Monthly Archives: September 2006


phylliss-iii.jpgI’ve been meaning to pay tribute to Phylliss for some time.  Phyllis is the first horse I rode when I began taking lessons two years ago. She was in her 20s, didn’t like anyone, threatened to kick and bite all the time, and was generally a pain.  For my first lesson, I was so keyed up and so nervous that I noticed none of these things. I got her haltered, groomed, saddled, out into the ring and then mounted without a mounting block! Now that I’m more relaxed, I can’t do that anymore but at the time, up I went.

We went around in the ring, we adult learners, 7 brave women clinging to saddles and life and Phylliss was just fine. So I wasn’t a bit worried at the second lesson.  I was calm and happy approaching her in the stall — which she understood right away as weakness and so began a series of anti-social behaviors. Ears back, kicking with back legs while being saddled, head tossing and tossing and tossing while I tried to get the danged halter on her to groom her, let alone get the halter back off and the bridle on.  I thought for sure she’d try to smish me against the stall wall but that’s OK because I had a plan:  Yell my fool head off and then switch to screaming if no one came to help.

I had several more lessons with Phylliss.  When my husband came out to watch me ride, I also had Phylliss, so he had had the pleasure of watching me try to deal with a large animal who narrowed her eyes, showed her teeth, put her ears back, kicked at her girth, etc. It was not the most relaxing moment in our marriage (Honey, it’s better now.  Really) and as Jack observed, “Phylliss is a pain.”

Another night, I was in despair.  I couldn’t do a danged thing. I was tired, scared, frustrated.  One of the young students, a teenage girl, asked me if I wanted help.  “Sure,” I said, having already observed how much more than I the kids knew.  The girl got in the stall with Phylliss and her bridle — and proceeded to turn the air blue with cuss words while she fought with the horse.  I couldn’t believe it.  I mean, I know how to swear and have sworn on many, many occaisionas, but it’s different when it’s coming from someone young enough to be your daughter.  Such language!

After I started riding other horses, I never wanted to go back to Phylliss, but that wasn’t always the case.  So on days when I didn’t ride her, I brought her a treat.  I even went in her stall to feed her., hoping that since no riding was in store, she’d pick up on my relaxed attitude and stay calm.  By this method, I hoped to teach myself how to act. Training wiley Phylliss was out of the question.

I never rode Phylliss again after I put the new plan in place, so I don’t if this self-ruse would have worked.


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Filed under Horses by Name

Quiet Lesson

This morning I took in an hour’s ride at the barn.  There’s no instruction or supervision, just the use of the horse for an hour. It was sublime.  At 10:00 a.m. on a rainy fall morning, there’s few humans and most of the horses are munching hay.  No one was kicking his or her stall or fuming about a wrong or injustice perpetrated upon the horse-self; just the quiet grinding of jaws, the rustle of hay, the occasional swallow.

I rode Sadie this morning.  Had my lesson on her yesterday afternoon and learned about leg yielding.  Previous attempts at same haven’t been so successful. Leah taught me on Sadie because Sadie is just darned cooperative about that kind of stuff and is a blue-eyed sweetheart.  She’s also preggers and due in May.

So what I learned about leg yielding is that on a cooperative horse, I can do it!  I pressed with my leg just  a wee bit behind the girth (not much but enough to signal that I wanted her to move her rump) and bent her nose slightly to the direction inwhich I wanted her to go and Hey Presto! Sadie was walking sideways, leg over leg over leg. I changed legs and leads and Hey Presto! again; sideways leg over leg over leg back the other way.

I recalled a dressage competition I watched on TV once — ok, fast forward (I was in a hurry!) and saw the same thing but had not the foggiest idea of what made the horse do that.  The rider was sitting up nice and neat and looking like she’d never broken a sweat in her life. So to me, actually doing it is a small miracle.  And doing it in the quiet of the empty riding ring the very next day was another small miracle.

After we’d zig-zagged back and forth, I dismounted and removed the saddle and rode for another 10-15 minutes bareback, trying the same techniques.  It was harder without the saddle, probably because when the trot speeds up, I get tense and am applying all kinds of pressure with both legs.  But it was also good to sit the trot bareback and concentrate on relaxing and breathing.


Filed under Just happy, Riding Skills

The “Bem Cavalgar”

“One of the fortunate occurrences that helps the correct learning of the art of riding is to have from the start good and appropriate beasts, in accordance with each one’s stage of learning; because the beasts should be of one type at the beginning and of other types later on.”  

From The Royal Books of Horsemanship, Jousting and Knightly Combat by Dom Duarte, translated by Antonio Franco Preto  and edited by Steven Muhlberger, Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005.

Many thanks to Nancy Nicholson for turning me on to this book.  Dom Duarte was the King of Portugal a very long time ago indeed (he died in 1438) and was known in his day for many things including his skill at wrestling. 

What impresses me most about His Majesty is his kindness and good sense regards beginning riders.  In Chapter V of his book, he deals with the proper way to teach: 

“It should be noted that a youngster or any other person who is starting to learn the art of riding should do it initially on a healthy beast with no signs of malice or evil intentions. . . .And if [the student] starts making mistakes we should not reprimand him severely, but gently and little by little. And we should praise him with enthusiasms whenever he acts correctly and starts showing gradual development. And we should act this way until we see he has really decided to go on learning and is actually looking forward to be corrected and taught.”

Doesn’t he sound like a great teacher? And doesn’t it make you think of all the terrible learning experiences you’ve had in the past, thrown on the back of a “beast” to which you were ill-suited either due to someone’s warped sense of fun or their own ignorance about teaching?  Riding heck; think about the gym classes or math classes or in-service training or anything where just the smallest bit of “you are doing well” would have been nice.

I am pleasantly surpised that a king of the late Middle Ages was of the opinion that beginers are best brought along gently.   However, once a student knows what’s what, the king changed tactics:

“And coming to the last stages of the learning process it is time for [the student] to be severely reprimanded for every error done and force him to repeat his movements and actions as many times as necessary until correction and perfection are ensured and obtained.”

The king was no pushover.

And this should be part of every teacher’s toolkit:

 “And all those who are lucky enough to have good teachers — a most fortunate happening — have a unique opportunity of becoming fearless horse riders.”  


Filed under Books, Learning

Physical things

A former co-worker and I were talking horses one day. She returned to riding as an adult too, though now she has drifted away again due to family responsibilities.  She said that once she started taking two lessons a week, she got very sore and lived on Ibuprofen.

I wondered if the same would hold true for me once I increased to twice a week, if the slowly diminishing soreness that resolved itself about two days before my next lesson would become completely chronic and never let me be. To my surprise, the answer has been no.  Quite the resounding one, at that. I’m not crazy-wild sore, walking bow-legged, or settling into a cement-like stupor after sitting for a few moments post-lesson.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing things right because I’m not experiencing the same level of tendon and muscle fatigue, but according to Leah, I’m improving so I MUST be doing SOMETHING right! I mean, isn’t it supposed to be Hard and No Pain No Gain and all kinds of Striving and Struggling All of the Time? Isn’t every single moment of your life supposed to be exactly like that or you aren’t really out there doing something worthwhile?!?!?! Isn’t the unexamined life not worth living?!?!

(Pause for breathe.  Too wrapped up)

Apparently not! Sometimes, you can just Be!

That’s one of the biggest things riding gives, me, the opportunity to Just Be, to Just Be at whatever level I’m at  which is sorta dressagy with long stirrups in an old Wintec all-purpose saddle, still getting used to other people in the ring , knowing what to expect from the horse, novice on the top and bottom with a thin layer of whipped intermediate in-between.

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Filed under Riding Skills, The Rider's Body

Knitting for Horses

After my “projects” post the other day and after the great comments, I wonder if perhaps we are on to something here, re: the knitting angle. I’ve almost given up on knitting sweaters for humans because I’ve made three for myself so far and gad, they were foul. And how many scarves does one person need, really?  Or hats?

So far we’ve had the cooler mentioned by Ms. X, and the pad for the withers.  I used to work at a yarn store and one of the books had a photo of knitter, her horse, and a felted lead rope. That lookedlike a nicel thing, plus it would work up fast.  I”ve got about 3 different patterns for knit horse toys but have as of yet to get around to them. 

A knitted horse blanket — now there’s a big old project for you. Maybe a crochet doily thing with a super-big crochet hook so that it wouldn’t take forever. Perhaps a knit and/or crochet fly cover to keep the bugs out of those big eyes?  That sounds fun and possibly do-able.

I like to create things that are fun and useful (and are not sweaters wich can be neither.  I mean, you should have seen the sleeves on those suckers — knitting nightmare come true), so making something by hand that will last is enticing. Other suggestions?


Filed under Uncategorized

Mountain Horse

Oh my goodness, in my search for Mountain Horse boots I chanced upon the Mountain Horse Web site! Talk about your fantasies!  It’s not just the great sweaters, cool boots, naty and oh-so-chic breeches; it’s the photo shoot.

Yes, as the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated is to devotees of the bikini and sports, this catalogue is to horse enthusiasts. In addition to the stylish and comfy gear, there’s many drool-worthy pictures of horses and people at play in the snow. The horses, according to the copy in the catalogue, are Freibergers, a Swiss horse. Makes sense because the local is St. Moritz and boy oh boy, does it ever look like St. Moritz, a place I know only from 1960s spy movies.

Yes, trendy European models are skiing behind galloping horses, riding their horses through the charming streets of St. Moritz, and drinking hot toddies outside on terraces. The horses are prancing through the snow and pulling sleighs.  There’s even a short movie on the front page of the Web site that shows some horse skiing or skiijorer.

The Mountain Horse catalogue makes you say, “Yeah, I want to do THAT! I want to go do that RIGHT NOW! To heck with everything, were’s my credit card and my travel agent?!?!”

No, I have no financial connection with the company.  *Sigh.*  If only.

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Filed under Popular Culture, Uncategorized

Good and Bad

My internet connection was so insufferably slow this morning that it rendered even the most casual use an exercise in extreme frustration. I was vexed, vexed beyond hope because I could not take the time this fine rainy morning to find good prices on winter riding boots, such as the Mountain Horse line offered by Dover and by many other fine purveyors of horse accoutrement. 

But now, thanks to the good offices of AT&T/Yahoo/Ameritech/SBC  we have blindingly brilliant and fast connections at all times, speeds that rival human synaptic response like a cat jumping into the air to fell a fleeing moth; anything other than this worse-than-dial-up thing today. And I only ran through 3 tech support people overseas and one nice technician who has Solved The Problem!!!

BUT…..I was going to ride today. And that didn’t work out.  Now I have to wait until Monday.


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Filed under Cats, Uncategorized