Real People and Real Horses: The Adventure Never Ends

I suppose I could say that life itself is an adventure, but that might force me to distinguish between adventure and misadventure, so I’ll just stick to one excerpt from my life. This particular adventure has already gotten so big that I barely have had time to process it all internally, let alone write about it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The first thing that you probably want to know is: What adventure? For starters, I stayed within the boundaries of the continental United States this time. There are also horses involved. Need I say more? Well, actually… everything you need to know about the background for this adventure is in my post dated 26 April 2014. The bare minimum is that I went to Woodruff, SC in order to ride and train with Mihran Dülgeroğlu (www.mihranequestrian.com), fevkalade bir antrenör. I would say trainer extraordinaire, but Mihran is Turkish.

An important  freebie is: Yes,  you can travel with a dressage saddle as carry-on luggage. On a big plane anyway. I made all sorts of airport friends because, let’s face it, a saddle is a peculiar looking piece of luggage. One child even found a way to sit in between the flaps and hide from her mother. I flew Southwest because they had the best fares and they only use the bigger jets. That said, the flight crew and some passengers do get huffy if they have to wait for you to cram that saddle into the bins on the smaller jets. The secret: take the saddle out of the carrying bag. It also helps if your ribs aren’t bruised (see below for details).

It fits! It fits!

It fits! It fits!

Now, back to the main plot. I showed up at the Greenville airport with one duffel full of riding clothes, a smaller one filled with the stuff people who don’t ride wear, a saddle, and a backpack- proving once again that I may sometimes over pack, but I always carry my own gear. Furthermore, if you laugh at me, I won’t lend you any of my stuff when you need it- which you will because you didn’t want to pack it in the first place.

Mihran trains mostly Hunters and Jumpers, but he comes from a classical dressage background. All of his horses are well versed in the basics of flexing, bending, and responding to light aids from the rider. Some of our best conversations about dressage took place in the jump arena! Three of the horses that I rode (I had forgotten what fun Thoroughbreds can be!) were quite capable and willing to give honest efforts to move more efficiently and “correctly.” Mihran was equally capable and willing to make sure that my requests were equally honest and efficient (translation: MORE LEG! MORE BEND!)

On Monday morning we headed to the barn. But first, we had to have a meeting.

Not all meetings are evil.

Not all meetings are evil.

This meeting included neither paperwork nor PowerPoint. Just good planning and conversation- and oh yes, coffee!

It’s Wednesday Friday I’m back home now just now getting around to writing. That should give you an idea of how busy (or tired) I have been. Every day I rode three horses and lunged one or two more if necessary. Then I watched Mihran ride and give lessons. On Monday, I rode a few horses while Mihran offered comments and instructions. It was like a day-long lesson! Apparently neither he nor the horses were too offended because he allowed me to tack up and ride again on Tuesday.

All three Tuesday horses were Thoroughbreds who knew how to stretch and work off of light aids. Bending was not something they did very well. During one circle Mihran asked me if I was riding a horse or a motorcycle. It was up to me to decide how to improve what I had to work with. I’ll be the first to admit (or maybe the second since hesitation is one of my weaknesses) that I should have been quicker to diagnose some of the issues. On the other hand, I am now aware of that both in and out of the saddle. No more complacency.

We’re still on Tuesday, right? I started each horse with the idea that I would not begin work until I could clearly articulate what I wanted to address and how I would do it. Sometimes that comes naturally. Sometimes I have to change the plan completely (horses also have plans). On a horse that didn’t belong to me,  it was an intimidating process.

Horse #1, a 7 year old TB, required lots of transitions. Upward. Downward. Within gaits as well. Everywhere in the arena. He knew the hunter routine very well. When he cantered after two walk steps and went “uphill” I knew we had made a real breakthrough. Then the challenge was to either keep him together or trot again before he (or I) lost it.

Horse #2, another 7 year old TB, was a very long-backed fellow who presented another set of issues. He was a bit more advanced in his training than #1, so I decided to ask for more.  He was more willing and able to stretch, and boy did he! I felt like I was sitting on a ball. He gave me a look-at-me big boy trot that was super elastic. So what did I do? I shortened the reins a bit and asked for some leg yield. It wasn’t perfect, but what did you expect? There was some correctness, and his back stayed “up.” Never one to let things alone, I asked for a canter. We turned down the quarter line, and I pushed him over with my inside leg. He went! We did a stretchy circle (sort-of), and I got off. End of lesson. Good boy!

Horse #3. Hmmm… a 16 year old TB with a lot of “go.” He carried himself very well, but in a flat frame with no engagement of his back. He was also experienced enough to know how to avoid any meaningful contact with me and the reins. He got his longer reins, but he also got- you guessed it- more leg! More leg! More leg! He produced a relatively free and swinging trot. I could tell that it was work for him, so we took frequent walk breaks, also on a long contact.

By Wednesday, I was over my first-day jitters and settling into the way Mihran wants his horses ridden when things got out of control. Literally. Mihran has a young Oldenburg who is simultaneously flashy, brilliant, and sensitive. The sensitivity part is what got me.

Unexpected departures can be painful.

Unexpected departures can be painful.

I learned (again) the necessity of correcting quickly and effectively (and repeating if necessary- and no that is not an oxymoron) as opposed to one static correction that leaves the horse no options and me on my face in the arena. After emptying the sand from my boots, gloves, and mouth, I did get back on. I also rode one more horse and lunged another. Then I went back to the house to think about what I had learned and try to clean myself up.

I learned Wednesday’s lessons so well that I could not ride on Thursday. The ribs that I bruised are still quite sore even as I type. The colors on my knee and the rest of the left side of my body have faded to icky, pale pastels now. My ego will definitely survive the downsizing. In fact, one of Mihran’s students, a charming young lady dealing with some fear issues, was able to take the fact that I had made a spectacular dismount as evidence that “it really does happen to everybody” and start to get over her own hesitancy to fully engage with her own horse!

By Friday, I was back in the saddle despite Mihran’s better judgment. I was not there long though because I could not post the trot without wanting to scream; however, I couldn’t have screamed because I couldn’t draw enough breath. So, I did some ground work with a few horses and then got ready for the weekend. My horse friends will know what that means. For my friends who do not ride, that does not mean that I tried to decide what to wear and where to go. I was already where I wanted to be- the barn! Mihran and I would soon be joined by a group of teenage girls who preferred to spend their weekends messing about with horses.

The barn aisle was full of giggling, laughing, and a few squeals as well as discussions of the latest tack with bling that they simply had to have for their horses. Two of them were even thrilled that I had been schooling their horses according to the principles of classical dressage and that I had seen some really “cool” possibilities in those beloved steeds. The others were a bit bored with dressage for the reasons that most people are bored with it, but there’s still hope.

On Saturday two of them asked me if I would give them dressage lessons. Yes, that happened. They each rode like the promising hunters that they are, but they also showed the adaptability that comes from being open-minded, athletic, and willing to take instruction. Their questions were intelligent and showed that they were thinking about the process- especially the similarities and differences of hunt seat and dressage seat. They watched each other, and they watched me. We talked. A lot. They still think that dressage is a bit slow compared to jumping  (duh!), but they also gained a new understanding of what dressage riders are really doing in the saddle. And yes, they started to see how dressage would help them and their horses in the hunter ring! Win!

What a soft seat she has!

What a soft seat she has!

By now many of you are probably wondering why I went to study and ride at a (mostly) Hunter/Jumper facility, especially since the only jumping I have ever done has been in a dressage saddle! Back in the day, Gris Gris and I used to hop over whatever we could find out on the trails. But I digress. In my previous entry I mentioned how I found Mihran Equestrian and some of the conversations that I had with Mihran Dülgeroğlu, the owner and head trainer.

Assigned Reading

Assigned Reading

It has been a long time since I had a good discussion about any of the books that have been written about dressage, especially those by the artists of the discipline. Mihran and I both love Charles de Kunffy, especially his emphasis on sensitivity and condemnation of the modern emphasis on competition that imposes artificial, ego-driven deadlines on us and our horses. There is no art in this sort of competition-centered training. “Many outstanding competitors are well skilled sportsmen [and women, I might add]. Fewer are artists, and so it should be” (Training Strategies for Dressage Riders, p. 6). Thinking, feeling, doing, and creating. It’s harder than it sounds, especially if people are watching.

Yeah, it's a nice, soft seat, but it isn't very balanced.

Yeah, it’s a nice, soft seat, but it isn’t very balanced.

Most of us are not artists. Our horses are not Grand Prix horses. We work and train as hard and as often as we can in order to sustain the hope of creating something worthy of being viewed by a critical public who may or may not be as educated in the art of dressage as they are in the USDF Rule book. (Did you see it? My ego just peeked around the page to see if anyone was watching.)

Here is a video of me riding one of my favorite horses in Mihran’s barn, a seven year old Thoroughbred named Denali. In my defense, I was riding with bruised ribs and a knee the size of a large tack sponge. I will also say that the best work came later in the ride, but my camera person was getting bored. Denali needs no defense.  He has had no dressage schooling, but was willing to give it a try. A horse who understands you is more likely to trust you.

Denali

There it was again! You probably saw it this time. My ego just took over the previous paragraph! How many of us have created something beautiful in the arena and then tried to tell someone about it? (For the record, only Mihran saw me fall, but I’m pretty sure everyone heard me yelling.)I showed this video clip to a friend and trainer who said,”It looks like you’re doing a nice job with a horse who doesn’t know anything about dressage.” She pretty much nailed it. Now you have the footage to stack up with the way I remember it!

Trying to describe those sweaty, yet sublime moments of absolute harmony is often misinterpreted by some as bragging. Trying to describe those moments to a fellow sensitive rider, regardless of their ‘show level’, is the next best thing to actually having that moment. It is like a private, exclusive exhibition where the horse is the star and you helped (and were helped!).

During my week in Woodruff I was quite literally (and painfully) jolted out of a sense of complacency that had taken over my riding. I am not suggesting that we all eat sand in order to risk expanding our comfort zones, nor do we all need such a huge slice of humble pie. I even recall saying that it had been three years since I had departed unexpectedly from my saddle. This after my beloved trainer here in Kansas suffered a worse fall than mine. Complacency is not a word that I would ever attach to her though.

I spent seven days watching an excellent trainer work hard to deal with… well, the life and occasional drama of a trainer/manager/owner. Mihran was in the process of hiring barn help during my stay. Nonetheless, he refused to let me even sweep the barn aisle (I will eventually get around to that article or book about Hospitality- Southern, Turkish, and maybe even Afghan. There! I’ve said it, so I have to do it!). Several of you, my friends and readers, are already familiar with this life, but I had never seen it up close and personal, so to speak. I’m not sure that my talents would even be best used in such an endeavor.

I think it’s a good thing to be easily amused, and can find entertainment- even adventure- in all sorts of places. It’s what I do. I also like to ask questions. Most people can teach us something, as can most horses. Now I am ready to get back to the adventure of training my two very real horses.

My gratitude goes to everyone (that includes people and horses!) who has provided me with encouragement, correction, answers, more questions, help, challenges, and- most important- the love of incorporating art and creativity into the training of our horses and ourselves.

 

 

The Turkish Connection… in South Carolina: Nothing Could be Finer!

While I was surfing the web instead of writing my latest blog post I stumbled into what has turned out to be a very amazing rabbit hole. After a few twists and turns, I found myself in contact with Mihran Dülğeroğlu, a trainer now based in Greenville, S.C. by way of Istanbul, Turkey (www.mihranequestrian.com). One thing led to another, and now I am preparing to head to the region, if not the exact state, of my birth to ride, study, and drink lots of coffee with Mihran and his crew.

What initially struck a harmonious chord with me was a phrase that I found on anther blog: “Honoring where we are with our horses.”  I realized that this point was exactly what was missing in my quest to keep improving as a person and a rider as well as my attempts to describe this quest. So, I did what all writers do when they see a good idea. I stole it (providing a reference, of course!).  While I was talking, texting, and e mailing Mihran, I was telling a few friends about my upcoming adventure. Here is where I point the finger at Margene Swarts and Kathy O’Brien who encouraged me/egged me on to not only blog about my experience, but to share it with the Kansas City Dressage Society (KCDS).

I hope to make the “whys” of my decision to go on this adventure clearer as I write to you during my trip, but for now I encourage you to visit Mihran’s web site and begin thinking about what you read there. I also suggest that you (re) read anything by Charles de Kunffy and Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg plus any other dressage texts that you hold dear.

For this introduction I would like to address another lesson that I seem to keep confronting but not quite learning: that is, to ask! As we become less young, many of us outgrow that ability to simply and honestly ask for something that we want. And yes, this applies to our communication with people as well as horses. Let’s assume that we are happily engaged in a positive discussion with a human or an equine. We want something, but something keeps us from asking (or asking in a way that is understandable). The worst thing that can happen to us is a negative or confusing response, right? And whose fault is that? As long as everybody is being honest and open, then there is no harm done. We move on or repeat the request as the situation dictates, but we must ask!

In this case, my expectations were exceeded beyond what I even dared to ask. Instead of a long weekend with me as a working student (Mihran was having none of that!), I will be in Greenville from May 4 to May 12. With the exception of the evening of my arrival, all of my days will contain time in the saddle (both dressage and jumping) on different horses, as well as study, and lots of discussion! If possible, I will even travel with Mihran to one of his clinics. I hope that I will be able to refine my communications skills enough to be able to share my experiences with you in a meaningful and occasionally humorous way.

 

Right! About the helmet, or lack thereof. I wanted a picture in which my face was actually visible. This is what I got instead. Başka flipping his hair and kicking at a fly.

Right! About the helmet, or lack thereof. I wanted a picture in which my face was actually visible. This is what I got instead. Başka flipping his hair and kicking at a fly.

Meg Hawthorne has been a member of KCDS for over 15 years. She lives in Overbrook, Kansas where she strives to ride her horses Başka, Sophia, Gris Gris, and sometimes Pilot according to the principles of dressage as a form of art.

Sometimes we work with fat crayons. Other times, rarely, we produce something suitable for public display.

 

A Streetcar Named Güzelyalı: The Sequel

When I wrote Part I of this series, I did not have a sequel in mind. Indeed I hoped by writing that post I would somehow get over my intense dislike of public transportation (in any country). Little did I know that the C11G bus would become a metaphor for my time in Çanakkale, Turkey. I will bet your çay money and mine that I spent at least one hour every day waiting for a bus. A Turkish tourist visa is for 90 days max. You do the math.

The View from My Bus Stop

The View from My Bus Stop

Yes, that yellow building is the Kipa. Think small-town Wal Mart (not Target), Turkish style. I sat in “my” bus stop with all sorts of people, many of whom were quite friendly; some of whom were… less than warm. Occasionally, I would look to the left to see if C11G was at the stop light about 200 yards away.

And on your LEFT, ladies and gentlemen, there is no bus.

And on your LEFT, ladies and gentlemen, there is no bus.

So, I would look back across at the Kipa, then look to the right where I really wanted to go.

Look Homeward!

Look Homeward!

It is perhaps fitting that on my last day of classes, the city rolled out (haha) a new addition to the C11G fleet: a brand new, wider, Mercedes model with air conditioning, TV, and yes, an air freshener.

As I climbed aboard, nobody caught my eye and nodded. The driver was more secluded/protected behind a waist-high wall. If he had decided to yell at us we wouldn’t have heard him over the music videos. The younger passengers were enjoying the facing seats as were families and friends who were all heading somewhere. I chose one of the single seats on the right side. There was plenty of room for the old ladies to place their numerous grocery bags on the floor. When we careened around the tight corners on the one-lane “road” no one shouted as a result of being thrown onto another passenger. All in all, it was a peaceful, comfortable ride back to Dardanos.

My walk from the bus stop. I took the left fork to get to my room with a view.

My walk from the bus stop. I took the left fork to get to my room with a view.

During the walk from the bus stop to my room, it hit me- not the bus; the idea that things were getting better. At least on the surface. The people on that new bus were the same people I saw on most afternoons if I was lucky enough to catch the express bus. On that afternoon we all knew that we wouldn’t get that new bus every day, so it was best not to expect too much. The sun was shining, and there were signs of spring everywhere.

Whatever I say about having my professional and personal activities regulated by a bus schedule, I enjoyed every single walk home from the bus stop. There was always someone and something to see, and even on the nasty days (nothing compared to those in Kansas, for example) the weather always gave me a break.

My students informed me that they hated the buses. I should mention here that there are no buses after midnight. I can see how parents might like this one. For some reason, adults were not supposed to complain about the bus. It was… well, it was the bus in the room that no one would acknowledge. My students did not have cars. Most adults I knew did. Those who didn’t asked friends to take them places or took the bus to the Kipa and got picked up by friends. I did this many times because gas is terribly expensive in Turkey, and most people did not want to drive the 15 miles out to Dardanos.

Basically, in the little corner of Turkey that I explored, getting there (or anywhere) is no fun at all, but then I was among a minority of folks who expected the trip to actually be fun. I was among an even smaller minority of folks who actually complained about it. There is so much to do once you get wherever you’re going that it really is better to just hang on and enjoy the ride.

Yes, really.

Yes, really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Streetcar Named Güzelyalı

Going to a new place in which you know no one and only enough of the language to realize that you really can’t communicate beyond the basics may not be your idea of a fun time, but sometimes we have to take our fun where we find it. Like on buses in Turkey.

There’s still something in me that rebels at the loss of independence that comes with having to come and go according to a bus schedule, but such limited freedom of mobility can also provide an excellent reason to not do some things. Of course I have used public transportation before, but I would prefer to walk if I have the choice. I this particular case, I do not have the choice since my accommodations are within walking distance of nothing except the bus stop.

So, off I went. People said, “Don’t worry about it!” So, I didn’t. Actually, that’s not true. I am a fretter. I worry about things over which I have absolutely no control. Like the bus schedule. Too many ‘what ifs’ for my liking.

The Kindness of Strangers

Since my arrival in Çanakkale, Turkey, daily life has been a constant test of my ability to live by the venerable motto Semper Gumby. After getting settled in my new digs, I was taken, pretty passively, to get a bus pass and charge it with Turkish liras. Most news stands can charge your card for you. When I asked if there were other places to recharge my card… you guessed it. No worry!

My Bus Pass

My Bus Pass

A rough translation of the text at the bottom is: ” ‘Turkish Youth’ Your first duty is to preserve and defend Turkish independence and the Turkish Republic forever.” With such an exhortation always in my pocket, how can I not venture forth somewhere every day?

Whenever I want to get somewhere (which is every day)- mostly to and from town or campus- I walk up to the bus stop, smile, and state the name of the place I want to go. Actually I intone the name of my destination as a question. Then the fun starts! People hear me utter a few words of Turkish with a decent accent and proceed to tell me about everything from the bus I need to the dog lying under the bench (He is a nice dog. He does not like the rain.). Somewhere in there I get the number of the bus that make my wishes become reality. Occasionally I get sent to the other side of the street, sunny or otherwise.

A trip to the grocery store for a few basics: çay (tea), milk, and some fruit, is a 35 minute trip, each way. There’s a bus every hour, so if there’s a line in the store, or you have a longer list, or the bus is full… what ifs. There is no such thing as a quick run to the store here if you don’t have a car, and many people only have one or none at all.

KIPA- the Local Super Target

KIPA- the Local Super Target

Riding home on the bus after shopping is… well, it’s a pain. Don’t plan on buying a lot of anything because even if you can carry it (I use my back pack), you are expected to keep it all in your lap or under your feet on the bus. Seems only fair.

I learned something else on the bus last week. It was raining, and the bus was packed with hot (buses and buildings are always HOT), wet people all trying to get home for the weekend. One last man managed to squeeze himself through the front door, but when he swiped his card, the reader said something to him that I can only guess meant, “Today is not your day.” He stood there a moment and stared at his card in disbelief. Several of us held out our cards to him for him to use. It just seemed like the thing to do- it’s only a 1.5 L ride (about 85¢). My friends in Ankara said that it’s pretty much the custom everywhere to share your card and let the person pay you since the buses don’t take money. I never saw that happen in Europe. I have been lucky enough to not have to use buses in the US.

Turkish bus drivers like to drive fast. Very fast. Curves are not a good reason to slow down. Remember my comments about keeping your things in your lap or under your feet? On the ride home today, the driver was quite irritated because someone’s water bottle had rolled down the aisle and was going from side to side as he careened around the curves along the coastal road. By the way, as is the case in many countries, pedestrians decidedly do not have the right of way in Turkey! You cross streets at your own risk- sometimes even when you use the crossing lights.

Motor bikes and scooters are very popular here, except to go up the hill to campus, but that’s another discussion. For now, let’s just see where I end up, so to speak. My Turkish classes begin tomorrow, so soon, hopefully, wherever I go on the bus, it will be of my own choosing. This will just be one of those entries with no real point, but that is mildly interesting. To get to the camel wrestling this weekend we will not take the bus. Several of us will rent a car. (If that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will!)

 

 

 

 

 

What I Did Instead of Starting the New Year with a Post (or, Well I Never!: The Sequel)

Happy 2013!

    The above purple text is supposed to be a video. Perhaps I should wish for more computer savvy,  because I’m told the link doesn’t work. I wish it did, but I’ve tried everything in my limited bag of tricks. In the meantime, here is a still shot from 1 January 2013. You will have to imagine the jingle bells!

Have some fun!

Have some fun!

Here’s to everybody out there who makes wishes!  One of my wishes has always been to go riding in the snow and for my horse to wear bells. Since moving to the mid-west, the chances of that happening have been in my favor for several years now.

Here’s the real biggie for 2013: a trip to Turkey. I’ll be at a university teaching, lecturing, and of course, traveling. Turkey has always been high on my list pf places I want to visit, but I never really thought it would happen. Nevertheless, I never moved it to the bottom of the ever-growing list. You should know that this “well, I never!” list is one that is fun to make. It is also unimaginably  exciting (for me, anyway) to get to check off an item.

Now I would like to talk (vent) about getting ready for such a trip. I will be abroad for 90 days! WOOHOO! Right? Eventually, that will be the case… case being the operative word here. I am limited to two bags no bigger than 62″ however you add up the dimensions to get that ridiculous limit. Also- 50 pounds per bag. And of course, I will have to pay $60.00 for these two bags. FAIL, American Airlines. FAIL!! There is no charge on Turkish Air, but the same limits apply.

Were I to travel without luggage, I would be suspected as a terrorist. I looked into sending myself a box of stuff, but Turkey charges a 20% customs fee on “stuff.” So, I’m back to playing mix and match with two skirts, two pairs of jeans, two dress pants and however many shirts I can cram in. Where am I supposed to pack my shoes???

 

I will also need my cowboy boots.

I am actually good at packing. I do tend to over pack a little for those “just in case” things that always become reality when traveling, but I also carry my own gear. As it should be. I take names when people laugh at me because there is another constant in my semi-well-traveled life: The people who laugh at your luggage are the same ones who want to borrow some of whatever it is that you brought just in case. Who remembers “The Little Red Hen”?

For now, the entire guest bedroom is filled with piles of items that I want to take with me. Every few hours I go in and put a few more things in the “reject” pile.

Stay tuned and wish me luck!

Maybe a few more items for the REJECT pile?