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:


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.

A Parade and a Project

For Lesson #80, I was turned loose on a self-study program.  With the Santa Parade coming up on Saturday and a Lantern Walk scheduled for Sunday evening, I knew Karin was going to be overwhelmed with preparations and I even considered calling and cancelling my lesson to give her a break. But I showed up anyway, figuring I could ride on my own. I assured her that Goldie and I would be fine alone.

big crayon and a horse

We trotted a little and practiced a bit of backing. And we picked up one of the big crayons to see what that was like.  I discovered that holding a big crayon, steering a horse properly and taking good photos all at once presents a unique set of problems. But we had a nice time together anyway.

Later, Karin asked if I would like to walk with the vaulting team in the parade. I felt honored, but I suggested that perhaps it would be more useful for me to take photos. She agreed.

The day of parade was butt-kicking cold. The air temp when I arrived downtown was 27 degrees Fahrenheit.  There was a healthy breeze blowing through town, so it felt like – I dunno – maybe closer to 7 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought A Vaulting Connection might even bow out of the parade.

That shows you what I know. Vaulters don’t do any kind of bowing until they’re done performing. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with this group when I got to the staging area. Karin had a great turn out.


They would proceed in two sections. The first section included two horses (three counting Peanut) with several vaulters rotating on and off. The second section consisted of a float with kids using a vaulting barrel.

parade float with vaulting barrel

One of the parents commented that given the conditions, he was surprised how upbeat the group was and that no one seemed to be whining about the cold. I can assure him that at least one person was whining about it.  I ended up putting on my gloves, despite the fact that this made manipulating the camera more awkward.

boots off, vaulting shoes on

After taking a few photos of the preparations at the staging area, I scooted over to the parade route and staked out a good spot to snap pictures.  I took off my gloves, made sure the camera was on auto – because out of all the little nobs and settings on that thing, that’s only one I understand – and then put my gloves back on. I thought I was all ready when the parade started.

Then something wonderful happened.

Near the head of the parade, the Elmo balloon was off to a magnificent start…

Elmo in parade

… but a half a block must have been enough for him and he decided to lay down…

Elmo falling

Workers scrambled to rouse Elmo, but he was acting stubborn.

Elmo down

Meanwhile, the parade must go on. So they did what I would have done: they dragged Elmo face down through the streets of Grand Rapids.

Elmo face down in streets of Grand Rapids

Elmo face down

I haven’t seen anything that funny since Captain Kirk wrestled the Gorn.

Captain Kirk wrestles the Gorn

I was really hoping that Elmo would finish the parade in the Facedown Fashion.  Perhaps even start a new tradition?

However, the skilled handlers managed to get him up and going again and he finished strong. Darn, I would have paid anything to hear the eightWest ladies parade commentary on Drag Me Elmo.

Elmo rises

Amid all the excitement, my clumsy gloved fingers inadvertently knocked the setting nob on my camera and made it go from “auto” to “P.” And this – unknown to me – is the setting at which I took close to 300 parade photos of Karin’s vaulters.

Legacy Stable in parade

I don’t even know what “P” means. Maybe, purple?

camera on auto setting

For their part, the vaulters were nothing short of awesome. As cold as it was, they were there to perform and you could tell they were having a great time. These kids absolutely exuded that characteristic poise and personality that is so unique to equestrian vaulting. The crowd loved them.  It was so much fun to watch.

vaulter in parade

vaulters on parade

vaulters on TV

I actually left my spot and followed along side them through the entire parade route, blissfully clicking away on “P.” They were moving along at a pretty good pace and I had to trot a little to stay with them.  A few times, I slipped on the ice a bit and almost ended up like Elmo.



I was so focused (unlike my camera) on staying with them that I entirely forgot about Section II, the float with the vaulting barrel.  So I didn’t get many pictures of those kids.  I really felt bad about that, until I realized that they would have been on “P” as well.

upside down vaulter

In a way, the “P” setting was somewhat appropriate because it helped make everyone appear a little colder.  Really captured the ambience of the morning.  I’ve always had a knack for inadvertent art. But still, they weren’t the photos I was hoping for.

Clearly, I need to get better at taking photographs. Right now, my modus operandi is to take a bazillion pictures and hope I end up with a few I can use.  While I know this is not an uncommon practice, I want to do better. In fact, I’m going to make this my new equestrian project. My old project was the Stand Up Project – standing on a moving horse. Technically, I achieved that earlier this year.


I declare that the Stand Up Project is officially completed. The Excellence in Equestrian Picture Taking Project begins this week. So here goes another self-study program…

camera self study