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“A Summer's Awakening” — Episode 5

by Barbara H. Callihan

On Thursday morning August 3rd, heavy dew off of the thick meadow grass splashed onto my out of place tennis shoes. Fog is wafting in the canyons, while the sun begins to warm the air. I stop in place, taking a deep breath and letting the moment linger and imprint itself on my being! I am so aware of my many moments of spiritual change and blessings.

Tonya, the barn manager, was busy taking care of horses in her charge and we exchange morning greetings as we passed each other.

Chunky’s head was hung relaxed over her stall door, her ears pricked forward, as she watched me approach. We did our usual greeting —her kissing my cheek with her soft muzzle as I gave her a morning treat.

Her stall showed she had a quiet relaxed evening, a sign that her mind was accepting of all the changes in her new environment during the last ten days.

As I began her morning care, various barn activities were taking place, including horses being led out to their paddocks. I was very aware of the calmness that the Bolender barn provides their horses! This was very reassuring because I knew it would enhance Chunky’s learning curve for the next three weeks!

Later in the day Mark and his wife Lee returned from their RFD TV video shoot for the video introducing his new discipline International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) Trail Riding. They also mentioned that Mark had participated in a 100 mile specialty trail ride. I was very excited to hear all the details — excitement was palpable!

Soon after his arrival Mark scheduled an evaluation lesson with me for later in the afternoon. My three-day International Mountain Trail and Extreme Trail riding clinic was just around the corner, and I was so eager to experience and feel the challenge of the obstacles I had seen yesterday. The belly flame ignited!

As directed, I met Mark at the obstacles with Chunky in hand. Every cell in my body was pumped and fueled with electricity! Chunky was very bright, light and responsive at the end of a lounge line. During our work together she maintained her alertness and ‘can do’ attitude as she was guided and directed into, onto, over, around, through, and between the course’s unfamiliar obstacles. Mark’s quiet voice gave me basic directions as his keen observations allowed him to evaluate the private conversations I was having with Chunky.

As Mark evaluated our working style and skill level he engaged me in conversation. Slowly, he began to articulate his personal extreme trail philosophy:

There are three sections to an obstacle; the entry, the body of the obstacle, and the exit
Encourage the horse to ‘seek the trail’ by establishing a partnership; the rider must RESPECT the horse’s ability to work on their own as much as possible to create a continuous movement through the course
The discipline calls for continuous flow and movement through each section of each obstacle before, during, after and even in between; avoiding a stop and go strategy
Each section—entry, body, and exit—of each obstacle must be completed with the horse centered and straight at all times

Later in the session, as we continued onto more challenging obstacles, Chunky began to respond to her new responsibilities as we successfully implemented his coaching.

What was suppose to have been a one hour session with Mark had extended to two exciting hours. At the end of the session, as I stood next to Chunky stroking her shiny copper and red neck, Mark commented “She is a dream. She is exceptional!” I stood there proud with a huge lump in my throat as I held back my tears.

For the next three weeks Chunky and I were on an exciting and steep learning curve, as I enjoyed my new and unfamiliar role of student.

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