those of you who were ‘born to ride but forced to work’ we’re offering a day long work-shop with the horses.  You don’t even have to be a rider to join us. You can just be someone who would love to know more about the wonderful world of horses.

Our goal with this workshop is to compress a lot of the barn rats’ experience into a time frame that better suits your busy schedule.

We know that when you have a job and responsibilities, it’s likely hard to find the time to ride once a week, let alone take time to learn about horses.

So, we’re going to fill in those knowledge gaps for you. This is an interactive workshop, where you’ll be handling the horses, working in the arena, in the round pen, and learning all about feeding, grooming, and general care. We’ll teach you how to know if your horse is in good health and what to do if you think he’s not.

In the process, you’ll understand even more clearly how the horse thinks and why he reacts the way that he does. We think that you’re going to end up learning so much about the horse that you’ll appreciate him even more than you do already!

We’ll have refreshments throughout our day and cap it all off with a catered dinner where we can continue our discussions over a glass of wine.

The cost for your day at Harrogate is $97.00.

Form below for registration is here

P.S. Even if you can’t make it, please pass this on to all your horse loving friends!

Adult ‘barn rats’?

Well, Session 2 of camp is underway and it’s been great fun so far. The participants have been working on their riding skills of course, but also on their basic horsemanship. They’re learning how to care for their horse and to look for things that would tell them their horse is not doing as well as it could. Later this session it’s possible that the vet will be back up doing some more work Deck’s eye. He has already had one round of surgery and might require another. Today the campers got to watch the blacksmith work and learned quite a bit about good foot care.

As is often the case, it occurred to me how lucky these kids are because they get to see things that even a lot of horse owners don’t get to see. There are lots of people who own horses who actually have a job and so can only come up a couple times a week for a couple of hours to see their horse. There are others who can only manage to find the time to make it to the barn once a week for a lesson. The odds are pretty much against them seeing what these kids will see.

Over the years, I have noticed that there can be quite a gap in the knowledge that some adult riders have. This is especially true If they have taken to the sport later in life. It is quite possible that they have missed most of the information that the ‘barn rats’ get just by being here all the time.

So this takes me to my next thought. I really feel that because we use horses for enjoyment now rather than for survival we have some moral obligation to learn about them so that we can treat them well.

It is not only important to know how to ride, I think it is also important to know a little bit about what is best for your horse. This often requires that we understand what our horse is trying to tell us. It’s important for us to learn his language because it’s asking an awful lot for him to learn ours. (Although as anyone who spends time with horses knows, they seem remarkably good at reading us.)

I think it’s important to be able to recognize signs of health and signs of trouble and have a sense of what to do when the horse is not well. I think it’s a good thing to know how to handle a horse on the ground, leading him in and out of the barn. I think it is educational to see him interact with his peers in the field gaining, as we watch, a bit of an understanding of who he is when is not standing in his stall waiting for us.

For the most part horses are happy to do our bidding and enjoy their time with us. But I think the more we understand them, the better their lives will be. That’s all the things these kids are going to learn and I know a lot of adult riders who are kind of jealous about that.

For a number of years now people have been trying to talk us into having an “adult barn rat day”…a day where adults, whether they are riders or not, could spend a day at the farm getting to know these wonderful animals a little better. We have done it before but it has been a long time… but the more I think about it the more I’m considering it.

I think perhaps it should involve wine…

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Changing times…

I thought about my parents a lot these past two weeks. They were both born in Nova Scotia in the mid 1920s. My father grew up in an orphanage in Halifax and my mom on a farm on Cape Breton Island. Both of them were old enough to understand the Great Depression because back in those days, kids got older faster. It was an event that changed them, just like it changed a lot people from their era.

After my father passed away last year, and we were cleaning out their house, I found so many signs of their world view. There were containers of string, containers of pencils, some only 4 inches long, every last screw and nail that had been used before had been painstakingly straightened and carefully stored away. And rags! Every article of clothing, bedding, towels… anything they had ever owned that was made of fabric I think had been cut up into rags to be repurposed for other things.

I guess one of the reasons I thought about them this week was because I found that my view of the world was quite different from the young kids who have been generously helping me with the big cleanout these past two weeks.

I would find a piece of leather or wood and immediately I could imagine that my dad would have found a use for it. The same if I found an article of clothing. I would hold it for moment knowing that my mom would have easily repaired the small tear.

The kids were very kind and if they judged my hesitation, they didn’t show it. I got a little better at it as time went on and found myself making the decision to throw it in the garbage bag got a little easier all the time.

But it’s been a while since I found myself looking up wistfully at heaven. I almost wanted to apologize but I was given strength by the fact that I knew they always wanted what was best for me. And for me, knowing where everything is and not having so much stuff unaccounted for in the barn will be make things so much better.

I think for my next chore I might get rid of all the nails I’ve been straightening….