“At the top of the platform, Ketzler places his left hand on Snowy’s mane and his right hand on the back of his saddle. He puts one boot in Snowy’s left stirrup and counts. One. Two. Three. In a single, improbable motion, Ketzler throws his right leg over the saddle and into place. Immediately he sits up straight and grins. ‘Feels good,’ he says.” ~ Casey Logan, Omaha.com
I couldn’t help but smile after reading about this 89-year-old Cavalry horseman. Not just because he is inspiring, but because he reminded me of another horseman I knew who taught young riders to ride like cavalrymen, decades ago. Back in 1979, at the age of 12, I started riding at the MCDEC Stables at the United States Marines Corps base, in Quantico, Virginia. One of the advanced instructors at the stables was Major Meek, a retired US Marine. I never knew his full name, or his background as a horseman, but he was a man of few words, a talented rider, and while he’d bark out orders like a drill instructor, he was the type of teacher for whom you would ride your heart out, to the ends of the earth.
Rarely with advance notice, some days I’d show up for my lesson and Major Meek would bellow out for all riders to tack up and present within the half hour. He then would lead us into the woods, for extended trail rides. But these weren’t just trail rides; they were my first exposure to cross country riding! The base stables used the trails within the woods that were adjacent to the areas where the US Marines trained.
Crossing ditches, popping over whatever logs appeared in your path and a naughty gallop over the greens of the base golf course. I swear to this day, even from the back of the line, I could sense Major Meek grinning ear-to-ear when he lead us across the perimeter of the golf course; it had the best ditch jumps! Officers on the greens cursing us as we rode our horses back into the woods! When the artillery went off – BOOM! BOOM! – the horses would buck and bolt. Nothing better to teach a young rider quick reaction time and how to learn to stick to the saddle! So imagine my thrill, years later, when I learned about Eventing, that there was an equestrian sport that involved the cross country thrill! I still think back to those fond memories of cross country rides with Major Meek, whenever I’m on a trail, or riding a cross country course. Good times!