My two horse-crazy daughters, Jamie and Hiliary, have always been my window to the world of horses. Most of what I experienced and knew about horses was due to their money devouring, time consuming, work making addiction to all things equine. My participation was mostly limited to Chief Financial Officer and Mildly Interested Observer.
But now, both girls are grown women and they are involved with things like raising families and establishing careers. To be sure, the horse-craziness is still there. Jamie's apartment walls are adorned with all manner of equine art and her bookcase is still dominated by names like Tellington-Jones, Morris, Savoie and Roberts. More than half of the baby toys in Hiliary's living room have an equine element. I've seen to that. These toys are the seeds of my revenge.
I would not be a bit surprised if at some point down the road, both girls find their way back to an active horse-centered life. But until they do, I am the Prime Equestrian in the family. Mainly because I'm the only one riding right now.
Oh, brave new world. How did this happen?
It's my own fault, of course. I started taking riding lessons about a year and half ago, motivated by pure spite. Not against anyone in particular. It was more of an Angry at the Universe sort of thing. During the entire time that the girls had horses, I did not have one single positive riding experience. Every time I tried, it ended badly, often just short of catastrophe.
I blamed the Universe because it seemed like everyone around me – my sisters, my brothers, my daughters, friends and strangers – appeared comfortable and natural in the saddle. The Universe had bestowed upon them the gift of equestrian grace, while denying me the same. Apparently, I was destined to a life with both feet permanently planted on the ground. It was to defy this fate that I began riding lessons. I wasn't going to let some stingy Universe determine my destiny.
I've since learned that grace in the saddle is earned. Either the horse or the rider – preferably both – has to be trained to make it possible. Training takes time, effort and patience.
And a trainer.
For that, I turned to Karin Schmidt, a local riding instructor. Karin has literally been around the world on horses. She began vaulting at age 7 at a high-level dressage barn in Germany. Later, she served as jockey apprentice at the great Fritz Dreschsler's racing stable. After racing at every track in Germany, she became a "guest jockey" at the largest racetrack in Peru and then came to United States and raced in Kentucky and Arizona. She's exercised horses in Switzerland, England and Canada. She holds a German Master Trainer License and a CHA Instructor Certification. She is also certified by the NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association) and a member of the American Association of Riding Schools.
And a fine Sensei she has been for me these 20 months. I'm not exactly her best student. I still struggle not only with all aspects of riding, but also with simple things like applying a bridle and bit and securing the saddle. With me as her student, Karin has – out of pure necessity – elevated the virtue of patience into an art form.
And it helps that my teacher is completely insane.
"You vill vault today," she says.
"I vill not vault today," I reply.
She's makes me ride bareback. She tells me it's okay to stand up on a horse. She makes me go on long trail rides where there is no trail. She insists I wear jodhpurs. She orders me to race around barrels on a Thoroughbred. She makes me go in horse shows and ride in front of people!
It has been both easier and harder than I thought. Easier, because Karin's horses (she has 14 – all available to her students) are so nicely trained. Harder, because even on a well-trained horse, riding properly and establishing good habits isn't as simple as it looks.
When I first signed up for riding lessons, I thought I'd give it a shot, maybe three months or so and then put it down after satisfying my desire to defy the Mean Old Universe. But it's been so much fun, I just can't quit.
And while I'm not completely over the fence, I'm certainly straddling it. I'm still a foreigner, bewildered and amazed at this new perspective, struggling to glean horse sense out of the nonsense. A stranger in a strange land to be sure, but I must bear the equestrian torch for the family until my girls return to their roots.