As we head off to Gurnee for our first show of the season next week, we’d like to take some time to remember the remarkable lesson horses who got us there. At Knollwood, we are all beyond fortunate to learn on some of the best lesson horses ever. Past and present, we’ve learned on some of the kindest souls and some of the best four legged teachers ever.
Remember your first lesson? You were probably so excited that you can only remember bits and pieces of the event. But we bet you can remember the big brown school horse eyes that were looking at you. They may have belonged to Willy or Sparky, or maybe an angel from the past like Ethan or KC Pony.
These beginner horses who have started countless riders come in all different shapes and sizes, but they all have had the patience of saints. We think they may actually be mythical unicorns in horse form.
Remember learning to post and how hard it was? Your horse just kept the beat while you struggled to get the rhythm and you were probably using his mouth to come up and down. He was OK with that.
Remember when you lost your balance, crossed the center line of your saddle, and your horse stopped to let you get back to the middle? Just another service they offered.
Remember learning to ride with two reins, which felt impossible? How about trying to switch your crop WHILE HOLDING two REINS? Yup, we know you probably dropped your reins, and your horse stood by while you figured it out.
How about that first bareback ride when you struggled to stay back while Willy jogged at possibly the slowest trot ever? He just kept the beat and made his adjustments to make sure you stayed in the middle.
Remember your first cantering lesson on Blue or KC Pony or Trigger? (The role has been passed down to Brinkley and Picasso today.) You had no idea how to deal with the three beats underneath you, but you were smiling as you went town the rail, and the professional had it all covered. Always happy to canter, these rockstars were happy to do it with little or no direction needed. Blue was even willing do it after the rider dropped their reins.
So, when you eventually found your confidence on these patient saints, it was time to move on to the testers.
Pretty sure you were ready to take on the world, you then met the likes of Forest or Duke. Not a new term, this group of lesson horses has long resided in the world of ‘alternate facts.’
So, you think you should draw back on the left rein to turn left? Imagine your surprise when Forest decided to go right, and Duke decided to, well, fold in half with his head going left and his butt heading to the right!
Or perhaps you were lucky enough to ride the great Ethan past, oh say, an open door. You’d survive the first shying attempt, just about get yourself to the middle of the bareback pad, and he’d go and do it again. We’re pretty sure he giggled every time it worked.
Everyone has experienced Picasso’s selective attention span. Unable to respond to the rider who is telling him (repeatedly) to trot through the turn, he is mysteriously able to hear the instructor’s voice at any time or place in the arena. When she says any word with a long ‘O’ sound in it, whether it’s ‘Hold the mane for a two point,’ or ‘The nOvember show is coming up fast,’ Picasso will come to a screeching halt because she said “WHOA”.
This special group of horses has taught many, many riders the value of paying attention, listening to horses’ signals and staying one step ahead of the chaps.
Remember the first time you rode a Saddlebred? How it felt to have that neck in front of you, whether it was Sundance, Hugo, or some of the greats from the past like Baron, Harley, or Pedro? These wonderful horses taught you about the people pleasing attitude (most of the time) that the breed is known for, and the gaits are to die for after hours and hours building strength and attitude on the quarter horses and other breeds.
Remember deciding to show in academy and getting to ride the ‘box stall horses?’ These confidence builders love their jobs and are rock stars at it. Dexter and Hooper take the tiniest of riders through their walk and trot classes in safety and style. For our walk and trot riders, these horses teach them that success is attainable with teamwork.
We’re fortunate to have had so many wonderful show ‘starter models’ over the years. Whether they were retired show stars like Buzz and Harley, or horses who found their calling there like Wedgie the Fresian and Dexter, they’ve taught many, many riders the ways of the show ring.
After riders have enjoyed success in the academy division, they can keep riding more and more advanced lesson horses. Riders can step up to current horses such as JD, Panic, and Heist who will teach the ways of the show horse. Panic never saw a rail he didn’t want to race down, and Heist never saw a pattern that he thought he’d enjoy. We’ve had some great souls filling these shoes, from Priscilla to Zeus and Baxter back in the day.
We’ve had the best personalities in our lesson program.
The last two mares in our lesson program were unique in their own ways. Indy was an older Arabian lady, but we never let her know she was an Arab. All the lesson boys thought she was beautiful, and several of them crashed through fences just to be near her. And yes, Dudley was one of them. She was a kind soul who would bring riders into the instructor if she had just had enough.
Blanche, officially known as Northern Rainbow, was a rescue saddlebred. She had been quite a show horse when she came to Knollwood at a pretty advanced age. She traveled to some academy shows with us, and even at the ripe old age 28 couldn’t possibly walk down a rail, rails were for trotting! She taught the littlest of show stars to stick with her as she made pass after pass, and to look out for sun spots on the arena footing, as those were made to jump over.
We’ve had some unbelievable Morgan teachers, including Ethan who could change leads on a dime, teach everyone from beginners to the most seasoned show rider, and had a killer ‘double pump’ shying trick. Louis and Prego were former show horses who became extraordinary teachers. Both were a little crabby in their stalls unless you came with their favorite treats. Louis would do ANYTHING for a root beer popsicle or a banana. Once they hit the ring, they were perfect gentlemen doing their jobs, and rising to whoever was riding them.
These extraordinary horses teach lessons both in and out of the arena. Many of them grew old with us, and all remained with us in our ‘retirement program.’ Our older riders will remember taking care of Baron, Ethan, and KC in their retirement. These horses enjoyed time with their kids in spa treatments and walks. When KC’s feet were betraying him, his fans would come to his stall and eat their lunches while sitting with him.
Currently, Zeus enjoys spa treatments as he stays with us and performs odd jobs such as teaching unruly yearlings pasture manners.
Unfortunately, not all horses live to enjoy old age. Losing a favorite lesson horse is a painful experience for riders and it’s often the first time kids experience a big loss. Luckily, memories stay with us for a lifetime. (And one of our riders always shows with the halter name tag of one of our lost souls on a gold chain in the show ring.)
As we start the adventures of 2018, please take some time to appreciate the lesson horses who got us here. No one gets to the in-gate without priceless lessons learned on some kind souls. Whether it’s some spa time, some extra hugs, or favorite treats of carrots or mints, enjoy some time in the presence of these legendary educators.