Ken Soderbeck always had work for me helping him with the antique fire engine restoration projects underway but my sign business was more lucrative. Spending half of each week at Violet Hopkin’s barn consumed time. In each locale, I stayed busy.

The time away from Gail might have actually helped us both. The dynamic between us resembled a yo-yo. She wanted me at her side yet pushed me away. Relational stresses prompted me away more than once. After one breakup, once we were back together Gail confided that, not knowing where I was, she drove all over town looking. When she saw my van at friend Craig’s she was relieved. She then went home and was able to get some sleep.

At one of my meetings, I met a wiry old skinny man with a worn-out voice. He had the largest plastic coffee mug with a lid I had ever seen. The picture of him dwarfed by this coffee mug still conjures up a smile. He introduced himself as ’Hurricane.’ I soon found out about the appropriateness of this nickname. He could talk and talk and talk. None of what he talked about had much depth, he just liked to talk. He told me about his shrimp boat in the Keys, his CB handle and plenty of stories from road trips. One story was about when he drove nonstop from Florida with a load of fresh shrimp in the back of his Monte Carlo.

He wanted his nick-name painted on the back of this car so the truckers would know who they were talking to on the CB. In Gail’s driveway, I lettered his name in script on the trunk and created a little cartoon of a twister next to it while he watched. When Gail came out to see what was going on, she recognized him. I found out later that his wife had taken care of her grandmother for years. Now both his wife and her grandmother had passed away. He was glad to see Gail but those memories of his wife came back to promote an unresolved grief.    

The routine of half of every week at Vi’s allowed for a perfect segue prior to winter. This became time for a completely different range of tasks than I was used to from my circus days. I hadn’t been north for the winter since high school. The list of duties at Violet’s barn soon became endless when she discovered I had handyman talents.

Vi’s method was to get every aspect of what we were working on at the time absolutely perfect prior to going to the next step of the training process. When I finally became willing to have faith in her strategy, I began to see evidence of its value.

Vi never made an upper-level horse. Due to her thorough nature and the amount of time required, she never made it that high. A third level horse that performed in the upper percentile of test scores was as admirable a feat as she ever achieved. A horse needed a longer lifespan for her to get him proficient with the upper-level abilities.

One day, her head groom took me into the tack room to show me something. She pointed at her saddle. I saw the wear in the seat of Vi’s personal saddle. Two distinct worn places the shape of her seat bones told me her seat was impeccable. From that evidence, I knew her seat always maintained the same position. Vi had achieved perfection with the classic and proper posture in the saddle.

Once I set my sights on becoming just as proficient as she demonstrated and received all she had to teach, I became highly motivated to accomplish the stringent list of requirements she had for my aspiration to become a classic dressage horseman. The length of time invested, and her relentless attention to many miniscule facets of my demeanor with the horse became valuable.

The winter living with Gail required flexibility with my schedule due to the influence of nature that affected my ability to work outdoors. One day I was scheduled to make the drive from Jackson to Tristen Oaks. The sky grayed up and began a gentle spitting of rain as the temperature dropped. The result was a thin coat of ice on virtually everything. The sight of this ice on everything was beautiful. 

I actually attempted to start the trip in the old dodge but after slipping and sliding as I attempted to reach the edge of town, I realized the attempt to make the long trip would be dangerous. I returned to Gail’s and called Vi with the news.

I had to refrain from teaching my horse to bow while at her barn because she frowned on making animals do tricks. I secretly aspired to begin teaching him leg extensions and the passage but in order to remain in harmony with her strict criteria for my guidance, I refrained.

This training exchange lasted for eight months. We started in autumn. Our work progressed through a Michigan winter, emerged in spring and into early summer, during which the gelding named Souveran and I progressed into a harmonious working partnership.

The reason Vi had to cut off our arrangement was because the annual USDF Instructors Clinic was coming up and she needed room. Paying attention to every little detail of the task at hand was clearly the most valuable of the teachings acquired from Vi Hopkins. Paying strict attention and using diligence to apply myself with scrutiny has turned up in all areas of my life.

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