I'm delighted to introduce Sherry Ackerman as our guest blogger today. Sherry is the author of Dressage in the Fourth Dimension. Here's a wonderful piece about her world and her wonderful horse, Lippy!
Guest Blog by Sherry Ackerman
My love affair with Lippy started about 10 years ago when I was having breakfast with Arthur Kottas who was, at that time, Chief Principal Rider at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. We were breakfasting at a gorgeous Viennese café when news came that there were some Lipizzaners for sale…cheap….in the Pacific Northwest, USA. It was a distress sale and, if anyone were interested, they needed to move quickly. Well, here I was sitting in Vienna, home of the Royal Lipizzaner, so the synchronicity seemed meaningful. I asked to see the pedigree and, when it arrived via FAX, Herr Kottas confirmed that one particular mare had outstanding breeding. There was a small, color photo in which she looked rather attractive. I’m a gambler (if I wasn’t, I really couldn’t write books!) so I decided to take a chance. I wired money back to the States and made arrangements to have her shipped to my home in California just after my return date. It seemed like a good plan.
I waited excitedly for the van to pull up on her arrival date. When it did, I could barely contain myself….that is, until the cowboy who had been the driver announced “Good luck, Lady!”, unloading the skinniest, dirtiest, rankest horse that I had seen in a long, long time. She was skin and bones, her feet hadn’t been trimmed in a dog’s age, her coat was matted and dull. When my husband first saw her, he said, “Sherry, why did you buy such an ugly horse?” And, not only was she ugly, but she was mean….really mean. She bore her teeth and went after anyone who tried to come near her. I sat on a fencepost and contemplated the situation. Well, this was clearly my problem because I now owned her!
It didn’t take long to figure out that the photo I had seen of her had been taken some time ago. She had never been started under saddle nor in harness. She was just a big, rank mare and that’s where the buck ended. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. Some days the most I could do was walk through her paddock without her charging, like a bull, at me. It took months to get a halter on her. Even feeding her was dicey. There were days that she was so ill tempered that I just tossed the food over the top rail of the fence into her paddock. But, not being adverse to pushing rocks uphill, I just kept at it. I felt like I was living the Myth of Sisyphus.
Here she is today…my very best friend. I’ll always remember the day that I call the “turning point”, when she began to trust people and try—just a little—to cooperate. Today, she is the gentlest horse that I own. I trust her with anyone, anytime. She’ll pack a beginner around or give an experienced rider a perfectly balanced canter pirouette.
One of the things that I realize about myself is that the story of Lippy is, to some degree, a snapshot of how I operate. For better or for worse, this is how I write, as well as how I buy horses. I can always feel a “book coming on”. I might be having coffee in the morning and, all of a sudden, I feel the Muses stirring. It’s just there…a sense of urgency and enthusiasm. It always seems like a good plan at the time. Some people might consider it impulsive…and they’re not entirely wrong about that. I start scribbling things on scraps of paper and the more I scribble, the more I feel a stream of ideas. It is chaotic. It isn’t entirely rational. It is the creative process in its most raw and unformed sense. Like those first few rides on Lippy, it can get pretty rough…not really knowing where the ideas are going, but just staying with the motion. Then, at some point, reality kicks in and I have a good, hard look at what I’ve written. It can be ugly. It’s as if that cowboy is right there, saying “Good luck, Lady!”. But, again, taking Sisyphus as my model, this is when I get down to the technical aspects of my craft. I roll up my sleeves and get to work. I coerce my colleagues to read the drafts, try the material out on my students…in short, work at infusing the process with some fresh ideas from outside of myself. Sometimes the feedback is right up there with getting bucked off. Then, it’s about picking myself up off of the ground, dusting myself off and getting back on with it. This is always the “turning point”—the place where the creative chaos integrates just enough order to keep the manuscript balanced on that delicate precipice between exciting and safe. It has to be safe enough that my publishers won’t freak out. They remind me occasionally that I am not Friedrich Nietzsche. But, it also has to be exciting enough to a strong build in the book trade. My new book, Dressage in the Fourth Dimension (New World Library, 2008) has turned out just like Lippy. It’s sweet and gentle…yet strong and powerful. It’s pretty, but it’s also pointed. But, I think the thing that contributed the most toward its being a success was that I was able to get it written without breaking its spirit….just like training a horse.
Sherry L. Ackerman