Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Horses, Horses, Horses!

“If you take riding lessons, you’re also going to have to take responsibility for the horses. That means you’ll have to muck out the stalls,” Ed explained to Suzie.

Our nine-year-old tearfully responded, “I don’t want to muck out stalls. No Way! I want to ride,” she added between sobs as she dashed to her bedroom.

Suzie will be 20-years-old in August. She did learn to ride. And, she did learn to muck stalls. Every Saturday for six years, Suzie took riding lessons – first with Robin at Johnson Highland Stables in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania; then with Vanessa at Silver Crest Equestrian Center in Valencia, Pennsylvania; and finishing up with Colleen at BCXR Horse Center in Troup, Texas.

In August 2008, Suzie will begin her senior year of university education at William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri. She picked this school because of – HORSES! She studies Equestrian Management, rides, and mucks out stalls.

According to the WWU website, “All of the more than 150 horses used in the program have been donated to the university. Breeds represented include the American Quarter Horse, the American Saddlebred, Appaloosa, Arabian, Morgan, Thoroughbred, Paint and several different American and European Warmblood breeds. All WWU horses are managed and cared for by WWU students.” (That means students muck out stalls.)

During our week -long visit with Suzie, Ed and I did what we had done so many Saturdays for nine years, we watched Suzie ride. On Monday, Suzie saddled up Misty, a sensitive horse that she had never ridden in class. I thought the horse seemed a bit disturbed as Suzie led her from the barn. Other horses were being fed and Misty was being led to the arena. Maybe that’s why Misty reared up and dumped Suzie when she mounted her. The horse took some steps forward then lifted both front legs into the air. Suzie slid off like a kid prone on a sliding board, arms up, belly down, landing feet first, and rising to a standing position behind Misty. Suzie could have gone back in the barn and selected a different horse, but she didn’t. She got right back on Misty, this time with another student standing in front of the horse to prevent any movement forward and a palm full of peppermints as a sweet distraction.

“Suzie, you just gave me a heart attack,” I heard her instructor holler then give her instructions in the ring on techniques to calm Misty and get ready to take some jumps.

Later, I also heard Suzie’s instructor ask a bit more softly, “Whose parents are they?”

“They’re Suzie’s parents,” the student replied.

“Oh great! Suzie gives me a heart attack and her parents too!”

Suzie cantered and trotted Misty around the outdoor arena taking control of the horse. When she approached the jumps, she had full control. Her body flowed with Misty’s in one rhythmic movement.

Suzie told us she’d be riding Misty again for Wednesday’s class. And, we went to class again…this time with a pocketful of peppermints. On Friday, Suzie and her roommate Nicole signed up for free riding time to show me their equestrian skills – Suzie rides Hunter/Jumper, Nicole rides Saddleseat. Suzie chose Houston for her Friday ride, a calm horse who she’d ridden all semester. They weren’t alone in the arena. A woman – not a student- was working her horse. I later learned that the lady riding in the inside arena when the girls showed me their talents was the famous Gail Lampe.

Gayle Lampe is recognized as a national and international leader in equestrian science. She has been an instrumental in developing William Woods University's nationally acclaimed equestrian studies division. She has trained several William Woods horses to world and national championships. My research on Gail found that I had more reasons to be in awe of this woman. In 1996, she coached the US saddle seat equitation team to capture a gold medal in team and individual competition at the first-ever Saddle Seat Equitation World Cup. In 1983, she personally won a national championship at the Grand National Morgan Horse Show.

The girls were unfazed by the presence of this renowned equestrian casually saying, “That was Gail Lampe.” I was wowed!

Suzie’s come a long way from that tearful little girl who didn’t want to muck out stalls. She’s an accomplished rider with ribbons on her apartment wall. She’s attending a university program with a national reputation for its equestrian program. And, this summer she has a job at a St. Louis barn teaching little girls how to ride.

April 28 - May 4, 2008

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