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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Old Year, New Year Lesson

Listening to NPR's report on the Worst. Decade. Ever. yesterday, I must say, I had to agree. Wars, corporate and political malfeasance, economic chaos, epic natural disasters; it wasn't rosy. I went about my business at the stables, trying to be positive and not reflect on the negative.

The horses were in their stalls munching on their afternoon hay snack. All content, except Kitten, who kept nickering at me. She has the most alluring nicker: deep, sweet. I checked that I had actually given her hay and not missed her inadvertently. More nickering. I told her it wasn't time for grain. More nickering. I checked her water. More nickering.

I stood outside her stall with my hands on my hips, "What?" She gave me those come here eyes and I dutifully scratched her neck. Kitten is a scratching fanatic and always obliges in return. Yesterday, she wrapped her neck around my shoulder and held the back of my head with hers. I put my arms around her and we stood in the embrace for a sublime time.

No amount of hardship or pain can withstand the super power of a Kitten hug; she puts her entire existence into fighting the evil of stress, grief and despair with them. When confronted with events or circumstances beyond control, the best defense is an expression of love. I don't understand her all the time, but Kitten is my Hero.

Wishing you a happy new year,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from Serendipity

Bob Nervig driving Don Pecos put to the one horse open marathon vehicle. Happy Holidays everyone!

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Christmas from daily@delanceyplace.com

In today's encore excerpt - at the end of the 19th century, Charles Dickens' short novel, A Christmas Carol, had readership second only to the Bible's:

"If only Ebenezer Scrooge had not, in the excitement of his transformation from miser to humanitarian, diverged from the traditional Christmas goose to surprise Bob Cratchit with a turkey 'twice the size of Tiny Tim.' But alas - he did, and as A Christmas Carol approaches its 165th birthday, a Google search answers the plaint 'leftover turkey' with more than 300,000 promises of recipes to dispatch it. As for England's goose-raising industry, it tanked. ...

"The public's extraordinary and lasting embrace of Dickens's short novel is but one evidence of the 19th century's changing attitude toward Christmas. In 1819, Washington Irving's immensely popular 'Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent' had 'glorified' the 'social rites' of the season. Clement Moore's 1823 poem 'The Night Before Christmas' introduced a fat and jolly St. Nick whose obvious attractions eclipsed what had been a 'foreboding figure of judgment' as likely to distribute canings as gifts. Queen Victoria and her Bavarian husband, Albert, 'great boosters of the season,' had installed a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle each year since 1840, encouraging a fad that spread overseas to America by 1848. ...

"What is true is that Christmas, more than any other holiday, offered a means for the adult Dickens to redeem the despair and terrors of his childhood. In 1824, after a series of financial embarrassments drove his family to exchange what he remembered as a pleasant country existence for a 'mean, small tenement' in London, the 12-year-old Dickens, his schooling interrupted - ended, for all he knew - was sent to work 10-hour days at a shoe blacking factory in a quixotic attempt to remedy his family's insolvency. Not even a week later, his father was incarcerated in the infamous Marshalsea prison for a failure to pay a small debt to a baker. At this, Dickens's 'grief and humiliation' overwhelmed him so thoroughly that it retained the power to overshadow his adult accomplishments, calling him to 'wander desolately back' to the scene of his mortification. And because Dickens's tribulations were not particular to him but emblematic of the Industrial Revolution - armies of neglected, unschooled children forced into labor - the concerns that inform his fiction were shared by millions of potential readers. ...

"Replacing the slippery Holy Ghost with anthropomorphized spirits, the infant Christ with a crippled child whose salvation waits on man's - not God's - generosity, Dickens laid claim to a religious festival, handing it over to the gathering forces of secular humanism. If a single night's crash course in man's power to redress his mistakes and redeem his future without appealing to an invisible and silent deity could rehabilitate even so apparently lost a cause as Ebenezer Scrooge, imagine what it might do for the rest of us!"

Kathryn Harrison, "Father Christmas," The New York Times Review of Books, December 7, 2008, p. 14.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Edward Gal's Master Class at Olympia

This video is a fantastic class with top dressage rider Edward Gal at the London International Horse Show. His teaching is filled with humility and understanding, both of the horse and his audience. I love watching it and wanted to share it. The video box is a little wonky, so scroll down to the bottom right hand corner and click on the orange square for full screen version.


Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mary Cassatt's Painting, A Woman and A Girl Driving

A Woman and A Girl Driving by Mary Cassett (1881)

This is an interesting painting from an artistic point of view. The little girl is said to be Edgar Degas' niece and the woman driving is the artist's terminally ill sister. The technical application of light and color is the hallmark of the Impressionist movement, Cassett was a contemporary of Degas, Manet and Renoir. An American living in Paris, Cassett painted this portrait in 1881, and anyone who is a fan of Impressionist art will see the influences of all three more famous painters in its application.

Now, being the art critic I am, there are things to be celebrated in this work. But being the carriage critic does raise a few trifling flaws to the vehicle and carriage. I'm glad I wasn't the one driving that vehicle, what? A Dos a Dos Meadowbrook? With a kicking strap? The position of those shafts? Lamps on the dash? I fear for the groom were they to hit a bump...

Artistic license. That would never pass a safety check today.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One Horse Open Marathon Vehicle Part II

Another bitterly cold day. Gosh this is getting old and it isn't even Christmas yet. The weather really prohibits good blogging material, as Lucy and I have been home bound for so many days and even when we do go to the barn, it is just about getting through lessons and working horses as fast as possible.

This last weekend was tolerable, so I set out to work Don Pecos and Ace. My colleague, Michael Scott was down for a visit and we got the marathon vehicle out and plowed through the drifts, braved the chilly wind and worked a new angle of cones. Ace was not wanting to settle down and bend for me, so Michael got in and took him hell for leather through the course. I tried to anchor the vehicle to the ground as best I could while still looking over Michael's shoulder to watch Ace. He was booking through those cones, twisting and leaping like a ballet dancer. It was thrilling! Afterwards, I came to the conclusion that I baby him too much. He went much better with sturdy contact and a more complicated course.

Don Pecos was up next, so I took him through the course as I knew he could: fast and tight. Michael seemed to be much more impressed with me driving Pecos, but I can not take any credit there. Pecos reminds me of a BMW 5 Series advertisement: Part Athlete, Part Genius. He is such a joy to drive through these cones courses: fuel injected, power steering, big engine. But not to diminish Ace's ability, he is a great athlete as well, he is just different, and he has not got the same level of conditioning that Pecos has.

So, we have so much work to do this winter to prepare for combined driving next year, that this weather is an even bigger bore. I'd rather be driving. Oh, well, at least I got my Christmas cookies baked. And I'm halfway through the Manual of Coaching, which should be required reading for anyone interested in hitching a horse to a vehicle. So, snuggle up next to your dog, cat or sweetie and keep the fire stoked.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

One Horse Open Marathon Vehicle

Since the weatherpeeps said it was going to be bad winter this week, I took advantage of the 'fair' weather Monday and drove outside in the snow. Packed inside my giant fake fur coat and hat with my Bog boots, I was fairly warm on the marathon vehicle and felt like an image straight out of Dr. Zhivago, when in reality, I probably looked like Foghorn Leghorn in his college get up, [minus the PU flag].

Don Pecos was first up and after some super boring walk exercises, we took up a trot. The first corner wheeeee as the vehicle fishtailed several times, but I managed to maintain composure so Pecos didn't sprint us into the next county. It was necessary to slow down, way down to avoid the fishtailing, although, Pecos didn't seem to notice this was happening behind him. I was expecting a bit of skidding, the gig does it all the time on really fast corners [think chariot racing], but with the four wheels, it was like driving the truck on an icy gravel road. Yee Haw!

I'm really enjoying the marathon vehicle, despite its incredibly rough ride. It is such rough and tumble fun, I don't mind. Ace, however, has serious reservations about what is going on behind him. He has yet to quiet down and get to work while hitched to it. He does enjoy our romps through the hayfield, a welcome change of pace from circles.

But, all that is finished for a while as Mama Nature dumped 15 inches of snow on us and is currently whipping it into four foot drifts in my driveway, let alone what is happening at the stable on the prairie. Hopefully the wind will blow most of it on to Missouri. The weatherpeeps are now saying round three of this storm will be dangerous wind chills. Hurray. Saturday will be a balmy 28 degrees, so we'll see if we can dig our way out of the barn with the marathon vehicle.

Even Lucy doesn't want to go outside. You know it is miserable when they close the malls. So, time to fire up the oven and bake Christmas cookies. Stay warm and cozy!

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Accidental Sagacity for Today: A Manual of Coaching

I just got off the phone with my friend, Harold Ault. I had called to ask if my understanding of eveners and splinter bars was correct. My interpretation was that eveners are used for draft vehicles and splinter bars are used for carriages. Of course, Harold gave me a long dissertation of how this was almost correct, but there were many instances where it was not. This included, but was not limited to and in other instances varied, whether the vehicle had a fixed or drop pole, platform gear or reach, the weight of the vehicle and the terrain and/or use of the vehicle.

So, now I know more about how much I don't know. But, I picked up some neat information that was accidental sagacity. For instance, I did not know that the leaders in a four in hand pulled from the pole head. I also learned that when you crest the top of a steep hill, you should disengage the leaders from draft or they could snap off the pole. Good to know.

Also good to know is that Harold told me just about everything I needed to know was in Fairman Roger's A Manual of Coaching. I lamented that I didn't have possession of this book, whether reprinted or first edition, as no doubt, Harold has, so I got online and found an internet archive of the book at: http://ia341317.us.archive.org/2/items/manualofcoachi00roge/manualofcoachi00roge.pdf

I also found a review of the book on the New York Times Archive, December 9, 1899 http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9C05E6D91530E132A2575AC0A9649D94689ED7CF
[I heart this archive!] which says, "Small wonder is it then that when the public, to whom coaching is a lost art, and who only know of it through reading, pictures and the occasional sight of some rich man tooling his break or coach, or through the annual coaching parades of London, Paris, Newport, Philadelphia and New York, throng a building to see a coaching exhibition, a man of long purse, who is in addition a lover of horseflesh, can find keen interest in the old sport." And "In reading its pages there will come to them a feeling of older times and older manners, which is so well voiced by Austin Dobson in his lines: With slower pen men used to write, In Anne's or George's day, But now- electric light hath dazed our sight, We may not write-ah, would we might, With slower pen."

Isn't it a wonderful strange world that I should find these connections today? And that I should find a friend with the spirit of Fairman Rogers in Harold Ault? Or that the high speed internet connection allowed me to slow down, and download A Manual of Coaching. What ever needs to be done today can wait until I find the answers that are still relevant, or at times, even more so, one hundred and ten years later.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Relationships at Serendipity

Bob Nervig and I had a photo shoot a while back and I wanted to share the results. Bob and Don Pecos are developing into quite a team, as these photos show.

We have all transitioned over to the Polish marathon vehicle that Michael Scott so graciously lent us. But, I surmise that Bob's first carriage love will always be the gig.

It is my greatest pleasure to teach carriage driving to individuals and watch them develop a relationship with the horses of Serendipity. Bob and Pecos are the proof.

Bob's wife Kathy produces gorgeous scrapbooks. These photos are meant to be included in one for Bob on his carriage driving adventures. I can't wait to see her artwork when it's finished.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Wishes Are Horses

Ace and 3/4 of my nephews, who will be reunited this Thanksgiving.

Accidental Sagacity Corporation was organized so that I might share the lessons in living that I learn from my horses. It is an honor to work as closely as I do with them. It is a gift.

Some of the gifts are particularly memorable. Once, Ace and Kitten decided to frolic in a first snow instead of going to their stalls of an afternoon. They pranced up and down the newly plowed driveway and picked up speed to jump the pile of snow at the end of it. Ace floated over it and Kitten plowed right through it, depicting their individual personalities. I wanted to be mad at them, but I was helpless at their beauty.

The stable manager came outside and walked up to me. "You need a hand, Michelle?" she asked.

I shrugged, "No. I'll just wait until they are finished."

"I saw them out of the window," she said. "I had to come out." She stood next to me watching the two horses run about like banshees. We were repeatedly treated to the twisting bucking high heel kicking at the sky maneuver. The dark, fuzzy horses silhouetted pirouettes against the white snow.

The stable manager's husband arrived home about that time. Driving carefully up the driveway, horses running full bore the other direction, spinning and racing him back, he rolled down the window as he approached us, "Are you gonna [looking out the windshield] catch [looking in the side mirrors] those horses [looking in the rear view mirror]?"

"Yeah," his wife said.

"Eventually," I promised.

On another go at the snow pile, Ace hit some ice and fell on his side. He slid to a stop at the bottom of the pile. I gasped. It is terrifying to watch 1000lbs of something you love fall. He gingerly got up, shook himself off and walked, head hanging to me and buried his head in my arms. It was a pouting, childlike I-fell-down-it-hurt. "Aw...poor boy," I said in my best soothing sorry voice as I held his head and stroked the snow off his neck.

Kitten , sensing a problem when Ace didn't materialize on the other side of the snow pile, popped her little ears and big eyes over the top to investigate. When she saw Ace, crestfallen, in my arms, she hopped over the pile like a rabbit and came quite contrite to follow Ace and I into the barn.

Once nestled in their stalls, munching sweet feed and hay, they both gave big contented sighs, the sound of which never fails to make me smile. I looked in on Ace. He looked up with a mouthful of hay, grain still stuck to his muzzle, raised his eyelids, which he always does to highlight something important, "Thank you, human."

I've said it before, I'll say it again. Sometimes I think my only real purpose in life is to witness the virtuosity of the horses' frolicking. If that is all I accomplish in my life, so be it. I promise to do it well and do it often. And I promise to share it. And for that I am eternally thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving and Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Arlington Court Carriages

A rainy, cool London reminiscent day is great for checking out the Arlington Court Carriage Collection presented by the National Trust. I have always been a dyed in the wool fan of the National Trust. Their efforts to preserve and document history is unparalleled and their style in doing so is exquisite.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Recommended Equine Reading

I got a call recently asking about recommended reading as an introduction to my horse philosophies. I listed Monte Roberts The Man Who Listens To Horses, Sally Swift's Centered Riding and Linda Kohanov's Tao of Equus. All three books changed the way I work with horses and in turn, my life.

The following is a review I wrote about the Kohanov Book.

“The Tao of Equus” by Linda Kohanov

It has never occurred to me to suggest a horse book to my ultra-literary Book Club. That is until I read Linda Kohanov’s extraordinary compilation of allegories connecting mythology, principles of electricity, physiology, jazz, religion and kineseology with horses in her compelling book, The Tao of Equus.

Kohanov weaves a tale of personal growth through explorations of the human-horse bond. She artfully connects symbolic imagery with current theories on the workings of the body and the mind and explores the most adventurous “scientific and philosophical interpretations of reality”. The result is a work that not only satisfies a dizzying variety of palates but also a reader’s thirst for knowledge on our mysterious attraction to the horse.

Kohanov makes a dissertation on the difference between sex and connection that explores the attraction, in particular, of women to horses. The premise of which expands so collectively upon marketing and social dictates, and so beguilingly on voodoo trance cults in such a small chapter, it makes “Of Women and Horses” by GaWaNi Pony Boy look like collection of high school essays. Kohanov constantly challenges the reader to accept new theories through no-nonsense parable and representation that prove to be fundamentally liberating.

Tenets of shamans, Taoists and philosophers intermingle confidently with theories of physicists, psychologists and anthropologists. Even her ‘visions and voices’ chapters filled with clairsentience and animal psychic encounters, which initially seemed to contradict her basic premise of analytical scientific reasoning early in the book, took on significance through case studies expanded upon in subsequent chapters. Analyzing the metaphors produced by these ‘otherworldly experiences’, Kohanov juxtaposes her work in equine assisted therapy and experiential learning to highlight non-verbal communication and socio-sensual forms of awareness.

“Artistic expression exercises different pathways inside the brain, allowing speech to function outside the narrow bandwidths of logic, helping people to document feelings and awareness states that can’t be accessed through reason.” For any horse lover/owner who has ever been accused of being crazy, or having an overactive imagination about what his or her horse was ‘saying’, such statements are altogether edifying.

As Kohanov stacks up evidence, overwhelming at times, but always dynamic, she draws the reader back to the interdependence of spirituality, science, art and health on the human psyche. And to delighted tears in this reader’s eyes, how fully that is mirrored by the interdependence of humans and horses. “We have become a culture of obsessive overachievers, leading to a host of stress related illness and greed related acts of violence.” Kohanov’s voice in The Tao of Equus is never more effectual than when she is railing against the sedentary, reductionist, power hungry society disconnected from nature and the creative life force behind it. Her voice is never more eloquent than when she supplies the anecdote: the symbolic relationship with nature that we have learned from horses, as a more effective way of living.

The horse helps us to reconnect to nature, our ancestry, our emotions and provides conveyance for those who are ready to identify a greater consciousness and understanding of the role of ‘Self’ in our environment. To those, Kohanov’s voice is a call to action and The Tao of Equus is inspiration for releasing potential and ultimately freedom. The Tao of Equus is not just a good horse book; it is a covenant for modern society. If you are a woman who loves horses, it is a must.

Happy reading and kind regards,

Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Michigan Carriage Driving Tour

If you ever find yourself in Michigan and want to meet some of the most wonderful carriage driving folk, look up Martha Stover. Martha was host to Michael Scott and myself for a weekend of superlative carriage driving stuff. Martha and Cynthia Lawrence of Here Be Dragons breed some of the finest Welsh ponies this side of Wales: spring coils concealed in their hooves, invisible harnesses suspending them weightless from the heavens, with artists' favorite muse chiseled beauty. Yep, these are some fine ponies. Of course, they are but a mere reflection of their owners' outstanding temperament, warmth and generosity. [I am not shamelessly campaigning for President of the Stover/Lawrence Fan Club, but should I be asked...]

And there's more. We were welcomed at Tim Wright's Win A Gin stables to see Synod's Wrought Iron Ringlet going over fences after a couple of weeks of training. This exquisite black mare from Here Be Dragons is so perfectly feminine athletic, I got goosebumps watching her. If anyone knows a child who is intent on conquering the show jumping world, this pony will do it for him or her. You can see more of her and all the exquisite Here Be Dragons Welsh ponies at: www.herebeponies.com

After watching Ringlet, we ventured next door to see the Wasserman carriage collection and fit one of Here Be's superstar carriage ponies to a gig that was for sale. It was a treat to see the carriage house, resplendent with old photos of the carriages in action set in the impeccably beautiful grounds. We each had a go driving Tyngwndwn Lovespoon [have Martha pronounce that for you, it is like a love song] which was sublime. Truly, there is nothing like driving a supreme mover put to a gig in a lovely outdoor arena on a crisp, albeit warn autumn afternoon. Ahhhh...

Oh, but there's more. We supped at the White Horse Inn at Metamora, which completely
transported us straight back to Olde England with rough hewn wood everything and charm
oozing out every rafter. Could it get any better? Oh, I say. Yes. The company was beyond compare. I was seated with Cynthia and her lovely husband, Mack, Barb Chapman and her engaging former Iowan husband, Frank Andrews, our gracious host, Ms. Stover and after dinner Micheal Scott and the excellent raconteur, Tim Wright. The meal/conversation/good cheer was an instant favorite memory.

And then I woke up from my dream? Not a bit of it. There's more. The following day, Martha, Michael and myself were invited to Barb and Frank's Windrush Farm for a tour of the facility and the advanced level CDE course and hazards. I don't think in my wildest dreams could I conceive of a farm more perfect than Barb & Frank's. Everything was exactly as it should be: gorgeous but not lacking in humility, grandiose but not intimidating, stately but welcoming. As Lucy put it, "Can we stay? Please? Please? Please can we stay? This is the very best place we've ever been! Ever!"

Barb gave us a tour of the course via her pair of Dutch Warmbloods, with a variety of hounds, Lucy included, gleefully romping in pursuit. She regaled us with a story of a floating bridge over Michigan quicksand on the property which is sure to become a legend. It was a thrill to see the home of the Metamora CDE and Pleasure Show in this way and I thank Barb for her generosity in accommodating us. For more information on these shows: www.metamoracarriagedriving.org

And to cap it all off, Michael Scott has loaned me a marathon vehicle and today gave me a vertical learning curve option for readying myself and the horses for 2010 combined driving events.

Well, I did promise to return to Michigan soon. And I can hardly wait.

A big thank you to everyone who made the Michigan trip a true to life illustration of the reason I love carriage driving so much. Bless you for your kindness, hospitality and devotion to our shared beloved sport.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Which Carriage?

Indian summer, what a gift! The weather has been sublime here in Iowa these last few days. Perfect weather for working horses makes my job envious. Soon we will be relegated to long lining in the indoor arena for months. But for now, we revel in the soft sunshine. Today it is off to Jester Park for a practical application of skills on the trails. Oh, joy.

I have been advising a new driver on the purchase of a show carriage. Two wheeled, four wheeled, modified road cart, wicker phaeton, buy modestly or make an investment, hybrid or antique? So many questions need to be addressed. I was lucky when I was in her position, I had Harold Ault to advise me. I hope I can be as much use for her as Harold has been for me.

The sport of carriage driving is evolving so quickly that making that decision is even more difficult now than it was 10 years ago. Combined Driving Events are eclipsing Pleasure Shows and vehicles have to do double duty. The number of classically styled original vehicles is dwindling and hybrids are prolific. Horses are required to canter in dressage tests and let me tell you that is not comfy in my gig.

It is an exciting time, history is being made in front of our eyes.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Friday, November 6, 2009

CP Kimball & Company

Fridays are carriage days, so here is one from the archives [author unknown], with an interesting historical note on the Portland sleigh.

"Charles Porter Kimball was born in 1825. At the age of eighteen, by agreement with his father, he moved to Bridgton to work under his brother and to get further schooling. Four years later, in 1847, Dr. Theodore Ingalls lent him 1,000 dollars to open his own carriage workshop in Norway, Maine, about ten miles from Bridgton. At first he employed only two or three workers and had the ironwork made elsewhere. The business grew and more hands were taken on. In 1850 Charles Kimball purchased a water privilege and built a new shop, 100 feet by 32 feet, three stories high. In 1852 he established a repository for the sale of carriages in Portland, and in 1854, he moved his works to that city, at the corner of Preble and Congress Streets. The Portland business prospered, the factory was enlarged and Charles was recognized as an important figure in the carriage industry. So much so that when the Carriages Builders' National Association was formed in 1872, he was invited by his colleagues, Clem Studebaker, John W. Britton of Brewster & Co., John Green and James Goold, to be the first president. He continued in that office until 1876 when he declined re-election.

Then at the height of its prosperity, the Portland factory employed between twenty and thirty hands in regular employment with about five girls employed in trimming. Wheeled vehicles of many kinds were turned out, but the Kimball factory became most famous for its sleighs of a distinctive design, known then as the Kimball Sleigh, and more commonly, called the Portland Cutter.

C. P. Kimball accumulated a large fortune and became a pillar of the community, widely recognized for his business acumen and strength of character. He was president of the Maine Charitable Mechanics Association, surveyor of the port of Falmouth and Portland, and a city alderman. The Maine Democrats nominated him for State Governor, and, although defeated, he was nominated again in 1875, receiving on that occasion the largest vote of any Democratic Gubernatorial candidate up to that time.

In 1876 he moved to New York to be associated with Brewster & Co. in the production of fine Portland Sleighs, named the Kimball-Brewster Sleigh and shown at the Centennial exhibition. He resided in New York City for only a few months, and he was invited by Governor Tilden of New York to be the State Centennial Commissioner for the Exhibition then being Planned for Philadelphia.

In January, 1877, Charles P. Kimball and his son, Charles Frederick, started business in Chicago as C. P. Kimball & Co., a firm which became one of the leading builders of fine carriages in North America; some critics have judged their work superior to Brewsters'."

I concur.

Indian summer this weekend, hope you enjoy...

Kind regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

If Horses Don't Work For You

Carriage Driving Goats

This is a very fancy turnout.

As a stunt to promote the therapeutic riding and driving program I founded, we hitched my parents' goats, Johnny and Pepper to a wheelchair for a parade. Somewhere, I have a photo to prove this.

See, I've always found a way to drive pairs...

A Perfect Carriage Driving Day

Today is going to be a glorious day to drive. Today is a gift from the Weather Gods. Today is a day I can work my carriage horses in resplendent sunshine, with a light breeze and no flies. Today is a day you can envy me the length and breadth of your cubicle. Today I can be smug. If you are still reading this blog in January, it will be your turn to be smug, OK?

I love driving my carriage horses so much, but I've got to say, driving two of them at the same time is twice the pleasure. I am in love with pair driving. Can't say the boys feel the same. They don't seem to appreciate the John Deere-esque painted forecart and the cut down draft harness. Can't say I blame them. I am very excited to get to use a marathon cart with a splinter bar. I'm sure Don Pecos and Ace will appreciate it, too.

Driving pairs is exciting because it offers new training and driving techniques to master and body awareness theories to develop. This is what keeps my work fresh and I embrace it. There is always a different angle or manner of interpretation. Discovering these by accident or sagacity is like solving the Sunday Times Crossword. Thrilling!

Watch this space. Sorry this is a rather lame blog, but as Billy Bob Thorton said in Bad Santa, "They can't all be winners, kid."

Today is a winner, though. I hope you can get out and enjoy it.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Major General, A Sire For All Reasons

Friends and fans of Major always go dreamy eyed and then laugh at the mention of his name. He is a rock star with a streak of comic genius. The Black Beauty of all little girls' dreams, he is a magical, mystical figure. He is an equine vaudeville player with physical and cerebral humor. He is about as perfect a horse as you could imagine.

If you ask someone how tall Major is, they will tell you he is 15.2 hands or so. Even if they are standing right next to him. He thinks big. He convinces you to think big. In fact, he is just under 14.3 hands. But no one believes me. They believe Major. It is part of his magic.

Major believes that domestication is his birthright. We are here to serve him. We are here to witness the virtuosity of his frolicking. We are here to love and adore him. In return, he puts on quite a show: always entertaining, awesome and enlightening. And he loves us back. A lot.

Try remembering you are late for an appointment when you spot Major gallivanting around the pasture. Nope. You stop in your tracks and watch until the show is over. Then you applaud. Major will then come bolting up to the fence, perform a sliding stop and give his curtain call. Being late never mattered so little.

Of course, he was bred to be remarkable. A son of Black River Major, grandson of the legendary Fleetwing, how could he not be a star? Throw in some Trophy and you have the sweetness gene, as well. His only hindrance in the show ring has been me, but he always forgives me. At a carriage show, judge Morris Kerr told me, "This horse is outstanding." I replied, "Thank you, sir. I do my best to be worthy of him."

As a sire, Major continues to inspire. His foals have his charisma, grace, talent and his 'fancy pants dance'. They run to the gate to greet you, try to put their heads in the halter and jig joyfully next to you whatever you desire from them. Whether line bred or out-crossed, Major babies have that same indomitable vitality with specially springed hocks and cannon bones.

Again, the only obstacle to populating the world with more of these delightful creatures has been me. I don't know whether it is selfishness at wanting to keep the treasure to myself or just simply incompetence at promotion, but I accept responsibility for failing Major in this task. I will try to do better.

So, if you or someone you know has a mare and wants another one, just like her, only better, send them my way and I will put Major to work creating more legends. But, a disclaimer: possible side affects of a Major offspring may cause tearing during laughter, weakening of the knees, heart flutters, and work related tardiness. Friends and fans of Major all agree: it's worth it.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Winter Training for the Carriage Horse

It was a gorgeous autumn day yesterday at the stables, so I began the winter training schedule outside in the sunshine. The horses and I will be spending enough time in the indoor arena in the months to come. I had read an article on Chester Weber [see yesterday's post] and he described his seasonal schedules. I had never thought about it that way, the weather always determined what I could or could not do.

So, I put together a curriculum for the carriage driving show horses, concentrating on impulsion and collection for greater elasticity of movement. I spend a lot of time long lining in the winter, because it helps me to see how the horses are moving and where I need to focus energy for improvement. Weber described a combination of ground work, driving and riding for his carriage horses. So, I decided to add more riding- good for the horses, good for me.

Speaking of me, I am going to write it here so it must be done, I need to begin incorporating yoga exercises to this curriculum. I noticed my mobility yesterday was limited and yoga is the anecdote. I feel so much better when I have a regular yoga practice, at this point in my life it is becoming necessary for daily function. Taking up daily yoga practice is not difficult, but part of me wants to resist it as necessary, I suppose to resist the inevitable aging truth. My mind may still be young, but my joints and muscles are showing the mileage.

As the horses get older, it takes more work to keep them in shape, the same standard holds for me. If I want the horses to be brilliant on the lines for me, it is my responsibility to be brilliant on the box seat for them. Bring it on Winter.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

PS. It dawned on me yesterday that Lucy is now 2 years old. Seems like only yesterday she was a puppy...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chester Weber Ranked Number One On Four-In-Hand World Equestrian Games Selectors’ List Ocala, FL (October 20, 2009)

Chester Weber’s record-setting victory as the new Seven-Time United States National Four-In-Hand Combined Driving Champion may still be fresh in everyone’s mind, but that isn’t keeping Weber from turning his attention toward his next goal -- the 2010 World Equestrian Games. A veteran of two prestigious World Equestrian Games, Weber’s goal is to drive his team at the 2010 WEG at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

Weber isn’t the only one who has high hopes for Team Weber – the USEF Selectors Committee has ranked Chester as Number One on the WEG Four-In-Hand list. “I feel honored to be at the top of the ranking list today going into a winter break for the horses. I interpret the pole position as us being on the right track with regards to the selectors opinion,” Weber said.

Despite his ranking, Weber isn’t resting on his laurels and already has training plans set in motion. “This winter we will continue to work on the basic fundamentals of all of our weaknesses in an effort to become stronger for the New Year and the upcoming 2010 WEG season,” Weber said. “Our goals are to try to win two medals at WEG and in order to realize those goals we will have to continue to step our game up. We have added two new horses in the stable, two new staff members and several sponsoring partners that all show encouraging potential to make us stronger as a team than we have ever been.”

Ed Young, the Chef d’Equipe of the United States Driving Team, is quick to praise Weber for focusing on his weaknesses, working hard on improving them as well as looking toward the future. “Chester’s ability to set goals and focus on those goals, without being distracted, is an incredible asset to a high performance athlete,” Young said, adding that he expects the United States Four-In-Hand drivers to be on top at WEG and that he believes Weber will play an important part in the goal.

While Team Weber represented the U.S. at WEG in 2002 in Spain and in 2006 in Germany, Weber said he looks forward to the feeling of representing his country at home
in the United States. “Competing at WEG would be a very special event for me should we be selected due the hometown feeling. I enjoy competing abroad, however I am sure that there is something patriotic and special about competing for the U.S. team on our own soil,” Weber said.
WEG 2010 will take place September 25 – October 10 in Kentucky and will mark an historic event as it will be the first time WEG has been held in the United States. For more information on WEG visit their website at www.alltechfeigames.com.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Therapeutic Riding and Driving

My Grandpa told me a horse would cure all that ails a person. Golly, that man was a sage. I have been cured by horses of so many otherwise incurable maladies: childish pride, broken hearts, loneliness, and PMS, to name but a few. So discovering that there was an equine curriculum for treating individuals with disabilities was no surprise to me. If you have been reading about Jennifer in the last two blogs, you know what a deeply personal journey therapeutic riding has been for me.

I have witnesses individuals achieving goals with the aid of horses none other thought possible: greater balance and coordination, improved cognitive functioning, enhanced speech skills and so many others. I could fill a book with stories about these things, but this is a blog. Blog. Blog. Blog.

So, I will describe why therapeutic riding is so important to the individual with disabilities. The horse moves in a three dimensions: side to side, back and forth and up and down. As a treatment modality, it is unmatched. The rhythmic, cyclical motion normalizes arousal states for improved cognitive function, at the same time stimulating muscles for improved physical functioning. It has been documented that there is no system in the human body that is not impacted positively by the movement of a horse.

Therapeutic driving is an equally impressive anecdote to aid in functioning for some of the same and other reasons. Driving a horse can enable an individual with, say, spina bifida to be just like everyone else. It levels the playing field. Learning to judge speed and distance is an important activity of daily life [ADL in occupational therapy-speak]. Driving provides multiple step directives for developing memory. Plus, it is a blast.

But, by far the most important, in my mind, is the spotlight on the emotional functioning of these individuals. Anyone who loves a horse needs no further explanation. Anyone who has ever cuddled with Ace or looked into Don Pecos' eyes, or been body hugged by Kitten, will understand this. The very first positive impact I witness is an immediate increase in self esteem. When I see those eyes sparkling, I know the client can do almost anything I ask. And if they can't, they try and try and try.

Almost every spectacular goal accomplished in my therapeutic riding career can be directed to the beginning of self esteem. If an individual is challenged either physically or cognitively, they find an alternate route toward discovering their potential through a belief in themselves. Therapeutic riding can not make the blind see. But that doesn't stop me saying to a blind rider, "Do you see?", nor belie their response, "Yes. Yes, I do."

Therapeutic Riding or Driving is important for my own functioning. I have learned to 'see' things from multiple levels: the client with an IQ of 19, the client with autism, the client with paraplegia and that has made me a more effective teacher, trainer, coach and friend. I have learned many things from my therapeutic clients, not all have been easy, some have been hilarious. All of them have been received with gratitude.

It always comes back to the horses. The cure for whate'er ails ya.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jennifer's Legacy, Part II

Throughout the summer of 1997, Jennifer rode weekly and made astonishing improvements. She learned to use the swinging gait of the horse to help right herself in the saddle. Her head, neck and trunk control improved while she was astride the horse. She even learned to sit the trot, which was her favorite thing to do. Panting volunteers reported that she sat up without much support from them at all. We were once again spellbound.

As summer drew to a close, I organized a demonstration for Jennifer and her riding abilities during the local 4-H show at the county fair. The crowd went through the usual cornucopia of emotions: gasping, incredulity, speechlessness, tears and finally wild applause for the little girl with cerebral palsy riding the beautiful Morgan horse.

The days of autumn finally turned too cold to ride and we all reluctantly retired until spring. Winter lingered on relentlessly that year. At every sign of thaw, I wanted to be on the phone to Jennifer’s mother, like a persistent playmate, asking if Jennifer could come to ride. One day, I couldn’t resist any longer. There was a long pause on the telephone. Jennifer’s scoliosis was no longer to be ignored and she was scheduled for surgery to fuse her spine. The procedure might mean Jennifer could not ride again. Winter might never end.

“But,” her mother reminded me, sensing my feelings of woe, “we’ve beaten the odds before.”

As the date for her surgery neared, so did foaling time. One week before her surgery, Jennifer came out to meet our newest arrivals. As with everyone and everything, the new born foals were mesmerized by her and we had to physically restrain a day old filly from climbing into the wheelchair with Jennifer. Jennifer's head fell back and her laughter filled the old barn.

I took some photos and dropped off a particularly adorable one of Jennifer and the filly to her house on Thursday before her surgery. She asked to take it to the hospital by spelling out the words on her talking tablet. I hugged her and told her I would see her in a couple of weeks. She sparkled back at me and I left to return to my chores.

The phone rang on Saturday night. It was my aunt, who had been engaged as part of a phoning tree. She was crying. “Oh, Michelle,” she said through her tears, “I’m so sorry, Jennifer is gone.” She had arrested during surgery and died.

It was dark outside. In the barn, the horses were breathing very quietly and were surprised to find me among them so late at night. I sat down on a feeder and began to cry. Topaz came up to me, put her muzzle to my cheek and inhaled my tears. The other horses gathered around respectfully and voluntarily attended to me, sharing my grief.

Jennifer’s hometown was made up of a population of about 2,000 people. Her wake was held in the high school auditorium, to accommodate a crowd of over 500. She was buried with a statue of a Morgan stallion and a lock from Topaz’s mane. Blue Bunny donated ice cream for everyone, which was Jennifer’s favorite, and we all, including the Blue Bunny executive, ate it without joy.

A very special stone memorial was chosen for her grave and Jennifer’s mother asked if it be possible to have it custom engraved with a picture of Jennifer and Topaz. At the unveiling, we released yellow [Jennifer’s favorite color] balloons and gazed in wonder at the likeness of the girl and the horse. “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”, I thought with tears streaming down my face.

Spring passed, summer came, and still I was living in the darkness. The light had gone out of the world. I was still in the depths of grief and nothing, it seemed could move me. Just when I was feeling really sorry for myself, sitting on the back step of the house, watching the horses graze in the soft early evening light, the voice came into my head.

“Walk on.” The pronunciation and the voice were unmistakable, they belonged to Jennifer.

I jumped up and ran inside to call Jennifer’s mother. “I want to start a therapeutic riding program in Jennifer’s name, as a living memorial to her, so that other children could have the same chance Jennifer had to ride a horse. Will you help me?”

“When do we start?” she replied.

The next four years were filled with much laughter and a few tears. Starting a non-profit organization was a tremendous undertaking. Without the benefit of Jennifer’s immense charisma, it was sometimes hard to convince donors of its merit. But it was never difficult to convince the children and adults that came to learn to ride a horse for recreation and therapy that the program was worthwhile.

My own life took on greater meaning. I had lived so long without a fulfilling occupation that I had become disillusioned and somewhat bitter. When I found myself in a position to help other people, the entire process became therapeutic to me. I was ill less often. I had abundant energy. I worked seven days a week, often for 18 hours. Each morning I would bound out of bed and start all over again. It was a calling.

The stories of personal growth from clients and volunteers could fill pages, even chapters. The program that bore Jennifer’s name seemed to have a life of its own, a mission to inspire everyone to achieve their own personal potential. Most times, these changes would occur spontaneously, out of nowhere the realization would take hold. Sometimes, it would be as a result of months of coaxing, prodding and pushing. And other times, it would come quietly, serenely with a glow. The self realization saw many volunteers suddenly change jobs, leave bad marriages or go back to college. It was a whirlwind of the possible.

Life moves on in unexpected ways. The non- profit organization multiplied and divided and now there are several programs where once their was only Jennifer's. Her legacy still provides saddles and driving equipment to those with disabilities; other programs are staffed by former volunteers. I still work with the horses and teach children and adults with disabilities and without. I still hear, in the rustle of corn that surrounds the paddocks, the ethereal laughter of a little girl who altered my life by showing me how easy it is to make dreams come true.

Neither death nor change can deter the memories or the cognizance that all things are possible and it is within our power to realize them. That is Jennifer’s legacy. Walk on.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jennifer’s Legacy, Part I

Jennifer and Topaz, 1997

The first time I met Jennifer, she was just a baby. My mother and I had gone to see her and her adopted parents, who had served as my own surrogate family during my last year of high school. Jennifer’s parents had taken me in when my family moved from our home to the city and I refused to go. They were a young couple, in their late twenties, and my life with them was a joy, my love for them was immeasurable. So, it was with great delight that I received the news of Jennifer’s adoption. I knew how badly they had wanted a child and their joy was tangible.

Jennifer was eight months old and just at the really adorable baby phase. Her proud parents gleamed. Jennifer was special. It was apparent that she had brought the joy her new parents had longed for and which I had longed for on their behalf. The visit made the world seem right, until my mother and I were in the car on the way home.

“There is something wrong with that baby,” my mother said.

“What on earth are you talking about?” I asked her impatiently. My mother had a gift for the macabre and her statement wounded my good spirit.

“I don’t know,” she said apologetically, “I just think something is wrong.”

We spoke no further of it, and I returned to my home in London. Several months later, she called me with the news that Jennifer had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Her prognosis was grim and the doctors had recommended to her parents that she be institutionalized. “Which, of course, you know, without me telling you, that they refused,” my mother added.

“Well, thank god she has the parents she does,” I concluded.

I heard only the worst of Jennifer’s progress over the next six years. She was confined to a wheelchair, was spastic in all her limbs, had voluntary use of only two fingers on her left hand and was non-verbal. Her parents became tireless advocates for the disabled, tried every new therapy and treatment known to man. Jennifer lived at home, and for all her disabilities, I knew that she was happy.

I returned for a vacation about the time Jennifer was seven. I spoke to her mother on the phone and she told me of Jennifer’s distinct love of horses. I don’t know what made me say it, but I immediately suggested that she bring Jennifer out to my parent’s acreage for a ride. My family had been breeding Morgan horses for some years and we had a beautiful bay mare with the soul of an angel. I guess I figured she and Jennifer would be a good fit.

My mother was shocked and horrified that I would even consider putting so frail a child, who could not sit up unaided, on a horse, least of all her favorite mare. “I’ll ride with her and hold her up,” I retorted. We battled it out, neither one giving in, until Jennifer and her family arrived for their visit the next day.

I had saddled up the mare, Topaz, and was working at the futile business of ‘wearing her down’. So intent on this was I that I had failed entirely to note the arrival of my friends, who stood along the fence watching me ride a mare with the indefinable spirit of a show horse. Suddenly, my idea didn’t seem so clever; how could I put a child on this mare, so full of fire and razzmatazz?

My awareness returned to the present and I saw a little child in a wheelchair, looking at me with a gaze I immediately recognized-that of a horse crazy kid. Her eyes sparkled and her mouth was wide open and a steady stream of saliva was trickling down her chin. Her head tipped back and a squeal of delight rose up into the branches of the old mulberry tree.

Whatever discomfort I felt at the sight of Jennifer and the reality of her disabilities was quickly overshadowed by Topaz’s fascination with her. When I rode the mare over to their group, she dropped her head and looked Jennifer in the eye. Jennifer reached out to touch her, awkwardly, with those two fingers of hers and Topaz moved towards the caress, only to find the child’s fingers up her nostril. The mare never moved her head and all the introductions were completed with Jennifer’s fingers up Topaz’s nose.

All of my concerns at that moment, dispersed. I instructed Jennifer’s mother to slowly raise Jennifer up to the saddle, where we arranged her in front of me. It soon became apparent that I was not going to be able to use the reins and hold Jennifer at the same time, so I renewed my faith and prayed to every god I could imagine and some that I made up, to watch over us. My prayers were answered.

Topaz lowered her head and walked, careful to support the awkwardness of both her riders. She took slow steps and made wide, gentle turns when I asked her with only my legs to guide her. I could not see Jennifer’s face, but I could feel her smile in my arms. Her mother and my mother were standing along the fence watching, both smiling, both with tears streaming down their faces. It was perfect, beautiful and profound.

It was so easy, so simple to make this child’s dream come true. The sheer impossibility of it, just vanished with the breeze, and so did Jennifer’s disabilities. What became increasingly clear to me was that the emphasis should be placed on what was possible. A seven year old child gave me a vision of what life could be, without a single word, but with peels of laughter.

It took me six more years to hear the call to action. Looking back, it was the first of several epiphanies directly involving Jennifer. I decided to take control of my life, moved back to America and started working full time with the horses. Jennifer was not far behind. I immersed myself in research about riding for the disabled and developed a pilot program for Jennifer, involving Topaz and several volunteers.

Again, it was easy. People got hooked. Their astonishment always gave way first to tears and then to abject joy in Jennifer’s presence. She had charisma that radiated off her in waves. One volunteer said, “When I leave here [after helping Jennifer ride] I feel like I can do anything!” We were all under the impression that we were helping Jennifer, when, in fact, I believe the opposite was true: Jennifer was helping us.

[To be continued...]

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chester Weber:Carriage Driving-Indoor Driving Trial

Indoor Driving Trials

This is something I have brewing in the back of my mind... The winter months in Iowa seem to go on a very long time and breaking them up with a spiffy trial like Chester Weber demonstrates in the above video would be quite exciting. Note: he traveled to Toronto from Florida. Iowa isn't that far away in those terms. With that new indoor facility at the Iowa State Fairgrounds...Winter is coming...

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation Company.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What a Pony Taught Me

With Grandpa, Mimi and Taffy, 1966

When I was little, I had a pony named Flicka. I once went storming up to my Grandpa and told him I couldn't catch that stupid pony. He assured me the problem was there was no such thing as a stupid pony. He walked right up to her and put the halter on. Flicka was Grandpa's pony and she let everyone know this.

Flicka was designed to deter me from horses or to concrete my resolve. Isn't this what all ponies do? All little girls want a pony, until they get one and realize that most ponies consider the price of domestication a little too high and draw the line at hauling little children around on their backs. Who doesn't know the pony trick of the disappearing head with sudden stop. Or trotting along in a straight line and next being wrapped around a tree? Or the simple sidestep involuntary dismount?

In fact, most Flicka dismounts were involuntary. She did not discriminate: young, old, short, tall, she dumped them all. Even practised horsemen, especially the ones who bragged that they could ride that pony. Flicka loved dumping the braggards, usually in the first ten seconds. It was a sport to her. Grandpa was the only human being she never even tried to throw.

She came very close to killing me several times. But I got back on every time, because Grandpa made me. Somewhere along the line I got as stubborn as Flicka and I think by the time I was 10, I could stay on for as much as five or ten minutes at a time. But I could never catch her without chasing her all over the farm for half an hour. Every time she dumped me she ran off to find Grandpa, and shortly after, he would come leading her back down the lane, chuckling to himself.

I would inevitably be mad as a wet hen, stomping up the lane, ready to kill that pony. He would tell me if I could learn to ride this pony, I would be able to ride anything. So I got back on, got dumped, got back on, got dumped...I was going to ride that pony. Grandpa never told me the secret to riding the pony. He let me figure that out for myself.

After five years of spending more time on the ground than on Flicka, someone decided it was just too embarrassing watching me get dumped all the time and I got a horse, who was as sweet as Flicka was ornery. I loved Gypsy with my whole heart and soul and she never once tried to dump me. I spent many happy hours on her back, often with Grandpa riding Flicka next to me. I once asked him why Flicka didn't try to dump him. He just laughed and told me I'd figure it out someday.

When I was sixteen, I decided to take Flicka to the county fair and show her in halter. I had two other horses going and Grandpa told me I had no business taking Flicka because I hadn't been working with her enough. "Oh, Grandpa," I said. "It'll be fine." The evil pony, who never let me ride her, who hadn't been off the farm in 10 years, who hadn't been worked with enough won Grand Champion Pony. Grandpa threw his hat in the air and leaped up and down clapping and dancing around at the in-gate.

I never saw him be happier. It was a defining moment. I didn't know who he was more proud of: me or Flicka. But as I was handed a giant purple ribbon and an even bigger trophy, I looked at the pony and for the first time in our lives we agreed on something. Grandpa loved us both, it was something we shared. From that moment on, I never had trouble catching Flicka. I even rode her a few times without incident.

Working with horses requires a certain amount of determination and stubbornness, but those traits have no business on their backs, or while trying to catch them. The best tools for training horses are love and respect. Flicka taught me this. I didn't learn it easily, but she never gave up on me. I still have the trophy to prove it.

Bless the ponies. And the grandpas who love them.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Learning by Teaching: Carriage Drivng Aha Moments

I have always maintained that teaching carriage driving lessons helps me be a better whip. This weekend was another illustration of this concept. Micheal Scott, a fellow carriage driving competitor, came to Serendipity for a lesson. This was a wonderful opportunity to evaluate my teaching. Having a whip of Micheal's excellence as a student really challenged me.

We focused on body awareness and its relationship to bending in the horse. The first exercise involved snapping two lead ropes together, which I held pretending to be the horse while Micheal held the ends of the ropes as reins and pretended to drive me. With my back to him, I asked him to turn to the right or left and then I interpreted the turns by telling Micheal what my 'horse's' body would do.

We talked about how some cues of the inside rein made my shoulder come into my hip, which is the desired effect of bending the horse around a turn. We also discussed how much support was needed on the outside rein to support the bend, and I did my best to 'be the horse' and respond to each cue of each rein. This, of course was not a news flash to Micheal. But, when I asked him to participate in the turn by using his own body on the box seat to mirror the horse's through the turn, he said, "I never thought about that!"

Using only the whip's upper body [shoulders, arms and hands] to turn the horse will do the job. The horse will turn, and depending on the athleticism of the horse, they will turn ok, good or well. But adding a slight shift in the whip's hips and legs to the upper body, will allow the horse to turn better. Instead of making the horse bring its shoulder back to its hip on the inside of the turn with the former, with extra participation by the whip, the horse is allowed to bring its shoulder back to its hip.

This is something on which I base my entire philosophy of carriage driving and training. Don't make the horse do what you want it to do, allow the horse to do what you want it to do. Just make sure you are doing as much work from the box seat as you are requiring the horse to do. It is a partnership. Participate.

As I watched Micheal drive Don Pecos, I was able to further hone my teaching skills. I hope he got as much out of the experience as I did. Saying that, I might rue the day. It is hard enough to place above Micheal in the show ring. I might just have made that impossible. Oh, well. A big thank you to Micheal Scott for his belief in me as a teacher. That is what I'd like to be remembered as, after all.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.