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.


The Respect of a Palomino

For Lesson #96, Charity filled in for Karin who was busy with horse camp kids. As usual, Gerry rode Habakuk. I’m really impressed with how much progress the Professor and the Moustache King have made together since Gerry started with Karin. And the bond is easy to see.

man on horse

I got my old friend, Goldie. The Palomino wasn’t particularly busy at the time and she stayed Not Busy for pretty much my entire lesson. Goldie is actually Leoni’s horse and according to my sources, Leoni says that the key to Goldie is to earn her respect or she just won’t respond like you think she should. I earned about half-a-trot around the arena’s worth.

With the camp kids taking up all the good barn spots for grooming and tacking up, Gerry and I had to try to brush and saddle the horses outside while they grazed.

“Those horses aren’t going anywhere with all this lush grass around,” one confident observer noted.

horse eating grass

Well, “not going anywhere” is relative. While Habakuk and Goldie showed no intention of packing up and leaving the property, they didn’t exactly stand still either. The grass is always greener four inches away.

“It’s like saddling a moving target,” Gerry observed.

I have this same problem when I try to get my granddaughter Aubrey dressed. She just knows that there has to be more interesting things for a person to do than fussing with something so obviously unnecessary as clothes.

But no problem, Charity was right there assisting Gerry as needed and assisting me just about every step of the way. Legacy’s tack room has a built-in special feature that enables it to spontaneously manufacture – out of plain thin air – rare saddle and girth types that fit together in an endless variety of ways. Each combination of saddle-girth-stirrups creates a unique Tack Puzzle that must be solved before you can ride the horse. If given enough time, I can eventually solve these brainteasers by myself, but by then everyone has gone off to bed.

stirrup puzzle

Charity is good teacher. You can tell she has learned some things by watching Karin, but I think her instincts are really good too. She knew how difficult it was for me to get Goldie going, but she never really pressured me or made me feel more uncomfortable than I already was. Her corrections were very specific in the “heels down,” “toes in,” “don’t lean forward” sort of way. She also taught us the proper way to pass in the arena. Just a few simple rules, but good to know.

riding instructor

Toward the end of the lesson, Charity brought out Karin’s Magic Wand. I couldn’t really see what she was doing with it, but the device had a multiplier effect on Goldie’s respect for me and we got her going for just a bit at the end. Karin always says to end the lesson on a positive note. Even if it takes a little magic.

Karin's Magic Wand


Double Karin and a Big Horse


When I arrived at Legacy for Lesson #69, I noticed that the pasture looked a little less populated than usual. After a quick inventory, I realized that most of my favorite lesson horses were among the missing: Vinnie, Goldie, Maree, Windy.  All gone.


The tack room was similarly depleted.  What was going on here? Had Goldie led a massive breakout? And they saddled themselves before taking off? Can’t see much point in that.

The only other mammals in the barn were these guys:



Great hunters, I’m sure, but a little short on information.

Then, I remembered: this was Fair Week. Karin, the missing horses and the missing tack were at the county 4-H Fair. If you know anything at all about 4-H, you know that Fair Week is like their Super Bowl, but without the great commercials.

I thought this was fine. Krystal was still there and she didn’t look all that busy.

DSC02442 I’ve wanted to ride her again ever since I cantered on her a few weeks ago. Maybe she would remember where we left off.

And I know how to saddle a horse (sort of) and apply bit & bridle (sort of). And Kathy had just shown up, so I had someone around to hear my petitions for assistance and mercy if, heaven forbid, this would The Day.  You know, The Day I fall off a horse and become a real equestrian. Like Pinocchio becoming a Real Boy, only instead of growing a long nose, I would have a broken one. Best case scenario.

Parenthetically, if I recall correctly, Pinocchio became a donkey at one point in the story.



Anyway, all of this became a bunch of moot points when I heard a familiar voice behind me. It sound like Karin, but it couldn’t have been, because she was at Fair. This had to be Double Karin.

Karin often says she needs to be in two or three places at once. Having a double must really help a lot.


Double Karin is identical to Karin in every way, except for the hat. I really appreciate her wearing it, because I like to know who I’m talking to.

I think this was Double Karin checking with Real Karin to see how things were going at Fair.

I think this was Double Karin checking with Real Karin to see how things were going at Fair.

Double Karin suggested that I ride Habakuk. I thought this was a grand idea.  For the last several weeks, everybody has been raving about this big horse.


It was fun riding him. He has a smoother trot than my old buddy Caspian. And I like the elevation. If I’m going to go through all the trouble of getting on a horse, I want to feel like I’m up high.


However, we had a habit of drifting to the center of the arena toward Double Karin.  Actually, we got quite close to her a few times –  “A little more steering, please!” – and I almost became a different sort of equestrian. Once you knock your instructor down, even if it’s just the double, you will never be the same again.

All in all, a good lesson.  And I look forward to riding His Highness again some day.


Learning Takes a Bit of Trouble

I suffer from Tack Avoidance Syndrome.  This condition is common in males around age 54 who are too lazy to learn how to put on their own tack. Plus they’re afraid they might get it wrong.

Tack Avoidance Syndrome is perpetuated by Compensation Strategies which enable the sufferer to somehow muddle through their lesson without actually being responsible for applying such items as a saddle and a bit. The most common Compensation Strategy involves getting someone else to take care of the tack, generally the instructor, but any passer-byer who looks half-way competent will do.

Avoidance behaviors come naturally to children, but adults elevate it to an art form. For example, my basic approach is to look busy and get Karin talking.  Thus distracted, she performs the tacking procedures automatically through force of habit.  And walla, all I have to do is get on the horse.

Of course with this posting, the gig is up. Actually, the gig has been up for some time now. The problem with Compensation Strategies is that eventually it all catches up to you and people expect you to know things and you don’t know them because you’ve been goofing off instead of climbing the learning curve. And there comes a moment where this all becomes painfully evident.

My moment of reckoning came a few lessons ago when Karin handed me the bridle & bit and said, “Okay, you do it.”

Of course I ‘ve done this before, but never consistently so that I can perform each step accurately and with confidence. This left me holding the bridle & bit, struggling to recall what to do first.

“Where do you stand, Bob?”

“Karin,” I said with all the conviction I could muster, “you stand in front of the horse.”

Karin looked at me with an expression that was neither angry nor impatient. It was more like total disbelief laced with a healthy dose of fear.

“Bob … now you’re messing with me, right?”

“Of course, I’m messing with you Karin!”  I was lying.

“Because we’ve been over this before. If you stand in front, you have no control and the horse could run you over.” She shook her head as if trying to dislodge the entire conversation from her brain.

The following week, Karin made me go get the bridle and bit myself. Then she walked away and left me do it myself.

And – despite my Tack Avoidance Syndrome – up the learning curve I go.

One-Horse Equestrian

Karin gave me an open-ended choice on what horse to ride for Lesson #23.  After an exhaustive process of weighing the pros and cons of each of Karin’s horses, followed by thorough analysis of the possible implications and outcomes of my choice, I picked Vinnie.

Nah. I actually put in approximately .00003 seconds of mental effort in choosing the Thoroughbred.  No second thoughts on this one. Hell, I barely gave it a First Thought.

He’s just a good, good horse. At 16 hands, Vinnie is a good size for me and he is pretty much push-button when it comes to cues.  Not that I know where his buttons are. But he knows where they are and I think he uses some of form of equine telepathy to get the job done.  It’s just way easy riding him.

Of course, when I say “easy”, I mean Walking Around Easy. Once I go into the trot on any horse, the whole thing becomes a big mess real quick, so it’s probably best that I take every advantage I can and ride the easiest horse possible.

We had a nice warm up period in the outdoor arena.  Karin went to get Charley and this gave Vinnie and I chance to get reacquainted.  It’s been a while since I rode him.

When Karin and Charley showed up, she asked me if we had trotted yet. I didn’t realize I could do this without permission.  I thought “Trot” was a restricted gait for me.  (Canter being the “Forbidden Gait” and Gallop is “The Unimaginable”).

So, we trotted.

And we trotted.

And we trotted.

Finally, Vinnie just plain broke into a canter.  I guess he couldn’t stand it anymore.  And he did this all by himself. I mean, I was still mounted, but he did it without me asking him to.

In any case, this is the first time I’ve ever cantered on a horse without being on a longe line. Who cares if it wasn’t scheduled?

I thought this might be a good time to suggest to Karin that I stick with riding one horse and use the same saddle every week. This is something my Council of Advisors has suggested on more than once occasion.

Karin nodded and said it would be good idea.  She agreed that I could make some good progress with a little more consistency.  And she wanted to know which horse I wanted to use.

She really didn’t need to ask.

Rhymes with Trot

For Lesson #22 Karin had me ride Krystal, her Percheron Thoroughbred mare. Krystal was an insolent adolescent type before she came to Karin. She was pushy, disrespectful and couldn’t along with members of her own species. Karin provided Krystal with a stable routine and the right kind of attention and turned her into “A well trained dressage horse with nice gaits.”  At least that’s what the brochure says.

Krystal and Karin discuss the up coming lesson with Bob

Krystal is good horse, no doubt. I’ve talked to a couple of other riders at the barn who say she is their favorite. Rider reviews carry a lot of weight with me.

For me, Krystal is like one of your kids or an employee or a student – or anyone you’re supposed to be supervising – who knows the game better than you do. They know how to follow instructions in the most literal sense, but won’t give you an inch more. They know exactly what they can get away with not doing.

Before mounting, I walked Krystal around the arena in an attempt to establish the proper relationship. No problem.

Then I got on and made a few trips around the arena at the walk. No problem.

Karin asked me if I would like to trot. Now, if I was one those passive resistive types noted above, I would have taken this question in its most literal sense and would’ve engaged my instructor in a five-minute philosophical discussion concerning how I view The Trot as opposed to other gaits.

But I pay for these lessons and thus I take a more business-like approach to this kind of direction.  I responded by cueing Krystal to trot:

“Krystal…. trot.”

And she did.

For just a moment. I forgot to mention how long I wanted her to trot.

Karin told me to try to keep my legs on the horse to keep her going.

“Krystal… trot.

And she did.

For just a moment. I guess my legs weren’t clear enough.

Then Karin said something – some sort of instruction, I think. But I didn’t hear what she was trying to say.

So, I said, “What?”

And Krystal began to trot.

Oh. I see.  Of course. “What” rhymes with “trot.”

Okay fine. Let’s try this again.


And before I could say “trot”, Krystal started trotting.

It got to where all I had to do was to say something out loud – anything – and Krystal started trotting. But always for just a few seconds.  Her favorite ploy was to head directly to the corner of the arena and just stop. I mean, it wasn’t her job to figure out a solution to the Corner Puzzle.

In retrospect, I should have just kept talking to keep the horse moving.  But, really, I was laughing too much. Ever since the What/Trot thing, I had lost my business approach to the lesson.

It was a completely unproductive lesson in terms of proper riding form. But it was still a lot of fun. And next time, Krystal and I are going to have a very different sort of lesson together.

“Figuring someone out” can go both ways.

Krystal gets to finish her breakfast. It's only fair.

Stretching Truths

Hiliary came with me on Lesson #20 to take photos.  H is a Physical Therapy Assistant and whenever I complain about being sore after a lesson, she says things like:

“You should work your bi-deltoids and interior flexors more. And if you’re going to ride horses, you need to stretch out your maximal incisors of the upper tarsal. And don’t bounce.”

So before we left the house for Lesson #20, I asked her about stretching again. I wanted to behave responsibly.

Groan. Sigh. Groan again.

Hiliary got to our house a few minutes early and planted herself on the couch in the Semi-Fetal It’s Too Early For Conscious Thought position. I had been scrambling around the house, getting ready for my lesson, having already eaten two breakfasts, posted on the blog and downed four cups of coffee.  I had been up for three hours.

“C’mon H.  C’mon. Just show me a couple of things. Just five minutes…”

Hiliary pushed herself up off the couch and cupped her forehead in her hand.

“Oh… all right… all right.”

She spent the next ten minutes demonstrating basic stretching exercises, reminding me each time not to bounce.

I’m not sure why I bounce when I stretch. I think maybe it’s because it seems unnatural to me to take all the trouble getting into a position and then not do anything. Or maybe it was the four cups of coffee.

When we got to the barn, we resumed stretching. I tried to remember not to bounce and did my best to hold the position for an appropriate amount of time.

Karin saw what we were doing and, as instructors are wont to do, took advantage of the teaching moment.

“Here, use this.” Karin pointed to a mounting block near her barn desk. Then she demonstrated a different sequence of stretching, but no doubt going after those same interior bi-upper flexors Hiliary had been talking about. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Although, it’s never been entirely clear to me why you even need one.

Karin pulled out her balancing board. “Have you been using this?”

“As a matter of fact, I haven’t, Karin.”

“Didn’t you read the book I gave you?”  She was referring to Ride Right with Daniel Stewart.  Apparently balancing board exercises are in this book. How could I explain to her why Bubba to the Rescue took priority over Daniel Stewart?

“Yes, I’ve started it.”

“You’ve read a quarter of a page, probably.”

Actually, that was a little generous. I haven’t gotten past looking at the photos of the people yet. I get a little distracted, wondering who these people are and what’s happened to them since the picture was taken. I hope they’re all okay.

Anyway, we worked on the balance board for a bit. I sort of like it. Karin threw stuff at me while I was on there.

There was nothing systematic about any of this. Nothing like a list of things that I could use as a routine part of my program.  Maybe I’ll get that from Daniel Stewart’s book.

But I tell you what: it was enough. For the first time since I started riding last June, I was not sore after my lesson.  And I wasn’t sore the day after my lesson. Nor the day after the day after.

This stuff really works.

Next time, I’ll tell you about Lesson #20. It was a good one.

Stirring it up

What I like best about taking lessons at Karin’s Horse Connection is the variety. I’ve lost track of how many different combinations of horses and saddles I’ve been on.  And I’m not going to count them, just for the sake of knowing the number.  Not knowing provides a tinge of plausibility to exaggeration and I put a premium on the opportunity to embellish.  Ignorance has its uses and I intend to get the most out of it.

Every lesson introduces me to something new that I didn’t know about horses and riding – almost to the point where I’m thinking these folks are making it up as they go along. How would I know?

In my last lesson, Karin was off on another continent again and unless I wanted to receive my instruction via cell phone or give mental telepathy a go, I had the choice of skipping this time or have a substitute instructor. I hate skipping. There’s just no point in it. Plus, it’s fun to stir it up a bit and experience different instructional approaches and meet new people.

So Karin sent Brenda in her place. Brenda is a knowledgeable horseperson with over 30 years of experience, including a stint as an instructor at a horse camp where she taught around 40 kids a day.  I would be a piece of cake.

Brenda and her bucket

Brenda’s daughter takes vaulting lessons with Karin. Her son is the young man with the donkey that was the Hit of Karin’s Horse Connection Trail Mix Fun Fest back in August.  Everyone loves donkeys.

I’ve never met a horseperson who wasn’t interesting. This may be because everyone is interesting and I normally don’t take the time to find out, but with horsepeople, I’m motivated to listen better.

Brenda was interesting not just because of her breadth of horse knowledge, but also because of how she got into horses.  It was her dad’s fault.

Apparently, when Brenda was very young – around 4, I think – her family lived in a rural area and had horses and whatnot. Then, they moved to a place where there wasn’t room for a horse. And whatnot was totally out of the question. But that didn’t stop Brenda’s father from buying her a pony anyway. Go, dad, go.

As so often happens, what the father did failed to correspond with what Brenda’s mother wanted done.  Brenda’s mother was no horseperson and wanted nothing to do with this madness. While her father was comfortable with horses, his career as a golf pro often required that he work up to 90 hours a week. This left Brenda’s mother in charge of handling Brenda and her pony.

The dilemma was resolved when they got Brenda into a 4-H group.  With 4-H, Brenda could (in theory) learn all what she needed to know in order to become a fully functioning horseperson. Meanwhile, her mother found her niche in the club by contributing her much needed bookkeeping and administrative skills. She did this happily over several years. This made 4-H a family endeavor and thus paved the way for Brenda’s long equestrian career.

Because Brenda’s father was willing to risk upsetting the apple cart at home, his daughter became an accomplished horseback rider and was able to bequeath her love of things equine to her son and daughter.

So yes, sometimes it’s good just to ignore the obstacles and stir it up a bit and see what happens.

The only loser in this scenario is me, because now I’m left once again risking a brain hernia as I strain with all my might to resist the word play that naturally and powerfully come to mind whenever donkeys are in the picture.

Next time, I’ll tell you what Brenda taught me.

A Lesson with Liz

Karin was not there for Lesson #5. I understand she was goofing off in Colorado. Something about her daughter Leoni and a national vaulting championship. For some reason, Karin felt she needed to be there instead of staying home and instructing me.

No matter. My daughter Jamie was up from Florida and she served as my audience, photographer and technique critic. Jamie has been riding for something like eighty years and knows a thing or two about horses. Just what does riding “collapsed” mean anyway?

Jamie and her horse Bert

As a substitute teacher, I got Liz Parmelee, another instructor at Karin’s Horse Connection. Liz doesn’t have as much experience as Karin, but she seems to know a lot and it was interesting getting a different instructional approach.

Substitute Teacher Liz

I’m thinking Liz is going to be a really good teacher. This is why:

A good teacher knows how to point out and correct mistakes, of course. But a really good teacher has a knack for finding some positive element in any performance (no matter how dreadful the performance) and uses this kernel (no matter how tiny a kernel) as a plausible basis for encouragement and positive reinforcement. It’s all about accepting the student where they are and getting them to go in the right direction. Sometimes, literally in the right direction.  In some instances, this may require the imagination of a J.K. Rowling and the patience of a Chicago Cubs fan.

With her calm, sweet demeanor Liz displayed both of these qualities. She started by putting me on Maree and having us do some figure 8s around barrels.  After a few rounds of this, I looked back at our footprint pattern and what I saw looked more like one of Jamie’s early crayon doodles on our living room wall than the number 8. I’m not sure what Maree was thinking.

Does this look like an 8 yet?

Then Liz had us practice some around-the-arena trotting. This went well except at the corners, which Maree took to mean, “stop trotting”.

Liz said “When you feel her start to do that, just get your legs on her.”

I felt proud that I knew what Liz meant by that.  However, when I did get my legs on Maree, I discovered that not only did this keep her going, but that she had another level of trot. From my perspective and experience level, it was a particularly violent and chaotic level of trot. And I lost control.

Maree, being the trooper she is, figured one of us should be in charge, she so she took over and – just like the last lesson – we headed toward the center of the arena where Liz was positioned.  This sent Liz dodging to one side to avoid being decked.

Now, I’m new at this, but that’s something I’m just not going to take.  I made Maree get right back to the edge and we tried the same thing again. And Maree did the same thing again.  And I found myself rushing toward Liz again.  But this time, the young instructor stood her ground like one of Wellington’s grenadiers at Waterloo and Maree bounced to a halt right in front of her.

It occurred to me that this was the closest I would ever come in my life to participating in a cavalry charge. I thought about asking Liz where Karin keeps the sabers, but I figured she had been through enough.

I was determined not to let this happen again. Apparently, Maree sensed my determination and we did a couple of cycles without incident. It wasn’t pretty by any means, but at least we weren’t threatening anyone.

And then Liz found the kernel: “I like how you’re keeping her from running me over.”

I think to show that there was no hard feelings Liz taught me how to neck rein. I liked doing that.

Liz's horse Danny

As Jamie and I drove away from Lamoreaux Ridge, I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment in that I was leaving behind an instructor who was alive and uninjured. That’s the sort of thing you can definitely build on.

The next day, I got an email from Karin. It included these words: “I thought you could do a showmanship class with Caspian, one walk/trot class on Maree, and one of the fun classes like M&M and Spoon for example. If you do a vaulting class in the walk you get an extra pat on the shoulder!”

I told Karin that sounds like fun.

So it looks like I’ll be mounting a horse for this show after all.  Somebody needs to warn the judge.

Jamie finds a peanut

Another Teacher

I began Lesson #4 with the knowledge that I would be in a horse show by the end of August.  Just halter, Karin said – or showmanship – I don’t remember which.  It was a non-riding thing, anyway.  That’s good, because for me just to get on a horse still requires all the fuss and bother of a small ceremony.

Still a big deal


Karin put me on Maree again. After a couple of trips around the edge of the arena at the walk, she hooked us up to the lunge line for some of those Special Exercises.  I had to take my feet out the stirrups, let my legs dangle and put my arms straight out like an airplane.  And then, of course, rotate my arms in opposite directions. I believe the purpose of this exercise is keep your mind busy while the center of your body – without the aid of hands and feet – decide whether it wants to fall off or not.

The center of my body made the right choice, but after a short while, Karin stopped me.

“That was good, Bob.  But were you aware that you were rotating your legs along with your arms?”

Nope. I wasn’t aware of that. Must have looked like a drunken windmill.

Then we trotted. Without the lunge line, a big step forward in my equestrian career. I just sort of hung on and hoped everything would turn out all right, not worrying so much about style.

On the rail. For now.

Using Karin’s Point System, I have to admit that Maree slaughtered me. I was supposed to let Maree know where I wanted to go – which I did.  At least, I thought I did. What I wanted was for us to stay on the rail, but every time we rounded a corner, Maree made a beeline straight back to Karin, standing magnet-like in the center of the arena.

Heading for the corner.

“I have a connection with her and she wants to be by me,” Karin explained.

“Oh… well then … would you mind running around the edge of the arena?”

“Bob. She needs to listen to you. Remember: use the least amount of force necessary and all the force necessary.”

She forgot to call me “Grasshopper”.

No really, this is an art. Teacher can tell me “what” to do, but I have to work out the loosely defined subtleties of “how” with Maree. At that point she becomes the teacher.

Once more around the arena. And I’m ready for Maree this time. The instant I feel her drift back toward Karin, I use my legs, my eyes, my body and the reigns together in a single, focused “I Don’t Think So” moment. And we stay on the rail.

“There. You got it, Bob.”

That was Maree, not Karin.