• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 02
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Riding Camp


It was the rich girls who got be all horsey, taking the bus after school that dropped them off at the Weston Equestrian Centre, stocked with gleaming horses tossing glossy manes. Riders and horses equally well shod and groomed, whom I watched with envy at shows where the pupils flaunted their skills and won ribbons.

One summer I got to enter this magical world for two whole weeks. We drove several hours north, over the border to Captain Wiazowski’s riding school in north eastern Canada - a musty barn bought on credit filled with a dozen or so manky looking mares. Captain Wiazowski strode about in tattered military garb, snapping his crop and barking commands peppered with Polish expletives.

For one hour in the morning, and one hour in the afternoon, we’d duly trot and canter around the dusty ring. The rest of the day, and night for those of us who were residential campers, we took care of feeding and watering the horse, mucked out stalls, helped the kitchen crew peel and chop vegetables, and generally roamed around freely, entertaining ourselves as we wished.

Every single moment of those two weeks was golden. Because of the horses, of course, but mostly due to the total, utter freedom. Days stretched miraculously before us, filled by singing along to the Top 40 played on the tinny radio, exploring the woods at the edge of the property, swimming in the pond with the No Swimming sign, and watching the older kids play those weird games that involve chasing and wrestling in ways that maximised full-body contact. No one cared if I ate my stash of chocolate for lunch or stayed up all night telling ghost stories or jumped from the barn roof into the piled-up hay below.


Riding Camp

No one cared, that is, until I gleefully reported it all to my parents on my return. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to go back the next summer. Which, of course, was never going to happen. Not unless Captain Wiazowski put some serious safeguarding measures in place. He scoffed at my parents when they listed their concerns. So I was back to the outside of the fence at the local riding ring, watching my friends canter round and round.

Miraculously, some 3 years later, another opportunity appeared. My uncle in Poland found a horse riding camp on the outskirts of Warsaw, and this time several older cousins could join me as would-be chaperones. We stayed in a disintegrating palace converted into an agricultural college that earned its keep over the holidays by teaching riding to children of Communist Party members and occasional visitors from the diaspora. This time, I think we received only one hour of riding instruction per day. That left 23 hours for some 30 or so teenagers to fill.

And what did we get up to? Well that would be telling, and I’ve learned not to.