Memories on horseback

I suppose the closest I’ll ever come to attending the Kentucky Derby is by watching it on TV. What I do have are precious memories of having attended Major Makarenko’s Riding Academy in Cosmopolis as a young girl. And those are enough to last me a lifetime. Major Makarenko was the absolute epitome of romance for every female that ever attended horse riding lessons. To be honest, I didn’t really like horses or riding all that much, but I wouldn’t have missed a riding lesson unless I had a broken leg. Which mercifully never happened.

First of all, he had been a Major in the Calvary for Czar Nicholas and had fled his native country after the Russian Revolution. Point number one for romance. Next, he always wore proper riding gear and carried a riding crop. Swoon! Being a military man, his posture was upright, and he could sit a horse like no other. I was quite young and very impressionable, and Major Makarenko was as unattainable as a Hollywood movie star. It wasn’t until I was much older that I understood why my father got such a chuckle out of the fact that Major Makarenko had two housekeepers but a very tiny house. He had great admiration for the Major. I needn’t explain any further.

The Major came from The Steppes of Russia. To this day I think of the geography of the Steppes region as being very flat, with long expanses of barren soil, then a step that took you up just a bit, before the next long expanse and step. I know, I still have a very literal mind. But back to the romance of the Makarenko Riding Academy. There was an enormous building called a Gymkhana where our lessons took place. It probably wasn’t as large as it seemed, but it was big enough that 10 horses could easily canter around the ring and not be too close. We would line up our horses in single file facing the major, who would be seated on his majestic steed. Sigh.

Exercise time came first, and these must have been routines used to train riders in the Russian Calvary. Our saddles were small English saddles, so there wasn’t a lot to hold onto. The Major would bark orders and we would dutifully fling our legs across the horses back, turn around in the saddle, lean under the horse, and practice falling off. I seem to recall quite a bit of falling off, and it certainly wasn’t all on purpose. The horses had immense patience with us, and I am sure that they were every bit as infatuated with the Major as every one of us girls.

I never got to be a very good rider. It’s much better for my illusions to stay away from stables. I prefer to hold onto the glamorous part of horse riding, which is why the Kentucky Derby epitomizes the equine world for me. Mint Julips, stunning dresses, big hats, elegant dining- and oh, yeah, the horses run really fast around the track at some point.

Major Makarenko left his entire property to the City of Cosmopolis. All 39 acres are beautifully cared for, with over 2 miles of pathways for walking, biking and jogging. I’m a much better bike rider than I ever was on a horse and am grateful that the trails are permissible for biking. Like most of our parks in Grays Harbor it is a glorious jewel, abundant in trees and lush plants, free from any sounds of traffic, a world apart. It is the perfect gift to all of us from a man who traveled halfway around the world to make his new home in our corner of Paradise. Pack a picnic lunch and spend a day in the park. If you close your eyes tight and let your imagination wander, you may see a trim and gallant figure gallop across the meadow. Give him a salute for me.

Barbara Bennett Parsons is manager of the Grays Harbor Farmers Market in Hoquiam, which sells organic carrots for your favorite horse.