Thursday, September 13, 2007

Catchy Things--Part One

This is with apology to all my friends who are into racking.

Kelly got a new school bus driver this year. All the neighbors are suspicious since the old one has been doing it forever. I found this out when I called him to see if he had any hay. He told me he quit the school bus because he had to take a job driving a truck for the landfill, times being tough. I don’t know if the new guy, Dwayne, will offer any of the special services like the old one did, like selling hay or shoeing horses and knowing things like who has a pony for sale, but he seems nice enough.

Since all the neighbors were up-in-arms not knowing who the new guy was and because I couldn’t remember what the name was that the old one told me, they got all the kids riled up worrying about it and it rubbed off on Kelly. She barely knew the old one because we just moved here, but she got riled up right along with them. Things are catchy with kids.

They catch everything when they go back to school. They make them come to school with hand sanitizer right alongside the three-ring binders and page dividers to try to prevent the spread of germs. They don’t want the common cold running amok. I already warned her not to touch her face with her hands; not to tap her lip while she’s thinking when she’s in school. But what do you do about soccer?

I found the soccer papers in the stack Kelly came home with that took me all night to read and sign. I warned Kurt, “Ut oh, we better get going with her riding lessons again or else we’re going to find ourselves doing soccer.”

We had put Kelly’s riding lessons on hold over the summer because we were just too busy with family visiting, two vacation bible schools and assorted day trips. It was fine. She was still riding, which is what she loves. But she bugs us to join things like soccer or cheerleading whenever she goes back to school and sees what all the other kids are doing. So far we have been able to avoid it by telling her, “You can’t do everything. If you are doing choir, 4-H and riding lessons, you can’t do soccer and cheerleading too. It is physically impossible.” The real reason is, I would rather someone pull my nails out with a pliers than sit through some kids playing a game in a stinky school gym, or wherever they have these things, with a bunch of parents who have nothing better to do that they actually find it interesting.

Kurt said, “We can’t do soccer. We don’t have a mini van.”

“I’ll call the instructor tomorrow and schedule the lessons.”

Kurt rubbed his belly thoughtfully. Oprah was on the TV. “I think I’m going to go to one of those make-over shows. That way there’d be no way we’d have time to go to soccer.”

“What if the instructor is not doing it anymore? I heard she retired.”

“Let’s tell her she has to sell her pony if she joins soccer.”


Kelly’s instructor hadn’t called me back after I left a message on her machine and after waiting a full week to hear from her since country people don’t do anything fast except drive, being genetically linked to NASCAR in some way, I knew it was true. She retired. I’d have to find someone else to give lessons.

The thing is, there aren’t many instructors around when you live in a small town with only a few hundred people and not many more in the county. There aren’t many people around period. The other thing is, this ain’t Oklahoma, land of western events like barrel racing and roping. Or even New Jersey, where a person could find a barrel race within driving distance at least once a week because we horse people were all crunched up together in the only county left that wasn’t bulldozed over.

Nope, the people around here ride a different kind of horse. It’s called a racking horse and I’m not sure if that’s actually a breed, or all the gaited horses fall under it as a category, such as Tennessee Walkers and Saddlebreds. Whatever it is, it is nothing like the discipline we do, which is barrel racing. It is nothing like western riding of any kind.

First of all, the riders of these racking horses wear brightly-colored silk jackets with Asian motifs as if they are the servers in fancy Japanese restaurants. Some of them wear little derbies like Charlie Chaplin. (And the women wonder why they can’t get their husbands into it—com’on, it’s dorky man!) Their horses have long necks, long feet and long tails. Everything is long. The day is long when you are watching them in between the western speed classes you are waiting for and I imagine it’s only a little bit better than sitting through a fifth grader’s basketball game because your daughter is going to cheer for a few minutes.

I have to admit, the first time we saw these horses it was interesting. We’d never seen anything like it before. But after watching two or three classes of them prancing around and around the arena in jerky, spastic motions, we had had enough. It was obvious to us that, even though the movement made for a smooth ride for the human, the horses were physically incapable of any real function like actually rounding up cattle. Maybe when I’m in my eighties and the doctor tells me I need a walker, I’ll get the Tennessee kind, but in the meantime, we’re going to stick to our good old American Quarter Horses and do some real riding.

So I knew that finding another instructor who teaches western riding was going to be difficult at best. There is some English riding around here. I wouldn’t rule out Kelly getting some English lessons because at least warmbloods and Thoroughbreds have the same gaits as Quarter Horses do and can actually perform. In fact, Kelly has expressed an interest in learning to jump, so I wouldn’t be against it. I figured if I could at least find her some kind of basic balanced-seat riding, that would satisfy her need to belong to something and we could work on barrels ourselves.

But there were no games in town and the soccer sign-up sheet was stuck on the refrigerator waving frantically and terrorizing me every time the door was opened and a breeze came in. I got out all the phone books, made a ton of calls and sent out e-mails. Does anyone know someone who gives lessons? I found a lady over an hour away but it was only five dollars a shot. How can you beat that? But she was all heart and no substance. Her lesson pony, though dead quiet, needed training himself, and the arena, which was set up in the grassy backyard behind an abandoned church next door, was ramshackle at best. She had ropes rigged up from the church steps, to a couple of posts, down to the chrome handle on the door of a 1967 Buick, and back up to the church steps again.

The next one, also over an hour away, invited us to come and watch her give a lesson. What is the best way to put this? She had no bedside manner. I found myself thinking, did she forget we are here? We watched her bark orders and belittle the little girl she was giving a lesson to. “What is wrong with you?! Now get on the correct lead!” Nope, this was not the instructor for us.

Finding the right instructor is tricky under the best circumstances. She must be knowledgeable so your child actually learns something but she also must be fun so that your child wants to keep going back. She must have a safe lesson horse and a safe arena. She has to be affordable and close enough. Basically, like porridge—not too hot and not too cold. Finally, I found someone who seemed just right. We scheduled our first lesson. And then I got a phone call. It was one of the mothers of one of the little girls Kelly goes to school with. “Do you give riding lessons?”

“Uh, um,” I stammered. My mind started racing. I’d just heard the bad news from my hay man. He wasn’t coming over with our delivery. He had to go and buy hay himself. That’s not good when the hay man has to buy hay. There were no second cuttings due to the drought. No one else had it and the feed store was selling it for four times what I usually pay. It was even higher than New Jersey prices. With the new horse on the farm, things were going to be tough this winter. I could use some extra cash.

“Well, let me think about it,” I said. The funny thing is, this was the fourth person who asked me since we moved here. I’ve given lessons before and am pretty good at it, which probably makes you wonder why I would get Kelly lessons from someone else and not give them to her myself. Two reasons. One, a kid listens to someone else much better than the parent. I get a lot of eye rolling and “I knooowww,” answers when I instruct her. Sometimes it escalates to tears. Hers or mine, either way it’s not a pretty picture. Two, the ulterior motive. Taking Kelly to someone else’s farm where there are other kids to meet, play with and compete against, satisfies the same thing that she’d get if she was kicking around a soccer ball on a field.

But then I started thinking. If I was giving lessons, she’d get the same thing right here. They’d all be coming here. I have the perfect horses. I have a round pen. I have helmets. I have all the right stuff. Just think, I wouldn’t have to leave the farm—I could make money right here! Who cares if Kelly rolls her eyes and sighs when I tell her to do a figure-eight? And maybe I could inspire a few young people to have the same kind of lifelong love for horses that I have. It’s catchy, loving horses. Once it gets in your blood, that’s it, you are hooked forever. And I’m a carrier. I began planning my little lesson business.


Becky Mushko said...

There is trail racking, and then there's the padded-up racking. The two are worlds apart. I bought my racking mare cheap because her breeder thought she'd never make a padded show horse.

I had to search a long time for my TWH; I didn't want to buy anything that had been padded.

I can't stand to watch padded walking and racking classes anymore. Fortunately, the padded classes at horse shows aren't as big as they used to be. In the 80s, they were huge.

Too many show people used to think that gait can be nailed on or "trained" in or—until the officials started checking—chemically enhanced. The big time show people darn near ruined the breed.

But a few of us still know that the good easy-gaited horses have the gait bred in.

Amy Hanek said...

Wow, I am reading part 1 right now and have to leave for football. I will read part 2 this afternoon!

Nicely done! I think your posts are getting better and better every time!

I can't wait to see what will happen!

Heather Froeschl said...

After witnessing it play out in real life, seeing it written up is like reading a review of a movie I'd been to see! You're really doing well in showing the story.

Having spent four and a half hours at the ballgames today (fall baseball) I do have to say that there might have been other things I should have been doing but being there for my boy was very satisfying, and I actually DO love watching baseball...always have. You do get into the things your kids do, but even as a kid I would watch my cousins play little league and went to a few Yankee games and I found myself cheering and yelling and even booing (I'm such a NYer.). I don't boo now though...we have to sign an agreement that we won't do that. But inside, wow man, I'm involved in the game and loving it when my son does well. I even got into basketball last winter in the stinky gym!

Micaela said...

This is great! i am right there with you on keeping our children into the horses and not into the school sports. I personally would never be able to sit through something I just can't stand. Like your husnband said we would need to get a mini van if our daughter gets into soccor, i always promised my self I would never drive a van I am a western rodeo truck kind of woman and I plan on keeping it that way. Don't get me wrong I love to see my child excell in anything they do but for me when I see my child excell in a sport (horses) that I am in love with, to, it really makes my day. As for the Racking horses versus the good ole Quarter horse I am right there with you to. A quarter horse is not limited to any discipline they can do anything and everything. Great story!

Jamie said...

That's so funny. The entire time I'm reading through the story I'm thinking "God, why doesn't she just give riding lessons herself? It would be perfect!" Haha.

Love the part with kurt saying you can't join soccer because you don't have a mini van. I don't know why they don't just market them as Soccer Vans.