09/06/10 — Workin' it -- Goldsboro Equestrian Center

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Workin' it -- Goldsboro Equestrian Center

By Laura Collins
Published in News on September 6, 2010 1:46 PM

The Job: Horse lesson instructor

The Company: Goldsboro Equestrian Center

The Location: Goldsboro

When I walked into the Goldsboro Equestrian Center I saw a sign that gave me pause.

"Please don't feed fingers to the horses," it said.

I thought about turning around right then and there.

But then I saw manager/instructor Casey Keim, a petite little thing who is seven months pregnant, and I thought that the horses can't be that dangerous if she's not scared of them.

Mrs. Keim has been a riding instructor for 10 years and teaches English hunter jumper riding lessons, basic western pleasure lessons and offers boarding at the center. For my day working with her she took me through several techniques she teaches. Her specialty is the English hunter jumper style of riding -- the kind that's seen when watching professional horseback riding competitions. This is very different from western style riding in that it appears much more graceful ... and that's where my problems with it started.

Mrs. Keim introduced me to Duke, my horse for the day.

"He used to be on the big show circuit, but then he got an injury and could no longer jump," she said. "We call him the ThighMaster."

I'm nobody's Suzanne Somers, so I'm pretty sure I'm not a good fit for anything nicknamed the ThighMaster. This is always how it seems to work out for me, though. I'm always the one stuck with the horse named Threat, Lethal or Terror while everyone else is riding horses named Petunia, Magic or Princess.

But then I found out why they call him ThighMaster. It's not because he goes so fast you have to hold on for dear life, it's because Duke's favorite thing to do is stand around and eat treats.

"You have to squeeze the whole time to keep him moving," Mrs. Keim explained. Duke began to sound like a perfect match.

The three of us went out to the arena where Mrs. Keim taught me the two-point jumping position and the posting walk. The two-point jumping position is used by the rider when jumping over fences or obstacles with the horse. It basically consisted of me trying to stand steady in the stirrups with my knees bent, and myself bent at the waist, leaning down close to Duke's neck while holding onto the reins. This is hard enough to do when the horse is still, but once he started moving, it was definitely a no-go.

I also tried the posting walk. Instead of just bouncing around in the saddle when the horse trots, riders use their leg muscles to raise and lower themselves in the saddle in rhythm with the horse's gait. It is much more graceful-looking and also it's easier on the rider and the horse's back. This was a little bit harder to practice, though, since Duke was unwilling to trot for more than a few steps at a time. It was then that Mrs. Keim told me that everything I was doing, her three-year-old son has also done.

"Who's more advanced, me or J.D.," I asked about her son.

"Well, J.D. doesn't need me to walk next to the horse while he's riding," she said.

Message received.

Then she acknowledged out some of my strong points. As it turns out, the two-point position and posting were not my them.

"You have 'Whoa' down," Mrs. Keim said. "If there were a 'Whoa' category in a show, you'd have it."

I don't know that being able to stop a horse that would rather be standing still in the first place is a huge accomplishment, but I'll take what I can get.

Overall, I think I finally understand the appeal of horseback riding, especially competitive riding. It takes much more skill, talent and strength than I ever would have thought. And one father, Rick Coor, whose daughter takes lessons at the center, said learning how to ride helps in other ways as well.

"It instills confidence in the students," he said. "They learn responsibility and respect, not only for the animals, but for themselves too."


In other news, today marks the one-year anniversary of this column, which began last Labor Day with the Goldsboro Sanitation Department -- still one of my favorite jobs.