12/30/18: Miracles Do Happen; Part 2 

I had just discovered that my life’s passion, horses, and anything to do with them, might be a supreme dream fulfilled, after a lifetime of deprivation mostly due to debilitating allergies. (See last week’s column.)  As a child, I’d checked out any books having to do with horses, and had memorized them. Then, at age 13, when I finally was able to approach another horse, and the allergy disaster happened. I could never ride. Nevertheless, I spent subsequent decades thinking about the massive amounts of information the books had contained.   

I did manage to sneak in a few equine contacts, despite the danger. In the late 50s the Bay City State Park riding stable near our home in Saginaw, Michigan offered horses who had too often been roughly treated by clueless renters. Twice, I paid for an hour, took the reins and walked alongside their poor selves, glorying in their very presence. One wretched horse, Coco, kept waiting for me to whip or kick him, but we’d mostly walk, and he’d graze and heave huge sighs of happiness. I wanted only to be close. He didn’t mind how I looked. (Wearing thick gloves, goggles, a heavy mask, and loaded with antihistamines that made me vaguely ill and unsteady, I was a weird sight. The garb and pills were vital, though. If I touched a horse, or breathed in his special scents I would court deep trouble. 

Now, in July of 2018, my new meds had changed everything. 

Two days after my first visit to the 30-stall horse barn at Casalae Farms, I went back there for my first ever lesson, unmasked, ungoggled and ungloved.  
In the central stable aisle, I stared at magnificent Menesson, a pure white Arabian stallion (officially described as a grey by experts), who’d won multiple performance blue ribbons. He stood there, saddled and cross-tied, and looked me up and down.  
He knew I would be his rider.    

It was OK to feed him a horse treat. Looking pleased, still wearing just his halter, he crunched down the stable’s cinnamon-apple pellets, being careful not to bite my bare hand, which he’d quickly enveloped. (I hadn’t noticed.) He gently pushed it out, gave it a wash, then vigorously nodded his perfect head. He loved those pellets. 

Before I could ride I was asked to sign a paper that listed the sport’s obvious dangers. Casalae Farms would be absolved of blame, should I crash and burn.   
Snorting, I scribbled my signature immediately.  

Life is a risk, every single day.  

Looking back, I recall noting some nervous speculation. Standing before them was a 75-year-old pint-sized lady with zero experience determined to master the art of riding. If I were the owner, I’d be nervous, too. Anything could happen. But clearly, I was absolutely committed. 

Connie, my first teacher, had listened to my unusual history and decided that 22-year-old Menesson would be the perfect fit for me. They’d owned him nearly his entire life and he’d never chucked a rider. He and she would soon know a lot more about my skill level and potential. 
So would I. 

I climbed a portable stair to mount the 1100-pound horse. He stood quietly, awaiting orders. Connie carefully described what signals he responded to, and how, and in what order to apply them.  
I ate it up. 

“OK.  Remember. One cluck to walk.”  
I clucked, and off he went, neck arched, hooves perfectly placed. We slow-walked, and fast walked. 
“Hmmm,” she said, after watching me for a while. “You have a darn good seat, and a very light hand. Menesson is carrying himself well. Fact is, he likes you.” 

Time passed as my horse and I began to relax. 

Eventually she called, “Now, two clucks for a trot when you’re ready, if you think you can manage it.” 

Two clucks. He responded instantly. What controlled power! What a rush of awe I felt! I began with a sitting trot, and then moved into a posting trot. All my life I’d ridden this way, but only in dreams. 

{Heavens! I do define ‘permanently smitten.’}  

There was a shout.  
“For heaven’s sake, Dee, you’re a natural! You ride with instinctive balance and poise! How can this be? Are you sure you’ve never done this??”  

These words marked another supreme moment in my life.  

After some time trotting at a good clip round the big arena she asked if I wanted to move up...to a canter. One softly spoken ‘whoa’ would stop Menesson, should I feel unstable.  
Was I game? 

I nodded, and she called out, “Remember, ‘kiss’ to canter.”  
I readied him, ‘kissed,’ and Menesson moved effortlessly into a smooth, collected canter (basically a controlled gallop).  His neck arched, his long mane flowed, his tail arched... 
It was my first up-to-speed riding experience, and I hardly needed the horse. 
I was transported.  

There were more explanations from other observers, who shouted that I was – “really good!” 

After whizzing around the area for a time I needed to stop for the day and collect my wits. The praise was overwhelming, my responses so natural and effortless and it spooked me. So I spoke a soft ‘whoa,’ and he responded immediately, and with fluid grace.  
This animal was the epitome of style and grace. What a gift! 
Needing to process what had happened, I dismounted, carefully sliding to the ground. It was a long way down.   

Just then, Menesson’s stunning three-year-old grey son (who’ll gradually evolve to white) pranced into the arena, ridden by a top US trainer, Tom. Everyone watched them work. Wow! To see an Arabian move is always a thrill. 
Like father, like son... 

This special day marked the beginning of my quest for riding excellence. I would learn from three experienced teachers and other educated horses. (It isn’t good to focus on just one.) Those well-trained animals would have to put up with my ignorance, but only for a little while. I never, ever want to hurt their sensitive mouths conveying clumsy signals. 
I’d home study, and then practice over and over, and encourage my teachers to demand my best efforts. And neither party would ever allow age-related ‘passes’ to excuse wishy-washy work. 
“Think of me as 35,” said I.  
And why not? I feel that young, thrive on constructive criticism and am certainly strong. Building my secret garden took a decade or two of truly hard work. I’ve never labored like that in my life. I can still dig deep, lift those 40-pound compost bags and run fast sprints. Asking a horse for a response isn’t so much about strength, but most often about communication. Reins and bit, legs and voice communications. This can be done subtly. That's the art. 

Here’s a curious, amazing fact: I experienced zero soreness after that riding session and no aches subsequently, especially in my thigh muscles, which were totally unaccustomed to gripping. I have no clue why.  

And so ---my great horse adventure has begun!

2 comments

  • Judee

    Judee Lake Ann

    You constantly amaze me. What a spirit of adventure you are. I find myself a bit envious. I have been reading your column for years. I started when your articles were in the Record Eagle. Now that you email them I copy them and share with my husband. He has become quite the fan. Thank you for your insight, humor, and touching stories. I love Bryn Dog as seen through your eyes. We look forward to your column every week. Thank you.

    You constantly amaze me. What a spirit of adventure you are. I find myself a bit envious.
    I have been reading your column for years. I started when your articles were in the Record Eagle. Now that you email them I copy them and share with my husband. He has become quite the fan. Thank you for your insight, humor, and touching stories. I love Bryn Dog as seen through your eyes.
    We look forward to your column every week.
    Thank you.

  • Dee Blair

    Dee Blair

    Wow! Thanks, Judee! I do love what I'm doing; the horses are my vitamins; I'm so energized! Bryn loves the barn, and we do love to go there and just breathe it in. The Record Eagle confined me to 600 words, and kept changing what I wrote, so I created to my own website. No' corrals' here. You really did boost my day with your kind comments. BRRRR... Bryn and I just came home from a hike; the sun is blazing and it's super cold, but we found it invigorating. Bryn was happier in her snow boots and coat, and I piled on layers of socks, mittens, sweaters and scarves. This sort of bundling kept us both warm and we walked briskly along the Boardman Lake Trail... Cheers, Dee Cheers, Dee

    Wow! Thanks, Judee! I do love what I'm doing; the horses are my vitamins; I'm so energized! Bryn loves the barn, and we do love to go there and just breathe it in.
    The Record Eagle confined me to 600 words, and kept changing what I wrote, so I created to my own website. No' corrals' here. You really did boost my day with your kind comments.
    BRRRR... Bryn and I just came home from a hike; the sun is blazing and it's super cold, but we found it invigorating. Bryn was happier in her snow boots and coat, and I piled on layers of socks, mittens, sweaters and scarves. This sort of bundling kept us both warm and we walked briskly along the Boardman Lake Trail...
    Cheers, Dee
    Cheers, Dee

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