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April 6, 2011

Chapter 20: Market Street Beckons

This gate opens onto the Market Street homebase in Frenchtown, N.J. Photo by Tik Maynard.

“Either you don’t know anything about cars, or you’re too drunk to notice.”

“Oh, man, I noticed right away,” I said confidently.

“Hard not to, I guess,” my driver laughed. It was dark, and he was peering ahead into the narrow beam of light that lit up the road.

“Hold on,” he said as he sped through a turn. The motor whirred and spat, the window was down, and cool air rushed into the car; he had to shout to be heard.

“I heard you coming up the hill. I heard you a couple minutes before I even saw the headlights,” I said.

“What’s that?” He turned his head towards me, drifted over the centerline for a second and then corrected himself.

“Your engine!” I shouted back at him, “I could hear you coming from way back!”

“Yeah!” he grinned.  “I could listen to her all day! Ain’t she great?”

“Great!” I yelled.

“I’ve only had her a month. I think I’m still in the honeymoon phase,” he shouted as he accelerated into another turn. We had met just minutes earlier; he had offered to give me a ride home from the bar. He seemed nice enough, and he was going my way.

“What year is she?” I asked. And saw him turn his head slightly, and in the shadow I saw his face change. In that one question I became a stranger to him again.

“Sixty-eight,” he told me. “She’s a ‘68 Mustang.”

Obviously.

“Oh man! She’s great. I mean really great.”

After that we did not talk for a while. He drove intently, and I held my hands together in my lap. In my defense, I told myself, it was dark out. And I had had a couple drinks. But it’s true, I can’t tell a Mustang from a Bronco. Or a Pinto from a Colt. Unless, by chance, you’re talking horses, in which case line ‘em up. I’ll take a look under the hood.

In the last 18 months I’ve learned a few things about horses. I’ve seen a few things. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to come to the conclusion that I know more about horses than most people. But I also discovered I know nothing, just as a fresh foal knows nothing, compared to a few people. It is these few people that I have tried to surround myself with, to learn to walk with.

An Incredible Opportunity

“Have you lived in Frenchtown long?” the young man asked. He arrived at a red light, and we could talk normally for a minute.

“This is my first day. I’m flying out tomorrow. But I’m coming back soon. I just accepted a job here. I’m just going home to pack. Then I’ll be back for good.”

“What do you do then?”

What to tell him? Do I tell him about grooming, riding, teaching students and training horses? Do I even know everything I will be doing? My new job might mean dragging the ring, mowing the field, building jumps, painting jumps?

As a working student I’ve never known what to expect. In Germany I was as likely to be riding as sweeping or moving furniture. In Texas, I taught a horse to swim, helped lay a horse down, and babysat a litter of wolves. I’ve learned to drive a tractor, fall a tree, rope a horse and herd buffalo. I’ve learned about horsemanship and cattle drives. I’ve walked the course at Rolex Kentucky with Karen O’Connor. I had a lesson from 92 year old Herr Stecken, the same man who helped Reiner Klimke to countless championships. 

“I’ll be working at a show jumping stable,” I told him, for simplicity.

“Training horses then?”

“Sometimes I’ll be training, sometimes teaching. Probably doing all sorts of stuff.”

“Not a bad job,” the young man said, as the light turned green.

It was not a bad job at all. There are only a handful of trainers in the world I would enjoy working for, and Anne is one of them. She had offered me a chance to help her ride her horses and her clients’ horses. She had even let me take her new horse, Torino, in a schooling class in Wellington. And she was encouraging me to bring students of my own to Market Street.

The Most Important Thing

To be renowned or accomplished is not unimportant, and neither is winning medals, but the most important thing in choosing a trainer is philosophy. To find a trainer that shares your philosophy of training horses is not easy.

Every barn has different ways of doing things. Ingrid Klimke’s horses are longed every week, and cavaletti are a central part of her training. I never saw the O’Connor horses go over cavaletti or be longed, but they are the only stable I’ve worked at that uses carrot sticks. I wonder then if there are any trainers that encourage both longing and groundwork with a carrot stick? Although both beneficial, they originate in very different philosophies, one of the military and one of the American West. I see all these different philosophies, and then it is up to me to decide how I want to train horses.

The two biggest equestrian influences in Anne’s life are Jimmy Williams and George Morris. She also competed up to Grand Prix dressage under Hilda Gurney. Although Anne is a show jumper, she has seen and done it all.

I remembered asking a German rider who rode at Spruce Meadows what the biggest difference between riding in Germany and riding in Canada was. “In Germany we train horses. In North America you train riders,” she told me. And although there are many exceptions to this, it is a fair generalization. Anne, however, is capable of both, as I would like to be.

The car rolled smoothly and noisily along.

“What do you do?” I asked politely.

“I’m a pilot. I fly for a small private company. Lots of rich clients with private planes.”

Outside, windows of light showed where houses stood. As we drove up the hill, away from the Delaware Valley and towards the flatter ground of Hunterdon plateau, the houses stood further back from the road and were further apart.

“I grew up just over there!” he shouted, pointing with his head. “I live on the other side of the river now!”

“The other side is Pennsylvania right?” And suddenly Anne’s place popped into view. “There! It’s there on the left!” I pointed ahead.

He pulled up in front of the metal gate. In the light the black, iron gate had looked shiny and professional, but at night it was solemn and uninviting. He stopped in front of it, and I looked in at where I would spend the night. Perhaps many nights.

“Thanks for the ride!” I shook his hand and promised to buy him a beer next time I met him in town.

“No problem dude. The name’s Kendall. See you around.”

“Tik,” I introduced myself. “Love your car!” And then I shut the door, and walked up to the gate. It was locked, and I had to climb through the fence. The gravel path crunched and skittered underfoot. What kind of car was it again? Sixty-eight Mustang? Had I had to ask, or did he just tell me? I couldn’t remember now.

It is always nice to meet your neighbors though. I wondered if I would see him again. Would I last long at Market Street? I pulled my hood up over my ears to keep warm. It was getting cold. I hoped so; it’s a big move so I hoped so.

I stopped at the barn before going upstairs to the suite and looked back down the driveway. The grand prix field was huge, it looked like 10 acres. A great place to gallop a horse, I thought. I closed my eyes and a warm shiver ran up my spine, not from cold, but because, for a second, I could see the future. 

In the summer of 2008 Tik Maynard came up with a grand plan. He decided to spend a year working for some of the greatest horsemen he could find in different disciplines and writing about his experiences. So far, he has worked for Johann Hinnemann, Ingrid Klimke, David and Karen O'Connor, Bruce Logan and Anne Kursinski. He just finished up working for Kursinski as her assistant trainer, and he wrote this a year ago. For more information on Tik, visit www.tik.ca/.

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