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The Kasper Chronicles -- Part 4

walking the walkers

Date : Thu Apr 04, 17:47
From: <> Sally Barns

Have any of you ever been to the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound (north of Seattle)? They are picturesque in the extreme, little green jewels. Even though I've lived here all my life, I'm ashamed to say this was my first trip. But, with luck, not my last.

Four of us went on the expedition to Walking Horse Country (the name of the farm), which prides itself on being the only "guided Tennessee Walking Horse trail riding program in Washington." Probably the only one in a larger area than that ;) The day was cold but bright with sun, sometimes a sharp wind, but on Orcas Island the wind was almost nothing. We were bundled up, naturally. The horses were *not* like the photos you see of show Walkers--rather than gleaming, shining, streamlined beauties, they were rather shaggy little beasts, as their winter coats were unclipped, and not all that well brushed, either. But the husband & wife who run the place obviously love them very much, and took time to instruct us in how to "steer" these particular creatures.

I had the sense to insist that two of us (the other Equine-L'ers, Paulette Struckman and Sara Lundberg) were the best riders, which is true, and that they should be given the horses with the most, shall we say, personality, which they were. Sara at least had to have several little discussions with her mount--he fancied himself madly in love with Paulette's mare, and simply *had* to be Right Next to her all the time or he fussed, sometimes getting a little "light in the forehand." So it was a somewhat challenging ride for Sara, in the sense that she couldn't just relax and enjoy it all the time. I don't know how the running walk compares to the told (never having seen the tolt, just heard of it), but "amusing and comfortable" sort of sums it up.

My horse was an absolute dream. I love that walk, although it took a while before we stopped expecting to break into a trot, but the canter--on my horse, at least, it was heaven, or as close as I ever expect to get. I thought that after 2+ years of lessons I was finally getting a fairly relaxed seat, but the smoothness of Shadow's gait made me realize I could relax even more; in fact, completely. We could just see the beach down below from the forest path we were cantering along--it was a green and blue dream. Sigh.

The farm itself was quite pretty also, and includes some dogs, a pair of Belgians, and assorted other 4-legged creatures. Of the 4 of us, I may be the only actual "convert" to TWHs, although I don't know how well they take to dressage. But for a trail mount, I'm a believer!

The saddles, however, we all thought extremely uncomfortable--Australian stocks saddles, hard as rocks, and somewhat forcing us into "chair seats." But then, we've all been spoiled by nice, cushy dressage saddles ;)

(There's a story index on the top of this page.)

Mary Wanless, a better way to ride

Date : Tue Apr 16, 19:30
From: <> Nora Fischbach

Frans asked me to write about my experiences with the Mary Wanless method of riding. I will be taking a lesson with Anne Howard this weekend in this method, and am attending Mary Wanless' clinic next weekend, so I'll have a lot more to write about then. But to sum up her method...

Mary is a physicist who studied riding from the scientific point of view. She studied the best riders in the world to see what they were doing. Then she developed a down-to-earth way of explaining what the great riders do without even thinking. Nothing she says is new, she just explains it in a way that makes much more sense than "heels down, back straight, keep your hands and seat quiet."

I was given her videotape series, and everything she said put riding in a new perspective for me. I rarely ride anymore (I never have time), but I experimented with her ideas, and then tried them out on our disabled riders. We saw *immediate* improvement in every one of them...tighter legs, quieter seats, quieter hands. Two riders with very poor balance suddenly seemed glued to their saddles, even at the trot.

I was taught to put my heels way down, arch my back slightly, lift my chest, relax my elbows, etc. Now I keep my heels level, position my pelvis so that my seat bones point down to the ground (which flattens the back), bring my ribs down toward my hips (back is straight but not lengthened), and use my arms as if I were pushing a shopping cart. All this seems opposite to what I was taught, but it made a world of difference in my ability to be "one with the horse".

I highly recommend her book or tapes. The technique is the same whatever type of riding you do, since it is based on being balanced and in rhythm with the horse. And she tells you WHY you do what you are doing, so it makes sense.

I'll let you know how the two clinics went in a few weeks (I'm leaving for my vacation the day after the Wanless clinic.)


(There's a story index on the top of this page.)

When a whip is handy

Date : Wed Apr 24, 12:28
From: <> Frans Goddijn
said Jennifer Howlett to All:

 JH> The last week in Canberra (Australia) has seen winter arrive.  Cold
 JH> winds  and rain that was not welcome at the Pony Club annual camp.

Seems like the switch in reverse direction happens as sudden there as it does here. Last week friday morning there was still a thin sheet of oce over a bucket of water in our garden, but since last weekend we've suddenly been thrown into summer temperatures, being out on all times, having dinner in the garden... and horses being sweaty and docile.

 JH> At home I am continuing to work with my colt, now 14 weeks old.  He
 JH> is  leading well but I have not been able to teach him to trot on
 JH> the lead.  He  just walks and watches while I trot to the end of
 JH> the lead rope!

On the farm where Kasper lives, four or five young horses have arrived to learn the basics of riding. The first longe training is with two people, the first holding the rope, the second using the long whip sparingly to make clear which direction the movement is needed.

I helped to make Lester, one of these new horses overcome his fear for streaming water. Lester has been living with a nearby farmer for three years, in relative freedom and idleness and now it still needs to learn everything. The farmer has not done much with Lester, except whipping it out to the pasture and back into its stall. In consequence, Lester has very little sensitivity to a whip, but it's still VERY easily scared of all new things of which there are many.

To make Lester come near the water hose to let his legs be washed, it took Janneke on the halter rope and a girl and me with a long whip each on both sides behind him. The girl hit Lester softly or a little harder and repeatedly to make him step forward over the FRIGHTFUL wet stone pavement on the patio, where TERRIBLE water softly streamed from the hose to the gutter in the middle of the patio.

After Lester took a few steps forward, and found himself with both front feet IN THE TRANSPARARENT COLD LAVA STREAM, he backed out and almost RAN backwards, and that's when I with my long whip was needed to lash out and prevent accidents happening.

Eventually, after an hour of this live chess playing with repeating moves of the only knight on the board, Lester concluded that we were not giving up and he stepped forward, standing with all four TREMBLING legs, letting his legs be cleaned. Every now and then, though, he clawed in the stream of water from the hose, with his front feet or, LIGHTNING fast and with such power that bits of his hoove fragmented off, with his hind feet hitting the water and the pavement. It sounded like a snap.

The day before yesterday, when Janneke was seated on Lester for the first time, he behaved nicely but cautiously for a few minutes until he SUDDENLY spotted Jannekes RIGHT LEG dangling on his right side. He'd NEVER seen any danglement there so he RUSHED backwards until his hind hit the circular boundaries of the longing arena and then BUCKED Janneke off, sending her in a salto mortale flight. She landed belly first in the sand, a little later than her riding helmet which had sailed elsewhere and she swiftly rolled out of the arena. She's feeling stiff now, but not very much hurt and she is borrowing my more fitting riding helmet for further training.

Lester looks great, but I think there will be some adventures with this on before it's fun to ride him. Yesterday, Lester's owner, a woman of 30 who is also a dressage jury person, came to see the progress. She had the gall to tell Janneke her seat was not good enough and Janneke should hold her hands differently, but luckily she shut up when Janneke offered her to swap places for a minute....

(There's a story index on the top of this page.)

Mane Pulling

Date : Thu May 02, 13:11
From: <> Frans

I had my 40th birthday last sunday and "celebrated" it in just being with Jacoline, the kids and Kasper. Lore and Veerle gave me a voucher for a private instruction by Janneke that same sunday and this was the highlight for me.

Another horse present that I got was a book you probably know, THE HORSE WHISPERER, by Nicholas Evans, in a fair Dutch translation by Irving Pardoen. I enjoy the book VERY much!!! Someone told me there is also a film with the same story. Is there?

Later note: Finished the book. It starts very strong, with a movie-like description of separate events leading to a terrible accident, centered on two horses and their young owners. From then on, several storylines are worked out extensively while others trail to an end beyond the view of the reader. Sometimes, descriptions of a predictable human love affair and the unnecessary dramatic end of it lead too far away of the central horse theme, but these pages do explain how the book could become such a bestseller. For the younger reader, I would have wanted a footnote saying "Do Not Try This At Home --- Unsafe Sex Can Be Dangerous To Your Health" below the scene where the wise, grown up (married) woman tells her wise, grown up man (with many short term relationships) that "it's safe" to not use contraceptives because she is wearing an IUD. Towards the end, the horse becomes a main character once again, mainly as a "deus ex machina" to end a problematic human relationship here and mend one there.

Kasper has recently moved to a new stall as the king size stall he had for almost six months was now needed for a mare who's about to get a foal. In the same hall, he moved two doors and now he's standing on the other side of his neighbor Sultan. When the top halfs of their doors are open (which they usually are), they can ``hang out'' and rub each other's faces and necks.

Coming sunday, there's a show (is that the right equine word for the competition?) on the fields of "Holthuizen", the place where Kasper lives. Members of Holthuizen and a dozen members of another riding club will meet and compete in a simple field cross, dressage and jumping arena. Lore and Veerle will also take part (not in the field cross though) and I help by typesetting the program and such things.

Janneke had told us a while ago that we should pull Kasper's manes (they were getting long and Janneke said it looked sloppy) but we never got around to it, partly because we didn't know how to pull manes and partly because we felt like we didn't want to hurt Kasper for cosmetic reasons.

With the show coming soon we wouldn't want people to think we keep our horse looking sloppy though, so we took Janneke's offer to help and show us how it's done. Yesterday evening Janneke had time to do it. When she entered Kasper's stall and reached for his neck she said ``Gosh, Kasper is really growing BIG!''

He's a slender horse so in a wider space, like in the arena or in the pasture with other horses, he doesn't come over like a huge animal but indeed he's high, and he has been building more muscle than he had when he arrived. His neck and shoulders have a short, shiny coat now but further to the back the thicker, more uneven winter coat still clings. It's like a slow motion undress, where an oiled, muscular body is revealed from under dusty overalls.

Janneke told us our mane comb, with its long finger grips in the form of curved horse heads was pretty but unusable and she got her own simple and much more handy comb. I was in the stall with her and held Kasper on a rope from his halter. At first, he was merely passive, but after a few moments he decided he was against pulling manes and tried to stop the procedure.

To my surprise, he didn't move during the moment when Janneke pulled a wisp of his mane, but he acted up when she took a wisp between her fingers, before she rolled it up on the comb. And he didn't kick at her or or buck, but tried to take it out on *me* by bending his neck to the left and leaning against me with his right shoulder, pressing me against the wall and the door. At first I could push him back by pulling on the halter rope and straightening his neck but I got less effective when he used more force. Feeling his high, heavy body lean and push against me tended to be overwhelming. Breathtaking, for sure, in the way that my breast was squeezed tight between him and the wall and if I didn't lift my knee quickly to stomp him away a little, I'd be unable to move my leg at all.

I tried to squeeze the skin of his neck but the short haired slick coat didn't give me much grip, especially as his neck arched away from me so the skin was pulled tight. Then, when he gave me a slow but heavy push and his tight, soft neck pressed against my face, I groaned, opened my mouth and tried to bite. This didn't bother Kasper either but when Janneke caught me doing it, she almost collapsed laughing! This hurt her at the same time since she had a bad fall off Lester last tuesday (will write about that soon) but the fun of my attempts to bite Kasper won over the hurt.

Kasper remained calm but decided in his sabotage attempts. Standing still when Janneke pulled, but moving all his weight to the side when he felt her taking some hairs between her fingertips. Frans Agterberg had come to see what Janneke's laughing was about and he shared with us some of his humourous, semi-sniding remarks before Janneke told him to come and help.

``When you want to squeeze him, you better not let go'' he said and he took a vertical fold of Kasper's skin, above and behind his right shoulder in his both hands and held it firm and tight. Kasper must've felt that Frans was serious about this. He stood perfectly still for the minute that Janneke needed to finish up and he only breathed a bit heavier through his widened nostrils.

When we were done, and steped back, chatting, he showed no hard feelings, merely rummaged the stall with his nose to see if there were any bits of grain he could have missed earlier.

(There's a story index on the top of this page.)

This page is linked to the home page of Frans Goddijn.
Frans Goddijn, Postbus 30196, 6803 AD Arnhem, fax +31 (0)26 3211759
Updated Nov 16, 1998