Four Points and a Big Canter

For Lesson #109, I got to ride Habakuk for the second week in a row. Gerry had his lesson the day before thus opening up a spot for me on Habakuk’s back.

I got to ride with Leo, Karin’s son-in-law. Leo is both a new father and a new rider. Sometimes everything happens all at once.

Leo took Maree. He was concerned about being too big for her, but I think they matched up pretty well.

Leo and Maree

Leo and Maree

As I trotted Habakuk around the arena, I could hear Karin give Leo instructions regarding his seat: “Keep all Four Points of your butt on the horse,” she insisted.

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A flood of mother-in-law jokes came crashing into my brain, but I held my tongue. Also, I remembered that the last time this topic had been discussed, there was some controversy over whether there are actually Five Points – not Four – to a person’s buttocks. But I didn’t bring that up either, because we were doing so well and I didn’t want anyone to lose to their focus to that debate.

I got to canter a bit. Karin used her Magic Wand as a communication aid.

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On the first two go-arounds, I held on to the saddle horn because it seemed like the right thing to do. But after that, Karin told me let go and employ the Supple Joints thing. I did and it was more fun than holding on.

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There is something about being on Habakuk that gives everything around you a kind of miniature feel.

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Even the arena got smaller. We got from one end to the other in what seemed like two, maybe three bounds. Although, I not sure if “bound” is an appropriate canter term.

“He has a big canter, Karin,” I reported.

“No, he has a very smooth canter,” she responded.

They’re not necessarily conflicting ideas, of course. But I didn’t argue because I had another, more pressing issue I needed to discuss.

“His canter kind of breaks up into a trot at the end of the arena, Karin.”

“That’s because you’re not following through, Bob.”

Karin always puts it back on the rider. But she had a point. I was so busy keeping my whole body on him, I wasn’t paying enough attention to keeping my legs on him. It’s like coasting down a hill on a bike. It’s nice, but at some point you have to be prepared to resume peddling if you want to keep your momentum going.

At the end of the lesson, something happened that almost never happens. Someone asked me for help with his tack. It was Leo.

I put Habakuk on the crossties and then proceeded to tell Leo everything I knew about horse tack. Ten seconds later, he was all set.

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I’m pretty sure Leo is going to be riding quite a bit in the coming weeks. Within a month or two, I’ll be asking him for help. And the universe will be back in its proper order.

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2014 at Legacy Stables

I didn’t have a lesson last week, so I think this is a good opportunity for a slideshow presenting the past year at Legacy Stables. It’s around 3 minutes – just skimming the highlights 2014.

The slideshow features, in rough order: Winter “Own-a-Horse Camp”, Karin’s Horse Connection at the Kids & Family Expo in January, the Christoph Lensing Clinics in February, Legacy’s appearance at Up2U Expo, the new Tiny Tots vaulting class, the Trail Mix Vaulting Competition & Clinic, Legacy Stables Vaulting Competition & Clinic, Karin’s summer interns from Germany, Summer “Own-a-Horse Camp,” Legacy Stables Second Anniversary Celebration, The Legacy Rainbow, Team YAH,  Karin’s 4H club “Blaze With Grace” at Barry Count Fair, Charity and Ryan’s wedding, Trail Mix Fun Fest, the Grand Rapids Santa Parade, the Caledonia Christmas Parade and the most recent addition to the Legacy Family, Wendel and Karin’s new granddaughter, Emiliana Grace.

There was a lot more going on, but enough is enough. The items in bold blue are links to related blog posts. 

It’s been a busy, fun and rewarding year.

Music attribution: “Step On” by Jahzzar.

 

 

 

 

 

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Head Cover and a Major Blessing

For Lesson #108 I got to ride Habakuk since Gerry wasn’t there.

Interlopeing

Interlopeing

After decades of being conditioned by jealous horsegirl society, I felt a tinge of guilt as if I was interloping. The last thing I want to be is an interloper. Barn drama is the worst.

It wasn’t my idea, of course.

“You can ride Habakuk today,” Karin announced. “He’s in the Red Barn. Go get him – and don’t let the other horses out.”

This was a good reminder and I took due caution. If you don’t pay enough attention, the horses sometimes just do whatever the hell they want, especially when Karin isn’t right there. She’s like their mother or something.

Habakuk: a big and warm mammal.

Habakuk: a big and warm mammal.

As I led Habakuk from the Red Barn to the main barn for tacking up, I looked forward to getting on him. It was a cold, cold day and my equestrian career has seen enough winters to know that the best antidote to the cold is to share body heat with a large furry mammal other than a bear. Plus riding takes work if you actually want to accomplish anything. The combination of physical exertion and horse heat will warm you up nicely. My favorite part of an indoor winter riding lesson is the last ten minutes where the horse and I just wander around being comfortable.

Habakuk is great horse to ride. He responded well to my cues. He reminded me of Vinnie a little bit in that way. Miss that guy.

Due to the cold, I wore a cheap, but effective knit hat to the barn instead of my Lions’ cap. This created a small problem, again due to some prior conditioning. I don’t feel secure riding bareheaded. It’s just not safe. However, my brain took the physical sensation of the hat on my head as a green light to proceed, thusly: “You’re helmet is on your head, everything is okay, go ahead and mount the horse.”

I didn’t notice the oversight until about halfway through the lesson. Just kind of caught some knit material out of the corner of my eye. I had to pat my head three times to confirm.

Before.

Before.

Karin didn’t notice it either. However, she was gracious enough to go get my helmet from the main barn and make my head right.

After.

After.

In Karin’s defense, she was a bit preoccupied at the time. Daughter Anika was due anytime for Karin’s first grandchild. Sure enough, three days later the world welcomed Emiliana Grace.

Karin was super happy to report that the newest addition to the Schmidt family is BEAUTIFUL!!! and that Mama Anika, Papa Leo and the baby are all doing well.

Congratulations to both the Schmidt and Ojeda families. A new adventure has begun.

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Santa Parade, 2014

On Saturday, I got to go with Legacy Stables in the big Santa Parade in downtown Grand Rapids. We did this last year in freezing temperatures, to which Michigan’s neurotic version of Mother Nature added a brisk wind.

Last Year: the frozen few.

Last Year: the frozen few.

This year we were given a few extra degrees, enough to boost the air temps to that awkward-right-around-freezing range where the precipitation really can’t decide what it wants to be – snow or ice – so it settles on freezing rain as a compromise. I thought maybe they’d cancel the parade.

Nope. It went forward, although I’m guessing not all the entrants showed up. Even the Live 8 parade narrators on WoodTV indicated they were going to have to wing it. I think it makes it more fun when you really don’t know what’s coming next.

Karin outfitted me with another Karin’s Horse Connection sweatshirt, which she simply put right over my already bulging ski-jacket. I think the majority of my wardrobe now has some kind of Karin’s Horse Connection logo.

Ready to march.

Ready to march.

Last year the highlight of the parade was when Elmo went down and got dragged through the streets of downtown.

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This year Cookie Monster stepped in and I didn’t bother taking many photos of him. That guy is a real pro and I knew he would complete the parade in good form.

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The temps improved enough so that by the start of the parade at 9, we were in pretty good shape. There were still some slick spots, but the road crews were on top of it and the main street was mostly just wet.

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Karin brought Charley, Snoopy, Peanut and Caspian (shown below, left to right).

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All are rock solid parade veterans, who almost seemed a little bored.

And of course, Karin had to show off my newest buddy, Pumpkin Sherbert.

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The kids appeared to be having a great time. While the footing had improved, it still wasn’t exactly comfortable out there. However, I didn’t hear much whining by anyone under 5 feet tall.

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The kids’ poise and show presence, especially under less than ideal conditions, never ceases to amaze me. Kudos to them – and their instructors and parents.

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I had two main jobs: 1) Take Photos and 2) Watch Where I Was Going & Not Fall Down. I managed both, despite a plethora of visual and audio distractions. And I got to be on TV! That’s me, circled on the right.

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Circled on the left was my primary distraction for the morning: Founders Bank & Trust – which I mistook as Founder’s Brewery, a local maker of fine pain remedies. Good thing I didn’t stop in. I was thinking about it.

Karin had around 35-40 mammals total in the parade. It was a great turnout and a fun morning.

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Fear Not the Pumpkin

For Lesson #107, I got to ride Pumpkin Sherbet, Karin’s new mechanical horse.

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Some say “Pumpkin Sherbert.” And I’ve given up trying to correct those who insist on the extra “r”. There’s just too many of them.

Karin says his – and I’m not clear on how we determined gender here – nickname is “One More Time.” Because as soon as the kids get off of him, they all beg to ride him “one more time.” So that makes sense.

After my first experience on “One More Time” at the Fall Fun Fest, my nickname for him was “Once is Enough.” I didn’t do well on that occasion.

Because I ride intuitively, reacting to the forces of nature as I go along, I figured I needed no instruction to ride Pumpkin Sherbert. So I got on when Karin wasn’t looking. I thought this would be easy pie.

My friend Ryan, Pumpkin’s security guard, let me on for free.

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After clambering aboard, I held on tight and told Ryan to let ‘er rip.

Pumpkin Sherbert went crazy. I swear the front of the thing actually lifted off its base. And we were making way too much noise. I pleaded with Ryan to “Turn … It… Down…”

Ryan said sorry, but Pumpkin only has one speed. I thought it was a terrible thing that the only setting the manufacturers thought to put on this monster was “Way Too Damn Fast.”

The commotion caught Karin’s attention.

“Hey! Don’t hold on like that! Do you want to get thrown all the way to Texas?”

The destination I wouldn’t mind so much. I love San Antonio and the Alamo. And I’ve always wanted to visit Austin and ride bikes in the street with the Critical Mass people. But I got her point and asked Ryan to please turn off Pumpkin Sherbert before something happened.

So before I got on Pumpkin for Lesson #107, Karin and I talked about it.

“Do you know what you did wrong last time?”

“Yes. I got on.”

“No, you held on.”

“Of course I held on. I’m an intuitive rider.”

“You don’t need to hold on. You were actually yanking the front of Pumpkin up with you. Just get your balance and move with the horse.”

Hmmm…. I have to admit, there was something vaguely familiar about that concept.

Before proceeding, I stretched, mirroring Karin’s example.

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Then Karin got on and demonstrated a different way to ride Pumpkin.

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When it came my turn, I actually enjoyed it. I followed Karin’s instructions and used my supple joints to move with the horse instead of holding on. It’s hard to tell from the still photos, but the thing is actually moving in all of these pictures.

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With my hands free, I actually got to take a few pictures. 

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It was a great lesson.

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Yellow Enough

Lesson #106 was uneventful – the way I like it. Gerry wasn’t there, but Karin hooked me up with Pete and Kathy before they could make their escape to the mysterious outlands of Narnia. So I got to tag along on Maree. Kathy rode her girl Windy. Pete took Caspian and was requesting a sheriff’s badge. Somehow, I understood this.

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After assembling the posse in the arena, we headed out the door. But before we got too far, Karin halted us. She said we had to wear the I’m Not Actually a Legitimate Target Vest. “Bow season,” I think someone said.

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I’m not sure if hunting is allowed in Narnia, but Karin wanted us to wear them just to be safe.

Kathy got green and I got orange. Karin declared Pete “yellow enough,” so she let him pass.

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A real posse would have had sidearms. I think Pete and I would have looked great with a pair of six-shooters. But Karin has this thing about the number of riders returning should equal the number of riders that went out. So no pistols.

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Kathy is the like a Narnia Guide Guru and it turned out to be a great and lengthy ride. Maybe one of the longest rides I’ve ever had. And I did get to shoot Pete in the back several times.  

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Supple Joints

For Lesson #105, Karin put me on The Horse Who is Not Dromie, a.k.a. Krystal.

Not Krystal

Not Krystal

Not Dromie.

Not Dromie.

I’ve learned to look at the bottom of their legs instead of their faces and this has helped immeasurably in the identification process. I don’t like bringing the wrong horse back to the barn.

The weather was like this:

Cold.

Cold.

So no pleasant Instruction in Open Terrain on a beautiful autumn morning. This was going to be a working lesson. And for this, I was partially fully prepared. I brought a pair of chaps because I haven’t got around to purchasing breeches that fit my current shape – if they actually make them like that.

Either these chaps are waaaay to small or there is a gap in my knowledge regarding how to apply them. I’m wondering if I grabbed the wrong ones.

But I did bring my boots. After a summer of riding in tennis shoes, I felt very equestrian-like in them. Having good, solid foot protection is a confidence booster in all walks of life.

Although, after a season of neglect, I needed a tool to help secure them to my feet.

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Karin did indeed make us work. From her command post on top of Charley, she instructed Gerry and me to proceed around the arena at the trot (mounted) at least five times – sitting on the short side, posting on the long. 

I lost track of the count between the first and second time around, but I think Krystal and I may have completed something in the two to three range.

We weaved in and out of the pylons several times working on our precision. We also practiced backing.

Then, it was canter time. Karin demonstrated, mainly because she is psychologically incapable of sitting still on a horse for too long. Especially when she’s on Charley…

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By the way, this Friday, November 7th, Karin and Charley will have been together for 10 years. Karin has been a serious horseperson for over 40 years, but Charley was actually the first horse she ever owned. I like to refer to their connection as the Seed That Eventually Became Legacy Stables.

Charley and Karin

Charley and Karin

Anyway…

Gerry and Habakuk cantered first. They did well, as they usually do. While Krystal and I watched the pair go around the ring, I thought, “Well, at least we have to try.”

If subsequent events are any indication, Krystal was thinking the same thing.

Because, when our turn came, I didn’t have to do much at all, except utter the word and she went right into it. It caught me by surprise, actually.

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Karin must have noticed that because she told me to hold on to something.

It was lots of fun. However, I confessed to Karin that I felt like I was going to fall off.

“Well … your balance was good…”

It was one of those sentences that have a “but” built right into it…

“But, you need to loose up your hips and move with the horse.”

Ah, that should be the First Rule of Good Equestrianism: Move with the horse.

“You need to loosen up everything. You should ride with supple joints.”

Supple joints. For some reason, I like the sound of that.

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Four Lessons

Lesson’s 101, 102 and 103 were essentially trial rides – or as we say at Legacy Stables, “instruction in open terrain.” Karin left it up to Gerry and me to fill in the blanks regarding what kind of lesson we would have and each time we ended up outside on the trails.

However, at first, I suggested we try jumping. For me, a fill-in-the-blank question is a treacherous trap. The impulse is always to answer with something facetious or impossible.

The problem is that what I call facetious or impossible, Karin calls a “fun idea.” You have to be careful what you say around her. I knew I made a mistake the moment the words left my mouth. I wanted to reach out and snatch them back, but I don’t have access to that technology.

Karin was all for it. “Yes, we can jump today!” She was very pleased with my go-getter attitude. “What saddle would you like, Bob?”

I saw this as an opportunity to wiggle out of the mess I was about to make: “That depends, Karin. Can you jump in a Western saddle?”

“No… you don’t jump in a Western saddle.”

“Then I’ll take a Western saddle.”

Besides, as Gerry was quick to point out, a trail ride made more sense than jumping because it was a nice, sunny day and at this time of the year we just don’t know how many more of these we are going to get. So it was time to saddle up and carpe diem.

Of course, Karin won’t forget about the jumping thing.

For the next three lessons, we got to do our share of carpe dieming. In three successive trail rides, I took Maree, Maree and Windy.

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And Gerry rode Habakuk, Habakuk and Habakuk.

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We had a variety of company with us, including Kim (S version) on Dromie:

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Kathy on Windy when I wasn’t:

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Kid Motivator turned Horse Motivator Jerry Jacoby on Dromie when Kim (S version) wasn’t:

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On one ride, I attempted my first mounted selfie. I got a piece of my head and Kim (S version) in the background. I don’t think mounted selfies are that easy to do.

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Later in the ride, Kim (S version) dropped her crop on the ground and I retrieved it for her. I suspect she had been back there doing baton twirls with it. That’s what I like about riding in the back; you get to do what you want.

During one ride, either Gerry or Jerry (they sound alike to me) said he expected to hear the theme music from Bonanza at any moment. After seeing this photo op shot, I kinda understood where Gerry or Jerry got that:

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For Lesson #104, Karin put me on my old buddy, Caspian and we stayed in the arena. We worked: trotting and attempted canter. And I rather liked it. But the effort was tearing up my legs. I really need to find my riding boots and also some breeches that fit me now and not for when after I lose the 20 pounds I’ve been intending to lose. I have a pair of chaps a friend gave me a few years ago. I think I might try those for Lesson #105.

 

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A Connection is Made

Bert began the spring of 2014 the same way he spent the long winter: unemployed and restless. When he wasn’t challenging Lori’s horses, he was trying the doors and gates. Anything he could manipulate was fair game. Lori couldn’t put halters on her horses when they were in the pasture with Bert after he discovered that removing a halter from the head of another horse was in his skillset. The little Arabian needed a job, the sooner the better.

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At the time, no one could have known that the solution to his problem was just thirty miles away, in the person of one hopelessly horse-crazed girl, 12-year-old Allie Ouendag.

Allie was having her own problems. Fair Week was just two months away and she suddenly found herself without a horse. Goldie, the Palomino Pony she had been hoping to lease and take to Fair, had been sold out from under her.

Allie desperately needed a horse. Bert desperately needed a person who needed a horse. In the immortal words of Ghostbuster Dr. Peter Venkman, “We have to get these two together.” Surely, in a Just & Happy Universe, the meeting would be inevitable.

The fact that these two did indeed get together was not the work of cosmic forces or even pure chance. It took the efforts and attention of a small group of people to make it happen. And that started with Allie herself.

When kids – and it’s mostly girls – get into horses, a culling process takes place. Those who are enamored with the fantasy of horses, but have little sense of the realities and responsibilities of horse care, are prone to drop out quickly. Others will stick with it for a few years and participate at some level, but they eventually drift away as other interests push horses to the margins.

Those who have the true passion, the real IT, are in it for the duration. Being around horses triggers something in these girls. Time at the barn becomes precious and they really don’t care to be anywhere else. Kids that have trouble making the bus by 8, will happily get up at 6 a.m. in the dead of winter for the morning feeding. They are fearless, relentless and eager. Some would say obsessed. They are likely to have IT for the rest of their lives.

When experienced horsepeople see IT in a young horse enthusiast, they become more inclined to offer their time and effort as mentors and advocates. I think veteran horsepeople sometimes see something of themselves in these kids. This support and guidance is an invaluable resource for any young person who is serious about horses.

Allie has IT. She began riding at age 8. After the customary begging and pleading, her mother, Danielle, finally caved and agreed to sign her up for lessons at Byron Downs (now Villa Maria Stables), a local lesson barn. At Byron Downs, Allie joined the 4-H group, Stable Mates and began taking lessons on an ancient Quarter horse named Stick. However, she had no interest in showing. All Allie really wanted was to take care of a horse.

Through Byron Downs and Stable Mates, Allie was introduced to the larger horsepeople community. She became friends with Mara and Alyssa Hehman. Both girls were a few years older than Allie and also had IT. Mara, an ardent student of all things equine and mature beyond her years, took Allie under her wing and served as a peer mentor to the young rider.

Last year, Allie started riding Jake, Alyssa’s Appaloosa. Jake was a veteran show horse and a definite upgrade over the other horses Allie had been riding. She also started taking lessons with Lynn Kamps, an equine dentist and experienced riding instructor whom she had met through Mara. Under Lynn’s tutelage, Allie grew in both riding skill and confidence. She rode Jake in the 2013 Kent County Youth Fair, placed in a few classes and discovered that showing horses might be kind of fun after all.

When 2014 rolled around, Allie was looking forward to going to Fair again. However, since Alyssa had turned 18, it would be her last opportunity to participate at Fair. Naturally, she wanted to take Jake. When the deal with Goldie didn’t happen, Allie was without a horse for Fair – or for the summer.

While Allie didn’t have a horse, she was not without resources. IT had made her a bona fide member of the larger community of equine enthusiasts. The network that she now belonged to would provide.

The key connection was made this spring when Lynn was out at Lori’s doing some dental work on her horses. Lori told Lynn about Bert in her first visit the previous year. This time Lynn had the perfect candidate to offer and a meeting was arranged.

The chemistry was instantaneous: “I loved Bert the moment I saw him,” Allie tells us.

Bert accepted Allie right away. It only took a few minutes before he was following her around, no lead line necessary. This is what he had been waiting for.

It was also what Lori and Jamie had been waiting for. They weren’t going to let Bert go to just anyone. It had to be someone like Allie.

It was clear to Lori and everyone in Allie’s immediate support group that this was a great match. Even Mara, who would have preferred another Appaloosa or a Quarter horse for Allie, was impressed after riding the little Arab.

The Hehman family offered to board Bert at their farm. This was the ideal place for a horse with Bert’s insatiable curiosity. In addition to horses, the Hehman’s had numerous goats, chickens, dogs and ducks on the property. Bert was intent on making friends with every single one of them. He would stand quietly in between the chicken coups for several minutes at a time, just listening.

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Allie spent her summer with Bert at the Hehman’s. Danielle dropped her off every morning and Allie stayed for the entire day. For a kid like Allie, this was paradise. It gave her and Bert an opportunity to learn about each other and strengthen their bond.

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With Fair looming just weeks away, the two also had a lot of work to do. They took three lessons a week.

“Bert knew English and we had to teach him Western,” Allie explains.

By the time Fair came in early August, Lynn and Mara had the pair as ready as they were going to be.

They started out slow, failing to place in showmanship. Bert was obviously bored with it and Allie couldn’t keep him from fussing.

Then, they nabbed a blue ribbon in English Pleasure.

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This was followed by a third in Western Pleasure.

They failed to place in two Dressage tests. Allie didn’t have much experience in Dressage and Bert didn’t help thing by stepping out and getting the pair DQ’d.

Then the big surprise: despite Allie having little experience in Dressage, the pair executed “two beautifully perfect circles” and stunned everyone by earning a first in Dressage Equitation.

Allie says that by the time they started the final class, Grand Reserve, “We were both done.” It had been a long week. But they still managed to get 7th in a field of 17.

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Bert and Allie had a great week at Fair together.

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With the start of the school year, Allie’s barn time has been curtailed. She still gets out to see Bert at least once a week. As the two continue to learn and grow together, their connection becomes stronger. It is a connection made possible by the active support of a community that welcomes those who share a passion for this noble and deserving animal.

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Gray Rebel Without a Cause

On a late summer evening in 2006, following forty-five minutes of struggle and stress, my daughter Jamie, our friend Lori and I finally succeeded in getting a feisty little gray Arabian gelding loaded into a horse trailer. We were taking him to Jamie’s place. She hoped to train him and, eventually, show him. After spending his first four years in the pasture just being a horse, it was time to give Gray Rebel Piper – affectionately known as “Bert” – a job.

I always thought that once you get the butt bar up and latched, the work is done and you can breath a sigh of relief – the humans have won again. But to Bert, we were just a little group of absurdly optimistic bipeds and this thing was far from over.

He squealed. He stomped. The trailer rocked back and forth. The racket was awful.

Then something happened that I’ve never seen before or since: Bert slipped under the butt bar and stumbled backward down the ramp to freedom.

I was certain that a big, traumatic chase was imminent. However, instead of bolting, Bert simply trotted in a little semi-circle and sauntered up to Jamie as if to say: “That was kinda fun – what else do you want to do tonight?”

One thing we weren’t going to do that night was get Bert back in the trailer. It took a new day and the presence of his owner, Ron, to finally convince the little Arab that getting – and staying – in the trailer was the right thing to do.

Bert was born June 12, 2002. As he grew, Ron played with him in the pasture and taught him how to behave around people: no biting, no kicking, humans are a good thing. But Ron never taught Bert that carrying people around was proper work for a horse.

Jamie liked Bert. She found him playful, sweet and more than a little spirited. He loved to run and would take off at a gallop by himself without warning or apparent reason. But like with the loading incident, he always reported back.

Ron supported a small herd of horses at his place. As is customary with horses everywhere, they tended to gather at the fence line whenever a human appeared. Some enjoyed staying for a little social time once the treats were gone. Bert was always among those who stayed.

It was during one of these meetings that Jamie, who had been perched on the top rail of the fence, made a spontaneous decision to mount Bert. The horse was close enough to the fence for Jamie to simply ease one leg over and slide onto his back in one smooth motion. Just like that, Bert had a rider.

Ron was duly alarmed. No way was the two-year old ready for this. No way was Ron ready for this:

“Are you crazy?” It was more of an accusation than a question.

But Bert didn’t seem to have a problem with it. He stood next to the fence as calm as before, as if he was unaware that anything significant had changed. It wouldn’t be the last time Bert surprised his doubters.

After Jamie brought Bert home, she began to discover little quirks in his personality. He hated and feared water. He did not submit gracefully to being bathed and during the rinse cycle he would sink to his knees, even while on the crossties. Applying fly spray was similarly traumatic. He favorite avoidance behavior was rolling in the dirt. You can’t put a halter on horse who is rolling in the dirt. He despised the indoor arena, resisting any attempt to coax him into to this mysterious temple of doom.

While Bert allowed Jamie to mount him without much fuss, he was still unpredictable, reserving the right to bolt whenever the mood struck him. Whether Jamie was on him or not.

“He would take off without warning and then twist himself into a “U” shape while going flat out.”

Jamie continued to work with Bert, making a special effort to introduce him to new environments. This included his first visit to a horseshow. It was just an exploratory outing to get him accustomed to the show atmosphere.

“I was worried he might freak out, so we took special precautions. Hiliary and I brought multiple lunge lines and ropes and even tranquilizers.”

They didn’t have to use any of it. When they unloaded Bert at the show grounds, he reacted the same he did when Jamie sat on him for the first time, he simply stood there, waiting for whatever the Universe offered next.

He was calm enough that they thought they could risk entering him in halter. He fell asleep in the class. Hiliary suggested they try him in walk/trot. Jamie took him in the class and they got a third. She could not believe this was the same horse that enjoyed bending himself into a “U” at full speed.

As Jamie was to discover over the next two years, Bert was full of all kind of surprises. He loved small animals; especially Jamie’s dogs Leila and Andi. It was not unusual for Jamie to find Bert and one of the dogs curled up together asleep in his stall. He was a babysitter with kids. They could brush him for hours or climb all over him. His appetite for human interaction seemed insatiable.

In 2008, Jamie moved to Florida. She had Bert trailered down several months later after spending some time back at Ron’s. The first two years in the new environment went well, but by his third summer in Florida, Jamie began to notice a change in Bert. “There was just something off about him.”

Jamie and Bert in Florida

Jamie and Bert in Florida

Bert started losing weight. Then he suffered from two severe bouts of colic. He became lethargic. Jamie had multiple test performed, but no one could figure out what was going on.

Over the next few months, Jamie tried everything she could think of to help Bert. She changed his diet, altered his routine and tried different medications. She even moved him to a different barn. But nothing seemed to help. Finally, a vet suggested that Bert might have developed an allergy to a local mold.

Jamie decided that it would be worth trying to move Bert back to Michigan to see if that would help. He would stay at Lori’s. At least for a while.

Within weeks of returning to Michigan, Bert started putting on weight. After six months, he started acting like the old Bert.

Jamie got the opportunity to see her buddy several times while he was at Lori’s. It became a Must Stop on her semi-annual visits back to Michigan.

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While she missed Bert, seeing for herself how well he had recovered left little doubt in her mind that bringing him back to Michigan was the right thing to do. He wouldn’t be returning to Florida with her.

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At his new home, Bert had several horses to play with and Lori to keep him company. But soon after he recovered, he started misbehaving. He broke down fences, bullied the other horses and seemed restless and anxious. It was clear to everyone that Bert needed some kind of job to keep him occupied and out of trouble.

What Bert really needed was a horse-crazy kid.

To be continued…

 

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