Sunday, November 05, 2006

Getting Clinical: The Amazing Linnea

This handsome couple are my daughter, Jessica Friedman Culnan and her best buddy, The Rat. They're not the subject of today's post except by virtue of the fact that I would not have been in this wonderful indoor at the Linnea Seaman clinic in Pennsylvania was said lady not the current dressage instructor in charge of whipping these two into shape. And a fine job she has done!

Welcome to Linnea's amazing clinical style!

As noted earlier, I'm a sucker for a clinic. There's some comfort in sharing a lesson experience with other riders who are as far out in in left field as I am, and clinics tend to be run by Famous Trainers of the Finest Kind--folks who otherwise would be out of my league/price range/neighborhood. There are lots of good clinicians and a few great ones. Linnea falls into that latter category. She's a tiny bombshell dispersing fragments of intense learning over everyone in the place.

What's so special about her? Well, start with the fact that she talks the talk with enough humor and flair to make five hours fly by despite the cold, drizzly, miserable weather. Then add that she also walks the walk (or shall we say "rides the ride"). Rather than retype her specs here, I'll suggest you visit her website and meet her on her own turf: I'll wait . . .

[MUZAK plays . . . "If I had wings, no one would ask me should I fly . . . "]

Hand-in-hand with her warm and winning style and her incredible talent and list of accomplishments goes the fact that she pushes the clinic format to its highest potential painlessly.

I was lucky enough to be the first rider of the day, so I didn't have a chance to freeze in the early morning cold. I could have used more caffeine. Having ridden in clinics before, I was a little surprised when Linnea told all of the remaining students and auditors to move their chairs into the ring where I was busy warming up Rat, hoping to impress the socks off this particular Famous Trainer. After all, he's talented, and I'm smart enough to stay out of his way. I expected the traditional lesson format. I couldn't have been more wrong.

I didn't know I suffered from "duck butt". Before you laugh, have you checked your posterior lately? I was vaguely embarrassed as Linnea had all of the students look at my tightly-wrapped hindquarters and thighs and check for wrinkles in my breeches. There were none. I thought that was a good thing. Apparently not.

For the next hour, Linnea worked to put wrinkles in my breeches and, that accomplished, to show me how to straighten Rat, who's taken counter-bending to new heights. The hour flew by as observers were polled on my progress, and results were tallied with great good humor and enthusiasm. I could hardly believe it when my time was up.

I swapped places with the next participant and watched raptly as Linnea focused on a different skill--the warm-up, which is not your mother's warm-up, I assure you--and a different one after that, and yet a different one in the next rider. That's the way it went all day. Each of us became a model for a specific skill set while the rest took notes, asked questions, and raised our hands like second-graders thrilled to know the right answer.

Stupidly, expecting heavy traffic for my trip back to Jersey, I left early. I missed three or four hours of lessons that I probably needed. I won't do that next time, I guarantee, because what lessons I learned that day I brought home and gave to Zips Money Pit and Finicky Leo with awesome results. Awesome! Just a mere tuck of my duck butt, and Zip stopped his endless bitching about my driving seat. That, alone, was worth the trip!

I can't stress enough how valuable this sort of experience can be. No one is paying me for my sales pitch; this is just some from-the-heart rider-to-rider advice. Lessons with a local instructor are wonderful and necessary. Any lesson is better than no lesson no matter how advanced you (think you) are. But a day with Linnea is like six months of sensory flooding. Check her site; look at her offerings, and pull up your tight pants. You'll be in for the experience of a lifetime.

Friday, November 03, 2006

(There Must Be) Fifty Ways to Lose Your Marbles!

Now this is an idyllic scene, isn't it? It would be far more so if I hadn't taken this photo in my neighborhood, less than a mile from my house.

But I didn't stop by to rewhine my vermin issues. Not exactly. No, my plan today was to check in re the post-psychic-intervention interactions among my herd members.

When last I blogged, I was delighted that my new Appy, Dakota, had decided to cut me some slack, and the unicorn was on his way to de-horning. Zip was still depressed.

Today I can happily report that the de-balling went swimmingly. The vet insists that it's not possible for Duke to have undergone a major personality change so quickly after the, uh . . . incident. I explained that I don't think this was a hormonal shift so much as an emotional restructuring. Ginny warned him that if he didn't back off and stop attacking the other horses, he'd get hurt. He didn't, and he did. Score another one for Herd Mommy! His manners renewed, the little guy is once again a pleasant little soul worth hanging around with.

Dakota continues to be, if not my buddy, at least my friendly companion.

That leaves Zip as the last of the troubled spirits in my herd, and herein lies the rub. When the subject of his depression arose in conversation with Ginny, we both recognized his state of mourning for the late herd leader, Grady. Heck! I'm still grieving, so why shouldn't Zip? After all, he had a much closer relationship with the old gelding if only by virtue of the number of times Grady was forced to beat him up to teach him basic equine interaction skills.

Did I mention the bears?

As often happens, the zebra went unnoticed because he was just too obvious. The zebra in this case was a bear we'll call Chicken Breath. We'll call him that because he was eating my chickens when we first spotted him. CB was young (note the potent past tense)--about 2 years old--male, 250 pounds and looking for trouble when he ripped the siding off the chicken coop. He was about the same age and size when he stepped into the Fish and Game Boys' trap and shuffled off this mortal coil.

What does this have to do with Zip's depression? Well, you'd feel a little overwhelmed by your herd-leaderly responsibilities too if they included protecting Pinky the One-Eyed Wonder App from 250 pounds of highly offended bruin banging and thrashing in a steel drum just feet from the pasture fence. You'd be put off your stride a bit by the smell of rotting bacon and female bear urine permeating the otherwise gentle fall breeze. The sound of snapping jaws and the low growl were meant to suggest that escape from his confinement was hoped for if not actually imminent.


A couple of days after the grief discussion, I upped the ante and baited the trap with donuts--Shop Rite cinnamon/sugar to be precise--and CB was ours. But that was a full week after the strange man in the big truck came and made the bad smells and several days after the local varmints too small to trip the trap discovered the breakfast buffet and brought the family.

Zip still has issues. There's a mountain lion in the woods across the street, and I'm betting that was the cause of Zip's panicky idiocy that sent him chasing the herd away from the barn and stalking the fence line with tail flagged and nostrils flared. Uneasy rests the skull that wears the Herd Leader's halter. But for the most part we are working through the problems as they arise, and Ginny's advice to help Zip find his personal shape by fondling him has worked nicely. Today he noticed his tail.

The moral of the story is "keep an eye on the zebra". It may not always be the cause but it's probably a contributing factor to whatever lunacy is besetting your beloved equine.