I guess in a lot of ways I was spoiled by Ashley, my
first working student. She was eager to learn, a hard
worker, attentive, and knew how to leave what was left
of her ego at the barn door. To say it was a pleasure to
work with her would be the understatement of the year.
In fact, I credit Ashley with giving me the courage to
try to help others. And while they are not always as
attentive as Ashley, they are usually quite
appreciative. That is, at least when compared to. . .
the student from hell.
To protect the guilty, and my assets, lets just call
I first meet Awanabe shortly after completing a run
cross-country. For some reason that still eludes me, she
was impressed by my ride. Awanabe had been hanging
around events for some time, and had even given it a go
once or twice, but with a horse unable to get around
even a basic, chicken elementary course, she wasn't
getting far very fast.
After listening to her tail of woe, I agreed to try
to help her. On the appointed day, Awanabe pulled into
my driveway in a big tag-along rig, which was more
suitable for a professional then a weekly rider. I knew
something was amiss when I noted that the interior of
its huge dressing room was decorated with every ribbon
Awanabe had won from every local dinky horse show she
had attended in her life.
After exchanging pleasantries, I headed off to the
dressage field where I left my gin and tonic and awaited
Awanabe’s arrival. And I waited, and I waited. After
30 minutes, I headed back to the house for another gin
and tonic and waited some more. Finally Awanabe showed
up . . . in bright green stretch breeches, a pink
halter-top, a hard hat with a pink fuzzy ball on top,
and a belly pouch full of horse treats barely holding in
a beer gut a college drunk would be proud of!
I made a mental note never to drink before a lesson
To this day, I still don't know how I got through the
lesson. I do remember saying a lot of ‘‘um’’,
‘‘err’’, and ‘‘um’’ again.
Awanabe was up front with me. She thought she and her
horse were upper level material. It didn't matter that
she was already 34. It didn't matter that at 5' 2"
she was carrying the weight of a person two feet taller.
It didn't matter that she hadn't jumped anything bigger
then a baby novice crossrail. She was going to be an
international rider and it was up to me to help her get
Part way through the first lesson, I excused myself
and made anther gin and tonic.
After watching Awanabe struggle for five minutes to
get on her 15 hand quarter horse, I finally got the
courage up to ask her about her prior instructor and why
she had left her. According to Awanabe, most of her
lessons involved meditating in front of a candle in
group séances where she got in touch with her horse's
inner being. But at $75 a candle, after three years she
felt that she had learned as much as she could.
"You've been riding for three years?"
"No, I've been riding most of my life. I just
took lessons to put some polish on my position. You
should have seen me before I started to take
"No thanks, I can't imagine anything
worse," I mutter under my breath.
"Oh, nothing, go ahead and trot, or at least try
to . . ."
Well I somehow got through the lesson without
laughing or crying, which can't be said for my wife or
Ashley who gasped in awe at the display from the tack
"You agreed to teach her again!? You have got to
be kidding," giggled Audrey.
Yes, I have a soft heart. And she was so happy with
the lesson, I found it hard to say no to her request for
another. After all, her horse was nice, and if I could
get her to dress right, drop the belly pouch, and shut
up and listen, I thought I could get her around a baby
As the date of our next lesson approached, I searched
in vain for a diplomatic way to address the riding
attire issue. In the end, I finally decided to tell her
simply that eventing had standards, and green breeches,
pink halter-tops, and belly pouches did not fit into the
equation. My speech sounded better and better as I
recited it over and over to myself. It went over like a
lead balloon when I delivered it.
I got the 'I've wasted years carrying about what
other people thought of me' routine, and then she
started to cry and throw her tack. I was taken back, but
having worked with some erratic people in my life, I was
not completely caught off guard.
"Look," I said, "If you expect to be
an upper level rider, you better start dressing the
part. You want people to notice you for your riding
ability, not your unique riding attire." For good
measure, I added, "When’s the last time you ever
saw any rider wearing a belly pouch on
cross-country?" It worked, and I made a mental note
to never teach anyone who wore bright green spandex
With the clothing issue hopefully behind us, I headed
off to set up some fences before going out to the
cross-country field. Eventually Awanabe joined me,
albeit still equipped with a belly pouch.
"Did you not understand me? I asked you not to
wear the belly pouch."
"I have to. I've got all my treats in it and my
"What's a clicker?"
"I've trained Robby to it. Every time he does
something right, I get off and give him a treat and
click the clicker. So all I have to do now to keep him
from getting scared as we approach a fence is to click
I was awed. "Let me get this straight, you're
expect to run around a cross-country course, and as you
approach each fence, you intend to whip out your clicker
and click your way up and over a fence?"
"Ya, pretty neat, huh?"
I sighed. "Awanabe, you have enough trouble
steering your horse at a walk, I don't think it's a very
god idea to try to click your way over a fence."
"Well then, how do you expect me to encourage
Robby to jump a fence?"
"Have you ever considered ‘clucking’?"
The lesson went downhill from there.
Awanabe’s third and last lesson came a few weeks
later. I had noticed a slight limp in her horse during
the cross-country school and recommended that she have a
vet look at him. When she arrived for her next lesson,
the horse was still lame.
"What did the vet say about your horse?"
‘‘My blacksmith looked at him and said he was
lame from a fungus in the frog. So I've been squirting a
solution of Betadyne and sugar into it."
"What?" my veterinarian nurse wife asked.
"Ya, my blacksmith made it up for me . . . I
figure since he works with feet all the time, why waste
my time talking to a vet . . . "
Needless to say, the horse was now lamer then it was
the last time I had seen it.
"Oh well, next time I'll just bring my younger
horse. You know, everyone who sees him want’s to buy
him. They're sure he'll one day go to the
"Uh huh," is all I could manage to get out
of my gin soaked lips.
The final lesson began well enough when Awanabe was
able to beat her record of five minutes for getting on
the horse, but from there, things went downhill again.
"OK. Pick up a trot. Good, now change your
diagonal . . . No, you missed it, try again . . . No,
try again . . . Look sit once, not twice . . . Once! . .
. No that was two times, Once! That's less then two!
Once . . . No that was four times . . . OK lets try
three times, or for that matter, any odd number, just
don't sit on an even number . . . No that was eight . .
. that was ten . . . that was six . . .
It went on like this for fifteen minutes. Figuring it
had to be a problem with the horse, I got on. I was
surprised to feel a dead even, albeit green horse under
me. I got off and handed the horse back to Awanabe.
"There is nothing wrong with this horse."
"I can work on the diagonal thing later. Can you
get back on and show me how to do a leg yield, I
understand I'll have to do that at the Olympics..."
As it turns out, she never got the right diagonal
that day, and thankfully has never returned for another
lesson. But I've learned mine. I'd rather help kids like
Ashley for free than be paid to help someone who doesn't
want to put the effort into learning. Thankfully this
lesson was more humorous then it was painful. If only
that was the way with all life's lessons...