Program Note

Greetings Loyal Readers: just a quick note to let you know that I’ll be taking a break from my equestrian career to work on a couple of projects that are long overdue. Hope to be back in the saddle in a couple of months or so.

Meanwhile, I’ll post whenever I happen to do something horse related. I plan to go to Karin’s first vaulting competition at the end of May as a casual observer, photographer and perhaps parking attendant. No doubt I’ll have something to say about that.


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One on, One off

For Lesson #116, I chose to ride Windy again. I had some one-handed riding in mind and Windy doesn’t seem to care how many I use. By employing this advanced form of riding, I am able to take partial selfies such as these:


It was a cold, but sunny day so we decided to venture out and see what’s what. Gerry was on Habakuk and Karin rode Charley.

From the onset, Windy and I kept falling behind. One-handed riding can be slower if you don’t do it just right.


As we entered the wooded area, we came across a number of questionable patches of poorly defined puddles and soft spots, treacherous enough for two hands. I tried to anticipate these and tuck my camera away before any real trouble started, but I wasn’t always successful. Most of the time I managed to get the thing into my coat’s breast pocket just as we were emerging from the trouble area.

Several times Windy walked under small branches that she fit beneath nicely, but I had to use my camera hand to push them away to defend my face. One rather large, but weak branch actually came off in my hand. I couldn’t just let it fall haphazardly least it catch Windy on the flank, so I carried it with my camera for a moment or two not really wanting it all that much. The thing was a good 3 inches in diameter and at least 6 feet long. I really wanted to take a selfie of me holding it as Windy ambled on, but if I was going to do any zero handed riding it would be to push additional branches away from my face. I could have just rotated it 90 degrees and carried it like a joust, but I didn’t want to give Karin any ideas. I managed to toss the thing far enough away that it didn’t disturb poor Windy.

Meanwhile, Habakuk and Gerry stopped periodically to engage in some kind of peculiar bouncing dance. I don’t think any of this was Gerry’s idea. Windy and I stopped and allowed the two ample space for whatever it was they were doing.

Just as we were getting back to the house-barn environs, Habakuk made a particularly effective series of moves and off goes Gerry. When the trouble had started, I put my camera away and put two hands on the reins. I didn’t know what part we would be taking in the festivities, but whatever it was, I would be using two hands to do it.

After putting Gerry on the ground, Habakuk bolted across an open field. He would have looked prettier without his saddle on. There is something inherently unsettling about seeing a saddled horse gallop across an open field.

I could feel Windy tug a little as if it at least occurred to her to join Habakuk in his mad dash. I immediately dismounted. If Windy really wanted to follow Big H, she would be doing it without me.

Gerry insisted he was all right. In fact, he said he was proud to finally experience his First Fall. Karin always says you can’t be a real equestrian until you fall once. Of course, after my First Fall, Karin upped my number ex post facto to five.

She also wanted to know if I got a video of Gerry’s fall. I wanted to ask her if she was planning on including it in the promo video they are putting together for the place, but instead I merely explained that both my hands were busy at the time.


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The Dressage Training Pyramid for Mere Mortals

We have a special treat this week! My good friend and fellow equestrian Lauren Baker and I are guest posting on each other’s blog. I’ve known Lauren since the late 90’s. She is the former editor and publisher of Flying Changes Magazine, a Northwest sporthorse publication and my favorite regional horse magazine. Lauren did that for 21 years before handing over the reins to new owner, Lorna Lowrie, in March of 2014. She now works as freelance writer and blogger. Lauren has a fun writing style that I’m sure readers of this blog will appreciate.

 The Dressage Training Pyramid for Mere Mortals

By Lauren Baker

 Any dressage rider worth their salt has seen the dressage training pyramid. Some people even remember what it says. I had to look it up.

It looks like this:

USDF Training Pyramid - Copy

So, collection is the ultimate goal. Rhythm is where you begin.

But what about the real-world training pyramid?

In the real world, we generally start with Survival.

If the rider is focusing on stay-alive skills, there’s no room for rhythm … unless we’re talking about the kind of rhythm that comes from hyperventilating. Who of us has not had a ride worthy of hyperventilation?

Once we’ve ridden our horse enough (or sent him off to training camp) and feel our life is not in immediate danger, we can work on Go … quickly following it with the all-important Whoah.

Whoah is so important that I use it in non-horse-related emergencies, as well as barn-related opportunities. I’ll yell ‘Whoah’ in a potential bicycle accident or a near-miss pedestrian/motor vehicle incident.

People look at you strangely when you yell ‘Whoah!” outside of a barn but when, when used with enthusiasm, you get results.

Once Go and Whoah have been mastered, preferably in a small space where you can’t get run off with, it’s time to move on to Steering.

If you’re riding a horse that doesn’t steer, it’s important to advise other riders in proximity that they are in mortal danger, soley responsible for their own safety. Again, you’ll get strange looks—but it’s better than killing someone.

Beginning steering should take into account the horse’s general lack of knowledge. Don’t expect any sudden turns unless they are accompanied by a buck, shy, or rear. Green horses are so much fun!

To summarize, before we can get to the lofty dressage goals of Rhythm and Relaxation (the baby steps of dressage), we must first achieve the following:

Survival Pyramid


No offense, USDF, but I think your training pyramid should be expanded to include those of us with young and green horses. It kind of sucks to find yourself completely off the chart.

Once we have the survival basics, THEN we can move on to the beginnings of finesse. Until then, focus on keeping yourself breathing and moving in Rhythm, in a Relaxed manner. Try to Connect to your horse in a level appropriate to his green-horse nature but expect that connection to be fluid and dynamic (aka: wildly erratic). Ask for Impulsion – but not too much unless you’re an adrenaline junky!!

You should definitely stay Straight (as in not drunk or stoned) and Collect your thoughts. You’ll need your wits about you, trust me.

Check out Lauren’s new blog Dressage for Mere Mortals – a blog for “ordinary people, who love & perhaps struggle with the intricacies of dressage.” Good stuff!

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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:


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


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.


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.


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


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


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


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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