At the beginning of Dec. 2012, Rachel called me. One of her clients (I’ll call the client Gloria) had an offer to make. Rachel had been training and showing Gloria’s horse (whom I’ll call Amore) for about a year; but things were changing in Gloria’s life, and she had decided she couldn’t keep Amore any more. Rachel knew my long-term plan to get a horse of my own, so she told Gloria about me. That resulted in an offer for me to ride Amore to see if he would suit me. I had admired him all along but never even thought about yearning for him, because I knew he wasn’t on the market and I probably wouldn’t be able to afford him even if he was. However, given the details of the offer that Rachel passed along, I jumped at the chance to try him out during my next lesson. He had been trained far beyond my level* at that point, so it was a blast to ride him and feel some of the possibilities of what I could learn with him.
I thoroughly enjoyed riding him and told Rachel I would love to take Gloria up on her offer, if Gloria was sure she would be satisfied. I then waited on tenterhooks to hear from Rachel. Fortunately, she was kind enough to call me the moment she got Gloria’s answer, which was yes. And that is when my miracle occurred, because Gloria’s full offer** was to GIVE me Amore and all his tack and gear! It was so important to her that he go to a good home that she was willing to give him away to ensure he went to the “right” place. Her first choice would have been to give him to Rachel, but Rachel already had two horses (one of whom was in foal at the time) and didn’t have room for a third. So, Gloria’s next choice was to give him to someone who was training with Rachel and would be a good fit for Amore. I was beyond delighted that Rachel thought highly enough of me to recommend me to Gloria and that Gloria agreed to it!
I rode him for the first time on a Monday, and on Thursday my family^ went to meet Gloria and get Amore’s paperwork from her. It seemed almost too good to be true until I had his papers in hand and had thanked her effusively and finally had my very own horse.
So, let me introduce my horse. He is a grey^^ 19-yr old Andalusian^^^ gelding+ who was born in Spain – but who wants words when we can have pictures?!
I have had him for a bit over a year now. He knows so much more than I do about dressage, and I am having a blast learning from him! I’m also getting spoiled by all the compliments I get about him when I take him to a show or encounter people on trail rides. He’s a very handsome guy, a lovely mover (as long as I don’t let his basically lazy nature take over), and laid-back enough for my family to hang out with. I continue to be blown away by the blessing I’ve been given and hope to enjoy him for a long time to come.
* For anyone who knows dressage, I did some schooling shows at training level our first summer together (2013) and Rachel had been showing him at Second Level.
** Which I knew from Rachel’s first phone call but withheld until now to give the story its full impact.
^ My (ecstatic) self, two horse-mad girls (who take lessons at my first stable) and a patient, very supportive husband.
^^ He looks white (when he’s clean), but the color designation in the horse world is grey, since he started life as a dark foal and gradually faded to white.
+ The stallion part of the title only applies to the movie…I wouldn’t ever want to own a stallion.
If you would rather not read about my (Christian) faith, please stop here. For anyone who does read on, there is another facet of this story that I only alluded to in the main portion. My relationship with God has been a part of this whole horse journey for many years now, since I have been praying (in a rather tentative way) for a long time about getting my own horse some day and thanking God for giving me access to horses at the stables where I’ve been riding. I know some people would count all this (barn horses & Amore) as luck or coincidence; but I see it as provision, because I have a lifetime’s worth (43 years and counting) of seeing how God provides for me. There were times in college and as a young professional musician where I only had pennies to my name; but at that point, those pennies were enough to meet my needs, and more pennies came when the next needs arose. It definitely wasn’t always easy to trust (not worry) about how my needs would be met; and even after all these years, I still have to remind myself to trust instead of worrying.
Now, I would NEVER say that I “need” a horse — want yes, need no. So, I never assumed that I was “guaranteed” a horse someday. I hoped and did some long-range planning, but no more than that. As a separate thing from all this horse stuff (or so I thought at the time!), I had been learning new things about my relationship with God in the past year and a half. I have been an active Christian my whole life, and it is fascinating to me to look back over my life and see how my knowledge of and relationship with God have grown and changed. Much like my other life-long endeavors (being a musician, a wife, a rider, a mom), progress comes in bursts & plateaus and obvious & creeping-up-on-me pieces. So, part of what I was learning in the latest burst was that God’s love for me (and everyone else!) is more passionate and daily and detailed than I knew before. I had learned as a kid to do my best to not want very much and to be hesitant about asking for “unimportant” things. Hence my hesitation to be bold about asking God for a horse of my own. However, God has been teaching me that it is completely okay to tell Him about my desires. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I will always get whatever I’m asking for; but the asking itself is a good thing for me to be doing, partly because that means I am talking to Him about what is going on in my life.
So, here I am, getting to know God and myself better, and all of a sudden (after 12 years, but still all of a sudden) here comes this big ‘ol white horse to show me that God can sometimes be really extravagant about taking care of me. I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking God for a horse as fabulous as Amore, and I really think God knew that and gave me something I couldn’t have dared ask for to be a daily (eating, breathing, pooping) reminder of God’s love. Amore’s registered name is actually “Beloved” (in another language), which is a fabulous bit of icing on this amazing cake of a story.
Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I wanted a horse. I grew up on a small (10-acre) farm, so space was not an issue. However, my parents decided that we would not get a horse. Instead, as a compromise, we adopted a wild burro from the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) for me. Little Guy and I had lots of fun goofing off together over the years. I’m glad I had him (and a few subsequent burros) to play with; however, burros really aren’t horses, and my desire to have a horse never went away. I was able to ride horses occasionally as a kid, so I was not entirely horse deprived while growing up.
Many years later, as an adult, I decided it was finally time to see if I could scratch my horse itch. My plan/hope was to get a horse of my own eventually; but I figured that in the meantime I would start with riding lessons (after all, maybe I wouldn’t like riding as much I thought I would). So, in 2000 I found a local riding instructor whom I liked and started taking riding lessons once a week. It was so much fun! I rode at her barn for the next twelve years. She eventually allowed me to ride one of her horses as often as I wanted. I was still planning to get my own horse someday, but I counted myself very blessed to have a wonderful mare to ride without needing to pay the day-to-day costs associated with owning a horse.
My initial goals for riding lessons were just to learn “basic” riding in an English saddle and get to spend time with horses. For a long time, I was satisfied with getting to ride once or twice a week and fulfilled enough by simple riding in an arena. Eventually, though, I started to think about what other challenges I could add to my riding. The two new things I considered were jumping and dressage. My final choice was influenced by my job (professional musician), which depends on me taking good care of my shoulders, arms, and hands. Even though I would still like to try jumping some day (on a sane, experienced, forgiving horse), I discarded the idea of making jumping my new equestrian focus; since the odds of breaking or straining something while jumping are probably higher than some other activities with horses. Dressage was the other main type of riding that drew me. I describe dressage as learning to communicate so clearly with your horse that you can influence any part of its body at any time to do whatever you want and then using that to help the horse carry itself well while riding complicated geometry in an arena. There are LOTS of books out there with much more detailed descriptions of dressage.
Once I picked dressage, my next challenge turned out to be finding a dressage instructor who had a lesson horse; since I still didn’t have my own horse, and most dressage instructors in the area do not have lesson horses. I started really looking in spring 2011 and was delighted to finally find my current instructor (whom I’ll call Rachel) in May of that year. She is a fabulous instructor (and a warm, generous person, too), and I have been happily taking lessons with her ever since. I had always felt very blessed by having access to the mare at my first barn; and I was blessed at my new barn by being able to ride another client’s horse (Addy), since Rachel decided I was advanced enough to start on Addy rather than Rachel’s lesson horse. My goal continued to be to have a horse of my own some day. I prayed and trusted that it would be clear when it was time to start looking for my own horse.
From May 2011 to August 2012, I learned a lot on Addy. At that point, her owner moved her to a different barn. For the next three months I rode Rachel’s lesson horse. I definitely learned from him, but the “my own horse” itch started to become stronger. During November 2012 the lesson horse started to have some back and leg problems, and Rachel finally decided to retire him. I was in the thick of preparing for my next viola recital (in February 2013); so I figured my plan would be to focus on the recital until it was done, and then I would start the possibly very long process of looking for a horse of my own. I didn’t know if Rachel and I would be able to come up with a plan for me riding during the interim, but I was actually very peaceful about the idea that I might have to pause in riding until I could get my own horse.
to be continued….
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* A title borrowed from the Disney movie about the Lipizzans of the Spanish Riding School.
Hampshire and Beyond
Of course, despite my obsession with castles and historical buildings, the main reason for my visit was to catch up with friends. This meant that one evening there was a Meeting of the Mods and Hellgoddess. I’m actually surprised the sudden spike in Associated Energy didn’t throw us into next week.
As Robin has mentioned previously this meeting involved Southdowner, AJLR, myself and Robin. It was a very pleasant meal. I do recall champagne and brownies. (And the paintwork in AJLR’s hotel room was…. more suited to a vampire movie set. ;) ) As I had expressed a desire to go and see the (famous) monks I was ferried* down to the abbey. With a spare blanket. Just in case my thinned blood couldn’t cope.**
Let me just put in here that Robin is not exaggerating when it comes to describing how cold the abbey is. I could barely see the hymn sheet for the foggy breath I was exhaling. And I needed that blanket.*** It was the blanket though that ultimately got me into trouble. The service books are rather large and unwieldy and with one hand frozen in place clutching the blanket I had decided that the seats in front were level enough to rest the book on.
You know that little (dry) voice inside that likes to encourage you to change course? Hmmm. “But what if the book slides off the chair in front?” “Don’t be silly – I’ll catch it.”
Oh sure. Catch it. With one hand buried in a blanket.
And when the book, inevitably, slipped off towards me I reached out with my other hand* and I did catch it. Sort of. It would have been fine if the seats in front had been solid pews. And not individual solid wood chairs.
On a stone floor.
In a room designed to have acoustics good enough to hear a pin drop.
Have I mentioned that this happened in the middle of prayers?? ****
So as the heavy wooden chair in front shot forward over the stone floor, nearly tipping over in the process as it crashed into its neighbours, with a sound akin to a cannon firing** I was kind of wishing the wretched stone floor would open up and swallow me^.
Then I dropped the blanket.
I have been told that my membership in the Hellgoddess’s Klutz Club is now assured for decades to come. *le sigh*
The trip to Hampshire was depressingly short-lived before I was whisked away to a seaside resort in a different part of England. (I don’t think it was because the rulers of Hampshire were concerned about the structural integrity of their county with my continued presence.) And into the most inclement weather of my trip. Let’s just say that I am currently very impressed by the fortitude that must have been had by the soldiers atop Dover Castle in all weathers. The gale was so strong up there it was difficult standing upright. (Great castle though. :D )
A wonderful trip – too short, as always – and plenty to look forward to on the next one. More bellringing^^ and even more photos. but probably in a summertime. ;)
* which would have had icicles on it except for the fact I was wearing wool wristwarmers and fingerless gloves.
** very similar to a large, heavy oak door slamming shut on a large echoing room. Which may have happened on my way out. I don’t know if I will get a return invitation…#
# monks need a good laugh occasionally too you know. I’m sure they’ll be begging to know when you’re coming back.
^ the self-control shown by the Hellgoddess at this point in not laughing at my misfortune shows how worthy she is of devotion.#
~ please inform the hellpack.
^^ definitely need more. Especially after I’ve now experienced the amazing Dover Ringing Centre. (I managed 3 towers in 3 days which is pretty good considering I barely had any ringing this last year.)
* ha ha frelling ha. Did I tell you about the lake? You don’t know from ferried. A fortnight ago you would have been ferried.# –ed
# Aaaaaaaaand it’s back. –ed ed
** ‘thinned blood’ my blue freezing feet. I am familiarly known by the monks as blanket woman. And I live here. And I’m from Maine. Where we have central heating. What I want to know is if novice monks being interviewed for suitability to the monkish way of life are asked if they’re good at being cold.
*** yes. I kind of thought you were humouring me when I gave you the blanket back at the cottage and told you to bring it along.
**** hee hee hee hee. It was as good as a play. Sort of a thriller where things jump out at you suddenly.
When Southdowner set to work twisting my arm to come and visit she was met with a great deal of resistance.
“It’s winter!! I would have to leave high summer!”
She persisted – brutally – and ended up resorting to base bribery (more on that later…) I succumbed. So, with a half-shoestring budget, I left Australia just before a scorching heatwave set in and travelled to slightly cooler climes.
The weather was always going to be a challenge at this time of year. Would I get snow? Or would I be caught in the seemingly never-ending drenching that had left the UK a sodden puddle?
The t-shirt I had arrived in just wasn’t going to do on a raw January morning in London so by the time Southdowner had battled the early morning traffic to collect me from Heathrow I was encased in several layers of wool and alpaca*.
I was reliably informed that it had rained solidly for days prior to my arrival. We encountered the locals with dazed expressions and disbelief in their voices as Southdowner and I traversed the countryside. In sunshine.
We pottered about with day trips to ruined castles and medieval houses. One highlight was a daytrip to London to see the Royal Shakespeare Company. (See?! Bribery.) The whole cast gave fantastic performances and the added bonus was sitting 3 rows from the front, within spitting distance (sic).
That day inspired us to go to Stratford-on-Avon when we had a free day. It’s a major tourist trap during the summer but lovely and quiet during the depths of off-season. I’m not really a Bard Junkie but the plethora of medieval houses and the home the Royal Shakespeare Company were very interesting.
Not too far from Stratford-on-Avon is a little place called Broadway. A very pretty village with a curious tower built close by at the top of a hill.
Broadway Tower may have started life as almost an ornamental building but has had a fascinating history since then due to its use by the military. The 360º view from the roof is certainly worth the visit.
We spent a day in Lincoln and it was really lovely. I especially enjoyed the cathedral (with its chapel dedicated to the bellringers!) If you get a chance to go then do – the roof tours are fascinating and allow you to take in some amazing views within and without the building, overlooking Lincoln.
If you go on the roof tour you get to stand on the Sir Joseph Banks Gallery and next to this amazing stained glass window.
And then there was a small foray into Hampshire…..
End of Part 1- the Hellgoddess has decreed that my public admissions of indiscretion be delayed… (anyone else think she’s just a trifle addicted to cliffhangers now?? :P )*
* I knew I kept these animals for a reason!
* Addicted?! I resemble that remark. I want you to know that since I began KES my entire body chemistry has EVOLVED. Cliff hangers are no longer a rush like biting the head off a mint chocolate frog^, they are a NECESSITY, like tea and champagne and . . . er . . . chocolate.
^ with the frogs there were some divine chocolate peppermint creams . . . the only problem is that these are, individually, rather large, and rather full of peppermint cream. There was sticky peppermint cream EVERYWHERE that evening.+ Chair legs adhered to floor. Hellhounds adhered to hellhound bed. I think the laptop still smells faintly minty. The middle of the hellterror’s back may also, but good luck getting your face down to test this theory without getting a faceful of delighted hellterror face instead. ++
+ Of course I therefore had to eat them all in one sitting.
++ One of the weirdnesses of this breed, or at least this scion of this breed, is the ferocity of her growling while she kisses you.
Guest Post by Diane_in_MN
Local attractions are, of course, frequently ignored by locals until some outside stimulus calls them to mind. In my case, the outside stimulus was a visit from a good friend last September. She would be staying for a few days, and while life in my house is not entirely boring and predictable, it’s boring and predictable enough that I like to line up a few interesting things to do. We have gone to the Stereotypical Used Book Store. ** We have dressed up (so as not to look like tourists) and gone to the local Renaissance Faire, a good option but not if one’s friend isn’t staying over a weekend. Poking around the little shops in a not-entirely-touristy little town is also good, but that’s just one afternoon. And then I found the SPAM® Museum.#
We have lived in Minnesota for twenty years or so, and while I knew that Austin, Minnesota is the home of Hormel Foods, maker of SPAM®, the SPAM® Museum was a new one on me. In fairness to myself, it only opened in its current state about ten years ago, so it missed being included in Minnesota: Off the Beaten Path, the guidebook I bought before we moved here.*** I myself have only encountered SPAM® in a school cafeteria—where it was not a popular feature—but a whole museum devoted to a canned meat product could hardly be passed up. Besides, the web site said that the exhibits include a Monty Python tribute.
We really wanted to see the Monty Python tribute.
So on a nice sunny day, my husband, GF and I abandoned the dogs and headed out to Austin and the SPAM® Museum.
We arrived early in the afternoon and found a spot in the gated but free parking lot, which had more cars in it than you might expect. The museum building is a handsome brick structure, trimmed in SPAM® blue and yellow, and as we walked up to the door, we passed a bronze sculpture honoring the ones who make SPAM® possible—namely, pork on the hoof.^
As we picked up our Official Tour Guides inside the museum—admission is free, too—we saw the impressive Great Wall of SPAM® over the entry doors.
The SPAMbassador (that’s what they call them, really) who greeted us told us that photos were not only allowed , they were encouraged, and to prove it offered us disposable cameras in case we’d forgotten our own. She also told us that the Great Wall is made up of almost 3,400 SPAM® cans—empty or full, she didn’t say—and directed us to the SPAM® theater, where we could see an informative video on the history of SPAM®.
You can’t see this from my photo, but the theater is shaped like a can of SPAM®. (And by now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.)
We emerged from the theater into a replica of an early twentieth-century grocery that gave us some information about the founders of the Hormel meat-packing company. Hormel packaged the first canned hams, so the 1937 debut of a chopped-and-pressed seasoned pork shoulder product—i.e., SPAM®^^—was probably a logical next step. The rest of the museum is devoted to SPAM® exhibits. A graphic map of the United States highlights where all that pork shoulder, not to mention the bacon and ham that Hormel also produces, comes from. A global map illustrates SPAM®’s world-wide reach.^^^ I liked the display of SPAM® advertising through the decades, and was particularly charmed by this one
from 1938 or so. I suspect that anyone employing a live-in maid or cook during the Great Depression wouldn’t have been frying up a slice of SPAM® on the maid’s night out.
We had learned, from the helpful educational video, that SPAM® is now made in twelve varieties, including one made out of turkey instead of pork+, and SPAMbassadors in the museum proper had samples available for tasting. (My husband, the carnivore in our family, tried a few, and thought the teriyaki version wasn’t bad.) In the best modern style, the museum offered several interactive exhibits, including one where the user can make a can of SPAM®, but by the time we got to that point, GF and I were ready for the Monty Python exhibit, and it did not disappoint.
The Monty Python exhibit is the last one in the museum, and the Official Tour Guide describes it as “the funniest SPAM® brand moment in the history of television.” Who could argue? The exhibit gave us the Green Midget Café, with a highlighted menu, and a Viking. (And how could I have forgotten the Vikings?) Pushing the helpful interactive button ran the Monty Python SPAM® skit.
We watched it three times before moving, still laughing, into the essential museum exit area, the gift shop.
The gift shop may not contain “every SPAM® item imaginable,” as the Tour Guide suggests, but it gives it a good shot.
GF has friends in Hawaii, where SPAM® is so popular that Honolulu holds the SPAM® Jam festival every year, and did a fair amount of Christmas shopping amongst the assorted bric-a-brac. I considered a few tee shirts,
but since my tee shirt drawer is already full of Great Dane shirts, I somewhat regretfully passed them by.
I didn’t see any sign that Hormel has embraced the use of their product’s name for junk e-mail, but aside from that, the company deserves a good sport prize for not taking themselves or SPAM® too seriously. The SPAM® Museum turned out to be a lot of fun, and the next time I have visitors (well, visitors in SUMMER), it will probably be on my list of things to do.
* I wish I could take credit for these names, but they came right off the museum’s web site.
** Old house, narrow stairs, literally sagging floors, double-filled shelves, piles of stuff next to the shelves, the whole shebang. Pictures and knickknacks, too.
*** This excellent book did inform me about the Kensington Runestone, the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion, and the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. We haven’t visited them. It’s the dogs’ fault.
^ There’s a farmer with these hogs, but clearly it’s the porkers who are the real stars of this show.
^^ The name is a contraction of SPiced hAM, as we were informed in the educational video.
^^^ I had just recently heard a story on National Public Radio about the great popularity of SPAM® in South Korea, especially as a necessary ingredient in a dish called, no kidding, Army stew. Apparently a can of SPAM® is a nice hostess gift in many parts of the world.
+ I have been told that Minnesota has more turkey farms than any other state. I guess turkey SPAM® should be a no-brainer. There is, as yet, no vegetarian version of SPAM® even though you can hardly go five miles without encountering soybeans in the Upper Midwest.
# May I just say . . . love. –ed.