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.

Another Fine Performance

I had the privilege of spending all day last Saturday with A Vaulting Connection at the West Michigan Winter Horse Fest. It was a fun day. I even bought the sweatshirt.

Vaulting sweatshirt

The Winter Fest was a scaled down version of last year’s event. Only one main room this year and no horses.

This year.

This year.

Even the admission price was scaled down.

Last year.

Last year.

The event ran from 9 to 4. A Vaulting Connection performed in a barrel demonstration on stage from 11 to 11:30.

This gave Karin plenty of time to go shopping. She just can’t help herself.

Equestrian shopper

She actually bought a horse.

horse model

I don’t shop for horse stuff, of course. Tack confuses me and I’m afraid of other horse-like accessories. It all looks so complicated and expensive to me. I keep to what I absolutely need and I have no interest in browsing.

Our booth was one down from the small stage. This was fortunate in one respect, because the barrel and mats had to be moved quickly from the booth area to the stage – and then back again. The kids – these veteran performers – led by Santa Karin worked like a team of efficient elves and in one mad scramble moved the whole kit & caboodle in a matter of minutes.

moving to stage

It seems like every time I see these kids in action, I come away a little more impressed.  Two weeks ago, it was how they responded to the frigid conditions for the Santa Claus Parade. This time, there were a couple of things that struck me.

helping a new vaulter

First, I was oh-so-very impressed with the way the more experienced vaulters interacted with new or prospective vaulters throughout the day.  They demonstrated, they instructed, they motivated and they did it all with remarkable patience and a lot of enthusiasm. They made it fun.



Karin and Leoni have done a great job in developing this strong cadre of vaulters who are willing and capable of assisting less experienced vaulters and bringing new converts to the sport.

new convert?

Second, this was not an easy venue in which to perform. Both the booth area and the stage were small.  Deploying 15 or so vaulters in this cramped space took some improvisation. Fortunately, Karin is a master of improvisation and her students always seem to rise to the occasion and adapt to the conditions.

two vaulters

The team was also aided in this regard by the kindly people from Benchmark Farm out of Hudsonville, Michigan – The Most Patient People in the Equestrian World – whose booth was located between the stage and us. We actually had to move the barrel through their booth area to get to the stage. They endured this Invasion of Karin’s Little Blue Army throughout most of the day with good humor. If Benchmark Farm is as patient with their cliental as they were with us, then I give them my most sincere and highest recommendation.

Benchmark Farm

Prior to the demonstration, Karin gathered the team around for instructions. I liked this, because it reminded me of a football team in the locker room just before going out on the field.

coach's instructions

Then, she had them skip in a line through the aisles and back to the stage to let people know that something special was going on in the corner of the arena. I think the NFL should start doing this sort of thing.

vaulters skippin

The kids did a great job on stage of course. Karin interspersed commentary between demonstrations and I think it all worked together to provide attendees with a good introduction to the sport.

exercise on barrel

I took a ton of pictures, of course.  In the process, I became aware of something that should help me a great deal in my Excellence in Equestrian Picture Taking Project.  It turns out that vaulters have to hold their poses for a certain number of beats to get full credit for the move.

barrel excerise

I think while mounted, it’s a matter of a certain number of steps by the horse. In any case, this provides a little window of opportunity to snap the picture. I think it’s great that they’ve set it up this way.

vaulters on stage

I just have to become more familiar with the various moves and routines so that I can get my timing down. It’s a challenge for me, but I think it will be big fun.

leap frog

We ended the day by hoisting the barrel on to Karin’s truck. Karin and I did this by ourselves – except for the two or three people who came along to help us because they thought we were nuts for trying to do this by ourselves.

high five


A Good Platform

I got to ride Goldie again for Lesson #81.  This is good, because I prefer Goldie as a riding partner to all of Karin’s other horses.


Karin shakes her head at the preference. Not because Goldie isn’t a good horse – she’s a great horse – but she doesn’t “move out” like some of Karin’s other horses. I’m not sure if that’s the proper use of the term, but it seems close enough to describe it.

It’s cold, but it’s nice out, so we opt for a little Instruction in Open Terrain. Karin says we have to careful with the footing, but we should be okay.

As we proceed, Karin half turns in the saddle and offers a kind of narrative instruction as things occur. A lot of my lessons are like this.


As expected, Karin and Charley get a little ahead of us.  Not only is Goldie’s pace slower, our progress is hampered by all my photo taking. Since I don’t have my own photographer to follow me around – which is probably for the best – I have to take a lot of pictures while mounted.


So, for a good portion of my lesson, I only have one hand – and half my attention – for the reins.  I know this has to annoying for the horse, but Goldie seems to tolerate it okay.

Karin and Charley turn and wait for us to catch up. Goldie stops and I snap a picture.


Karin laughs, “You should be able to get some good photos while you’re on Goldie.”

“Yes, because I don’t bounce around so much on her.” And then it hits me:

I prefer Goldie because she’s a great platform for taking photos.


And all this time, I thought we were bonding.

It’s a bit of a challenge, riding one-handed. So I really do appreciate a horse that, while perhaps not understanding my erratic riding style, at least puts up with it.

As we mosey down the trail, I recall that it was Liz that first introduced me to neck reining. And if I’m going to continue to take photos up here, maybe I should ask Karin to help me learn neck reining better.

Meanwhile, I practice riding one handed. I raise my right hand, imitating General Stonewall Jackson, who used to ride this way because, “It balanced the blood flow.” He was known to walk around like that as well.

Suddenly, the platform beneath me becomes unstable. Goldie is compensating for some poor footing. We break through the thin sheet of ice covering a puddle in the trail.


“You have to walk around those, Bob!”

Indeed. Goldie actually broke into a canter to get out of it.

Karin uses the little incident as a teaching moment.

“She’ll get into her upper gears very quickly. You have to be prepared for that.”

We then have a brief conversation on what to do in the event that I find myself on a horse that breaks into an unplanned gallop. Essentially, there are three steps.

Step One: hang on

Step Two: get over the shock

Step Three: enjoy it, the gallop is actually a smooth gait

I put the camera away and focus on staying out of the puddles. Step Zero is prevention.

A Parade and a Project

For Lesson #80, I was turned loose on a self-study program.  With the Santa Parade coming up on Saturday and a Lantern Walk scheduled for Sunday evening, I knew Karin was going to be overwhelmed with preparations and I even considered calling and cancelling my lesson to give her a break. But I showed up anyway, figuring I could ride on my own. I assured her that Goldie and I would be fine alone.

big crayon and a horse

We trotted a little and practiced a bit of backing. And we picked up one of the big crayons to see what that was like.  I discovered that holding a big crayon, steering a horse properly and taking good photos all at once presents a unique set of problems. But we had a nice time together anyway.

Later, Karin asked if I would like to walk with the vaulting team in the parade. I felt honored, but I suggested that perhaps it would be more useful for me to take photos. She agreed.

The day of parade was butt-kicking cold. The air temp when I arrived downtown was 27 degrees Fahrenheit.  There was a healthy breeze blowing through town, so it felt like – I dunno – maybe closer to 7 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought A Vaulting Connection might even bow out of the parade.

That shows you what I know. Vaulters don’t do any kind of bowing until they’re done performing. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with this group when I got to the staging area. Karin had a great turn out.


They would proceed in two sections. The first section included two horses (three counting Peanut) with several vaulters rotating on and off. The second section consisted of a float with kids using a vaulting barrel.

parade float with vaulting barrel

One of the parents commented that given the conditions, he was surprised how upbeat the group was and that no one seemed to be whining about the cold. I can assure him that at least one person was whining about it.  I ended up putting on my gloves, despite the fact that this made manipulating the camera more awkward.

boots off, vaulting shoes on

After taking a few photos of the preparations at the staging area, I scooted over to the parade route and staked out a good spot to snap pictures.  I took off my gloves, made sure the camera was on auto – because out of all the little nobs and settings on that thing, that’s only one I understand – and then put my gloves back on. I thought I was all ready when the parade started.

Then something wonderful happened.

Near the head of the parade, the Elmo balloon was off to a magnificent start…

Elmo in parade

… but a half a block must have been enough for him and he decided to lay down…

Elmo falling

Workers scrambled to rouse Elmo, but he was acting stubborn.

Elmo down

Meanwhile, the parade must go on. So they did what I would have done: they dragged Elmo face down through the streets of Grand Rapids.

Elmo face down in streets of Grand Rapids

Elmo face down

I haven’t seen anything that funny since Captain Kirk wrestled the Gorn.

Captain Kirk wrestles the Gorn

I was really hoping that Elmo would finish the parade in the Facedown Fashion.  Perhaps even start a new tradition?

However, the skilled handlers managed to get him up and going again and he finished strong. Darn, I would have paid anything to hear the eightWest ladies parade commentary on Drag Me Elmo.

Elmo rises

Amid all the excitement, my clumsy gloved fingers inadvertently knocked the setting nob on my camera and made it go from “auto” to “P.” And this – unknown to me – is the setting at which I took close to 300 parade photos of Karin’s vaulters.

Legacy Stable in parade

I don’t even know what “P” means. Maybe, purple?

camera on auto setting

For their part, the vaulters were nothing short of awesome. As cold as it was, they were there to perform and you could tell they were having a great time. These kids absolutely exuded that characteristic poise and personality that is so unique to equestrian vaulting. The crowd loved them.  It was so much fun to watch.

vaulter in parade

vaulters on parade

vaulters on TV

I actually left my spot and followed along side them through the entire parade route, blissfully clicking away on “P.” They were moving along at a pretty good pace and I had to trot a little to stay with them.  A few times, I slipped on the ice a bit and almost ended up like Elmo.



I was so focused (unlike my camera) on staying with them that I entirely forgot about Section II, the float with the vaulting barrel.  So I didn’t get many pictures of those kids.  I really felt bad about that, until I realized that they would have been on “P” as well.

upside down vaulter

In a way, the “P” setting was somewhat appropriate because it helped make everyone appear a little colder.  Really captured the ambience of the morning.  I’ve always had a knack for inadvertent art. But still, they weren’t the photos I was hoping for.

Clearly, I need to get better at taking photographs. Right now, my modus operandi is to take a bazillion pictures and hope I end up with a few I can use.  While I know this is not an uncommon practice, I want to do better. In fact, I’m going to make this my new equestrian project. My old project was the Stand Up Project – standing on a moving horse. Technically, I achieved that earlier this year.


I declare that the Stand Up Project is officially completed. The Excellence in Equestrian Picture Taking Project begins this week. So here goes another self-study program…

camera self study