Recently, Simpson Street Free Press reporters ventured out of the City of Madison to Hubertus, WI. Excited and a little nervous, we headed out of the office on a horseback riding mission. We were a little uncertain about the weather, but we were determined to have an unforgettable field trip.
We piled into cars with our adult editors and set out on the open road. As we neared the land of the large beasts, the car wound up and down massive hills; it felt like a roller coaster! Finally, we pulled onto a rustic country lane, Amy Belle Road, where the colorful Camp Minikani sign greeted us.
After the long drive, we refueled with fresh fruit and sandwiches. While eating lunch, we were greeted by Sam “Thunder Hoof” Smith, Camp Minikani’s equestrian director; Maggie Shanahan, one of the camp’s program directors; and Juliette Verley and Eric Schmid, two of the camp’s junior counselors. Our hunger sated, Juliette and Eric led us to a big green barn to teach us how to interact safely with horses. One of the most important rules: do not approach a horse from the front or back. Instead, approach it from the side, so as not to appear threatening. Once we were clear on the rules and fitted for helmets, we finally got to meet the horses.
Eight large horses were standing inside of the equestrian center. The butterflies in my stomach were really starting to flutter. It was my first time riding a horse, so I was both nervous and excited. Each SSFP student reporter was matched with one of the eight horses; my horse’s name was Hershey. He had a brown coat and a long, black mane. Hershey’s relaxed and easygoing attitude helped settle my nerves.
While getting a feel of our horses, Juliette and Eric taught us the basics of horseback riding. To mount a horse, you put your left into a stirrup and swing your right leg over the horse and into the other stirrup. Then, to get the horse to move, you gently nudge the animal with your legs, while pulling the reigns in whatever direction you want to go.
Once I was settled in to ride, I noticed that Hershey—like many of the other horses—shimmied every so often. Maggie, who was leading Hershey throughout our trail ride, explained that horses shimmy or stomp to get flies off of themselves.
While exploring the campgrounds atop our hoofed friends, it took some time to get used to the feel of riding. But, after a few minutes, we felt calmer as the sound of the horses’ hooves hitting the warm earth, clip clop! clip clop!, echoed off of the trees. Occasionally, the horses would stop mid-trail to relieve themselves. Other than that, the trail ride was very relaxing and fun.
When we returned to the equestrian center, I was sad the ride was over, and I’m sure the others felt the same way. Hershey and I had really bonded. We both do not like bugs, and we both have an easygoing spirit. Before Hershey and I parted, he gave me a little nudge that melted my heart.
After saying our goodbyes, we circled back to the barn. Here, we met the camp’s favorite pony, Nikki, and learned how to care for and groom a horse. Grooming a horse involves multiple steps: first, use a special comb with rubber nubs called a currycomb to brush the horse in circular motions. This loosens shedding hair, dirt, and grime from the horse’s body. Then, you must ‘pick the hooves’ of a horse. This step is crucial to keeping the horse clean and healthy. You have to make sure not to pick the v-shape of the horses’ hooves, however, because this is a tender area. Finally, you spray the horse down with fly spray to keep the buzzing pests away.
As my fellow student reporters practiced these grooming techniques on Nikki, she was drooling. It wasn’t just because the reporters were brushing her sweet spot—it was also because she was munching on clover, which contains sugar and is just like candy for horses. We learned that horses and ponies unfortunately tend to get abdominal pains after consuming too much clover. Despite the drool that was dripping from Nikki’s mouth, we still all fed her a lot of treats.
Overall, it was a great day. We learned all about horse safety, how to care for horses, and—most excitingly—how to ride the majestic beasts. Driving down Camp Minikani’s winding dirt paths on the way home, we swapped stories about the horses we had gotten to know that day. We’re all looking forward to riding again in the future!