Monday, November 7, 2011

On ravenous wolves, wild horses, and the Hay Baling Experience

By The Missionary Sister

When the average person says they were homeschooled, generally they don’t refer to their sister as one of the teachers. But that’s just, you know, normal people. As I generally err on the side of nonconformity, I placed Catherine squarely in the role of one of my instructors. Specifically, I was a student of Catherine’s School of Classical Dressage. It was an exclusive school, that’s for sure. One student. Me.

For those of you familiar with my horse training, you know I do some odd things. Namely, I have an unexplainable urge to ride horses without bridles. Racehorses, young horses, old horses, it doesn’t matter. I go on and the bridle goes off. What you may not know is that Catherine is and was one of my greatest supporters of that. Ever unflappable, she would amiably stand in the middle of the arena while I whizzed around her on my ex-racehorse sans bridle and give me lesson after lesson that no other instructor would, being that I had no bridle. Open-minded elitist single-student schools are the best.

She could train me because she herself was brilliant with animals and a fabulous rider. Her dream was always to compete at Grand Prix dressage (the level of the Olympics). She has set that dream aside for now, but I have no doubt she could have—and would have—done it.

When she wasn’t instructing me, we were riding together. We certainly shared a lot of adventures together on those horses—some that I’m still not certain we’ve ever told anyone. Sometimes it’s better not to tell anyone about one’s near-death experiences. They’re kind of private.

There was one equine-related experience, however, that I am surprised never killed us: baling hay. Have you ever baled hay? Baling hay is like this paradoxical blessing-curse. It’s great because it builds a ton of character. Being miserable will do that to you. But it’s also kind of a curse, because, well, it’s miserable.

For one thing, baling hay is not baling hay if it isn’t 10,000 degrees outside. And so humid you don’t even need to sweat, the air just practically condenses onto you. And rain is always imminent, so you’re always in a rush, so you’re usually stressed out. If those things aren’t in place, well, I’m afraid what you’ve done is a sad counterfeit to the Hay Baling Experience. However, I’m guessing that this was good preparation for PNG for Catherine.

What some don’t realize is that baling is a team sport. As Catherine was always the detail-oriented one, she got to stack the bales in the precise scientific modulating jigsaw pattern on the rack. The hay stacker is like the PhD of the Hay Baling Experience. Me? I was just the unskilled labor. I threw her the bales.

Despite being a PhD in Hay Baling, Catherine was kind enough to work with me, and we definitely bonded over the experience. As we were coughing out too much hay dust to talk, we found other ways of entertainment, all competitive, of course. We would compare the number of cuts and bruises we had, the amount of sweat, the number of places we’d torn our jeans, the size of our arm muscles (we calculated we would each throw a total of 8 tons of hay in a day of baling), the distance we could throw a bale, and the height to which we could lift one. Remember, hay baling is a sport. It’s about being stronger, faster, better, and lasting just one minute longer than anyone else before you die of heat stroke.

Thankfully, Catherine took care of me and we both more or less survived our hay baling experiences and all of our other near-death encounters. To give you just a glimpse of some of those adventures, I’ve compiled some of my favorite pictures of her (or she and I both) in our animal adventures…

This is our hay field, a deceptively idyllic picture. In fact, I was actually taking this picture with my very last dying breath, cruelly murdered by a day of baling.

Our earliest animal experiences consisted of being locked in cages with ravenous, man-eating wolves.

Mind melding with The Dog. Very difficult.
Mind melding with two dogs. Even more difficult.

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that you learn to concentrate under life-and-death situations. Life and death because you see that brown cat on the right? He had been known to attack your head -- your head! -- if you ticked him off. First it was The Bird, then it was The Cat. We just had real trouble with animals.

Catherine is second from the left (I'm on the right), as we compete in 4-Dog Team -- think military drilling crossed with dog training. Only with four less-than-rational creatures drilling with you who really don't care about being precise and would maybe rather just sleep instead.

You never knew who got more exercise in agility training -- the person or the dog. In the case of my dog, I always got more exercise.

Do you know why I always got more exercise? Because this was my dog. Sleeping was his hobby.

We always kind of hoped if we really stared down the dogs they would perform better. I'm not so sure it worked very well.

They say dogs' mouths are cleaner than humans'. Let's hope so.
Waiting for show results was always less stressful when you could be standing by your sister. :)

I'm not the only model in the family!

Did you know Catherine is competitive? Catherine is competitive.

In fact, Catherine is so competitive that, in this particular incidence, after getting thrown halfway off in a timed event, she held onto the side of the saddle until she crossed the timeline (thereby not being disqualified). Then she promptly fell off. That's dedication.

While usually Catherine and I rode together (and had our aforementioned brushes with death), sometimes my dad, did, too. I think Catherine had fewer near-death experiences with Dad than with me. I guess I was a bad influence.

Riding in the winter can be miserable, evidenced by both of their expressions. That's enthusiasm if I ever saw it. Thankfully this situation won't happen in PNG.
At our very first show. We never did grow into those helmets.

Catherine -- Minnesota Walking Horse youth equitation reserve champion! (And a proper-sized helmet.)

Makana -- our first, only, and last-ever foal. Take whatever amount of work you think foals are, then multiply that by a gazillion and ten, and you have a far better estimate of the time involved.
The night of Makana's birth. Catherine and I were on foal watch, and I still remember us drooping groggily in the living room watching Helen Keller at 2 a.m. when I went out for the hourly check and found our mare, Jewel, in labor.

Catherine and I convinced Dad to build an entire cross-country course in our woods. We were so proud of it!

If you didn't know it, you'd have thought she'd gone crazy. But if you're a horse person, you know she's just practicing her equitation pattern -- on foot. Turn right, circle left, right lead, flying change, begin again. (Kind of like the song, "Father Abraham," actually...)

Catherine got bitten by the horse bug young...

...and never recovered.