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:

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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.

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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.

 

Lesson #90

muddy driveway

On the Saturday before Easter, Karin is hosting an Easter Egg Hunt party at Legacy Stables. The festivities include an “Easter Fire.” This is a bonfire that, according to tradition, symbolizes our “farewell” to Old Man Winter and sending him on his way.

I’ve already said adios to winter using my own set of words, none of which I will share here. But I may attend the Easter Fire anyway. I wouldn’t mind roasting a hot dog while pretending that the hot dog is Old Man Winter:

Burn (compound expletive deleted), burn…

Early Spring has its own challenges. For Lesson #90, the weather was downright crappy. Wind, rain, cold: the Trifecta of Outdoor Unpleasantness. The horses don’t like it either. Us mammals would be sharing the morning’s misery.

woman leading horse

But at Karin’s Horse Connection, we don’t complain about the weather. Not without someone complaining about our complaining.

And this how it was for Lesson #90. The horses were in their spring mode, which is a combination of nervous energy, displeasure with the weather and annoyance with whatever it is the bipeds want.

I just can’t deal with you now, Hu-mon. Come back in June.

We used the arena, of course. I rode Maree and Gerry was on Habakuk – who I think own each other now. Both horses were jumpy. And not the equitation over fences kind of jumpy. Any sound over 20 decibels served as an legitimate distraction and a perfectly valid reason to ignore the Hu-mon. Maree spooked at sounds that no one else could hear.

I feared Lesson #90 would feature the second involuntary dismount of my equestrian career.

I didn’t even get a chance to take any photos because Maree couldn’t tolerate the sound my little Sony camera made when I turned it on. And it’s a very pleasant sound, in my opinion.  Kind of like a cross between a harp and the noise R2D2 makes. But I could feel her tense up when I flicked the switch.

And this made me tense up.

And that made her tense up even more.

And then me tense up even more.

Then her, then me, then her. The was no end in sight!

I put the camera away.

Charity told me I needed to get rid of the tension.

“Roll your head around a little,” she advised.

“You mean while it’s still attached, right?”

“And shake your arms out a bit. Take a deep breath.”

I did these things and it seemed to help. Probably only because I thought they should.

Karin told us that when the horses get like this we have to do everything we can to get their attention on us and not on all the stuff going on around them.

“And you do that by giving them commands. A lot of commands.”

No wonder she’s such a great horseperson.

So I spent the balance of the lesson by continuously giving Maree these commands: “walk on… whoa … back, back, back…. walk on … whoa… back, back, back… walk on….” No doubt she was getting sick of me, but she mostly listened. Mostly.

Lesson #90 wasn’t one of great accomplishments and milestones. But we did survive to ride another day. A warmer, happier day.

warm ride in the sun

Philosophical Differences

For Lesson #84, Karin had us ride bareback. She put me on Maree and put my new lesson partner, Gerry, on Habakuk.

Maree is an absolute sweetheart, great with kids and as easygoing as a horse can get, but I think I’m too tall for her. Karin insists that I’m not.

I did a quick calculation, comparing Karin’s Equestrian Knowledge Data Base to mine and concluded that she had the edge there, so I agreed to ride Maree despite our philosophical differences and my misgivings.

I liked the idea of bareback. I have an awful time keeping my feet in the stirrups at anything faster than a slow walk.  I looked forward to not having that distraction. And Karin said I could ride with in my snow boots – a huge plus.

Bareback also helps the horse and rider share body heat. This was important because it was yet another cold, cold day. The better part of North America was still in the grip of the cruel Polar Vortex, which I now suspect is actually a conscious entity bent on our destruction. In any case, it was warmer that day in Moscow than it was in Knoxville, Tennessee. Some say we’re having a Russian Winter. Although, I don’t think the Russians would say that.

The bareback pad. Don't forget to attend to the girth.

The bareback pad. Don’t forget to attend to the girth.

For me, it was an easy tack day. Karin applied the bareback pad and Maree is the easiest horse in the barn to bridle. She practically does it herself. I just kind of dangle the headset in front of her face and the next thing I know it’s on her. I like that.

Her Sweetness, our Saint Maree

Her Sweetness, our Saint Maree

We rode in the arena, of course.  As I led Maree to the mounting block, Karin asked if I retightened the girth. I wanted to explain to Karin that you don’t need to do that with a bareback pad, but then I’m remembered the Equestrian Knowledge Data Base thing and settled for “No, I forgot,” as she tightened the girth again for me.

As it turned out, I was glad that Karin did that.  For some reason, Maree suddenly shied – rather severely – as we passed the radio sitting on the wall ledge. I have no idea why she did this. Maybe somebody had it on earlier while they were replaying Erin Andrews interview of Richard Sherman after the NFC Championship Game. We’re all still recovering from that. Including Richard Sherman.

The Voice of the Polar Vortex

The Voice of the Polar Vortex

I think if they ever make an action adventure movie about the Polar Vortex, they should hire Richard Sherman to do the voice.

Anyway, I almost fell off. Of all the horses I would expect to bless me with my First Fall, I would have Maree at the bottom of the list. But a horse is a horse and we’re just people and when it comes right down to it, they’re all capable of tossing anyone they please.

To be fair, Maree wasn’t really trying to get rid of me. She startled for just an instant. But it was enough of a bump to put me on her sideways. My right foot, still in its snow boot, courageously clung to the horse’s right side. A literal toehold.

I managed to hang on and not fall, but neither was I able to get back on and right the ship. Like Team Wallace at the Chattahoochee Hills Horse Trials, I struggled in Rider’s Purgatory for a moment or two, while Saint Maree patiently waited for me to accept the inevitable. Stickablity is overrated, I say.  I chose to get off rather than fall.

You can’t fire me, I quit.

Karin wasn’t there for the festivities. She had gone off to get Mackie while we warmed up. But Gerry was there to witness it – in silent amusement – no doubt, grateful it wasn’t him.

I related the incident to Karin when she came in with Mackie. She said it was too bad I didn’t fall. Oh, the concern was touching.

“You can’t be a real equestrian until you’ve fallen off.”

I think Karin and I have some philosophical differences on this subject as well. Although in this case, the fall would have been measured in inches and I probably passed up a good opportunity.

We worked for a bit and then let the horses loose to roll around in the dirt. Maree demonstrated a proper landing.  For my benefit, I believe.

This is how you do it, Bob.

This is how you do it, Bob.

And Karin and Mackie did a reenactment of Muhammad Ali’s TKO of Sonny Liston in 1963.

Karin wins in the second round.

Karin wins in the second round.

It was a good lesson for all of us.

The Other “S” Word

A pretty, cold day and a pretty cold day.

A pretty, cold day and a pretty cold day.

Two days after my post extolling the virtues of winter and praising equestrians who make the most of it, I started complaining about the cold.  The morning of Lesson #79 was clear, breezy and it looked nice outside – but it wasn’t. It was the kind of day where the wind just blows straight through your skeletal system.

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Karin let me pick my ride for the lesson and I took Goldie. The Palomino has a reputation for being… I’m searching for the right word here, because of all the words that could be used to describe Karin’s horses, the one she does not permit is: stubborn. For Karin, that is the real “S” word.

Karin believes this “S” word is nothing but a weak excuse for frustrated riders. It’s how a rider with poor communication skills shifts the blame to the horse.

So, Goldie is… “laidback.”

That’s why I chose her.  Because I was in a laidback mood.

Once we got into The Great Indoors, the air temperature was actually pretty comfortable.  The arena protected us from the wind and working with the horse – even in Laidback Mode – generated sufficient body heat. I think Goldie appreciated me in that respect as well. Symbiosis they call it.

We started late, so my lesson overlapped with the next one. Which happened to be one Karin’s runt riders.

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This worked out nicely because Karin likes to group her riders according to skill level.

However, I couldn’t help but notice that I was not offered a crayon.  Maybe you have to get your own.

little rider

Actually, Karin uses the big crayons to teach balance. When you’re carrying one around, you’re so happy that you forget your addiction to using both hands as the way to stay on the horse. Without your hands, your body has to synchronize with the horse’s motion in order to maintain balance.  This is a form of communication with the horse and when you can do it, he will seem less… laidback.

big crayons

 

 

 

On the Shoulders of Giants

“We’re riding the giants today.”

With a gaggle of horse camp kids occupying all of Legacy’s mid-size horses, Karin had no option but to put us adults on the big guys for our Instruction in Open Terrain session. For the second week in a row, I got paired up His Highness, Habakuk the Handsome.

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Karin took my old buddy Caspian, while one of her newer students, Christi, rode Avenir. We were an impressive group, high on horses.

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Prior to leaving on our mini adventure, Karin sprayed the horses – and by default our legs – with a bit of citronella. I leaned over in the saddle a little to catch a whiff. I’ve always enjoyed the way that stuff smells and I think if I ever chose to get addicted to anything, citronella would be on my short list.

As we rode out of the arena, I got to thinking. In another era, I have no doubt that we would have made strong candidates for Napoleon’s Cuirassiers – the Emperor’s elite heavy cavalry corps.

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Of course, I’m not sure if brandishing razor sharp weapons whilst mounted falls under the “Inherent Risk of Equine Activities” umbrella, so Karin would probably put the kibosh on it in any era. Safety first!

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After a short stroll around the barn environs, we headed to the back forty, an area Karin likes to call “Narnia.” And of course, Caspian was leading us there. I’m sure Karin and Christi were expecting Mr. Tumnus or the Giant Rubblebuffin to pop out at any moment.  I was hoping we would spot some British infantry we could charge.

I couldn’t help but notice that all this talk of Narnia and British regulars came after Karin sprayed the horses. Hmmm….

Actually, we mostly just ducked branches. It’s fun riding the big guys, but it does give you more branches to deal with.

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On the other hand, it’s harder for a big horse to engage in any of that annoying “grass snatching”, since less of the really tall grass comes up to mouth level and they have to bend a bit for it. This gives the rider a fighting chance to interrupt the behavior before the reward.

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On the way back to the civilized zone, I noticed that the apples are really starting to come out. The property is certainly well blessed with apple trees.  If given a chance, I think these guys could pluck the fruit right off the branches. Forget the grass.

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At least we didn’t get pelted with apples flung by grumpy trees as we ambled through the orchard. But that’s another story.

Apple_Tree

Happy 1st Birthday Legacy Stables

Jenny and I returned from our camping trip in time to attend Legacy Stables’ 1st Anniversary Celebration. As usual, Karin didn’t settle for anything small and simple.  When you have sixteen or so horses, a big ‘ol arena, a growing and diverse group of riders – and you’re backed by an enthusiastic and expanding support community -you don’t mess around with a cake and a few balloons: you throw a party.

An equestrian party.

With the aid of her support group, Karin organized the event in under three weeks. The program included a taste of almost everything Karin’s Horse Connection offers, including vaulting, therapeutic riding, “Runt Riders”, horse training, 4-H, and Senior Riders. I was invited to participate in that last group.

Testimonials and thanksgiving from Karin, her riders and their families were interspersed throughout the program. The riding demonstrations were accompanied by inspirational Christian music. It was really nice.

I don’t remember if they played any music during the Senior Demonstration, but I know that Another Time, Another Place by Sandi Patty would have been fitting for me since I couldn’t get Vinnie to canter.  And had it not been for the able assistance of a kind-hearted and enthusiastic 4-H kid, I wouldn’t have gotten Vinnie saddled & bridled in time to join my peers in the arena.  4-H really works.

The singing of the national anthem by one of Karin’s young students kicked off the festivities. This was accompanied by Leoni waving the American flag while standing on Avenir as he ran in circles.  I don’t know how she does that.  But to keep it challenging for her, at the next Legacy Stables birthday party, I would like her to add The Eating of Cake with Plate & Fork to this routine. She could do it.

After the anthem, it was: “bring on the empty horses!”  As promised, there was a horse parade featuring all the fine horses at Legacy being led around the arena by Karin’s students. As the horses paraded, the M.C., Charity (Karin’s first official employee at Legacy) read each of the horse’s bios. Very well done!

It was another great day at Legacy Stables. Fun and inspiring. And it gave Karin a chance to publically give thanks to God and to all those who supported her during her move and first year at Legacy.

The following is a short slideshow providing just a taste of Saturday’s . It’s a little under four minutes.

And many happy returns!

Slideshow music attribution: “Look Inside”  from Smoke Factory by Jahzzar: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Jahzzar/

 

Senior Student

Another good thing about being an equestrian is that it gives you the opportunity to meet interesting people. On Lesson #24, I shared the outdoor arena with Dr. Hamid Ehsan, a brand new student.

Dr. Ehsan on Charley

In a few months, Dr. Ehsan will be starting his residency at Johns Hopkins. Until then he will be taking riding lessons from Karin three times a week. Dr. Ehsan comes from a long line of equestrians, but has little riding experience himself.

Oh, and his wife will soon be completing her residency at Butterworth Hospital.

Oh, and they are expecting their first child in June.

And I thought I was busy.

Something occurred to me as we were warming up in the arena: a year ago I was concerned about things like survival and gravity. Today, I’m not only alive and mostly well, I have seniority.

Being an upper level rider is not all fun and games.  Providing a good example to new riders is an awesome responsibility. As Karin was working with Dr. Ehsan and Charley on the longe line, she points over to our end of the arena and says: “See how Bob is posting on Vinnie?  He’s working on his rhythm right now.”

By “right now” she means “for the rest of his life”.

Vinnie and I circle around to their end and pass them on the rail:  gut sucked in, chest puffed out, head held high.

Heels down, baby.

Up-down-up-down-up-down-up-down. This is how it’s done.

Then one heel come out of the stirrup.

Up-up-down-up-down-down-down-up-wup-wup.  Oh, crap.

Not to worry.  They were having their own issues and didn’t see the little mess I created at “E”. Nothing to do but regain our composure and give it another go.

I employed a number of advanced riding maneuvers such as Walking to the Road Apple Near “H” Then Turn Left, Trot When I Say and Not When You Want, Circle in the Shape of a Fried Egg and, of course, I couldn’t resist showing off my Staying Out of the Corner Technique.

Karin asked me if I wanted to go out into the field.

“You mean, by myself, Karin?”

I have never rode outside the arena unsupervised.

“No, not by yourself. Take Hamid with you and show him our trail. I’ll join you in a few minutes on Rambo.”

Awesome.

It was another one of those oh-so-beautiful mornings, the horses were happy and I spent the next 15 minutes acting as Trail Master.

Dr. Ehsan and I had a nice conversation and he told me about an equestrian sport they do in Pakistan.  I’m going to learn how to spell it and I’ll tell you about it next time.

Nucleus of a Posse

Jumping to Conclusions

On Lesson #22, we had some company in the arena. While Krystal and I were getting stuck in corners, I spotted one of Karin’s other students, Joselyn, setting up a jump. I didn’t even know Karin had those.

I tried to remember if there was anything I said or did that would make Karin think I wanted to do this. Or was ready for it. Maybe there was a jumping related lesson I had forgotten about? I don’t always pay attention as much as I should.

Let's just go back to our corner

I think Krystal noticed too, because she was shaking her head in the “I Don’t Think So Tim” manner.  Or maybe that was me doing the shaking and it just appeared like the horse’s head was going back and forth.

In any case, the jump was for Joselyn and Rambo, Karin’s blind-in-one-eye pony. Rambo is pretty short and has that mad little gait with the quick, enthusiastic steps typical of small, but energetic quadrupeds. And he loves to jump.

Jumping is one of those things I never get tired of watching. I think it’s because jumpers really look like they know what they’re doing. And everybody seems to have such a good time. Except for the Moms & Dads who forgot the Ativan. Every good jumping program should have someone in charge of sedating the parents.  “Sedation Manager” – that’s the kind of job I could do.

Wingless Flight

Leoni showed up about half way through the lesson/jumping performance. As we watched Joselyn and Rambo bound around the arena, I asked Leoni if she wanted to see me jump.

“Yeah! But we should raise the pole first.” This is how vaulters think.

How Leoni Thinks

“No, Leoni. You have to help me out of the corner and off the horse. Then I can jump.”

Karin said that if I thought ahead and started turning earlier I wouldn’t have the corner problem in the first place.

To save face, I challenged Joselyn to a race. It was a bluff, of course.

Joselyn shook her head, “Krystal would win.”

“Perhaps, Joselyn. But I wouldn’t be on her when she crossed the finish line.”

So here is how I figure the placings would go:

1st Krystal

2nd The Front Half of Rambo

3rd Joselyn

4th The Rear Half of Rambo

5th Bob – with one foot dragging and one hand on my head.

At least Karin got some good photos of Joselyn and Rambo catching air.

 

 

 

 

MY Horse

Man, I hope Liz doesn’t read this.  Because, for Lesson #8, Karin picked Danny for me. Danny is Liz’s palomino Quarter horse.

I hesitated, feeling guilty as if I was committing some kind of equestrian infidelity.

“Karin, Danny is Liz’s horse. Right?”

“Yes, but I use him for lessons.”

Fine. But, I just wanted to get the lesson over before Liz showed up and caused a scene.  You know how bad girls get.

Seriously, I’m sure it was okay. Karin and Liz probably have some kind of deal where Liz gets a break on boarding fees or something in exchange for the use of her horse. I don’t know for sure, I’m just guessing. But I do know that such arrangements are not uncommon.

We spent a fair amount of time in the outdoor arena, Danny and I following Karin on Vinnie. “Skinny Vinnie” they call him. He’s a Thoroughbred, which may have something to do with why we were following them and not the other way around.

It was fun, because I pretty much got to do what I wanted for a while, which was to alternate between walking and trotting. That’s about it for my entire riding arsenal.

Karin, turn around and asked me if I was “sitting” or “posting’.

“Yes, I am, Karin!”

“So, you’re posting?”

“Yes, I am, Karin! …. What’s posting?”

“It’s like this.”  Then she did this thing in the saddle. It was a kind of an up and down action coinciding with a back and forth motion. Hopelessly complex. But it looked a lot smoother than what I was doing.

“I don’t think I was posting, Karin.”

“Don’t worry, Bob.  We’ll work on that next time. For now, just concentrate on your seat. Pretend like you have a hundred dollar bill between you and the saddle.”

It always comes back to money, eh?

As a reward for all my fine work, we got to take the horses out on the trail behind the barn for a little while. I really enjoyed that. Danny was so easy and fun to ride.

Karin said that I look more confident and comfortable in the saddle. I liked hearing that, but my real confidence resides in these horses. They have been very good to me thus far. And I really, really like Danny. After dismounting, I felt a rush which I can only describe as profound gratitude.

Danny is now my favorite horse at the barn.

So, I’m not sure what I’m going to feel like if I show up at the barn some day and see Liz or one of the kids on Danny.

“Hey you!  Get off MY horse!”

But I won’t say it.