Planning for Perfection

On Lesson #114 we attempted to recreate Lesson #113: a perfectly pleasant winter’s day ride. However…

The temps were actually single digit – this time without the benefit of literary license. These days, we’re happy enough if we don’t see the minus sign in front of our numbers. As Gerry (on Habakuk) and I (on Windy) discovered as we followed Karin (on Charley) lemming-like through the Kiddie Trail, the footing was less than ideal. Discretion being the better part of valor, we headed inside. The Chicken Part of my brain – science calls it the cerebrum – insisted.

Within the confines of the Great Indoors, Windy and I performed some dressage moves. These included “Snappy Salute at X” and “Precisely Perfect 20 Meter Circle.”

Anyone who knows anything about dressage knows that after you enter at “A,” you proceed to “X” and make a Snappy Salute. Anyone who knows anything about the English alphabet knows that “X” should be “B.”    

I’m wondering if the letter-sequencing discrepancy has something to do with the roots of dressage itself. While the Germans and miscellaneous Europeans developed dressage into the sport/art form we know today, it was the Greeks that first came up with idea. Way, way, way back. Its origins are in fact attributed to the writings of a gentleman named Xenophon who was actually an army guy. Xenophon and the Greeks had their own take on the alphabet with letters that were simultaneously very pretty and very confusing to look at. Kind of like the script you might see on the back of the One Ring to Rule Them All. The one that Karin wants.

After Snappy Salute, I performed a Precisely Perfect 20 Meter Circle and announced that I had done so.

Karin expressed partial disagreement: “That wasn’t 20 meters.”

“Really, Karin? It’s the 20 meter part of that you object to?”

“Bob… a meter is three feet…”

Well so much for precision.

“… and the arena is 72 feet across. That leaves you six feet on each side…”

Her calculations were exquisite. In all honestly, my Precisely Perfect 20 Meter Circle had been probably closer to an 8-meter version of the Greek small case letter “phi.”


Karin then demonstrated to Gerry (who didn’t ask) and me how to make a “change through a circle” and a “change out of a circle.” They are two different things that can put you in different directions, so it’s something you have to know if you want to do dressage without an awkward early exit.

That’s the biggest thing I learned about dressage circles: there’s context to them. They don’t just come out of nowhere and end up nowhere. Striving for perfection means you have to plan ahead.

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.


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.


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.


Christmas Treats and Holiday Threats

The most notable thing about Lesson #111 was the weather. Sunny and fifty degrees in late December is a gift. Karin and Pete actually opened up the windows on one side of the arena. Spirits soared.


Karin put me on Krystal, one of her “18 year-olds.” I like Krystal and if I recall correctly, I had some success on my last ride on her. But then again, I may not be recalling correctly.

As time passes, the memory of this or that lesson can become a little distorted, perhaps emphasizing whatever suits my current psychological needs. It’s not unusual for humans to do this. On a larger scale, history gets abused like this all of the time by groups – sometimes massive groups of people – with this or that agenda. Historians themselves frequently disagree and get angry at one another. Whatever makes you feel the most comfortable, I say.

Being that it was two days before Christmas, Karin was in a generous mood and as a treat helped me with my tack.


However, she insisted that I ride English. I picked Western for the last several lessons and I think she was concerned I may never make it back to the Other Side.

I did adjust my own stirrups. I like them long.

Karin noticed: “Do you think your stirrups are too long?”

“No, Karin, I don’t think they’re too long.”

“Well, they are.”

“But I’m comfortable like this.” My knees like to be straight.

“You can’t ride like that. Stop your horse, we have to adjust them.”

I was riding in sneakers, which is not recommended. I just thought I’d be more comfortable in them on that day, so I left my boots in the car.

With Karin adjusting the stirrups, she would be sure to notice my choice in footwear. So I preempted her and ‘fessed up: “I’m not wearing boots today, Karin.”

“I see. Maybe the next time you forget your boots we can have you ride bareback on Caspian?” Even Karin admits that Caspian can be a bit bumpy at times. Bareback, I would have a marble’s chance of staying on him at the trot. Christmas Treats had turned to Holiday Threats.

Krystal and I trotted and cantered around a bit. It was mostly in the chaotic, out-of-control mode that I’m beginning to perfect as my trademark riding style. At least that’s how I’m going to remember it.


The Great Indoors

Karin put me on Windy for Lesson #110. I rode Windy a time or two on the trails during the more civilized weather months. She’s a good horse.


We held this lesson in The Great Indoors.



There’s no snow right now, but the ground is frozen hard in the break-an-ankle way. So I was grateful for the venue.


I was joined by Gerry on Habakuk and Leo on Maree. Leo has been getting a bit of riding in, as I expected he would. Some of this has been inadvertently serious and exciting.

That is, Maree took off on Leo the other day. Full gallop.

Ah, Quarter horses. So stately in the slow trot, so Zero to 60 in the gallop. Well, maybe Zero to 25. But 25 Horse mph is like 120 in Car mph. Just ask Leo.

Bless his heart – he did not bail, but opted to hang on for the duration. I admire that.

Lesson #110 was a working lesson. Although, it was a kind of free-flow independent study situation. Karin provided some basic instructions to the three of us (actually to six of us – the horses listen to her better than we do) such as “walk around these pylons,” “do a Figure 8 at the trot,” “stop and back your horse between these two poles,” etc. – and then she allowed us to comply at our leisure.

I like this form of lesson, because I can get into an uninterrupted flow of communicating with the horse rather than listen to the instructor.

Windy was fun to ride. She was very responsive to my cues, even better than big ‘ol Habakuk had been in the preceding lessons. I was able to direct her with finger twitches and leg taps. Although our figure 8 looked more an Old English D than an 8. But that’s on me and my one-handed, photo-taking riding style.


Toward the end of the lesson, Karin left the arena for a few minutes.


And when she returned, she had Peanut. The Mighty Peanut.


We untacked the horses and let them go for a Romp & Roll session.


Maree and Peanut were especially enthusiastic.


It was a hoot watching them. But I think I got in their way once or twice with my photo taking.


Head Cover and a Major Blessing

For Lesson #108 I got to ride Habakuk since Gerry wasn’t there.



After decades of being conditioned by jealous horsegirl society, I felt a tinge of guilt as if I was interloping. The last thing I want to be is an interloper. Barn drama is the worst.

It wasn’t my idea, of course.

“You can ride Habakuk today,” Karin announced. “He’s in the Red Barn. Go get him – and don’t let the other horses out.”

This was a good reminder and I took due caution. If you don’t pay enough attention, the horses sometimes just do whatever the hell they want, especially when Karin isn’t right there. She’s like their mother or something.

Habakuk: a big and warm mammal.

Habakuk: a big and warm mammal.

As I led Habakuk from the Red Barn to the main barn for tacking up, I looked forward to getting on him. It was a cold, cold day and my equestrian career has seen enough winters to know that the best antidote to the cold is to share body heat with a large furry mammal other than a bear. Plus riding takes work if you actually want to accomplish anything. The combination of physical exertion and horse heat will warm you up nicely. My favorite part of an indoor winter riding lesson is the last ten minutes where the horse and I just wander around being comfortable.

Habakuk is great horse to ride. He responded well to my cues. He reminded me of Vinnie a little bit in that way. Miss that guy.

Due to the cold, I wore a cheap, but effective knit hat to the barn instead of my Lions’ cap. This created a small problem, again due to some prior conditioning. I don’t feel secure riding bareheaded. It’s just not safe. However, my brain took the physical sensation of the hat on my head as a green light to proceed, thusly: “You’re helmet is on your head, everything is okay, go ahead and mount the horse.”

I didn’t notice the oversight until about halfway through the lesson. Just kind of caught some knit material out of the corner of my eye. I had to pat my head three times to confirm.



Karin didn’t notice it either. However, she was gracious enough to go get my helmet from the main barn and make my head right.



In Karin’s defense, she was a bit preoccupied at the time. Daughter Anika was due anytime for Karin’s first grandchild. Sure enough, three days later the world welcomed Emiliana Grace.

Karin was super happy to report that the newest addition to the Schmidt family is BEAUTIFUL!!! and that Mama Anika, Papa Leo and the baby are all doing well.

Congratulations to both the Schmidt and Ojeda families. A new adventure has begun.


Santa Parade, 2014

On Saturday, I got to go with Legacy Stables in the big Santa Parade in downtown Grand Rapids. We did this last year in freezing temperatures, to which Michigan’s neurotic version of Mother Nature added a brisk wind.

Last Year: the frozen few.

Last Year: the frozen few.

This year we were given a few extra degrees, enough to boost the air temps to that awkward-right-around-freezing range where the precipitation really can’t decide what it wants to be – snow or ice – so it settles on freezing rain as a compromise. I thought maybe they’d cancel the parade.

Nope. It went forward, although I’m guessing not all the entrants showed up. Even the Live 8 parade narrators on WoodTV indicated they were going to have to wing it. I think it makes it more fun when you really don’t know what’s coming next.

Karin outfitted me with another Karin’s Horse Connection sweatshirt, which she simply put right over my already bulging ski-jacket. I think the majority of my wardrobe now has some kind of Karin’s Horse Connection logo.

Ready to march.

Ready to march.

Last year the highlight of the parade was when Elmo went down and got dragged through the streets of downtown.



This year Cookie Monster stepped in and I didn’t bother taking many photos of him. That guy is a real pro and I knew he would complete the parade in good form.


The temps improved enough so that by the start of the parade at 9, we were in pretty good shape. There were still some slick spots, but the road crews were on top of it and the main street was mostly just wet.


Karin brought Charley, Snoopy, Peanut and Caspian (shown below, left to right).


All are rock solid parade veterans, who almost seemed a little bored.

And of course, Karin had to show off my newest buddy, Pumpkin Sherbert.


The kids appeared to be having a great time. While the footing had improved, it still wasn’t exactly comfortable out there. However, I didn’t hear much whining by anyone under 5 feet tall.


The kids’ poise and show presence, especially under less than ideal conditions, never ceases to amaze me. Kudos to them – and their instructors and parents.




I had two main jobs: 1) Take Photos and 2) Watch Where I Was Going & Not Fall Down. I managed both, despite a plethora of visual and audio distractions. And I got to be on TV! That’s me, circled on the right.


Circled on the left was my primary distraction for the morning: Founders Bank & Trust – which I mistook as Founder’s Brewery, a local maker of fine pain remedies. Good thing I didn’t stop in. I was thinking about it.

Karin had around 35-40 mammals total in the parade. It was a great turnout and a fun morning.


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

And Off We Go

Lesson #86 was another special lesson. They’re all getting to be special lessons.

Examine the sequence of photos below. See how many it takes you before you figure out what made Lesson#86 so special. Remember: if I’m not in the photo, I’m taking it…

woman and horse

mounting a horse in an arena

leaving an arena on horseback

riding in snow


horses in the snow

rider off a horse in the snow

With four feet of snow on the ground, it wasn’t a very long fall. There was no hurdling through space or any sort of acrobatic drama. It was more in that gray area, somewhere between vindictive bucking and a deliberate bail.  Sort of an “emergency dismount by consensus.”

It was bound to happen. In order to negotiate the deep snow, Goldie was doing this bizarre combination of gaits, a curious concoction that mixed the Four Major Gait Groups: walk, trot, canter, gallop.  She was cantrowallagaloping.

When the cantrowallagaloping got to be too much, Goldie’s center of gravity and mine went their separate ways. My primary concern at that point was not the impact, but suffocation. While I was grateful for the soft landing, I was wondering how deep I would go.

I was also concerned about Gerry, who was directly ahead of me on Habakuk.  I was afraid that Goldie cantrowallagaloping past them without a rider might upset them and start a two-horse chain reaction. She seemed intent on reaching Karin – or any competent adult.

The last thing I saw before everything went white was Habakuk’s big butt.  Most people who go through this sort of thing get to see their entire life flashing in front of them. I got this:


I was unhurt and could see no reason to spend any more time on this portion of the lesson. So I sprung from beneath the snow like a bat out of Hell (that locale having finally froze over this year) and the first thing out of my mouth – after spitting out all the snow – wasn’t “Don’t worry, I’m okay!” or “Is everyone all right?” It was this: “That counts, Karin! That counts!”

This was in reference to Karin’s recent dictum “you can’t be a real equestrian until you’ve fallen off.”

I wasn’t sure if I shouted loud enough to be heard over Karin, who was alternating between laughing and apologizing for laughing, so I repeated it several times.

instructor holding horse


I was relieved to have this part of my equestrian career behind me.

Karin handed Goldie’s reins to me and declared, “You have to get back on, Bob.

man with horse in snow

What the hell was she talking about? I thought.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I said.

“If you don’t get back on, it doesn’t count.”

You know, I’ve long suspected that Karin makes most of this stuff up as she goes along and this confirmed it. This was the first she had said anything about “getting back on.”

But I got back on anyway and we retraced our steps back to the arena. It was pretty easy going, actually.  All of Goldie’s cantrowallagaloping had cleared a nice swath through the snow.

When we got back to the arena, Karin gave me a high-five because now I was a real equestrian. I told her I deserved a gold sticker too. But I ended up something much better than that. I got war wounds:

bruises from riding horses

While the snow provided a soft landing, Goldie’s western saddle isn’t made of snow and the inside of my left leg got tore up during the ejection process.

It was difficult to get a good photo of my war wounds.  Such an awkward angle and my body just doesn’t want to stretch certain ways. I think it would be a good idea to start up my Yoga program again so I that I can get better pictures of this sort of thing.

horse in colorful blanket

The Keys to a Good Lesson

Lesson #85 was a special one because it proved I’ve been right all along.

I always leave my car keys in my car because I’m afraid I might lose them during my lesson. Always, always, always. Except for one time. On Lesson #85, I put them in my pocket. And I lost them.

So I’ve been right all along.

Despite the monumental efforts of my First Class Search Team (thank you Karin, Kathy and David!) the car keys refused to be found.

Given the things we did on Lesson #85, it’s not the least bit surprising that the keys chose this day to escape. Karin had an active morning planned for Gerry and me.

horse and sled

We rode on sleds.

We stacked hay.


We did vaulting sort of things.



Karin roped Jack, the gentleman who delivered the hay, and David, the gentleman who does most of her building projects, into the vaulting session.


I think between the four of us, there was something approaching two hundred years of life experience. And we still didn’t know enough not to do it.


Somewhere amidst all this falderal my keys bid me adieu.

The thing about losing keys is that everyone you talk to on the day you lose them has their own key-losing story.  Karin told me about the time she lost hers while working at the barn of the great German jockey, Fritz Dreschler.  These keys escaped while Karin was exercising a high level racehorse with a name that sounds like – and I’m sure I’m going to kill the spelling here: You-stus.

“You-stus” was a $200,000 racehorse. And he was as intelligent as he was valuable.

When Karin came back to the barn the next day, You-stus’ was waiting for her.  As she entered the horse’s stall, he eyed her as if she had done something wrong.  Then he turned his gaze toward the corner of the stall almost as if to nod in that direction.  Karin followed his glance and found her keys sitting in the middle of an almost perfect circle where You-stus had cleared away his bedding.

“It was like he put them on a silver platter for me,” Karin said.

The poor horse had obviously stepped on Karin’s keys and wasn’t going let it happen twice.

Please, Hu-mon, in the future refrain from leaving your things in my bedroom.

When I went to the auto dealer to get my keys replaced, my pockets – including my wallet – were full of hay and I smelled like Karin’s horses.  I didn’t care to explain.