"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
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
"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
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!