Over the decades, my riding Sensei, Karin, has accumulated a large repertoire of instructional techniques. Things like tucking a $10 bill (not hers) between rider and saddle to encourage a proper seat. Or having me ride with my eyes shut as a way of enhancing my awareness of the horse’s motion — and, incidentally, making the trot interesting again.
Like Mary Poppins’ magic carpet bag, Karin’s bag of teaching tricks never seems to run out.
My all-time favorite Karin trick is Oskar the Invisible Horse. Karin introduced me to Oskar when I was having trouble getting Goldie, the beautiful, but easily distracted, Palomino I ride to follow my directional cues in a timely manner. Which is pretty much the same problem Karin has with me.
“Bob, think about what happens when you’re driving and you approach a stop sign,” Karen said with as much patience as she could muster. “You don’t wait until you get right up to it, then slam on your brakes, do you?”
“Of course not. I’m an excellent driver.”
“So, you anticipate the approach and gradually slow down before coming to a full stop, right?”
“Good. Now, you have to do the same for Goldie when you ask for a change of direction or speed. Start thinking about what you’d like to do well before you have to cue her.”
“Ah, I see. I have to give her time to transform my thinking into her doing.”
“That’s right. Changes of direction and speed can be done smoothly and with less resistance if you think ahead. Just imagine there’s an invisible horse a horse length in front of you. Act as though you’re cueing that horse.”
“An imaginary horse? What’s his name?”
“We’ll call him Oskar. Oskar the Invisible Horse.”
Three of a Kind
What Karin doesn’t know, and what I can’t tell her, is I can actually see Oskar. And so can Goldie. He’s a noble Paint Horse stallion with bold markings. The marking on his right hindquarters roughly resembles the saucer section of the starship Enterprise.
Oskar is friendly and well-meaning, but he’s also a bit mischievous and doesn’t always set a good example.
Oskar and I go back a long way. In fact, I can’t remember a single moment in my equestrian career he wasn’t there, loping along in front of Goldie and me.
He’s a constant presence on the trail, frequently glancing back toward us to make sure we’re following along. I always make sure to leave plenty of space for him between us and the rider in front of us. Meanwhile, everyone attributes our lagging to Goldie’s sluggish gait and overall lack of enthusiasm. I offer no explanation.
Goldie worships Oskar like a protective brother and tries to emulate his every move. When Oskar suddenly stops to munch on a bit of grass, Goldie follows suit. When Oskar nabs a leaf off a low-hanging branch, Goldie has to have one, too.
Oskar always walks around, never through, mud puddles. Goldie follows him, even if it means rubbing her rider against a tree.
At the front of the line, Karin rides uber-horse Charley and issues such instructional tidbits as “Don’t let her do that,” and, “Make her go.”
Sometimes, Oskar gets bored and wanders off the trail, taking Goldie and me with him. We usually end up at one of two places: the barn we started from or the fence line at the neighboring horse farm. In any case, Karin always seems to know where to look for us.
Once, Oskar got a little too ambitious and decided it was time for us to challenge Karin and Charley for first place in line. Goldie, finding her inner racehorse, stayed right behind Oskar, and the three of us bolted past Karin down the open trail.
As we left Karin behind, I could hear her helplessly shout for me to just hang on. Apparently, there was nothing in that endless bag of tricks that could stop an invisible horse.
Freelance writer Bob Goddard lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife, Jenny, and assorted pets. His latest book is Horse Crazy! A Tongue-in-Cheek Guide for Parents of Horse-Addicted Girls. To order, and to read his humorous blog, “Bob the Equestrian,” visit www.horsecrazy.net.