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 Never Turn Down the Opportunity to Learn Something New . . .

Katrina Hunter

First Lessons…

"What are those things on his legs? Are they polo wraps? You wrapped your horse's legs in purple polo wraps to bring him here?" …Yikes, it was going to be a long afternoon!

This was how my very first lesson with Michael Hillman began! I met Mike about 5 weeks prior to this day at a local auction. It was at that auction that I found my second horse Thor, but that's a whole different story! Incidentally, I had only gone to this auction in search of western tack for my first horse. Had I known what I was getting myself into, I may have opted to shop via a catalog!

When Mike approached me at this auction, he wanted to know what I planned to do with my new equine partner. "Well, I'm really not sure, why?"

"You need to event him" and he marched off in the direction of the said horse's holding stall. Event him? What is that? I'm a former 4-H'er so I've tried several different disciplines, but eventing wasn't an offered curriculum. I had seen pictures of riders jumping their horses over big, crazy looking fences and off of huge banks into deep-water pits, but he couldn't possibly want me to do something like that, could he?

"Wait, what does that mean?" I asked as I followed him into the stall.

"Eventing. You know what that is right?"

"Well I've seen some pictures and stuff, but I don't really know how to ride like that. "

"Okay, well you'll learn. Here," as he wrote down his name, phone number and the web address of the site he had created, "call me and we'll get started."

The next few days were a blur of getting Thor settled into his new home and nursing him back to health. He came with the added bonus of a viral infection that took him several weeks to get over. Taking a horse's temperature every few hours is probably not the best method of bonding with him, but that's how we spent our first few days. Our new career as Eventers would have to wait until our vet gave us the okay to travel. Four weeks after this whole ordeal started Thor was given a clean bill of health and it was time to see what Mike Hillman had in store for us.

That very next weekend we found ourselves at Windy Meadow Farm for our first lesson. After Mike had gotten over the monstrosity of my choice of leg protection we moved on to looking at my tack and it's suitability.

"So why did you buy this saddle?"

"Um, because I liked the color?"

"Well it has to go…and why did you buy this bridle?"

"Well, because it matched the saddle."

"Oh. Okay, get it rid of it too."

This was not looking good for my checkbook! Mike gathered his tack together and showed me the difference between his stuff and mine. As we discussed the different makes and models of saddles I couldn't help but notice the various pictures and posters that adorned his tack room. When I questioned Mike as to how he had some many great pictures of famous riders he explained that his wife was a groom for Bruce Davidson and several top-level teams. Then he proceeded to tell me that I would have several lessons with her pertaining to the proper care and grooming of my horse. What had I gotten myself into?

After a final inventory of what tack I would need, Mike and I decided that it was time to see what Thor could do. After tacking him up and going outside I started to get just a little nervous. It had been a long time since I had ridden with an instructor and I had certainly never ridden for one of Mike's caliber. I guess my nervousness showed because I soon heard Mike say "you have ridden before, right?" Oh boy. That's not the first impression I wanted to make! After a few more circles of stiff, sloppy riding, Mike donned his hard hat and climbed aboard. It was as if he carried a magic wand. Thor looked like a different horse!

Mike put Thor through several paces and then handed the reins back to me. The change in this horse was astonishing! He wanted to go forward, he was paying attention to me and he seemed to be enjoying what he was doing. I had a whole new respect for Mike Hillman; he did know what he was doing!

While I untacked and got ready to go home, Mike and I discussed where we needed to go from here. He was honest in telling me that it would be a lot of hard work, and that it would take substantial commitment on my part but the rewards would be well worth it. We also decided that I needed all new tack, all new attire and a trailer. Fortunately, I already had the horse, the desire to learn and someone willing to teach me, so we'd start from there.

It may be a long time before Thor and I are jumping those crazy looking fences or completing elegant dressage tests, but I've already learned quite a few lessons from Mike Hillman. The first being, purple polo wraps are not acceptable shipping protection. The second that my favorite t-shirt and jeans are not proper riding attire and last, but not least, that you should never turn down the opportunity to learn something new … you just never know where that opportunity might take you!