History at a Slow Trot

With Karin still in Germany, her daughter Anika served as my instructor for Lesson #115. It was a very nice, low-keyed lesson. It was perfect for my mood. If “just plain lazy” can be considered a mood.

I rode Windy. She’s been a good horse for me lately and her “Trot-in-Place” gait was also perfect for my mood. Anika and I brushed Windy quite a bit before tacking her up, using this curious device:


It just went on and on. I think we could have brushed all day long and never see the end of it.


My jacket was covered in the stuff. I wore it like that when I into the store after my lesson. With equestrian pride.

We stayed in the arena because the spring mud is still pretty bad. However, they had already opened the sides of the arena. Big morale booster, that.


I mostly walked and slow trotted Windy, practicing some neck reining and trying to get comfortable riding with just one hand. I like the idea of having one hand free for emergencies.

While I rode, Anika walked along and we chatted. Lots of good history stuff which I thoroughly enjoyed. Anika is working on a project that involves some research into her family history over nine generations. She’s particularly interested in the maternal side of things and how the women in her family have influenced her life. The story she wants to tell features how these women lived and survived through the toughest parts of European 20th Century history. It was a very busy century.

And I had a good lesson.

A Ride in the Woods

Jenny and I recently spent some time in Florida visiting daughter Jamie and son-in-law Kyle. I didn’t get a chance to ride any horses and I’m not sure they would have let me anyway. But we did get a peek at some interesting creatures that you rarely see at home.

There was this iguana guarding the middle of the street.


In what is sure to be an award winning nature photograph, you can see the fin of a dolphin if you look closely.


I wasn’t too upset that this big guy/girl was on the other side of the creek.


And a big ol’ manatee hanging near the legged creatures.


In any case, no lessons for me in the second half of last month. So I thought I’d share this article I wrote for The Trail Rider magazine that appeared in their Mar/April issue of 2013. It’s about my first ride on one of Karin’s horses.

A Ride in the Woods

“Trail ride” is such a pleasant sounding term. The way it rolls off your tongue with no menacing consonants like “k” or spooky letters like “x” or “q”. The two words sort of blend together – trailride – offering a mixture of agreeable associations: sunshine, fresh air, tall trees and the best companionship known to humankind.

Trailride. Such a nice word…

Unless, of course, it’s your first time on a horse in thirty years and you’ve spent the last fifty-two minutes at the edge of mortal danger and your riding instructor is using it in a sentence that you did not want to hear: “Why don’t we finish your lesson with a little trail ride?” In that case, it sounds more like: “Let’s go out into the woods and finish you off.” 

The horse Karin put me on was a Perchon-Thoroughbred mix about the size of Godzilla, but much nicer. He was definitely a good boy, who did not seem to mind the white-knuckled death grip I had on his mane for the last hour.

“Good boy, Caspian. Good boy.” 

The death grip was actually the result of an attempt to pat the horse’s neck. But my hand didn’t make it all the way and on its own accord, seized the nearest object offering any measure of comfort and security. Once there, I couldn’t convince it to leave.

I should have been less afraid. Caspian, an experienced vaulting horse, was exceptionally calm and well mannered, as any creature employed as a mobile jungle gym would have to be. Besides, since this was my first lesson, Karin chose a vaulting saddle for me use. These are saddles that come with actual handles, like they all should. There is nothing you can put on a horse that could make a new rider feel any more secure than a vaulting saddle. But that wasn’t enough. 

Foundation for a Phobia

Highlighting my apprehension was a well-founded Low Hanging Branch Phobia. When my kids were young, we went on a group ride with their cousins at a local riding stable. You know, the kind staffed and managed by horse-crazed teenaged girls. Everything was fine for the first thirty feet of the ride. And then everything wasn’t. I don’t know exactly how it started. Something about a disagreement between the two lead horses. Maybe it was an election year, I don’t remember.

Anyway, all hell broke lose. Two of the horses took off down the road, while another split into the woods, perhaps in an attempt to cut ‘em off on the other side of the trees. It’s hard to say what goes on in a horse’s brain during these situations. Probably nothing.

The horse that took off into the woods was carrying my nephew. I could see the little guy ducking branches as his freaked-out mount carried him deeper into the woods. Lucky for everyone, except my sister’s attorney, the kid was athletically inclined and able to hang on without further incident or injury. I remember thinking at the time that the boy was fortunate to still have a head.

Ever since the incident, I’ve associated trail riding with decapitation. Although, my daughter likes to point out that a low hanging branch is more likely to break your neck or crack your head open than to take it clean off.

Yeah, that’s better.

Into the Hole We Go

It’s not just the trees and branches that scare me. It’s the things hiding behind the trees. The things that both Caspian and I know are there. It’s about how the horse will react when those things jump out at us. Horses are unpredictable! People aren’t much better! 

Despite my fears, we head toward the trees. As Caspian and I follow Karin on her little pony into the woods, he behaves as if nothing is wrong. His gait is steady and calm, nonchalantly swaying with a steady rhythm. I can almost see the thought bubble above his big Baby Huey head: 

Doh-de-doh, doh-de-doh, into the woods we go-de-doh, go-de-doh… 

I should take heart in his courage, but I am unable. If the branches and things behind the trees aren’t enough, we are approaching the Dreaded Mudhole, the lowest part of the trail. Karin warns: “You’ll feel him pick up a little speed. He knows he needs to do that to make it through the mud.” 

Speed? I do not want speed. Not at all. It’s unpredictable! No, no, NO! 

The horse’s cadence quickens and his gait becomes irregular. Into the Mudhole we go! The mighty horse powers his way through it without stumbling and we surge up the hill. And the top, we emerge from the woods and back into the open! The orchestra in my head strikes up Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathurstra (2001 Space Odyssey music) and we are in the clear. 

Caspian’s steady gait returns. 

Do-de-doh, do-de-doh, out of the woods we go-de-doh. 

That was actually… fun. 

As we return to the barn, Karin says, “Next time, lets try a little trot.” 

Trot, such a fun word.


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.


Jumping on the List

During Lesson #112 research efforts got underway for my 2015 List of Equestrian Things To Do. Progress was made in the areas of neck reining, the free-style vaulting routine and attending a horse show. And there were positive signs regarding Dressage. I also wanted to go over a cavaletti to get that done and checked off the list, but I didn’t see any on the ground.

I had the pleasure of taking Lesson #112 with Grace and Pete, two knowledgeable and helpful instructors. Grace rode her horse Diamond. The pair have been together forever – but not in this picture, because I forgot my camera and this is the only picture I have of Grace.


Pete took Caspian and I was on Krystal.

The only thing I knew about neck reining is that you do it with one hand. I wanted to take better photos whilst mounted and I figured if I could master a one-handed riding technique, it might help.

After discussing the matter with Pete and Grace, I now know that neck reining is more about what the horse knows than what the rider knows. They actually get trained in it, especially for things like barrel racing.

Still, there are different approaches a rider can take, especially in regard to where you place your fingers vis-à-vis the reins. I still have to nail down my finger placement and then stick to it. And then use a horse that’s good at it, my job being basically not to confuse them. Grace said that Maree or Windy might be good candidates.

Pete promised to help me develop a free-style vaulting routine. He said I could pretty much make up what I want to do. This is good news for me, because I intend on creating some Never Seen Before Vaulting Moves. He also said my routine should last about a minute, which is about all anyone will be able to stand to watch anyway. Karin is hosting a Fun Fest in April, so I’m hoping to be ready by then.

Meanwhile, my son-in-law Andy was gracious enough to create this exquisitely detailed model to help me conceptualize and develop some of my Never Seen Before Vaulting Moves. That’s a Lions’ hat on his head.


Regarding the open horse show, Legacy is starting an independent 4H-like horse club this year and Grace is one of the coaches. She told me they plan on attending an open horse show or two and I could tag along.

When I included “attend an open horse show” on the list, my intention was to just sit and watch. Like the olds days. But Grace seems to think I should participate in a more active way. I can still sit, but it has to be on a horse.

And finally, I saw these the day after my lesson.


Looks like we’ll be working on our letters soon.

Christmas Treats and Holiday Threats

The most notable thing about Lesson #111 was the weather. Sunny and fifty degrees in late December is a gift. Karin and Pete actually opened up the windows on one side of the arena. Spirits soared.


Karin put me on Krystal, one of her “18 year-olds.” I like Krystal and if I recall correctly, I had some success on my last ride on her. But then again, I may not be recalling correctly.

As time passes, the memory of this or that lesson can become a little distorted, perhaps emphasizing whatever suits my current psychological needs. It’s not unusual for humans to do this. On a larger scale, history gets abused like this all of the time by groups – sometimes massive groups of people – with this or that agenda. Historians themselves frequently disagree and get angry at one another. Whatever makes you feel the most comfortable, I say.

Being that it was two days before Christmas, Karin was in a generous mood and as a treat helped me with my tack.


However, she insisted that I ride English. I picked Western for the last several lessons and I think she was concerned I may never make it back to the Other Side.

I did adjust my own stirrups. I like them long.

Karin noticed: “Do you think your stirrups are too long?”

“No, Karin, I don’t think they’re too long.”

“Well, they are.”

“But I’m comfortable like this.” My knees like to be straight.

“You can’t ride like that. Stop your horse, we have to adjust them.”

I was riding in sneakers, which is not recommended. I just thought I’d be more comfortable in them on that day, so I left my boots in the car.

With Karin adjusting the stirrups, she would be sure to notice my choice in footwear. So I preempted her and ‘fessed up: “I’m not wearing boots today, Karin.”

“I see. Maybe the next time you forget your boots we can have you ride bareback on Caspian?” Even Karin admits that Caspian can be a bit bumpy at times. Bareback, I would have a marble’s chance of staying on him at the trot. Christmas Treats had turned to Holiday Threats.

Krystal and I trotted and cantered around a bit. It was mostly in the chaotic, out-of-control mode that I’m beginning to perfect as my trademark riding style. At least that’s how I’m going to remember it.


The Great Indoors

Karin put me on Windy for Lesson #110. I rode Windy a time or two on the trails during the more civilized weather months. She’s a good horse.


We held this lesson in The Great Indoors.



There’s no snow right now, but the ground is frozen hard in the break-an-ankle way. So I was grateful for the venue.


I was joined by Gerry on Habakuk and Leo on Maree. Leo has been getting a bit of riding in, as I expected he would. Some of this has been inadvertently serious and exciting.

That is, Maree took off on Leo the other day. Full gallop.

Ah, Quarter horses. So stately in the slow trot, so Zero to 60 in the gallop. Well, maybe Zero to 25. But 25 Horse mph is like 120 in Car mph. Just ask Leo.

Bless his heart – he did not bail, but opted to hang on for the duration. I admire that.

Lesson #110 was a working lesson. Although, it was a kind of free-flow independent study situation. Karin provided some basic instructions to the three of us (actually to six of us – the horses listen to her better than we do) such as “walk around these pylons,” “do a Figure 8 at the trot,” “stop and back your horse between these two poles,” etc. – and then she allowed us to comply at our leisure.

I like this form of lesson, because I can get into an uninterrupted flow of communicating with the horse rather than listen to the instructor.

Windy was fun to ride. She was very responsive to my cues, even better than big ‘ol Habakuk had been in the preceding lessons. I was able to direct her with finger twitches and leg taps. Although our figure 8 looked more an Old English D than an 8. But that’s on me and my one-handed, photo-taking riding style.


Toward the end of the lesson, Karin left the arena for a few minutes.


And when she returned, she had Peanut. The Mighty Peanut.


We untacked the horses and let them go for a Romp & Roll session.


Maree and Peanut were especially enthusiastic.


It was a hoot watching them. But I think I got in their way once or twice with my photo taking.


Four Points and a Big Canter

For Lesson #109, I got to ride Habakuk for the second week in a row. Gerry had his lesson the day before thus opening up a spot for me on Habakuk’s back.

I got to ride with Leo, Karin’s son-in-law. Leo is both a new father and a new rider. Sometimes everything happens all at once.

Leo took Maree. He was concerned about being too big for her, but I think they matched up pretty well.

Leo and Maree

Leo and Maree

As I trotted Habakuk around the arena, I could hear Karin give Leo instructions regarding his seat: “Keep all Four Points of your butt on the horse,” she insisted.


A flood of mother-in-law jokes came crashing into my brain, but I held my tongue. Also, I remembered that the last time this topic had been discussed, there was some controversy over whether there are actually Five Points – not Four – to a person’s buttocks. But I didn’t bring that up either, because we were doing so well and I didn’t want anyone to lose to their focus to that debate.

I got to canter a bit. Karin used her Magic Wand as a communication aid.


On the first two go-arounds, I held on to the saddle horn because it seemed like the right thing to do. But after that, Karin told me let go and employ the Supple Joints thing. I did and it was more fun than holding on.


There is something about being on Habakuk that gives everything around you a kind of miniature feel.


Even the arena got smaller. We got from one end to the other in what seemed like two, maybe three bounds. Although, I not sure if “bound” is an appropriate canter term.

“He has a big canter, Karin,” I reported.

“No, he has a very smooth canter,” she responded.

They’re not necessarily conflicting ideas, of course. But I didn’t argue because I had another, more pressing issue I needed to discuss.

“His canter kind of breaks up into a trot at the end of the arena, Karin.”

“That’s because you’re not following through, Bob.”

Karin always puts it back on the rider. But she had a point. I was so busy keeping my whole body on him, I wasn’t paying enough attention to keeping my legs on him. It’s like coasting down a hill on a bike. It’s nice, but at some point you have to be prepared to resume peddling if you want to keep your momentum going.

At the end of the lesson, something happened that almost never happens. Someone asked me for help with his tack. It was Leo.

I put Habakuk on the crossties and then proceeded to tell Leo everything I knew about horse tack. Ten seconds later, he was all set.


I’m pretty sure Leo is going to be riding quite a bit in the coming weeks. Within a month or two, I’ll be asking him for help. And the universe will be back in its proper order.


Head Cover and a Major Blessing

For Lesson #108 I got to ride Habakuk since Gerry wasn’t there.



After decades of being conditioned by jealous horsegirl society, I felt a tinge of guilt as if I was interloping. The last thing I want to be is an interloper. Barn drama is the worst.

It wasn’t my idea, of course.

“You can ride Habakuk today,” Karin announced. “He’s in the Red Barn. Go get him – and don’t let the other horses out.”

This was a good reminder and I took due caution. If you don’t pay enough attention, the horses sometimes just do whatever the hell they want, especially when Karin isn’t right there. She’s like their mother or something.

Habakuk: a big and warm mammal.

Habakuk: a big and warm mammal.

As I led Habakuk from the Red Barn to the main barn for tacking up, I looked forward to getting on him. It was a cold, cold day and my equestrian career has seen enough winters to know that the best antidote to the cold is to share body heat with a large furry mammal other than a bear. Plus riding takes work if you actually want to accomplish anything. The combination of physical exertion and horse heat will warm you up nicely. My favorite part of an indoor winter riding lesson is the last ten minutes where the horse and I just wander around being comfortable.

Habakuk is great horse to ride. He responded well to my cues. He reminded me of Vinnie a little bit in that way. Miss that guy.

Due to the cold, I wore a cheap, but effective knit hat to the barn instead of my Lions’ cap. This created a small problem, again due to some prior conditioning. I don’t feel secure riding bareheaded. It’s just not safe. However, my brain took the physical sensation of the hat on my head as a green light to proceed, thusly: “You’re helmet is on your head, everything is okay, go ahead and mount the horse.”

I didn’t notice the oversight until about halfway through the lesson. Just kind of caught some knit material out of the corner of my eye. I had to pat my head three times to confirm.



Karin didn’t notice it either. However, she was gracious enough to go get my helmet from the main barn and make my head right.



In Karin’s defense, she was a bit preoccupied at the time. Daughter Anika was due anytime for Karin’s first grandchild. Sure enough, three days later the world welcomed Emiliana Grace.

Karin was super happy to report that the newest addition to the Schmidt family is BEAUTIFUL!!! and that Mama Anika, Papa Leo and the baby are all doing well.

Congratulations to both the Schmidt and Ojeda families. A new adventure has begun.


Supple Joints

For Lesson #105, Karin put me on The Horse Who is Not Dromie, a.k.a. Krystal.

Not Krystal

Not Krystal

Not Dromie.

Not Dromie.

I’ve learned to look at the bottom of their legs instead of their faces and this has helped immeasurably in the identification process. I don’t like bringing the wrong horse back to the barn.

The weather was like this:



So no pleasant Instruction in Open Terrain on a beautiful autumn morning. This was going to be a working lesson. And for this, I was partially fully prepared. I brought a pair of chaps because I haven’t got around to purchasing breeches that fit my current shape – if they actually make them like that.

Either these chaps are waaaay to small or there is a gap in my knowledge regarding how to apply them. I’m wondering if I grabbed the wrong ones.

But I did bring my boots. After a summer of riding in tennis shoes, I felt very equestrian-like in them. Having good, solid foot protection is a confidence booster in all walks of life.

Although, after a season of neglect, I needed a tool to help secure them to my feet.


Karin did indeed make us work. From her command post on top of Charley, she instructed Gerry and me to proceed around the arena at the trot (mounted) at least five times – sitting on the short side, posting on the long. 

I lost track of the count between the first and second time around, but I think Krystal and I may have completed something in the two to three range.

We weaved in and out of the pylons several times working on our precision. We also practiced backing.

Then, it was canter time. Karin demonstrated, mainly because she is psychologically incapable of sitting still on a horse for too long. Especially when she’s on Charley…


By the way, this Friday, November 7th, Karin and Charley will have been together for 10 years. Karin has been a serious horseperson for over 40 years, but Charley was actually the first horse she ever owned. I like to refer to their connection as the Seed That Eventually Became Legacy Stables.

Charley and Karin

Charley and Karin


Gerry and Habakuk cantered first. They did well, as they usually do. While Krystal and I watched the pair go around the ring, I thought, “Well, at least we have to try.”

If subsequent events are any indication, Krystal was thinking the same thing.

Because, when our turn came, I didn’t have to do much at all, except utter the word and she went right into it. It caught me by surprise, actually.


Karin must have noticed that because she told me to hold on to something.

It was lots of fun. However, I confessed to Karin that I felt like I was going to fall off.

“Well … your balance was good…”

It was one of those sentences that have a “but” built right into it…

“But, you need to loose up your hips and move with the horse.”

Ah, that should be the First Rule of Good Equestrianism: Move with the horse.

“You need to loosen up everything. You should ride with supple joints.”

Supple joints. For some reason, I like the sound of that.




Four Lessons

Lesson’s 101, 102 and 103 were essentially trial rides – or as we say at Legacy Stables, “instruction in open terrain.” Karin left it up to Gerry and me to fill in the blanks regarding what kind of lesson we would have and each time we ended up outside on the trails.

However, at first, I suggested we try jumping. For me, a fill-in-the-blank question is a treacherous trap. The impulse is always to answer with something facetious or impossible.

The problem is that what I call facetious or impossible, Karin calls a “fun idea.” You have to be careful what you say around her. I knew I made a mistake the moment the words left my mouth. I wanted to reach out and snatch them back, but I don’t have access to that technology.

Karin was all for it. “Yes, we can jump today!” She was very pleased with my go-getter attitude. “What saddle would you like, Bob?”

I saw this as an opportunity to wiggle out of the mess I was about to make: “That depends, Karin. Can you jump in a Western saddle?”

“No… you don’t jump in a Western saddle.”

“Then I’ll take a Western saddle.”

Besides, as Gerry was quick to point out, a trail ride made more sense than jumping because it was a nice, sunny day and at this time of the year we just don’t know how many more of these we are going to get. So it was time to saddle up and carpe diem.

Of course, Karin won’t forget about the jumping thing.

For the next three lessons, we got to do our share of carpe dieming. In three successive trail rides, I took Maree, Maree and Windy.


And Gerry rode Habakuk, Habakuk and Habakuk.


We had a variety of company with us, including Kim (S version) on Dromie:


Kathy on Windy when I wasn’t:


Kid Motivator turned Horse Motivator Jerry Jacoby on Dromie when Kim (S version) wasn’t:


On one ride, I attempted my first mounted selfie. I got a piece of my head and Kim (S version) in the background. I don’t think mounted selfies are that easy to do.


Later in the ride, Kim (S version) dropped her crop on the ground and I retrieved it for her. I suspect she had been back there doing baton twirls with it. That’s what I like about riding in the back; you get to do what you want.

During one ride, either Gerry or Jerry (they sound alike to me) said he expected to hear the theme music from Bonanza at any moment. After seeing this photo op shot, I kinda understood where Gerry or Jerry got that:


For Lesson #104, Karin put me on my old buddy, Caspian and we stayed in the arena. We worked: trotting and attempted canter. And I rather liked it. But the effort was tearing up my legs. I really need to find my riding boots and also some breeches that fit me now and not for when after I lose the 20 pounds I’ve been intending to lose. I have a pair of chaps a friend gave me a few years ago. I think I might try those for Lesson #105.