Twenty Fifteen

The other night, Karin held a “Vision Casting” for Legacy Stables. This involved a gathering of her staff, volunteers, students, parents of students, board members – anybody with an interest in Karin’s Horse Connection. So I went.

The gathering served as an assessment of where the operation is, where we want it to go and what we were going to do this year to get it there. A collective New Year’s Resolutions list for the place. The evening was both fun and productive and now we’re all excited about 2015.

It got me thinking about my own equestrian goals for the coming year. I mean beyond my primary goal of Just Showing Up and Seeing What Happens.

It’s not that I haven’t set goals in the past. It’s just that I’ve been less than diligent in actually doing anything about them. Setting goals is fun. Actually doing the work to achieve the goal is another matter.

One strategy is to define your goals in such a way that you can say you’ve met them without really doing much of anything. The key here is vagueness. Relative terms such as “better” or “more” (“I will ride more this year,” “I will pay better attention to my instructor”) are very useful if you like your goals with a lot of wiggle room.

This year, I think I’ll try to be a little more specific. A list of Micro Goals that I can put an actual checkmark next to as I accomplish each one. Little bits that may or may not help support the larger Just Showing Up thing.

So here is my list:

  1. From what I understand, there might be some Dressage going on at Legacy this year. My goal is to do at least one pattern all the way through. Bonus goal: resist the impulse to move the letters around the arena just to spell a word.
  2. Attend one local open horse show and write a blog post about it.
  3. Conduct an investigation into what’s going on with my riding breeches! Specifically, why do I start to pass out right after I put them on? They didn’t do that when I first got them. There is something wrong with them.

    They didn't bother me before.

    They didn’t bother me before.

  4. Learn how to properly apply a surcingle
  5. Read one book about equestrian vaulting.
  6. Develop my own free-style vaulting routine – at the walk.
  7. Visit Chicago Vaulting in the summer and do a blog post on their new lungeing training program. Bonus goal: determine once & for all the correct spelling of lungeing.
  8. Learn how to neck rein.
  9. Walk over a cavaletti.
  10. Sponsor one horse or student at Legacy Stables.
  11. Only talk about stretching during a riding lesson if I’ve actually stretched before the riding lesson. Bonus goal: eliminate the word “should’ve” from my vocabulary.
  12. Learn to recite the names of all of Legacy’s horses to the tune of Amazing Grace.
  13. Polish my riding boots.
  14. Complete the Fundamentals of Photography course that I bought two years ago.
  15. Set up at least one riding lesson for granddaughter Aubrey. We have already discussed this.IMG_0256

I think that should keep me busy for a year.

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.

rolling up a lunge line

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.


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.

lunging clinic

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.


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