Laura Simis

Things I Learned at Horse Camp

Laura Simis
Things I Learned at Horse Camp

My “horse phase” lasted about 10 months during the fourth grade.

My mom faithfully transported me to the library where I checked out every book I could find about raising, training, and professionally riding horses. She didn’t say a word when I watched The Saddle Club multiple times a week. She bought me a quilt with horses on it, but kept the receipt because she accurately predicted that I’d be ready to return it to TJ Maxx 30 days later.

Perhaps the most trying and traumatizing mark of this phase in my life was my insistence that I go to a horse-themed summer camp. My parents were hesitant (Flashback to my reaction to every new and challenging experience - which was and sometimes still is to sob uncontrollably and cling to my mom’s leg) – but I was persistent in my begging, and a one-week stint at a sleepaway horse camp was planned.

And boy – did I learn a lot at horse camp.

1. The Postal Service Will Let You Down

The smiling face of situational irony!

The smiling face of situational irony!

As counselors prompted my parents to sign away my life on a stack of consent forms, I quietly contemplated whether I could climb into the trunk of our minivan undetected and just pop out back at home. “Surprise! I decided camp wasn’t for me…”

Twenty minutes after my parents left me (ABANDONED me!), I was in a full panic. My first act as a camper had been to pick a bed and unroll my sleeping bag. My second act was to plop myself down in the “craft cabin” and write a very dramatic letter home to my parents.

“Come get me immediately!” I urged. “Don’t make me stay here a whole week, I hate it! I AM NOT HAVING FUN.” Then I drew an arrow to point out my tear stains on the paper.

Though my camp was exactly forty minutes east of my home, this letter did not arrive until the day before my parents were supposed to come pick me up. (If you want to traumatize your mother, I highly recommend it as a tactic.)

The other four letters I’d written throughout the week, begging my parents to rescue me early, didn’t arrive until I was already safely home. 

2. Man Cannot Live By Smuckers Uncrustables Alone

As a fan of the Parent Trap, I should have known that sloppy joes were an inevitable reality.
As a picky eater, I was horrified to discover that sloppy joes were our first meal of the week.
As an all-around difficult person, I chose to handle this crisis by going on a hunger strike of sorts.

Throughout the week, I refused green beans, hamburgers and banana pudding lovingly prepared by the camp staff, choosing instead to survive on pre-packaged peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches.

There were days when the Smuckers Uncrustables were fresh from the freezer, garnished with a layer of ice crystals and frozen through to the peanut butter.

I also paid a hefty price for my rebellion in the form of an intense jelly stain on my favorite pajama shirt. (Yes, I wore my pajama top to dinner. More than once. I was in crisis. Let it go.)

3. Beware the Black Widow Corner

This camp was situated on 278 sprawling acres, with several different campsites, a dining hall with giant windows, a boathouse, and plenty of adult supervision.
But, as my parents drove away, I was convinced I was going to die in this place.

It certainly didn’t help that on the first night, I discovered that a camper before my time had scrawled “The Black Widow Corner” in jagged Sharpie lines on the floor below my cot. Or, as the girls in my platform tent and I rationalized, it had been scorched into the wood by the black widow herself, one letter at a time, each time she grabbed a sleeping camper from that bed and ATE HER.

As you’ll all be relieved to find out, I was not eaten. But I did have some pretty cool recurring night terrors that summer as a result.

4. There are Zero Practical Uses for Lanyard-Making Skills

“Horse Camp” may be an inappropriate label for my camp experience – a more accurate title would be “Crippling Homesickness - With Some Horses.”

I’d envisioned myself wowing the counselors with my deep library book knowledge of horse trivia. (“Did you know that horses are the New Jersey state animal?”) Exploring the wilderness and crossing rivers on my noble steed, my hair blowing in the breeze like every girl on every cover of every horse novel ever written. Perhaps gaining the trust of a misunderstood horse and forming an intense Hallmark movie-level friendship.

But it was July in North Carolina, so it was far too humid for my hair to blow in nonexistent breezes. And because our group was made up of about 25 girls and there were only five horses, we were assigned to shifts – meaning we only had two hours a day to groom, ride, and take close-up pictures of our horses on our disposable cameras.

The other 12 hours of the day were filled with normal camp activities, like canoeing, singing, and avoiding team sports at all costs; it was sort of like my parents had paid to make me stay at gym class overnight.

My tent-mates/A sweatshop of lanyard-makers. 

My tent-mates/A sweatshop of lanyard-makers. 

While I did learn some neat things about horses, it’s safe to say that most of my time at horse camp was devoted to making lanyards out of cheap plastic laces. I mass-produced them, under some incorrect perception that my friends and family “on the outside” were in dire need of multiple handmade keychains.

Learning the art of the plastic lanyard is an even less usable skill than its sister - the friendship bracelet. This became clear to me when I arrived home with a duffel bag full of sweaty clothes and 16 plastic lanyards that went into a drawer and didn’t see the light of day until they were transferred to a trash can 8 years later.

5. Stepping on a Frog Will Ruin Your Week (More)

This point could also be titled “Don’t Wear Socks to the Bathhouse” :(

6. I Was Not Cut Out for the Wilderness

Mostly, my camp experience was marred by my flair for the dramatic and a propensity – a skill, really – to make myself miserable no matter where I am or what’s happening.

If I had just chilled out for a quick second, I probably would have realized that between fits of crying in the dining hall bathrooms because I wanted to go home and crying in my sleeping bag because I wanted to go home and crying in the middle of a softball game because I wanted to go home (and I got pegged in the nose with a softball); I was having some fun, too. 

And because I’m a dramatic and complex individual, the exact moment that my parents rolled up in the minivan to collect me from camp, I threw my arms around my new camp friends and said “I WON’T LEAVE QUIETLY!”

Half an hour later, nestled into the air conditioned back seat of the minivan, my parents and I quietly agreed that we would not be sending me back to camp the following summer. When it came to horse camp, I didn’t quite “sink,” but I certainly didn’t “swim” either.

(I already told you, I was making plastic lanyards by the side of the pool.)


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