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.

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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.

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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.

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A Family Reunion

cake

On Saturday, Legacy Stables held its Second Anniversary Celebration. Last Monday, Charity, the main organizer, asked if I would emcee the event. I said “yes” even though it’s not the kind of torture I’m normally accustomed to. Let’s just say talking in front of people is not my forte and leave it at that.

man at a mircophone

But nothing could stop this from being an enormously fun day. I knew it would be. Since I was unable to perform my usual function of Photographer/Generic Guy Standing Around & Available for Small But Immediate Tasks, I handed over the picture taking duty to an enthusiastic Kim (M version), Leoni’s good friend.

I taught her all she knows.

I taught her all she knows.

I taught Kim everything I knew about taking photos. This took 15 seconds:

1. It’s on auto.

2. Hit this button.

3. Put your hat on backwards.

4. Have fun.

Apparently, that was all Kim needed. She got some great pictures. Later this week, we’ll put an album of the day on Karin’s Horse Connection Facebook page.

girls with small horse

Leoni

Like any other Karin-Inspired event, we had an outline of organization, but there was a lot of improvising and, of course, the inevitable glorious chaos that comes when you’re working with twenty some horses and a small mob of kids. Charity, along with Pete and Kim (S version) did an amazing job, keeping everything going and everyone safe.

The main organizer learns that she who holds the clipboard must also have all the answers.

The main organizer learns that she who holds the clipboard must also have all the answers.

We started by introducing all the horses of Legacy Stables one by one. Karin wanted to provide a little taste of everything Legacy Stables offers, so the program also included vaulting and riding demonstrations from the different age groups.

horseback ridersvaultersOne of the highlights of day was an appearance by special guest “Kid Motivator,” Jerry Jacoby and his wife Michaela. The couple are absolute pros with a humorous, warm touch that kids connect with so easily.

man talking to child

They joked, sang, told stories, played music and got the audience – especially the kids – to interact.

performer with kids

Jerry and Michaela are good friends with Karin. While the couple have performed in the United States for decades, in the last several years, they’ve taken their act to Germany as well. Since they do not speak German, Karin translates their act from English to German for them, and then Jerry memorizes it for the performance overseas. It was a special treat having them here for the celebration.

Jerry and Micheala Jacoby

At one point in the program, Karin had an inspiration. It was actually right after the horse parade, when all the horses were still together in one place. Karin saw this as an unique photo opportunity. So we stopped the program, everyone went outside and lined up. Sort of…

And someone got this shot:

horses and people

It looks like a family reunion photo to me. In a very real way, that’s what it is.

Of course, this is only a small part of the Legacy Stables family. We could easily fill up the pasture behind us and beyond. So cool.

Team YAH also made an appearance. This is how we entered the arena:

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I believe it Karin’s German vaulting interns, Lisa and Debo that came up the schtick. I forgot that we were all supposed to wear black pants to enhance the illusion. So when Karin asked me what is quickly becoming the ritual pre-performance question: “That’s what you’re vaulting in?”, I guess she had a point. I was thinking shorts and tennis shoes and my Lions hat was just about the right combination for emceeing and a barrel routine, but for some reason I must have developed a mental block about the Pink Leg routine. But it was blast anyway.

The barrel routine went really well for us. We’re getting really good.

barrel routine

Karin got an opportunity to perform at the end of the barrel routine with her son-in-law, Leo.

pair on barrel with spotter

Karin’s daughter Anika and Leo are visiting from Australia for a few weeks this summer.

A proud Wendel Schmidt with daughter Anika.

A proud Wendel Schmidt with daughter Anika.

To conclude the routine, Karin did a fancy flip off the barrel with an assist from Pete.

nice landing

But we need to do a little work on synchronizing the bow:

bowing not in sync

At the end of the formal program, there was cake.

The cake was put to good use.

The cake was put to good use.

And open vaulting broke out. Belle and Marissa led a gaggle of kids through some warm up exercises:

warm up exercises

While Lisa and Debo did this flip thing with the kids because it’s fun to do:

kid flipping

And, as expected, Karin was in the clouds.

Karin waves from "up there."

Karin waves from “up there.”

What Goes Up…

Equestrian vaulting routines are typically accompanied by music. I’m not sure, but I think the vaulters usually get to pick their own music. However, for my performance at Legacy Stable’s TRAIL MIX VAULTING COMPETITION & CLINIC, Leoni, Seer of the Future, chose my music.

“I picked a song for you, Bob,” she informed me a couple of hours beforehand.

“Well, thank you, Leoni. That was very kind of you.” I had forgotten about the music and I was glad she took care of that detail for me. And, of course, I had to ask what song she picked.

She smiled, not bothering to conceal the gleam in her eyes, “Oh, you’ll find out…”

Leoni thought bubble

I was hoping for something like Levitate by Hollywood Undead, but I trusted Leoni’s vaulting music judgment.

In any case, it was a monstrously fun day. The kids had a great time and I think the parents and grandparents had even more fun then the kids. Karin had recently started a Tiny Tot Vaulters program and there was a good showing of young moms and dads at the TRAIL MIX. Most of them got an opportunity to get on the horse with their kids and do some basic vaulting stuff.

And as usual, Karin infused some creative chaos into the day’s events, this time in the form  of a rally where four teams made up of mixed ages dressed up themselves and a horse/pony/donkey and then ran around doing various stunts and things.

Karin's Creative Chaos

Karin’s Creative Chaos

Both Karin and Michelle, my human competitors, performed well in the Raisin & Salt Class. Karin even went upside down once. I’m pretty sure it was on purpose.

The Flip Side of Karin

The Flip Side of Karin

While some of the kids where doing higher level vaulting stuff, the day was more or less a dress rehearsal for the upcoming vaulting season, so while there was judging for feedback purposes, the emphasis wasn’t on actual competition. In fact, at the end of the day, we got to pick what color ribbon we wanted. You should have seen those hands shoot up for the blue.

That didn’t mean there weren’t challenges. I, for one, only had a vague idea of what I was supposed to do. In my previous lesson, “I’m Not Crazy” Pete took me through the six compulsory vaulting moves, but I could only remember three and that included one I wanted to forget.

not crazy t-shirt

But my big challenge of the day came when my old arch-nemesis reappeared. That’s right: that S.O.B. Gravity was at TRAIL MIX. And he was in playful mood. And I was the toy.

The moment Pete launched me up on to Avenir, I heard the first few notes of the bass in the music Leoni picked for me and I realized that she could see into the future:

BA-DA-Dump-Dump-Dump…

BA-DA-Dump-Dump-Dump…

Another One Bites the Dust…

In response, I performed my Dead Man Walking Seat:

dead man walking seat

For a while, things went pretty good. I did my version of the flag:

tilted flag move Then Karin got Avenir into a Canter. So I did basic seat that way.

basic seat at the canter

You’re only supposed to hold for four strides, but I was enjoying this part so I just kept in that pose for a couple of full circles. Then…

Then it was time to go “up.”

standing on a horse

Or, as I remember it:

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My cruel nemesis let me have my moment and then, as expected, Gravity sought to collect his due by using planet Earth to punch me in the face.

When I was coming down, my main concern was that I was going to land on top of Pete’s head. There just wasn’t enough room up there for me. I was really concerned about hurting his neck. He’s an athletic guy, for sure, but I just think it would have been uncomfortable for both us.

Anyway, Pete broke my fall and we were both okay. I got back on because I wasn’t particularly busy with anything else at the moment and it seemed like the right thing to do.

Later, Pete told me, “We taught you how to go up, but we didn’t teach you how to come down.”

I thought he meant they forgot to teach me how to fall properly. Which I’ve always considered a private matter between Gravity and me. But what he meant was that there is a proper way to go from standing on a horse to sitting on a horse and that it’s not really necessary to involve the ground at all.

I like that kind of thinking. In my next lesson, we worked on exactly that.

Happy 1st Birthday Legacy Stables

Jenny and I returned from our camping trip in time to attend Legacy Stables’ 1st Anniversary Celebration. As usual, Karin didn’t settle for anything small and simple.  When you have sixteen or so horses, a big ‘ol arena, a growing and diverse group of riders – and you’re backed by an enthusiastic and expanding support community -you don’t mess around with a cake and a few balloons: you throw a party.

An equestrian party.

With the aid of her support group, Karin organized the event in under three weeks. The program included a taste of almost everything Karin’s Horse Connection offers, including vaulting, therapeutic riding, “Runt Riders”, horse training, 4-H, and Senior Riders. I was invited to participate in that last group.

Testimonials and thanksgiving from Karin, her riders and their families were interspersed throughout the program. The riding demonstrations were accompanied by inspirational Christian music. It was really nice.

I don’t remember if they played any music during the Senior Demonstration, but I know that Another Time, Another Place by Sandi Patty would have been fitting for me since I couldn’t get Vinnie to canter.  And had it not been for the able assistance of a kind-hearted and enthusiastic 4-H kid, I wouldn’t have gotten Vinnie saddled & bridled in time to join my peers in the arena.  4-H really works.

The singing of the national anthem by one of Karin’s young students kicked off the festivities. This was accompanied by Leoni waving the American flag while standing on Avenir as he ran in circles.  I don’t know how she does that.  But to keep it challenging for her, at the next Legacy Stables birthday party, I would like her to add The Eating of Cake with Plate & Fork to this routine. She could do it.

After the anthem, it was: “bring on the empty horses!”  As promised, there was a horse parade featuring all the fine horses at Legacy being led around the arena by Karin’s students. As the horses paraded, the M.C., Charity (Karin’s first official employee at Legacy) read each of the horse’s bios. Very well done!

It was another great day at Legacy Stables. Fun and inspiring. And it gave Karin a chance to publically give thanks to God and to all those who supported her during her move and first year at Legacy.

The following is a short slideshow providing just a taste of Saturday’s . It’s a little under four minutes.

And many happy returns!

Slideshow music attribution: “Look Inside”  from Smoke Factory by Jahzzar: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Jahzzar/

 

Keeping the Sickle Sharp

It’s going to be a big weekend at Legacy Stables. Karin is hosting a vaulting fest & clinic on Saturday and Sunday. I thought about telling her we could skip my lesson this week and I could pick up an extra session next week after things settle down. I know how busy she is.

Leoni practices for the opening.

Leoni practices for the opening.

But it was just too nice of a day not to ride and we have to strike when the iron’s hot here in the Great Mitten. So I went.

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As planned, I arrived early. About 20 minutes before my lesson. In response to my previous post, loyal commenters Rachel and Danielle extolled the virtues of showing up early and proper grooming. So I was bound and determined to do both.

We had a lot of rain this week and Vinnie was pretty muddy. But instead of allowing myself to be overwhelmed with the gargantuan task of removing every speck of mud from the poor guy, I went into the Pretend Zen mode and simply focused on one area at time. I did not rush.

Vinnie relaxed on the crossties.  The fidgety, impatient, flat-eared Krumpel Huber of last week was gone.

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As I ran the curry brush over his neck, withers and back, I took note of the areas that seemed sensitive to him.  I went easier on those.

I also noted that the barn was quiet. No other horses, no other people.  Nothing going on. I think this had something to do with Vinnie’s demeanor as well.

By the time we finished and got tacked up, it was 35 minutes into my lesson hour. Karin said that this was a big improvement. Next week, I’m going to get started 40 minutes earlier.

We decided on some Instruction in Open Terrain.  This meant that we were going to go well over my allotted lesson time. I was a surprised Karin was taking the extra time for this.  She had so much do.

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Karin rode her old buddy, Charley.  Vinnie and I followed. It was a gorgeous morning. Perfect riding weather.

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As we started down the trail, Karin shared a short parable about a farmer who tried to cut grass with dull sickle. He was so overwhelmed with the amount of grass he had to cut that he declined to take the time to stop and sharpen the sickle. He worked all day long, into the evening, and still couldn’t get it all the grass cut.  With a sharpened sickle, he would have had the job done before noon.

Then, she turned in the saddle, looked back at me and said, “I sharpening my sickle right now.”

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It was a great ride.  On the way back, Karin’s phone rang.  Apparently, somebody had a few questions about the vaulting fest.  So that was it for the sickle sharpening.

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No matter. She was ready.

Karin’s Journey to Legacy Stables – Part One

 

This is the first in a three part series that features the story of my riding instructor, Karin Schmidt. I think Karin’s story says a lot about why she was motivated to establish Legacy Stables and her vision for the future.

*****

I started taking riding lessons from Karin in June of 2011. I shopped around a bit before picking Karin’s.  The other barns seemed adequate for taking lessons, but I was looking for more than just instruction in proper riding technique. I wanted to learn at a place where there was a lot of positive energy, where I could explore the mysteries of this consuming passion that certain humans have for these magnificent animals. I was serious about learning how to ride, but I was also searching for inspiration.

When Jenny and I visited Karin’s Horse Connection, we knew we had found the right place.  As we strolled around grounds, we saw a barn that was nicely maintained and horses that were well cared for. And we got to witness Karin and her daughter, Leoni, give a group vaulting lesson.  There was something about the way the young students responded to their teachers and the confidence and poise these kids displayed around the horses that told us that this place was unique.

About a year after I began lessons, Karin bought some property on the other side of town and move her operation there.  She named her new place Legacy Stables.

For Karin, Legacy Stables is a place to share her wealth of knowledge, her experience and her passion. It is her vocation, her avocation and her ministry. It is the culmination of a long and sometimes difficult journey – a journey that included not only four decades of globe trotting and adventure, but also personal struggle and spiritual awakening.

More Than a Passing Phase

Karin began her journey before she turned age 6.  It was then that she first became aware of the stirring inside of her that would later bloom into a life-long passion for horses. At age 7, she began vaulting at a high-level dressage barn in Southern Germany.  At 9, she decided that she wanted to make horses a life-long career.

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Her parents were skeptical, of course.  “Horses are a hobby, not a profession,” they told her. They dismissed Karin’s fascination as a youthful fancy, a temporary thing not to be taken seriously.

Karin on the first Habakuk.

Karin on the first Habakuk.

Karin’s parents did not know what they were dealing with. The passion for horses in young people is easily mistaken as a frivolous thing, a phase that will surely pass when something more interesting comes along. In many cases, this is true.  But for those with the real thing, “I want a pony” is not a simple request.  It is an expression of something deeper. Something that is difficult – particularly for the young – to put into words. And it doesn’t just “go away.” As her parents would eventually discover, Karin had the real thing.

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Karin’s adolescent years were not easy.  As a young teenager, she was socially awkward and lacked confidence. Bullied at school and misunderstood at home, she often felt isolated from both her peers and family.

Horses offered Karin solace from the harsh world of people.  With horses, she could give and receive the affection and approval she was unable to experience elsewhere.  In the barn, she felt capable and valued.  And it became a place where she could express her natural fearlessness. From her long hours with these marvelous creatures she developed the determination that would drive her for the next thirty years.

A Real Profession

In Germany, it is customary for older teens not going directly to college to select an apprenticeship in a practical profession.  Naturally, Karin wanted to take her training at a horse barn. However, her parents pressed her to apply for something more practical. So, at 17, Karin began an apprenticeship in domestic services at a local boarding house owned and managed by a husband and wife team. It was hardly a coincidence that the boarding house was located at a state horse farm.

Karin lacked the aptitude or desire for domestic services. This became clear early in the process, much to the chagrin of the lady of the house. Karin disliked cooking and had no interest in cleaning or in organizing a household. Her most spectacular achievement was to explode a pressure cooker, presumably by accident.  After a few weeks of tolerating Karin’s indifference to all things domestic, the woman threw up her hands and told Karin she could do her “apprenticing” out in the barn.

The barn work consisted mainly of mucking stalls and cleaning tack. But Karin felt comfortable around the horses and she thrived in the environment. A friend suggested that Karin break off her apprenticeship at the farm and apply for a new one at a horse racetrack.  Within two weeks Karin quit the farm and despite having never been to a racetrack, began a new apprenticeship to become a professional jockey.

The next several months brought Karin more tack to clean, more horses to lead and countless stalls to muck.  She also worked as an exercise rider and impressed the trainers at the track with her knack for handling difficult behaviors.  It wasn’t long before they had her breaking yearlings, a demanding and hazardous procedure.

The track used an accelerated method of breaking yearlings. The process involved two people bridling and saddling a horse in a box stall, while a third mounted him.  This was the horse’s bewildering introduction to bits, bridles, saddles and riders – all at once. Outside the box stalls an experienced horse and rider were positioned, waiting for the yearlings and their riders to be released as group. When the stall doors opened, the veteran horse would lead the yearlings around in circles at the trot. The idea was to keep the young horses moving forward so that they wouldn’t buck or rear.  These horses were not gelded and the results were always unpredictable.

Karin not only rode five or six horses like this every day, but she was also assigned the wildest horses, the ones no one else would dare ride.  Because of their value to the track, the horses were well taken care of. However, exercise riders were regarded as expendable. Karin fell off countless times, but never backed down and would simply remount and try again.

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After a year at the track, Karin was allowed to race. She responded by winning the first race she entered. It was on a horse named Avenir (the namesake of Karin’s current vaulting horse), a five year-old Thoroughbred that had never won before and was never expected to win.

Karin and Avenir win their first race.

Karin and Avenir win their first race.

Karin was more amazed than anyone. “We passed three horses on the finishing stretch. Then I realized – ‘hey there’s no one in front of us’ – it took me a moment to comprehend what that meant.”

They finished the race with “no one in front of them.”  The whole experience was a huge adrenaline rush for Karin.

“It’s hard for people who have never raced to understand what it does to you. Having all that power beneath you, the pure speed and the rush of the wind in your face.  The noise and incredible energy of the herd overcomes you  – it’s intoxicating. It works like drug on your brain and people get addicted.”

Another win.

Another win.

At age 18, Karin was hooked. She was going to be a jockey. Finally, here was a real horse profession her parents could accept. For Karin, racing validated her self worth.

For the next three years, Karin worked at the barn of the great German jockey, Fritz Drechsler. During this time, she was able to race at every track in Germany.

Karin with her father (center) and Fritz Drechsler.

Karin with her father (center) and Fritz Drechsler.

While at Dreschsler’s, Karin benefited from the influence of a minor trainer she calls “Eddie.” Karin describes Eddie as a “broken man,” a reference to his chronic problem with alcohol. However, Eddie had a wealth of practical racing knowledge and was eager to share it with Karin.

“He was useless after noon, of course,” Karin says. “But he had a few good hours in the morning before he started his daily binging.”

During these “good hours”, Eddie took Karin step by step through the real nuts and bolts of horse racing. He instructed her on the value of physically surveying a track before each race, even if she had been on it before. He taught her how to prepare for a race by running it in her head over and over again, what sports psychologists today refer to as “mental imagery” or “mental rehearsal.” Karin attributes much of her success later in her racing career to Eddie’s influence.

At 21, Karin received her Certified Bachelor’s in Horse Racing. With this, she was able to race professionally. Still, Karin sensed there was something missing in her life. She attributed this feeling to kind of restlessness that the Germans refer to as “Fernweh”, a longing to leave home and experience foreign places.

“I just knew the world didn’t stop at Munich,” Karin says.

She sent letters to horse trainers in several foreign countries enquiring about employment opportunities.  A trainer from Canada responded and invited her to visit.  She booked a three-way flight, with Lima, Peru as the third destination. Her plan was to visit her aunt in Lima for six weeks before going on to Toronto.

The Limelight in Lima

Six weeks in Lima turned into six months.  Not long after arriving, Karin asked her aunt if there was any horse racing in town. Her aunt informed that there was indeed a track. Lima was home to the Hipodrome de Monerrico, the largest horse racetrack in Peru.  With a seating capacity of over 40,000 it dwarfed the tracks Karin had raced at in Germany.

 The Hipodrome de Monerrico, Lima.


The Hipodrome de Monerrico

Karin marched down to the track the next day, armed with photos of her racing exploits in Germany. She found her way to the backside, where she was met at the gate by a security guard.

The guard attempted to wave her away: “No turistas! No turistas!”

Karin pulled out her photos and handed them to the guard.  He looked at the photos and then he looked at her. He gestured for her to stay put and then disappeared. A few minutes later he returned with another man, whom Karin assumed was a trainer. The two men began asking her questions, all in Spanish.

Karin responded with the only Spanish word she knew: “Si”.

It was enough. She was escorted backside and introduced to Jose Meza, one of the major trainers at the track. Meza took her under his wing the same day.

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Despite the language barrier, Meza quickly guided Karin through her training. A few weeks later, Karin won her first race at the Hipodrome.

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Karin became an instant celebrity in Lima. The local racing scene was male dominated and this young, blonde German girl couldn’t help but stand out.  The track made the most of their new sensation with extensive media coverage.

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“They promoted me like a blue dog,” Karin says.

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Of course that didn’t keep them from repeatedly misspelling her name.

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Karinsita (“Little Karin”) was recognized everywhere she went. Autograph seekers began approaching her on the streets. Bus drivers allowed her to ride for free. In restaurants, drinks appeared out of nowhere.

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Karin exploits were even covered back home in the German press.

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But Karin knew it couldn’t last. After 6 months, her tourist visa expired and she had to return to Germany.

Not long after she got home, Karin became restless again. The South American adventure just wasn’t enough to satisfy the Fernweh and she was anxious to resume her headlong flight.

But to where?

 *****

Look for Part Two of Karin’s story next week.

An Antidote

As I pulled into Legacy Stables for Lesson #45, I couldn’t help but notice the activity in the Arena To Be Area: men with hard hats, a truck and equipment.  There were only two guys and I thought about asking them if they needed my help. I don’t know the first thing about indoor arena construction, but I could certainly volunteer as the Mandatory Guy Who Stands There & Watches.  All work crews in Michigan are required to have at least one worker so employed and it’s definitely within my skill set.

No really, I was happy to see this sort of progress. For a lesson barn in Michigan, an indoor arena is absolute necessity. No indoor arena, no lesson barn. And the days are getting shorter and temperatures are dropping.  The men in hard hats may not know it, but they are racing against those nasty looking clouds above them.

As students, we see the visible evidence of progress, like visiting your neighbor’s vegetable garden once a week.  What we don’t see is all the planning, the improvising and frustrating setbacks that are part and parcel of such progress.

Amidst all the stress of this Sturm und Drang, Karin comes up with the perfect antidote:

“Let’s ride.”

So we went.

Let’s ride” is not a signal to retreat or an attempt to escape from life’s unpleasant realities.  For equestrians, it is The Reality. And a simple reminder of why it’s all worth it.

A View of Legacy Stables

A few weeks ago, Karin’s daughter, Anika asked me to make some kind of sketch of Legacy Stables. Anika resides in Australia. She wanted to get a better perspective of the different areas of the spread that we refer to on Bob the Equestrian.  I thought a sketch was a great idea.

As an artist, I belong to the Stick Figure Genre –  an ancient and respected form of artistic expression with roots in the Neanderthal Age. Below is my effort.

Photos follow with captions describing the orientation of the shot. Hopefully this will give Anika and interested readers in general a better idea of what’s where at Legacy Stables.

Legacy Stables

View from the road, facing west toward the pole barn/future arena site

 

Path along Patterson Road, heading north

From the future arena site toward the access driveway (connects to the main driveway)

“Mount Legacy”. A mound to the south of the future arena site. Only the bravest of the brave dare scale its heights.

In the pasture area, facing north toward the house and tack room.

From the yard area on north side of the house facing west toward the corn field.

Driveway/parking area facing east toward round pen

 

Driveway/parking area facing east toward round pen

 

Far west edge of the property between corn field and woods, facing south

View from round pen, facing west toward the pastures.

Right side of the driveway, facing west. Some apple trees.

 

“Karin’s Raceway” A cleared strip of ground in the middle of the cornfield. Facing north in this shot.

 

In the next post, I’ll deal with such issues as the importance of grooming the underside of the horse, a new & confusing type of bridle/bit and a thing called “double bouncing”.

Knot Fun

I’ll tell you what, that Windy is a good horse. What she had to endure in the last two lessons while I fumbled my way up the Tack Learning Curve, well, it just about breaks my heart. So patient, so sweet.

Windy

We’re still improvising here at Legacy Stables. Totally expected, it’s a new place. The good news about improvising is that it forces you to learn useful skills you may otherwise have overlooked. On Lesson #39, we learned about something called the “quick release knot.” It’s what we are using in lieu of cross-ties.

I’ve watched Karin do this sort of knot several times now. And I’ve even done it once or twice myself – but in haste and with a weak grasp of the concept that was quickly forgotten in any case.

For me, instruction is basically a race between the words of the instructor and my astonishing capacity to forget what I’ve just been told.  I need to put my hands on it before my head even shows a glimmer of interest.  This is not algebra.

Karin patiently – and repeatedly – demonstrated how you take up the slack in the rope by a series of loops, each loop coming through proceeding loop with the end of the rope appearing thusly:

You can make loops upon loops until your little heart is content. Or until you’re at the end of your rope.

The idea is to allow the human to release the whole shebang with one swift tug, while not allowing the horse to do the same.  Sneaky bi-peds, we are.

I worked on that S.O.B. for a half an hour, long after Paul and Karin went off to the round pen. I did it and undid it, trailing & erroring, cussing under my breath, sometimes over my breath and finally getting it right by mistake.  We’ll see next time if anything useful actually got burned into my brain.

Meanwhile, Windy stood there, not fussing in the least. As I came out my focused fury, I looked at her. Oh, yeah, there’s a horse connected to all of this.

I gave her a carrot.

 

Lessons from the Trail

For Lesson #33, Paul and I got to go on our second trail ride around Legacy Stables.  Trail riding is a real treat and there are definitely equestrian lessons to learn out there. While the Ride in Countless Circles Routine is an efficient way to develop skills and good habits, there are some things only a trail can teach.

On our ride, I learned a little bit about how to trust my horse to negotiate difficult terrain.

“Remember,” Karin reminded us, “Your horse has four legs.”

And the cow says, “moo”.

But I knew what she meant.  As we approached a spot in the trail that had been washed out, she advised that we loosen our reins and let the horse figure it out.

This doesn’t come naturally for me.  On my bike or in my car, I’m inclined to clench the handlebars or steering wheel when things get difficult – to take total command of the vehicle and pilot it through the soft sand or rush hour traffic.

But I did what Karin suggested and let Vinnie take over. It was sort of like putting your pickup truck into four-wheel drive.  But instead of flipping a switch, you let go a little, mentally and physically.  That trust thing goes two ways.

And it worked.  Vinnie knew exactly where to step and got us through the rough spots. It’s not like he’s too stupid to stay upright.  It was a neat sensation, like mountain biking without pedaling.  And maybe even a little smoother.

I still had to concern myself with things like ducking branches.  The second floor is always the rider’s department.

Vinnie seemed relaxed out on the trail.  We were following Karin and I really didn’t have to cue him that much. Things just seem to flow naturally out there.

Along the way, Vinnie took every opportunity to snatch tall grass to munch on.  So he spent most of the ride with long blades of field grass hanging out both sides of his mouth.  I know I’m not supposed to let him do this, but he was just so quick and sneaky about it.  I tried to hide it from Karin, but I had the same success as the kid with chocolate frosting all over his face that vehemently denies he had anything to do with the missing donut.

We’ll get back to the Countless Circles soon enough.