Written by: Doug Breen

Humour columnist Doug Breen wonders why his children can spend hours sweeping the barn and caring for their horses, but can’t find the laundry hamper at home.

Thumbnail for Humour: Walking Contradictions

Tommy Truong illustration

Why is it that my daughter will spend hours sweeping the barn, but couldn’t find a broom in our house if her life depended on it? Why is it that my son has spent half his life working on the proper handoff techniques for Prince Philip Games, and can memorize a dressage test over lunch, but won’t spend the couple hours of review required to grasp the basics of grade 11 math? Why will kids spend more time brushing a mane or tail than they will brushing their own hair?

I dropped the boy off at summer school this morning, because he decided to basically take the last two months of school off. Oh, he was there physically, but mentally, he was absent. Sort of the exact opposite of ‘The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’ – the flesh was there with bells on, but the spirit was already on summer break. Now, neither the spirit, nor the flesh, is on summer break. They’re both cooped up in a poorly air conditioned portable. In truth, if one were to try to design an appropriate punishment for a smart kid who decided to exercise his lazy options in May, summer school is about as perfect as punishments come. All of your friends are off riding or at various horse camps and you’re doing math for 10 hours a day under sweat shop conditions. I couldn’t have come up with anything better, if I’d thought about it for a week.

Last weekend, my daughter spent three hours dying the manes and tails of two white ponies blue for a mounted games competition, while miraculously keeping their coats spotless. Yet, she can’t get ready for school without leaving a bushel of discarded (clean) clothes on the floor and the bathroom counter looking like a tornado passed through. She’ll use a curling iron and a straightening iron on her hair at the same time (which sounds like the answer to a riddle about an immovable object meeting an irresistible force), then leave both of them plugged in when she leaves.

My wife loses her keys daily (sometimes more often than that), because in 21 years of marriage, she’s put them in a different spot every time she sets them down. Twenty-one years, times 365 days per year, is 7,665 unique locations – who knew we had that many flat surfaces? Yet if someone puts a saddle on the wrong rack or a halter on the wrong hook, she can spot it from a furlong away.

How does this happen? What makes our brains absolute sponges for some information, yet utterly impenetrable to others? I think that we find it far easier to remember things that we’re emotionally attached to – things that we love – but most of us struggle to remember things that we’re indifferent about. For example, I can remember my University Student Card Number (because it’s steeped in memories), but I can’t remember my Social Insurance Number (because it’s steeped only in taxes).

Krista loves saddles, all tack really, but not car keys. Aniela loves ponies, anything to do with horses really, but not personal hygiene. I wish Walker was more emotionally involved in factoring and functions.

Everyone can remember their first car, first love and first pony. Perhaps my family would be more bonded to the things that I want them to be if I made a sensory link between those things and the barn? What if Walker’s math book smelled like a horse? Would Krista be able to keep track of her keys if they were attached to an old saddle? Our house would likely be cleaner (it would certainly get more sweeping) if the horses were stabled in the kitchen. The horse trailer is cleaner than the back seat of the car! What if classrooms had dirt floors and kickboards? Would that make Aniela as interested in grade nine drama as she is in perfecting a flying lead change?

They’re walking contradictions, my family. They’re very neat, tidy, organized, disciplined and professional in the equine portions of life, and generally the polar opposite in all other aspects. It’s an odd dichotomy, but I don’t think it’s really that unusual. I’ve always said that a good horse brings out the best in a person.