History at a Slow Trot

With Karin still in Germany, her daughter Anika served as my instructor for Lesson #115. It was a very nice, low-keyed lesson. It was perfect for my mood. If “just plain lazy” can be considered a mood.

I rode Windy. She’s been a good horse for me lately and her “Trot-in-Place” gait was also perfect for my mood. Anika and I brushed Windy quite a bit before tacking her up, using this curious device:

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It just went on and on. I think we could have brushed all day long and never see the end of it.

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My jacket was covered in the stuff. I wore it like that when I into the store after my lesson. With equestrian pride.

We stayed in the arena because the spring mud is still pretty bad. However, they had already opened the sides of the arena. Big morale booster, that.

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I mostly walked and slow trotted Windy, practicing some neck reining and trying to get comfortable riding with just one hand. I like the idea of having one hand free for emergencies.

While I rode, Anika walked along and we chatted. Lots of good history stuff which I thoroughly enjoyed. Anika is working on a project that involves some research into her family history over nine generations. She’s particularly interested in the maternal side of things and how the women in her family have influenced her life. The story she wants to tell features how these women lived and survived through the toughest parts of European 20th Century history. It was a very busy century.

And I had a good lesson.

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Horse Show Veteran

With my riding lessons still on hold due to technical reasons and with show season just around the corner, I thought I’d offer the following assessment of horse show parenting.

The article is actually part of a collection that I put together for my book A Horse in the House: Living With the Equine Addicted. Right now the book is available as a Kindle book from Amazon. For those who are interested, here’s the link:  A Horse in the House.

Horse Show Veteran

I am a horse show veteran. My horse-crazed daughters suffer from an addiction to riding in public, so I don’t have much choice. My efforts to break them of this expensive habit routinely fail and I’m left to spend my weekends and their inheritance on this … sport.

We’ve attended over a hundred horse shows. And we’ll probably go to a hundred more before it’s over and they cart me away on a broken down sulky, babbling a litany of judge’s instructions: “Trot your horse, trot please… reverse and walk … canter your horses … run like the wind! … every rider for herself! … line up and face judgment!” I’ll need to be sedated.

When the girls first started competing, I had no idea what was going on. All I could see was a herd of horses with miniature, but well dressed riders going in circles. How the judge picked one rider over another was beyond my comprehension. They weren’t racing, that was for sure. But to help pass the time, I pretended they were.

Now, I’m a veteran. I still don’t understand what the judge is looking for, but at least now I know that nobody else does either. Not parents anyway. Many get angry, and even feel cheated or insulted when their child does not place. Over the years, I’ve learned the louder they protest, the less they know.

New parents – the rookies – are the worst. Rookie parents are shocked and dismayed when they first discover the role politics and popularity play in horse show placings. “What do you mean the judge is a close friend of Suzy Tengrandhorse’s parents? That’s not fair!” Yeah, neither are death and taxes.

Of course one’s view of the role of politics in placings directly corresponds to the color of ribbon one receives. Those taking a blue know the judge is a direct descendant of Solomon – or a least a shirttail cousin of Judge Judy. Those who receive lesser ribbons or no ribbon at all regard the judge as fair and impartial as a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

There are other ways to spot rookie parents. They’re the ones whose kids have bloodstains on their back numbers. There is a trick to pinning thin stock cardboard to fabric and it takes a few finger pricks before you learn it. Safety pins are dangerous.

Rookie parents hurry. Then they wait. Then they hurry. Then they wait. They do this because they have yet to comprehend the salient fact of horse shows: Nothing ever happens on time. Most horse shows are behind before they even start. Rushing to meet a deadline that never comes on time always results in hurrying followed by waiting followed by hurrying and so on.

Veterans know better than to get ready too early. Scurrying around to get the proper tack, the right clothes, and correct equipment ready to go forty-five minutes prior to a class is never a good idea. The horse gets tired, the kid will have to pee and sweat makes mascara run. Daughters of rookie parents sometimes look like Alice Cooper groupies.

One of the worst mistakes I see rookie parents make is letting people – especially club leaders and kids – see them sit down. Veterans do not allow this. A veteran knows that the instant his or her rear makes contact with a chair, a club leader or child will descend upon the sitting person with a list of chores and instructions. Sitting areas should be chosen with care and out of public view. I prefer exploring and colonizing small patches in adjoining cornfields whenever possible.

Veteran horse parents do not have fewer questions than rookie horse parents. We’ve just stopped asking them. We have learned that knowing something is the first step to having to do something. It’s best to remain confused and oblivious. Just because the horses go around and around, doesn’t mean we need to.

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A Ride in the Woods

Jenny and I recently spent some time in Florida visiting daughter Jamie and son-in-law Kyle. I didn’t get a chance to ride any horses and I’m not sure they would have let me anyway. But we did get a peek at some interesting creatures that you rarely see at home.

There was this iguana guarding the middle of the street.

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In what is sure to be an award winning nature photograph, you can see the fin of a dolphin if you look closely.

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I wasn’t too upset that this big guy/girl was on the other side of the creek.

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And a big ol’ manatee hanging near the legged creatures.

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In any case, no lessons for me in the second half of last month. So I thought I’d share this article I wrote for The Trail Rider magazine that appeared in their Mar/April issue of 2013. It’s about my first ride on one of Karin’s horses.

A Ride in the Woods

“Trail ride” is such a pleasant sounding term. The way it rolls off your tongue with no menacing consonants like “k” or spooky letters like “x” or “q”. The two words sort of blend together – trailride – offering a mixture of agreeable associations: sunshine, fresh air, tall trees and the best companionship known to humankind.

Trailride. Such a nice word…

Unless, of course, it’s your first time on a horse in thirty years and you’ve spent the last fifty-two minutes at the edge of mortal danger and your riding instructor is using it in a sentence that you did not want to hear: “Why don’t we finish your lesson with a little trail ride?” In that case, it sounds more like: “Let’s go out into the woods and finish you off.” 

The horse Karin put me on was a Perchon-Thoroughbred mix about the size of Godzilla, but much nicer. He was definitely a good boy, who did not seem to mind the white-knuckled death grip I had on his mane for the last hour.

“Good boy, Caspian. Good boy.” 

The death grip was actually the result of an attempt to pat the horse’s neck. But my hand didn’t make it all the way and on its own accord, seized the nearest object offering any measure of comfort and security. Once there, I couldn’t convince it to leave.

I should have been less afraid. Caspian, an experienced vaulting horse, was exceptionally calm and well mannered, as any creature employed as a mobile jungle gym would have to be. Besides, since this was my first lesson, Karin chose a vaulting saddle for me use. These are saddles that come with actual handles, like they all should. There is nothing you can put on a horse that could make a new rider feel any more secure than a vaulting saddle. But that wasn’t enough. 

Foundation for a Phobia

Highlighting my apprehension was a well-founded Low Hanging Branch Phobia. When my kids were young, we went on a group ride with their cousins at a local riding stable. You know, the kind staffed and managed by horse-crazed teenaged girls. Everything was fine for the first thirty feet of the ride. And then everything wasn’t. I don’t know exactly how it started. Something about a disagreement between the two lead horses. Maybe it was an election year, I don’t remember.

Anyway, all hell broke lose. Two of the horses took off down the road, while another split into the woods, perhaps in an attempt to cut ‘em off on the other side of the trees. It’s hard to say what goes on in a horse’s brain during these situations. Probably nothing.

The horse that took off into the woods was carrying my nephew. I could see the little guy ducking branches as his freaked-out mount carried him deeper into the woods. Lucky for everyone, except my sister’s attorney, the kid was athletically inclined and able to hang on without further incident or injury. I remember thinking at the time that the boy was fortunate to still have a head.

Ever since the incident, I’ve associated trail riding with decapitation. Although, my daughter likes to point out that a low hanging branch is more likely to break your neck or crack your head open than to take it clean off.

Yeah, that’s better.

Into the Hole We Go

It’s not just the trees and branches that scare me. It’s the things hiding behind the trees. The things that both Caspian and I know are there. It’s about how the horse will react when those things jump out at us. Horses are unpredictable! People aren’t much better! 

Despite my fears, we head toward the trees. As Caspian and I follow Karin on her little pony into the woods, he behaves as if nothing is wrong. His gait is steady and calm, nonchalantly swaying with a steady rhythm. I can almost see the thought bubble above his big Baby Huey head: 

Doh-de-doh, doh-de-doh, into the woods we go-de-doh, go-de-doh… 

I should take heart in his courage, but I am unable. If the branches and things behind the trees aren’t enough, we are approaching the Dreaded Mudhole, the lowest part of the trail. Karin warns: “You’ll feel him pick up a little speed. He knows he needs to do that to make it through the mud.” 

Speed? I do not want speed. Not at all. It’s unpredictable! No, no, NO! 

The horse’s cadence quickens and his gait becomes irregular. Into the Mudhole we go! The mighty horse powers his way through it without stumbling and we surge up the hill. And the top, we emerge from the woods and back into the open! The orchestra in my head strikes up Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathurstra (2001 Space Odyssey music) and we are in the clear. 

Caspian’s steady gait returns. 

Do-de-doh, do-de-doh, out of the woods we go-de-doh. 

That was actually… fun. 

As we return to the barn, Karin says, “Next time, lets try a little trot.” 

Trot, such a fun word.

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Planning for Perfection

On Lesson #114 we attempted to recreate Lesson #113: a perfectly pleasant winter’s day ride. However…

The temps were actually single digit – this time without the benefit of literary license. These days, we’re happy enough if we don’t see the minus sign in front of our numbers. As Gerry (on Habakuk) and I (on Windy) discovered as we followed Karin (on Charley) lemming-like through the Kiddie Trail, the footing was less than ideal. Discretion being the better part of valor, we headed inside. The Chicken Part of my brain – science calls it the cerebrum – insisted.

Within the confines of the Great Indoors, Windy and I performed some dressage moves. These included “Snappy Salute at X” and “Precisely Perfect 20 Meter Circle.”

Anyone who knows anything about dressage knows that after you enter at “A,” you proceed to “X” and make a Snappy Salute. Anyone who knows anything about the English alphabet knows that “X” should be “B.”    

I’m wondering if the letter-sequencing discrepancy has something to do with the roots of dressage itself. While the Germans and miscellaneous Europeans developed dressage into the sport/art form we know today, it was the Greeks that first came up with idea. Way, way, way back. Its origins are in fact attributed to the writings of a gentleman named Xenophon who was actually an army guy. Xenophon and the Greeks had their own take on the alphabet with letters that were simultaneously very pretty and very confusing to look at. Kind of like the script you might see on the back of the One Ring to Rule Them All. The one that Karin wants.

After Snappy Salute, I performed a Precisely Perfect 20 Meter Circle and announced that I had done so.

Karin expressed partial disagreement: “That wasn’t 20 meters.”

“Really, Karin? It’s the 20 meter part of that you object to?”

“Bob… a meter is three feet…”

Well so much for precision.

“… and the arena is 72 feet across. That leaves you six feet on each side…”

Her calculations were exquisite. In all honestly, my Precisely Perfect 20 Meter Circle had been probably closer to an 8-meter version of the Greek small case letter “phi.”

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Karin then demonstrated to Gerry (who didn’t ask) and me how to make a “change through a circle” and a “change out of a circle.” They are two different things that can put you in different directions, so it’s something you have to know if you want to do dressage without an awkward early exit.

That’s the biggest thing I learned about dressage circles: there’s context to them. They don’t just come out of nowhere and end up nowhere. Striving for perfection means you have to plan ahead.

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The Antidote to Winter

On Lesson #113 I got to ride with new parents Leo and Anika, Karin’s son-in-law and daughter (respectively). Despite air temps well below freezing – I mean like 8 or something – we decided that a trail ride sounded nice. I took Windy because she looks warm to me. Leo rode Maree. Anika chose Apache, one of the four new employees brought on staff to help with Legacy’s current growth spurt.

Leo is still a relatively new rider and I’m – well, me – so Anika had her hands full with getting the two adult males and three horses ready to go.

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With five full mammals in her charge, she scurried around making sure everyone had what they needed, fought with all the reluctant cold weather leather and checked to make sure everything was on the horses – and us – properly.

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She tended to each detail with the same care and patience her mother displays with her students. I can she why Karin wants Anika to give lessons. I think she would make a great kindergarten teacher.

While it was cold, there was little wind and no precipitation. And the footing was actually very good. We ended up having a pleasant winter’s day ride. Like they do in songs.

 Come late next fall when we start dreading the oncoming winter, we’re going to have to remember days like this. The large indoor arena and heated viewing rooms are nice, but sometimes the real antidote to winter is to go out and enjoy it.

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Jumping on the List

During Lesson #112 research efforts got underway for my 2015 List of Equestrian Things To Do. Progress was made in the areas of neck reining, the free-style vaulting routine and attending a horse show. And there were positive signs regarding Dressage. I also wanted to go over a cavaletti to get that done and checked off the list, but I didn’t see any on the ground.

I had the pleasure of taking Lesson #112 with Grace and Pete, two knowledgeable and helpful instructors. Grace rode her horse Diamond. The pair have been together forever – but not in this picture, because I forgot my camera and this is the only picture I have of Grace.

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Pete took Caspian and I was on Krystal.

The only thing I knew about neck reining is that you do it with one hand. I wanted to take better photos whilst mounted and I figured if I could master a one-handed riding technique, it might help.

After discussing the matter with Pete and Grace, I now know that neck reining is more about what the horse knows than what the rider knows. They actually get trained in it, especially for things like barrel racing.

Still, there are different approaches a rider can take, especially in regard to where you place your fingers vis-à-vis the reins. I still have to nail down my finger placement and then stick to it. And then use a horse that’s good at it, my job being basically not to confuse them. Grace said that Maree or Windy might be good candidates.

Pete promised to help me develop a free-style vaulting routine. He said I could pretty much make up what I want to do. This is good news for me, because I intend on creating some Never Seen Before Vaulting Moves. He also said my routine should last about a minute, which is about all anyone will be able to stand to watch anyway. Karin is hosting a Fun Fest in April, so I’m hoping to be ready by then.

Meanwhile, my son-in-law Andy was gracious enough to create this exquisitely detailed model to help me conceptualize and develop some of my Never Seen Before Vaulting Moves. That’s a Lions’ hat on his head.

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Regarding the open horse show, Legacy is starting an independent 4H-like horse club this year and Grace is one of the coaches. She told me they plan on attending an open horse show or two and I could tag along.

When I included “attend an open horse show” on the list, my intention was to just sit and watch. Like the olds days. But Grace seems to think I should participate in a more active way. I can still sit, but it has to be on a horse.

And finally, I saw these the day after my lesson.

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Looks like we’ll be working on our letters soon.

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Twenty Fifteen

The other night, Karin held a “Vision Casting” for Legacy Stables. This involved a gathering of her staff, volunteers, students, parents of students, board members – anybody with an interest in Karin’s Horse Connection. So I went.

The gathering served as an assessment of where the operation is, where we want it to go and what we were going to do this year to get it there. A collective New Year’s Resolutions list for the place. The evening was both fun and productive and now we’re all excited about 2015.

It got me thinking about my own equestrian goals for the coming year. I mean beyond my primary goal of Just Showing Up and Seeing What Happens.

It’s not that I haven’t set goals in the past. It’s just that I’ve been less than diligent in actually doing anything about them. Setting goals is fun. Actually doing the work to achieve the goal is another matter.

One strategy is to define your goals in such a way that you can say you’ve met them without really doing much of anything. The key here is vagueness. Relative terms such as “better” or “more” (“I will ride more this year,” “I will pay better attention to my instructor”) are very useful if you like your goals with a lot of wiggle room.

This year, I think I’ll try to be a little more specific. A list of Micro Goals that I can put an actual checkmark next to as I accomplish each one. Little bits that may or may not help support the larger Just Showing Up thing.

So here is my list:

  1. From what I understand, there might be some Dressage going on at Legacy this year. My goal is to do at least one pattern all the way through. Bonus goal: resist the impulse to move the letters around the arena just to spell a word.
  2. Attend one local open horse show and write a blog post about it.
  3. Conduct an investigation into what’s going on with my riding breeches! Specifically, why do I start to pass out right after I put them on? They didn’t do that when I first got them. There is something wrong with them.

    They didn't bother me before.

    They didn’t bother me before.

  4. Learn how to properly apply a surcingle
  5. Read one book about equestrian vaulting.
  6. Develop my own free-style vaulting routine – at the walk.
  7. Visit Chicago Vaulting in the summer and do a blog post on their new lungeing training program. Bonus goal: determine once & for all the correct spelling of lungeing.
  8. Learn how to neck rein.
  9. Walk over a cavaletti.
  10. Sponsor one horse or student at Legacy Stables.
  11. Only talk about stretching during a riding lesson if I’ve actually stretched before the riding lesson. Bonus goal: eliminate the word “should’ve” from my vocabulary.
  12. Learn to recite the names of all of Legacy’s horses to the tune of Amazing Grace.
  13. Polish my riding boots.
  14. Complete the Fundamentals of Photography course that I bought two years ago.
  15. Set up at least one riding lesson for granddaughter Aubrey. We have already discussed this.IMG_0256

I think that should keep me busy for a year.

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Expanding the Herd

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been away from the barn for a combination of reasons that are not typically shared on a blog or anywhere on the Internet. Well, maybe on Facebook.

Karin was also a bit out of commission during this period. It was a dangerous time. Karin causes a lot more trouble when you try to keep her inside then when she’s allowed to go out. Specifically, she browses the Internet for horses. You know, “just looking”…

This time, she only bought four.

In Karin’s defense, I should mention that Legacy Stables is growing pretty fast and this wasn’t exactly a case of impulse buying. Once the good weather comes back, it’s going to get real busy around there. Some of Karin’s horses are aging and they probably wouldn’t mind sharing the workload with some new employees. One of the first things people notice when they visit Legacy is how happy the horses are. Karin intends on keeping it that way.

 Karin is very clear about what she looks for when buying a horse for Legacy Stables. In order of priority, they are:

  1. Temperament
  2. Temperament
  3. Temperament
  4. Health
  5. Gaits
  6. Training
  7. Price

Ten years ago, when Karin bought her first horse, Charley, a friend warned her, “Be careful Karin, they don’t come alone!” At the time, Karin laughed at that.

Legacy is up to 23 horses now. Eighteen of them are hers. It’s an accurate tally: “I went out yesterday and counted them myself,” Karin reports.

And, without further ado, here are the new additions to Legacy Stables’ expanding herd:

MIA

962713_1Mia is a 3 year-old Haflinger, 13 hands. She’s trained in the walk, trot and canter. She will be employed for birthday parties, therapeutic riding and adaptive vaulting.

APACHE

Apache

Apache

Apache is a 14 hand, 9 year-old, stocky Pinto Pony. Karin says he’s perfect for adaptive vaulting, therapeutic riding and for her Tiny Tots vaulting program.

LI’L MISS SUNSHINE

Sunshine dining at her new home.

Sunshine dines at her new home.

Sunshine is a 10 hand, 3 year-old Shetland. Karin intends on using her as a backup for Snoopy, a current worker who definitely wouldn’t mind a little help with all those kids.

 DaVINCI

DaVinci

DaVinci

DaVinci is a 13 year-old, 17 hand Hanoverian. Karin reports that he has “a really nice gait.” She intends on using him for Dressage and vaulting.

Maybe it’s time for me to learn a little Dressage? Maybe just a little…

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Christmas Treats and Holiday Threats

The most notable thing about Lesson #111 was the weather. Sunny and fifty degrees in late December is a gift. Karin and Pete actually opened up the windows on one side of the arena. Spirits soared.

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Karin put me on Krystal, one of her “18 year-olds.” I like Krystal and if I recall correctly, I had some success on my last ride on her. But then again, I may not be recalling correctly.

As time passes, the memory of this or that lesson can become a little distorted, perhaps emphasizing whatever suits my current psychological needs. It’s not unusual for humans to do this. On a larger scale, history gets abused like this all of the time by groups – sometimes massive groups of people – with this or that agenda. Historians themselves frequently disagree and get angry at one another. Whatever makes you feel the most comfortable, I say.

Being that it was two days before Christmas, Karin was in a generous mood and as a treat helped me with my tack.

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However, she insisted that I ride English. I picked Western for the last several lessons and I think she was concerned I may never make it back to the Other Side.

I did adjust my own stirrups. I like them long.

Karin noticed: “Do you think your stirrups are too long?”

“No, Karin, I don’t think they’re too long.”

“Well, they are.”

“But I’m comfortable like this.” My knees like to be straight.

“You can’t ride like that. Stop your horse, we have to adjust them.”

I was riding in sneakers, which is not recommended. I just thought I’d be more comfortable in them on that day, so I left my boots in the car.

With Karin adjusting the stirrups, she would be sure to notice my choice in footwear. So I preempted her and ‘fessed up: “I’m not wearing boots today, Karin.”

“I see. Maybe the next time you forget your boots we can have you ride bareback on Caspian?” Even Karin admits that Caspian can be a bit bumpy at times. Bareback, I would have a marble’s chance of staying on him at the trot. Christmas Treats had turned to Holiday Threats.

Krystal and I trotted and cantered around a bit. It was mostly in the chaotic, out-of-control mode that I’m beginning to perfect as my trademark riding style. At least that’s how I’m going to remember it.

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The Great Indoors

Karin put me on Windy for Lesson #110. I rode Windy a time or two on the trails during the more civilized weather months. She’s a good horse.

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We held this lesson in The Great Indoors.

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There’s no snow right now, but the ground is frozen hard in the break-an-ankle way. So I was grateful for the venue.

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I was joined by Gerry on Habakuk and Leo on Maree. Leo has been getting a bit of riding in, as I expected he would. Some of this has been inadvertently serious and exciting.

That is, Maree took off on Leo the other day. Full gallop.

Ah, Quarter horses. So stately in the slow trot, so Zero to 60 in the gallop. Well, maybe Zero to 25. But 25 Horse mph is like 120 in Car mph. Just ask Leo.

Bless his heart – he did not bail, but opted to hang on for the duration. I admire that.

Lesson #110 was a working lesson. Although, it was a kind of free-flow independent study situation. Karin provided some basic instructions to the three of us (actually to six of us – the horses listen to her better than we do) such as “walk around these pylons,” “do a Figure 8 at the trot,” “stop and back your horse between these two poles,” etc. – and then she allowed us to comply at our leisure.

I like this form of lesson, because I can get into an uninterrupted flow of communicating with the horse rather than listen to the instructor.

Windy was fun to ride. She was very responsive to my cues, even better than big ‘ol Habakuk had been in the preceding lessons. I was able to direct her with finger twitches and leg taps. Although our figure 8 looked more an Old English D than an 8. But that’s on me and my one-handed, photo-taking riding style.

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Toward the end of the lesson, Karin left the arena for a few minutes.

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And when she returned, she had Peanut. The Mighty Peanut.

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We untacked the horses and let them go for a Romp & Roll session.

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Maree and Peanut were especially enthusiastic.

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It was a hoot watching them. But I think I got in their way once or twice with my photo taking.

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