Through the wonders of technology and social networking sites, I have been reconnecting with some of the people I knew during my exchange year in Norway. Fun, and I have found I can still read and understand Norwegian, albeit quite slowly. Remembering the people I knew naturally led me to think of the horses I rode while I was there. Actually, my first months in Norway marked the first time in my life I ever went more than a few days (or maybe weeks in the coldest part of winter) without riding. While I was living with the first of my two host families, there were a few horses in the neighborhood – not riding horses but trotters, by far the most popular and commonly found horses in that area. Friday evening at the travbane (trotting track) was a popular family outing for many.
I didn’t have the opportunity to ride until spring, when I moved to a farm with my second host family. The neighboring farmer found out I had ridden at home and asked whether I would be interested in exercising his mare, a retired Standardbred who had been imported from the United States (which made her quite the big deal.) Sure, I said I would try her out. When? Ah, well, there was a little problem. She was at another farm, just a couple of miles away, and would have to be fetched home. Okay, let me know when she gets here. Well, just another little problem. The horse trailer had been lent out and wasn’t due back for a while. Maybe it would be best if I just rode her home.
I had some reservations about that, thinking that riding along a road wasn’t necessarily the place where I wanted to get acquainted with a new horse. But, in my youth and fearlessness, I agreed. So one day after school we loaded up an English saddle and a bridle and drove to meet the mare, Miss Go. On the way the neighbor’s son told me she had been sent where she was to be get back into shape for eventual breeding, but that the person who was supposed to ride her didn’t get along with her. Oh, great. And just what did that mean? What exactly had I gotten myself in for?
I found out pretty quickly after we had the rather overweight bay mare saddled and I headed her toward home. Belying her name, she would not go. No way. No how. Every time I would ask her to move off forward, she would either balk or back up. I guess I know why the other rider hadn’t gotten along with her. Stubborn mare. Bad luck for her that I had owned and retrained the queen of all stubborn mares when I was 12. So, Miss Go, I do know this game. Meanwhile, her owners had blithely driven away to await her homecoming. Hmmm. What to do? I could get off and lead her home, but I had very little desire to walk that far. Plus, it had been pretty soundly drummed into my head as a kid that if you get off without making the horse mind, the horse has won and you have created yourself a problem for another day. (Not necessarily my philosophy today …)
So, if the mare wanted to back, we would back. All the way home, if need be. Which wasn’t a speedy trek, as you might imagine. Her owners got concerned when we didn’t show up in good time and did come looking for me. And laughed. And drove away again. It seems to me now that it took a couple of hours to get the mare back to her home stable. But after that, I went many fun and happy miles (forward!) on her without any problems. I thought at the time that she just needed to find someone more stubborn than she was. I earned her respect that first day and then we had a great time riding the forest trails. I adjusted to strange rocking-and-rolling of the Standardbred trot and even taught her to canter in relatively civilized fashion.
Later I was asked to ride Miss Go’s offspring, a two-year-old gelding, to get him legged up before he went to the track to start his training in the fall. Walking and trotting only, though; canter absolutely forbidden. His name was Ami and I remember him as a sweet and biddable youngster with none of his dam’s penchant for testing a rider. I did see him a few times as he started his training in the sulky, but never saw him race.
Those two horses gave me good insight into the “correct” movement of the breed that has come in handy with the few other Standardbreds I have encountered over the years. Tusen takk, Miss Go and Ami!