I rode the Robo-Pony



What I did: rode the Robo-Pony (not its trademarked name), a mechanical horse with computerized controls and feedback, available for one-on-one lessons with a professional instructor. 


Who went with me: S. and K., my barn friends. We took turns. 

What I did beforehand: watched the FEI Grand Prix CDI 5* at the AGDF Wellington, Florida 

What I wore: new running bra and breeches, purchased for the experience.  

How I got tickets: we just, like, you know, walked up to this vendor’s tent, and saw a woman having a lesson on the Robo-Pony, stuck our heads in and started asking questions.

Why I tried it: it looked like fun.

Where I sat: slightly left, as I do, according to the sensors, and spent at least five minutes getting used to the terribly uneven feeling of sitting symmetrically in the saddle.  

Things that were sad: someone had yanked the left rein and broken the sensor, so the Robo-Pony was completely dull on the left side of its mouth. Also, I forget its name. Also, we had to pay the full amount, even though the Robo-Pony was kind of busted.


Things that were funny: I clucked at the Robo-Pony to get it to go. K. patted it. 

Things that were not funny: we were not supposed to kick the Robo-Pony to make it go. K. struggled because her long legs were below the sensors on its sides. Both S. and I kicked the Robo-Pony to make it go.

Something I bought: new Pikeur breeches in a lovely shade of French blue

What it is: an opportunity to ride an equine simulator and see on seven sensor screens some feedback about your position when riding, but probably not a substitute for real riding. The Robo-Pony revealed many of my known positional flaws, including my tendency to drop contact with the bit when I ask the horse to go forward; dropping the reins made the Robo-Pony stretch out and down and the computer screens filled with red bars of failure signals. Of the three of us, I am the least experienced dressage rider, and probably the only one interested in trying it again. I thought it was fun.


Who should see it: bored and curious visitors to the 2017 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival 

What I saw after: 2016 Rio Olympic Games bronze medalist Laura Graves riding her 2002 Dutch Warmblood gelding Verdades, in the “Friday Night Stars” FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDI-W, with the winning score of 80.728%.

How I learned to Swim

My favorite swimsuit, a real Speedo
When my mother noticed that I would not tie my own shoes, she attempted to teach me herself, and gave up when I went limp on the floor instead of watching her do it.  At preschool I picked up an over-the-head technique for putting on my winter coat myself, and I thought everything about it was excellent, especially the part where I violently swung my arms trapped in the sleeves up and over my head. My mother hated this.
When my mother noticed that I had not learned to swim naturally and without teaching as all the other children seemed to in the mid-to-late 1960s, she determined that I should be subjected to swimming lessons at the local natatorium.
I am sure I was against swimming lessons before they even began. I had been happy at the outdoor public wading pool in summer, and saw no reason why I, as a very, very small five year old, should give up the warm and shallow area reserved for the preschool set. The water barely got up over my knees! There was no violent splashing! I could crawl in it!
I was removed on a Saturday morning from my hunched spot on the carpet in front of the TV and taken to swimming lessons. The place stank of pool chemicals and especially chlorine, of course, as public pools do, and involved entering a labyrinth of smelly lockers and damp tile and threatening showers. My mother may have attempted to cram my already unbrushable hair into a swimming cap, but I would have squirmed and thrashed away from her.  I steadfastly resisted washing, brushing, and dressing with vigor. In addition to smelling dangerous and wrong, the ceilings were too high, there were too many people, and that pool sounded splashy and sharp, and then, once I was dragged to the edge of the pool, the most profound horror of all was revealed to me: the water was cold.
There was scolding and shouting and I don’t know who was talking to me, but suddenly I was in the water and I was supposed to be jumping up and down, and not screaming or crying. What a perfect misery! Betrayal! Cold water! Strangers! Exhausted and overwhelmed, I relented and allowed the initial purpose of swimming lessons to be revealed: I was meant to put the back of my head into the cold water, followed by my ears.
It was unthinkable.
The swimming teacher wanted, no, needed required me to relax my whole body and let it float on top of the water. The water would hold me up, like magic. All I had to do was let the water hold me up, let the water surround my neck, let the back of my head rest on the water, let the water lap around my ears, let my ears go under the water. It was going to be easy. Ready?
I could take about three seconds of it. One, Mississippi, I was in the water. Two, Mississippi, my head was in the water. Three, Mississippi, I was floating in the water. Four, nope, no way, not doing it. I was standing, gulping, sputtering, and crying.
I did not want to float. The water was too cold. I did not want to learn to swim. I did not listen to the instructor. I screamed and cried until I was allowed to get out of the water. I was happy to sit in the acrid, stinking terror of the freezing cold locker room, shivering until my mother came back to take me home. Anything but swimming in that pool.
There was no second lesson.
By the time I was in the third grade, my mother, had arranged for me to attend a summer camp where I would get particularly well-regarded swimming instruction.   There, we were grouped not by age but by ability, and I, being unable, was grouped with the kindergarteners.  Suddenly, the stakes were very high. They could not have been higher. No, I did not know any of the other kids at this strange new day camp, where the only real highlight of every day was the tiny plastic tub of imitation vanilla ice-cream with ripples of indescribably delicious artificial chocolate given to each camper to eat with a tiny wooden paddle before we boarded the buses home. Even in the presence of strange other children who hadn’t yet learned to make fun of me and all of my obvious flaws, I knew that being in the kindergarteners’ swimming group was social death. I was in the third grade.

And so, dear reader, I put my head in the water. I got water in my ears. I floated on my fucking back. I attempted the crawl with primitive side-breathing. I learned to jump in from the side of the pool and from the diving board. I learned to dive into the water with my hands stacked on top of each other, my upper arms tight over my ears. The next summer I was not required to attend the strange new camp again: I had learned to swim.

Tack

Despite the mounted NYPD officers who house their horses at a facility in Chelsea and the carriage horses in Central Park, there are no horses in Manhattan. As a horse owner, this meant that moving to New York City was a compromise for me. I drive a long way upstate to ride these days, so I ride less, and this is yet another reason to add to my growing list of things I hate about New York.
No doubt the first humans to ride horses did so without much tack, if any at all. I envision a clever tribe of hunter-gatherers realizing that the nearby horse herd had a few slightly more docile individuals, and though delicious to eat, those slightly more docile individuals made suitable mounts, opening up wondrous new hunting possibilities for the primitive people. Once enlisted to carry home huge carcasses, the domesticated horse made the great leap forward from food to engine. Today, modern America has few true working horses, but not none. Most American horses are kept (at great expense) for the pleasure of their owners.
To ride even casually requires an initial investment in a helmet and boots, so many new riders, like me, go to a tack store before they even take their first horseback riding lesson. What this means is that before even going to the barn the new rider goes shopping. In rural areas, you can find a helmet and riding boots at a feed store. But in a fancy suburb, you can go to a real, fancy tack store.
Back in Seattle, this was Olson’s. You walk in and are immersed in the whole horsey lifestyle. They have all the stuff for horse care (from hoof picks and vet-wrap to pitchforks), but also everything for the rider (attire, boots, and saddles).
Olson’s sold us our first helmets and boots.    Within a few weeks we had also bought breeches (riding pants) and half chaps there.   Even before we were known regulars we were greeted enthusiastically. Eventually we found ourselves treated like very important customers.   Everyone knew our names.
When I bought my first horse, I went with my trainer to Olson’s and she showed me everything I needed to buy; it was a long list.  Later, I would go there for a bottle of hoof oil and leave with a bottle of hoof oil and new clogs.  When a store cultivates a relationship with the customer, you go back for little things, and you order special things from them when you could just as easily go online.
One of the surprising things about moving to North Dreadful last year was discovering a large fancy tack store there. Today, on my way back from the barn, I stopped in for a couple of things. I have been to this tack store a few times; I have made major purchases there. I am never greeted by name.  I don’t think they even notice when I walk in; I always have to ask for help. I usually leave without everything I was looking for, and I never, ever buy anything on impulse.  This store makes me very sad, because it isn’t Olson’s. I miss Olson’s.
Because I had stopped at the tack store, I hit rush hour traffic coming into Manhattan and added another hour to my commute. Next time, I’ll buy whatever I need online.

Better Blogging

This is my 200th blog entry. Starting in late August of 2009, I began this blog to document a trip I took to Italy with a group from the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University, fulfilling some international electives required for the MBA program. In the 915 days since I started, the longest gap was 139 days, in early 2010, probably due to being busy finishing my degree. Discounting this gap, I am posting at a rate of about once every four days on average.

In which I am handed
a lovely leather case for
my diploma, which arrived
in the mail about 4 months later
My most viewed entry was a post I did last April, about how I learned to ski. It has been found by readers 238 times. Most of my posts are seen by about 20 readers, and Facebook drives most of my traffic (followed by Twitter).
I have written about travel, cooking and eating, pets living and pets dying, growing up in the suburban mid-west, and parenting. The label “dogs” is attached to 22 posts, but a search on my blog attaches it to 39 posts. Most of the expert advice around building a readership of loyal followers encourages a blogger to have a tight focus on one topic (indoor gardening, gluten-free cooking, atheist parenting).  One assumption is that if you’re a blogger you want as many readers as you can get, and if you want to learn about the finer points of using analytics and search-engine optimization, there are folks with lots of advice for you.
As for me, the blog is a place to send friends who want to know what’s up and it is a way to get myself writing while I figure out what I’m doing next. Beyond common sense rules, like “be interesting,” and “respect other people’s privacy,” I only have a few. Rules have to make sense. They have to be enforceable, broad and logical. They should be necessary, and sufficient. You should have as few rules as possible. If you have to break a rule, you should know why you did.
  1. Post a picture, preferably your picture. It anchors the text. No more than three pictures.
  2. Keep it short. If it’s a long story tell it in two parts.
  3. Include a link. It’s the internet. You’re supposed to.
  4. Be regular, but no more than one post a day.
  5. Say something.  Reposting without commentary is what Twitter is for.
200 posts later I’m still not sure why I do it.