Second Careers

DSC06558

Back in Lesson #99, Pete caught me mounting Dromie from her right side. Mounting is properly done from the horse’s left side.

“So, Pete, what you’re saying is that left is right and right is wrong … right?”

Oh, the feeble foundations of pun-based irony. But it was fun to say.

Pete didn’t miss a beat, “Well, yeah. Do you know how that got started?”

He obviously saw this as an opportunity to share an equestrian related historical tidbit. So many equestrian related historical tidbits have to do with military riding. Remember, Xenophon, the gentleman who came up with classic dressage, was an army guy. I took a shot:

“Something to do with cavalry, I’m guessing?”

“Yes, you’re right. Back when the cavalry used swords, riders normally hung them on their left sides, since most mounted troops where right handed. You don’t want to try getting on a horse with your sword in the wrong place.”

This made immediate sense to me. Razor sharp objects dangling in that region present a clear and unpleasant danger. This equestrian stuff is tricky enough as it is without that kind of thing going on.

“At least that’s what they say, it could be a lot of different reasons,” added Pete, making room for the miscellaneous that makes up the majority of human experience.

In any case, mounting from the left side of the horse is a strong tradition in the equestrian world. And it’s good to be aware of this, because while horses should be trained to accept riders mounting from either side, you just never know. And not knowing could get you kicked or worse.

You can never assume what a horse knows and what he doesn’t. Because it’s not unusual for horses to go through several careers and have multiple handlers in a lifetime.

Dromie herself is a good example of that. I know her as sweet and passive, a semi-retired babysitter. But according Mike Strauss, Dromie’s trainer from age 8 – he still refers to her as “my girl” – until she was retired to Kim and Pete, she was a “true alpha” in her early years:

“Put her in a field of horses and she quickly had them all in line!”

And Dromie was an accomplished alpha. “In 2005 she carried the Topaz Vaulting team to being the National Trot Champions and has often been named best trot horse in the show,” Mike tells us.

And like Karin’s horses, Dromie has always known how to take care of people. Mike shared this story:

“Before we got her she was owned by a breeder here in Virginia and had two foals of her own. One day some of the girls at that farm went out riding and one of them threw a saddle on Dromie and they had a great ride. On returning they were met by the breeder who was standing at the fence laughing. What was so funny? Well, he said, you should have asked about Andromeda (Dromie), she’s never had a saddle or been ridden before!”

Yes, a horse can experience all kinds of career changes in the course of a lifetime. Sometimes it has to with training or with changes in the horse’s health. But often as not, it has something to with changes that we go through: school, work, marriage, family or even changes in our health. And sometimes horses that are accustomed to a lot of human interaction go through periods where they don’t get much attention at all.

Meanwhile, there is always some horse crazy kid out there – the kind that has it really, really bad – wishing, longing, obsessing for a horse of her own. In a storybook universe, the two would inevitably connect, simply because that’s the way it ought to be. In ours, the connection is made because someone – a parent, a mentor, a friend, sometimes a entire little network of people – made it happen.

In the next two posts, I’m going share a little story of how one such connection was made.

 

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Ten Brave Mammals

Despite reporting in my previous post that we went on the “last trail ride of the summer” on Lesson #99, Lesson #100 consisted primarily of a trail ride. And according to my calendar, it is still summer. The school kids may disagree, but too bad for them. They need to be educated.

It was a magnificent ride. Our expedition took us out into the mysterious, wild region known in Legacy Stables parlance as “Narnia.” It was a perfect day – a perfect summer’s day – for a trail ride. Low to mid 70’s, sunny.

But it was not all fun & games! Flies – big, mean flies – were an issue in Lesson #99 and we assumed they were still out there, like the VC in the bush, waiting…

… for us…

Karin applied the appropriate counter-measures for the patrol.

fly spray

As promised, Karin put me on a horse other than Dromie. I got Windy. I wasn’t upset; Windy is a great trail horse.

Bob on horse

We assembled in the arena. Then, we exited the building in single file like ships of the line leaving port. Windy and I were fourth out of five. Ten brave mammals going in harm’s way.

horses in arean

After snaking our way through the Kiddie Trail …

riders

… Karin halted the group before we entered the woods for these final instructions: “If you see a horsefly: kill him. If you see a deerfly: kill him. If you see a mosquito: kill him.”

riders halted

I was afraid to ask her what we should do if we see a person.

In the arena, the horse & rider is a team. Out here, we are a weapons system.

Behind me, on Charley, was Karin’s new helper, Grace. As we made our way through the depths of the Enchanted Forrest to the borders of Narnia, I told Grace about Karin’s internationally famous “El Towel: the Killing Machine,” a highly effective anti-fly device. Given the circumstances, I thought Karin should have armed each of us with a Killer Towel before we left. Next time, I’m bringing my own.

As it turned out, I didn’t see a single fly. And I didn’t hear anyone else complaining. I’m sure our vermin opponent was out there, but apparently they didn’t want to risk messing with the likes of us. Towels or no towels.

trail ride

The ride was uneventful (i.e., perfect) except for Windy and I having to trot every once in a while to close the gap with the faster gaited horses.

 

 

 

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The Beautiful Queen of Horses

Our daughter, Hiliary, and son-in-law, Andy, gave Jenny and me t-shirts. Jenny got a “soft kitty” (a’ la The Big Bang Theory) and I got a cowboy on a brontosaurus:

man in t-shirt

Kim (S version) asked if I wore the shirt for Lesson #99 in anticipation of riding Dromie. Actually, I wore the shirt in anticipation of someone saying: “Hey, I like your shirt.” But Kim was half right, I did plan on riding Dromie. Shirt or no shirt.

Then again, perhaps there was some kind of collective subconscious process going on here that put Dromie and a brontosaurus on the same page. Later in the day, Karin emailed me this self portrait of one her young riders on Dromie:

drawing of rider and horse

Could this be a coincidence? Or a Jungian archetype, perhaps?

In any case, as anyone who has ever seen Dromie in person will tell you, she is one beautiful horse. No qualifiers regarding her age are necessary. Just a straight up pretty horse. So, if she is indeed a dinosaur she is a Gorgeousequus Rex (Bob Latin for “Beautiful Queen of Horses”).

Meanwhile, it must have been organization day at the barn. Half the contents of the tack room was spilled out into the general barn area, being inventoried and sorted. And new equipment arrived. It was like Christmas morning for a few minutes.

unpacking equipment

Pete unpacked this multiple-use item:

man with hat

I think this can also be used as a feeder of some kind.

Karin got a traffic sign written in equestrian language:

whoa sign

As for Lesson #99, all went well…

Well, not at first. As I approached Dromie in the pasture with halter in hand, she disappeared into the lean-to.

horse in lean-to

I thought perhaps she remembered our difficulty with the bridle in Lesson #98. I spoke to her for a minute or two, apologizing for the bridle thing, petting her and doing my best to explain the shirt. But I soon realized what the real problem was:

tractor

Dromie doesn’t like tractors.

Kim offered to coax Dromie from the lean-to and I thought that was an excellent idea. They have a good history together.

kim and dromie

After mounting Dromie from the wrong side (as noted by Pete), we moseyed around the arena as Gerry and Habakuk ran circles around us. Karin said that I was getting “too comfortable” on Dromie and that next week I’d be riding a different horse. Dromie is more or less a baby sitter and Karin is under the impression that my equestrian career would be better served with a tutor rather than a nanny. Even if the nanny is the Beautiful Queen of Horses.

We were joined by Liz on Rambo (or on Romeo? – I don’t know, it was one of the “R” horses) and proceeded to the trail for a bittersweet end of summer ride while being mindful of the horseflies that were rumored to be in the area.

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It’s All About Context

Lesson #98 began with Karin asking me, “Should you put your own saddle on today?”

With the proficiency of an Official Rosetta Stone graduate, I quickly translated this bit of Karinese into “You are putting your own saddle on today.”

Half of language comprehension comes from context and I provided plenty of context with my last post, which Karin had apparently read.

Well, of course, I knew I’d be my own today. I had already cased the joint and there was no one around except for Liz, who was busy with the horse camp kids.

So no Pete.

And no Kim (S version).

And no Kathy.

And no Charity.

Cruel Karin had hidden all the help.

The saddle was a piece of cake. Except that I didn’t leave enough space between the pad and Dromie’s withers. I had to re-do the whole thing. Cruel Karin.

Then Karin handed me the bridle and walked away…

It was in two pieces! And I had to figure out how the pieces went together! This was terrible! Cruel, cruel Karin.

Gerry kindly (I think) offered to take pictures of me with the “two bits.” In this particular case, the context of the situation actually added to the confusion. man with bridle “She gave me two bits?” I looked at the jumble of leather and buckles in my hands and shook my head at the treachery. Then I remembered that “bits” is British talk for “pieces.” I treated it like a puzzle. Through a process of trail & error, deductive reasoning and casual mumble-cursing , I managed to figure out how the “two bits” (editorial note: this is also slang for a quarter of an American dollar) went together.

When one of the horse camp kids saw that I was going to ride Dromie, she chirped, “You’re going to need a crop if you want her to move!”

I felt like W.C. Fields (“Go away kid, ya bother me…”). I was already on tack overload as it was and I didn’t want to mess around with yet another piece of equipment. Even an honest bit of equipment like a crop. In this context, it would be like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although, I doubt that actually ever happened.

After a little bit of work in the arena, Karin sent us out for a short trail ride. She handed me a crop as we left the arena. I just accepted it. It was easier than trying to explain everything. horse crop in the air We ventured into the Kiddie Trail area. Gerry referred to this as the “Buffet Trail,” due to Habakuk snatching bits of vegetation along the way. two men on horseback We crossed the Bridge of Terror… horse over a bridge Surmounted all obstacles along the way… horse over a log And made our way over to patrol Legacy Stables’ Enchanted Forrest… riding in the woods We came under assault by trees. I was glad I had my crop. dodging a tree on horseback And after a bit, we disappeared deep into the context of the forrest. into the forest

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A Preponderance of Evidence

On Lesson #97, Kim (S version) helped me a lot with Dromie. We went out to the paddock together to fetch the horse. And the three of us waited together until Karin got bored with her tractor shenanigans. And Kim picked out a proper bridle & bit for Dromie. It was consistent with the logical progression of events that she adjusted the bridle and maybe…maybe, maybe, maybe…. there was enough natural momentum here that she would go ahead put it on Dromie for me.

Karin put the kibosh on that quick enough.

“Stop helping him, Kim. Do you know what he does?” Karin nodded in my direction, “He steps back and pretends like he’s taking pictures while other people do his work for him.”

Kim laughed.

I was aghast.

Karin could not have been more wrong. I DO NOT pretend like I’m taking pictures while other people do my work. I actually really DO take pictures of other people doing my work.

And to support my case, I offer the following preponderance of evidence:

I rest my case.

 

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No Drama on Dromie

For Lesson #97, I had the honor of riding Andromeda for the first time. “Dromie” is Kim’s (S version) horse. She is a Shire cross and she’s about as calm and sweet as they come.

Kim says Dromie is around 25, which in Karin Years is 18. That conversion isn’t as complex as it seems.

Dromie hangs out in the geriatric pasture with her buddy Rami and away from the obnoxious younger horses. Well… I think that’s how they would put it.

The Elder Council

The Elder Council

My nickname for Dromie is Krystal. Because I’m sure I’ve called her that several times now. In fact, I didn’t realize she was here until I saw both Krystal and Dromie  standing next to each other in the same paddock. With all the science fiction I’ve read, you can imagine what that was like for me.

I know that the horsepeople who see both horses everyday will think my confusion isn’t warranted and can point to a long list of details that distinguish the two. It should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention.

Ah, there’s the rub. To me, they are both black horses, thus identical.

And in my defense:

Not Krystal

Not Krystal

Not Dromie.

Not Dromie.

Of course, all of this is neither nor there. The most important thing is that Dromie was a pleasure to ride. She moved when I wanted her to move and she stopped when I wanted her to stop. End of story.

Kim gave me a crop just in case, but I didn’t need it. I did enjoy carrying it around under my arm like a Prussian Hussar.

Kim said that the only thing Dromie is afraid of is a tractor. That’s good, because I need a horse that isn’t easily rattled.

I don’t mean to be paranoid, but I couldn’t help but notice that Karin just happened to be using the tractor when Kim told me I would be riding Dromie. I know Karin likes to give me a challenge sometimes.

Karin struggles to maintain control over the Green Monster.

But we out waited Karin and she eventually gave up and put the Green Monster away.

woman looking at tractor

Dromie had been hit by a tractor one time and Kim showed me the mark. There is a reason for everything.

old horse injury

She also said that the horse is missing some teeth in front, but gets along pretty well without them.

I was able to apply her bit & bridle after only two tries. She’s kinda tall. After, the second try, Kim informed me that Dromie was “missing an ear.” And I shook my head thinking, man this horse has been through too much!

But this time it was my fault. And temporary.

man bridling horse

Nothing for the poor thing to do but stand there and wait for me to figure out that a correction was both needed and easily done.

I really like this horse. I hope I can ride her again next time.

horseback riding

 

 

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Duncan and Me at the Barry County 4-H Fair

decorated horse stall

Karin’s 4-H club, Blaze With Grace, was at the Barry County Youth Fair last week. Fair is kind of like the Super Bowl event for local 4-H horse clubs and the kids look forward to it all year. Karin’s club has a pretty involved group of parents and some even stay on site during Fair.

I went out for the morning on Tuesday. For some reason, I thought showmanship was on Monday. Which is why I went on Tuesday. 

I wanted to see some Speed or at least watch some Ride in Circles classes. But just like the old days, when Jamie and Hiliary showed horses, showmanship found me. That’s all they did Tuesday morning.

I have to admit, it was kind of fun watching Karin’s kids with horses I knew and I got some good pics. But after they were done, I lost my rooting interest. And finally, all of my interest.

Don’t get me wrong. I would never say showmanship isn’t important. I don’t know why it’s important, but I would never say that it’s not. Because it actually upsets some people when you say that. So curious.

But, you can say that showmanship is dull. Everyone says it at one time or another. Usually that time is when it’s someone else’s kid’s turn. Sometimes even when it’s your kid’s turn. Sometimes even when it’s you.

One time it took so long, that Hiliary actually sat down on ground right in the ring. She just got tired of waiting for that glacier jockey of a judge to get done checking the rest of the class. No one else in our group dared shout for her to stand up for fear of alerting the judge. I didn’t shout either because I was too busy beaming with fatherly pride. Yep, that’s my girl! I kick myself now for missing that photo op.

I’m not suggesting there is no action in showmanship whatsoever. You just have to open to it. For example, on Tuesday I took this pic…

showmanship

…then, I used my Veteran Horse Show Dad experience to kill some time. It’s an art.

I took a walk to the restroom, then wandered around reading signs…

No base uncovered.

No base uncovered.

…checked the work schedule to make sure no one snuck my name on it like they used to…

fair work schedule

…caught Karin red-handed with a bulging bag right by where all the parents and kids keep their stuff (if anyone is missing anything, let me know) …

coach with a bag

 

… met a show dad who was also a Lions’ fan brother and was gracious enough to  show me his tattoo…

More dads and Lions fans at the shows these days. Both good to see.

More dads and Lions fans at the shows these days. Both good to see.

…checked the inside this can and confirmed that the sign was accurate…

No horses are in this can.

No horses are in this can.

….then returned to see how it was going in the ring:

showmanship class

Note that in the second photo, the young lady in front of the line turned her head 90 degrees. To appreciate showmanship, you just have to be open to the action it offers.

The hammer is about to fall.

The hammer is about to fall.

While we were all waiting, it started to rain.

Yes: it rained on showmanship at the Barry County 4-H Youth Fair. Most people headed for the first structure with a roof. They halted the class for brief period when the rain became a downpoor, then hustled everyone back when it slowed again.

horse show in rain

While some folks ventured back out into the light rain, others – including myself – clung to the narrow dry area between the out facing stalls and the wet ground. A mother standing next to me told her party of people: “We’ll just watch her from her…” Our view:

far away view of showmanship class

Following that class the same mother told her daughter, “You did a great job!” As if she actually knew.

As I leaned against one of the stalls, I started dozing off. Sleeping while leaning up against something  is an old Horse Dad trick. Then, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that I wasn’t alone. Right behind me, a gelding named Duncan was taking in all the action right along with me and feeding off my energy:

horse in stall

Duncan is one of the most kindly looking horses I’ve ever met. I felt an instant bond.

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A Family Reunion

cake

On Saturday, Legacy Stables held its Second Anniversary Celebration. Last Monday, Charity, the main organizer, asked if I would emcee the event. I said “yes” even though it’s not the kind of torture I’m normally accustomed to. Let’s just say talking in front of people is not my forte and leave it at that.

man at a mircophone

But nothing could stop this from being an enormously fun day. I knew it would be. Since I was unable to perform my usual function of Photographer/Generic Guy Standing Around & Available for Small But Immediate Tasks, I handed over the picture taking duty to an enthusiastic Kim (M version), Leoni’s good friend.

I taught her all she knows.

I taught her all she knows.

I taught Kim everything I knew about taking photos. This took 15 seconds:

1. It’s on auto.

2. Hit this button.

3. Put your hat on backwards.

4. Have fun.

Apparently, that was all Kim needed. She got some great pictures. Later this week, we’ll put an album of the day on Karin’s Horse Connection Facebook page.

girls with small horse

Leoni

Like any other Karin-Inspired event, we had an outline of organization, but there was a lot of improvising and, of course, the inevitable glorious chaos that comes when you’re working with twenty some horses and a small mob of kids. Charity, along with Pete and Kim (S version) did an amazing job, keeping everything going and everyone safe.

The main organizer learns that she who holds the clipboard must also have all the answers.

The main organizer learns that she who holds the clipboard must also have all the answers.

We started by introducing all the horses of Legacy Stables one by one. Karin wanted to provide a little taste of everything Legacy Stables offers, so the program also included vaulting and riding demonstrations from the different age groups.

horseback ridersvaultersOne of the highlights of day was an appearance by special guest “Kid Motivator,” Jerry Jacoby and his wife Michaela. The couple are absolute pros with a humorous, warm touch that kids connect with so easily.

man talking to child

They joked, sang, told stories, played music and got the audience – especially the kids – to interact.

performer with kids

Jerry and Michaela are good friends with Karin. While the couple have performed in the United States for decades, in the last several years, they’ve taken their act to Germany as well. Since they do not speak German, Karin translates their act from English to German for them, and then Jerry memorizes it for the performance overseas. It was a special treat having them here for the celebration.

Jerry and Micheala Jacoby

At one point in the program, Karin had an inspiration. It was actually right after the horse parade, when all the horses were still together in one place. Karin saw this as an unique photo opportunity. So we stopped the program, everyone went outside and lined up. Sort of…

And someone got this shot:

horses and people

It looks like a family reunion photo to me. In a very real way, that’s what it is.

Of course, this is only a small part of the Legacy Stables family. We could easily fill up the pasture behind us and beyond. So cool.

Team YAH also made an appearance. This is how we entered the arena:

people in pink pants

I believe it Karin’s German vaulting interns, Lisa and Debo that came up the schtick. I forgot that we were all supposed to wear black pants to enhance the illusion. So when Karin asked me what is quickly becoming the ritual pre-performance question: “That’s what you’re vaulting in?”, I guess she had a point. I was thinking shorts and tennis shoes and my Lions hat was just about the right combination for emceeing and a barrel routine, but for some reason I must have developed a mental block about the Pink Leg routine. But it was blast anyway.

The barrel routine went really well for us. We’re getting really good.

barrel routine

Karin got an opportunity to perform at the end of the barrel routine with her son-in-law, Leo.

pair on barrel with spotter

Karin’s daughter Anika and Leo are visiting from Australia for a few weeks this summer.

A proud Wendel Schmidt with daughter Anika.

A proud Wendel Schmidt with daughter Anika.

To conclude the routine, Karin did a fancy flip off the barrel with an assist from Pete.

nice landing

But we need to do a little work on synchronizing the bow:

bowing not in sync

At the end of the formal program, there was cake.

The cake was put to good use.

The cake was put to good use.

And open vaulting broke out. Belle and Marissa led a gaggle of kids through some warm up exercises:

warm up exercises

While Lisa and Debo did this flip thing with the kids because it’s fun to do:

kid flipping

And, as expected, Karin was in the clouds.

Karin waves from "up there."

Karin waves from “up there.”

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Simple Physics and Team Shirts

I arrived at vaulting practice #6 ten minutes early so that I could get in some stretching exercises before the barrel and horse stretched me in their own, less than gentle fashion. I really don’t do enough of this.

During the brief interlude between the end of the kids’ class and the beginning of Team YAH’s practice, Karin’s newest pair of German vaulting interns, Lisa and Debo, took turns performing some impressive moves on Habakuk. They’re really good. Really, really good.

Good enough to interrupt the stretching that I don’t do enough of.

Deirdre was concerned: “We shouldn’t be watching this.”

She was obviously worried about the impact on our team morale.

I was also concerned about our morale: “No… we shouldn’t let them watch us.”

Actually, the girls were very nice and taught us a unique barrel move. This involved a kind of headfirst dive off the front of the barrel whilst holding you’re body in a straight line. The barrel acted as fulcrum with your body as the lever. The girls’ job was to stop your forward momentum and then fling you skyward so that you could get some good leg elevation. It was just a matter of simple physics.

And trust.

Lots and lots of trust.

“We do all the work,” they assured us.

I trusted the girls, but I didn’t want any miscommunication to spoil all the fun. So just before I put my life in their hands, I put my head on a swivel, asking each of them in rapid succession – three or four times – if they were ready. I know what the ground feels like in these situations and I didn’t want to surprise anyone with any sudden moves.

I think they could have propelled me higher had they not been laughing. Plus, I think my initial headfirst swing was supposed to bring my entire body closer to a 45-degree angle (or better) than the 15 degrees I was managing. By the fourth attempt, I did feel enough elevation in my legs to know that, if you believe in simple physics and trust German girls enough, this could be big fun.

Penny and Deirdre did really well with it.

DSC06033

barrel exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After offering each of us a turn, Lisa and Debo decided to go shopping at the mall. That’s what you do in the U.S.A. when you’re all done messing with the natives.

The next highlight of the practice was the arrival of our team shirts. There was great excitement as Charity opened the box and the colors got sorted.

Team YAH t-shirts

Then we each took a couple of turns on Habakuk.

But for the most part, the rest of the practice consisted of just us wearing our new shirts.

team YAH shirts

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The Respect of a Palomino

For Lesson #96, Charity filled in for Karin who was busy with horse camp kids. As usual, Gerry rode Habakuk. I’m really impressed with how much progress the Professor and the Moustache King have made together since Gerry started with Karin. And the bond is easy to see.

man on horse

I got my old friend, Goldie. The Palomino wasn’t particularly busy at the time and she stayed Not Busy for pretty much my entire lesson. Goldie is actually Leoni’s horse and according to my sources, Leoni says that the key to Goldie is to earn her respect or she just won’t respond like you think she should. I earned about half-a-trot around the arena’s worth.

With the camp kids taking up all the good barn spots for grooming and tacking up, Gerry and I had to try to brush and saddle the horses outside while they grazed.

“Those horses aren’t going anywhere with all this lush grass around,” one confident observer noted.

horse eating grass

Well, “not going anywhere” is relative. While Habakuk and Goldie showed no intention of packing up and leaving the property, they didn’t exactly stand still either. The grass is always greener four inches away.

“It’s like saddling a moving target,” Gerry observed.

I have this same problem when I try to get my granddaughter Aubrey dressed. She just knows that there has to be more interesting things for a person to do than fussing with something so obviously unnecessary as clothes.

But no problem, Charity was right there assisting Gerry as needed and assisting me just about every step of the way. Legacy’s tack room has a built-in special feature that enables it to spontaneously manufacture – out of plain thin air – rare saddle and girth types that fit together in an endless variety of ways. Each combination of saddle-girth-stirrups creates a unique Tack Puzzle that must be solved before you can ride the horse. If given enough time, I can eventually solve these brainteasers by myself, but by then everyone has gone off to bed.

stirrup puzzle

Charity is good teacher. You can tell she has learned some things by watching Karin, but I think her instincts are really good too. She knew how difficult it was for me to get Goldie going, but she never really pressured me or made me feel more uncomfortable than I already was. Her corrections were very specific in the “heels down,” “toes in,” “don’t lean forward” sort of way. She also taught us the proper way to pass in the arena. Just a few simple rules, but good to know.

riding instructor

Toward the end of the lesson, Charity brought out Karin’s Magic Wand. I couldn’t really see what she was doing with it, but the device had a multiplier effect on Goldie’s respect for me and we got her going for just a bit at the end. Karin always says to end the lesson on a positive note. Even if it takes a little magic.

Karin's Magic Wand

 

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