We had the great fortune of finding a new trout lake not too far from where we live. Stenvad Put & Take is gorgeous, particularly at 5 am on a summer morning before the heat begins to take.
The golden light coming up as the sun struggled to get over the horizon. The myriads of tadpoles disturbing the mirror blank surface of the lake. The birds singing their little throats out in the woods. The babbling of the brook that feeds the lake. Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.
The trout of Stenvad are fierce fighters. They proved that on our first visit about a month ago, where Alvin and I each managed to land one. They’re muscular fish, spending their time hunting rather than waiting for trout pellets. In a put & take lake, this is a pretty big deal. The water is clean, full of wildlife, and the fish are healthy.
The morning’s sole catch was this beautiful perch but that’s all right. When push comes to shove, I don’t go fishing to put food on the table. I go because I love the outdoors experience and the ambience. It’s one of the few outdoors activities I can take part in, in spite of my walking handicap. One fish, no fish, or a gazillion fish, it doesn’t matter.
This weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending one of Caroline Frandsen’s MindCare weekend courses, from Friday evening to late Sunday afternoon. MindCare is coaching in understanding yourself and your mental processes in order to make a positive change in your life, be happier, and let go of negative patterns. Some of the lessons are practical, on horseback, or on foot with the horses, and some are theoretical. Caroline is a trained coach in existential psychology and positive psychology.
Myself and Pilar sharing a bag of hay and the warm spring sun Saturday. I finally got her tail washed, dried, and resembling a tail rather than some sort of roadkill tacked on to her rump.
The course focused on stress and negative thought patterns, personal problems, anxieties, and lack of self worth. For me personally, my fear of riding after my bad fall in November was the big issue, but as should surprise few people, anxieties, low self esteem, and the feelings of chaos in the head when negative thought patterns take over are pretty universal. We were just four attendants so everyone had ample time to get their say in and not feel crowded or intimidated by the amount of people listening.
Walking around the arena at a comfortable pace. Pilar adjusts her walking speed to that of whoever is walking next to her. At the moment this picture’s shot, two other riders were returning and of course she had to look at them and not pay attention to what she was doing.
I’ve never been all that great at sitting on a chair so I enjoyed the outdoors one-on-one lessons where Caroline would be working with one person and the other three would be chatting, preparing horses, and exchanging life stories and ideas. It sounds so… mundane, we just walked around at a leisurely pace and talked, but somehow, the horses have an amazing amount of presence. You find yourself opening up and touching on things in yourself that you’d likely have kept well under lid in a living room. Horses are amazing therapists. Equine assisted therapy is a thing these days, and I can see why.
This is the view that greeted us Sunday morning. Snow in late April is unusual to be certain, and this amount to boot! Brrr!
Waking up to heavy snow Sunday morning was a bit of a surprise. Went out to grab Pilar early at 7 am so she could dry off before being saddled later, and I just couldn’t see her in the paddock. I whistled and she whinnied back but no horse. Then a snowdrift got on its feet and plodded towards the fence. Fortunately she loves snow.
Some of the one-on-one lessons were done out on the trail. I’m not brave enough yet for that, but with the sort of weather we had, I sure wish!
The gas heater in the cabin became very popular for warming up those poor riding boots frozen feet.
Pilar was on her best behaviour all weekend. Here she is offering a ride to one of the other attendants.
One of the little lessons Pilar had for me was very interesting as an example of how horses’ minds work. She likes me, of course. I may not be Alvin, the centre of her universe, but we’re pretty good friends all the same. When I try to mount her after my fall, she inevitably tries to step away from the mounting block. She stands rock still with everyone else.
Misbehaviour? No, she’s picking up on my fear and telling me that if I’m terrified of getting on her back, then hey, she can easily solve the problem. Stepping away means I can’t get up there and then I don’t need to be scared, right? Horses are amazingly sensitive and caring animals.
Would I attend another time? Hell yes.
I think I own the only purebred Friesian in the world who unabashedly sets a chocolate brown summer coat. My horse is such a non-conformist.
Pictures by myself, Caroline Frandsen, and other attendants.
This Saturday I got to live out a childhood dream: Fighting with sword and lance and shooting with bow and arrow at ridecare in Fredericia, Denmark.
Unlike in my wildest childhood dreams, I got to do it with real weapons (granted, the swords were wooden replicas) and on horseback!
I haven’t had this kind of fun with horses since I was fifteen years old and we Star Wars worshiping fan girls and pony riders fought out mounted duels on the ponies, using our dressage whips as swords (my Arabian made the best Millennium Falcon ever, and he was even white to boot).
Adding to the already amazing levels of awesome is that every horse attending was tacked in sidepulls or soft hackamore bridles; mounted combat, as turned out, is all about the booty, and the leg aids.
Our instructor for the Mounted Combat workshop was Lars Bossen, a Danish army captain who has spent most of his life studying various ancient combat techniques, including — but far from limited to — mounted combat with medieval weapons.
The first step of the workshop did not involve the horses. Before you can even try to coordinate all those limbs and weapons from the saddle, you need to be able to tell them apart on the ground.
Lars had brought three genuine metal swords to demonstrate; a Japanese katana, a European broadsword, and a Chinese footman’s sword. However, we students weren’t allowed to play with the sharp toys (this was probably a very wise decision, all things considered). We were issued a bokken, or wooden katana replica, each. The katana being a curved sword it is easier to draw and maneuver with on horseback — the same reason that cavalry sabres are, well, sabres and not straight bladed swords. Chopping the head off your horse in mid-swing is generally not what you’ll be wanting to achieve.
Lars walked us through the core principles of how to move with the katana in order to both protect your own vulnerable areas as well as following up with a counter-attack to the unprotected areas of the other guy. It’s both a lot harder and a lot easier than it sounds: The core concept is simple enough (hit him, don’t let him hit you), but once you get into it there are entirely too many legs and feet and arms and heads involved for things to stay simple.
We were walked through how to lop off someone’s head (or at least give them a generous concussion) with a downward, angled slash, with katana and lance both. After that, we proceeded to a crash course in shooting a short bow and arrow (complete with how to not peel the skin off your own arm with the bowstring, a lesson only partially mastered by Karin and myself). And then, finally, it was time to get the horses.
Lars had us do a brief warm-up after which we were given instructions. As a footnote, all the horses were ridden with bitless tack.
The trick is to steer almost exclusively with your seat and leg aids. You have the left hand on the reins to assist, but ideally, you should not even need that. Unsurprisingly, those horses who were already familiar with cordeo and/or liberty riding have it easier on this one. My poor Pilar has never tried either and was horrifically confused at first. In order to be successful, the horse needs to be steerable with the seat and legs as well as able to do a side pass and turning on its hind axis, preferably without hand aids. Horses that are trained in Western style probably have it easiest.
No need to panic, though: Lars helped us teach the horses to do the appropriate moves. Pilar didn’t quite get it all (she’s only three months into riding after all), so we kept our pace at a walk rather than the gallop that is the ultimate goal. No need to frustrate my poor girl, she’ll get better at it as she gets older and more educated.
The big finale was, obviously, mounted archery. You think hitting a target is hard? Try hitting it from atop a moving horse! Although, in honesty, while it’s a lot harder than it looks, it’s a lot easier than it sounds. The horses were fairly quick to figure out that they were supposed to move that way, allowing riders to focus on, well, shooting.
The sun was shining, the air on the sand paddock was scalding and dusty. Even so, spirits were high among students and mounts alike.
Having a big trough of fresh, cold water for both species no doubt helped. I think I poured as much water into my hair and shirt as I actually drank.
I’m happy to recommend this kind of workshop to anyone whose ‘inner Sioux brave’ deserves a day out to play.
Lars’ Horse Combat workshops are split into three basic levels (Basic, 1, and 2) and two times three advanced levels in combat and horseback archery competition respectively. Basic is what I attended, and one’s expected to have practised for a while before moving on to the next level (in order to get the most out of it).
You need to bring a horse and an open mind. The horse must have the basic skills — it’s typically lack of education in the horse that proves the greatest challenge on the Basic level (ask Pilar about that, she was clearly feeling challenged by so much new stuff in one day).
The horses should be calm and used to meeting new challenges. There will be waving of sticks and the sharp ‘thwack!’ of arrows hitting targets, both of which may frighten more sensitive specimens.
Lars likes to boast that he can take someone who’s never been on a horse or fired a bow, put him or her on a trained horse, and in one day, he or she can hit a stationary target in a gallop. I’m inclined to believe it.
Pilar’s struggling with the new concepts held us back the most — the horse is the one that really needs to keep track of its movements and what legs go where. Pilar’s only been under rider for some four months so she is quite excused for being occasionally very clueless — and now we have some solid inspiration for what things we really need to work on together!
On a finishing note: Sit back and enjoy gorgeous pictures of horses and riders having fun in the sun!
About a year and a half ago I was dancing around the living room because EA finally was releasing a new edition of their famous SimCity franchise. I bought the thing, I I gave it my very best, and at no time did I feel I was playing the game that got me hooked on video games to begin with, back in the mythical nineties when your mum was young and cellphones weighed four kilos each. We walked twenty miles to and from work, uphill and against the raging blizzard winds both ways and damnit, we had the best game back then — and EA completely failed to deliver on their updated, online version.
Paradox Games to the rescue. This month saw the release of Cities: Skylines and frankly, it’s everything I ever wanted, with additional tools for modders and fiddlers. It’s not even half the price that SimCity was, either, and there is so much more content, so much better simulation, so much better everything. Eh, the teeny tiny detail on the graphics might be a slight step downwards, but it’s not something you really notice a lot. The ability to add policies such as a ban on heavy traffic or free public transit to individual city districts blew me away — and I haven’t even got my town over 5,000 inhabitants yet after thirty hours of game play.
It ain’t easy. Cities: Skylines does not have the intuitive, here-let-me-show-you-to-do-this interactivity that SimCity prides itself on. You can access the wiki and tutorials from in-game via the Steam interface, and you will need to, more so if you never played the older SimCity games. There are myriads of little fiddly details that will make you face palm when you figure them out — such as your coal power plant needing to import coal if you don’t produce your own, and that ain’t going to happen if the truck driver has to fight his way through heavily congested traffic — and trust me, your citizens aren’t going to be happy when the power plants begin operating at lower output to preserve what little coal reserves they have left.
The Steam interface makes it easy to add and remove user created content. Users and Paradox both provide mods (that affect how the game is played and how things operate behind the scenes) and assets (ploppable or buildable things such as houses, highway crossings, cloverleafs, entire skeleton city districts…) Three days after release there were eight thousand mods and assets available for free, rated by users. Nom nom nom.
My only real issue at this time is the lack of documentation early on that comes from the wiki manual being user generated and driven. It’s going to take a few weeks before players have properly tested, understood, and explained how some of the more fiddly things work. All things considered, and more so how quickly I threw EA’s version away, I can live with that.