Spirit Horse Study Guide


This study guide includes excerpts from the original Roseneath Theatre study guide, written by Pat McCarthy, Kira McCarthy, Patterson Fardell and Bonnie Anthony. It was adapted by Lois Adamson with contributions from Katie Johnstone.

As you scroll through the guide you will find the usual sections included in all our guides: curriculum connections, discussion questions, units of study and more. You will also be able to click on templates, worksheets and graphic organizers. If you wish to create your own lesson plan from the study guide copy, we have created a lesson plan template for your use. We hope you will find this guide to be a useful resource. Should you have any questions or feedback or have inquiries about the use of this guide (which is copyright protected), please feel free to contact Lois Adamson, Interim Artistic Associate, Education at ladamson@youngpeoplestheatre.ca.


The exercises and discussion questions presented in this study guide are designed to engage students in key questions and themes explored in the play. They will be asked to think critically about issues related to family, hope and Indigenous culture. The pre-show unit focuses on fundamental terms and concepts at the heart of Indigenous cultures and histories with a particular emphasis on the myth of the Spirit Horse. In the post-show unit, students will be asked to explore the experience of the characters in more depth, looking at how grief, racism and power affect their journeys. By engaging in these units of study and watching the play, we hope that their experience of Roseneath Theatre’s production of Spirit Horse will be one of reflection and possibility.


  • The Arts (Drama)
  • Social Studies
  • Language Arts
  • Aboriginal Studies


  • Perseverance
  • Fairness
  • Empathy
  • Responsibility


  • Importance of Family
  • Challenging Injustice
  • Overcoming Grief


This study guide responds directly to the following curriculum expectations as outlined by the Ontario Ministry of Education. By participating in the pre-show and post-show discussion questions and exercises, students will:


  • apply the creative process to process drama and the development of drama works, using the elements and conventions of drama to communicate feelings, ideas, and multiple perspectives;
  • engage actively in drama exploration and role play, with a focus on examining multiple perspectives and possible outcomes related to complex issues, themes, and relationships from a wide variety of sources and diverse communities;
  • plan and shape the direction of a dramatic play or role play, building on their own and others’ ideas both in and out of role, with support;
  • engage in dramatic play and role play, with a focus on exploring themes, ideas, characters, and issues from imagination or in stories from diverse communities, times, and places; and
  • express thoughts, feelings, and ideas about a variety of drama experiences and performances.

Social Studies

  • demonstrate an understanding of significant experiences of, and major changes and aspects of life in, various historical and contemporary communities in Canada;
  • use the social studies inquiry process to investigate different perspectives on the historical and/or contemporary experience of two or more distinct communities in Canada;
  • compare and contrast the perspectives of some different groups;
  • identify some present-day issues concerning First Nation peoples that relate to results of early contact; and
  • demonstrate an appreciation and understanding of aspects of the First Nations culture under study.

Language Arts

  • demonstrate an understanding of appropriate speaking behaviour in a variety of situations, including paired sharing and small- and large-group discussions (e.g., acknowledge and extend other group members’ contributions; make relevant and constructive comments on the contributions of other group members);
  • identify the point of view presented in oral texts and ask questions about possible bias; and
  • identify who produces various media and determine the commercial, ideological, political, cultural, and/or artistic interests or perspectives that the texts may involve.


This powerful production follows the adventures of two Indigenous children whose family is caught between traditional ways and contemporary urban culture.

Angelina and Jesse’s lives are changed forever when their grandfather, who lives by the old ways on a prairies reserve, brings them a horse that has mysteriously appeared to him. The children feel an incredible bond to this majestic animal which links the girls and their dad to their Stoney Nation heritage. Is new hope and healing possible for a troubled single parent family caught between two worlds?


Aboriginal Peoples
A collective name for the original people of North America and their descendants.
The Canadian Constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal people: Indians, Métis and Inuit. These are three separate peoples with unique heritages, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

A body of First Nations for whose collective use and benefit lands have been set apart or money is held by the Crown, or declared to be a band for the purposes of the Indian Act.
Each band has its own governing band council, usually consisting of one chief and several councillors. Community members choose the chief and councillors by election, or sometimes through custom. The members of a band generally share common values, traditions and practices rooted in their ancestral heritage. Today, many bands prefer to be known as First Nations (e.g., the Batchewana Band is now called the Batchewana First Nation).

Choral Speaking
A dramatization in which text is read aloud by a group of people.

An action or way of behaving that is usual and traditional among the people in a particular group or place.

First Nation
A term that came into common usage in the 1970s to replace the word “Indian”.
It has also been adopted by some First Nation communities to replace the term “band”.

A term that refers to the legal identity of a First Nations person who is registered under the Indian Act.
“Indian” should be used only when referring to a First Nations person with status under the Indian Act, and only within its legal context. Aside from this specific legal context, the term “Indian” in Canada is considered outdated and may be considered offensive.

Indian Act
Canadian federal legislation, first passed in 1876, and amended several times since.
It sets out certain federal government obligations and regulates the management of lands reserved for Indians, moneys and other resources, and outlines how the government is structured in First Nations communities.

Native to the area.
A term used to refer broadly to peoples, like Aboriginal, of long settlement and connection to specific lands who have been adversely affected by incursions by industrial economies, displacement, and settlement of their traditional territories by others.

Magic Realism
A literary genre or style that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.

A story that was told in an ancient culture to explain a practice, belief, or natural occurrence.

Refers to a person or thing that has originated from a particular place.
The term “native” does not denote a specific Aboriginal ethnicity.

Oral History
Evidence taken from the spoken words of people who have knowledge of past events and traditions.
This oral history is often recorded on tape and then put in writing. It is used in history books and to document land claims.

A tract of land, the legal title to which is held by the federal government, set apart for the use and benefit of an Indian band.


A group of silent, motionless figures used to represent a scene, theme, or abstract idea, or an important moment in a narrative.
Tableaux may be presented as stand-alone images to communicate one specific message or may be used to achieve particular effects in a longer drama work. Important features of a tableau include character, space, gesture, facial expression, and different levels.


When I was originally contacted by Roseneath Theatre to adapt the Irish play, Tir Na N’Og, I was reluctant. I wasn’t sure what connection a play about Irish gypsies had with Native Canadians, specifically the Stoney Nakoda people of Alberta. The two don’t usually sit at the same table in the restaurant of people’s minds. But it was a challenge, and I love challenges. The surprising thing was, adapting it wasn’t that difficult. Both are horse cultures. Both have been marginalized by the larger dominant cultures they exist in. Both have traditions older than time itself. And more importantly, both love their children dearly. Armed with that, Ireland became Alberta.

Having talked with people of the Stoney Nakoda Nation, specifically a gentleman by the name of Sykes Powderface, I found a legend that embraced the same elements, need for strength and commitment that the original story had. Legends were my Rosetta Stone. All cultures have stories and legends (do you know yours?). They are the fingerprints of a people. Over the phone, Sykes told me a fabulous tale of magical horses, mysterious lakes, and people rising to meet challenges. The true irony is that both he and I, being First Nations, come from what can be called an oral tradition; that is to say, history and education have always been passed down verbally through story. And here we were, exchanging stories orally, but through this thing called a telephone. And you must keep in mind that to the Stoney people, this isn’t just a story. It’s truth. According to their beliefs, there is such a lake, and there is such a horse. And it does take a very special person to ride it. Tir Na N’Og was originally a story about the gypsies in Ireland. It became a story about the Stoney people in Alberta, written by an Ojibway writer from Ontario.

What did I learn from this experience? Most importantly, I discovered that what I first thought would be difficult became fun. I made some good Stoney friends and learned more about their ways. I got to tell a fabulous story. I learned to never look at the differences; look at the similarities. As an Ojibway, I’ve always believed that stories are memories of the universe and if they aren’t told and shared, the universe becomes a much smaller place. So start sharing.



  • What do students already know about Indigenous Peoples?
  • What is racism?
  • What racist assumptions are made about Indigenous Peoples in Canada? How do ideas about race influence the way people think, act and relate to one another?
  • What are the best ways to respond when you notice racism or stereotyping?
  • What does it feel like to belong?
  • What is home?
  • What makes a family?
  • How do we pass down histories and traditions?
  • How do traditional and contemporary cultures differ? How are they alike?
  • What is a myth? Are they important and, if so, why?
  • Do you believe that magic exists? Why or why not?


There are key terms and concepts at the heart of Indigenous cultures and histories that may be unfamiliar to students in your classroom. This exercise aims to support students in becoming more confident in exploring the questions and issues that the play presents and in developing their own questions as well.


  • Chart paper or Chalkboard
  • Markers or Chalk
  • Glossary


  1. Ask students what they already know about Indigenous cultures. These may be words, ideas, events, people or customs. Record their responses.
  2. Ask students what they want to know. What are their questions? Record their questions, each on a different spot or paper.
  3. Allow for a period of time where students can move around the class and write their responses independently.
  4. Regroup and, as a class, examine each question and its responses.
  5. Add to the list of key concepts or questions students have come up with as needed. You may reference the Glossary for supplementary terms or questions to be addressed.

Debriefing Questions:

Ask students to reflect on the discussions held in the classroom that day.

  • Were there any concepts or words that were completely unfamiliar to them?
  • Was anything discussed that challenged previous ideas or assumptions?
  • Why should we learn about Indigenous cultures in Canada?
  • What do students know about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? How can young people participate in this work?


This inquiry exercise aims to introduce students to concepts and questions explored in the play. Using inferencing and predicting skills, they will respond to prompts from the script and creatively communicate what they imagine might take place in the play.


  • Appendix A: Clips from the Script
  • Paper
  • Writing Utensils
  • Space in which to move


  1. Give each student a line from the play.
  2. Ask students to read and respond to their line using the following writing prompts. Encourage them to think about what the line might mean. Who might be speaking? What happens just before this line is spoken? What do they imagine happens after?
    • I imagine…
    • I think…
    • I feel…
    • I wonder…
  3. Then, have students cluster together with the students who have their same line.
  4. Give them time to share their predictions with one another.
  5. Then, have students choose one prediction to share with the rest of the class. Using the actual line they were given and other drama techniques such as improvised text or tableau, have them create and rehearse a short scene.As outlined in the curriculum documents for The Arts, prepared improvisations are “improvised enactments of key moments that are central to a drama. Like tableau work – and unlike ordinary improvisations – prepared improvisations require planning and collaboration. Advance preparation includes identifying a suitably significant moment and giving thought to the type of dialogue that would be appropriate in the scene. Limiting the scene to two minutes helps students restrict their scenes to what is essential.” (p. 171).You can refer to the Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators’ (CODE) instructional approach to tableau.
  6. Have each group share their scene with the other students.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What were some of the common predictions made by students?
  • Which “clips from the script” were most compelling? Why?
  • What do you imagine the play will be like?

Compare and contrast the myth of the Spirit Horse to the myth of the Tir Na N’Og. Have students independently or as a whole class examine how these myths are connected.


This exercise introduces students to the Stoney Nakoda Nation belief about Spirit Horses and gives them the chance to engage with and practice storytelling. Students will have the opportunity to create their own Spirit Horse myth and share it with the students using choral speaking techniques.


  • Appendix B: Choral Speaking Chart
  • Writing Utensils
  • Paper


  1. Share with students the following excerpt of a dramatic retelling of the Stoney Nakoda Nation belief about Spirit Horses, as told to the playwright by Sykes Powderface, an Elder from a Stoney Nation Reserve in Alberta.

    “A Spirit Horse is a magic horse. It comes from a magic place. A magic mountain. Our mountain. Wildwind Mountain, out there to the west, where your mother is buried. You see, the mountain belongs to our family. It is said by our elders that somewhere below the surface of the lake on its slopes, Spirit Horses run. And very rarely, one will come to the surface. Our belief says, if some person is lucky or strong enough to ride this Spirit Horse, the horse will return to the lake, giving up its power to whoever caught and rode it.”

  2. Organize students into small groups. Have them create their own retelling of Spirit Horse.
    • What do you imagine Spirit Horses are like?
    • What is your Spirit Horse like?
    • How did it get its name?
    • Where does it come from?
    • What is the most beautiful thing about your Spirit Horse?
    • Does it have any special powers or gifts?
  3. Using their responses, give students time to work out their own Spirit Horse story. Have one student act as the scribe for the group.
  4. Share the Choral Speaking Chart (Appendix B) with students.
  5. Then have students work out and rehearse how they will tell their story to the rest of the class using choral speaking techniques.
  6. Have each group share their piece.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What choral speaking techniques were most effective in sharing these stories?
  • What does spirit mean to you?
  • Can a myth be true? Why or why not?
  • What is an oral history?
  • How are stories important to culture?

Compare and contrast the myth of the Spirit Horse to the myth of the Tir Na N’Og. Have students independently or as a whole class examine how these myths are connected.



  • Angelina and Jesse go on an exciting adventure with Wildwind. Who helps them on their quest? What are the challenges they face?
  • Angelina says, “We’re a horse people. Grandpa told us so.” What do you think she means by this?
  • How does Angelina and Jesse’s Father deal with his grief? What does this mean for his daughters? What makes him change?
  • Why is their Father worried about losing them?
  • Why does their Father keep the truth about their mother’s death from them?
  • Why do you think their Father and their Grandpa have such different ideas about how and where they should live?
  • What is the relationship between natural and urban settings for this family?
  • What do you know about magic realism? How is this used in the play?
  • Do you believe in Spirit Horses? Why or why not?


In looking at internal and external factors and perceptions, students will explore in more depth the journey of the Father in the play.


  • Chart Paper or Chalkboard
  • Markers or Chalk


  1. Prepare an outline of the silhouette of Jesse and Angelina’s Father.
  2. As a class, brainstorm what other characters thought or said about the Father. Record these outside of the silhouette.
  3. As a class, reflect on what the Father thought, felt or said about himself. Record these on the inside of the silhouette.
  4. Compare and contrast the two lists.

Debriefing Questions:

  • How does what people say about the Father’s impact what he thinks and feels about himself?
  • What are the contradictions? Why do you think these exist?
  • What help and support does the Father need? How might he have sought this out?
  • How did he change over the course of the play? What caused these changes?

Have students use tableau to explore how the Father changes over the course of the play, creating one tableau for him at the beginning and one for him at the end.

Have students undertake the same exercise with other characters in the play.


This exercise allows students to bring their personal responses to the play, as a way of further exploring the issues. It encourages them to provide advice and compassion.


  • Space in which to move
  • Chart Paper or Chalkboard
  • Markers or Chalk


  1. Remind students of a few of the scenes of conflict that take place in the play such as when the Police Officers are questioning the Father or when Superintendent Monroe visits the apartment. Work together to brainstorm and record a few others.
  2. Have a pair or group of students re-enact one of the scenes.
  3. As the rest of the class observes, have them think about what advice they might give to the characters in the scene.
  4. When the scene is over, ask students if they have any advice they want to give to a particular character. If so, have them stand next to the actor of the character they want to support. Before they start the scene again, have them offer their advice, starting the sentence with, “If I were you…”
  5. Have the actors play the scene again incorporating the advice they were given.
  6. Continue the exercise until every student has had an opportunity to participate.

Debriefing Questions:

  • How did the scenes change when the advice was offered?
  • What did you learn about the lives of the characters through these scenes?
  • What did you discover about your feelings and responses towards various scenes?
  • Did the character change tone or impression after having been given the advice? If so, how?


With this exercise, students have the opportunity to engage with and think critically about media and specifically, news reports. They will also look at the events of the play through different characters’ points-of-view.


  • Writing Utensils
  • Paper
  • Space in which to move


  1. As a class, brainstorm and record some of the most important events in the play.
  2. Then discuss the use of scenes with TV news clips in the play. Discuss when, how and why these were used using the following guiding questions:
    • Why was this style of storytelling used for these particular scenes?
    • Were the news reports accurate in telling what was happening? Why might this be?
  3. Then have students work in small groups of 3-4 to create a news report of one of the events identified as important. Using a TV news format, have them create two different reports, each from a different character’s point of view.
  4. Give students time to rehearse and then present their work.
  5. Have students choose one character and brainstorm what they think might happen after the end of the play.
  6. Again, using a TV news format, give students time to rehearse a report that communicates what they imagine happens next.
  7. Have each group share their piece.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What determines if a story is “news-worthy”?
  • Who is in charge of the stories we hear on the news?
  • What is the role of the media in our daily lives?
  • What are some other ways for us to get information about the world in which we live?


CODE (Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators) Resources

ETFO (Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario) – Spirit Horse Website

Facing History and Ourselves – Stolen Lives: The Indigenous Peoples of Canada and the Indian Residential Schools

Government of Ontario – Aboriginal Glossary Terms

Greg Banks – Tir Na N’Og

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Roseneath Theatre – Spirit Horse – About the Play

Roseneath Theatre – Spirit Horse Study Guide

The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: The Arts (2009)

The United Nations Association in Canada – The Kit: A Manual by Youth to Combat Racism through Education


Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre
Boost is committed to eliminating abuse and violence in the lives of children, youth, and their families. The centre is a registered charity and provides programs and services to children, youth, and their families in Toronto and surrounding areas.

Canadian Mental Health Association
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) promotes mental health awareness and supports the recovery of those dealing with mental illness. It provides a variety of information and resources, both local and nationwide.

Children’s Aid Society of Toronto
The mission of the Children’s Aid Society is to: prevent situations that lead to child abuse and neglect by embracing, strengthening and supporting families, and communities; protect children and youth from abuse, and neglect; provide safe and nurturing care for children and youth; and advocate meeting the needs of children, youth, families, and communities.

Kids Help Phone
Kids Help Phone operates 24/7, 365 days a year. It is an anonymous, non-judgmental and confidential phone and online professional counseling service provided for children and young people free of charge.

Family Service Toronto
Family Service Toronto (FST) helps people face a wide variety of life challenges. For 100 years they have been assisting families and individuals through counseling, community development, advocacy and public education programs. Their services are available to everyone who lives or works in Toronto. Their Families in Transition programs focus on practical strategies for coping with the challenges children up to 18 and parents face in their day-to-day lives when parents no longer live together.

Native Child and Family Services of Toronto
Native Child and Family Services of Toronto provides multi-faceted social and culture based services for aboriginal children and families, as well as alternative care for aboriginal children who need foster care services.

Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council
The Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council (TASSC) is the leading not-for-profit research, policy, and advocacy organization that addresses the social determinants of health to improve and enhance the socio-economic prospects and cultural well-being of Aboriginal peoples living in the City of Toronto.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has a mandate to learn the truth about what happened in the residential schools and to inform all Canadians about what happened in the schools. The Commission will document the truth of what happened by relying on records held by those who operated and funded the schools, testimony from officials of the institutions that operated the schools, and experiences reported by survivors, their families, communities and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience and its subsequent impacts.



Can you be a cowboy and an Indian?

You must catch that horse, my son. Only that way will things be right.

I want a dad like everyone else’s …

What am I supposed to do with a horse in the city?

The old ways are behind me.

The person who can catch and ride a spirit horse gains all its power.

I’d dig up your bones if I thought it would bring you back.

We’re named after it and it’s named after us.

Look, I know you natives have your own special ways. We have to keep things civilized.

You don’t know where your children are? What kind of father are you, letting your kids do your dirty work.

All three of them plunged down into the dark water and were gone.


Choral Speaking Element How This Works
Volume Voices vary from loud to soft
Voices vary from one voice to many voices
Tempo Speed of speech varies from fast to slow
Pitch Voices vary from high to low
Colour Mood and feeling are communicated by the emotional quality of the voices
Emphasis Meaning is communicated by changing which words or lines are stressed


Jon Kaplan’s Introduction to Student Reviewers

Theatre is, for me, an art form that tells me something about myself or gets me thinking about the world in which I live.

Whether going to the theatre as a reviewer or simply an audience member, I think that watching a play is an emotional experience and not just an intellectual one. I always let a show wash over me, letting it touch my feelings, and only later, after the show, do I try to analyze those feelings.

That’s when I start to think about some of the basic questions you ask when you’re writing a review – what did I see (story, characters, themes); how did I respond to what I saw; what parts of the production (script, performances, direction, design and possibly other elements) made me feel and think what I did; why was I supposed to respond in that fashion?

When you go to the theatre to review, take a few notes during a show if you feel comfortable doing so, but don’t spend your time writing the review during the show; you’ll miss what’s happening onstage.

Writing a review doesn’t mean providing a plot summary. That’s only part of the job; you have to discuss your reaction to what you saw and try to explore some of the reasons for that reaction.

I don’t believe that there’s any such thing as a totally objective piece of criticism. We are all individuals, bringing our own backgrounds, experiences and beliefs to a production. In some fashion, every one of us sitting in the theatre is a critic, no matter whether we’re writing a review or not; we all react to and from judgments about what we see on the stage.

When I go to a production, I always keep in mind that the people involved in putting it on have worked long and hard – weeks, months, sometimes years – getting it onto the stage. Even if I have problems with the result, it’s important to respect the efforts that went into the show.

Jon Kaplan is senior theatre writer at NOW Magazine, where he’s worked for the past 35 years.