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.

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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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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Double Karin and a Big Horse

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When I arrived at Legacy for Lesson #69, I noticed that the pasture looked a little less populated than usual. After a quick inventory, I realized that most of my favorite lesson horses were among the missing: Vinnie, Goldie, Maree, Windy.  All gone.

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The tack room was similarly depleted.  What was going on here? Had Goldie led a massive breakout? And they saddled themselves before taking off? Can’t see much point in that.

The only other mammals in the barn were these guys:

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Great hunters, I’m sure, but a little short on information.

Then, I remembered: this was Fair Week. Karin, the missing horses and the missing tack were at the county 4-H Fair. If you know anything at all about 4-H, you know that Fair Week is like their Super Bowl, but without the great commercials.

I thought this was fine. Krystal was still there and she didn’t look all that busy.

DSC02442 I’ve wanted to ride her again ever since I cantered on her a few weeks ago. Maybe she would remember where we left off.

And I know how to saddle a horse (sort of) and apply bit & bridle (sort of). And Kathy had just shown up, so I had someone around to hear my petitions for assistance and mercy if, heaven forbid, this would The Day.  You know, The Day I fall off a horse and become a real equestrian. Like Pinocchio becoming a Real Boy, only instead of growing a long nose, I would have a broken one. Best case scenario.

Parenthetically, if I recall correctly, Pinocchio became a donkey at one point in the story.

Hmmm…

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Anyway, all of this became a bunch of moot points when I heard a familiar voice behind me. It sound like Karin, but it couldn’t have been, because she was at Fair. This had to be Double Karin.

Karin often says she needs to be in two or three places at once. Having a double must really help a lot.

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Double Karin is identical to Karin in every way, except for the hat. I really appreciate her wearing it, because I like to know who I’m talking to.

I think this was Double Karin checking with Real Karin to see how things were going at Fair.

I think this was Double Karin checking with Real Karin to see how things were going at Fair.

Double Karin suggested that I ride Habakuk. I thought this was a grand idea.  For the last several weeks, everybody has been raving about this big horse.

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It was fun riding him. He has a smoother trot than my old buddy Caspian. And I like the elevation. If I’m going to go through all the trouble of getting on a horse, I want to feel like I’m up high.

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However, we had a habit of drifting to the center of the arena toward Double Karin.  Actually, we got quite close to her a few times –  “A little more steering, please!” – and I almost became a different sort of equestrian. Once you knock your instructor down, even if it’s just the double, you will never be the same again.

All in all, a good lesson.  And I look forward to riding His Highness again some day.

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Getting Going

For Lesson #66 Karin picked Krystal for me to ride. Krystal is a Percheron-Thoroughbred and she’s a pretty big horse.  Shorter than Caspian, but wider than Vinnie.

Krystal and me last year. She didn't jump, bless her heart.

Krystal and me last year. She didn’t jump, bless her heart.

I rode Krystal a couple of times last year. She’s the one who repeatedly took me into the corner of the arena and just stood there for minutes at a time.

I remember Karin saying something like “If you thought ahead and started turning earlier, you wouldn’t have this problem.” And then she left the horse and me alone to solve the corner puzzle.

This time it was better. Karin told me at the beginning of the lesson that she intended to make me work.

“I’m afraid you’re falling behind. We need to get you going.”

Falling behind what? And exactly where was I going?

Nowhere fast, apparently. At first, Krystal trotted a few steps and then decided to stop. I couldn’t keep her going.

Karin was busy helping a couple of horse camp kids mount, but she saw enough to know that we weren’t doing enough.

“You must trot five times around the arena, Bob.  Three to the right and two to the left.”

We could barely trot five feet without stopping. No way were we going to sustain a trot for five laps. The woman was asking for the impossible. Besides, how did she come up with that particular combination of directions?

However, my instructor had assigned a task with a clearly defined goal.  It was now up to me to either do or not do it. There was nothing left to talk about.

I growled/sighed and got my legs on Krystal the best I could. I thought if we even got once around without stopping that would be a huge accomplishment.

As we completed the first lap, Karin glanced up at us: “Now keep her going!”

We kept going. Twice more around the arena to the right, then we turned and went twice to the left. My arms and legs went everywhere, my posture made me look like the Leaning Cowboy of Texas on horseback and I even slipped out of the stirrups a couple of times.  The only thing that mattered was to keep moving. This was the Art of Equitation turned ugly.

But we did it. I was gasping for air, I wasn’t entirely certain that my feet where actually still attached to my legs and various body parts were chiming in with damage reports – but we did it.

Then Karin told us we had to canter. I figured we had already broken the Crazy Barrier, so why not?

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Again, it wasn’t pretty, but we did it.  Krystal is faster than Vinnie and we got from one end to the arena to the other sooner than I expect. This took me by surprise, but it was fun.

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I concluded Lesson #66 with a highly competitive game of Red Light/Green Light Whilst Mounted against the two horse camp kids.  In the process, I discovered that I could back Krystal pretty well.  A big improvement over the first time I tried to back a horse a couple years ago:

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Obviously, I’m not on my way to FEI glory or upper level anything.  Or even middle level anything. My “falling behind” is not based upon these kinds of expectations. It’s actually based on a measurement against, well, myself.  With more work, I could become a better rider than I am now.

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The equestrian pursuit is highly individualized. Horses give us so much, but we all experience it in unique ways.

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The role of the teacher is not so much to squeeze us into the predefined forms and expectations of the equestrian world, but to enter our world so that she can discover the best way to connect each of us to the horse.

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An Old Friend and a Slow Trot

Please stay tuned for a Pablo Update at the conclusion of this post.

When I was a kid, my favorite part of any parade was the end when the horses came.  Whether it was a mounted patrol from the sheriff’s department or a 4H group or just some local people in Western wear, it was always exciting and magnificent.

I especially enjoyed it when they went by at a slow trot. There is something about a slow trot that radiates grace and dignity, giving the horse and rider an almost regal bearing.  All that power, controlled. It’s how I imagine Caesar entering Rome after defeating the Gauls.

Later, as my girls got into horses, I got to watch them do the same thing in the show ring. Hiliary and her little Arab, Bruiser, got really good at it.

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Of course at the very end of every parade came the clean up crew with their wheelbarrows.  I felt sorry for them and I was quite certain I’d never have to do anything like that.

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On Lesson #55, I got an opportunity to experience a little slow trotting myself. Karin put me on Goldie, Leoni’s Palomino Quarter horse. If you recall, Goldie made a significant contribution to Karin’s Horse Connection last spring.

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And this was not my first time riding Goldie.  In fact, she played a major role in my quest for Equestrian Glory at Karin’s fun show in the summer of 2011.

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Karin was almost apologetic when she informed me that I would be riding Goldie for Lesson #55. “She doesn’t like to move, you know.”

Yes, I remember they gave me a crop just to get her to go during the show.  Everyone said she was lazy.

But this time, as we did our warm up circles, slow trotting around the pylons, I couldn’t have asked for more.

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The Latest on Pablo

Pablo is still at Legacy Stables.  He is now sharing the walk-in barn with Rami and Oakley, Goldie’s little gal.  He is still very wary of humans, but Karin said he is beginning to get a little less skittish around her.

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There is no word on how long he is going to be here.

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Old Man Vaulting

Karin used Lesson #52 to introduce Paul to vaulting. Paul was completely new to vaulting and didn’t know what to expect. I had just enough experience with vaulting to know that something funny was going to happen in Lesson #52.

Karin had been dropping “vaulting hints” over the last couple of weeks. That is, she kept bringing up the subject of vaulting completely out of context of whatever conversation was taking place. This is what people do when they really love something; they interject it into everything full speed ahead and damn the non-sequiturs.

“Karin, where is the muck bucket?”

“Muck bucket?  Here…. come look at this. It’s a vaulting saddle.”

Here, as Paul innocently attempts to retrieve a bit & bridle from the tack room, Karin nabs him to discuss the unique features of the surcingle (Vaultspeak for “saddle”).

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It is common for vaulting enthusiasts to describe the discipline to newbies as “gymnastics on a horse”.  Although partially correct, this is the wrong thing to say to old men if you’re thinking about getting them to participate.

Instead, you show them this:

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To me, there is something comforting about the sight of a dummy vaulting horse. Yes, this was a very good place to start.

As in regular vaulting, Old Man Vaulting has six compulsory elements. They are:

Launching the Codger

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Fake Airplane

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The White Knuckle

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Roughing the Kicker

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Push Ups

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(We didn’t get this far in Lesson #52 and in the interest of Full Disclosure, I must note that the subject in the photo above is neither Paul or me.)

And I Don’t Remember What This Is, But It’s Spectacular

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After our initial training session, we got a chance to get on the Great White Horse and show what we learned.  I’ll share that experience with you next time.

Alpha Maree and the Lost Instructor

Paul and I must be getting a little better at the tack thing. Despite doing most of it ourselves on Lesson #49, we still had time to ride.

Sol to the rescue.

The late November morning air was painfully cold, but the sun was coming up bright and clear and our chances for survival looked good.

After mounting up, we warmed up by going in circles and waited for Karin to join us on whatever horse she chose for the day.

Karin seemed to be taking her time making her horse selection and our warm-up circles were getting bigger and bigger. I didn’t mind this at all. I always like to take a little time getting reacquainted with the horse and getting the Boss Issues settled at the outset.

After a good ten minutes, there was still no sign of Karin.  Paul and I just kind of wandered off on our horses with Maree and me in the lead. This is an unusual spot for us, as we both seem more comfortable following. Maree is s…l…o…w… (don’t get me wrong, I like that) and I’m never inclined to make decisions for the rest of the group.

But on this day, Maree was in the van, boldly going where no one told her to go.

We headed toward the road.

There was no sign of Karin.

Then around the arena.

Still no Karin.

Then between the barn and the arena.

Was Karin lost?

We headed toward the field.

As we reached the edge of the field, a voice appeared behind us:

“Left or right, Bob!”

Oh, so now she decides to show up…

But, what? I had to choose?

Paul read my mind: “The pressure’s on Bob!”

Then I remembered:  I was on Today’s Alpha Mare.  We could do this.

“Left?  No, right!  Yes, left! I meant … right! Or left?”

Then Maree and I just sort of decided together.  We went to the right.

We picked up a glorious slow trot and along the edge of the cornfield we went like Frederick the Great atop Conde.

On the way back, Paul and Windy took the lead while Karin shadowed us.

We need to keep better track of our teacher.

Back to Work

On Lesson #44 we were treated to yet another glorious autumn morning. This time with summer like temps. Even the breeze was warm.  Perfect trail-riding weather. With the forecast threatening doom & gloom on the horizon, we knew these kinds of mornings were down to the precious few.

So what do real equestrians do when presented with such a window of opportunity?  They head to the round pen and get to work because they need it. Besides, the trails around Legacy Stables were reported to be a bit muddy.

I was glad. I really do want to improve and work on my basic riding skills. I’m hoping by next spring I can meet all of my original goals.  The first of which is to remember what all of my original goals are.  Failing in that, I’ll make up some more. In any case Autumn-Winter-Spring are the Work & Progress months and it is time to get to it.

This doesn’t mean the fun is over.  Karin always finds a way to make the lessons fun and interesting.  Lesson #44 was to be another Technically Bareback session, this time without the initial Fear of the New Phase.

Karin switched the pairings this time, putting Paul on Windy and me on Maree. Both good, sweet Quarter horses. I’ve always thought Maree was a little short for me, but we seemed to do pretty well despite the size match.

We engaged in a few rounds of trotting and (attempted) posting. Yes, we learned, posting at the trot whilst bareback is (theoretically) possible.  So is time travel.

I was aided by the fact that Maree wasn’t actually always trotting while I was posting. Karin pointed this out to me. I mean, that Quarter horse trot is so slow it’s sometime difficult for me to discern it from a plain old walk.  But I kept trying.

Karin also observed that Maree was making as many decisions regarding the direction we were going as I was.  I have a habit of drifting off and losing focus – especially on the nice days – and the horse takes over by default. This is why people like dressage: it comes with instructions regarding which way to go.

I didn’t think Karin would notice that Maree was doing a disproportionate amount of the mental work, even though I was aware of it myself and hoping that my secret was safe inside my head.

But Karin is a Thought Bubble Reader and is not afraid to read out loud.  And like any good instructor, a remedy followed her observation:

“Right now, you can do whatever you like.  Walk, trot, post or not, back up – whatever you want to do – as long you don’t give the horse any points.”

There was a cavalletti with a couple of buckets in the middle of the round pen and I used that as an objective – like scoring a goal in playground soccer.  Maree gave a little hitch with her back legs as we went over, thus it wasn’t just pure walking. This is certainly the closest I’ll ever get to jumping.

Then Karin introduced money into the lesson. Actually, Karin introduced the Idea of Money into the lesson.  The idea is to put a dollar bill between you and the horse and hold it there, thus encouraging you to maintain a proper seat.

Karin didn’t have a buck on her, but I had a ten. So we used that. I gotta tell you, this works. That was my money for lunch tokens at work and I like lunch. The ten didn’t move a hair.

Paul got a turn with the ten – with threats of payment with interest had my lunch money blown away or got stepped on by one of the horses.  He did great and I got my ten back. And it worked just fine in the lunch token machine.

It was fun, productive lesson and I’m looking forward to a bunch more.

 

Curve Balls and Double Bouncing

I need to brush up on my grooming skills. It was one of the first things Karin taught me and thus one of the first things I forgot. Well, I didn’t exactly forget it.  I just sort of let the quality of my work slip until grooming became a mindless routine task without proper attention to the details. Like voting.

On Lesson #39 Karin noticed. She pointed to a rough & dirty spot on Windy’s underside.

“That’s the important part, Bob. That’s where the girth goes and if you leave that, it’s going to rub her raw. Remember to do the ‘hand test’.”

So, grooming isn’t just about looking pretty.

But I knew how to redeem myself.  I would dazzle my teacher with Bridle & Bit Brilliance. I had been getting more comfortable with the procedure and now was a good time to show off my skills. I would apply the gear in one smooth, glorious motion. I would hit this puppy out of the park.

However, like Mr. Eastwood, I have trouble with the curve (but I never talk to empty chairs, unless they talk first). In this case, the curve came in the form of an entirely new bridle/bit.  The puppy in question had some kind of chain on it and … the bridle headpiece was not symmetrical!

What madness of was this?  The horse has two ears for Pete’s sake. This thing only had one loop. How does one choose which ear?  I fumbled around with this abomination like a libertarian in a closed primary. Just wasn’t sure where to go with it. I handed the thing back to Karin and watched her apply it in one smooth, glorious motion.

On the riding portion of the lesson, I practice posting at the trot. It’s been a while, but I thought I was doing pretty well.  However, Karin disagreed:

“I don’t think you know it, but you’re double bouncing.”

“Double bouncing? What do you mean by that/that? I’m not/not double anything/thing.”

“You just have to work on getting your rhythm down, Bob. There’s really nothing more I can tell you.”

Then, in a case of instantaneous self-contradiction, she adds, “Try using your leg muscles more.”

This actually worked. I focused on my legs and got the rhythm a little better. However, photographic evidence shows that I’m still having trouble keeping those heels down.

I’ll work on that next time/time.

That’s enough out of you, Chair.

A Fresh Horse

“I would like you to ride Windy today.”

After nearly five months of Vinnie, Karin decided it was time for me to try a fresh horse.  So I spent Lesson #37 on Windy, Kathy’s Quarter horse Paint. If that’s the right way to say that. These color breed classifications sure do muddy the waters when it comes time to report what kind of horse you’ve been on.

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In any case, I trusted Karin’s decision to make the change. You learn to rely on your instructor’s deep pockets of wisdom and experience. I imagined Karin, the night before, pouring over her notes and charts like a baseball manager, pondering head-down-in-hands like Lawrence of Arabia into the wee hours of morning before her eyes light up with the epiphany:  Aqaba. Or in this case: Windy.

Or maybe she was just tired of me complaining about Vinnie. And vice-versa.

Actually, Vinnie and I depart on good terms. He was a perfect gentleman for Lesson #36 and we worked together beautifully in the Epic Ride to Nowhere. We always got along pretty well on the trail anyway.  And really, we’re not actually departing. I’m sure we’ll have more adventures together before the snow hits.

But for Lesson #37, it was Windy. And Windy is an absolute sweetheart.  She’s around 15/3 hands (if that’s the right way to say that), so a good size for me and very easy to ride. Kathy told me that she has a “slow trot” and a “fast trot”.  We did the slow trot this time.

It was a slow trot kind of morning anyway.  Karin had us in the round pen and I would have been content just to walk around in circles with my new friend. It was one of those perfect late summer mornings, the heat and humidity having lifted earlier in the week, a gentle breeze caressing us as we ambled around the pen.

There is just something about Willow trees as September approaches.