Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Carefully curated musings about the writing life, horses, bitterness and crushing career disappointment. Fun, right?

Out of the Mouths of Babes

kids and foals2.jpgA couple of months ago, I was tapped to be one of the judges in something called the Youth Literary Derby — a writing contest for kids, meant to encourage their interest in Standardbreds and harness racing.  Yes, I can be flattered.  It’s nice when someone remembers that I write, and edit, and have some peripheral connection to the sport.  I sent back my three top picks, on the poetry and prose sides, this morning, and it was quite possibly one of the hardest bloody things I’ve ever done, editorially speaking.

Reading the submissions, from kids in grades five through eight, I tried to imagine the classroom set-up for this.  Some of the entries were photocopies of handwritten efforts, and I gather at least a few of these were from schools catering to Mennonite kids who will have had some actual contact with horses.  Most, however, would have had no prior experience with horses or racing at all.  Several Ontario Standardbred farms hosted Open Houses for the kids in May, and that experience showed in the essays of the kids who were lucky enough to go.

Others, I think, were just asked to watch the video above, and then wing it — and the results ranged from touching, to a little bit scary, to hilarious.  Many didn’t quite get the difference between Thoroughbred racing and harness racing, and spent a lot of time describing jockeys.  There were a lot of immaculate conceptions, too, with owners suddenly discovering their beloved horse was giving birth right now, apparently with no previous, um, intervention.  And sometimes it seemed like the kids just took whatever plotline had most recently stuck in their heads from a cartoon, and inserted Standardbreds as the characters.  On more than one story, I attached a post-it note to myself which said, “Is this about horses?”

superheroes on horseback

I’m not sure of the legalities of a) outing myself as one of the judges or b) sharing the submissions (which were rendered anonymous before I received them), but I can’t resist at least giving you a few excerpts from some of the ones that most tickled me.   For the actual winners, you’ll have to wait till September 18Apparently there’s $2000 in prizes up for grabs.

Here’s one of the poems (verbatim): 

The Horses of Ancient Times
Baby horses are small,
Smaller than a small wall.
They all live in stalls,
But they grow to be taller than some walls.
They are quite fast,
They will be panting at last.
But not to hard,
After listening to the bard.
And now they are calm
They moved less than my palm.
Because they were sleeping
Because it’s hard to be leaping
But they wake in the morning
But not to be mourning.
But to have fun with their friends,
And this this is where the story ends.

And if that didn’t float your boat, try Little Foal:

I’m a little Standardbred foal,
I like to watch my mother roll,
Or watch her race all day long,
She must be very tough and strong.
I like to lie in the shade,
Which the big, tall trees have made,
While my mother is at work,
Which she never tries to shirk.
I like to watch a magpie,Ping-pong-tongue-animated-frogs-breakfast
Or some late nights a firefly.
They make a very funny glow.
Often times they fly quite low.
In the creek I saw a bass,
The water was as clear as glass,
Near it was a pollywog.
It was not quite yet a frog.
When I’m big I hope to be,
A race horse who earns money.
I’m just a little foal yet,
Who has never seen a jet!

Kudos to that young writer for knowing the difference between “lay” and “lie”, btw.

But this entry, in the prose category, is totally my favourite.  Because, All.  The. Drama!!

A Boy And a Horse
Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Jerry.  He had just woken up and was extremely excited because he was going to go see his grandparents from out of town.  Jerry and his mom and dad were taking a train to get there.  Also on that day, there was a horse farmer that lived nearby.  He had 8 colts.  One was just turning 4 and his name was “Flash”.  Flash was being prepared for the big race that was being held later that day.  The colt was very fast and had won two other races before and duck_tales_runaway_trainwanted to win this one.  Later on he was just waiting in his starting gate with the other horses, when he saw a train go by.  Jerry was in it and he ran to the caboose of the train to watch the race.  Flash was in third place on the final turn and Jerry was on top of the rail waiting to see what would happen.  All of a sudden the train started moving, sending Jerry flying off the back of the train.  When Flash saw this, he bounced the driver off his sulky, snapping the reins and once free he ran over to get Jerry.  He hopped the fence and started running and flung Jerry up on his back, following the train.  In 5 minutes the train had reached the station and Flash was not far behind.  He ran as fast as he cold and 2 minutes later he was there.  Sensing Jerry was barely conscious, Flash tried to find his parents.  It did not take him long.  Flash saw two people looking panicked.  Mom and Dad saw Jerry and ran over to get their son.  They rushed him to a hospital and the following day Jerry came back out thanking Flash for saving him.  Flash went back to his ranch and even though he didn’t win, he still felt like he did and Jerry went over to the ranch everyday to see Flash from that day on.  Best friends.

And if you aren’t stirred by that, we can’t be friends.






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2 thoughts on “Out of the Mouths of Babes

  1. Some great bits of writing that give me hope for the future.


  2. UPDATE: Youth Literary Derby Finalists Announced
    The results are in and the finalists announced for the 2018 Youth Literary Derby.

    The province-wide juried, horse-themed writing contest designed to encourage writing and literacy skills of Ontario students grades 5 to 8, reached into the classrooms of schools, Standardbred breeding farms and mainstream media, and attracted submissions from 46 towns, cities, villages and the Amish community.

    Poetry Derby Finalists:
    Maria Achilleos, St. John French Immersion School, London, Ontario
    Kyla Civiero, Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Carlisle, Ontario
    Marilyn Schmidt, Amish Parochial School, Elmwood, Ontario

    Essay Derby Finalists:
    Avery Kirkpatrick, St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School, Bowmanville, Ontario
    Andrew Kuepfer, Amish Parochial School, Elmwood, Ontario
    Allie Kucman, Peace Bridge Public School, Fort Erie, Ontario

    The winners (1st, 2nd and 3rd) of the Youth Literary Derby’s poetry and essay categories will be announced and the recipients honoured in a special ceremony at Woodbine Mohawk Park on October 6.

    The scope of the Youth Literary Derby was huge. It swept across the Ontario landscape from Blind River and Manotick to Bright’s Grove, Sudbury, Dobbinton, St. Catharines and beyond, reaching out to horse-loving kids with a literary flair who competed for $2,000 in prizes donated by St. Catharines horseman and construction magnate, Tom Rankin, sponsor of the competition.

    “The contest is great for education in terms of encouraging literacy and the arts,” Rankin states. “Giving kids the chance to be creative and who knows, there might be a budding poet or writer.”

    As for the harness racing industry, Rankin thinks the Youth Literary Derby is an ideal way for introducing the sport to a wider audience.

    The winners will also receive free donated tuition for youth courses from Equine Guelph (Ontario Veterinary College) for Horse Behaviour and Safety. The Ontario Veterinary College is one of North America’s foremost leaders in equine research and equine education.

    The Youth Literary Derby offered categories for both poems and essays, with prizes divided among the top three finishers in each category. The same amounts are donated to the entrant’s school, or library if the student is home schooled.

    The Youth Literary Derby challenged students’ abilities to capture in prose or verse their impressions and perceptions of their up-close encounters with some of the 1,400 young Standardbred foals born in Ontario in 2018. Twenty Ontario Standardbred breeding farms opened their gates wide during the foaling season in April, May and June, welcoming these aspiring young wordsmiths into the world of nature and beyond the hi-tech world of computers.

    The Youth Literary Derby concept was introduced into the education curriculum of some classrooms. It attracted entries from French Immersion schools and gained wide acceptance in the Amish community.

    The principals at many schools spoke in favour of the Youth Literary Derby and invited horsemen to speak about the program at their literary fairs. School boards contacted were unanimous in their support of the program, stating their appreciation for the community spirit generated by the program, and happily distributed Derby promotional literature to the schools in their jurisdictions. Libraries, too, requested promotional posters to distribute to their branches to publicize the event.

    The mayors of St. Catharines, Mississauga and Caledon, Ontario weighed on the value of the Youth Literary Derby, issuing strong support and endorsement of the program.

    The Youth Literary Derby attracted mainstream media coverage with front-page coverage in daily newspapers, and extensive exposure in major industry websites, along with talk radio, community television and wide-ranging social media.

    The program attained international recognition when the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State, the United States Harness Writers Association and Standardbred Breeders Association of Pennsylvania penned their praise and support of the program. “The Harness Horse Breeders Association of New York State are so impressed with the idea they are looking to implement a similar program”, said Betty Holt, executive director of Harness Horse Breeders of New York State.

    Overall Derby statistics showed 30 per cent of submissions were poems, with 70 per cent essays. Interestingly, 63 per cent of the total submissions were penned by girls and 45 per cent of those who submitted entries heard of the Derby from their schools and their teachers. Twelve per cent of students learned of the program from their libraries.

    Key partners in the support and promotion of the Derby include Equine Guelph (Ontario Veterinary College), Mississauga Arts Council, Standardbred Canada, Ontario Equestrian Federation, Standardbred Breeders of Ontario, Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, and Woodbine. The Youth Literary Derby was organized and implemented by a team of ten dedicated industry volunteers.

    Liked by 1 person

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