Sunday, March 24, 2013

Saddle Up! (In the Rain)

Some people say that has rained nearly every Monday and Wednesday at 4 pm the past month because it’s rainy season and that’s what it does in Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea.

I know better.

It has rained nearly every Monday and Wednesday at 4 pm for the past month because that is when I trek up to the horse paddocks and stand in the arena beneath the clouds like a magnet, just asking for the deluge to break open and soak poor Catherine.

Me: The Equine Version of an Air Traffic Controller...
In other words, I’m a horseback riding instructor in tropical country—that little lauded individual who must tromp through the muddy arena, rain dripping off her hat (and down her back), shivering in her meri blouse, arranging cones and poles and shouting orders at the top of her lungs while all her students trot merrily around the arena, high above the mud, somehow obliviously dodging all the rain drops and toasty warm from the exercise. But perhaps I shouldn’t complain, since from what I hear of a late spring, my counterparts in Minnesota have to perform the same routine…but in the freezing snow. :)

As some of you might remember, from the time I was eight years old until I stepped on the plane to PNG, my life was completely infused with horses, with dreams of Olympic-level prowess. When the Lord tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to follow Him to PNG, letting go of those dreams was akin to self-amputation. But, God has a funny sense of humor, and He has brought horses back to me in a small way through the Pony Club here at Ukarumpa (you can read more about my journey in a blog post here).

Here Mandy helps one of our tinier riders :)
And so, over the past two years, when I’ve been in Ukarumpa and not in a village, I’ve been able to become involved in the Pony Club, utilizing my past-life equine medical, management, and training experience, as well as my favorite—teaching. Every week, around 20 students, from excited eight-year-olds to my fellow colleagues, appear at the horse paddocks for one of the four (or so) weekly classes. Experience ranges widely, from students still trying to figure out which part of the saddle faces forward to those who are eager to learn more about dressage and seeing distances to jumps. And, of course, since the horses are a motley crew who have their own personalities and quirks, Mandy (the other instructor) and I often feel like we’re whirling on a manic carousel ride, with all the horses gone wild! But, despite the chaos, teaching is very rewarding, and so we continue like the postal workers—neither rain nor wind nor bushknives nor mud will stop lessons from going forth!

For many adults, the riding lessons are a valuable break, providing stress release and emotional/mental care from the rigors of life here, as well as an athletic activity (options for exercise can sometimes be hard to come by, especially for women, due to the limitations of this culture). For the children, they promote character development, confidence,  responsibility, teamwork, and communication skills, and for some, the horses help with emotional stability as the kids deal with the many transitions and aches of missionary life.

My lesson kids are learning how to be a part of a drill team!

Since it’s Monday, it’s about time for me to ponder my lesson plans for this afternoon’s equine adventures…and I suppose, since it’s Monday, I should have Lessons 1A and 2A (if it’s sunny), Lessons 1B and 2B (if it’s light raining), Lessons 1C and 2C (if it’s pouring), Lessons 1D and 2D (if it rained earlier but now has stopped and is merely muddy)…