Maree: Legacy Stables First Horse of the Month

Little Maree had big support in Legacy Stables first Horse of the Month contest.  I’ve always really liked her. Maree tolerates my bumbling and fumbling better than any of Karin’s other horses. So patient. So sweet.

However, there is so much more to this 15 hand, Chestnut Quarter horse than her sweet disposition. And after Karin told me more about her, I can understand why she garnered so many votes.

Karin bought Maree from a boarder in the spring of 2011. She was 9 years old at the time. Prior to that, Karin used Maree for lessons in exchange for board.

“I knew what she could do before I bought her,” Karin explains. “Maree is the perfect lesson horse. Her trot is so smooth it’s like riding on the couch.”

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I can personally attest to this.  When you ride Maree at a slow jog the feeling is almost regal.  All grace and no haste.

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Maree is the most versatile horse at Legacy Stables. She does English, Western and she jumps. She’s rock solid on the trails.

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And she’s fast. Originally trained as a barrel racer, these days she finds herself a favorite among the 4H’ers for speed classes.

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Because of Maree’s smooth gait and gentle nature, she makes a great horse for less experienced or timid riders.  Karin also uses her for people who have difficulty mounting.  And she’s perfect for first-time bareback riders.

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Karin especially likes using Maree for her therapeutic riding programs. Maree and Lillian have partnered up every week for over five years.

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In her dealings with the other horses at Legacy, Sweet Little Maree is no pushover. In fact, Karin says she is the alpha mare in her group. And she isn’t afraid to tangle with the big horses when the opportunity arises. One time when Karin was leading another group through Maree’s pasture, the spunky Quarter horse found herself in a kicking match with Habakuk.  Habakuk is a big, strong guy, but Maree showed no sign of backing down. Karin says they exchanged about ten kicks apiece before mutual exhaustion set in and ended the fight.

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While Maree has proved herself to be one tough cookie, Karin has never seen her display any kind of aggression toward humans.

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A Close Call

In July, Maree suffered a severe bout of colic. When the banamine didn’t work, the vet was called. He administered IV fluids and punctured the horse’s stomach to relieve the built up gas.  But Maree still didn’t show any signs of improvement.

After several hours of struggling to treat Maree, the vet informed Karin that he done all he could and that by the next morning she would have one of two options.  One, she could transport Maree to the Equine Hospital at Michigan State University in Lansing for surgery. This was a very expensive surgery and there was no guarantee of a successful recovery. He didn’t have to tell Karin what her second option would be.

Karin spent a long, sleepless night with Maree, dreading what she might have to do in the morning.  At this point she figured that the little horse had about a ten percent chance of survival.

Morning came and Maree’s bowels started to move. Not much at first, but then, enough. She steadily improved during the day and by the next evening she was back to normal. One tough little cookie indeed.

I think Maree is the perfect choice for Legacy Stables Horse of the Month for September.

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The Right Horses

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Lesson #59 began with Karin handing Paul and me a halter & lead rope.

“You will be riding Maree and Windy…”

Both Paul and I hesitated, waiting for Karin to complete her paragraph of instructions.

She nodded to the halter & lead ropes, “… Okay… go get them.”

I wasn’t going that easily. “All right. But who rides who?”

“You two have to decide that.”

Karin keeps adding to the list of things we have to do for ourselves.  This includes making these kinds of decisions.

Fetching our own horses is often the most stressful part of the lesson. Both Paul and I are deeply concerned about bringing back the wrong horse.

I admit it. I ‘ve been taking lessons on Karin’s horses for almost two years and I still can’t always tell them apart. Especially the brown ones. And sometimes the Paints.

I think we should devote a whole day to Horse Identification Training.  We could take pictures and label them, noting the various markings on each of the horses. We could learn to identify Karin’s horses from more than just their general color & size and get away from all this guessing and anxiety.

As Paul and I hobbled across the frozen, rut-filled pasture, I noted that of the four horses in this area, two were Paints and two were brown. Of the two brown ones, one was a miniature horse.  The big one was obviously Maree. So all we had to do with figure out the Paints.

We made our best guess and got it right. When you have a fifty/fifty shot and two guys sort of agree on the same one, it boosts your confidence in your answer. By the time Karin made it out to the pasture to see what was taking us so long, we had the right horses and were ready to go.

The rest of the lesson went remarkably smooth and easy. Maree took the bit with no problem on our first try.  She is such a sweetie.

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We rode bareback, so we didn’t have to mess around with saddles and all that rot. I even got to ride in my tennis shoes. I like that.

Karin made us mount the horses without her help. Maree is short, so that was a breeze.

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Karin dragged the arena while we were warming up, but both Maree and Windy ignored the tractor and the noise. These are rock solid horses.

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We then spent a very pleasant time just trotting around the arena, focusing on ourselves and relaxing into the horses beneath us.  Karin stood on the outside of arena, watching and wishing she had a beer.

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We didn’t learn anything new on Lesson #59. We were just applying the things we’ve already been taught.  There has to be a term for this, I thought.

Then it hit me. Ah, yes. It’s called practice.

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A Brief Review of Things I’ve Learned

Since we’ve been at it for over a year and a half, I thought I would give a quick review of some of the things my riding instructor has taught me. I’ve learned a great deal from just watching Karin and following her example.

She’s shown me how to mount properly:

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And to try again if you get it wrong the first time:

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Good riding requires proper body alignment: ears-shoulders-hips-heels should all be in a nice, straight vertical line:

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Heels down, heels down, heels down:

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You should always be positioned over the horse’s center of balance:

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Keep your eyes two lengths in front of you.  Plan ahead!

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Correct rein contact is vital for good riding:

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*****

Karin has taught me some other things as well. For example, the horse in the photos above is Mackie.  Karin has been working with Mackie for the past couple of months. He belongs to Deirdre, a student of Karin’s.  He is one of the few boarders at Legacy Stables.

Mackie was born in Wyoming and had been moved around several times before coming to Karin’s in late 2011. Here is what he looked like at that time:

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But Karin knows a good horse when she sees one and she wasn’t going to give up on Mackie easily and merely ship him off once again.  She offered to sell him to Deirdre who quickly accepted.

Around Christmas, Mackie suffered a small cut on his left wither and because he had been so undernourished, the infection nearly killed him. Deirdre was in Dallas at the time so Karin took care of him. On the day after Christmas, Karin trailered him to the vet for around the clock care.

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By January, he was looking much better.

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Under Karin and Deirdre’s care, Mackie thrived and by April he looked like this:

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While proper feeding and care brought Mackie back physically, Karin says he still lacked confidence and was always uncomfortable around other horses. He didn’t entirely trust people either.

“He had regressed to the point where he would flip out just putting a saddle on him,” Deirdre tells us.

A couple of months ago, Karin really started working with him.  The results of which you can glean from the photos with Karin on him. And in the process, I learned yet another thing from my teacher.

Mackie is one beautiful horse, don’t you think?

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27.something to 28.something

On Lesson # 51, Karin introduced Paul and me to barrel racing without barrels. Instead of barrels, we used a set of these:

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Karin referred to these objects as “cavalettis”, the plural of cavaletti (that is, it rhymes with “the Getty’s” and not “lettuce”). The cavalettis were Christmas gifts from Karin to the barn. Only a horseperson would be brave enough to buy a Christmas present for an inanimate object.

As you all know, a cavaletti is used for jumping. However, with her magical and unlimited powers of Owner & Operator, Karin verbally transformed the cavalettis into what we needed for the day. For Lesson #51 the cavalettis would act as barrels. Paul and I would act as riders.

Karin set the cavaletti/barrels in a diamond shaped pattern. Ah, I’ve seen this before: home plate, first, second, third.

Then she described the pattern. You start at home, round first from the inside, then over to third, then round second on the backside before heading on the straightaway stretch back to home. Pretty much how we ran the bases in kindergarten.

Karin timed us. She made it clear that we were not competing and that we were just supposed to beat our own time.  I made it clear that such a notion is completely hopeless. I’m not the most competitive person in the world, but you just can’t help wanting to be beat the other’s person time when you hear it.

And I know something of Paul’s cycling history, which includes a 24 hour marathon competition in which he rode his bike over 300 miles. You don’t do something like without having at least a little natural competitive spirit.

The way I look at it is that we were just borrowing each other’s time. I figure once the time is announced out loud, it becomes part of the public domain and anyone can use it.

Vinnie and I went first. We did a 36.something.  Which probably matches the number of things we (actually, just me) did wrong.

Paul and Charley scored an impressive 32.something.

At this point Karin provided us with some instruction. Which was mostly good riding technique sorts of things: using mainly leg pressure for the turns, cueing the horse ahead of time, using body and voice together, not relying solely on the reins, getting a running head start and putting it all together for a big surge of energy on the home stretch. And it was okay to shout.

I listened and followed these instructions as best as I could and with Paul’s 32.something in mind, Vinnie and I did a 29.something.

Wow.

We went a few more times. My best score was 28.something.  Man, we must have hit 6 or 7 mph on that home stretch. And yes, that included Vinnie (letsgo-letsgo-letsgo) breaking into a canter. It was a blast.

Paul and Charley managed a jaw dropping 27.something on their last run.  With this performance victory was theirs!

I apologize for the lack of photos on this one. When you’re hanging for dear life at these mind boggling speeds, the camera has to stay in your pocket.

Alpha Maree and the Lost Instructor

Paul and I must be getting a little better at the tack thing. Despite doing most of it ourselves on Lesson #49, we still had time to ride.

Sol to the rescue.

The late November morning air was painfully cold, but the sun was coming up bright and clear and our chances for survival looked good.

After mounting up, we warmed up by going in circles and waited for Karin to join us on whatever horse she chose for the day.

Karin seemed to be taking her time making her horse selection and our warm-up circles were getting bigger and bigger. I didn’t mind this at all. I always like to take a little time getting reacquainted with the horse and getting the Boss Issues settled at the outset.

After a good ten minutes, there was still no sign of Karin.  Paul and I just kind of wandered off on our horses with Maree and me in the lead. This is an unusual spot for us, as we both seem more comfortable following. Maree is s…l…o…w… (don’t get me wrong, I like that) and I’m never inclined to make decisions for the rest of the group.

But on this day, Maree was in the van, boldly going where no one told her to go.

We headed toward the road.

There was no sign of Karin.

Then around the arena.

Still no Karin.

Then between the barn and the arena.

Was Karin lost?

We headed toward the field.

As we reached the edge of the field, a voice appeared behind us:

“Left or right, Bob!”

Oh, so now she decides to show up…

But, what? I had to choose?

Paul read my mind: “The pressure’s on Bob!”

Then I remembered:  I was on Today’s Alpha Mare.  We could do this.

“Left?  No, right!  Yes, left! I meant … right! Or left?”

Then Maree and I just sort of decided together.  We went to the right.

We picked up a glorious slow trot and along the edge of the cornfield we went like Frederick the Great atop Conde.

On the way back, Paul and Windy took the lead while Karin shadowed us.

We need to keep better track of our teacher.

Oskar the Invisible Horse

Karin seems to have a bottomless bag of teaching tricks.  In the past, she’s made us do things like ride with our eyes shut or holding our arms stretched to the side like a pretend airplane or riding with money under our rear ends. I sometimes suspect she’s just messing with us. Or perhaps she’s grooming us for some bizarre brand of geriatric vaulting.

In any case, Karin is always coming up with something new. On Lesson #46, she introduced Paul and me to “Oskar the Invisible Horse”.  The idea is simple: you imagine a horse two lengths in front of yours and that’s the horse you’re cueing to turn or trot or stop or whatever. It teaches you to think ahead and give your horse plenty of time to make whatever transition you want.

While this little trick helped me focus and plan ahead – which is quite an accomplishment for any teacher of me – it did create some problems.  The first was – and I didn’t want to call too much attention to this at the time – I could actually see Oskar. He was a white Appaloosa with some black markings.

There he is:

Obviously, in order for this to work, each rider has to have his own Oskar.  I asked Paul what color his Oskar was and without hesitation, he replied, “Black.”

Good. I didn’t want to get them mixed up.

Paul follows Black Oskar.

My Oskar seemed to have a mind of his own. He kept wandering off in random directions and, of course, Maree and I were obligated to follow. I thought, great, I get control of one horse only to give it up to another one.

It wasn’t easy keeping up with White Oskar.

For a moment, I considered giving Oskar his own horse to follow and then I could cue that horse.  This would create a chain reaction of good riding. But it was already getting kind of crowded in the round pen and I was concern that I might cause an accident.

I really like Oskar, despite his obvious flaws. I told Jenny that I’m thinking about getting an invisible horse of my own.

She was all for it.

Karin gives Oskar a little breakfast.

The Signature Feature

Even though I knew it was going to be there, I couldn’t help but marvel at the sight.  There’s something about dome-like structures rising into the sky that grab you and stir your imagination. Like a mammoth circus tent or the superstructure of a large bridge or the masts on a tall ship, you can see it from a distance and you’re always drawn to it.

You can’t help but want to see it up close.

Not only can you see it from the road, it pretty much reaches out and grabs you, demanding your attention. Yes, citizens, something is indeed going on here. The Big White Thing on Patterson Road will become a landmark and a beacon to all area equestrians and future equestrians.

There are horses here, come join us and have some fun.

So, Legacy Stables has its signature feature. When the t-shirts come out, that’s what I want on mine.

There is still much work to be done.  And we’re not sure when we will be able to start using it. As the cover was being hoisted over the metal skeleton, Karin mentioned to one of the workers that it reminded her of a tent.

“Or,” he replied, “depending on the weather, a kite.”

While the arena is visually stunning from the outside, what we will be doing inside of it this Winter will be even more special. We may enter – drunk with fire and all – but come Spring, we will emerge quite sober, confident in the skills we’ve developed over the hard months. Without the Big White Thing, this wouldn’t be possible.

Next time I would like to discuss invisible horses and why I might get one.

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.

Back to Work

On Lesson #44 we were treated to yet another glorious autumn morning. This time with summer like temps. Even the breeze was warm.  Perfect trail-riding weather. With the forecast threatening doom & gloom on the horizon, we knew these kinds of mornings were down to the precious few.

So what do real equestrians do when presented with such a window of opportunity?  They head to the round pen and get to work because they need it. Besides, the trails around Legacy Stables were reported to be a bit muddy.

I was glad. I really do want to improve and work on my basic riding skills. I’m hoping by next spring I can meet all of my original goals.  The first of which is to remember what all of my original goals are.  Failing in that, I’ll make up some more. In any case Autumn-Winter-Spring are the Work & Progress months and it is time to get to it.

This doesn’t mean the fun is over.  Karin always finds a way to make the lessons fun and interesting.  Lesson #44 was to be another Technically Bareback session, this time without the initial Fear of the New Phase.

Karin switched the pairings this time, putting Paul on Windy and me on Maree. Both good, sweet Quarter horses. I’ve always thought Maree was a little short for me, but we seemed to do pretty well despite the size match.

We engaged in a few rounds of trotting and (attempted) posting. Yes, we learned, posting at the trot whilst bareback is (theoretically) possible.  So is time travel.

I was aided by the fact that Maree wasn’t actually always trotting while I was posting. Karin pointed this out to me. I mean, that Quarter horse trot is so slow it’s sometime difficult for me to discern it from a plain old walk.  But I kept trying.

Karin also observed that Maree was making as many decisions regarding the direction we were going as I was.  I have a habit of drifting off and losing focus – especially on the nice days – and the horse takes over by default. This is why people like dressage: it comes with instructions regarding which way to go.

I didn’t think Karin would notice that Maree was doing a disproportionate amount of the mental work, even though I was aware of it myself and hoping that my secret was safe inside my head.

But Karin is a Thought Bubble Reader and is not afraid to read out loud.  And like any good instructor, a remedy followed her observation:

“Right now, you can do whatever you like.  Walk, trot, post or not, back up – whatever you want to do – as long you don’t give the horse any points.”

There was a cavalletti with a couple of buckets in the middle of the round pen and I used that as an objective – like scoring a goal in playground soccer.  Maree gave a little hitch with her back legs as we went over, thus it wasn’t just pure walking. This is certainly the closest I’ll ever get to jumping.

Then Karin introduced money into the lesson. Actually, Karin introduced the Idea of Money into the lesson.  The idea is to put a dollar bill between you and the horse and hold it there, thus encouraging you to maintain a proper seat.

Karin didn’t have a buck on her, but I had a ten. So we used that. I gotta tell you, this works. That was my money for lunch tokens at work and I like lunch. The ten didn’t move a hair.

Paul got a turn with the ten – with threats of payment with interest had my lunch money blown away or got stepped on by one of the horses.  He did great and I got my ten back. And it worked just fine in the lunch token machine.

It was fun, productive lesson and I’m looking forward to a bunch more.

 

Fearless by Invitation

For Lesson #42 Karin had a little surprise for Paul and me:

“We’re riding bareback today.”

I responded thusly: “Huh?”

Paul said, “Cool!”

Our initial gut responses say everything about how Paul and I differ in our attitudes toward our lessons.  Paul is fearless and is always eager to try something new. I’m generally reluctant and wary, but I never resist whatever Karin wants me to try. I can be fearless, but only if invited.

I remember the days when the girls rode bareback at the horse shows. I recall Jenny not liking the idea due to safety concerns. I didn’t like the fact that we spent all this money on equipment that I didn’t understand and then they didn’t use it. But everyone seemed to know what they were doing and there was always a special kind of excitement when it came to bareback class.

I should have known something was up when I walked into Karin’s barn and saw two quiet Quarter horses lined up, ready to go.  I absolutely did not feel ready for bareback. I’m not sure what needed to happen to make me ready, but I was certain I wasn’t there yet. Karin was making a terrible mistake.

She seemed so cheerful about the whole thing: “We’re riding Indian style today! Heh, heh.”

Meanwhile, I’m trying to recall how my insurance co-pay works and did a quick mental run down of my favorite pain medications.  So many choices!

Actually, it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t bare-bareback.  Karin put special pads on both horses and for some reason that gave me a sense of security. And once we got mounted, it was actually kind of neat.

“What’s different?” she asked, as we strolled around the round pen.

I responded thusly:  “Um…”

Paul said, “You can feel the horse more.”

I was going to say something about not having to mess with the stirrups. My feet are constantly falling out of them. It was nice having one less thing to worry about.

Of course, that wasn’t where Karin was going with this. “That’s right, Paul.  I want you to feel the way the horse moves under you and then move with her. You need to ‘slip’ into the horse.”

This always happens.  When experienced horsepeople get serious about something, they start pulling out the metaphors. I think they have to, because at some point, words in their literal sense just can’t get you there. The thing becomes art and the rider has to experience it with the horse to understand it.

Karin urged us to control our horses with as little use of the reins as possible.

“Steer them with your body and voice. Use 10% reins, 20% voice and 70% body.”

I wasn’t sure how to precisely correspond these percentages to what I was doing, but I got the general idea.

She also wanted us to keep our rear ends firmly planted:

“Keep all four points of your butt on the horse.”

As I was trying to image the exact location of these Four Points, I heard Karin mumble something in vein of “Well… there’s actually five points…”

I got the feeling that there has been some debate in the Horse Expert World over the exact number of “points” in the human buttocks.  Perhaps similar to the old “How Many Angels Can Fit on the Head of a Pin” controversy.  The literature must be divided.

It was a fun lesson.  I didn’t do that great, but I really want to try Almost Bareback again.  Karin said we would do just that in Lesson #43.