Saturday, June 13, 2015

The farm at the end of the road



by Kate Lattey

Back in 2004, I filled out an application form for a summer camp programme in the USA. A few days after posting it off, I got a phone call that changed my life forever.

The call was from a Mr Thomas Woodman, of Road’s End Farm Horsemanship Camp in New Hampshire. I spoke with Tom for over an hour (which by his standards, is a short conversation!) and then at his insistence, went onto the camp’s website to have a look for myself and be certain that I wanted to join their staff. Based on my chat with Tom, I was already 99% sure that I was in, and by the end of the next few minutes, I was completely certain.

The herd in full flight (and Hendrix going the wrong way...)


I flew to America and spent three incredible months at the camp, riding some wonderful horses and meeting some amazing people, both young and old. I travelled a bit around the country afterwards with new friends, then flew back to New Zealand, feeling richer for having had the experience.

In 2007, I went back. And in 2008. And in 2009, and 2010. I filled the months in-between with other jobs, working at a livery yard in Epsom, UK between the summers of ’07 and ’08, and at a castle in Ireland between ’09 and ’10. (I returned home between ’08 and ’09 to work as a landscape gardener…not quite as exciting as the other jobs!)

Lately I’ve been posting a few pics on Instagram of some of the farm’s horses. Every horse there has a story to tell, and a lesson to teach us, whether it’s not judging by names or appearances, overcoming past prejudice or conformational defects, finding the right rider to click with a difficult pony, how it feels when you find your one in a million horse, or the importance of having a friend and being protected from bullies. You can follow my Instagram account at http://www.instagram.com/kate_lattey to see these posts, and I also post them on my Facebook page. 

The impossibly beautiful Road's End Oliver Twist

But it’s not just the horses that make Road’s End Farm special. It’s the people. The staff who work there, the campers who come there, and the incredible man who runs it all, although he’d say he doesn’t do anything other than paperwork, and that it’s the staff and children who make the camp what it is. He is, of course, just being modest. His words of wisdom guide us all, not only through camp but on through life.

At the end of each summer, we produced special staff sweatshirts with one of Tom’s favourite maxims printed on the back, carefully selected by committee each year. In 2004 it was We use our heads to save our backs. In 2007, Wake up and die right. In 2008, Live simply so others can simply live. In 2009, You are defined by your choices, not by your circumstances. And in 2010, Any job that’s worth doing is worth doing well.

Wake up and die right (Staff 2007)

These maxims each express one of the lessons we learned at the farm. Using your head before you start, to save your back from extra labour. Waking up now and living your best possible life, so you can die knowing you’ve lived each day to the fullest. Living simply and being grateful for what you have, and understanding that others around the world aren’t so lucky. Understanding that where you come from is part of who you are, but not letting it hold you back from being all that you can be. Doing every job as well as you can, because as Tom also often said, Don’t do a half-tail job.

For the last three summers I was at the farm, I slept in the dorm with the senior girls, on the edge of their transition from child to adult. About to graduate from high school, looking at colleges to go to, trying to work out where their futures would take them. I look at those girls now and I am amazed. I have campers working with the rescue efforts in Nepal, biking across Europe to raise money for charity, sitting outside supermarkets in the freezing cold during winter collecting donations for foodbanks, writing and performing plays about serious social issues, working with underprivileged and immigrant youth in America to get them into some of the country’s top colleges. Studying at Yale, and NASA, and MIT. Living and working in New York City, getting married, travelling around the world, coming to visit me. So much of what they do is incredible to me and I am so immensely proud of each and every one of them.

 
The wisdom left by a young camper in one of our old dorms

By the time you read this, I will be back at Road’s End Farm for a week-long visit. It won’t be long enough, but then, it never is. But any time spent there is time well spent. As one of my fellow counsellors once put it, “I like who I am when I’m here.”

We are as free to express ourselves there as their horses are. Free to be you, free to be me. Free to live life however you wish to live it, as long as you’re doing it to the fullest.

I love my camp. I can’t stay away. I like who I am when I’m there, and I like who I am now, because I have been there.

When I sent in that camp application eleven years ago, I could’ve ended up anywhere. I am so thankful that for whatever reason, my application caught Tom’s eye, and that he pulled it off the stack, picked up the phone, and made the call that changed my life. 

Bittersweet, my one in a million,
who the camp allowed me to treat as if she were my own

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