Oskar the In­vis­i­ble Horse


OOver the decades, my rid­ing Sen­sei, Karin, has ac­cu­mu­lated a large reper­toire of in­struc­tional tech­niques. Things like tuck­ing a $10 bill (not hers) be­tween rider and sad­dle to en­cour­age a proper seat. Or hav­ing me ride with my eyes shut as a way of en­hanc­ing my aware­ness of the horse's mo­tion — and, in­ci­den­tally, mak­ing the trot in­ter­est­ing again.

Like Mary Pop­pins' magic car­pet bag, Karin's bag of teach­ing tricks never seems to run out.

In­vis­i­ble Cues

My all-time fa­vorite Karin trick is Oskar the In­vis­i­ble Horse. Karin in­tro­duced me to Oskar when I was hav­ing trou­ble get­ting Goldie, the beau­ti­ful, but eas­ily dis­tracted, Palomino I ride to fol­low my di­rec­tional cues in a timely man­ner. Which is pretty much the same prob­lem Karin has with me.

“Bob, think about what hap­pens when you're driv­ing and you ap­proach a stop sign,” Karen said with as much pa­tience as she could muster. “You don't wait un­til you get right up to it, then slam on your brakes, do you?” “Of course not. I'm an ex­cel­lent driver.” “So, you an­tic­i­pate the ap­proach and grad­u­ally slow down be­fore com­ing to a full stop, right?” “Ideally.” “Good. Now, you have to do the same for Goldie when you ask for a change of di­rec­tion or speed. Start think­ing about what you'd like to do well be­fore you have to cue her.”

“Ah, I see. I have to give her time to trans­form my think­ing into her do­ing.”

“That's right. Changes of di­rec­tion and speed can be done smoothly and with less re­sis­tance if you think ahead. Just imag­ine there's an in­vis­i­ble horse a horse length in front of you. Act as though you're cue­ing that horse.” “An imag­i­nary horse? What's his name?” “We'll call him Oskar. Oskar the In­vis­i­ble Horse.”

Three of a Kind

What Karin doesn't know, and what I can't tell her, is I can ac­tu­ally see Oskar. And so can Goldie. He's a noble Paint Horse stal­lion with bold mark­ings. The mark­ing on his right hindquar­ters roughly re­sem­bles the saucer sec­tion of the star­ship En­ter­prise.

Oskar is friendly and well-mean­ing, but he's also a bit mis­chievous and doesn't al­ways set a good ex­am­ple.

Oskar and I go back a long way. In fact, I can't re­mem­ber a sin­gle mo­ment in my eques­trian ca­reer he wasn't there, lop­ing along in front of Goldie and me.

He's a con­stant pres­ence on the trail, fre­quently glanc­ing back to­ward us to make sure we're fol­low­ing along. I al­ways make sure to leave plenty of space for him be­tween us and the rider in front of us. Mean­while, ev­ery­one at­tributes our lag­ging to Goldie's slug­gish gait and over­all lack of en­thu­si­asm. I of­fer no ex­pla­na­tion.

Goldie wor­ships Oskar like a pro­tec­tive brother and tries to em­u­late his ev­ery move. When Oskar sud­denly stops to munch on a bit of grass, Goldie fol­lows suit. When Oskar nabs a leaf off a low-hang­ing branch, Goldie has to have one, too.

Oskar al­ways walks around, never through, mud pud­dles. Goldie fol­lows him, even if it means rub­bing her rider against a tree.

At the front of the line, Karin rides uber­horse Charley and is­sues such in­struc­tional tid­bits as “Don't let her do that,” and, “Make her go.”

Some­times, Oskar gets bored and wan­ders off the trail, tak­ing Goldie and me with him. We usu­ally end up at one of two places: the barn we started from or the fence line at the neigh­bor­ing horse farm. In any case, Karin al­ways seems to know where to look for us.

Once, Oskar got a lit­tle too am­bi­tious and de­cided it was time for us to chal­lenge Karin and Charley for first place in line. Goldie, find­ing her in­ner race­horse, stayed right be­hind Oskar, and the three of us bolted past Karin down the open trail.

As we left Karin be­hind, I could hear her help­lessly shout for me to just hang on. Ap­par­ently, there was noth­ing in that end­less bag of tricks that could stop an in­vis­i­ble horse. TTR

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