Project Centaur


I remember one time I went…and as soon as we walked in it was like a rebirth, everything I saw in there seemed so fresh and fragile…there is always something new to learn and expand your mind about.  It can be something as simple as a bird flying above all the trees or a snail on a wet leaf

– A. B. age 12


On the heels of a successful and long-term exploration of The Wilson Wood in which we integrated drama, ecology, history, and biology, we ventured into another “erdkinder” experience.  Drawing on local parental resources we used the Balfour Twisted Pines establishment to extend our experience of nature, business, inter-species communion, equine therapy, and student mentorship.



Following Maria Montessori’s injunction to extend school into community, embed academics in nature, and use the arts as conduit to personal growth and identity formation,[1] the following projects have been undertaken by the junior high class, often in conjunction with the rest of the school. 


An art garden was created, leading to a permanent mural installation at the University of Toronto, detailing various ecosystems and sustainable technology. 


A liaison with a retirement community was developed which included the sharing of stories and songs, the presentation of original plays highlighting Canadian history, and the staging of a Shakespearian comedy.


A long-term exploration of Wilson Wood developed because of student interest - (mentioned above).


Dramatizations evolved, featuring history and biology embedded in surrounding natural environments and involving junior classes as players. 


The creation and installation of two permanent public mural series at The University of Toronto’s Institute for Studies in Education, inspired by the students’ interest in collaborative art.

Project Centaur


In collaboration with the physical education department’s programs, we have evolved Project Centaur - in which the level 8 students engage in practical and academic research into the relevance of horses to human development, and become mentors for the junior elementary children’s riding program.


The riding program is an extension of Montessori’s vision of practical education in the outdoor environment and provides children with an expanding experience of our agrarian roots, interspecies communication, and rural geography.  This experience is enhanced and reinforced through the mentorship program that highlights the theory, academics, and practicalities of rural living.


Theory and Academics

Level 8 students research aspects of a rural business, animal husbandry, and equine therapy in preparation for their first visit.  (Choose topics)

Possible topics to be explored:

The plight of horses in the wild

The domestication of animals and their relationship to the development of humans and the history of agriculture

Comparative anatomy and the evolution of the horse

The history of horses in Kitchener and surrounding area

The development of the business including interviews with owners and proprietors

The mythology of the horse in relationship to human psychological development


Practical Life Aspects

Students are introduced to the running of the farm and engage in tasks necessary for its success eg. The study of feeds including nutritional value, amounts, storage, origin, etc.

Students are introduced to specific animals, their characteristics, history, fundamental needs, care and safety

Students explore the facilities in terms of architecture, ventilation, drainage, space needed for paddocks, trails etc.

Photography project is undertaken in which the farm experience is documented.

Students learn about the aspects of animals in therapeutic relationship to humans

Students apply their knowledge by assisting with junior elementary lessons both at school in preparation, at the farm, in the ring, and on the trails.



To study the economic, architectural, therapeutic, biological, and ecological details of a successful rural system

To explore human intervention in nature as a synthesis of urban and rural aspects

To develop an understanding of and relationship with individual animals, history, and husbandry in preparation for mentoring younger students in equine pedagogy

To create a portfolio of experience including artistic, economic, scientific, and psychological aspects of the project

To support student's natural instincts for compassion


First Meeting with Students in School – topics to be discussed - inter species communication/ horse lore / etiquette / history / evolution / Students choose research areas


 The project follows the three-period lesson which is the basis of Montessori pedagogy.  In the first period the students learn basic principles of their subject.  In the second period the students explore and deepen aspects of their learning.  In the third period the students share their expertise.  This “becoming an expert” is a fundamental part of identity formation, valorization of the personality, and evolving independence.


Developing Expertise at Conestogo River Farm


Phase One: Fall

Session 1 (9-11:00)


Students visit Farm for a two-hour session involving theory, work, and handling.

Group 1 focuses on theory: grooming, tack, equine behaviour, communication, healing, care of the horse, field work, colours, breeds, and breeding programs

Group 2 focuses on work: slinging hay, cleaning and filling troughs, mucking stalls, using runabout to check horses, mend fences, and do general maintenance

Group 3 focuses on riding: handling horses in the ring, mounting and dismounting, steering, walking and trotting, halting, leading, riding etiquette, general leadership principles (The rotation is subject to change)

Session 2 (9-11:00) groups rotate

Group 1 – ride / Group 2 - theory / Group 3 - work

as above (possibly including vet and blacksmith)


Session 3 (9-11:00) groups rotate

Group 1 - work / Group 2 – ride / Group 3 - theory


Phase Two: Winter – Finalize Portfolios

Phase Three: Spring – Mentor level threes


(Please Note: Rotations may change according to class size)


Horses thrive on direct heart connection, joining together in partnership without ego. They demand we show up in each and every moment as our ‘real’ self.  Horses as coaches show us the critical importance of relationship in leadership.

Knowledge Fair – March (8:45 – 10, in school): Through dynamic presentations the level 8s will share their portfolios and experience with junior elementary students in preparation for riding program (Dates TBA)

As guides and mentors, level 8s will accompany the junior elementary level 3s for three to five sessions from April to May (Dates TBA)*

Thank You


June (date TBA): In celebration of their accomplishments the level 8s will complete Project Centaur with a trail ride exploring the Conostogo river basin.


All sessions and groups are facilitated by one or more trained professionals.


Please note:  Each session will be followed by a journaling session so students can plot their own development within the parameters of the project and gain a practical sense of the agrarian aspects of Canadian history


[1] Maria Montessori. From Childhood to Adolescence. Appendix A,B,C. Cambridge: Clio Press

A Highlight each year at graduation are presentations of Certificates of Excellence and presentations by the Third Years in gratitude for the help they received ... 

Dear J, You are kind, you are a good artist. When we grow up, we want to be just like you. From, B and R (third years)

Some journal entries 



It’s a week later and because we got back late last week I decide to start our class with the journal reflection on Twisted Pine.  We move the tables into a different orientation. I put the tablecloth on the round table and we light candles.  We briefly discuss our research and then I read them a passage from The Tao of Equus.


“When I stopped treating horses as lesser beings, my perspective on life changed, irrevocably. In the process, I glimpsed the history of our species through equine eyes, and realized our colossal ability to manipulate the environment had been more of a curse than a blessing to these sensitive creatures.  We planted our fields, fought our wars, and built our cities with the sweat and blood of countless horses.”[1]


 Someone asks about the word Tao and we get into eastern mysticism, Zen, Montessori, quantum physics, the sixties and its east/west synthesis. We get deeper into our research and focus on C who describes the extent of horse-human involvement – something he says surprised him. We do a stream of consciousness exercise as if we were a horse from anytime in history.  The room becomes meditative – there is profound stillness as the pencils scratch and the candles flicker. 


Student’s Journals: (Excerpts – Spontaneous Personas)


“…there were guns firing and swords swinging. It was all very hectic for me.  The way I unwound was by the old man who cared for me.  He was one of the people who understood us; he used to tell us of stories of the horses used by the Native people; he was a native, he had respect for the environment; he not only understood us but all creatures…” -


“…I fell hard.  There was no pain, no impact, just cold hard ground. Colours swam before my eyes…As I lay there on the ground, thrashing weakly on my back, that vision of the fields kept flying before my eyes, empowered by the sunrise and the wind on my skin.  I kept seeing myself running, not out of fear or rage or anything of the kind – but instead alight with this profound kind of elegance…” -  S


“…I loved my master, I was his only horse because he only ever wanted one horse.  He put me back into my stall and walked away into his house, so he could let me get some sleep.  I looked around, the barn was always clean and smelled fresh, I saw my water dish then sat down and went into a deep sleep.” – A.B.


“I am strong.  My name is Aruba which means Worker in Latin…”  - Q


“I am a Dawn Horse…Although I am quite small compared to some creatures I have bonded with a few of them. Like my friend Mr. Baboon, we have a good chat every day.  He tells me how some of his friends are changing…I think we horses will change also. Maybe that’s why I am growing very fast!”  -A.H.


A tail tales by me.  Some of the students are finished in twenty minutes, others continue.  We gather and share in depth our research while S and A continue to write.  – We segue into our history project and cover gangs, tribes, groups, and cultural discipline.  Fascinating questions erupt and then we move into drama.  Using the convention of totem, chant, ritual,[2] and stillness – the theme is tribe, herd, gang, group dynamics. We begin to unravel historical threads that bind us and Twisted Pine curves our relationship to history.[3] 


“As T.S. Eliot was moved to speak of “the eternal struggle between art and education,” I am moved to distinguish between education as coercion and…any other genuine kind of discipline.”[4]


The Branches


The Portfolios are materializing…The students have chosen; Horse Breeds, Anatomy, Nutrition, Psychology, Mythology, Vices, History, Evolution.  As well as journals, each portfolio is an accumulation of work from September to March;  Following the premise that, “continuity is more important than consistency.”[5]

As the year progresses, we become part of Twisted Pine.  We are accepted in the cultural function of work and our portfolios expand. 


“The paradox of the third plane is that adolescents, as part of their development, have to undertake adult work (not because we say so, but because they’re driven to) even though they’re not yet developed adults.”[6]



November 24, 2005


“…This field trip doesn’t only help me understand horses but it also helps me understand the people that I am around with.  I thought that it brought out the good side of some people.  Also my respect for animals has increased since I have gone to Twisted Pine.  Working at the stable is fun but it requires hard work.  It is the first place when hard work is actually really fun.” – A.H.


“…Rumble stared at me with his father’s same cool eyes.  “ I was about fifteen then,” I said.  Ten years had past since, and I was now coaching my new horse Rumble through the demise of his father, Pal.  “And you never learn more than from tragedies you don’t expect. You just keep going,” I said, and for a second there, I felt Rumble really understood…” – S (from her short story)


“Interestingly enough, creative geniuses seem to think a lot more like horses do.  These people also spend a rather large amount of time engaging in that favorite equine pastime: doing nothing.  In his book Fire in the Crucible: The Alchemy of Creative Genius, John Briggs gathers numerous studies illustrating how artists and inventors keep their thoughts pulsating in a field of nuance associated with the limbic system.”[7]


Things are revealed to ourselves through these relationships that have little to do with prescription.  Sometimes we forget about riding and just work to be.




“Johnny - a figure of pure strength and fun.  Standing there, innocent as can be, doing nothing but munching on his food. One single person just walks over – he springs to life.” - T


“…My favorite thing was walking around looking at the horses.  I love just watching them run around and be themselves.” – K


“Last Twisted Pine we didn’t ride a horse. Instead we enjoyed the outdoor weather… It was amazing because the Twisted Pine land is huge…” - A


Doing Nothing


Thoreau advocated being a “saunterer” in the natural world. “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” he said.”[8]


Imaginations are equi-vocally alert.


“Friendship, exciting, Dramatic, encouragement, Kindness, horses and people, Unity, bonding with horses…The horse that picked me and that I picked is named O.J.  O.J. is a very nice horse.  When we walked past him his head shot towards me.”  - C


“Once I got to experience the horses and begin to relax with them I found peace.  Like something just emerged from me that I didn’t even know I had.  Everything around me morfed into Jell-o…It’s like walking into heaven, but with an awful smell and a lot of flies.” – A.B.


“Roman, Royal, C.d., soft, attentive, comforting, therapists, brown soft coats, mellow, feeling of belonging and contentment, cleaning, working and having fun all the while.  Making animal friends and companions, grooming, brushes, combs and pics…just talking to Roman gave me such a feeling of contentment and it almost made me feel as if he was relieving my problems.  That’s why I enjoyed the trip so much.” – A.M.

[1] Linda Kohanov, The Tao of Equus, 305.

[2] Aspects of culture can be distilled into these three forms: totem as resonant artifacts that awaken the symmetry between self and world; chant as linguistic groove; ritual as social memory.

[3] Students went on to create portfolios detailing political structure in world history.

[4] Hearne, Adam’s Task, 123.

[5] Tom Blue Wolf, “The Bardic Crossroads,” Mythic Imagination Conference, Atlanta Georgia, June, 2006.

[6] Baiba Krumins Grazzini, “The Role of the Specialist,” NAMTA Journal: The Third Adolescent Colloquium, Volume 31, Number 1, Winter 2006, 227.

[7] Linda Kohanov, The Tao of Equus, 162-63.

[8] As cited by Gerard Leonard, “Deepening Cosmic Education,” The NAMTA Journal, Volume 31, Number 2, Spring 2006, 130.