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:

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

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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.

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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.

Double Karin and a Big Horse

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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.

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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:

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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.

Hmmm…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Lost in Transition

For Lesson #56, Karin picked Vinnie for me and Krystal for Paul.  Since Krystal is part Thoroughbred and Vinnie is all Thoroughbred, Karin was obviously in the mood to make us race.

“Haul out the sun dial and clipboard, Paul! Karin wants to time us again!”

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But it turned out to be an ordinary lesson. Like last time, Karin left us in the arena to warm up while she fetched Mackie. And once again, Kaiah used her Dog Wish Powers to make Karin reappear again.

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As we were warming up, I thought about how nice this arena is compared to where we were last year. Even on this cold, overcast day the arena here is bright and inviting. I really think the open feeling has an effect on the horses’ energy level.

Last Year

Last Year.

 

This Year.

This Year.

 

The extra energy came in handy, because even though we weren’t racing, Karin was expecting us to get both horses to canter. Despite us not really knowing how.

I complicated matters for Vinnie and me by using up the Achtung! cue to get him to trot during the warm up. I forgot that Karin’s horses are accustomed to hearing Achtung! for the canter, not the trot.

After ten minutes of Achtung, Trot!  Vinnie duly and reasonably associated all my achtunging with trotting.  And as soon as Vinnie broke into a trot, I spontaneously started posting.  I’ve been conditioned to do this.

But it was a fast trot. I thought maybe, just maybe, we were actually cantering.

“Karin, are we cantering right now?”

She just looked at me with an expression that said, “If you have to ask, you’re not.”

I tried again: “Vinnieeeee —– Achtung, Canter!”

“You can’t tell him to canter and then start posting,” Karin chided.

But I had created the dreaded Vicious Cycle of Cue Confusion and we were stuck in it.  A re-set was in order.

Karin brought both Paul and me over to the edge of the arena.

“Okay, I’m going to choose a place where I want Mackie to pick up a canter.”

She pointed to a spot on the wall. “But, before I get there, I’m going to signal to him that a change is coming. Like this.”

Karin made a subtle twist with her wrist on Mackie’s reins.

“It’s called a ‘half-halt’.  You’re telling him to get prepared for some kind of change.”

“Ah, yes,” I said, “Like tapping on your brakes to let the guy behind you know something’s up.”  I like driving analogies.

“Exactly. And your creating energy which you’ll release when you actually cue him to transition to the canter.”

Karin demonstrated. There was an obvious pause between her wrist twist and the cue. Like loading a spring, she was building a moment of anticipation in the horse.

This stuff is so cool.

Of course, I think it’ll be even cooler when I’m actually doing it.  We did manage to canter, but it was clear that Vinnie was responding to Karin’s verbal cue and not on anything I was doing.

I noticed that when Vinnie picked up the canter that his head began a rocking sort of motion. Ah, so that’s what I’m looking for.  Good to know.

Karin told us that one of her other students said that you have to canter sixty times before you actually have it. While I question the process that determined this number, it’s better than anything I can come up with.  I think I’m at three or four.

Next time: a new colleague has arrived at Legacy Stables.  She’s very pretty.

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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.

The Great White Horse

For Lesson #17, I found myself on Avenir “The Great White Horse”, Karin’s Percheron-Paint.  He weighs in among the 1800 lbs. plus crowd. I don’t know exactly how tall he is. It doesn’t matter.

I have a lot of respect for anything that has bigger feet than I do. It’s a practical thing, really. One false move by either of us and it’s all over for my foot, no questions asked. Just hopping and cussing. I had this in mind while I groomed him.

After my previous lesson with sweet little Maree, riding on Avenir seemed like being on a whale with legs. Karin calls him her “Harley-Davidson”.  I get that.

“You’re going be sore tomorrow, Bob!  Heh, heh.”  I think Karin knew I hadn’t done my stretching again.

Karin uses Avenir for vaulting lessons, so I knew he was a good, gentle horse. And rumor had it that he has a nice, smooth gait. At first, I thought I would just have to accept the rumors because I didn’t think I was going to get the big guy to go.

He walked fine. I had no problem leading him around the arena on foot (so to speak).  Although Karin did catch me using the drill sergeant voice with him for halting.

“HALT” isn’t really effective. You have to use rising intonation to go and falling intonation to stop.  Like “HAaalltt”.  As if your battery is going dead.

And he walked fine when I got on him. The problem started when I wanted him to trot.  He just wouldn’t do it.

“He’s not like Vinnie, he’s not going to give you anything,” Karin warned.  “You have to ask him.”

Okay: “Trot, Avenir.”

Nothing.

“Please trot, Avenir… Avenir! Trot!”

Nothing.

“Trot please!  TROT! GO! TROT!”

Nothing.

“TROT DAMMIT! Just go! TROT!”

“He doesn’t understand English, Bob.  You need to kick him a little.”

You know, I found out that the farther your legs are apart, the harder it is to kick something. I couldn’t get this horse to even notice I was doing anything at all.

Karin made some kind of noise and Avenir responded to it.  He started trotting.

After a half trip around the arena, we halted – using the proper falling intonation.

“Okay, Bob,” Karin pointed to a dressage letter on the arena wall, “ by the time you get to H, have him trotting.”

I got my legs on the big horse as hard as I could, got some firm rising intonation in my voice and loosened the reins.  And gritted my teeth.

By H the big guy was trotting. I did it! He did it!

We did it.

Each time around it got easier and easier to get him to go. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a matter of just me learning how do this better. Avenir was gradually figuring out what the heck I wanted.

Once he knew for sure, we were fine.

Cold Calculation

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

A Tough Crowd

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

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

A Worthy Opponent

The competition was fierce

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

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

“Hi Bob. My sister is riding Vinnie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Handless Judge

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

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

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

That’s what I planned all along.

Getting Somewhere

For Lesson #10 Liz gave me the choice to ride Maree or Goldie.  She intended on letting me ride MY Horse Danny, a kind gesture and much appreciated. But after observing him for a few minutes, Liz determined that Danny really wasn’t up to it. At 23, the guy needs more days off then the other horses. I know exactly how he feels.

Actually, on the morning of Lesson #10, I came ready to ride. It was cold, dark and raining – more like late November than mid October. Liz was sporting a heavier jacket, a knit hat and maybe gloves, I don’t remember.

Despite the crummy weather, I was very much in the mood to ride. Besides, Karin’s Horse Connection has a nice indoor arena and I knew that in just few minutes, I’d be sweating due to Rookie Effort.

I picked Goldie.  Maree moves better, but she’s a bit small and I get too much of the man-on-tricycle effect when I ride her.  I feel like I could stand up with my feet on the ground and still be in the saddle.

Liz asked me what I wanted to work on. Since I need work on everything, there was no wrong answer to this.

“Well, Karin and I were working on posting.  You know, while trotting.”

Liz nodded.

“Do you think we could do this on Goldie?” I asked.

Liz smiled and said “Um…we’ll see.”

I knew that look. It was the same look my Mom gave me when I was eight years old and I asked if I could take a turn driving the car.

We did try. Goldie actually moved better for me than she did during our Victorious Ride in Karin’s Fun Fest. But to post, you have to trot – I think. And sometimes she moved so slowly, I had to ask Liz if were indeed trotting. Since we made it from one end of the arena to the other, I knew we had to be doing some kind of moving.

Liz said to try to “post at the walk”. She was trying to get me to match the rhythm of the horse – “up, down, up, down, up down” and then proceed into the trot keeping up with the rhythm. I wished I could say we were getting some where with it, but I don’t think so.

She also worked on my posture. Trying to keep my heels down at all times and get them aligned with my hips and shoulders in that vertical point to point line thing.  I got them aligned and it looked good, just perfect. Until the horse moved. Then I started focusing on the rhythm and keeping my legs on Goldie to make her go. And the vertical line went crooked again. A curious puzzle, this Art of Equitation.

Technically, I’m not getting anywhere.  I know that. But I also know that I can’t wait until my next lesson.  I – want – to – ride.

In June, I was wondering if it was even possible.  Five months later, I can’t stop.

Dammit

I suppose I should start by explaining the indelicate title. First, in a full sentence:

“I tried to post while trotting, but I couldn’t do it, dammit.”

In Lesson #9, Karin made good on her promise and attempted to teach me how to post. For this, she put me on Charley, her 13-year-old Morgan gelding. Charley was Karin’s first horse and he is her baby.  Karin loves to share Charley and use him for lessons, but I knew there would be no MY horse nonsense from me this time.

Karin and her baby

As we led Charley to the outdoor arena, Karin tried to warn me: “This is going to be a little different for you this time.”

“Yes, each horse offers a unique experience,” I replied.

I wanted her to know that I was becoming a sophisticated and thoughtful horseperson who understands that horses have distinct personalities and that we should tailor our approach to them based on that.

Karin nodded and smiled, not having to say, “You really don’t know what I’m talking about. But very soon, you will.”

He was extremely easy at the walk. It was almost like he could read my mind. I barely needed the reins. Just a little pressure on the legs, a bit of a shift in my body weight and he just knew where I wanted him to go. That part was fun.

Then Karin put him on the lunge line and told me to drop the reins.  We trotted and we cantered. And while I held on to the saddle horn and Dear Life, all I could think of was “There is a LOT of horse underneath me right now.”

Yup, different.

Karin explained that in order to post, I had to move with the horse and match his rhythm by using my legs to move my body.

I tried. I really did. But all I experienced was a painful series of saddle slams, the entire planet apparently becoming unglued from its surface as soon as Karin uttered these words, “Charley… trot.”

Karin noted the incongruity between the positioning of my buttocks and the location of the saddle. “You need to stay in contact with the horse.”

But this was like trying to do a two step dance to Ozzy Obsourne’s Crazy Train.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MLp7YNTznE

While all I experienced was complete anarchy in the saddle, Karin said she could see glimmers, little tiny slivers of progress. She said that I would get it.

While cussing is impolite, it can also be an indication of gritty determination.

So, yes, Karin.  I will get it. Dammit.

A lot of horse

 

 

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.

 

 

Getting the Point

On Thursday, Karin had me practice my rein (no “g”) handling. We used water bottles weighted with sand attached by strings to a pair of reins. I learned the proper way to shorten them, the appropriate degree of pulling (like squeezing a sponge) and above all, above all, above all, not to let the darn things get twisted. Just… don’t.

After the rein drills, Karin put me on Maree, a 12 year-old Quarter horse mare. Maree is about as sweet and calm as a horse gets and she took care of me very well during the lesson. I forgot to give her a treat afterward and I suffered the same kind of guilt pangs I feel when I forget to tip the motel housekeeper. I have to see where Karin keeps them. Or bring my own. Maree gets double next time.

Maree, the Teacher's Aide

Before the ride, Karin reinforced this idea:

“Every time the horse does something you want, you get a point. Every time she does something because she wants to do it, she gets a point. The idea is for the horse to get no points.”

So then, a shut out every round is what we’re after. Well, I’ve always believed the best defense is a good offense. When the girls were little, I walked fast whenever I brought them with me into a store.  This way, they had to run to keep up and they didn’t have the opportunity to look at things and ask for them. So the concept was clear.

My approach with Maree was to keep her busy with what I wanted so that she didn’t have time for what she wanted. I picked a spot in the arena, headed her there, turned and then picked another spot. The only time Maree scored a point was when she just plain stopped. People tell me that Quarter horses sometimes do this.  So there was no shut out, but I definitely out scored her.

At one point, Karin stopped us. She wanted to know if my reins were twisted. I said they weren’t. She said they were.

“The rough edge goes on the inside, Bob.”

I think she wanted to knock me off Maree.

Then, we trotted. Karin put the lunge-line on Maree to keep the wild beast under control.  Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy about that.

Then we trotted. And trotted. And trotted. And then we trotted some more. I’m sure there is a graceful way to do this and someday I hope to learn it. But for now, it was just a continuous series of saddle slams.

“Isn’t this fun?” Karin wanted to know.

“Not really, Karin.”

“Well, the kids always giggle when we do this.”

I wanted to explain a few basic facts about the anatomy of the adult human male, but thought better of it. Besides, I think she was aware:

“You’re lucky you’re not on Caspian.”

Hell, if I had been on Caspian, I would have been off Caspian long before then. That would have been more like a ride on a trampoline.

Then she made me let go of the reins and ride with my arms out, airplane style like the goofball on the Titanic. I had to rotate my arms in opposite directions. Then she made me shut my eyes to see what that was like.

I will never ride with twisted reins again.  Ever.

After the lesson, Karin said I was going to be her biggest challenge.