It’s been a Cloverdale tradition for nearly three decades. With tickets to the rodeo on the line, students have one week to solve a series of clues and turn their high school upside down in the search for the hidden horse.
This is the story of the Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School horse hunt.
The tradition was started by longtime Cloverdale teacher and administrator Rick Hugh at Cloverdale Junior Secondary in the early ‘80s. Hugh hid a small plastic horse figurine under a water fountain at the school during rodeo week. If a student found the horse, they received tickets to the upcoming Michael Jackson concert.
“Since then, the hidden horse contest has been done at whatever high school I was working at,” said Hugh, including Cloverdale Junior Secondary, Princess Margaret, Clayton Heights Secondary and Lord Tweedsmuir.
The hidden horse hunt still takes place during rodeo week to drum up enthusiasm for the upcoming Cloverdale events, and the prize is, appropriately enough, gate admission and ride passes to the fairgrounds over rodeo weekend.
Starting on the Monday, a clue is read over the intercom system and then posted outside the office. Every day the clues get more specific. If a student hasn’t found the horse by Friday, the clues become nearly obvious.
Since the tradition came to Lord Tweedsmuir, there’s been some admirable efforts to outsmart having to solve the riddles. Imposter horses started appearing in the office a few years after the hunt started at LTSS – the horse figurines can be purchases at dollar stores – and now LTSS staffer Cindy O’Brien Hugh has to mark the real horse so she can tell the real from the fake.
That wasn’t the only way to outwit the system, as Rick Hugh found out as a vice-principal at LTSS from 2009 to 2012.
“During one of those years, I asked the winner how he had managed to piece the clues together and find the horse. He told me that, while the clues provided a hint, his success came about as a result of him following me around at lunch time and, in his words, “watching where your eyes went.” Given that I was the one that had hidden the horse I would inadvertently find myself, during lunch time supervision, glancing over in the general direction of where the horse was hidden.”
“I told the teenage sleuth, ‘That’s it, I’m wearing sunglasses from now on at lunch,” said Hugh.
This year’s winner, Rhiley DeBoer, won the contest with cool, hard logic. DeBoer, a Grade 12 student, had never participated in the hunt before and he waited until Thursday before giving it a go with a group of friends.
He read the clues posted outside the office and worked through it step by step. “I knew it had to be on the second floor, overlooking the caf on the south side, hanging up,” he said. “There’s only three things hanging on the wall on the south side and that was the three banners.”
DeBoer told a friend to look under one of the banners and he took the other. “And there it was,” he said.
Just in time, too.
“About a half hour before Rhiley found it, a Grade 9 boy was reaching over the edge (of the banner) and he just didn’t reach down far enough,” said LTSS Principal Gloria Sarmento.
DeBoer returned the horse to the office and won gate admission and ride passes for two.
“I gave the two ride passes to my friend, and he gave them to his younger brother and sister,” he said. “The gate passes I used for me and my girlfriend and then I gave the friend that helped me look ten bucks the next day (for admission).”
The horse hunt has been a part of LTSS rodeo week festivities for more than a decade. This year, the school held pie eating and apple bobbing contests, set up a photo booth and organized line dancing. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in Cloverdale on Friday at the nearby Don Christian Recreation Centre, was invited to line dance, but he declined.
The horse hunt is just another part of the rodeo relevry. “Kids go out for the ‘bathroom break’ and they’re searching for the horse. Teachers sometimes let the kids out, a few at a time, to go and look during class time. Then there were kids here at 5:30 at night looking for it,” said Sarmento. “It’s a great (tradition), and one that’s tied to the community as well.”
For now, the horse will be put away until next May, when the Cindy and Rick will come up with another set of riddles and LTSS will once again turn itself inside out looking for a small plastic horse, bragging rights and tickets to the Cloverdale Rodeo.