Big Toys

At the end of this month, Karin is hosting a Trail Mix vaulting fest. By “Trail Mix” she means different ages. And since I’m a different age, I am expected to participate.

I’m still not in shape for this. I’m emerging from winter about 20 pounds overweight and about 35 of that is in my gut. But I’m going to vault anyway.

Because it’s fun.

So Lesson #91 was all about vaulting.

And fun.

I was fortunate to have brought along my Special Designer Vaulting Socks.

Detroit Lions socks

I never vault in shoes, even when Karin says I can. I don’t want to look conspicuous. And then there’s that thing about digging into the horses back with your heels. Since the horse is already dealing with what from his perspective is a one-rider triple, I don’t want to do anything else to piss him off.

I began by warming up on the vaulting barrel.  With Karin and Charity busy with other students, this mainly consisted of me taking pictures on top of the barrel without falling off.

shoes on vaulting barrel

Detroit Tiger hat on vaulting barrlel

Since the weather was nice – the breeze was actually warm and not the freeze breeze that penetrates your clothes and skin and tries to kill you from the inside out – we got to go out into the round pen.

Prior to that, I had noticed that Karin had put wood chips all around the property as part of her annual counter-offensive against the spring mud.

wood chips by barn


dog on wood chips





sensory trail

The round pen had a particularly ominous pile. There were toys around it…

wood chips in round pen

Charity (the nice one) took me through some basic instruction that resulted in a number of undignified poses:

rider with one arm out

rider with butt off horse

For me, the wood chip pile marked the center of the ring and was useful in keeping me oriented as I did my tricky moves. For Karin the wood chip pile was an opportunity for something else.

“You have to go up it,” she announced.

“No, I am not going up it,” I informed her.

lunger on top of wood chip pile

This woman is incapable of leaving anything alone. The whole place is like her personal playground and the horses – and people – are her toys.

The great thing about vaulting is that you, the rider, don’t have to control the horse. The bad thing about vaulting is that someone else does.

So despite my protesting like a baby being born, Karin coaxed Habakuk – and thus me – up that wood chip hill.

riding up a wood chip pile

“Now put your hands up in the air!”

Hell no!” I was already feeling a little iffy with Habakuk trying to find his footing on top of the pile. No way was I going to compound the problem by putting my hands up in the air…

hands in air on top of wood chip pile

It’s like she has strings attached to your limbs or something.

“You know,” she told us as we posed for the Post Ridiculous Activity photo op…

horse with Detroit Tiger cap

mustache on horse

“I always say that the little horses like Peanut are my toys. Habakuk is like one of my big toys.”

Oh, the indignity…

It was a fun lesson.

fake blue jay in a tree

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Lesson #90

muddy driveway

On the Saturday before Easter, Karin is hosting an Easter Egg Hunt party at Legacy Stables. The festivities include an “Easter Fire.” This is a bonfire that, according to tradition, symbolizes our “farewell” to Old Man Winter and sending him on his way.

I’ve already said adios to winter using my own set of words, none of which I will share here. But I may attend the Easter Fire anyway. I wouldn’t mind roasting a hot dog while pretending that the hot dog is Old Man Winter:

Burn (compound expletive deleted), burn…

Early Spring has its own challenges. For Lesson #90, the weather was downright crappy. Wind, rain, cold: the Trifecta of Outdoor Unpleasantness. The horses don’t like it either. Us mammals would be sharing the morning’s misery.

woman leading horse

But at Karin’s Horse Connection, we don’t complain about the weather. Not without someone complaining about our complaining.

And this how it was for Lesson #90. The horses were in their spring mode, which is a combination of nervous energy, displeasure with the weather and annoyance with whatever it is the bipeds want.

I just can’t deal with you now, Hu-mon. Come back in June.

We used the arena, of course. I rode Maree and Gerry was on Habakuk – who I think own each other now. Both horses were jumpy. And not the equitation over fences kind of jumpy. Any sound over 20 decibels served as an legitimate distraction and a perfectly valid reason to ignore the Hu-mon. Maree spooked at sounds that no one else could hear.

I feared Lesson #90 would feature the second involuntary dismount of my equestrian career.

I didn’t even get a chance to take any photos because Maree couldn’t tolerate the sound my little Sony camera made when I turned it on. And it’s a very pleasant sound, in my opinion.  Kind of like a cross between a harp and the noise R2D2 makes. But I could feel her tense up when I flicked the switch.

And this made me tense up.

And that made her tense up even more.

And then me tense up even more.

Then her, then me, then her. The was no end in sight!

I put the camera away.

Charity told me I needed to get rid of the tension.

“Roll your head around a little,” she advised.

“You mean while it’s still attached, right?”

“And shake your arms out a bit. Take a deep breath.”

I did these things and it seemed to help. Probably only because I thought they should.

Karin told us that when the horses get like this we have to do everything we can to get their attention on us and not on all the stuff going on around them.

“And you do that by giving them commands. A lot of commands.”

No wonder she’s such a great horseperson.

So I spent the balance of the lesson by continuously giving Maree these commands: “walk on… whoa … back, back, back…. walk on … whoa… back, back, back… walk on….” No doubt she was getting sick of me, but she mostly listened. Mostly.

Lesson #90 wasn’t one of great accomplishments and milestones. But we did survive to ride another day. A warmer, happier day.

warm ride in the sun

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Vaulting Seeds

Karin is starting a Tiny Tots Vaulting program for kids ages 3-7.  Since our granddaughter Aubrey is a mere 18 months away from qualifying, I think it’s time to get prepared.

Actually, preparations were well under way last year. These included an introduction to the barrel.

baby on vaulting barrel

And an introduction to a vaulting horse.

baby looking at vaulting horse

Although the horses she’ll be vaulting on will be considerably shorter than that one. And I believe Karin is making miniature barrel for the Tiny Tots as well.

Of course, the vaulting will have to compete with other interests the child is developing.

baby looking at planet


toddler with shovel






baby Suh with ball




And she has a particular fascination with anything that has buttons.

baby with camera


baby with phone and purse

Although there have been some positive signs.

horse on child's computer

But the biggest hurdle will be Aubrey’s phone addiction. These days, we rarely see her without one plastered to the side of her face. It’s gotten to the point where she’s learning to do everything one-handed. We have no idea who she is talking to. Maybe the kindly folks at 911?

toddler on phone

Competing with all this great technology that kids have available to them is an uphill battle, but I’m encouraged by help from unexpected quarters.

The Daddle makes a horse out of Dad

They call it a “Daddle.”

The Mom takes a more traditional approach:

baby, mom on supermarket horse

Although, if Karin develops a freestyle vaulting program that includes chatting on the phone in basic seat, we’ll be all set.

Dad with stick horse

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Hello Honey, Good Evening Officers

After my lesson on wide-girth Krystal and the soreness on the days that followed, I wanted a narrow horse for Lesson #89.  So I asked Karin if I could take Maree.

Gerry took Habakuk, as usual. The two are becoming very good friends.

Man talking to horse

Meanwhile, Karin introduced us to Legacy’s newest addition, Honey. Karin describes the little Haflinger as “The sweetest, yet very strong and pretty.”

Haflinger pony

Honey is expected to be employed in adaptive vaulting and therapeutic riding as well as in Karin’s new Tiny Tot vaulting program for kids age 3 to 7.  And, of course, she’ll be around for just general child duty. As Legacy continues to grow, there is more and more child duty to be done. Snoopy, Peanut and Romeo can only handle so much. You would think they would welcome the help.

Honey’s first day was not an easy one. She arrived on a Sunday morning and by Sunday evening, Karin’s neighbors had to call the cops.

Whenever you introduce a new player into the herd, it has an unsettling effect on the existing social system. The whole pecking order has to be rearranged, for Pete’s sake. This is annoying as hell to the current pasture residents and it can create some temporary chaos.

Maree did not like Honey at all.  Of course, as the Alpha Mare of “Germany,” Maree doesn’t have to like anybody. Although, for some horse reason, she accepts Peanut and allows the little horse to dine with her.  Peanut has managed the neat trick of splendid neutrality and pretty much moves freely among the various social sub-sets of the pasture. This stuff just fascinates me.

Romeo – and there has never been a horse more suitably named – loved Honey. Not in the sense that he would fight for her or anything. He was just briefly enamored with the new girl, following her around like a lovesick puppy. Of course, the novelty quickly wore off after a day or two.  School, office, pasture – it’s all the same.



Snoopy is normally at the bottom of the social totem pole. But he quickly discovered that he was going to be a notch above Honey. He put on his bully mask and harassed the poor newcomer until she found a good hiding place in the walk-in barn.

The adjustment went on through the day. You just have to let it happen with these guys. It’s their way. It’s actually our way too, we just conceal it under multiple layers of social convention in order to maintain the comforting delusion of equality and fairness. The only reason horses kick each other is because they don’t have elbows.

Apparently, the process continued into the evening. And apparently, it got really loud. So loud that Karin’s neighbors called 911. Not to complain about the racket, but because they were concerned that people were being harmed. The clamor of equine social adjustment sounded like the screams of human style murder & mayhem to them. Good neighbors just don’t ignore that.

So at 10 o’clock on a Sunday night, the Schmidt’s get a knock on their front door. Karin quickly clarified the situation with the officers. These were experienced rural sort of police who understood this kind of thing without too much explanation.


At last report, Honey is doing very well. Once again, everyone is comfortable knowing their proper place and peace has returned to the pasture. For now.

a pasture named Germany

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Louis’ Rainbow

We all know that Karin’s favorite word is “connection.” Almost everything she does, revolves around some kind of connection. There is the horse-human connection, of course. That’s what her business is all about. There are also professional connections, social connections and spiritual connections. For her, these distinctions are artificial and it’s really all about the same thing. Legacy Stables is simply the physical manifestation of these connections and it would not exist without them.

The following is a story about one connection that goes to the heart of what Legacy Stables means to Karin and her Legacy Stables family.

* * *

In late 2012, as Legacy Stables’ new arena was being built, Karin received an unusual suggestion:

“You should paint the arena’s posts all different colors.”

This bit of advice came from Karin’s good friend, Louis Lake.

Louis Lake

Louis Lake

Louis had to be joking, of course. You don’t do that kind of thing at a serious lesson barn.  A “rainbow” in the riding arena just wouldn’t look professional. In any case, Karin was so overwhelmed with other matters that there was no time for something as frivolous as decorating the posts in the arena. But she didn’t forget about the idea.

Karin’s connection to Louis began in early 2012, just weeks before her decision to move Karin’s Horse Connection from the Lamoreaux Ridge location to the property that would become Legacy Stables. They met through Louis’ wife, Allison, a new student of Karin’s. While Allison had her own horse and barn, she began taking lessons with Karin to enhance her riding skills and boost her confidence.

In the beginning, Louis dropped Allison off at her lessons and then left. Then, one day, as Karin puts it: “He made the mistake of getting out of his truck.”

With the move to the new property just weeks away, Karin was in desperate need of a tractor.  She found a small John Deere for sale, but she didn’t have much experience with tractors and she wasn’t sure if it was a good deal. So when Louis got out of his truck, Karin couldn’t help but notice his John Deere hat and shirt. He was obviously a big fan. Perhaps he would be able to offer her a little advice?

Louis was indeed a genuine John Deere enthusiast. And he did more than offer his opinion. He went with Karin to see the tractor. Although the tractor needed a little work – the brakes had locked up – he assured her that she was getting good deal. And then he stayed and worked on the brakes.

Since Karin did not have a way to transport the tractor, Louis offered to haul it on his flatbed trailer. But he didn’t take it to the new property right away. Instead, he took the tractor to his place for some overdue maintenance.  By the time he delivered the machine to Legacy Stables, Karin had a very nice, well functioning tractor.

man driving tractor

But Louis wasn’t done. There was a mountain of work to do on the property before Karin could bring the horses and resume giving lessons. The day Louis delivered the tractor he started working on clearing the driveway and arena area.  Then he blazed a riding trail all the way around the periphery of Legacy’s twenty-eight acres.  He loved every minute of it.


Louis was a skillful tractor operator. Without a glance, he knew exactly how deep to go with the bucket and rake. Karin was amazed at how he was able to gracefully maneuver in the tightest spots.

Louis just didn’t do the work. He also shared his expertise with Karin as she sat next to him on the tractor while he operated the machine. It brought up warm memories of Karin’s childhood in Germany when she and the other neighborhood kids begged local farmers for a ride on their tractors and the farmers would show the kids how to work the controls.

With eighteen horses, all the equipment and all the work that needed be done to prepare the property, the move from Lamoreaux to Legacy was a huge undertaking. And Louis was there every step of the way.



Just before the actual move, Karin was running dangerously low on hay. Despite a local shortage, she was able to find some at a relatively reasonable price. However, she didn’t have a way to transport it and the new property didn’t have a place to store it. Louis took care of both problems by offering the use of his flatbed trailer to move the hay and his own barn to store it until Legacy was ready.

Louis assisted Karin with the construction of the new arena by helping her deal with the parade of planners, builders and inspectors. He even accompanied her to the required meetings with the local government.  It was during this time that he suggested painting the posts in bright colors.

Louis and Allison

Karin’s favorite story about Louis is the time he rescued the entire vaulting team from a precarious situation on the Paul Henry Freeway. Karin and her team, including eight vaulters and two horses, were on their way to a competition in Ann Arbor. After Karin’s truck broke down, they found themselves stranded along the busy freeway.

Karin called AAA and they were able to take care of her truck. However, she still had two horses in a trailer, just inches off the freeway. She barely got off the road when the truck died. After several anxious moments, she called Louis and described her situation.

Within a half an hour, Louis showed up with his truck. He not only towed the team to safety, he took them all the way Ann Arbor and stayed for the entire competition. It was the first time he ever witnessed the sport being performed.

While Louis grew up on a farm and rode horses in his youth, as an adult he was never much into riding. Karin changed that by introducing him to Vinnie, her super-smooth gaited Thoroughbred. Louis took to Vinnie right away. He soon began to accompany Allison on trail rides. The couple cherished their time together on horseback. Karin had reintroduced Louis to the human-horse connection.

Allison and Maree, Louis and Vinnie, Karin and Caspian.

Allison and Maree, Louis and Vinnie, Karin and Caspian.

* * *

In February of 2013, Louis was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer.  He was recently put on Hospice.

During these months, as Louis and Allison have adjusted to the realities of the disease, Karin has been with them every step of the way. She visits several times a week.

On Karin’s visits, she routinely brings Louis some kind of gift. At first, she brought food, but as the disease progressed this was no longer an option. Once, she brought him a small polished stone with the word “Joy” written on it. For Karin, the stone is symbolic of a verse from Matthew (28:20), a reminder from Jesus that “Surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


“You can put it in your pocket as a reminder that God is always with you,” Karin told him.

Recently, Karin was in a hurry and forgot to bring Louis’ gift. She also didn’t have a chance to shower and change her clothes after working in the barn. She brought with her the rich aroma of the barn and horses. She apologized to Louis for this.

Louis told Karin that she smelled wonderful to him. He hadn’t been able to get out to the barn for months and he deeply missed that fragrance.

“I realized later,” Karin shared, “that was my gift to him that day.”

Karin has decided to take Louis suggestion and paint the posts.  The work will be done by her students, mostly the kids.  And soon there will be a rainbow in the Legacy Stables arena after all.

Karin is clear about the meaning: “This will be Louis’ legacy here.”

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Five to One

Lesson #87 was the first since Karin’s return from the American Vaulting Association’s National Conference in San Francisco.

At the conference, Karin came within a whisker of winning the prestigious AVA Mentor of the Year award. They were so impressed with all that’s she has done here at Legacy, that they are actually creating a new “Hero” award for next year. That’s the award she would have won this year had someone created it last year.

You know how it is when us Midwesterners return from a trip to the West Coast. We come home pumped up with all kind of new-fangled ideas.  Usually something to do with achieving a higher state of awareness. But I don’t think they had anything out there that would help Karin deal with a student like me.  On Lesson #87, I helped bring Karin back to the Michigan state of awareness.

But still, she tried.

“You’re reins are not twisted,” she chirped.

I looked at my reins. “Is there something wrong with my reins? They’re not twisted. Look … they’re okay.”

Karin smiled, still full of the West Coast Zen.  “No. I said they’re not twisted.”

riding instructor smiling

Of course my reins weren’t twisted! Way, way back – probably in my very first lesson – Karin made it abundantly clear that her absolute Number One Pet Peeve as a riding instructor was twisted reins. I think it might be that when a teacher announces her first pet peeve to a new rider, it gets imprinted in the student’s brain. If I don’t get anything else right, I always make sure my reins are properly untwisted.

I gave Karin my befuddled and confused look. I don’t really know what this looks like; I don’t have to practice it in the mirror or anything. But I know when I’m projecting it by how someone else is looking back at me. And there is a pretty deep database for this.

Karin explained. “At one of the seminars they told us that for every correction, we should give five positive comments.”

Five to one? Hokey Pete, we were going to be there all day! Karin already used up one correction, even before I got on the horse:

“That’s the wrong bridle for Krystal.  Where did you get that?”

“From the hook labeled ‘Krystal,’” I told her. I thought the defense was foolproof.


“Well, it’s the wrong one. That’s Peanut’s size.”

I could probably use a good dose of West Coast level of awareness myself.

Anyway, she owed me five positive comments. A tall order, but Karin is a master improviser:

“And the color of your socks matches Krystal!”

A good match.

A good match.

Good. Two to one now.

“And you haven’t fallen off yet.”

Three to one.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so tough after all.

Then, as Karin watched me ride to the other side of the arena, it all fell apart.

“Heels down, Bob!”

She just couldn’t help it.

The words struck me like an arrow in the back.  Now, she owed me seven.

At this point it became obvious to both of us that the hole was just going to keep getting deeper.  The only answer was to avoid each other for the balance of the lesson.

view from horse in arena

Krystal and I stayed over on the far end of the arena, trotting over cavalettis on the ground. Karin stayed busy teaching Romeo how to climb stairs. When you’re teaching a horse how to climb stairs, you pretty much have to focus on that and nothing else.

teaching a horse to climb stairs

I don’t think this is the way this is supposed to work.  Since I have a pretty good track record with responding to pet peeves, I’m wondering if it would be better to make the ratio five pet peeves to one positive comment.

Maybe if Karin goes to the AVA National Conference next year, she can introduce this revised system to the West Coast people.

horse by mounting block

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Everything on the Line

After the line rolling up instruction, Karin used two horses to demonstrate proper lunging techniques: Avenir the Great White Horse and Oskar the Invisible Horse.

Avenir, the beloved mainstay of Karin’s team A Vaulting Connection, recently recovered from a serious medical condition and it was great to see the big guy back in action.

woman lunging big white horse

It was great to see Oskar too. I think I’m the only one that actually can.  Which may or may not have something to do with my recent fall.

Karin often uses the undemanding Oskar as a “visual” aid to help riders plan ahead.  In this case, Oskar served as a target for the lunge whip.  In other words, you deploy the whip one length behind the vaulting horse.  Pretending Oskar is there helps with this.

Following the demonstration, Karin marched out the little horses so that we could practice some actual hands-on lunging. Present were Romeo, Snoopy and Peanut: The Little Rascals of Legacy Stables.

women with ponies

I got Snoopy. Actually, Snoopy was handed off to me by Allison from Chicago Vaulting.

woman leading pony

“He’s having a little attitude problem right now,” Allison warned.

Of all of Karin’s horses, Snoopy is the one I’ve interacted with the least.  Just an occasional nod and “Hi, how ya doin’,” as I brush pass him in the pasture on my way to fetch another horse.

Snoopy has a stellar reputation working with the smaller kids. They hang all over him and such, and he seems to eat it (but not them!) up. I couldn’t imagine how this little guy’s attitude problem could be much of a problem.

man with pony

But as I let out the line and attempted to get Snoopy to go in a proper circle, he just kept going crooked all over the place and our “circle” got progressively smaller until he was actually chasing me around. I didn’t like that.

Christoph noticed I was having a difficult time, so he stepped in and offered some pointers.  Drive the horse from behind was the main thing.

lunging instruction

I tried to drive Snoopy from behind using a miniature version of Oskar. But the result was pretty much the same, so I put a stop to the exercise before the little horse caught up with me again.

Christoph took over and had more success, but in the end he simply said that Snoopy was “hard” and none of this was my fault. I’m thinking of putting that last part on a t-shirt.

man lunging pony

I handed the line to Pete and he took a turn with Snoopy and – I presume – Little Oskar. Pete did really well with Snoopy and you could actually see something akin to a real circle. Although we noticed that Snoopy mysteriously acted up at the same part of the circle on every pass.  I had a good view of this, because I was standing right by that part of the circle.

man lunging pony

Next, Karin brought out my old buddy Caspian, so that we could all get a turn lunging an experienced vaulting horse.

This was pretty awesome. And pretty humbling – at the end of that line was a tremendous amount of power.  Karin showed me how to use the line to cue the horse’s movement by gently squeezing my fingers and with subtle twists of the wrist. The main thing was to relax the arms and keep your wrist and elbow joints supple so that you’re not yanking on the horse.  It’s a lot like riding in that they feel everything you do.

And just like riding, you combine your voice and body language with what you’re doing with the line. There is a definite art to this.

Add a vaulter (or two or three) bouncing around up there and you begin to realize how important the lunger is in this sport.  It is a huge responsibility.

After everybody got a turn with Caspian, Karin turned him loose in the arena to give him an opportunity to roll around in the dirt. Instead, he did a couple of laps around the arena and then made a beeline for the door.

horse trotting

It was time to punch out

horse by door

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Sometimes it Takes a Committee

I’m staying off the horses for a week or two. At least until the color of my left leg returns to its traditional hue.  I check the progress everyday, but I try not to stare at it too much, otherwise I start seeing faces in the bruises. I’m not sure what to do with that.

Meanwhile, Karin has been hosting the Christoph Lensing vaulting clinics. Christoph is a world-renowned equestrian vaulter and one of the most sought after clinicians in the sport. He’s won three world championships and three European championships for individual men, he coached the Swedish team to a bronze medal in the World Equestrian Games and he is a well-known designer of innovative surcingles.

And he’s a really nice guy.  Like Karin and Pete, Christoph is an amazing teacher with deep wells of patience. As expected, I tested that depth and if he had any feelings of frustration, he hid them nicely.  He practices the same calm, task-orientated, accepting you at your own level approach as Karin and Pete. The fact that Christoph can go from coaching world-class vaulters to instructing me on the proper way to roll up a vaulting lunge line without the line ending up around my neck is pretty darn remarkable.

Karin held a number of clinics over the weekend with Christoph.  I attended some of them, mostly to take photos for Karin’s Facebook Page. However, Karin did manage to rope me into participating in the lunging clinic.

A couple of years ago, I expressed some mild interest in learning how to lunge for vaulting. Karin stored this somewhere in her busy brain to use on me when the time was right. You have to be careful what you say around Karin.

rolling up a lunge line

The first thing you learn as vaulting lunger is how to properly hold and roll up the line. This may seem like a small thing at first, but it gets to be a lot bigger thing when there’s a ton of animal strength and energy attached to the other end of it. If it’s not done correctly, you’ll get knots as the line rolls out and you can get your hands tied up in those knots. I don’t think I need to explain how this could get really ugly, really fast.


Vaulting may be one of the safest equestrian disciplines, but it doesn’t come that way naturally. It takes well-trained horses and well-trained people that don’t mind focusing on what they’re doing in order to create that secure environment.

I missed Karin’s initial line rolling up instruction because I got distracted with photo-taking issues. A group from Chicago Vaulting was up for the weekend and one of their members, Em Cherkinian, is a photographer who has plans to go into the field professionally.  We got into a brief conversation regarding our cameras that turned into a longer conversation regarding shutter speeds, ISO and aperture settings. Em is clearly passionate about photography as art form and she seems eager to share her knowledge. I learned quite a bit from her and her mother, Allison, in just a few minutes.  Meanwhile, I was not learning about rolling up lunge lines.

By the time I got back to the group, they were already in the Return Demonstration Phase. This is done pairs: one person holds the end of the line while the other rolls it up. As you roll it up, each loop has to be shorter than the one before it.

lunging clinic

Poor Pete got stuck with me and tried his best to instruct me from thirty feet away, but I just wasn’t getting it.

Christoph intervened and for the next ten minutes, the Three-Time World Champion and I struggled against my hands’ inability to follow what my brain was trying to tell them. Christoph calmly and repeatedly demonstrated the proper technique, showing me what I was doing wrong and explaining why it would be really, really bad to do it that way. He just wouldn’t give up. And I don’t think he was going let me give up either.


Eventually, I started getting it. Leoni jumped in and added a few pointers while Pete continued to encourage from the other end of the line. Sometimes, it takes a committee.

It could have been a frustrating experience, but my Roll Up Committee made it fun. I think it says something about this sport and the people who are involved in it.  It would be easy to take a discipline that requires precision and attention to detail and turn it into a grind. And I’m sure this happens. But equestrian vaulting is also about things like passion and grace and that glorious sense of accomplishment you get when you achieve something you didn’t think was possible. When this sport – this art form – is shared in that spirit, it becomes accessible to both beginners and to those of us who would otherwise never consider participating.

I also got a chance to actually lunge a horse, but I’ll talk about that next time.

Vaulting Friends (l to r): Em Cherkinian, Karin Schmidt, Allison Conrad Cherkinian, Sue Nicole Susenburger, Chrisoph Lensing, Izzy Solberg and Leoni Schmidt

Vaulting Friends (l to r): Em Cherkinian, Karin Schmidt, Allison Conrad Cherkinian, Sue Nicole Susenburger, Chrisoph Lensing, Izzy Solberg and Leoni Schmidt

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And Off We Go

Lesson #86 was another special lesson. They’re all getting to be special lessons.

Examine the sequence of photos below. See how many it takes you before you figure out what made Lesson#86 so special. Remember: if I’m not in the photo, I’m taking it…

woman and horse

mounting a horse in an arena

leaving an arena on horseback

riding in snow


horses in the snow

rider off a horse in the snow

With four feet of snow on the ground, it wasn’t a very long fall. There was no hurdling through space or any sort of acrobatic drama. It was more in that gray area, somewhere between vindictive bucking and a deliberate bail.  Sort of an “emergency dismount by consensus.”

It was bound to happen. In order to negotiate the deep snow, Goldie was doing this bizarre combination of gaits, a curious concoction that mixed the Four Major Gait Groups: walk, trot, canter, gallop.  She was cantrowallagaloping.

When the cantrowallagaloping got to be too much, Goldie’s center of gravity and mine went their separate ways. My primary concern at that point was not the impact, but suffocation. While I was grateful for the soft landing, I was wondering how deep I would go.

I was also concerned about Gerry, who was directly ahead of me on Habakuk.  I was afraid that Goldie cantrowallagaloping past them without a rider might upset them and start a two-horse chain reaction. She seemed intent on reaching Karin – or any competent adult.

The last thing I saw before everything went white was Habakuk’s big butt.  Most people who go through this sort of thing get to see their entire life flashing in front of them. I got this:


I was unhurt and could see no reason to spend any more time on this portion of the lesson. So I sprung from beneath the snow like a bat out of Hell (that locale having finally froze over this year) and the first thing out of my mouth – after spitting out all the snow – wasn’t “Don’t worry, I’m okay!” or “Is everyone all right?” It was this: “That counts, Karin! That counts!”

This was in reference to Karin’s recent dictum “you can’t be a real equestrian until you’ve fallen off.”

I wasn’t sure if I shouted loud enough to be heard over Karin, who was alternating between laughing and apologizing for laughing, so I repeated it several times.

instructor holding horse


I was relieved to have this part of my equestrian career behind me.

Karin handed Goldie’s reins to me and declared, “You have to get back on, Bob.

man with horse in snow

What the hell was she talking about? I thought.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I said.

“If you don’t get back on, it doesn’t count.”

You know, I’ve long suspected that Karin makes most of this stuff up as she goes along and this confirmed it. This was the first she had said anything about “getting back on.”

But I got back on anyway and we retraced our steps back to the arena. It was pretty easy going, actually.  All of Goldie’s cantrowallagaloping had cleared a nice swath through the snow.

When we got back to the arena, Karin gave me a high-five because now I was a real equestrian. I told her I deserved a gold sticker too. But I ended up something much better than that. I got war wounds:

bruises from riding horses

While the snow provided a soft landing, Goldie’s western saddle isn’t made of snow and the inside of my left leg got tore up during the ejection process.

It was difficult to get a good photo of my war wounds.  Such an awkward angle and my body just doesn’t want to stretch certain ways. I think it would be a good idea to start up my Yoga program again so I that I can get better pictures of this sort of thing.

horse in colorful blanket

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The Keys to a Good Lesson

Lesson #85 was a special one because it proved I’ve been right all along.

I always leave my car keys in my car because I’m afraid I might lose them during my lesson. Always, always, always. Except for one time. On Lesson #85, I put them in my pocket. And I lost them.

So I’ve been right all along.

Despite the monumental efforts of my First Class Search Team (thank you Karin, Kathy and David!) the car keys refused to be found.

Given the things we did on Lesson #85, it’s not the least bit surprising that the keys chose this day to escape. Karin had an active morning planned for Gerry and me.

horse and sled

We rode on sleds.

We stacked hay.


We did vaulting sort of things.



Karin roped Jack, the gentleman who delivered the hay, and David, the gentleman who does most of her building projects, into the vaulting session.


I think between the four of us, there was something approaching two hundred years of life experience. And we still didn’t know enough not to do it.


Somewhere amidst all this falderal my keys bid me adieu.

The thing about losing keys is that everyone you talk to on the day you lose them has their own key-losing story.  Karin told me about the time she lost hers while working at the barn of the great German jockey, Fritz Dreschler.  These keys escaped while Karin was exercising a high level racehorse with a name that sounds like – and I’m sure I’m going to kill the spelling here: You-stus.

“You-stus” was a $200,000 racehorse. And he was as intelligent as he was valuable.

When Karin came back to the barn the next day, You-stus’ was waiting for her.  As she entered the horse’s stall, he eyed her as if she had done something wrong.  Then he turned his gaze toward the corner of the stall almost as if to nod in that direction.  Karin followed his glance and found her keys sitting in the middle of an almost perfect circle where You-stus had cleared away his bedding.

“It was like he put them on a silver platter for me,” Karin said.

The poor horse had obviously stepped on Karin’s keys and wasn’t going let it happen twice.

Please, Hu-mon, in the future refrain from leaving your things in my bedroom.

When I went to the auto dealer to get my keys replaced, my pockets – including my wallet – were full of hay and I smelled like Karin’s horses.  I didn’t care to explain.


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