A First-Person, First-Horse Account of the May, 2001 – Jenny Jackson Clinic
When the mailer arrived, I knew it was too late. The idea had been percolating since last winter, when I audited my very first clinic, huddled up against the miserable, wet, windy cold with a cluster of intrepid (crazy?) Tennessee Walking Horse fans. As we watched Jenny Jackson put some folks through their soggy paces on what might have been the nastiest afternoon in a particularly nasty February, I realized there was probably nothing else on earth that would have kept me out there, snuffling and stomping to keep my feet from going numb. That bone-chilling day, I didn’t know how or when, but I knew somehow I was going to find a way to haul my rear-end and my horse’s to a Jenny Jackson clinic. I didn’t have a trailer or a clue, but the notion was firmly planted. We would be out there, my 1,000-pound adolescent and I, going around that ring. One day. Somehow.
Then, March slogged by the way it usually does in our neck of the woods – kinda damp and slow, and then April. And the flyer came. Jenny Jackson was coming back to Santa Rosa! In May! So there wasn’t even a rational process involved. I just called Michele Erskine’s number and told her machine we’d like to book a slot. Figured I could cancel if I had to. Figured I’d find a way to get there. Called my daughter Kelly, who might have discouraged me, but instead said “Great! I’ll go with you!” And that was that.
Next day I was at Fifth Avenue Rentals, looking at one of the only three horse trailers for rent within a hundred miles. How did I know that one trailer was there, tucked away on a side street off Highway 84? I’d driven by it a couple of years ago. So, although I have no idea where my key financial documents are, or my best portfolio pieces, or my car keys, I had absolutely no trouble going right back to that horse-related item in an obscure little rental yard somewhere in the bowels of Redwood City.
Was I bothered by the fact that I’d never towed anything in my life, let alone some rickety rental trailer with my horse in it? Was I concerned that I’d be doing this experimental towing in a truck so new even the bed liner was still virginal, unscratched? Did it trouble me that Santa Rosa is more than two hours from my house by car, no trailer attached? Through the heart of San Francisco? Over the Golden Gate Bridge? Let’s just say I did think about some of that, but it was too late. The minute that flyer arrived, it was too late. This was going to happen. The wheels of destiny were turning and that was that.
The operation was planned with precision. (Why is it that horse folks still insist, even after centuries of experience otherwise, that such a thing is possible?) Install hitch. Correct size? Call rental place. Check. Coordinate pickup time with Kelly. Call and change rental pickup time. Check. Instructions and advice on towing beast in trailer? Surf Net. Check. Call rental place. Check. Call experienced horse buddies for words of towing wisdom. Check. Confirm trailer rental. Call rental place. Again. Check.
Friday afternoon, May 4. I think I’m beginning to understand all those stories about the outrageous things people do when they reach, um, a certain age. Here she is, formally your basic Responsible Mother of Three, Married Person, Sensible Business Person, screaming over Highway 84, about to hitch the Unknown to the Untried. Like a kid at Christmas. I strike my best “done this a million times” pose for the fellas at the trailer place (What do I say if they ask me if I’ve ever done this? Is that one squinting at me funny?) They hitch me up, I throw the plastic card over the counter, and drive out, pulse elevated, smile wide. Bump. Clank. Onto El Camino. I have insurance! Behold, Towing Woman!
Cut to Saturday morning, May 5, Verrrrry Early. Still dark. Kelly and I are adrenalin-fueled: she’s packed the lunch, and enjoying the role reversal (“Mom, I told everybody at work I’m taking you to Horse Camp!”). Lace the Wonder Horse is also completely amped, having spent the night wondering what that trailer is parked there for. Incredibly, she sniffs, she stomps a little, she walks right in. We buckle up, and we’re down the road. Yeeeeehaw! Got the Horse Whisperer sound track in the CD player, sun rising behind us, headed up Highway One! Kelly navigates as we thread through The City on the carefully researched, recommended Horse Trailer Route, up Sunset, through the Park, over the bridge. The Bridge! Aaaaaaaaugh.
Three hours later, we’re the third trailer to pull into Ted Draper’s stable yard. It’s a miracle. Obviously anticipating there might be lots of people with dubious credentials towing lots of trailers into the place, the parking has been designed to require no backing up. Whew.
It is so true, isn’t it, that showing up is always the hard part. Especially with horses. Just getting there is a big dang deal.
Miss Lace the Wonder Horse is unloaded, fed a little (Omigod! We forgot hay!) thanks to the kindness of our fellow clinic attendees, and we watch as Jenny starts on Rhonda Azevedo’s colt in halter. I absolutely don’t remember who came after that, because by then I was becoming apoplectic with the realization that I would have to get into the ring with my horse. Now that the buzz from having arrived alive and intact was wearing off, we were going to have to go in there! With Jenny, who would narrow her Professional Clinician eyes and pace a little and pronounce us – Aaaaaauuuugh! Who knew? Who knew what Lace the Wonder Horse would do, in front of everyone? She’s barely five years old, all attitude, and ridden sporadically by me. I bought her as a 3-yearold. She’d been under saddle less than 30 days. I hadn’t ridden in 20+ years. What the heck was I thinking? Now, here we are, two years and lots of John Lyons books, a broken rib and uncounted bruises into it, and I’m going to square up in front of Jenny J and all those other folks? Aaaaaaugh.
Kelly patted my hand, and said as many encouraging things as she knew. In we went. Jenny smiled as I struggled to square up The Girl, as we’ve come to call our high maintenance blonde from Tennessee. Jenny then gave the gallery a kind of clinical description that brought to mind the autopsy scene in a cop show: “Five-year-old mare out of Bud’s Silver Bullet, about a thousand pounds….” She reviewed the horse’s angles (all pretty good), her legs (slightly cowhocked! Aauuuugh!) the length of her back, neck, ears ( Kinda muley! Hey! That’s my baby she’s talking about!), even her nose (Well, Farrah Fawcett has a nose just like this and they don’t call it Roman! They call it “aquiline”!) My goal for the clinic, said I in response to Jenny’s question, was to stay on the horse.
Then it was time to perform. I, with the able assistance of my groom, Kelly, started to throw the saddle on. “No, stop!” Hollers Jenny from across the arena. “I can see from over here that doesn’t fit!” Aaaaaaaugh. “That built-up pad you’re using won’t solve the problem, either!” In a few syllables, the Big Horn Western saddle I’d picked up for $175 at a swap meet was history. Jenny waved her arms a bit more, and a new Tennessean saddle appeared and was plunked onto the horse. The flash dressage bridle and Happy Mouth plastic bit we were using passed muster. Then it was into the saddle and around the ring. The rest is kind of a blur, I’m afraid. We walked. She asked for a canter and we cantered, and cantered, and reversed direction and cantered some more. Two miracles: 1) we did indeed canter, on command; 2) our butt stayed in the saddle. So, yes, folks, my goal for the clinic had been met and exceeded. Flush with success at having stayed on, the only thing more I remember Jenny telling me was that we might “try a trail pleasure class someday.” Thinking back on it, that was probably her gracious way of saying I should enjoy my roman-nosed, muley-eared, cow-hocked darling in the privacy of our own paddock.
What I do remember clearly is that as we left the ring, we got a very nice round of applause from the gallery, undoubtedly as relieved as I was that we had survived without incident.
Later, fellow attendees Kelly and (husband’s name?) Getreu as well as clinic host Ted Draper, my daughter and I all worked for 30 minutes or so to convince Lace the Wonder Horse that she really did need to get in that trailer for another 3 hours so we could get on home. Thanks to Ted’s expertise (plus a couple of his longer whips) and the Getreus’ horse treats, we were back on the road and home about 7:30 that night. No dents. No broken limbs. Just a few shaky legs.
Miss Wonder Horse didn’t move much the next day, and neither did I.
Kelly, Lace and I want to thank everyone at Wine Country Walkers for welcoming us so warmly, and for demonstrating in all kinds of ways that horsemanship is about generosity and fun. We learned an enormous amount from Jenny and from all the other participants, who offered great tidbits in conversations all day about everything from trailers and trucks to horse cookies. Thank you, Gisela and Doug, for the hay. Thanks, y’all, for the equipment loans and the baked bribes. And thank you, Michele, for your special kindness in assuring me that my greenhorn self and my green horse would be ok. We were more than ok. We were just about as happy as a cowgirl gets. Even the coffee was good.
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