Gray Rebel Without a Cause

On a late summer evening in 2006, following forty-five minutes of struggle and stress, my daughter Jamie, our friend Lori and I finally succeeded in getting a feisty little gray Arabian gelding loaded into a horse trailer. We were taking him to Jamie’s place. She hoped to train him and, eventually, show him. After spending his first four years in the pasture just being a horse, it was time to give Gray Rebel Piper – affectionately known as “Bert” – a job.

I always thought that once you get the butt bar up and latched, the work is done and you can breath a sigh of relief – the humans have won again. But to Bert, we were just a little group of absurdly optimistic bipeds and this thing was far from over.

He squealed. He stomped. The trailer rocked back and forth. The racket was awful.

Then something happened that I’ve never seen before or since: Bert slipped under the butt bar and stumbled backward down the ramp to freedom.

I was certain that a big, traumatic chase was imminent. However, instead of bolting, Bert simply trotted in a little semi-circle and sauntered up to Jamie as if to say: “That was kinda fun – what else do you want to do tonight?”

One thing we weren’t going to do that night was get Bert back in the trailer. It took a new day and the presence of his owner, Ron, to finally convince the little Arab that getting – and staying – in the trailer was the right thing to do.

Bert was born June 12, 2002. As he grew, Ron played with him in the pasture and taught him how to behave around people: no biting, no kicking, humans are a good thing. But Ron never taught Bert that carrying people around was proper work for a horse.

Jamie liked Bert. She found him playful, sweet and more than a little spirited. He loved to run and would take off at a gallop by himself without warning or apparent reason. But like with the loading incident, he always reported back.

Ron supported a small herd of horses at his place. As is customary with horses everywhere, they tended to gather at the fence line whenever a human appeared. Some enjoyed staying for a little social time once the treats were gone. Bert was always among those who stayed.

It was during one of these meetings that Jamie, who had been perched on the top rail of the fence, made a spontaneous decision to mount Bert. The horse was close enough to the fence for Jamie to simply ease one leg over and slide onto his back in one smooth motion. Just like that, Bert had a rider.

Ron was duly alarmed. No way was the two-year old ready for this. No way was Ron ready for this:

“Are you crazy?” It was more of an accusation than a question.

But Bert didn’t seem to have a problem with it. He stood next to the fence as calm as before, as if he was unaware that anything significant had changed. It wouldn’t be the last time Bert surprised his doubters.

After Jamie brought Bert home, she began to discover little quirks in his personality. He hated and feared water. He did not submit gracefully to being bathed and during the rinse cycle he would sink to his knees, even while on the crossties. Applying fly spray was similarly traumatic. He favorite avoidance behavior was rolling in the dirt. You can’t put a halter on horse who is rolling in the dirt. He despised the indoor arena, resisting any attempt to coax him into to this mysterious temple of doom.

While Bert allowed Jamie to mount him without much fuss, he was still unpredictable, reserving the right to bolt whenever the mood struck him. Whether Jamie was on him or not.

“He would take off without warning and then twist himself into a “U” shape while going flat out.”

Jamie continued to work with Bert, making a special effort to introduce him to new environments. This included his first visit to a horseshow. It was just an exploratory outing to get him accustomed to the show atmosphere.

“I was worried he might freak out, so we took special precautions. Hiliary and I brought multiple lunge lines and ropes and even tranquilizers.”

They didn’t have to use any of it. When they unloaded Bert at the show grounds, he reacted the same he did when Jamie sat on him for the first time, he simply stood there, waiting for whatever the Universe offered next.

He was calm enough that they thought they could risk entering him in halter. He fell asleep in the class. Hiliary suggested they try him in walk/trot. Jamie took him in the class and they got a third. She could not believe this was the same horse that enjoyed bending himself into a “U” at full speed.

As Jamie was to discover over the next two years, Bert was full of all kind of surprises. He loved small animals; especially Jamie’s dogs Leila and Andi. It was not unusual for Jamie to find Bert and one of the dogs curled up together asleep in his stall. He was a babysitter with kids. They could brush him for hours or climb all over him. His appetite for human interaction seemed insatiable.

In 2008, Jamie moved to Florida. She had Bert trailered down several months later after spending some time back at Ron’s. The first two years in the new environment went well, but by his third summer in Florida, Jamie began to notice a change in Bert. “There was just something off about him.”

Jamie and Bert in Florida

Jamie and Bert in Florida

Bert started losing weight. Then he suffered from two severe bouts of colic. He became lethargic. Jamie had multiple test performed, but no one could figure out what was going on.

Over the next few months, Jamie tried everything she could think of to help Bert. She changed his diet, altered his routine and tried different medications. She even moved him to a different barn. But nothing seemed to help. Finally, a vet suggested that Bert might have developed an allergy to a local mold.

Jamie decided that it would be worth trying to move Bert back to Michigan to see if that would help. He would stay at Lori’s. At least for a while.

Within weeks of returning to Michigan, Bert started putting on weight. After six months, he started acting like the old Bert.

Jamie got the opportunity to see her buddy several times while he was at Lori’s. It became a Must Stop on her semi-annual visits back to Michigan.

DSC08281

DSC02992

While she missed Bert, seeing for herself how well he had recovered left little doubt in her mind that bringing him back to Michigan was the right thing to do. He wouldn’t be returning to Florida with her.

DSC08196

At his new home, Bert had several horses to play with and Lori to keep him company. But soon after he recovered, he started misbehaving. He broke down fences, bullied the other horses and seemed restless and anxious. It was clear to everyone that Bert needed some kind of job to keep him occupied and out of trouble.

What Bert really needed was a horse-crazy kid.

To be continued…

 

Duncan and Me at the Barry County 4-H Fair

decorated horse stall

Karin’s 4-H club, Blaze With Grace, was at the Barry County Youth Fair last week. Fair is kind of like the Super Bowl event for local 4-H horse clubs and the kids look forward to it all year. Karin’s club has a pretty involved group of parents and some even stay on site during Fair.

I went out for the morning on Tuesday. For some reason, I thought showmanship was on Monday. Which is why I went on Tuesday. 

I wanted to see some Speed or at least watch some Ride in Circles classes. But just like the old days, when Jamie and Hiliary showed horses, showmanship found me. That’s all they did Tuesday morning.

I have to admit, it was kind of fun watching Karin’s kids with horses I knew and I got some good pics. But after they were done, I lost my rooting interest. And finally, all of my interest.

Don’t get me wrong. I would never say showmanship isn’t important. I don’t know why it’s important, but I would never say that it’s not. Because it actually upsets some people when you say that. So curious.

But, you can say that showmanship is dull. Everyone says it at one time or another. Usually that time is when it’s someone else’s kid’s turn. Sometimes even when it’s your kid’s turn. Sometimes even when it’s you.

One time it took so long, that Hiliary actually sat down on ground right in the ring. She just got tired of waiting for that glacier jockey of a judge to get done checking the rest of the class. No one else in our group dared shout for her to stand up for fear of alerting the judge. I didn’t shout either because I was too busy beaming with fatherly pride. Yep, that’s my girl! I kick myself now for missing that photo op.

I’m not suggesting there is no action in showmanship whatsoever. You just have to open to it. For example, on Tuesday I took this pic…

showmanship

…then, I used my Veteran Horse Show Dad experience to kill some time. It’s an art.

I took a walk to the restroom, then wandered around reading signs…

No base uncovered.

No base uncovered.

…checked the work schedule to make sure no one snuck my name on it like they used to…

fair work schedule

…caught Karin red-handed with a bulging bag right by where all the parents and kids keep their stuff (if anyone is missing anything, let me know) …

coach with a bag

 

… met a show dad who was also a Lions’ fan brother and was gracious enough to  show me his tattoo…

More dads and Lions fans at the shows these days. Both good to see.

More dads and Lions fans at the shows these days. Both good to see.

…checked the inside this can and confirmed that the sign was accurate…

No horses are in this can.

No horses are in this can.

….then returned to see how it was going in the ring:

showmanship class

Note that in the second photo, the young lady in front of the line turned her head 90 degrees. To appreciate showmanship, you just have to be open to the action it offers.

The hammer is about to fall.

The hammer is about to fall.

While we were all waiting, it started to rain.

Yes: it rained on showmanship at the Barry County 4-H Youth Fair. Most people headed for the first structure with a roof. They halted the class for brief period when the rain became a downpoor, then hustled everyone back when it slowed again.

horse show in rain

While some folks ventured back out into the light rain, others – including myself – clung to the narrow dry area between the out facing stalls and the wet ground. A mother standing next to me told her party of people: “We’ll just watch her from her…” Our view:

far away view of showmanship class

Following that class the same mother told her daughter, “You did a great job!” As if she actually knew.

As I leaned against one of the stalls, I started dozing off. Sleeping while leaning up against something  is an old Horse Dad trick. Then, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that I wasn’t alone. Right behind me, a gelding named Duncan was taking in all the action right along with me and feeding off my energy:

horse in stall

Duncan is one of the most kindly looking horses I’ve ever met. I felt an instant bond.

If Dr. Seuss Went to a Horse Show

 

It’s that time of year again. Here is something from my pre-equestrian days when I was still trying to figure this all out. I never did figure it all out, but it was fun trying. The following is what I thought might have happened if Dr. Seuss ever stumbled into a horse show.

One Horse.

Two Horse.

Smart Horse.

Fool Horse.

My, what a lot of horses there are!

Some are white

And some are black

And some are never, ever coming back.

Where do they come from?

I cannot say.

But, I bet they’ve come a long, long way!

After all, it’s horse show day!

 

Horsegirl:  

HOORAY!  It is horse show day!

Dad: 

It is horse show day you say?

Then I must pay.  And pay.  And pay.

Announcer: 

Yes you will pay.

Or you cannot, must not, will not stay.

Judge:

I’m willing to bet

You will soon be in debt.

Dad:

How true!  How true!

But what can I do?

My daughter is horse-crazy

And my wife is too!

Mom:

It is not much

Just write the check

What the heck!

Dad:

This is bad and sad.

I am mad and NOT glad.

I am a sad, mad, not glad dad.

Horsegirl:

Oh my dear!

I really do fear

My first class is near!

Mom:

Be calm

Be steady

Your father will help your horse get ready.

Dad:

I just sat down.

I will not get up.

I will not help the horse.

To move me would take force.

Mom:

If you do not help my dear

I will dump out all your beer.

Dad:

Of course I will help the horse.

Announcer:

Riders enter the ring!

Horsegirl:

I don’t remember a thing!

Mom:

Sit straight

Sit tall

Sit true in the saddle

And do not fall!

Dad:

There is no hope for our daughter.

Mom:

She will do as I taught her.

Dad:

Forty-four horses!

It will be a slaughter!

Announcer:

Trot your horses and trot them well.

Mom:

Our daughter is doing just swell.

Horsegirl:

I want to throw up.

I feel like … heck.

Announcer:

Reverse and walk I say!

Do it now!

Do not delay!

Mom:

The judge just stands there!

He will not look!

He will not write things in his book!

Get him out.  Get the hook!

Judge:

I have seen enough.

Line ‘em up.  And don’t be rough!

Announcer: 

Here are the placings

Listen up!

First place goes to a man named Gup

He rides a horse he calls “Wup”.

Second is for Cindi Loo Who

Riding on  “Who Knows You”.

Third place goes to Sally and I

Riding double on “Fruit Salad Pie”.

Fourth place goes to my friend Mike

He has no horse, only a bike.

Fifth spot is Sam I Am

Riding on (what else) “Green Eggs and Ham”.

Sixth place goes to the girl

Who rides a horse she calls “Earl”.

Horsegirl:

Cindi Loo Who is ahead of me?

This is not right

How can this be?

Mom:

This is not fair

This is not good

Nail that judge to a piece of wood!

Dad:

Why whine and cry and complain and such?

It should not matter all that much.

Horsegirl:

I sat straight

I sat tall.

I sat true in the saddle

I did not fall.

Judge:

You came in sixth

But should have been first?

It could have been much, much worse!

I will tell you why this is so

And after that, you must go.

All you did was sit, sit, sit.

And I did not like it.

Not one little bit.

You have dirt on your hat.

Your horse is too fat.

And you spit on the ground like a batter at bat.

And that is all I have to say about that.

Dad:

Emotions run high.

And I don’t know why

I think it’s time to say good-bye

Mom:

We cannot go

We must not leave

We must stay here

Until eight in the eve

Horsegirl:

Yes, we must stay

Stay all day, I say!

ONE class alone

Does not make a horse show day!

A Photogenic Horse Show

Jenny and I went to the Tulip Fest Vaulting Fest and Clinic at Centennial Acres Equestrian Center in Holland on Saturday. We took a bazillion pictures.  Well, 742 photos to be exact. And I lost track of how many movie clips we got.  We’re still sorting through all of it.  I expect that my next few posts are going to be about vaulting.

We only stayed for half the day, our cameras were filled and our batteries were running low. Next time we’ll stay for the whole day.  Or maybe just come for the second half.

It was fun.  It was like other horseshows in many respects. There was a judge and there was music. There were excited kids with nervous parents. And there were excited parents with nervous kids. And bored siblings.

And we weren’t the only ones taking pictures. Vaulting has to be the most photogenic of all equestrian disciplines.

Our good friends Caroline and Sherrin joined Jenny and me.  It was fun having them there. Both Caroline and Sherrin are knowledgeable horsepeople who appreciate all things equine. I like listening to them.

More on vaulting next time….

Cold Calculation

Karin’s Fall Fun Fest was a cold affair.  Holding a show in late November in Michigan is always a risk and like Gump’s box of chocolate or natural selection you can never be sure what you’re going to get. However, with no precipitation and calm skies, conditions were tolerable enough for this hearty band of riders and their parents.

A Tough Crowd

While the air was a little cool, the competition was flat-out brutal. Downright Darwinian. I entered three classes.  The first was the Western-English-Walk-Trot-Maybe Canter, Maybe Not-Horsemanship Pleasure Class, ages 3 – 98.  The show bill did mention something about combining classes.

In a tough fought contest, I managed to earn a red ribbon.  That’s second place, right? The Handless Judge must have given me some kind of AARP benefit. Vinnie and I goofed around a lot.

A Worthy Opponent

The competition was fierce

Yes, I got to ride Vinnie.  That alone was worth going to the show. He’s a very good horse.

At first, it wasn’t clear that I was going to be able to use Vinnie. When I arrived at the barn, a young gentleman around three-foot six in stature, approached me with an announcement:

“Hi Bob. My sister is riding Vinnie.”

I looked around to see who was speaking to me, before glancing down and spotting the source.

“Oh…. Well, hi. Okay then. Who might your sister be?”

“Joselyn.” He declared the name in a chest puffed out, hands on hips, chin in the air sort of way.

Interesting. I always wanted to meet Napoleon Bonaparte and here he was standing before me at Karin’s Horse Connection.

“Ah, yes.  Well, that’s fine. She can ride Vinnie.”

He nodded as if expecting nothing short of absolute compliance. I predict this young man will be running in some kind of primary by 2036.

However, both Joselyn and her Mom assured me that it would okay if I used Vinnie for a few classes. Although I felt a bit selfish, I sure appreciated the gesture.

Class #2 for me was the “Boys ONLY” class. I didn’t actually sign up for that one and didn’t want to do it, but Karin was short of male riders and needed all she could get for the class. I tried every excuse I could think of to get out of it, including the “I Don’t Have a Horse” dodge.  But Karin was determined and I think she would have made me go in Monty Python and the Holy Grail style if I had to.

The Young Napoleon admires his bauble, as sister Joselyn looks on. I get a white one.

The competition was fierce. I ended up with a fourth (out of four, by sheer coincidence), a white ribbon and some additional instruction from the Handless Judge.  She was very nice, very knowledgeable and I appreciated her taking a little extra time with me.

The Handless Judge

My last class was the M&M in a Spoon Event.  In this class, you’re suppose to ride around with M&M’s in a big spoon and follow the judge’s instructions until you lose all your candy to the bumping and jostling.

Vinnie and I and the M&Ms were fine at the walk. But the M&M’s bailed as a group somewhere between “trot” and “your horses, please”.  They didn’t even wait for Vinnie and I to actually break into the trot. They just heard the word and up and out they went like the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne.  My spoon was empty and my day was done.

I consider my experience at Karin’s Fall Fun Fest to be a huge success. By earning a red and a white, my set is complete.  I now have red, white and blue.

That’s what I planned all along.

Show Sores

Jenny and I made it to Karin’s show on Saturday.  It was big fun, despite my suffering from a number of physical aliments.

Now, I know it’s unmanly to openly discuss one’s maladies.  Actually, it’s more man-like to drop subtle hints or provide “inadvertent” evidence of whatever happens to be wrong with you. That way, you get double credit: once for being tough enough to keep going despite the injury and once for not whining about it.

The problem with this should be obvious.  If you’re too subtle, the injury might not get noticed and all the suffering is for nothing. In this case, Full Disclosure becomes your best bet. This can be justified as a public service if you’re using yourself as an example in The House of the Rising Sun sort of way:

Mothers….

Don’t let your children

Do what I have done

With this in mind, I’m going provide a short list of my horse show afflictions. In hopes that others will learn from my mistakes, of course.

First, I had some kind cold virus going that day. Felt like I had been run over by an angry UPS truck.  Now, there’s not much you can do about a cold virus. Actually, washing your hands is the best prevention. So kids, make sure you wash your hands after… well, everything. And before everything too.

Second, I was suffering from some major stiffness after my lesson on Thursday. Learning to post at the trot puts considerable strain on the leg muscles. And if you don’t stretch before, you pay later.  And later for me is normally the day after the day after my lesson – which happened to be Saturday. I couldn’t the mount the darn horse without assistance.

Prior to my next lesson, I am going to actually make the effort and do some proper stretching.

Finally, because I’ve been doing my lessons in jeans – despite repeated warnings from experienced quarters not to do this – my legs are all beat to hell.  And of course, on Saturday the friction from my jeans on these open sores was, well, a little distracting.

I’m never impressed when people post photos of their wounds on the Internet.  Often, I’m not even sure what body part is being represented and I wonder if maybe they’re doing something wrong. However, I’m doing this as a public service and I hope these body parts here are easily identified:


So how did I do at the show? Well, first of all, unlike Karin’s show in August, I had to go head to head with other riders out of my age group (actually I don’t think there was anyone within three age groups of mine). So, yes, I got slaughtered.

I’ll have more about the show next time, but for now I just want to make it clear that I realize I got trounced in the show ring because I ride bad in any case and not because of my aliments.

Not only that, but I feel a little ashamed talking about my physical problems when after all, we had judge who had no hands. Talk about a trooper.

My Pit Crew

I think we had four cameras in use at the Trail Mix Fun Fest. As I go through all the photos, a common theme appears: someone is helping me do something. That’s the way that whole day went.  If it wasn’t Karin finding a horse for me to ride, it was one of the kid’s mothers finding a helmet for me to wear, while another reminded me to put my boots on, while another held the horse Karin found while I went to put on my boots.

Pit Crew

My biggest support for the day came from my wife, Jenny, our daughter Hiliary and our friend Caroline. They brought food, coffee, took photos, helped me with the horses, gave morale support and even cheered a bit.  It was so much fun having them there.

I think Jenny took most of the pictures. Whenever she takes charge of photo taking, we invariably get at least one picture like this:

She just can’t help herself.  Wherever we go, we always seem to come home with photos of dogs.

I discovered that Caroline knows a lot about horses and how to handle them.  I think just being there took her back to her horse days. A true sign of genuine passion is that you never really lose it.

Hiliary got to go in a class. And this took me back to my familiar role as proud horse dad.  It was fun watching her ride again.

It’s been a long time, but she doesn’t seem to have lost much.

Next time, I would like to talk about tack. And overcoming my fear of it.

Creative Incompetence

Sometimes things aren’t as bad as they could be. My first class at the Trail Mix Fun Fest was Showmanship and I didn’t do real well. It was my first time and (insert supporting excuses, etc, etc.). But it could have been a lot worse.

The pattern was simple enough. You walk the horse in, do a 90-degree turn, trot the horse, halt, do a 270-degree turn and then walk to the judge. That’s it.

Of course, all the while you’re supposed to exude confidence and create the illusion that you know what you’re doing.  I was unable to do achieve this – I couldn’t get Caspian to trot, for instance – but that wasn’t my biggest concern.

My biggest concern was that 270-degree turn. It was a problem, because when they were describing the pattern I heard– and I know they didn’t say this – but this is what I heard: “at this point, you make two 70 degree circles….”

I don’t know how to do that.

Fortunately, we had a little time to practice in the indoor arena before going out and doing the real thing in front of real people.  So, as Caspian and I made our way over to the indoor arena, I was desperately trying to figure out the math on these stupid turns and how I could possibly end up facing the judge in the right direction at the conclusion of all this spinning around.

I knew I was going to mess up anyway, but I wanted to at least keep a lid on it. While there are many ways to do something right, the number of ways to screw up is infinite.  There is no limit to the creative potential of incompetence.

When Caspian and I got to the indoor arena, we found one of the regular kids at the barn, Joselyn, practicing the pattern.  She offered to help us go through it and this cleared up my confusion over those mysterious circles.  By virtue of this preparation, my performance was not as bad as it could have been.

Actually, I had a lot of support during the course of the show and in my next post I would like to acknowledge some other people who helped me keep my creative incompetence at an acceptable level throughout the day.

Show Ring Dialogue

It is now clear to me that the key to good riding is communication.  It’s all about letting the horse know what you want in a language he understands and hoping he agrees with what you’re saying. Since the horse isn’t very good at verbal communication, we have to learn his kind of language.  To be precise, we have to become fluent in the same language taught to him by his trainers.

I understand that a horse is more likely to listen if a rider approaches with a calm assertiveness that says, “Don’t worry horse, I know what I’m doing and I intend on being in charge for a little while.” However, even with all this positive energy going for you, the horse still needs to know specifically what it is you want. He may be sensitive, but he’s not a mind reader. And of course, we have to listen to what the horse is telling us as well. Think dialogue, not monologue.

If we could translate all this communication into written English, here is what it might look like as we enter the show ring:

“Horse, I’m in charge. Right?”

“Well duh, Rider. If I were in charge, I’d be out in that field eating grass and you’d be bringing me apples. I mean, I let you put all this stuff on me – on my back, over my head … AND IN MY MOUTH FOR PETE’S SAKE… and I’m walking into the ring like a good boy and I’m ready to listen. So yes, apparently you’re in charge. What’s next boss?”

“I’ll just squeeze my legs a little, but keep contact on you with the bit.”

On the same page

“Got it, you just want me to walk…. Let me know when you change your mind.”

“Okay horse, I’m squeezing my legs a little harder and relaxing the reins a bit.”

“Oh that’s easy – you want me to trot. Here we go.”

“Hey horse – I’m pulling back on the reins again and sort of shifting my weight back and saying whoa with a descending inflection.”

“Ah yes, I know this. I will now resume the walk for you.”

“I’ve shifted my body weight a little to the left while simultaneously pulling the reins in the same direction.”

“That’s pretty obvious, boss. Let me know when we’re done turning.”

“Now I’m pulling back on the reins and saying whoa with more definition than earlier.”

“Full stop, it is, Captain.”

“Now, I’m pulling back on the reins even harder.”

“Huh?  I’m already stopped… what do you want exactly?”

“I’m leaning back in the saddle.”

“So… what?  You want me to stand here while you’re goofing around up there? I can do that.”

“Horse!  I’m leaning waaaaay back in the saddle and pulling the reins as hard as a I dare.”

“Just let me know me know when you decide what it is you want me to do.”

“Horse!  Listen, I’m yelling the word “BACK” and if I lean any further back in the saddle I’m going to fall off!”

“What?  You want me to fumdiddle the wakkadoo? I don’t know what that means! Just tell me what you want, you maniac!”

“Horse, people are yelling things at us now. I’m going to just sit forward again and pull on reins in some random fashion.”

“Okay, here is what I just heard you say: “dispatch camile foosgill back droop.Nobody knows what that means, Rider. But I need to get on with my day, so I’m going to take a shot in the dark here and guess that you want me to back up.”

And we sort of did it.  Next time, I hope to do it with a little less fumdiddle.

Tomorrow morning I have another lesson with Karin and I will report on that before the weekend.

Goldie and My Victorious Ride

My blue ribbon is now hanging on a lampshade in our living room. I don’t know who put it there, but I like it. We have yet to designate a room or a pole building to display all the ribbons, trophies, glassware and plates that I am sure to win down the road.

I received the ribbon for a first place finish in walk-trot on Karin’s horse, Goldie. I won this class by employing a sophisticated strategy:  I entered. Apparently, no one else thought of using this strategy because I was the sole Wheat Chex competitor in walk trot. Thus, I was unbeatable.

Actually, I was in the ring with several other riders, which gave the appearance that I was competing. Of course, I was older and out-weighed all the other riders combined.

I was expecting to ride Maree in walk trot, but someone else was already on her and I think they have rules against riding double in this class. The change to Goldie was yet another last second adjustment by Karin in a day full of last second adjustments. She quickly saddled Goldie – who had been standing in her stall, just minding her own business – while the other riders patiently waited for the late entrant. As Karin tightened up the saddle straps, she made this announcement: “She doesn’t like to go.”

Oh, we were going to make a fine team.

Strategy Conference

 

She was just minding her own business

As I led Goldie into the ring and toward the Ceremonial Mounting Block, I hesitated for a moment, thinking maybe I should at least try to mount my horse like the other competitors. But it’s unlikely any of their moms could lift me up that high, so I just followed Karin.

As I stepped up to the mounting block, Karin called for a whip.

No turning back now

This was totally unnecessary and I told Karin so. I had no intention of backing out now.

“It’s for Goldie, Bob.”

Ah, more strategy. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the whip. I thought about just putting it in my pocket or holding it in my teeth. I couldn’t just hand it back to Karin. She saw my consternation and told me I could put it in either my left or right hand and use the remaining hand for the reins. This was getting interesting.

I didn’t want to whip Goldie. I wanted her to like me. But after a few moments on her, I understood what Karin meant by “she doesn’t like to go” and I figured out that the whip wasn’t meant for actual whipping, but more to annoy the horse into moving forward.  And annoyance is something I’m good at.

I patted Goldie’s behind with the whip and forward we went. Sometimes at a walk and sometimes at a trot. Sometimes because the judge said so and sometimes just because. I didn’t want to get too close to the other riders, because who knows what would happen, so I sort of did my own circles around the ring. These became increasingly smaller, until I was basically just riding right around the judge.  Finally, the judge had enough.

Circling the judge

“Okay, that’s enough,” she said. “You can line up now.”

What a feeling. This had been the best ride of my equestrian career and I got to use strategy. Of course “I entered” did not guarantee me a ribbon. Had others in my age group used the same strategy, my placing would have been equal to the number of other riders plus one. But at that moment, they could eat cake and the blue ribbon was mine.


Next time I would like to discuss something I learned while participating in the Trail Mix Fun Fest about how humans communicate with horses.