Stallions, discipline and Living Traditions

I started this article after a trip to Chicago with Leo Lastre. We were organizing a joust to be held at the end of the summer and I was fortunate enough to visit several of Leo’s friends that he had made in the horse community. This where I had my first extended exposure to stallions. Leo introduced me to Laura Amandis and arranged for me to take a lesson from her on her Andalusian stallion Acierto. I was also allowed to ride Valentino, another Andalusian Stallion. I was also privileged to take a lesson with Jill McCrae. I was given a lesson on her Lusitano stallion and was able to ride with her at the long reins and experience a piaffe and passage. I was then able to watch some of Mario Contrerrez, trainers teaching the Piaffe and training an Arab stallion. I was again able to see the traditional long reins being used and 2 person training.

Coming from an art with few surviving traditions  (none of them the ones I was most interested in), it was amazing to see and experience living traditions in the equestrian arts. My only disappointment in this trip was that Leo was not currently in touch with any instructors in the German/Austrian tradition. As it were, it was a very good trip to introduce me to three living traditions.

laura amandis

Laura’s background was with the circus. As I understand, it she is Roma, she learned to ride from her family and was cantering around with a horse under each foot by the time she was 12. The circus tradition is one of long hours of practice and stepping up your skills as fast as possible because there is a show you have to do. There is no coddling in the circus. Laura’s personal style is reflective of that. Once you grasp the concept, it is off to another thing. Practice occurs after she has finished instruction. You are guaranteed to come away with your cup full.

My lesson with Jill was very different. Jill is a very patient and exacting person with a love for elegance. It infuses her life, and you see it throughout the space that she has created to teach. She teaches French Baroque dressage. And this tradition has encouraged her to create an elegant place to train and a calm enjoyable environment. She was very precise, and patiently encourages precision in her lessons. She looks for you to have a very good grasp of the lesson before moving on, making sure you understand exactly where/how/why of anything she has taught before moving on. Her very precise instructions, and confident encouragement have helped to make her barn a gathering place on Saturdays just to enjoy life.

On the more working end of things, Mario Contrerrez’ group, (he is the lead trainer for medieval times) work from the Spanish/Mexican tradition of Doma Vaquero. This tradition is known for being fast and effective. One young man trained by Mario was able to perform every dressage technique I have ever seen both from the ground as well as mounted. Oh, yeah, and he got this good in three years (with some time out for a serious injury).

One of the most obvious things for me as I was shuttled place to place by Leo, was the preponderance of Stallions. Growing up seeing only the Cowboy traditions, I was unused to stallions. Most are not normally ridden, but kept as breeding stock. I have often wondered at the difference between riding stallion vs geldings. I now understand that the difference can be much like the difference between horses. Some Stallions are great, some can be quite a handful. The biggest difference I have found was on the ground. A stallion has much more to distract him from paying attention to you. I found (particularly the Andalusians) to be quick to bite and to require much more focus. Under saddle it seemed to be easier to maintain the dominance required to ride well than while having them in hand.  Certainly since stallions are rarely kept in the company of other horses, they often have issues. More issues if there are mares in season. It takes a strong hand and practice to deal with a grumpy stallion.

It was a great trip and lead to a fantastic joust. I wish I had finished this article then, but better late than never.

What we are made of

I have come to a realization that I would like to share with people. I have no real way to tell it other than to tell a story that I perhaps would rather not tell as it shows me as being stupid. So here goes. This is my second event taking horses. I have my horse and another ladies mare who I have picked up en-route along withe her lady. We are at site and have let out the horses in the paddock surrounding the barn. The lady who was with the mare had walked around back and saw that there was no way out of the paddock, a gate blocked the way. So when our horses, who had begun chasing each other around, disappeared behind the barn and didn’t come right back, we set out to see. we found out that the gate did not completely block the paddock and we followed quickly to see if the other sides gates were open. They were, and so we the next gate and the next thing I see is my horse following her mare heading out into the parking lot. Out the driveway past the first gate. It was a hundred yards to the gate and probably 200 down the driveway, which opened on a busy highway and there went my horse at a gallop.

Headlights at knight

So I ran. I ran fast. I ran faster than I ever realized I could. You see I love my horse. No in any bestial crazy way, but in a fatherly way and a best friend way. I always laughed when people said they loved their horse, but I understand why now. And so I ran. I passed a younger woman and guy who were also running. I think they were worried that they might spook them on, but I knew they were just running cause it was fun, and they were headed to the highway. In fact they beat me there by 100 yds at least. I saw headlights coming from both directions. I then did something that surprised me. I ran faster.

Now to give you some background on me. I am 46 for another month, I have very little or no cartilage in the joints of my big toes. Gout has worn it out. I didn’t realize what it was and remained active. I have a big tufa on my elbow as well. So lets say I am not an avid runner. I haven’t run in years. I was also operating with a foot that hadn’t recovered from a roll over that torqued the ankle and metatarsals.  I used to run, I was very good at it. but ankle injuries, knees, gout, plantar faciatis, have kept me from running. I was also running in heavy work boots.

I am not saying I ran 9 sec 100yd dashes. but I was moving as fast I as  ever remember running for any real stretch.

So I made it to the hwy. Lights were passing in both directions, and I spot the horses. They have gone left, and thank god, not crossed the road. I started running in their direction on the other side of the road waving my flashlight at any oncoming traffic.

Guess what, the adrenaline rush wore off and I realized how totally gasses I was. I have never really come back from the broken arm and then the finger getting messed up. My stamina was non existant.  I could feel my heart rate in my head and I was having trouble catching my breath.

I then had a vison, induced by a horse screech, of my horse being hit by a car and dying or being crippled. And again I ran. I just simply decided my horse would not be dead on the road because I was gassed. I wasn’t moving so fast now. I couldn’t see anything, even when there was traffic. Then I saw them behind me on the other side of the road. Thankfully they had never crossed, and they had headed back inland before realizing that they couldn’t get through that way. The horses were heading back again, and my friends got them to slow up, and we were able to get hold of them. I walked my horse back and my knee were shaky which I totally attribute to the running.

“Now, pray tell, what is the story about, other than your stupidity and your ability to almost kill yourself” you say.

And here is my realization. This is what makes athletes, ATHLETES. Through a personal drama (which I would prefer to never repeat) I was able to perform at a level that I had no Idea I could. It took fatherly worry and love to bring out that kinds crazy performance. Athletes are people who can dig inside themselves that deep, simply out of pure drive.

It is there. That ability to do it till it kills you. Everyone possesses it. If the stimulus is strong enough, you can tap your inner strength and bring out great physical reserves.  We have all heard stories of mothers lifting cars off children and sons lifting cars off dads. This is a survival trait. It is bread into us. Those early men who could harness a reserve to  save their life, lived to prosper. Those traits get the right to be passed on.

We have always had heros. Men who have passed to mythology from their great deeds. What does it take to become a hero? The ability to take on 10 men and win. The ability to beat one man and the ability to draw on the reserves to fight the next man and the one after that.

I think many of our modern athletes have the ability to just reach inside and demand a little bit more, when they are already doing all they think they can do. It is a confidence based on practice. It is something that even we who are amateur athletes, and full time warriors, can learn from.

Training is learning to tap that reserve. But first you need to know the reserve is there, and it isn’t bad to know just how deep that reserve is. That is what I found out.  Don’t think just do.

As an aside, I think courage is the ability to tap a phycological reserve (more likely the same one). It is the ability to just do what needs to be done. To move ahead even when the odds are very against it.

There were some teachers who exhibited that courage recently. The ability to think, act quickly, and reason calmly in an insane situation. It is inside us. We were made that way. Or more correctly, we made ourselves that way, because it benefitted the species.

Riding high on Daddy’s shoulders

The interface between rider and horse can be explained by this:


Imagine having a 5 year old on your back that is set to control your every move entirely by pulling on your nose and ears and kicking you in the sides. You have no choice, and must do what they ask… without actually knowing it is right, just experimenting to see if this is it.  Imagine how easy it would be to do this with a well trained five year old. he learns to lean and only pulls on your ears and nose  a little bit and off you go. Feeling for every subtle nuance of their position, soon you are able to be guided through the most complex of actions. As your 5 year old ages a bit and really comes into his own you are able to jump around sling yourself around corners without him falling off. He shiftys his weight and you are able to easily turn and spin, a quick indication and off you go hell bent for leather until a quick shift of his hips and you know to stop quickly and he won’t go ass over teakettle off the top.

Now swap the brains, 5 year old on bottom, you on top and you might get the idea (though I’d argue that no brain swap is really necessary, new riders ride like 5 year olds). A horse is smart, some smarter than others. They will get frustrated (imagine yourself after five minutes of this, dumping the 5 year old in the trash—-yes I see the smile) Notice how this relationship gets better as the 5 year old gets better trained. Lets face it, an adult should be able to figure out where and how a 5 year old wants to go if we think hard.

This is how it is for a horse. He is far smarter and capable to doing exactly what to ask after a small amount of training, IF you are great rider and know how to ask properly. The less a rider you are, the harder it is to communicate. That horse is smart, you start off un-educated. Your job is to educate yourself on horse communication. then you can really ride.

Horse Trailers

I have been researching horse trailers as it is getting close to the time I need more than an old stock trailer to move my horses around. I’ve been balancing weight, cost, features, safety, resale value…… it is a tough decision. And one that will set you back thousands no matter what you choose.

I have come to a couple of conclusions. Aluminum is way more expensive than steel and only saves you a few hundred pounds. Aluminum retains it’s value FAR better than steel, even if steel is well kept. Fiberglass reinforced plywood can be great, until the fiberglass is penetrated/damaged, then it goes down quick.

European trailers seem great weight and construction -wise, but price is way out there. Seems better to buy a well constructed US made trailer and save some cost.

I figure I will let you know how I decide………


And I have decided to buy an aluminum trailer. One of the things that convinced me of this was that aluminum trailers were selling used for only a thousand dollars less than new even as much as 10 years old. There are very few used aluminum trailers on the market. So I decided to bite the bullet and buy. I fund the most reasonable price for a good quality trailer out there. I will be happy to share their site, True Love Trading Company . I can say that the folks are very informative, helpful, and can tell you a great deal about horse trailers. I would even recommend calling them and asking them if a used trailer is a good deal for the price. They won’t go overboard trying to sell you one of theirs, but you might just change your mind when they offer up lots of things to consider.

Back from the Great War

We made it back from the Great Pennsic War at last. 2 weeks of camping can make a man long for the luxuries of home.  Darkwood Armory did well. I had a chance to meet with a number of friends throughout the week, and to talk about many of the things that interest me the most, namely,  martial arts, armor, and reenactment.

Overall the war was its typical self full of the best and the worst of the SCA. Actually that is not really fair, much of the worst cannot be blamed on the SCA anymore. Since the Pennsic War is open to anyone who pays their money, lots of people with no Idea what the SCA does are coming.

We have always had the Tuchux (folks who try to recreate Norman’s Gor series), and we have Markland (an east coast group that does medieval reenacment type stuff) and Acre (an SCA splinter group), But now we have pirates, Folks who don’t even have a clue what the SCA is or does. We even have an S&M group that sets up camp for a local Meet and Beat. I find it really a shame.

The SCA itself seems to be on a downturn as well. My friends from all over the US say that the SCA is only appealing to an older crowd, and participation is dwindling. Many longtime players are finding other things to do with their time. I am certainly finding things that interest me far outside the purviews of the SCA.

A friend of mine used a turn of phrase that I have stolen, he told me he was looking for a better medieval experience. He was looking towards some WMA groups and wasn’t getting any help.  He is a longtime player and a peer but isn’t enjoying the local group. He, like myself, wants to do more and keeps getting resistance. So here I come with an Idea. At home I can no longer start a sentence with the phase “I ‘ve been thinking” as it causes people to run, but …….

What if there was an event, a narrow focus event, covering only 100 years? What if, in order to participate, you had to wear period correct clothes and shoes? What if horses were a part of the event like they were a part of medieval life? What if, we did our fighting with steel or tourney clubs, on horseback and foot?

Would you come? if so how many people would you tell and expect to come with you? Those I asked typically said they would, and said that they knew people who would also come.  So now I am on a quest to see if it can really be done. I am starting to build a new website just for it and maybe, just maybe, we can replace a war with sticks and pirates with a Passage at Arms that will rekindle the spirit of the middle ages.