This past Saturday found me - a "straight goin' rider" - in an arena surrounded by gaited equines and their hardcore owners. And not just any kind of gaited equine, most of these were genuine Missouri gaited mules. I'm afraid I stuck out like a sore thumb. Not only do I have very limited experience on gaited horses (hence my new Bob Bingham "straight goin' girl" label) but I was riding a horse in the midst of mules. Bob Bingham, owner of the Missouri Mule Company, hosted the gaited equine clinic at the Valley Water Mill equestrian center (a riding stable owned by the City of Springfield, I'm hoping to go back on my own time to get Chico used to arenas and trail obstacles). I knew very little about him beforehand except that he was my sister-in-law's neighbor who let his mules graze loose in his front yard, and he sold one of his mules to Donald Rumsfelt's wife. After seeing his website I had high hopes that he would show up in a pink cowboy shirt and I was not disappointed.
Clay's mom asked me to ride in the clinic as part of her birthday present (it was a big sacrifice on my part, having to ride horses on her birthday....). So in preparation I rode her fox trotter, Emmy Lou (born to run), a few times over the past couple weeks to get familiar with her. She's a fun little horse and I really enjoyed working with her. After being used to Chico and Wild Thing - both stubborn and a tad lazy (though I love them both dearly) - her sensitivity and big motor were a pleasant surprise. I could actually use all the Clinton Anderson training exercises without having to adapt them to "the pushy horse" and she responded just like the horses in his videos! Amazing. But at any rate, we made good progress. And then, surprise surprise, she started limping around the day before the clinic. After some deliberation I saddled up Lady, the other fox trotter mare on the farm, and we spent an hour or so getting used to each other. Long story short, we arrived at the clinic with two fox trotter mares and I began the day by riding poor Lady. It was a rude awakening for her from being put out to pasture for the winter, she was out of shape and decidedly not used to having to put up with a bit in her mouth. But she did well despite these set backs and I was proud of her. Three bit changes later and about 300 times around the arena (perhaps a mild exaggeration) she had gaited herself to exhaustion and could hardly lift her feet up into the trailer.
Emmy could avoid her fate no longer. And since her limp seemed considerably better she made her entrance into the arena after lunch. She lived up to her name and was indeed rarin' to go. And she made a lot of heads turn with her fast little fox trot - I believe she got a couple sale offers and one guy wanting to breed her for gaited mules. And I had fun scooting by all of those placid mules. Mules still hold some appeal for me - especially draft mules - but, high strung or not, there's something to be said for the sensitivity and speed of a horse.
With my sad lack of knowledge in the world of gaited horses, and mules, and gaited mules, I'm surprised I got off so easy at the clinic. I only got my new label, and a few lectures on the proper bitting of fox trotters. My dime store tom thumb bit got me in trouble. I'll have to invest in a western grazing bit for when I indulge in those gaited horse rides. It was a good clinic, perhaps a little light on instruction, but I figured out a few ways to keep a smoother gait - by going around the arena so many hundreds of times if nothing else. My legs were surprisingly unaffected the next day after riding for six hours in one day and being in such poor shape. Nothing beats riding horses all day. Or having my little cowgirl Margaret wave to me every time I rode passed. And hopefully Sharon had at least half as much fun as I did on her birthday.