Fat to Fit to First Level: Kaliwohi Gets a Tutor

Esther finds a local horsewoman to ride Kaliwohi.

The equestrian community sometimes gets a bad rap as “elitist” or full of “dressage divas” or whatever. Riding mustangs or mustang-crosses all my life, I’ve had my share of sneers and snarky comments. Being overweight has only added to the opportunities for small-hearted grinchy types to be condescending.

But on the other hand, horsefolk can be some of the finest people you’ll ever meet. Recently I have been the grateful beneficiary of some big-hearted benevolence, both locally and long-distance.

For example, I have a galpal Ashley in North Carolina who is an excellent rider of lovely pintos, a fellow female entrepreneur and a dedicated fitness guru. Despite the miles between us, Ashley is incredibly supportive of my current efforts to rehab my right hip and leg, and she’s giving me a great deal of her time and energy offering fitness tips and wisdom and many much-needed “atta girl”s to keep my spirits up during this time out of the saddle.

Here at home, I have been blessed beyond measure to have a local rider offer to work with Kaliwohi, both to help him keep his mind in the game while I’m grounded, and also to see if the miscommunication earlier this summer between Kaliwohi and me had any real basis or was exactly that — miscommunication. This rider, Dara, is an adult amateur who rides a lovely and spirited mare she has raised and trained herself.

As a sometimes show announcer, including rated shows, I have had the opportunity to sit in the announcer’s booth and watch all sorts of riders — good ones, bad ones, worse ones, ones I wouldn’t even trust with a rocking horse. And then there are the too-few-and-far-between great riders. Those who are technically correct in their skills, have excellent timing in their rhythm, and have the perfect balance between sensitivity, gentleness, and control.

Dara is one of the great ones. And this week, she came over and rode Kaliwohi.

As you can see in the photographs I took, I have made one change in Kaliwohi’s equipment since the two falls. I changed his bit from a loose-ring, single-jointed snaffle to a dee-ring french link snaffle. Kaliwohi’s mouth has a fairly low roof, partly because of damage done to the left upper side of his face when he was still with the BLM. (Since I adopted him, Kiwi has had three oral surgeries, two of which lasted over four hours each!) I wanted to see if he responded better to a bit that has zero chance of poking the roof of his mouth.

USDF Adult Amateur rider Dara Lindner and Kaliwohi. All photos by Esther Roberts.

First Dara watched while Kaliwohi and I did a little liberty work in the round pen to warm him up.  She commented on how nicely built he is and that his ground work seems solid.

Then Dara mounted up, and Kaliwohi stayed relaxed and happy. He seemed to like the new bit very much, and he certainly responded well to Dara’s excellent horsewomanship.

Kiwi reaching for the contact.

Watching Kaliwohi work, so calm and willing, gave me hope for my mustang. Since the two falls, I have literally been praying for wisdom as to how to proceed with my young horse.  If he truly wants to be a non-riding animal, I can accept that. I just want my horse to be happy. Some horses like to work. Some horses like to be fed and otherwise left alone. I respect the differences, and I want to respect Kaliwohi, particularly since he once lived wild and free.

Dara cantering Kaliwohi.

Dara literally put Kiwi through his paces. She began with walk and halt, to make sure his brakes were in place, especially since I had given her a full rundown on his recent behavior under saddle. When she took Kaliwohi up to trot, he was rhythmic and focused, like a metronome. By midway through the ride, Dara was confident enough in Kaliwohi’s reliability she asked him to canter both directions. When I saw my mustang reaching forward and through, cantering along without any attempt to charge or bolt, I confess I could not contain a few tears of pure joy.

Dara and Kaliwohi after a lovely, relaxed tutoring session together.

After the ride, Dara was brimming with positive comments about Kaliwohi. “He’s so smart and willing!” “He learns really quickly!” “He’s thinking and figuring things out and trying so hard to please!” Dara felt zero resistance in Kaliwohi’s body or mind. Watching her ride Kaliwohi, and hearing her comments afterward, combined to renew my sense of hope.

I hope my leg heals 100% so I can get back in the saddle before too long. I hope, as Dara predicts, my mustang and I will move beyond any miscommunication and build a lifelong relationship of trust and understanding. I hope. Hope is a wonderful thing — a positive gift to be cherished.

So thank you, Ashley and Dara, for giving me a renewed sense of hope.

Join me on this journey on Facebook: Fat to Fit at Horse Nation (page and group), and my blog www.appalachianchic.com.


Go Riding!

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