A Short Inspirational Story About a Special Time in my Life
Harold & Rich Hammerlund were the two riding instructors I spent all my teenage years with learning English horsemanship. I loved it there, continuing as an adult, through the years I advanced to Dressage and Jumping. Harold was stern and loud, with an almost military type approach to teaching. He was tough, real tough, but an experienced horseman I grew to admire and respect.
Rich on the other hand was more on the quiet side, taught on horseback, on a white Quarter Horse, riding Western while teaching English. I have fond memories of the day he let me ride his horse for a class, nobody but Rich rode that horse, nobody. Which is exactly why I didn’t hesitate and swung a leg over that gaudy silver laced western saddle. I immediately felt out of place, yet comfortable. It was extremely awkward, I couldn’t feel the horse under all that heavy tooled leather, and I wasn’t at ease using one hand instead of two on the reins. I didn’t know why I was put on that horse in the first place, did Rich?
Harold, taught from the ground, seldom on horseback, but when he was in the saddle, it was usually a horse in training to be a school horse. He did have his own horse, a big flashy warm-blood, just didn’t use him for classes. Never really knew why.
The arena was indoor, nice footing, and quite adequate to accommodate a substantial jumping course. There were easily 20 horses in a class, and there was still plenty of room to canter freely. In the advanced classes I was taught Dressage, Drill Teams, and Jumping fences up to 4ft.
Above the arena was a second floor glass enclosed seating area for spectators. This was used mostly when there were indoor school shows.
The office was just off the arena, and the only place heated. It’s where I’d go to thaw out my frozen toes after a class in the dead of winter. It’s where I’d pay for the class and get a horse assigned. In time, I could pick the horse I wanted to ride. The longer I was there, the more perks I got, and it really made me feel special. For instance, on Sundays, after the last class, me and a friend were allowed to take a couple school horses out on the trail alone, all the way to Graue Mill. Sometimes, I went bareback on a big lazy horse named Pudge. I heard that horse lived to age 30, and stayed at Keith Line Stables long after it sold.
The outdoor arena had a simple wooden rail fence enclosure, was dimly lit, and was rarely used for schooling. It was used primarily for school shows, weather permitting. I have very fond memories of the shows and all the horses I rode. Especially one in particular, a 16+ hand flashy gaited Saddlebred named Sunday. He was so tall I had to use a mounting block to get in the saddle. As I think back, I don’t know how that horse ever made the school horse cut, lots of horse under the saddle, spirited, spooky, and unpredictable. That’s probably why I liked him.
Today, I was happy to learn Keith Line stables is still standing, has new owners, a new name, Oakbrook Stables, and is a private estate. Although it’s undergone renovations, still looks basically the same.
So what did I do with all those fancy Keith Line lessons in upscale Oakbrook, Illinois? Well, you might be surprised…
I haven’t stepped over an English saddle in 30 years. Sometimes when we are challenged to try something new it’s for a reason. Rich introduced me to something that would change everything… I just didn’t know it then, did he? Probably.
Change is often in disguise, accept a challenge out of your comfort zone, it might just be your personal invitation… to grow.