The Antidote to Winter

On Lesson #113 I got to ride with new parents Leo and Anika, Karin’s son-in-law and daughter (respectively). Despite air temps well below freezing – I mean like 8 or something – we decided that a trail ride sounded nice. I took Windy because she looks warm to me. Leo rode Maree. Anika chose Apache, one of the four new employees brought on staff to help with Legacy’s current growth spurt.

Leo is still a relatively new rider and I’m – well, me – so Anika had her hands full with getting the two adult males and three horses ready to go.

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With five full mammals in her charge, she scurried around making sure everyone had what they needed, fought with all the reluctant cold weather leather and checked to make sure everything was on the horses – and us – properly.

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She tended to each detail with the same care and patience her mother displays with her students. I can she why Karin wants Anika to give lessons. I think she would make a great kindergarten teacher.

While it was cold, there was little wind and no precipitation. And the footing was actually very good. We ended up having a pleasant winter’s day ride. Like they do in songs.

 Come late next fall when we start dreading the oncoming winter, we’re going to have to remember days like this. The large indoor arena and heated viewing rooms are nice, but sometimes the real antidote to winter is to go out and enjoy it.

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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.

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We held this lesson in The Great Indoors.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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Maree and Peanut were especially enthusiastic.

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

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Head Cover and a Major Blessing

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

Interlopeing

Interlopeing

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.

Before.

Before.

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.

After.

After.

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.

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And Off We Go

Lesson #86 was another special lesson. They’re all getting to be special lessons.

Examine the sequence of photos below. See how many it takes you before you figure out what made Lesson#86 so special. Remember: if I’m not in the photo, I’m taking it…

woman and horse

mounting a horse in an arena

leaving an arena on horseback

riding in snow

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horses in the snow

rider off a horse in the snow

With four feet of snow on the ground, it wasn’t a very long fall. There was no hurdling through space or any sort of acrobatic drama. It was more in that gray area, somewhere between vindictive bucking and a deliberate bail.  Sort of an “emergency dismount by consensus.”

It was bound to happen. In order to negotiate the deep snow, Goldie was doing this bizarre combination of gaits, a curious concoction that mixed the Four Major Gait Groups: walk, trot, canter, gallop.  She was cantrowallagaloping.

When the cantrowallagaloping got to be too much, Goldie’s center of gravity and mine went their separate ways. My primary concern at that point was not the impact, but suffocation. While I was grateful for the soft landing, I was wondering how deep I would go.

I was also concerned about Gerry, who was directly ahead of me on Habakuk.  I was afraid that Goldie cantrowallagaloping past them without a rider might upset them and start a two-horse chain reaction. She seemed intent on reaching Karin – or any competent adult.

The last thing I saw before everything went white was Habakuk’s big butt.  Most people who go through this sort of thing get to see their entire life flashing in front of them. I got this:

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I was unhurt and could see no reason to spend any more time on this portion of the lesson. So I sprung from beneath the snow like a bat out of Hell (that locale having finally froze over this year) and the first thing out of my mouth – after spitting out all the snow – wasn’t “Don’t worry, I’m okay!” or “Is everyone all right?” It was this: “That counts, Karin! That counts!”

This was in reference to Karin’s recent dictum “you can’t be a real equestrian until you’ve fallen off.”

I wasn’t sure if I shouted loud enough to be heard over Karin, who was alternating between laughing and apologizing for laughing, so I repeated it several times.

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“KARIN! THAT COUNTS! IT DOES! IT COUNTS!”

I was relieved to have this part of my equestrian career behind me.

Karin handed Goldie’s reins to me and declared, “You have to get back on, Bob.

man with horse in snow

What the hell was she talking about? I thought.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I said.

“If you don’t get back on, it doesn’t count.”

You know, I’ve long suspected that Karin makes most of this stuff up as she goes along and this confirmed it. This was the first she had said anything about “getting back on.”

But I got back on anyway and we retraced our steps back to the arena. It was pretty easy going, actually.  All of Goldie’s cantrowallagaloping had cleared a nice swath through the snow.

When we got back to the arena, Karin gave me a high-five because now I was a real equestrian. I told her I deserved a gold sticker too. But I ended up something much better than that. I got war wounds:

bruises from riding horses

While the snow provided a soft landing, Goldie’s western saddle isn’t made of snow and the inside of my left leg got tore up during the ejection process.

It was difficult to get a good photo of my war wounds.  Such an awkward angle and my body just doesn’t want to stretch certain ways. I think it would be a good idea to start up my Yoga program again so I that I can get better pictures of this sort of thing.

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Staying Off and Staying In

I haven’t had a horse get mad at me in over three weeks. I achieved this by employing a simple technique: not getting on. The last time I rode Goldie, I actually succeeded in getting the reins crossed under her neck as I mounted. I can’t explain how I did this.

I just couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t go the way I wanted her to go. Until I got off and checked.

I was unable to document this proud moment with a photo, because I was too busy apologizing – profusely – to Goldie.  She was not happy with me at all.

I wish to be left alone.

I wish to be left alone.

It’s never the horse’s fault. Okay?

But the real reason I haven’t been back in the saddle is due to the visitor from the North Pole.  And I don’t mean Santa Claus. I’m talking about the Abominable Polar Vortex Freeze Monster that has held a large portion of the North America hostage over the last couple weeks. We’ve all suffered.

Hell no.

Hell no.

I know that Karin’s arena has held up well.

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And the kids adapted. Like they always do.

vaulting in warm clothes

As for me, I thought it was good opportunity to give Karin’s horses a break from what I do.

Meanwhile, I’ve been watching granddaughter Aubrey quite a bit. She has provided me with a good example of the best way to spend your time during what Karin calls “Deep Winter.”

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And between dancing along with the You Tube video of babies’ roller skating to the Black Eyed Peas Pump It and playing “Hat On, Hat Off”…

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… and watching spellbinding episodes of Thomas the Train and Bubble Guppies (it makes me very uncomfortable the way they look right at you through the TV monitor), we’ve managed to squeeze in some equestrian related activities, including Equestrian Vaulting Preparatory Exercises:

baby standing on big wheel

And we read this equestrian shaped book, which Aubrey stepped on way before we got all the way through it:

equestrian baby book

I also became a little bit familiar with a TV show called Heartland. It’s a program about horses and people. It has all the equestrian sort of things in it like riding boots and helmets and horse trailers. It’s a drama – about stressed people taking care of distressed horses. I’m not sure who’s supposed to take care of distressed viewers.

Yes, there was something about this show that I found annoying. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it. And then I realized what it was: they were talking.  I discovered that turning the audio down to zero profoundly enhanced my enjoyment of Heartland. And then I inserted my own dialogue in a variety of character voices. This kept Aubrey entertained for about 25 seconds and me for about 15 minutes.

In any case, I expect to be back in the saddle next Thursday. My regular post next Tuesday will be about fish.

Bring it On

Last week’s Lesson #79 was put on hold until later this week.  I missed last week due to the developing bowel habits of a 16-week-old girl. This girl:

Australian Shepard puppy

Jenny and I got Zoey from a shelter run by the Humane Society. She’s an Australian Shepard mix. Mixed with what, we’re not really sure.  She’s a dog.

Outside? I think?

Outside? I think? Do what?

Anyway, I was ready to leave for my riding lesson, but I couldn’t go until she did. We’re still in the process of learning what the Inside and Outside are good for. Individuals belonging to this species instinctively do not wish to soil the den (which I now define as the entire inside of my house), but that doesn’t always stop the young ones from getting Inside and Outside confused at times.

Of course, with the change of seasons upon us, Outside and Inside has been a major topic of discussion among us humans. Many curse the impending change.

Summer

Winter

Oh yes, we do curse it. We don’t even want to utter the word. Instead, we say “The ‘S’ Word,” thus granting the substance the same Dare Not Speak It impact as the customary “S” word and Lord Voldemort.

To hell with that. I’m going to say it:

Snow.

Snow, snow, snow.

Snow, snow, snow.

Snow, snow, snow.

Not only will I say it, I will welcome it. I’m taking my cue from Karin, who dismisses the notion that we have to experience winter as some kind of spirit crushing demon that chases us indoors and holds us hostage until baseball season.

Instead, Karin turns Snow into our friend. Like this:

KHC winter program photo

And this:

girl with pony

And does this look like we’re cowering in our hovels?

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To be sure, riding can be problematic during the cold months. It’s about footing more than anything else. Horses do not do well on the ice.

But, experienced horse people are very sensitive to the quality of the footing and have a pretty good handle on when it’s not safe enough to ride outside. On those days, we will go into The Great Indoors.  That’s not so bad, either.

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Besides, as long as we don’t get confused about what the Outside is good for, the retreat will always be temporary.

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Deficient Riding Time Syndrome

Guys that get sick know that they are required by The Universal Male Directive to let everyone possible know. There’s an art involved here because you’re not supposed to say it exactly. Just communicate it somehow: monster sneezes, enhanced coughing, the show moan & drama groan, strategic placement of the Nyquil bottle. And all through it you’re being very, very brave and fully expecting that you’ll get The Strong & Silent Credit for not uttering these words: “Ah habe a code.”

Well forget that. I’ve missed two lessons in a row because of my stupid “code” and I’m telling everyone. Since this goes on line, that is theoretically 7,061,427,501 people, the population of Planet Earth as of 4:46 a.m. EST.

Of course my problem is that missing two lessons in a row makes this blog a little more difficult to write.  So in lieu of an actual report from Legacy Stables (I forgot what it looks like, there’s a big white thing there, right?) I submit this seasonally appropriate article, I wrote some winters ago. It deals with a very serious equestrian issue.

Deficient Riding Time Syndrome

By Bob Goddard

 Everyone knows that riding horses is good for both mind and body. It’s great exercise and it gets you away from at least some of the electronic devices that have taken control of your life and soul. Riding also gives you the opportunity to connect on a meaningful level with an intelligent and sensitive creature or even to another human.

No doubt there are social scientists reading this right now and thinking: “Oh my yes, creating a positive connection with an animal releases powerful endorphtonins (or something like that) into your brain which helps lower your blood pressure, reduces your stress level and allows you to sleep better and live longer.” Some say that riding horses can be addicting.

A Serious Condition

If riding is truly a kind of healthy addiction, what happens when a riding addict is denied his or her fix? Addiction is addiction and every addiction has withdrawal symptoms. The Great Book of Horse Knowledge tells us that riding withdrawal actually results in a medical condition called Deficient Riding Time Syndrome or DRITS. The primary symptoms of this condition include irritability, anxiety, insomnia, aggression, restlessness, fatigue, hives, headaches, nausea, dizziness and a profound desire to publicly guillotine the guy who came up with the “He went to Jared” commercials.

I know DRITS is real, because I’ve seen it in my own daughters. I usually notice the first indications around early January. In Michigan, December can be iffy for riding and by the start of the New Year (and the end of the NFL regular season) the girls are getting a little testy. This is followed by periods of stony silence interrupted by sporadic name-calling and threats. By the time the playoffs are in full swing, I’m missing entire quarters just keeping the two separated. On Super Bowl Day, we all have Prozac on our pizza.

A Cyber Solution?

Like anyone going through withdrawal from anything, people with DRITS will seek ways to alleviate the symptoms. Some turn to meditation or self help books. Others turn to drugs or alcohol. And everyone turns to the Internet.

The Internet is a great thing generally, and it is especially a great thing for DRITS sufferers. In the Dark Days prior to the Great Cyber Hookup, horsepeople would come in at night after completing their evening chores and actually have to engage in non-horse activities. The horror. But now, with immediate 24/7 access to an entire universe of horse-related websites, chat rooms and bulletin boards, equine lovers can get a virtual fix anytime. It doesn’t replace actual riding, but it can take the edge off.

I’m all in favor of the Internet and like it very much for mostly the right reasons. But as any social scientist worth his Macbook can tell you, there is one major problem with all of this. By providing DRITS victims with a common virtual venue, you’re putting a whole bunch of grouchy people in one virtual place, at one virtual time. Once a critical mass of crabbiness is achieved, the result is a virtual disaster.

Consider for a moment, the Great Prairie Dog Meltdown of ’07. This Internet catastrophe occurred during some of the worst December weather ever seen across the United States.  From the Plain States to the Mid-Atlantic the nation was plagued with ice storms, freezing rain and flooding. There were massive power outages, schools and businesses were closed and major interstate freeways were shut down. Worst of all, it was lousy riding weather.

The result was inevitable. Unable to ride, DRITS sufferers flocked to the Internet. In particular they flocked to the largest equine related bulletin board on the net – the one sponsored by that super-serious sportshorse publication with occasional dog articles. In normal times this board has its share of snobby put-downs and condescending comments. But in December of ’07 it all got out of hand.

It all started when someone said something unkind about some guy’s pet Prairie Dog. You know, like usual. And from there it descended into the absurd and ugly. It got so absurd and ugly that the people from the super serious sportshorse publication with occasional dog articles threatened to shut down the entire bulletin board. But in a few days, the weather got better and everyone went back outside. This is a true story.

It would be very un-social scientific of me to bring up this problem and not offer a solution. And much to my own surprise, I actually have one. It has nothing to do with the Internet or mood altering substances or self-help books. It is this: whenever the weather gives the slightest break and it is reasonably safe to ride, do it. Always be prepared for these days. Be ready with the right clothing and the right gear. Most important of all, be ready with the right attitude: you have to be absolutely willing to shift gears and drop everything and anything (except a baby) and go riding. Whatever you think you’re supposed to do that day – whether it’s work, school, housework, grocery shopping, changing your oil, just let it go and go riding. You have my permission to make it your #1 priority. Just do it. Go.

Please.

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Winter, Where is Your Sting?

As much as we like to tout our Nordic invincibility, we northerners know full well that life shrinks a bit for us during the winter months. During a season when the sun bids us adieu before 5 p.m., the daylight hours become brief and precious and the wind and cold push us back indoors soon after the outdoor necessities have been tended to. Even hard-core outdoor types find nicer things to say about what indoor life has to offer. It’s a vague form of semi-hibernation.

Sure, there are those exceptional calm and sunny days when you can venture out to the trails with your equine partner for a pleasant mid-winter jaunt, but they are a definite minority. And horses do not do well on ice. Nor do they appreciate the sting of the winter wind.

For horse barns, life contracts around the core structures: the barn and the indoor arena.  This is where equestrians “hibernate.”  But while we become refugees from the frozen tundra, we have no intention of lying around like sleeping bears waiting for the thaw. Within these sanctuaries, we continue our work and play.

So every sign of progress on Legacy Stable’s indoor arena is a morale booster.  And it looks like Karin is going to win the race against Old Man Winter after all.

The arena now possesses walls on its ends.

And the inside is becoming less and less like the outside.

We have horse/equipment doors.

And people doors.

There is still work to be done.  But soon we’ll be challenging the Old Man to bring it on.