HOMEWORK

As soon as Jeff and his clan headed out the driveway, I picked up my cell phone and sent the photos I had taken of him to Noah’s former owner along with the missive: 
I need to talk to you about Nowheretohide as soon as you are free.”

My phone rang shortly thereafter.

“Hi!,” said Louise’s cheery voice on the other end of the line. “What’s up?”

“Did you get the pictures I sent of Noah?”

“Yes.“Is he ok? Who is that guy? He’s so big!

“Noah’s fine. But I have a story to tell you. Do  you have a minute?…”

“Sure.”

“Well, it’s a strange tale, but the guy's a football player from Minnesota who has his heart set on adopting Noah...” and I described to her Jeff’s visit the day before, my sending him away, only for him to come back an hour later to make a second plea.

“He was so keen to talk to me again that I obliged him,” I said.  “As I listened to his arguments and as I watched him speak,”  I told her,  "I became intrigued by him, by his passion and his persistence."

“I decided to let Noah have a say. I told Jeff to come back today so that I could see them interact at liberty in a round pen."

“Is Noah sound yet?  He can’t be adopted by anyone if he isn’t sound!,” Louise said , worried.

“Noah is almost sound. Or I should say almost “even.” He is still a little weaker on the left stifle but you can hardly see or feel it. The consistent work, herbs, and acupuncture have really made a difference. I’d give him a few more weeks on this regime. Then he ought to be good to go.”

“Well, he is not to go anywhere until you think he’s ready.”

“Oh, don’t worry!,” he won’t. “None of my horses do, and ESPECIALLY, not Noah!”

“Can Jeff ride?"

“Not, really,” I replied. “And Noah’s a hot horse! My plan was to use the round pen to show Jeff that they had nothing in common, but in less than two minutes Noah joined up with Jeff and followed him around like a puppy dog! So my next strategy was for Jeff to experience, in a safe way, how excitable and strong Noah could be to ride. But, that plan back fired, too. Noah was a perfect gentleman! It floored me and all of us who work at the Center. We couldn’t believe it!”

“So what did you do?”

“I called Jeff into my office afterwards and told him that he had won me and Noah over, but that there were two more hoops he had to jump through.

“And those are?"

"Number one: I had to call Noah’s former owner and get her approval. Number 2: He had to go home, ride five days a week, taking at least three lessons a week, do the reading assignments I gave him, and to call me every Sunday.”

Louise laughed.

“Oh, I told him he has to lose weight, too! 

“You think he’ll do all that?”

“I have no idea. We will have to see.”

“Well,” Louise said thoughtfully. “I’m ok with this plan, but only if and when Noah gets sound.”

“No worries. And let me tell you, if he does get Noah, your horse will have fallen into a tub of butter because this guy knows all about healing modalities: Massage, magnets, acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy—he’s done and does them all himself!”

After we hung you, I dialed Jeff.

“HELL-oooooo!,” Jeff boomed.  

“You on the interstate?”

“Yeah!”

“I’ve  got good news.”

“Yeah????”

“I just hung up with Noah’s former owner. She’s given you the green light-so long as Noah gets 100% sound, which I think he will….”

‘AWESOME!!!,” he belted.

“But you have to do your homework! You hear me?  Lessons? Reading? Call me? And LOSE WEIGHT!’

“YOU BETCHA! “

“Well, ok. Congratulations. I want to know who you select as a riding instructor and I want you to buy Sally Swift’s book Centered Riding. Read the first chapter. Look for paralells in football. I’ll expect a call from you every Sunday. We will talk about your lessons and your reading. Plan on coming back in five or six weeks.”

Jeff did everything I asked of him, leaving me a message the very next Sunday.

“Hey Susanna, it’s…JEFFY!”

“Jeffy?” I thought. How does a man that big go by ‘Jeffy’?!

“I am calling you you to give you the weekly update. I rode five times this week.…” 

And so began our regular phone calls. He started, as I had reccommended, on a lunge line, learning to master his balance and developing an independant seat. Every week, he shared his experiences with me: "I cantered today on for the first time. It was absolutely AWESOME!”  He did his reading. We discussed similarities between football and riding. I found myself looking forward very much to our calls every Sunday. Not only was his enthusiasm infectious,  but he had interesting observations and discoveries to share every time we talked.

“I am shocked at how similar riding is to football!,” he told me. “I had no idea how technical riding is. I mean trying to get a horse to go in a straight line is so hard, let alone in a round circle!  And cantering, well, cantering is so technical it was out of the picture for me for a while!” (Not that long I thought. Maybe three weeks on the lunge line?)

I was fascinated to hear of his comparisons to football. 

“Making sure you have "soft eyes” that technique that Sally Swift writes about, using your peripheral vision in addition to being able to focus on the thing in front of you reminded me of playing center. I needed to be able to take in the entire field and defense, while at the same time see and block the 300 pounds breathing down my face!”

Jeff told me about the importance of body stance/position in football and how, just like in riding it was the keystone of success.


“Sally Swift talked a lot about being balanced, loading one foot, shifting your weight in the direction that you want to go. Well in football—especially at the higher levels—your body stance, your posture and your balance are the building blocks for the offensive lineman. Offensive line coaches talk a lot about that. That was a concept I could really understand.”

“And if you are a wide receiver or a tight end or a running back or fullback you really need to have soft hands when catching the ball. That’s just like in riding!  You need soft hands so you have a happy horse and you are not jerking him or balancing yourself on his mouth.”

“Oh, and I have also found out first hand, that when you don’t employ correct technique, you fall off your horse. In football, if you don’t have the right stance, you will get knocked on your back!”

We laughed about that.  

“Yup, that pesky law of gravity will get you, won’t it, Jeffy?  Ever had any injuries?”

The list was impressive and included, along with the usual list of bruises and muscles strains, torn ACLs and MCLs, four screws in one knee, five screws and a plate in an ankle, a serious bone infection, and a dislocated heel.  And who knows how many concussions? No wonder at 28 Jeff had decided to hang up the football towel and to pursue an MBA.

“Why football, Jeff?”

“I started playing sports from a very young age:  Flag football, hockey, baseball, golf and soccer. When I was younger I was sure I would become a professional soccer player. At age 10, I played against Brazil and Egypt on the U10 USA Cup.”

“In third grade I went out for tackle football and after two practices, I quit. Soccer was my future. Then I got older, and by the time I was in 6th grade I weighed 206 pounds. It became increasingly evident that soccer was not in my cards! I was constantly getting yellow cards and red cards for running people over or for for them touching me and falling down.”

"So I moved on to golf and focused on becoming a professional golfer. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school that I found a sport that I was exceptional at based on what God has blessed me with: Football!"

"From high school I walked on to the University of Minnesota football team. When you are a walk on, you have to prove that you deserve to be there. So I worked longer and harder and more than my teammates. They’d quit and I’d stay in the gym. They’d take days off, I would train. After college I signed a contract with the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”

When people tell me I cant do something, I am so competitive, I’ll DIE just to prove them wrong.”

I knew something about that.

In the last week of August, just five weeks after his first visit, Jeff came back to the MMSC. He looked totally different.  He sported quadriceps revealing britches (“They are just like football pants,” he said), paddock boots, half chaps and an expensive helmet. He was thiner. His hair was short. What hadn’t changed was his excitement about seeing “his guy Noah,” and clearly Noah was happy to see him too. When Jeff came in his stall, Noah nuzzled him then stuck his head on his chest.

“You ready to ride?” I asked.

“You BETCHA!”

“Need a lunge rope?”

“Nope!


And he was right. Jeff rode Noah beautifully. They walked and trotted, circled and serpentined, halted and backed up. Jeff was so balanced  he could even do something he had envied his girlfriend Lauren for just several weeks prior: He could ride with both arms outstretched in front of him.




I was impressed.

“Go around the world,” I said, wondering if Noah would act up at all.

“What?!”

“At a stand still. Swing your leg over his hind end. Then to one side, then over his head. Don’t worry, I’ll hold Noah.”

And he did. Noah never flinched nor moved.

“OK. Now go back the other way.”

He did.
“Now lean back on his rump.”

“Now touch his ears.”

Now jump off!”

All of which he did.

“Well?” Jeff asked.

“That was amazing!” I replied. “I have never seen anyone make so much progress so quickly.”

Jeff stretched his arms up in the air.

“Can I have him?”

“Well yes…and no.”

“Huh?”

“Well, yes, because I think you have earned it and yes because Noah clearly has chosen you. But no, because you are still a bit green and Noah’s canter is still a little disorganized. It’s getting better thanks to his rider, Alicia, but it’s not confirmed yet.”

Jeff looked disappointed.

But, I brought a trailer with me!


“Don’t worry. He’ll be yours. You two just need a little more experience. I want to send you both off with every chance of success. Besides I would like you to come back to tell your story with Noah beside you at our fundraiser, Sips ’n Saddles on September 19.”

“I can do that!” Jeff said.

“And your trailer won’t go back to Minnesota empty, either. There will be a horse in it in....just not Noah!”

Cheery bye,
Susanna