My First Lesson: Karin’s New Blank Page

Karin got right to the point: “I’m not going to ask you what you want to do.”

That was good, because I didn’t know I what I wanted to do. My plan was to just show up and see what happens next.

By the end of the lesson, I was beginning to understand why Karin takes this approach.

Karin and one of her "peanuts"

I didn’t spend much time riding. And that was another thing Karin told me right away: “We’re probably not going to get you on a horse today.” She changed her mind later and toward the end of the lesson I got to spend a few minutes learning the proper way to say “whoa” and “giddy up”.

We started with the halter. Under normal circumstances, I do okay with halters – as long as the thing remains untangled.  But once one section gets twisted around or gets turned inside out, a halter becomes a Chinese puzzle for me and the more I mess with it the worse it gets.  In the old days, I would just hand it to one of the girls or go get another one.

Karin deliberately tangled it up and looked at me.

I stepped back and put my hands up. “Please, don’t do that!”

She chuckled and put it on the horse herself.

The horse was Caspian, a nine-year-old, 17.2 hands Percheron-Thoroughbred. Karin got him about four years ago.

“He was completely unbroken, no training at all. He was a blank page. And I wrote on him.”

I thought, “Now you have another blank page to work on.  And never mind the doodles – just write around them.”

In four years, Karin has turned Caspian into a good boy. I’m glad of that, because this big guy was our demo horse for the brushing lesson.  First with the currycomb, top to bottom, front to back. Followed by the regular brush, same pattern. Karin demonstrated on one side of Caspian, I returned the demonstration on the other.

Wouldn't hurt to stand a little closer

Karin patted the top of the horse’s rear.  “The kids always miss this part.”

As we led Caspian into the arena, Karin explained how it is for horses in nature – how they follow the lead horse and how their sensitivity toward each other’s movements and body language allow them to gallop in a tight pack without running into each other.

“Imagine a mob of people trying to do this.  What would happen?”

I wanted to make a reference to the Detroit Lion’s offense, but I settled for: “They would stumble all over each other and somebody would get trampled.”

“That’s right. Now you have to be the lead horse and get them to respond to your movements. Use your body to communicate with the horse.”

She led Caspian around the arena, turning her shoulders to cue the horse on the direction she wanted to go. It was pretty cool.

Karin gave a quick tug on the lead rope.  “Even this is too much weight.  Leave slack in the line.”

It occurred to me that the rope isn’t for the horse. It’s for us.

Then, I got my turn. Holding the lead rope a few inches to the front and side of Caspian’s mouth, I squared my shoulders and we walked.

“Also use your voice in combination with your body.  And look in the direction you want to go.”

It was working. I didn’t have to pull on the lead line at all. The horse was responding to my physical cues, not the tug of the rope.  We went all around the arena, snaking through old tires Karin had laid on the ground.  We stopped when I wanted to stop and proceeded when I decided to go. I thought about the direction I wanted to go first, and then I cued Caspian. I’ve led a lot of horses – to and from the barn and pasture, etc., etc., etc., – but I never did it this way. This was fun.

Keep the slack in the rope

I think this what I need to learn first: to communicate with these guys on their terms.  I’m guessing all the technical riding stuff of the various disciplines doesn’t mean much until that fundamental lesson is learned.

I got chance to ride Caspian a bit at the end, but I’ll tell you about that next time.

New friends

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12 thoughts on “My First Lesson: Karin’s New Blank Page

    • Thank you, Lauren. It was a lot of fun for me and I’m really looking forward to the next session with Karin. She has a number of horses at the barn, something like a dozen or so are hers. I think I’m going to get the opportunity to get some experience with several of them in one way or another.

  1. Sounds like you are off to a very good start…..that is, starting from the ground up….a key to the whole “horse thing”!!! Understanding the horse’s view of his world (i.e. herd philosophy, leadership, etc.) will give you the all important understanding of the nature of the horse and as you progress, will enable you to become a “horseman”, not just a “rider”. I think the universe probably does want you to relate to horses, contrary to what you have stated, but probably is suggesting that pursuing instruction and learning will be to your benefit and enjoyment of these awesome creatures we know as horses! Good luck on your journey!!

    • Thank you, Carol. I think you hit nail on the head. Nature doesn’t negotiate and it’s up to us to learn how to go with it instead of always trying to beat it.

  2. Dad, that’s really awesome. Karen sounds pretty neat :)
    I like that big horse too. Maybe you’ll get to jump him some day. Don’t tell Mom.

    • Jumping? Jumping? Is that even an option? I mean with me ON him? Can’t I just teach him to jump over things by himself? Yes, I think Karin is going to be a very good teacher. I feel fortunate to have found her. Thank you, Jamie!

  3. Bob,
    This is truley the best way to start horse back riding. I have ridden on trail rides since i was about 5 years old ( I rode with my mom at this age didnt ride by myself till i was 10) and 3 years ago I was introduced to an older couple that had 46 Haflingers ( small work horse) they were in over their heads as far as riding goes but they breed and sell these haflingers I am as you book says HORSE CRAZY I have been in love with horses for a long time ever since i can remember. but i got on the horse one day thinking i was all high and mighty I had, had so much experiance with horses that i could handle anything yea right i got thrown so i contacted a friend of the owner of the farm and started taking lessons on horse language. but any way my point to this rant is that learning to read a horse and how to give the right signs is the foundation for building a relationship with horses!!!!!! I cant wait to read about your next adventure

    • Yes, horses are fun and exciting, yet they have a way of humbling you. We just have to learn to do it their way, I guess. Thank you, Tashina. Glad to have you along for the ride!

  4. Wow! What an awesome experience! You are laying the foundation for a
    great relationship. I always have said, “thank goodness the horse doesn’t
    know he out weighs me by 1/2 a ton and what he could do if he put his mind
    to it”. Looking forward to “traveling” on this journey with you. Thanks for
    the “trip”. :)

    • Yeah, a couple of days later and I find myself really looking forward to the next lesson. That’ll be June 30. We’ll see what Karin and her herd has in store for me. Great to have you along for the journey Caroline!

  5. Wishing you the best of luck as you embark upon your “riding” journey. Regarding horses: I totally believe in bribes. It doesn’t matter if it’s grooming, massage or carrots, it works.

    • Thank you, Lee. I will keep the bribe angle in mind. I think we have some apples in the refrigerator. I just like watching the horses eat them. Hope you can stay with us for the ride!

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