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:

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

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Looks like we’ll be working on our letters soon.

The Respect of a Palomino

For Lesson #96, Charity filled in for Karin who was busy with horse camp kids. As usual, Gerry rode Habakuk. I’m really impressed with how much progress the Professor and the Moustache King have made together since Gerry started with Karin. And the bond is easy to see.

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I got my old friend, Goldie. The Palomino wasn’t particularly busy at the time and she stayed Not Busy for pretty much my entire lesson. Goldie is actually Leoni’s horse and according to my sources, Leoni says that the key to Goldie is to earn her respect or she just won’t respond like you think she should. I earned about half-a-trot around the arena’s worth.

With the camp kids taking up all the good barn spots for grooming and tacking up, Gerry and I had to try to brush and saddle the horses outside while they grazed.

“Those horses aren’t going anywhere with all this lush grass around,” one confident observer noted.

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Well, “not going anywhere” is relative. While Habakuk and Goldie showed no intention of packing up and leaving the property, they didn’t exactly stand still either. The grass is always greener four inches away.

“It’s like saddling a moving target,” Gerry observed.

I have this same problem when I try to get my granddaughter Aubrey dressed. She just knows that there has to be more interesting things for a person to do than fussing with something so obviously unnecessary as clothes.

But no problem, Charity was right there assisting Gerry as needed and assisting me just about every step of the way. Legacy’s tack room has a built-in special feature that enables it to spontaneously manufacture – out of plain thin air – rare saddle and girth types that fit together in an endless variety of ways. Each combination of saddle-girth-stirrups creates a unique Tack Puzzle that must be solved before you can ride the horse. If given enough time, I can eventually solve these brainteasers by myself, but by then everyone has gone off to bed.

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Charity is good teacher. You can tell she has learned some things by watching Karin, but I think her instincts are really good too. She knew how difficult it was for me to get Goldie going, but she never really pressured me or made me feel more uncomfortable than I already was. Her corrections were very specific in the “heels down,” “toes in,” “don’t lean forward” sort of way. She also taught us the proper way to pass in the arena. Just a few simple rules, but good to know.

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Toward the end of the lesson, Charity brought out Karin’s Magic Wand. I couldn’t really see what she was doing with it, but the device had a multiplier effect on Goldie’s respect for me and we got her going for just a bit at the end. Karin always says to end the lesson on a positive note. Even if it takes a little magic.

Karin's Magic Wand

 

Over a Barrel

For Lesson #92, I was treated to some vaulting instruction by Pete.

Yes, he vaults. But he's not crazy.

Yes, he vaults. But he’s not crazy.

This was a good thing because Karin’s big TRAIL MIX VAULTING COMPETITION AND CLINIC was in two days and I was participating. By order of the high command.

I was going to be up against some fierce competition. Karin divided the event into age groups and because of an obvious computer malfunction, I ended up being grouped with the old people – or in TRAIL MIX terminology “Raisins & Salts”.

Now that doesn’t sound so bad, until you realize that this group included Karin Herself and Michelle, one of Legacy Stables biggest supporters and a Mom of a vaulter.

Michelle:  Mom of Vaulter

Michelle: Mom of Vaulter

What chance did I have against a Coach and a Mom?…  Neither of which are all that old! Quite young, actually!… And nice!

Actually, Karin didn’t even know she was competing until I told her that I saw her name on the class list. Charity entered her name on the spreadsheet when Karin was distracted by other matters. As Legacy Stables grows and Karin’s attention is spread in more directions, we should be able to put her name on all kinds of things.

I started warming up on the barrel before Pete got into the arena. I got up by taking a running start and just sort of hurling myself across the top of the barrel. And then adjusted accordingly.

When I repeated the technique for Pete, he told me that wasn’t quite how you’re supposed to do it. You have to stand next to the barrel and sort of power your way up there using the spring in your legs and lots of arm/shoulder muscling. After a couple of inevitable failed attempts, he allowed me to launch from a small trampoline.

We then proceeded through the six compulsory movements. I don’t quite remember what each was called, other than basic seat:

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And the flag:

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I should have been jotting some of this down, but I didn’t seem to have a free hand most of time I was up there. However, we did break for a strategy session, immediately after I successfully transitioned my right leg over the handles and to the other side of the barrel in three easy steps.

Strategy session.

Strategy session.

In this one, Pete and I demonstrate how the artistic interpretation of a movement can vary from vaulter to vaulter:

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After working on the barrel, we went through the sequence again on Avenir.

This one…

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…looked different on the horse….

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And you can’t just get up there and do the stuff. They expect you do things like breath, smile and not swear very much. Kim said she was glad the pictures didn’t have audio to accompany them, but I believe that was in reference to the inadvertent noises one makes in response to well-meaning torture and not to any discernable words or phrases I may have uttered.

Sure, I can manage an occasional smile, if you count the grimaces. My default vaulting expression is best described as “clear confusion.” I’m never quite sure what to do next. I require everything step-by-step like you do in the game Twister.

Karin got some instruction from Pete as well.

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I wasn’t sure why the vaulting coach needed vaulting instruction, especially two days before a big competition against me.

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As it turned out, there was someone else who I should have feared more than Karin. On Saturday, an old nemesis of mine, a familiar but fearsome foe, made a dramatic appearance during the Raisin & Salt class.

But I’ll tell you about that next time.

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Sometimes it Takes a Committee

I’m staying off the horses for a week or two. At least until the color of my left leg returns to its traditional hue.  I check the progress everyday, but I try not to stare at it too much, otherwise I start seeing faces in the bruises. I’m not sure what to do with that.

Meanwhile, Karin has been hosting the Christoph Lensing vaulting clinics. Christoph is a world-renowned equestrian vaulter and one of the most sought after clinicians in the sport. He’s won three world championships and three European championships for individual men, he coached the Swedish team to a bronze medal in the World Equestrian Games and he is a well-known designer of innovative surcingles.

And he’s a really nice guy.  Like Karin and Pete, Christoph is an amazing teacher with deep wells of patience. As expected, I tested that depth and if he had any feelings of frustration, he hid them nicely.  He practices the same calm, task-orientated, accepting you at your own level approach as Karin and Pete. The fact that Christoph can go from coaching world-class vaulters to instructing me on the proper way to roll up a vaulting lunge line without the line ending up around my neck is pretty darn remarkable.

Karin held a number of clinics over the weekend with Christoph.  I attended some of them, mostly to take photos for Karin’s Facebook Page. However, Karin did manage to rope me into participating in the lunging clinic.

A couple of years ago, I expressed some mild interest in learning how to lunge for vaulting. Karin stored this somewhere in her busy brain to use on me when the time was right. You have to be careful what you say around Karin.

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The first thing you learn as vaulting lunger is how to properly hold and roll up the line. This may seem like a small thing at first, but it gets to be a lot bigger thing when there’s a ton of animal strength and energy attached to the other end of it. If it’s not done correctly, you’ll get knots as the line rolls out and you can get your hands tied up in those knots. I don’t think I need to explain how this could get really ugly, really fast.

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Vaulting may be one of the safest equestrian disciplines, but it doesn’t come that way naturally. It takes well-trained horses and well-trained people that don’t mind focusing on what they’re doing in order to create that secure environment.

I missed Karin’s initial line rolling up instruction because I got distracted with photo-taking issues. A group from Chicago Vaulting was up for the weekend and one of their members, Em Cherkinian, is a photographer who has plans to go into the field professionally.  We got into a brief conversation regarding our cameras that turned into a longer conversation regarding shutter speeds, ISO and aperture settings. Em is clearly passionate about photography as art form and she seems eager to share her knowledge. I learned quite a bit from her and her mother, Allison, in just a few minutes.  Meanwhile, I was not learning about rolling up lunge lines.

By the time I got back to the group, they were already in the Return Demonstration Phase. This is done pairs: one person holds the end of the line while the other rolls it up. As you roll it up, each loop has to be shorter than the one before it.

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Poor Pete got stuck with me and tried his best to instruct me from thirty feet away, but I just wasn’t getting it.

Christoph intervened and for the next ten minutes, the Three-Time World Champion and I struggled against my hands’ inability to follow what my brain was trying to tell them. Christoph calmly and repeatedly demonstrated the proper technique, showing me what I was doing wrong and explaining why it would be really, really bad to do it that way. He just wouldn’t give up. And I don’t think he was going let me give up either.

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Eventually, I started getting it. Leoni jumped in and added a few pointers while Pete continued to encourage from the other end of the line. Sometimes, it takes a committee.

It could have been a frustrating experience, but my Roll Up Committee made it fun. I think it says something about this sport and the people who are involved in it.  It would be easy to take a discipline that requires precision and attention to detail and turn it into a grind. And I’m sure this happens. But equestrian vaulting is also about things like passion and grace and that glorious sense of accomplishment you get when you achieve something you didn’t think was possible. When this sport – this art form – is shared in that spirit, it becomes accessible to both beginners and to those of us who would otherwise never consider participating.

I also got a chance to actually lunge a horse, but I’ll talk about that next time.

Vaulting Friends (l to r): Em Cherkinian, Karin Schmidt, Allison Conrad Cherkinian, Sue Nicole Susenburger, Chrisoph Lensing, Izzy Solberg and Leoni Schmidt

Vaulting Friends (l to r): Em Cherkinian, Karin Schmidt, Allison Conrad Cherkinian, Sue Nicole Susenburger, Chrisoph Lensing, Izzy Solberg and Leoni Schmidt

A New Adocate

My daughter, Jamie, came up from Florida for a visit between the holidays. Whenever Jamie visits, we always seem able to fit in some kind of horse related activity. The kid needs her fix. Horsepeople, you know what I mean.

There’s the requisite trip to Lori’s House for a visit with Jamie’s best buddy, Bert.

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On a couple of occasions, we went out to see Andrea and her horses/kids. Andrea is Jamie’s long time friend and horsegirl companion.

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We’ve had our ups: at the Leenhouts Barn, Jamie gave me a riding lesson and I took my appreciation of the equestrian arts to new heights.

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And we’ve had our closer to earth experiences: Jamie once accompanied me to one of my regular lessons and met the Mighty Peanut.

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On this visit, Jamie got to experience something different.  This time she got a little taste of equestrian vaulting.

Karin holds open vaulting every Saturday and I suggested to Jamie that it might be fun for her to see what it’s like.

It just so happened that Karin’s good friends, Pete and Kim, were visiting from upstate New York. The couple manage a therapy-vaulting program in Syracuse.

Pete started vaulting at age 40 (yes, he did…) and he has competed in some pretty high level stuff. I liked him the moment he told the story about the time he attempted to fool some judges by passing off a fall as an “early dismount.”

“Ta-dah!” he chimed with a sheepish grin and palms raised in the classic routine-complete pose.

Pete and Kim arrived just before open vaulting started. Nothing like doing a little gymnastics on a moving horse immediately following a ten-hour drive in the middle of winter.

Then again, it was easy to tell that Pete was happy to be in his element. After a brief introduction, he offered to take Jamie through the basics on the barrel.

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Then on the horse.

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They gave her two turns. Once by herself:

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And once with Pete:

Two vaulters on a horse

And I took about 300 pictures.

I noticed two things. First, Jamie was having a lot of fun. Second, Pete is an awesome teacher.  And the first thing was directly related to second thing.

flag on the vaulting barrel

This is why I have come to like equestrian vaulting so much. It’s the atmosphere.  It’s positive, embracing and literally uplifting. The fun starts the moment you start trying.  It’s never about what you Can’t Do, it’s always about what you Can Do – even when you didn’t know you could.

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Don’t get me wrong, at the competitive level this is a real sport and the riders are, again literally, hard-core athletes.  Despite being an experienced rider, an avid cyclist and working out regularly, Jamie complained of soreness after her first vaulting session.  Her groans were made in admiration.

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The experience made a big impression on Jamie. She changed her Facebook profile photo to this:

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And wowed her friends with photos like this:

equestrian vaulters practice

Later that evening, I noticed Jamie had a map of Florida on her laptop. She was looking for vaulting barns near the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. While there are no AVA clubs in Florida, she did find a barn that offered vaulting about an hour away from her home.

And equestrian vaulting has earned itself another supporter.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

Backward Thinking and Apples

The apples are everywhere at Legacy Stables. They must be experiencing a bumper crop because I don’t remember it being like this last year. I think this property is best described as an apple orchard where someone put a house. Then a barn. Then an arena.  Karin calls it a Schlaraffenland:  the German version of the land of milk and honey.

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The more impatient apples are picking themselves and dropping to the ground on their own accord. Of course, they don’t fall far from the tree.

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But who has time to pick apples right now? Legacy buzzes with summer activity and even Double Karin can’t be everywhere. Lesson #71 took place just a few days before A Vaulting Connection left for the AVA Nationals in Denver. They have 10 kids going this year, plus Avenir and Caspian. It’s a huge, time consuming project.

Karin isn’t doing this alone, of course. No one could. In fact, the trip as planned wouldn’t be possible without the support of the kids’ families.

I think it’s so cool this many kids get to go. I think they’re going to have a blast.

Karin had some kind of business to attend to, so she turned Christi, Gabe and me over to Leoni for Lesson #71. We rode Avenir, Caspian and Goldie, respectively.

Karin suggested that Leoni teach us “something brand new.”

That phrase struck fear into my heart. I’ve seen the kind of things Leoni does on a horse.

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I certainly wasn’t prepared to flip about in the saddle or ride upside down.  It’s hard enough just getting on.

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With her morning coffee cup in hand, Leoni had obviously just gotten up.  But I could see the wheels turning in her head following her mother’s suggestion.

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I thought, “Oh no, the coffee is working – we’re in big trouble now.”

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On the other hand, we’ve seen how Leoni handles her younger vaulters: the calm confidence, the infectious enthusiasm, pushing for improvement but always making it fun. The kids love her.

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So, maybe she would go easy on us.

She took a sip of coffee and let those wheels turn for an extra beat. Then, her decision: “We’re going to learn how to back, but not straight.”

Ah, “not straight. ” I can do “not straight.”

Then she showed us what she meant by not straight. It was an “L”.

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I put this through my Concept Meter and it registered as “clear”. Not bad, just a 90 degree turn.

Leoni explained the basic principle: “If you want to turn left, you use your right rein and right leg. To turn right, you use your left rein and left leg.”

I like this kind of symmetry. All it takes is a willingness to think backwards.

At this point, the “I Remember This from Somewhere Alarm” went off in my brain.  It reminded me of when Hiliary and Jamie were into horses and I had to learn how to back a horse trailer. If I used backward thinking then, I certainly could use it now.

Left is right, right is left. It’s a simple formula – as long as you don’t overthink it.

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We did pretty well on our first attempt. Goldie was experienced in this maneuver and my brain minded its own business and allowed the hands and feet to work with the horse.

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However, while Christi and Gabe were taking their turns in the L, my brain began to pick at the details: Okay, so you work the right rein to turn left, but do you pull the reins in or out? And what exactly did I do with my leg? I wonder what I’ll have for lunch. Was there some kind of play in the ankle? Who’s pitching for the Tigers tonight?

By the time I took my second turn, my brain was creating so much noise that my hands and feet gave up any effort to take the initiative and simply waited for their instructions.

“Fine brain. Just give it to us step by step then.”

I totally blew the second try. Goldie was hopelessly confused. No matter which way I pulled the reins, we continued to swing in the wrong direction.

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Leoni attempted a few verbal corrections, but the frustration hole just got deeper.  Finally, she simply stepped in. Instead of feeding the frustration with more vocal commands, she physically pressed Goldie and me in the right direction backwards through the L.

It wasn’t pretty by any standard. By the time we were done, Leoni’s “L” looked like this:    \ \   /   \.  But we had accomplished the essence of the task.

Leoni smiled and said, “Okay, good.”

It would have been easier for her just to let us off the hook and say it’s not happening today. But when you start something with a horse and rider, it’s always best to finish it, whatever it takes.  I think that this kind of calm persistence is at the heart of a good riding instruction.

So yes, at Legacy Stables, the fruit doesn’t fall from the tree.

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In Circles Again

With all the moving and adjusting going on at Karin’s Horse Connection, the normal Ride in Circles Lesson Routine got a bit disrupted.  I’m not complaining. It has given us a chance to get accustomed to our new surroundings plus do some extra trail riding and kill some interesting flies.  So it’s been fun.

With Karin “off to Nationals”, Kathy gave Paul and me our lesson.  For this, we ambled over to the future site of the indoor arena.  Here, Kathy reintroduced us to the traditional Circle Lesson. I was very rusty and unable to keep Vinnie moving like I should.

I felt sorry for Paul and Mary. They were supposed to follow us around the fake indoor arena, but with all the hesitancy and outright stopping, it must have been like driving through a construction zone behind an AARP candidate who is more fond of his brakes than his gas pedal.  I was expecting a collision at any moment.

I kept trying to imagine what it’s going to be like when the arena is built and we will be riding inside again.  Of course, when that happens the bad weather will be upon us and I no doubt will be imagining how nice it will be to ride outside again.

Oddly enough, I discovered that I actually miss the circle lessons a little.  It’s work, for sure. But there is something satisfying in making the effort and the little successes that come with it.

When Karin returned for Lesson #36, we ventured back into the woods and had our biggest Trail Adventure yet.  I’ll tell you about that next time.