Smith Valley has glorious fields of alfalfa, robust cattle, and a very high regard for horsemanship. Today this art is being celebrated in a covered arena that would easily accommodate the Goodyear Blimp. Banners flutter, music blares and Donna, Queen of Camelot, rides serenely into the arena. Dusty and Donna Hustace are owners of Horsemanship Headquarters, which holds a horse camp every summer.
"Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a far off land," and so the pageantry unfolds. Emily, Cassidy, Rebecca, Heather and Marsia, saunter into the arena. Each is wearing a flowing gown that falls gracefully over the haunches of her horse. Interestingly, these typical teenagers are willing to forgo TV, cell phones, and iPods for a whole week, just to be here. Their computer savvy and scholastic prowess are useless here. Everyday they will muck out stalls, be grilled in horsemanship, and go on rigorous trail rides, morning and afternoon. For a treat, they're taken to Hunewill Lake across the valley, where they splash bareback, much to the delight of both horse and rider. On another occasion, they go to Blue Lakes. There they capture the meaning of the word "wilderness" as they ride posse-style through the high country. Each night their meals are cooked in an iron skillet and they sleep in a barn.
At the conclusion of horsemanship week, it's dress-up time. Each girl becomes a princess. Musically, a booming voice extols the virtues of long ago Camelot. The fragile strains of Sleeping Beauty Ballet softens the thud of the horses' hooves. First, they perform as a group, creating precision formations. Then, each girl is required to make jumps. A rider maneuvers into position. The horse balks. The audience gasps. Without hesitation, rider and horse reposition. Seconds later horse and rider fly through the air, a perfect jump. The crowd goes wild.
Following the performance, I study the journals given me by the five princesses. Heather: "This year I had the pleasure of being a student of a horse named Diesel. He helped me to conquer my fears. I experienced memories that will be in my head for a life long ride. None of these heartwarming adventures would be possible without the loving faces of Dusty and Donna." Marsia: "Majestic would be the best word to describe this 20-year-old mare (Bonnie). She is the mother of two fillies, but I'll tell you, she can move like a rocket, and you should see her jump. She puts up with a lot from me." Rebecca: "Marsh is a 10-year-old mustang. He was found in a mud puddle when he was one day old. He is fearless when he is soaring over fences. Marsh is an amazing companion. I also loved laughing into the night with my friends." Emily: "Gus is an amazing horse. His past has been full of abuse. He will do just about anything you ask him. I would probably say his favorite thing besides me, are treats. Gus is my best friend." Cassidy: "Horse camp is a dream vacation. But what makes it perfect is Dakota, a sleek black gelding, 14 hands 3" tall. His favorite part of camp is playing and splashing in the water. This majestic creature is my second life, my heart and my soul."
When George Bernard Shaw wrote, "Youth is wasted on the young," he sure missed the mark with Marsia, Heather, Cassidy, Rebecca and Emily. Dollar for dollar, moment for moment, Horsemanship Headquarters fulfills its goal of being a dream machine. The five princesses do the rest.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.