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.

 

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.

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

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

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

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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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Yellow Enough

Lesson #106 was uneventful – the way I like it. Gerry wasn’t there, but Karin hooked me up with Pete and Kathy before they could make their escape to the mysterious outlands of Narnia. So I got to tag along on Maree. Kathy rode her girl Windy. Pete took Caspian and was requesting a sheriff’s badge. Somehow, I understood this.

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After assembling the posse in the arena, we headed out the door. But before we got too far, Karin halted us. She said we had to wear the I’m Not Actually a Legitimate Target Vest. “Bow season,” I think someone said.

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I’m not sure if hunting is allowed in Narnia, but Karin wanted us to wear them just to be safe.

Kathy got green and I got orange. Karin declared Pete “yellow enough,” so she let him pass.

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A real posse would have had sidearms. I think Pete and I would have looked great with a pair of six-shooters. But Karin has this thing about the number of riders returning should equal the number of riders that went out. So no pistols.

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Kathy is the like a Narnia Guide Guru and it turned out to be a great and lengthy ride. Maybe one of the longest rides I’ve ever had. And I did get to shoot Pete in the back several times.  

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Four Lessons

Lesson’s 101, 102 and 103 were essentially trial rides – or as we say at Legacy Stables, “instruction in open terrain.” Karin left it up to Gerry and me to fill in the blanks regarding what kind of lesson we would have and each time we ended up outside on the trails.

However, at first, I suggested we try jumping. For me, a fill-in-the-blank question is a treacherous trap. The impulse is always to answer with something facetious or impossible.

The problem is that what I call facetious or impossible, Karin calls a “fun idea.” You have to be careful what you say around her. I knew I made a mistake the moment the words left my mouth. I wanted to reach out and snatch them back, but I don’t have access to that technology.

Karin was all for it. “Yes, we can jump today!” She was very pleased with my go-getter attitude. “What saddle would you like, Bob?”

I saw this as an opportunity to wiggle out of the mess I was about to make: “That depends, Karin. Can you jump in a Western saddle?”

“No… you don’t jump in a Western saddle.”

“Then I’ll take a Western saddle.”

Besides, as Gerry was quick to point out, a trail ride made more sense than jumping because it was a nice, sunny day and at this time of the year we just don’t know how many more of these we are going to get. So it was time to saddle up and carpe diem.

Of course, Karin won’t forget about the jumping thing.

For the next three lessons, we got to do our share of carpe dieming. In three successive trail rides, I took Maree, Maree and Windy.

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And Gerry rode Habakuk, Habakuk and Habakuk.

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We had a variety of company with us, including Kim (S version) on Dromie:

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Kathy on Windy when I wasn’t:

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Kid Motivator turned Horse Motivator Jerry Jacoby on Dromie when Kim (S version) wasn’t:

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On one ride, I attempted my first mounted selfie. I got a piece of my head and Kim (S version) in the background. I don’t think mounted selfies are that easy to do.

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Later in the ride, Kim (S version) dropped her crop on the ground and I retrieved it for her. I suspect she had been back there doing baton twirls with it. That’s what I like about riding in the back; you get to do what you want.

During one ride, either Gerry or Jerry (they sound alike to me) said he expected to hear the theme music from Bonanza at any moment. After seeing this photo op shot, I kinda understood where Gerry or Jerry got that:

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For Lesson #104, Karin put me on my old buddy, Caspian and we stayed in the arena. We worked: trotting and attempted canter. And I rather liked it. But the effort was tearing up my legs. I really need to find my riding boots and also some breeches that fit me now and not for when after I lose the 20 pounds I’ve been intending to lose. I have a pair of chaps a friend gave me a few years ago. I think I might try those for Lesson #105.

 

Ten Brave Mammals

Despite reporting in my previous post that we went on the “last trail ride of the summer” on Lesson #99, Lesson #100 consisted primarily of a trail ride. And according to my calendar, it is still summer. The school kids may disagree, but too bad for them. They need to be educated.

It was a magnificent ride. Our expedition took us out into the mysterious, wild region known in Legacy Stables parlance as “Narnia.” It was a perfect day – a perfect summer’s day – for a trail ride. Low to mid 70’s, sunny.

But it was not all fun & games! Flies – big, mean flies – were an issue in Lesson #99 and we assumed they were still out there, like the VC in the bush, waiting…

… for us…

Karin applied the appropriate counter-measures for the patrol.

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As promised, Karin put me on a horse other than Dromie. I got Windy. I wasn’t upset; Windy is a great trail horse.

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We assembled in the arena. Then, we exited the building in single file like ships of the line leaving port. Windy and I were fourth out of five. Ten brave mammals going in harm’s way.

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After snaking our way through the Kiddie Trail …

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… Karin halted the group before we entered the woods for these final instructions: “If you see a horsefly: kill him. If you see a deerfly: kill him. If you see a mosquito: kill him.”

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I was afraid to ask her what we should do if we see a person.

In the arena, the horse & rider is a team. Out here, we are a weapons system.

Behind me, on Charley, was Karin’s new helper, Grace. As we made our way through the depths of the Enchanted Forrest to the borders of Narnia, I told Grace about Karin’s internationally famous “El Towel: the Killing Machine,” a highly effective anti-fly device. Given the circumstances, I thought Karin should have armed each of us with a Killer Towel before we left. Next time, I’m bringing my own.

As it turned out, I didn’t see a single fly. And I didn’t hear anyone else complaining. I’m sure our vermin opponent was out there, but apparently they didn’t want to risk messing with the likes of us. Towels or no towels.

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The ride was uneventful (i.e., perfect) except for Windy and I having to trot every once in a while to close the gap with the faster gaited horses.

 

 

 

It’s All About Context

Lesson #98 began with Karin asking me, “Should you put your own saddle on today?”

With the proficiency of an Official Rosetta Stone graduate, I quickly translated this bit of Karinese into “You are putting your own saddle on today.”

Half of language comprehension comes from context and I provided plenty of context with my last post, which Karin had apparently read.

Well, of course, I knew I’d be my own today. I had already cased the joint and there was no one around except for Liz, who was busy with the horse camp kids.

So no Pete.

And no Kim (S version).

And no Kathy.

And no Charity.

Cruel Karin had hidden all the help.

The saddle was a piece of cake. Except that I didn’t leave enough space between the pad and Dromie’s withers. I had to re-do the whole thing. Cruel Karin.

Then Karin handed me the bridle and walked away…

It was in two pieces! And I had to figure out how the pieces went together! This was terrible! Cruel, cruel Karin.

Gerry kindly (I think) offered to take pictures of me with the “two bits.” In this particular case, the context of the situation actually added to the confusion. man with bridle “She gave me two bits?” I looked at the jumble of leather and buckles in my hands and shook my head at the treachery. Then I remembered that “bits” is British talk for “pieces.” I treated it like a puzzle. Through a process of trail & error, deductive reasoning and casual mumble-cursing , I managed to figure out how the “two bits” (editorial note: this is also slang for a quarter of an American dollar) went together.

When one of the horse camp kids saw that I was going to ride Dromie, she chirped, “You’re going to need a crop if you want her to move!”

I felt like W.C. Fields (“Go away kid, ya bother me…”). I was already on tack overload as it was and I didn’t want to mess around with yet another piece of equipment. Even an honest bit of equipment like a crop. In this context, it would be like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although, I doubt that actually ever happened.

After a little bit of work in the arena, Karin sent us out for a short trail ride. She handed me a crop as we left the arena. I just accepted it. It was easier than trying to explain everything. horse crop in the air We ventured into the Kiddie Trail area. Gerry referred to this as the “Buffet Trail,” due to Habakuk snatching bits of vegetation along the way. two men on horseback We crossed the Bridge of Terror… horse over a bridge Surmounted all obstacles along the way… horse over a log And made our way over to patrol Legacy Stables’ Enchanted Forrest… riding in the woods We came under assault by trees. I was glad I had my crop. dodging a tree on horseback And after a bit, we disappeared deep into the context of the forrest. into the forest

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.

Maree: Legacy Stables First Horse of the Month

Little Maree had big support in Legacy Stables first Horse of the Month contest.  I’ve always really liked her. Maree tolerates my bumbling and fumbling better than any of Karin’s other horses. So patient. So sweet.

However, there is so much more to this 15 hand, Chestnut Quarter horse than her sweet disposition. And after Karin told me more about her, I can understand why she garnered so many votes.

Karin bought Maree from a boarder in the spring of 2011. She was 9 years old at the time. Prior to that, Karin used Maree for lessons in exchange for board.

“I knew what she could do before I bought her,” Karin explains. “Maree is the perfect lesson horse. Her trot is so smooth it’s like riding on the couch.”

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I can personally attest to this.  When you ride Maree at a slow jog the feeling is almost regal.  All grace and no haste.

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Maree is the most versatile horse at Legacy Stables. She does English, Western and she jumps. She’s rock solid on the trails.

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And she’s fast. Originally trained as a barrel racer, these days she finds herself a favorite among the 4H’ers for speed classes.

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Because of Maree’s smooth gait and gentle nature, she makes a great horse for less experienced or timid riders.  Karin also uses her for people who have difficulty mounting.  And she’s perfect for first-time bareback riders.

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Karin especially likes using Maree for her therapeutic riding programs. Maree and Lillian have partnered up every week for over five years.

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In her dealings with the other horses at Legacy, Sweet Little Maree is no pushover. In fact, Karin says she is the alpha mare in her group. And she isn’t afraid to tangle with the big horses when the opportunity arises. One time when Karin was leading another group through Maree’s pasture, the spunky Quarter horse found herself in a kicking match with Habakuk.  Habakuk is a big, strong guy, but Maree showed no sign of backing down. Karin says they exchanged about ten kicks apiece before mutual exhaustion set in and ended the fight.

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Habakuk

While Maree has proved herself to be one tough cookie, Karin has never seen her display any kind of aggression toward humans.

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A Close Call

In July, Maree suffered a severe bout of colic. When the banamine didn’t work, the vet was called. He administered IV fluids and punctured the horse’s stomach to relieve the built up gas.  But Maree still didn’t show any signs of improvement.

After several hours of struggling to treat Maree, the vet informed Karin that he done all he could and that by the next morning she would have one of two options.  One, she could transport Maree to the Equine Hospital at Michigan State University in Lansing for surgery. This was a very expensive surgery and there was no guarantee of a successful recovery. He didn’t have to tell Karin what her second option would be.

Karin spent a long, sleepless night with Maree, dreading what she might have to do in the morning.  At this point she figured that the little horse had about a ten percent chance of survival.

Morning came and Maree’s bowels started to move. Not much at first, but then, enough. She steadily improved during the day and by the next evening she was back to normal. One tough little cookie indeed.

I think Maree is the perfect choice for Legacy Stables Horse of the Month for September.

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Canine Guardian Angel

Karin was running late for Lesson #74 due to her chiropractor appointment going a bit over. So she sent a text instructing Christi and me to pick a horse and tack up.  Christi took Avenir and I took Goldie.

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Christi and Avenir

I like Goldie more every time I ride her and she seems to behave a little better with each session.  She has a reputation for being a little sluggish. However, I think riding Goldie is a bit like adjusting your palate to a new craft beer.  You just have to give it a chance and see whether or not you acquire the taste. This works both ways, I think.

Maybe not so stubborn.

Maybe not so sluggish.

Karin’s arrival was – as it always is – preceded by her advanced guard, Kaiah. When you see Kaiah, you know you have about 15 seconds to finish what you’re doing – or hide what you’re doing, as the case may be – before Karin walks into the barn.

Christi, of course, was all done tacking up and ready to warm up. I was still struggling with a bridle, which turn out to be the wrong one for Goldie. Karin made the appropriate correction and off we went.

Karin was still a little sore from her appointment, so she declined to mount up.  She told us that we had the option of working in the round pen or hitting the trails, but if we chose trails, she wouldn’t be coming along. Not a problem, I think it’s good for us to be left to our own devices from time to time. We picked the trails.

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Karin led us to the Gates of Narnia and turned us loose.  As we stepped through the Wardrobe, Karin and Kaiah walked back to the barn.

At the Gates of Narnia

At the Gates of Narnia

With Christi and Avenir in the lead, we strolled through Narnia and soaked in the quiet.  The morning air was cool, but quite tolerable.  Excellent riding weather, really. We ambled around the short course and then returned to the big field.

But we weren’t alone. It had only been fifteen minutes since we departed, but there was Kaiah, coming back to check on us.  She knew there were riders and horses still out and she was going make sure we were accounted for. I think she actually keeps a head count on the horses and if some are missing, she’ll break orbit with Karin long enough to head out and round ’em up.

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It’s like having a canine guardian angel on staff.

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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.

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