Friday, 3 October 2014

Oh, the humanity.

Because it has been a while since the actual events described below occurred in real life, I decided to peruse the bulletin boards to bring back to mind the challenges I faced at the time, by reliving them through others.

(Peruse - this has been one of my favourite words, ever since I mis-spelled pursue on a resume, and instead of pursuing new opportunities, I had written that I was perusing them. I got the job, and was never questioned about my interesting choice of verbs. And, with the way my career has gone, it is now pretty clear that this was not an error, but was actually psychic foreshadowing).

Question to be answered: Was the process of learning canter-walk-canter transitions really all that painful? Is anyone else out there making the same non-existent progress that I was at the time?

You COTH*'ers were no help whatsoever. The bunch of you have really migrated towards the practical and factual. "Where to buy saddle x". "Has anyone tried bit Y". "Do I really have to buy the shadbelly that makes me look like Bib the Michelin man with my biggest roll sticking out in the middle". The closest I found to anything that might start a multi-page, classical versus competitive debate was..."How are your green beans"



Why thanks for asking. Mine are totally delicious and ready for use in a Caesar. Or two. This is what happens when you sell your horse, folks. You find the time to coat things with vinegar and stuff them in jars, which then sit in your cupboard for years, and make your friends laugh nervously when you shove one in their drink and say "No, seriously. Your odds of getting botulism from my home preserves is really, sort of fairly low".

(Hey it is October - so here is a timely question. Which is more likely to kill you - Halloween apple with razor blade, or Fall harvest preserves made by your somewhat senile 90 year old neighbour. Hard call, isn't it).

So, I had to turn to Ultimate Dressage instead. I knew I could rely on them to shed some light here.

Bingo. Second thread. Eleven pages long. Seat aids for "canter to walk"

Wow. I have to admit I didn't make it past the first page. I felt my eyes rolling back in my head and had the urge to flirt with death by preparing and eating some low-acid fruit without a pressure canner to end the agony. My God. My pain has been relived. Mission accomplished.

And best of all, the totally incomprehensible descriptions of correct aids provided by the usual suspects on the ultimate board are being described in such a way that I presume the horse in question must already knows how to execute canter-walk-canter. Really, really freaking well, in fact, to decipher what the hell is going on as per UDBB*.

Which, as you may recall, I found a challenge about a year before this. And I had not really practiced since. And I was now trying to recreate this muddle of aids on a horse that had no clue what I wanted. (Welcome to my world, at least 80% of you have just muttered...)

But Curmudgeon - you had already shown training level by this point in time, and as I recall, got some halfway decent scores (intermingled with the nutty nutbar ones). How bad could your transitions have been? Did your preparatory steps up the pyramid not prepare you to develop great canter-walk-canter transitions seamlessly? 

Build! Build on your pyramid, Curmudgeon!

Answer - No. No can do (or could do, seeing as this all happened in the past).

Oh sure, for Training level, my transitions were just fine.  Halts were generally good enough for a six, or maybe seven now and then. They were sometimes "a little unsteady", or "not quite straight", or suffered from "off contact after halt". The biggest challenge was usually "not immobile in halt" which I told myself is preferable to way too immobile. Or, preferable to total lack of mobility on centerline, ever, at any point during "X-halt-salute".

The sequence of trot - canter - trot is really not all that bad to execute either, especially with the level of precision expected at training level. It is essentially every canter transition a hunter person ever does, even though they insist they are cantering in and out of the walk.

And don't even get me started again on the transitions contained "within the gait".. a.k.a the stupid stretchy circle or nose dragger walk exercises. Seriously, I don't even consider these "transitions" in the true sense of the word at all, but almost more exercises in obedience. Or, deception. For me, they usually involved shortening the reins without Ms. V noticing what was going on, until they were where they needed to be for me to put my leg on and go from stretchy into working without any steps of jigging. It was kind of more like playing Operation, or Wacky Wire at the CNE than actually executing dressage... eaaaasy...eaaaaasy now Curmugeon... creep those fingers forward - genntttly...don't touch the sides...

My brother could not half pass his way out of a paper bag, but he is one hell of a Wacky Wire expert. 

As time went on and I got more strategic in my training, they became drills - walking around the arena was free walk - collected walk - trot - working walk - free walk - extended walk - free walk - ad nauseam, mixing things up so much that Ms. V really had no hope of predicting what was coming next, and therefore had to wait for my aids. If I were a classical person, I would call this "correct training", as the horse should always be obediently awaiting your aids.

Personally, I like to think of it as a kind of equine mindfuck. Whatever.

Sorry, where was I.

So forgetting about these party trick transitions - even the jump from Training to First level just adds some lengthening transitions within the gait - but  the backbone of the test with respect to the between gaits transitions is pretty much the same. Trot - halt - trot - canter - trot - walk...

And we were ready for all of that, heading into the spring of what would be our show season #2, and our First level debut. But progress doesn't stop just because show season is here does it? And besides, if you are showing First level, you should be training Third, since one always wants to be schooling at least two levels higher than they are showing, right?  You are all doing that, I assume. Perhaps dabbling in changes and half steps, and whatnot, while also preparing to wow an r judge at a schooling show at First on the weekends. Right?

(Ha ha, ha, haa... people make me laugh when they say this. Because it is an oh-so realistic generalization for the average adult amateur showing First. Not).

Quite seriously, in my freakishly optimistic mind which had "one level per year" drilled into it by reading bulletin boards, there was absolutely no reason to slow down for us. We were not about to just hang out in a leg-yielding, canter-trotting rut perfecting our stupid stretchy circle. We needed to push on, and begin introducing the next elements on down the road in our journey.

And the worst of these elements was...by far. No comparison.  No contest.

Canter. walk. canter. And boy, was it ugly.

In fact, I contend that this movement is really, beyond sitting trot, beyond trying to morph the leg yield into something more shoulder-inny - is the reason people have trouble making the jump from First to Second level. Doing this transition well is really not easy. Well it wasn't for me in any case, and based on my scribing experience, it isn't for others either.

What it all boils down to, in my "what the hell do you know" opinion is that the real difference between First and Second level - the screaming, can't be faked movement - is the simple change. And the reason is that it requires both a level of finesse on the rider's part, and ability to collect on the horse's part that most of us will never obtain.

And, if this first stage of collection is not obtained, instead of that leaf like flutter to the ground, you get a mixed bag of propping on front legs, hopping behind, and a whole lot of equine WTF middle finger as you try to jam on the brakes as the horse is merrily cantering around the arena, doing exactly what they have done and gotten rewarded for for the last two years, starting the confusion in their little walnut brain. Then reapply the gas sending the horse blasting forward, and yanking on their face unintentionally as they do and you fall behind the motion, thus completing the confusion in the little walnut brain.

As the saying goes, perfect practice makes perfect. Perfect practice was most certainly not what Ms. V and I were doing together.

It is also not what coach Ritenau was doing when I watched her ride either, as she seemed to make no more progress with the exercise than I did. Why not, you ask?  Was she doing a poor job of trying to install this button? Or was I just fucking up any traces of the button so seriously every time I rode that my efforts totally obliterated any small amount of progress she made in my absence?

Hmm, good question. I don't really remember, and to be honest, I was probably so ignorant of what should have been happening at that time that I would not have been able to spot the faults in any case.

So, who knows.

The bottom line is that between the two of us, we set up the foundation for a horse that really, really hated canter-walk-canter transitions, and crashed down and blasted upwards if your aids were not perfect. Every time. Forever.

"Sit her back! She is croup high. You will never get a soft downward transition until her hind end is underneath her". 


Oh, the humanity.


*COTH - Chronicle of the Horse
*UDBB - Ultimate Dressage Bulletin Board























Sunday, 7 September 2014

I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my Grandpa (not screaming like the passengers in his car).

Actually, I forgot - one other transition has occurred. The one that actually brings to mind the horse world in some ways.

I bought a new car. I call it - Raging Bull (bonus points to the first reader who knows why.. yes it is red.. annnndd...).



I have learned a few things since this transition.

First - I have been informed several times since my purchase that Subarus are the automobile of choice for lesbians. And secondly, WRX STI's are the hot rides of many a 21 year old man/boy's dreams. As a result, I have left those around me wondering if I am switching teams, or gearing up to become an Uber-Cougar.

I will leave you guessing as well. There is of course a third option, that I just needed to buy a four door car for my job and decided that I wanted something a little more wild and crazy than the standard issue midlife SUV that my fellow women co-workers seem to be drawn to. But that option is much duller than the first two, isn't it.

The next thing I have learned is if you are a 40+ year old woman who suddenly on a whim decides to buy a 300+ horsepower car to toodle around the 'burbs... the same model that has just broken the Isle of Man TT race record for cars, driving an average speed of almost 120 miles an hour through crazy twisting turning roads and small villages, you hear a familiar narrative. You might recognize it from such places as, oh, your local dressage barn filled with catty middle aged women.

To my face, it is fine. "Oh nice car, I love the colour".  But I know what people are saying behind my back. If I had to keep my car at a car boarding stable, instead of in the underground parking garage... the chatter would go like this.

"I can't believe she bought that car. That poor, poor car. 

It will never reach its potential NOW! Even if she takes it to a track day, that car could go PSG and she will barely be able to putter around at first level with her driving skills.

Sure she can drive standard, but in a fake, false, spank-n-crank type of way. I bet she can't double clutch her way out of a paper bag when the time comes to really ask for the performance that car is capable of. She needs to drive Raging Bull FORWARD!  Not be riding the brakes into turns. Let it go!  Let go of it's face! (No, no, she shouldn't actually let go of the the steering wheel. I am speaking metaphorically here)"


It is weird, when I take my customers out to lunch, they never let me drive. Even though I have four doors now.


Even the guy at the dealership asked me if I really needed the STI, when I was unlikely to even push the base model WRX anywhere remotely near its performance limits. You know things are bad when a car salesman tries to talk you out of spending money.

So - yes. I know. I have officially become the automotive world's equivalent of a horse petter. The woman who buys the imported warmblood schoolmaster, and hopes someday to show Grand Prix. Or at very least, canter while not attached to the longe line.

Which I don't think is fair, really. Had I bought a 1992 AstroVan no one would have expected me to fill it with children and go to soccer games. Come to think of it - when you buy a $500 Quarter horse at the auction, no one scoffs and asks when you plan to herd cattle on the plains of Alberta. You are allowed to aim as low as you want without stirring up any eye-rolling. Just don't put on a show that implies you may someday achieve pretentious things that are far beyond any limits of reality.

But it has left me thinking a bit about the similarities between learning to drive a performance car, and learning to ride a performance horse as well.  For example, if the gold standard of a beautiful hunter round is to ride a horse that makes it look like you are doing nothing while the horse floats you effortlessly over the jumps, then I guess the car equivalent you would buy would be a big BMW M series sedan or something similar that is admired by your grandfather.

However, if you want to make it around the Isle of Man without T-boning a quaint stone wall and dying, it is all about lightning fast acceleration and deceleration and overall handling when things get hairy. In other words - it is really about the transitions.

Just like in dressage.

I have no idea what became of my test book during my move (probably collecting dust at Value Village with the truckload of other possessions I could not be bothered to cart along with me), but as I recall from scribing, the most often repeated whisper to the judge during a day of sweating your crotch off in long pants is "uhhh...mark for transitions?".

Judges often forget that they not only have to come up with a score and something pithy to say about the fact that the rider's extended canter looks exactly like their collected canter, and both closely resemble whatever plain old canter the horse in question is likely to offer up given his choice of gaits... but also must elaborate on the non-existent differences as the rider makes some sort of a show out of transitioning from one of these states to the other.

Transitions are big. And this is reflected in our dressage tests. Adding a separate line to score transitions enables the judge to ding you not only for doing things poorly one at a time, but also for the fact that you can't even string together your clusterfuck of errors with any amount of admirable chutzpah.

And, one thing that was becoming evident to me as I toiled away trying to move the dial on Ms. V's progress from training level to - uh - something beyond training level - was that although having a "sensitive", "hot off the leg", "responsive" horse is a lot more pleasant a lot of the time than having something that requires more effort to get rolling - doing a smooth transition with such an animal is a lot more difficult than doing them on a horse that breathes a little less fire.

You know all of that stuff about "timing of the aids" and "leg before hand" and "ride every stride"... well sure, you need to do all of that while you are cruising around every time you ride, in every gait, blah, blah, blah. However - the time that the fact you are no Anky really shines through the brightest (or am I supposed to say Charlotte these days?) is when your hot horse either flops on her face during a downward transition with not enough leg, or nearly bursts out of her skin during and upwards one with too much leg - or actually does both during one transition, as you try in vain to patch things up mid-way into your bumbling effort. There is just so little room for error.

There is a reason big, slow, lumbering old school warmbloods still have their huge fan base. They are just so comfy and easy to ride, and if you are not doing anything requiring split second reactions, they are really your best bet. Also, if you are showing any dressage level where the transitions can be "through walk", or even a level where they can't - but a step of something weird and tense looking is likely to be punished more harshly than an also incorrect lingering semi-comatose transition (and let me tell you - it almost always is) well, old Eis-Eis-Kindskopf the 25 year old Hanoverian is probably your best bet here too if you are dreaming of a brag worthy score.

Yes, yes, of course - you will be the one laughing when the time comes to teach your fire breathing dragon horse to piaffe or passage or do anything else requiring more go than woah. I know this, you are totally correct. Just keep telling yourself that as you read the comments on your first level tests through the tears.

Bottom line - transitions can really be a bitch on a hot horse.

As is the case with cars.

Ask yourself - when is the last time you saw grandpa stall his Oldsmobile at a stoplight, then be angrily honked at by 5 impatient drivers before he is able to get the sucker fired up again and herky-jerkily drive away, chirping his tires on the pavement as he pops the clutch and gives himself whiplash?

The answer is ..never. Ever.

Now ask yourself - when is the last time you saw Curmudgeon doing all of that while driving to the office in Raging Bull. If you happen to live in the GTA, the answer might be Wednesday.












Monday, 18 August 2014

Transitions...

Curmudgeon!  You haven't written in forever! Where have you been!

I am sorry, I know I should have called, or written, or kept in touch...my bad...oops...

I keep on saying this. I know you probably feel that the words mean about as much coming from me as they do when said by your self absorbed asshole friend from high school.

The one who routinely calls you when she wants to talk about her daughter's Mensa worthy intellect (incredible, really, for a 4 year old) or something else freakishly positive and brag-worthy. Yet is strangely mute-absent when you phone to talk about any positive event in your own life and says "I am sorry, I know I should have called, or written, or kept in touch...my bad...oops.." to explain why she never returns your calls...

But really I am. The problem is that I have been working on my transitions.

Actually, on second thought - you should count yourself lucky, I think, that I have not come on here to whine about each and every transition looking for your support and validation (as that other self absorbed friend from high school does, the one who wants to explain to you in detail how her slow descent from prom queen to crack whore status has nothing at all to do with her own personal choices, and everything to do with the world around her in general).

Anyway - it really is true, I have spent the last 6+ months transitioning many elements of my life.

Now as dressage riders, we all know the importance of transitions. Equisearch tells me they are "the secret to balanced riding".

We all know they should come from behind (No, not in a kinky porn way. Stop it). And downward ones should be light as a feather dropping to the ground. Maybe a leaf. (Under no circumstances should they be like a coconut or other large fleshy fruit dropping to the ground). We need to prepare-prepare-ask. To jump-jump-sit. Or any other triad of words that lights your fire and implies something other than falling into a heap of horse and rider unpredictably. Transitions must be energetic and instant. But not abrupt. And above all, your timing must be..*impeccable*.

(Great. As if anything in my life is or ever was impeccable).
I found this helpful guide. I have no clue what it means, however I am sure I have executed all of these transitions. Within one dressage test. At training level. 

So, you may now ask - what are these transitions I have been working on, and how successful was I with my impeccable execution?

Well, first - I no longer live at the idyllic (on the surface) 1/2 acre "country in the city" property that I have called home for the last 16 years, surrounded by quaint gardens and rolling lawns and quirky retired schoolteacher neighbours. I have transitioned to a small condo in my hometown.

This transition was executed with the kind of elegance and poise that one observes when watching an eight year old ride a sour school horse from walk to canter. While clinging to the horse's face and flailing their little legs around in some attempt at stirring up some forward momentum at the same time. Actually, I think this is called the trot-trooot-trrrrooot-geeetttt GITTT - cluck - cluck - cluck - GITTTT - cluck - cluck - GITT UP THERE (insert cracking longe whip and running coach here) CANTER transition. I executed this well, in a long and dragged out, painful to onlookers fashion.

What Curmudgeon! Your place was awesome! Who would give that up!

Yah, yah, I know. It WAS idyllic for the first, oh, 14 years or so. The problem was the final 2 years of the 16, that I spent mowing these lawns, and weeding the gardens, and shoveling the length of driveway that it takes to reach the back of a 1/2 acre lot during the never-ending winter of 2013/2014...all under the watchful (read - spying/prying) eyes of the quirky neighbours. One day I woke up with the nearly uncontrollable compulsion to slowly turn that lawn mower in their direction and run unpredictably right at them (perhaps while growling GITTT - GITTT!), and mowing them all to pieces. And hopefully taking down that fucking lemongrass perennial that someone gave me in 1996 without warning me about its impending non-stop invasive attack on all things soil covered in my yard on the way.

(Did you ever see the youtube video where the seemingly placid beaver casually turns and attacks a man's genitals?  (No, this is not a sick Canadian porn joke. It really happens) Well, kind of like that.  Imagine this beaver is pushing a lawnmower and that the person behind the camera is giving the beaver random, unsolicited advice on some aspect of its life. That will give you a pretty good idea of how I was feeling).


These neighbours are all in their late 70's or early 80's now, so I could easily tip them over and hold them down with my foot while making a few passes with the mower.

So far I am liking things in my old hometown, which is now nothing like my hometown since I haven't actually lived there since I was 18. But as I run through the streets (No, no. I realize the place is a little shiftier than when I left but I am not being chased. Usually. I am training for a marathon), now and again some tiny piece of the past shows itself and I feel like I am home.

For example - the Sword 'n' Shield with the grammatically incorrect Foxxes Den for ladies and Bottom's Up Cabaret for the gentlemen is long gone (Somehow "Foxxes" was spelled just so wrong it seemed artsy but I never got over the apostrophe in Bottom's. Did one of the dancing ladies within actually manage to purchase the club using the power of her impressive booty alone, such that her bottom actually had possession of the the "Up Cabaret"? ).  Where this all stood, there is now a clean and shiny looking Days Inn. If Sword 'n' Shield were a horse, we could say it has executed a transition of sorts.


I never cease to be amazed what you find when you Google random things.  Photo credit SSTUDIO Samuel Bietenholz 

But Sonny's Drive-In remains frozen in amber. Transitionless.
I actually never, ever ate here because urban legend when I was a kid indicated that they made their burgers out of cats. If they are still in business after all of these years, it must be a very delicious cat recipe so I think I should at least stop by and give it a try.

"Why Curmudgeon - why did you finally break into canter and start running after 16 years" you may ask?

Well, if you have read Eat Pray Love, or suffered through it in the form of a Julia Roberts movie, I am sure you can figure out transition #2, as it is really kind of a cliche for middle aged women these days. I will not be eating in Italy though (see above - Sonny's is in walking distance and I will save a lot on airfare). Being an atheist, I will probably skip the pray part altogether (although I must admit I do sometimes pray that that the loser in the condo next door will turn down her music and find a way to stop her dog from whining...). Love is yet to come, however I was contacted by a Peruvian millionaire on Match.Com and that is pretty close to Brazilian businessman as per the book. He had a faint aroma of catfish about him right from email #1 so I decided I was not ready to live the life of a South American princess just yet. Maybe next week.

Transition #3 - well, you know a bit about this one. Are you familiar with the application of the pulley rein to stop a horse that is madly running forward towards a cliff, or a barn door that is low enough to swipe off your head, helmet and all?  That is pretty much how this went down. WOAH - WOOOAHH - WOAAAHHH - please WOAH and make it STOP...

Ms. V has - finally - officially been sold to a new home. After 3+ years of trying what seemed like everything, and feeling as helpless at many steps of the process as the rider above feels while whipping around the arena applying that pulley rein, and with just as many railbirds yelling out advice (Soften inside! You are pinching with your seat! Sit back! Have you tried Parelli?)

It is a wonderful home where I know she will do well, and be loved - and it has been about 4 months now and I have heard not a peep from the new owner, and when it comes to horses, I am a big believer that no news is good news.

Hopefully I am not jinxing myself by typing these very words.

So, now you are back up to speed on today - and all I can say is that transitions are more difficult than they seem.  I guess I would have known this had I just done a search on COTH Forums*.  Apparently Podhajsky said you must do many - 50 a day or some shit like that - in order to master them. Whew. I am worn out after just 3 major ones.

But the good news is - sitting in the sun and drinking coffee on my balcony, with not a blade of grass that I am responsible for mowing anywhere in sight - I now have ample time to continue on with the story. Where were we again? Somewhere around 2007?  Level 1? Oh yes, it is all coming back to me.

And yes, transitions really were something of a concern at the time then as well.

*COTH - Chronicle of the Horse Forums










Thursday, 10 October 2013

Abracadabra... Half Pass. Welcome to fantasy land, population no one.

"Curmudgeon - seriously. Why did you even bother with leg yield?  The dressage masters don't. You should just move right into shoulder fore / half pass".

Yah, yah, got it. Thanks Anonymous. I read that book too. It was one of the toilet library collection, circa 2005.  And I do totally agree - just leg yielding around for the hell of it really doesn't serve a lot of purpose, other than impressing people who are very easily impressed.

And we all know, from a purely practical point of view, the reason we North Americans must bother with learning to execute a perfect leg yield (shoulder just slightly leading, steady angle and perfect rhythm all the way from K to X then back to H, just a whiff of flexion off of straight through the jowl)... is not for any reason relating to the mastery of dressage per se.

It is simply because if we hope to show 1st level, we are required to execute a generous serving of leg yield with a healthy side of useless nose dragging stretchy circle (which I have already bitched about, so I will save you the repeat rant here).

Stupid Stretchy Circle

And I would say for many Oragami Saddlepadders, this why the effort begins, and as a result is where the adventure ends. Because if this is your motivation - you really don't get what it is we are doing when we are teaching the horse to leg yield. And I am not saying this to be some superior bitch, because I don't think I did either.

If I get on someone's horse now, (after all of the time and money I have wasted in my useless pursuit to become a "dressage rider"), I would say the things that I am most amazed by is how many people's "dressage horses" don't go forward when leg is applied (and keep on going) - and secondly, how many horses do not move off the leg laterally when applied - two basic buttons that I can't imagine how someone can possibly ride their horse with any level of enjoyment without installing.  Well, realistically, I do know - I know because I did exactly this for many years - as the saying goes, you don't know what you don't know.

I think part of the problem is that - just as with the conundrum previously described as "psst...what is a half halt anyways, and can you help me find my clitoris" (The Half Halt) - for those of us coming to dressage after many years of doing some other sort of riding, taking a big step back to deconstruct what the hell it is we are trying to accomplish here as a "dressage rider" because really, we have no foggy clue - is embarrassing.

And coaches don't want to embarrass their meal tickets, and so as a team, we sweep this ignorance under the rug and try to muddle through with whatever level of competence shows up for the ride. "Good, Suzie, GOOD!  You had some steps there where Stormy was really crossing over (when he tripped and struggled to regain his balance as he sidled on over to the rail with his head cranked at that awkward angle)".


Nice, Suzie, NICE! I really like the level of activity, he is really stepping through.

Ideally, if the horse is in full training, the coach can work behind the scenes to secretly install these buttons and will only have to deal with the pushing of them by the hapless student. Wow!  Leg yield was a snap. On to half-pass...

However, since the majority of people who are stuck in the mud somewhere in the swamps of first level are not in full training - if no one takes the time to say "hey, maybe it's just me... but your leg yield exercise is looking more like a head tilting diagonal line exercise - just a crazy thought, throwin' it out there, brainstorming here - can you actually get your horse to move his quarters around at a halt - ever?  Dismounted? - In the cross ties? - Anywhere?"

(One of my favourite poorly executed exercises has to be the "spiral in / leg yield out".  Or, more accurately described in most cases, "spiral in /drift on back to the rail with horse's nose cranked to inside" exercise")

The whole reason leg yield is important - why it becomes useful for all of the reasons often spouted on bulletin boards etc. - is because if you cannot move your horse around - front / back / sideways - at will, any time, any place, bend in / bend out, no debate - you have no hope in hell of ever getting the horse straight. And as much as I like to make fun of the pyramid, this actually is pretty important.

So my advice to you, is stop thinking of leg yield as a "thing" and start thinking about the fact that your horse should move willingly off your leg, wherever it is you tell them to move.  And, if you are a smug classical dressage person, stop telling people that leg yield is useless an we should all move on to shoulder fore, because I promise you, if someone cannot make their horse move sideways in some obedient leg yieldy fashion, they are not going to be able to magically pull a shoulder fore out of their ass either.


You see, it is easy. Just keep the elbow macaroni in the trapezoids, and everything will be fine. 













Friday, 13 September 2013

Things seem to be going a little bit sideways...

And what exactly was it that was so rosy on the riding side?

We were finally starting lateral work. My very favourite work of all. (Incidentally, all of my moves at work tend to be lateral as well - coincidence? Hmm... I just don't know)

The good news is that beautiful half passes, once you learn how to do them and when mounted on a horse that is up for the task, are easy. Really. Nothing is more therapeutic to me now after a long day of doing whatever it is that I might do in a day that I don't enjoy than riding a nice tight little 10 m circle (no Bullit-esque fishtails)- shoulder in - 10 m circle - half pass (which you may recognize as parts of the beginning of our current PSG tests).

No No NO!  Weight should be on your INSIDE seatbone

Sure, it doesn't have the flash of a line of tempis. But whereas tempis have always felt lumpy and awkward and confusing to me (you have to move your legs and count for Pete's sake - too much like work), if you set up your half pass correctly (establish correct bend during your circle, sitting in the direction of travel, forward as always is key), and your horse has been schooled to know what the hell this all means, you just get to sit back and enjoy the ride, with only minimal pilot input required.

In fact, I would say that if you ever find yourself straining during a half pass - if you are ever swinging your leg so far back that you poke yourself in the ass while trying to get that aid "behind the girth"...if your saddle pad is all folded up into an intricate series of pleats like one of those towel origami things they put on your bed at all inclusive resorts in Cuba ...if your horse is doing a big beautiful, booming trot around the arena, but then decelerates to a dust kicking shuffle when asked to move sideways... you are doing it really, really wrong.  Just like lots of other people.

Honey! Look! Someone has been riding shitty half passes on our bed.  Isn't it beautiful!

I don't know why there is such a monstrous abyss between "beautiful lateral work" and "horrific sideways stumble with horse's neck cranked in some direction, and a toe out, heel in spur gouge".  But, being a horse person on the internet, I will take a stab at explaining something on which I have no true knowledge with an air of authority. It's what we do, right?

We have already covered several of the terms that you will want to include on your "things coaches yell out to clueless beginners" bingo card - things like "half halt", and "bend through the jowl" and "did you feel that?".  You will definitely want to add "leg yield" to a corner or two of your card, as it is always on the list of pithy advice that is barked at the riders of board stiff, dum-de-dum school horses as they plod around doing the same shit they have done for the last 15 years, with little regard for anything the rider may or may not be attempting to execute up above.

In fact, a quick surf of our favourite bulletin boards shows that the leg yield is such an important item on this bingo card that it is the go-to solution used to cure a wide range of problems that the average horse might face - and not just in the dressage ring either.  Bolting, overbending, failure to pick up a desired lead, inability to change leads, pulling on the bit, rushing through courses, falling souflees, impotence, crab lice - yes, having this one little tool in your toolbox can help you to turn just about any arab cross into Hickstead, if you just know when to apply it.

Which is great news.

The part that is a bit frightening is that when you actually look for information on "how to leg yield" - things get a little foggier. As with the half halt, there seems to be the perception that horses and riders are born with the innate ability to move smoothly sideways at just the right angle, shoulders leading slightly. Very little time seems to be dedicated to explaining to the rider - or the horse for that matter - exactly how the hell this is accomplished.  As a rider, you are just supposed to magically know where to sit, pull, poke - and when.

I do think most of us can blame this on our origins as hunter / jumper riders, because I don't think there is a h/j person out there who will believe you if you tell them "your horse cannot leg yield", just as 99% of h/j people bopping around with draw reins or a chambon clipped to their pelham think you are just being a catty DQ if you announce that their horse is not really "on the bit". (And come on, you kind of are. Polite dressage riders avert their eyes and shut their mouths, then slam their h/j friends on bulletin boards). 

But the truth is - most of them can't - well, not in the dressage sense of the word in any case.  And I don't think anyone notices or cares.  I once attended a BNT hunter clinic where a group of about five 12 year olds on sour faced ponies were instructed to "shoulder in down the long side".  Hey, call me a Curmudgeon but I think his request was a tad on the optimistic side - or conversely, on the "what the hell, it is a clinic and I will never see these people again, let me throw out some juicy instructions to wow them, who cares if these little wanks even know what it means" side. You can pick.

So - if like me, you have this foundation in place, and you come from a world where as long as your horse was drifting somewhere in some fashion, while you pulled on a rein or dug in a spur, you were deemed to be "leg yielding", and crab stepping up the long side was "shoulder in" - you may find lateral work to be a challenge at first. Just like connection. And sitting trot, and ...and...and...and...(insert various aspects of dressage here).

Now I am not saying that there are no tips at all on the internet to help explain the mysteries of the leg yield.  For example, I found a site that promised to teach you how to leg yield in 14 easy steps.  Here is an excerpt:

With your core muscles, lighten the seat bone which is on the hind leg that you want to cross over. For example, if you are leg yielding to the left, lighten your right seat bone by scrunching up the right side of your core, making sure that you keep your upper body straight.

A-ha. Makes perfect sense, no?  In my books, this advice does get points for using the key dressage words "core", "lighten" and "seat bone" all in one sentence, along with the no doubt classically inspired term "scrunching".  You don't see that every day. I must also point out that this was not the first step in successfully executing your leg yield - it was somewhere down near number 14.  There were other preparatory steps early on, such as #2 - mount your horse.  Huh. Good tip. 

Now after that -if things start going a little sideways - well, we will know it is working.

P.S - Happy Friday the 13th!


























Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Now the barn owner don't mind.... and the boarders don't mind... Please, please stay, a little bit more.

And so, with Regumate and a box of rubber gloves on order each month, finally the clouds parted, the sun shone down, and happiness reigned at Lana Acres. Dr. Lana loved Ms V, now that she was a squeal free, fatty weiner dog eunuch horse. 

Right?

Cue the Angels! Cue the Angels!



Not her again. Is she for real?

No, of course not. 

Over the next year or so I stayed at Lana Acres, and my horse managed to somehow stay, unloved, at the bottom of the pack. 

She apparently could not get along any other horses - so only got turned out with the crustiest old gelding, in the paddock with the manure heap (while other horses frolicked in rolling green hilly feilds). She cowered fearfully in the corner and was a pain in the ass to get out the gate without a whip in hand to keep Alligator Face from attacking during our escape.

(She has since been on group turnout with many different mares - even on 24 hour turnout at one point in time - without incidence).

I arrived one day to find the clip on my halter wrapped in duct tape because it was "impossible" to get the strap over her ears, so only the buckle on the crownpiece was to be used - who knows what happened to inspire this judgement, but I removed the tape when I moved to a new barn, and everyone has used the clip ever since.

And so on. So forth. Dr. Lana just had a dislike of my horse that never quit.

The upside was I noticed a really big difference in the way she went under saddle on Regumate!  Wow!  Oh wait, no. That's wrong. I am confused again.  There was absolutely no difference in her way of going under saddle at all - she was still the same old "good some days, goofy others" horse that one might expect when riding a 5 year old.

The real only difference I noticed was in the amount of money I was forking out in vet bills - the Regumate was costing over $200 per month.

But hey!  Being the eternal optimist that I am, I must say there was a few perks associated with this whole debacle. On the plus side - when the day came to rationalize the cost of my move to a full training barn, this $200 was like a justification bargaining chip - I could spend it on the "training" part of training board, instead of as some freaky offering to appease the Gods of Lana.  Totally makes sense, right? 

Also on the plus side - when we hit the "progress up the levels" wall with Coach Ritenau, pinpointing the cause was a little quicker than it otherwise would have been. Once we bought the new saddle and tried the Bowen Therapy - we saved a few months in the process of systematically investigating  "reason your horse is not progressing that have nothing to do with the fact that I am not experienced enough to help you move to the next level" since we already had "maybe her ovaries are sore" covered. 

I said it before and I will say it again - "silver lining, every cloud".  Have another glass of wine if you don't see it.  It is there somewhere.


Dinner's almost ready, Ms. V


Curmudgeon, you moron. Why - oh - why did you stay?

Well, you have to remember that although Ms. V was not a favourite - Dr. Lana wasn't exactly giving anyone else a free ride either. And all in all, this made for a pretty pleasant riding experience on the human side. 

The other boarders were all very normal people, because the blowhard, know it all weirdos got kicked out in short order.  And it is worth at least $100 in Regumate to me to not have to deal with weirdo boarders after a long day of dealing with weirdo pet owners. 

There were a few neat and polite teenage girls who were pretty much always accompanied by their moms, who were almost my age and were a pleasure to spend time with while laughing and grooming. There was another woman in the same age bracket who was working on backing her dream horse, a Lusitano she had bought in utero - who was also fun and funny and made evenings at the barn enjoyable. 

Dr. Lana herself was also great to shoot the breeze with - the same no holds barred honesty that she brought to telling you your horse was (insert negative horse characteristic here), she brought to all of her conversations, which sounds bad, but is actually very refreshing.

All and all- once I made it through the gauntlet of control freak barn owner-isms, I really liked Lana Acres

I think sometimes along this horse journey I have lost sight of the fact that the horse and I are in it together - A barn where the horse is perfectly happy but I am not enjoying my hobby is no better than one where I am enjoying myself and the horse is miserably cowering on a manure pile being and bullied by Alligator face. Sorry to depress you, but you must add the challenge of finding a barn you can both stand to the almost impossible mix ... trainer, horse, ability, money, barn free of wackos...

(But seriously, I do think Ms. V has gotten the better deal most of the time.  I have put up with a lot of wackos).

And - for the most part - her training was coming along very well at Lana Acres. I felt that we had successfully made the leap from "Green Horse" to "Green Dressage Horse", as in, someone watching from the sidelines could probably tell where we were headed, even if we still had a long way to go. It would have been hard to give up on the situation at this point in time, when everything under saddle was looking so rosy.





Saturday, 17 August 2013

I think I am slowly losing my marebles.

Ok team. I am feeling energized to write today.

Finally, after humming, hawing and generally being a whiny little down in the dumps "why me" sap about my horse situation since January, I filed a small claims court claim against the people who I am alleging broke their lease-to-own contract with me. I have my "Settlement Conference" date in October.

Am I the pig?

Or the person who shouldn't wrestle with pigs, because you only get dirty and pigs like it?

Well, if George Bernard Shaw was here I would tell him I am not really sure. I do know I have paid  the equivalent of a month's worth of board to have mud slathered on me and be wrapped in saran at a foo foo spa in Quebec for a week - and it was pretty fucking fine. Granted his time the slatherer will be barking at me in a German accent, not coooing softly in French... but I think I might enjoy it just as much.

Will the courts see things my way?  I have no idea (again, at this time - I am alleging - judge could decide I am delusional). But win or lose - it is time to go Sandra Dee again. I am happiest when the bridges are a-blazin. Turning the other cheek has never been my strong suit, and giving it a go this summer has just been really draining.

Curmudgeon! No one is EVER going to want to do business with you again if they find out you took someone to small claims court! Bad move!  Everyone is going to think you are a money grubbing nut!

Yah, maybe. So be it. That's how I roll.

But - as my very favourite song lyric of all time goes... "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose". I am free.  I am enjoying having my horse back, at a small stable, no trainer, no lessons, no pressure. I tried the high commission, high profile, high price sales route - and it flopped miserably. I have now come to terms with keeping her forever. Or, alternatively - should the absolute perfect person walk through the door with a few bucks in their hand and a starry look in their eyes that says "I dream of someday riding a flowing halfpass"- dropping her price to a mere mortal level to make their dream come true if it suits me.

I have nothing left to lose.

Yah, yah...I know, I know. You all knew this would happen, even though I keep insisting I want to sell her.

I just can't quit you, Ms. V

So!  Long story short - I have to make this Long Story short so I can someday report to you on "SCHWEINWRESTLE FEST 2013". Exciting, isn't it?

Where were we. Mare acting like a mare. Barn owner acting like no other barn owner, past or present.

Curmudgeon! Please tell me that you packed your things and got the hell out of there!

No. No, I did not. Why you ask? Did I have a screw loose?  Had I lost my marbles?

Perhaps. To this day, I can not explain to you why insisting that I find a way to transform my normal, hoochie mama mare into a female eunuch seemed to be a reasonable request, and why I did not just thank Dr. Lana for her time, pack my things, and leave.

However, I can assure you that what I had certainly not lost was my Marebles. I had ordered them on the internet for the low LOW price of only $18 dollars each.



What, pray tell are Marebles, you ask?

Well, I don't know all of the details, so be forewarned - my story may not be entirely accurate (surprisingly enough this event is not covered in bible, which was kind of the National Enquirer of the day as I understand it). Apparently, once upon a time, long ago... a camel driver sitting around waiting out a sandstorm blasting though the Sahara (or doing whatever it is that camel drivers do during their down time) got really bored.  So bored in fact, that an interesting thought crossed his mind. "I wonder what would happen if I shoved an apricot pit up my camel's hoo-hoo"?

(Maybe I just have a warped mind, but I suspect this is probably not the first thing a bored man in the desert shoved up his camel's hoo-hoo.  But that is another story all together).

Well lo and behold, as legend would have it - the camel drivers found that camels with apricot pits in their uteruses (what is the plural of uterus? Funny, I don't think I have ever attempted to use this word before in my life) no longer exhibited signs of "oh hot, baby, hot for you" estrus.  Which was a good thing, I totally get this. I can see how being trapped in the desert for a month or two with a whole camel drive full of hormonal female camels living together and fighting over the male camel would be a bit tiring.  Kind of like "The Bachlorette" for camels.

Anyway, fast forward to today - although we have modern medicine and technology, somehow the idea that "if it is natural, and has been done for thousands of years - it is better than anything your so-called "science" comes up with" prevails.

Enter - the Mareble.  A clean, shiny, autoclavable version of the apricot pit, ready for implantation into your mare's uterus, which apparently works to supress estrus naturally.  (Well, as naturally as having something other than a foal shoved in your uterus can be, in any case).  So, whereas the obvious solution from a vet medicine point of view was a daily dose of evil, pharma generated Regumate, which is tried, tested, true (as in "truly expensive", as with all horsey things it seems) - if you love your horse in a natural, holistic, way - you knuckle down and get out your aggies.

Of course, Curmudgeon - it is an IUD for horses!  Why wouldn't it work!

Oh come on now. We all know why it would not work. Because nothing in the horse world is ever simple, effective, and costs only $18.  That really should have been all of the information I needed to reject this treatment as a possibility.

But I did look into it a bit more. A girl can dream, can't she?

And, what I found basically eliminated the Mareble from contention.

Sure - it is kind of an IUD for horses, and IUD's do work in people. The only difference is that effective IUD's for people are coated in birth control type hormones or copper that fucks with the sperm's minds.  Perhaps their mere presence in the uterus does have an effect as well, but they are not just blobs of inert glass that show up and say "Ta Da! Bet you think I am a baby!"  So really on further inspection, they are kind of nothing like IUD's in humans, other than their place of residence.

Next - I did some research and found that while natural, holistic, bulletin board prone people insisted that Marebles were a valid alternative to proven science - they also reported that Marebles seemed to emit strong waves of placebo effect that worked well to control heat cycles throughout the winter, but that they strangely seem to lose their power as spring approached. Or worse still - that they did horrible damage to their horse's reproductive tracts.  Or were impossible to remove, without doing horrible damage to their horse's reproductive tracts.

So, although they were beautiful and fun to play with - I did not try the Marebles route.

Since this time a lot more research has been done into "The effect of intra-uterine devices on the reproductive physiology and behaviour of mares" and as far as I can tell, the jury is in - it doesn't work.  

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19709909

That said - if you are a bored camel driver in the Sahara looking for ways to pass the time and your friends catch you elbow deep in a camel - I think you could still save face by telling them you are implanting an apricot pit in her uterus. It is worth a try.