My equestrian weekend

I wanted to upload a picture, but I’m having connection problems tonight, and anyway I didn’t take any photos this weekend that were much better than pedestrian (and you can’t have pedestrian at a horse show). The perfect thing would have been to get someone to snap me with an Icelandic horse, wearing my Viking gear, but that obvious idea never occurred to me at the time.

Anyway, it was a good weekend. In fact, although there were difficult parts, I’d say it was the best time I’ve had in a couple years. The first fling of my freedom, you might say, if you were in alliterative mood.

I’d been to the Minnesota Horse Expo at the state fairgrounds once before, years back. At that point, we were able to get a parking spot in the lot even though we weren’t bright and early. This year, although the horse barns and Coliseum are at the west end of the park, I had to park back near the east entrance. It’s gotten to be a big deal. There was no handicapped parking section. It was a long trek from my parking spot for someone with a recent hip replacement, but I made it, and I wasn’t even terribly stiff the next day.

Friday, the first day, was cool and bright, but I had worn my wool tunic and cloak and the weather wasn’t a problem. Somebody must have vouched for me as a speaker, because I was asked to provide that narration for a small demonstration of Icelandic horses in one of the secondary arenas early that afternoon. Later, they said, I’d narrate the big demonstration in the Coliseum. Now, if you’re not a Minnesota farm kid, you probably don’t know about the Coliseum. But when I was a boy, most of my friends raised animals for the Future Farmers of America. Getting to the Coliseum was the Big Casino, Carnegie Hall. Even as a non-participant, I still feel a certain awe about it.

The small show went OK, but there were timing problems, which I suppose are more the rule than the exception in this sort of thing. When the time came for the Coliseum show, I showed up at the engineer’s booth and got a mike, but then the regular announcer went ahead and did the narration himself, from his own table. I guess nobody mentioned it to him. Ah, well.

The next day was simply beautiful spring weather. I wore my linen tunic, and had to park way the heck up on Machinery Hill (as we call it) because of the attendance. We helped with a lecture in the cattle barn, and I was told, “Today you will narrate the Coliseum show.” And I did. And it was great. I’m a man of low self-esteem, but I’m good at dramatic reading, and even I can’t deny it. The horse people told me I was already hired to do it again next year. (Of course there’s no money in it, but still, I’m easily seduced by compliments.)

The third day dawned wet and chilly. Wool weather again. The bright side was that I got a parking spot not too far from the venue. We did the lecture thing again, and then helped with the Parade of Breeds (they go alphabetically; the Icelanders follow the Half Arabians. Or is it Half Frisians? Half something). Then we were done. We hung around the horse barn, discussing bad Viking movies (an inexhaustible topic) with the horse breeders, and fielding the occasional historical question from a visitor. Then we packed up and went home.

I loved several things about the weekend. First of all, the Icelandic horses are simply sweethearts. They’re friendly and not skittish at all. I said the other day that they were the purest of the northern breeds. I was understating the case. They’re said to be the purest breed in the world, as horse importation has been illegal in Iceland since the 9th Century. They are thus highly inbred, but congenital maladies were limited by the harsh Icelandic environment. Imperfect animals simply died, or were culled for meat during heathen times. There are no natural predators in Iceland, so Icelandic horses lack the skittish nature of your average horse. Their toit gait, one of two extra gaits the breed possesses, is fast and comfortable, because the motion is side to side rather than up and down.

I liked the Icelandic horses a lot. If I were a horse person, and had a lot of money to spend, I’d acquire one or two. Didn’t get the chance to ride one, but I’m not sure my doctor would have approved if I had.

What also pleased me was my own endurance. I took some pretty long walks for a guy still healing up from major surgery. And the stiffness and aching I expected from my exertions was less than I looked for. So I felt pretty good about my condition.

For more than two years, my life has been regimented and constrained. I did one thing on Mondays, another thing on Tuesdays, etc. I had it all planned out, so I could keep pace with my graduate classes. It worked, but it was boring (even for I, who have a high tolerance for tedium). This was the first time I’d actually relaxed and just had fun since starting school. I feel ten years younger.

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