Saturday, 31 December 2011

Know when to Hold em. Fold em. Run.

Now where was I...

Horrible videos, Horrible pictures, and ho-hum Canadian Sporthorses.

I clearly needed a bit more strategy to my search.

Although the platypus had not yet sold, I knew that I would be lucky to get $5000 out of the whole deal by the time it was all added up.  I had a little bit of savings to spare, so realistically, my budget was $10,000 tops.

Leave a bit of negotiation room in there - I was looking at things listed under $15,000 that could potentially be negotiated down to $10,000. Or much less, even better.

Which eliminated:
Anything "imported"
Anything with two "imported parents"

(= So fuck off and stop asking me if I have been out to Charlot Farms yet)

It also eliminated the possiblity of paying comission to a dressage trainer to help me find the perfect horse.  There just wasn't a dime to spare.  Well, actually it was about the money and also about the fact that I hadn't yet located one that didn't make me want to drive a spike through my left temple.  And add to that the fact that they would likely insist on me finding something imported or with two imported parents, which would take care of the spike through my right temple.

"Oh but Curmudgeon, by paying for expertise up front - you will save yourself money and heartache in the long run"

Yah, whatever.  Bite me.

Now don't get me wrong.  Remember that I was not a newbie to the equine world, I had been riding all of my life.  If you don't actually know anything about buying horses, hiring someone knowledgable to help is definitely the way to go, I am not poo-poohing this idea in theory.  But in a lot of ways, it is like reading "How to win at Blackjack" before heading to Vegas.  You will give yourself an edge by knowing that giddily yelling "hit me" with two tens in your hand is probably not a great idea, unless entertaining your friends with your stupidity is your goal (and that can be fun too, I am not knocking it).

No, seriously - this one is not an ad.  Stop clicking it!
But the bottom line is - who the hell knows how your horse is going to turn out, especially when you are buying a two year old.  If Vegas were easy and predictable, we would all be laughing with our friends tossing about $80,000 worth of poker chips while driving home from Vegas in our father-in-law's smashed up convertibles, happy as clams even though we slept with hookers while drunk and even though we know we are going to be late for our weddings, at which we will smell like unwashed ass when we do finally arrive. 

If choosing unstarted youngstock was simple, fabulous Grand Prix horses would be everywhere instead of only being owned by a handful of olympians (and thousands of classical dressage people who just don't believe in the evils of competitive dressage, and therefore keep these horses hidden in their backyards). 

So, long story short - I decided to cheap out and not pay for the "advice of a dressage pro". Instead, I enlisted the help of some experienced hunter/eventer friends who, while they were not "dressage professionals" did know how to spot a sound horse with good conformation.  They were also familiar enough with my riding ability to be able to tell me if the temperment of the horse in question was a good match, or if I were likely to die quickly.

And really - if you wind up with a horse that is realitively sound and not all that deadly, you are doing better than 85 - 90% of the people I read about on bulletin boards.  So this is no cakewalk in and of itself.  

But I didn't just have my team of hand chosen experts at my disposal.  I also had the internet of course.  No, no, don't panic.  I didn't start posting "what do you think of this horse" critiques on bulletin boards.

(Don't you love these? I decided to take a walk down memory lane and see if I could locate one to read and refresh my memory.  Yep, didn't take long - there is one on Chronofhorse right now - 7 pages with "update - post 106!"  Complete with the "yes! that horse is perfect!" "NO that horse is shit" and plenty of rationalization on all sides.  Fun!  Not!)

This time, I tried something different.  I started watching videos - primarily Anky and Bonfire, winning assorted things.  And from this, I formed a picture of what I wanted my next horse to look like. I was looking for something MODERN - leggy, lean and spidery.  With lots of knee action.  (I tried not to get too depressed by the fact that Anky is leggy, lean and spidery too, not sawed off and hammered down like yours truly, and perhaps this contributed to the overall elegant picture.  To make myself feel better, I watched Isabelle now and then.  She has an ass more like mine). 

Yah, seriously. Who wants a Rio Grande x TB clunker for $25,000 anyways.  Pfft. Rationalization, you are my best friend.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Or.. Festivus for the rest of us... whatever.  I am not here to debate.

Thanks to all of you for reading my blog in 2011 - see you in 2012!

Hey.. don't I know you from high school?

Way back in the day when I was 16 or so and thought I was cool, I needed some spending money to play the part.  And so, I passed my time on the weekends mucking stalls at a Thoroughbred farm.  (Acid washed jeans don't buy themselves, you know).

Yes. I was livin on a prayer. And some alcohol, I think.

It was a fun enough job I suppose, and gave me valuable experience in dealing with maniac youngsters that would come in handy when I someday decided to buy my own (more on this to come!)

There were a few stakes winners that came and went, but for the most part as I recall the situation, the establishment was primarily a tax shelter for a rich restaurateur, and therefore the quality of the horses bred there was not of paramount importance.  As a result, there was a mixed bag of claiming race divas on site, now hairy and saggy and pumping out new claiming race type babies with the help of a few equally as saggy and hairy stallions.

Now some of the mares were nice enough visually I suppose - but none had been under saddle as anything other than racehorses, and even that was probably 5+ years ago in most cases at the time, circa 1986.  They were all far from racing fit by the time I knew them, and so I guess we could say they were "built like warmbloods" (i.e. - fat).  Actually, back in the day we didn't even know what a warmblood was yet.  Any horse with a nice topline and round bum was "fancy", and any horse over 16 hh was "huge" - some of these ladies qualified.  Now and then, while scoopin the poop and shooting the shit, we would play "which horse would you turn into your hunter" as teenagers like to do, but never expected anything to ever come of this.

I have to stop thinking this, don't I.  Because nothing is ever a dead end in the horse world.

Fast forward - oh, 20 years.  When Dressage Curmudgeon first starts to learn about "the Canadian Sport Horse".

While shopping, I looked at a horse sired by a Canadian Sporthorse by the name of "Dancing Eudardo*".  Not my favourite name of all time, sounds like a good name for a stripper at the Foxxes Den, but whatever...he is  a WARMBLOOD, right?  And that is why the breeder is asking $10,000+ for the offspring, makes sense, I guess.

The resulting filly that I went to see was just ok.  As were most of the "TB x warmblood" Canadian Sporthorses that I ended up looking at.  Nice looking, but just not WOW.  She was similar to 50 other horses that you would see at any average trillium show.  It was confusing to me, frankly.  What is the deal with these fabulous new "warmbloods"?  I am not feeling it.

When I got home, I started doing some stalking to find out more about the sire...allbreedpedigreequery is a wonderful thing. Hmmm... let's see... his mom was actually a Thoroughbred,  not a "warmblood", named Dancing Lois*..ok, that makes the stripper name theme a bit more logical if nothing else...

Whaaa...WTF? Just a minute here..Lois!  Dancing Lois!  I know that horse!  She was one of the saggy claiming race divas!  How could that be?

I was just like Fox Mulder.  (Not Scully.  I can't run in heels that well).  I had discovered the truth - it was out there.  I started searching the names of all of the Saggies.  Dish of Pepper - yep, she was bred to Goldshaleger to create "Ghostrunner*", another "Canadian Sporthorse" Stallion.

Her offspring, Love in My Butt* who was still racing during my time there - yep, she had a "warmblood" baby out there who strangely enough was one of the first so-called "Hanoverians" I had run into during my travels in the H/J circles - a big solid horse with a totally unbeatable temperament, but that was dog ugly and nothing special in the movement department either... well, now I know why she didn't dazzle me as I expected to be dazzled by a "warmblood".

This was at least a little less disturbing - in this instance Love in My Butt was only the mare, creating a few offspring.  But why, why, why on Earth were the genetics of the other saggies being passed on to multiple mares via Stallions with absolutely no performance records associated with any of them?

Beats me.  But what I knew for sure was that I wasn't about to pay $10,000 for it.

For the record - neither of these stallions are currently approved for breeding with CSH - I am not sure if they ever were.  But people keep breeding them anyways!  I found a Holst/TB/Perch cross sired by one of these stallions advertised as a "CSH" just now, for $2000 (you guessed it...a PMU baby).

I guess this false marketing isn't CSH's fault, but it sure doesn't help their cause any.  

Had I not been an early adopter of the compulsive internet stalking habit, I would have never figured it out.  I potentially would have bought  the offspring at a premium as a "Canadian Sport Horse", sired by a "warmblood" (Not aged, off the track saggy mare spawn).  If I had wanted a TB, I would have rescued one...not that there is anything wrong with that...

And...if I can be a bit harsh - are the CSHA's standards high enough in the first place?  The mares - who at the time of their approvals must have been around 15 and 20 years of age - were not stunning specimens and had absolutely nothing to show in terms of performance, or even being ridden as something other than racehorses 10+ years ago, then wandering around a field for the remainder of their existence.  Should they have been approved at all?  Is that the best we have to offer with respect to foundation genetics here in Canada - big old TB's with the ability to cough up another baby?

I am not sure what the best way for them to clean up their act and image is... but it certainly does need some work.

And by the way - in case you think I have some bizarre axe to grind with respect to CSH's - really, I don't.  I did end up buying one, because a good horse is a good horse, whatever you might decide to call it.  She is NOT a TB cross though...

(why does Dressage Curmudgeon hate TB's so much, you may wonder.  Really I don't...)

*names have been changed to protect the saggy.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Is it time to start kicking tires yet?

And so, after a few tries, and a few close calls with weirdness, I decided that maybe part-boarding wasn't the way to go right away.  I still had my hunter friends who always needed a horse or two tuned up, so I figured I would get my riding fix there and instead start some virtual shopping.

Now remember, the year was 2004.  Horse shopping was a lot different than it is today.

Well - let me rephrase that.  Because many parts of horse shopping, virtual or not, have not changed at all, in probably, oh, 500 years.  Things like showing lame horses, and really hoping the buyer doesn't notice. The part that has changed is the "virtual" side of the game.

Back in the day - it was actually acceptable to post an ad with no pic and expect someone to call you.  (I actually bought the Platypus from a Toronto Star classified ad. Remember those?)  Now, I won't even click on an ad unless there is a multi-media show awaiting me.

This is good... and bad.

It is good in that - if a horse is a conformational horror show - a good pic will usually bring this to your attention fairly quickly.  The bad side of it is - if a horse is not a conformational horror show - a stupid owner will be able to mislead you into thinking it is, by posting a really bad picture.  I am sure some good opportunities got away from me due to the strange compulsion of some sellers to depict their horses as mud encrusted camels with their front legs in a hole.
I get that you are busy.  So am I - that is why I am not going to drive all over Ontario to see if there is a beautiful beast hiding out under the wild child exterior. I don't care how wonderful your baby is (remember, I was looking for a 2 - 3 year old, so not the sexiest phase to be viewing horses in the first place), it cannot really wow me if it is filthy with a long tangled mane, standing in 6 inches of manure.  It can't be a blurry picture snapped from 500 yards away, with the horse fleeing at a strange angle like that famous picture of bigfoot.  The horse should not be huddled with 7 other muddy friends.
"Ground covering stride"

It is good in that - pretty much everyone posts a youtube video these days that you can check out, typically before you even call.

It is also bad in that many owners create truly horrific videos that are impossible to watch for more than 25 seconds.

Some like to show off their horses "suspension" and "uphill gaits" by scaring the snot out of them and having them rip-snort around the mud/manure paddock, sliding into fencing and doing bad, hoppy Pepe LePeu canter with frantic disunited changes thrown in here and there.

Again - you could have been a contender!  (If your owner wasn't stupid!)

Equally as bad are the people who have slapped a saddle (typically something that says "redneck", like maybe a purple wintec) on the horse, and then show it doing a slow catatonic western jog type trot on the longe line.  Extra nice when this is performed on frozen, lumpy ground.  First - I have mixed feelings about the 2-year old that is ho-hum bored on the longe line - how much have they been longed?  Secondly - how does this show me anything about how the horse might  move someday when it is actually allowed to GO?

I guess it is better than the "longeing" videos that are depicting "owner flying horse like a kite".  You know the ones with the little bugger ripping around with its head cranked to the inside and the owner trying not to be launched across the field and into the fence...

The ones I can't even watch are the ones where the owner wants to wow me with the fact that they can kick a giant soccer ball at the horse's face, or drape it in a tarp, or some other bizarre Parelli / natural touch shit without the horse going nutso. (I swear, I just made this example up as sort of an amalgam of my memories, but then found a perfect example on on in my very first search.  Wow, that is only the second time you have whacked her in the head with a plastic bag on a stick, eh? Hmm....great.  I guess).  Hey, you know what would really impress me instead?  Showing me that the horse can tolerate getting a nice shampoo, having its mane trimmed and braided, and can do something sane and showy on the triangle, while being handled by a handsome, long legged, fast running guy.  He should also be shampooed.  Yah, that would be nice.  You can drape me in a tarp any day, baby.  Ooops, my mind is wandering isn't it.

I know I live in Canada, and therefore we have Winter.  Not everyone has an indoor, and lots of babies live outside.  But I love the responses to sales inquiries that say "Oh, I don't have any pictures of him without six inches of winter coat and a head and body so furry, you can't tell where his neck starts or ends".  Winter is not a surprise that sneaks up on us. (WTF?  It is cold AGAIN? Wow, that's just crazy...!).   Even if you live in Northern Saskatchewan, there is a month or two when I hope to hell this horse does not look like a Yak.  Plan ahead, and snap some pics THEN.  Heey, good idea, eh?

Yes, things are much better as I virtual shop today.  Back in the day, I only had maybe one or two good pics to scrutinize, before picking up the phone (remember back when we called people to verbally ask stuff?) requesting that the owner mail me a VHS tape to look at (sometimes having to pay shipping/handling for the tape).  Which means that I  had not much to work with, and lots of time to daydream about how wonderful the horse would be, before the depressing Pepe LePeu, soccer ball to the head video arrived.

And so, I started the long, slow process of horse shopping.  Step one though, was really deciding what I needed.  Something "registered" would be nice.  Hey, what is this "Canadian Sport Horse" thing anyways.  Sounds interesting....

Friday, 16 December 2011

Empowered, enlightened, harmonized Snake Oil. When plain old Greasy / Slimy isn't enough.

My retrospective bulletin board stalking got me thinking... how on Earth do some of these crappy dressage trainers manage to rise from the ashes and reinvent themselves so easily, in this day and age of the internet?  And what should we do to try to protect others from them, when we hear the train a 'comin, it's rollin round the bend...

Same is true of course for breeders, sales people, whatever.

It really is remarkable. 

At least if you google some of the more seasoned snake oil salesmen, they fired up the snake press before the internet was really established, so it is more difficult to look back on what they did - or did not do - in former lives.  And now their identities are really entrenched in whatever it is they are doing to make a buck today.   

But man, it is so EASY to cyber stalk now!  Are there actually horse owners that don't know about Google?  Am I the only one who compulsively searches anyone they come across in real life now?  

I know the answer is NO to this last question, seeing as my LinkedIn profile has been viewed about 50x more than usual since I started this blog (hey, how do you like my new picture?)... coincidence?  I think not. Although I do keep hoping exciting new job offers are going to come flowing in any time now .  But then on the other hand, the morons over at UDBB felt they needed 2 pages of discussion and the powers of the resident super sleuth to determine who I was and where I lived, based on the hard core identity veil I have put up (Ha HA! if I use my REAL name, no one will ever guess who I am!  AHH HA HAA!  I will create a mythical land called "Toronto" AHH HA HAA <--- evil laughter)

Now, I am not saying that people don't change, or that you can't start a new career, lord knows I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.  But when the new business plan is just built purely on bullshit, what is the best way to call these people out?  What can we do as a community to help others avoid wasting time and money on dishonest, unethical trainers?  Or is it a waste of time to try, as people only see what they want to see, and hear what they want to hear?

Am I the only one who watched Oblio as a kid?

I talk a good game, but really I am not doing anything to help either.

An example...for some reason a while back, I got suckered into taking my niece and nephew to their year end Pony Club banquet, because their parental units were otherwise engaged.  

I didn't know anyone there other than said niece and nephew, so sat at some random table of parents.  One started discussing dressage with me almost immediately.  Well that sounds like fun, doesn't it.  Tell me more!  

Well, they had JUST bought their horse off of a FABULOUS local breeder - but not only that, he is also a dressage reiiki classical trainer to merge horse and rider into one body of energy...trains with only the finest Euro trainers, is an active member of the Xenophon Society.  Ohhh... well that is - uh.. interesting.  Yah, interesting. (I started to panic, just a bit).  

Oh yes.  I knew the guy.  In fact, he ran the only barn I have ever fled, under cover of darkness, because I feared that I would show up one day to find my horse not fed and locked in its stall by the repo man. (For the record... this never did happen at the facility to my knowledge, but it was in the air). Well that, and the fact that the barn owner was just hardcore unpleasant to be around. Probably because his business was going tits up, which does tend to wipe the smile off of a person's face, I would think.  And my horse wasn't getting turned out.  And was being fed at random times (maybe not at all, I could not be 100% sure).  And..And..And.. you get the drift. 

After pulling out, I started getting harassing phonecalls from him at work, telling me he was going to take me to small claims court to get a month's worth of board out of me since I signed a contract saying I would give 30 days notice.  This went on for a while, until I sent him something in writing that cross referenced the services to be provided on his contract, versus those I actually received... and said "bring it on, baby!  Can hardly wait to meet Judge Judy".  Well, surprise!  He went away.  And I never heard from him again.

In fact I never even really heard OF him again, until just the last few years.  He has magically resurfaced, dusted off the ashes, and has created this horse empowerment, reiiki master persona that seems to be gaining traction.

So back to the story... Pony Club Banquet.

I sat there staring through her, singing the "Oscar Meyer Wiener" song in my head to occupy my brain and stop it from making me comment on anything she said (I challenge myself by trying to write new rhyming verses.  It really works, I use this technique a lot).  She had all of the buzzwords - "advanced levels", "harmony", "empowerment"...

(hhmm..hhmm..hmmm..hmmm...Oscar Meyer Wiener, everyone would need to take a peeeee..).

But no amount of songwriting could control the next variable who walked in the door.  Mr. Motard.  Late for the banquet.

It didn't take him long to get up to speed on the conversation..

"Wait wait wait... Curmudgeon knows that WHACKJOB!!"

I started deeply into his eyes and used my best mind control skills. You will SHUUUUT - UP!   SHUUUUT - UP NOOOW... they didn't work. They never do.

"Curmudgeon, that's the guy you hated!!  Yah, yah, I am sure it is the same guy... Did he used to have that big fancy barn over on Shits Station road, or whatever it's called?  I am sure it is...!  Yah, yah, she boarded with him and fled because he was nuts!  Come ONNN Curmudgeon!  How can you not remember!  This is supposed to be YOUR hobby!  Sheesh"

(hhmm..hhmm..hmmm..hmmm...Oscar Meyer Wiener, everyon'd commit hariii kareeeee!)

Well, I don't need to tell you a bit of a chill descended over the table.

"MMMM... good pizza, eh?"

Thursday, 15 December 2011

That's him - Over there, under the Rainbow.

The strangest thing happened when I did a little retrospective bulletin board stalking to try to remember the details of two of the weird horses I tried out to part board, from totally separate and unrelated women.

Wouldn't you know it - I found the usernames of both of them, in the same post.  Talking about - of course - a classical dressage clinic they were attending.  The clinician was, you guessed it, a famous wool hat wearing older dude.

The clinic was being hosted by the trainer who told me the Platypus would be a fabulous big ticket dressage pony, who has since reinvented himself as a classical reiiki dressage master (I bet he has the hat too).

At the clinic, one of them - although she was a training level rider - advanced enough in one hour to be able to do first level exercises.  Huh, another miracle. (cue the angels!  cue the angels!)

(Not again!)

I kid you not.  It was like a wessage (and by that I mean...weirdo dressage) trifecta!  I guess technically there were four people involved, but I don't know if there is a cool the word for that.  Some sort of a menage?  You get the gist.  Weird attracts and enjoys the company of weird.

This strange convergence aside, I ultimately decided that neither one was worthy of an entire day's story, but I think we can still learn from my mistakes here.

I must say that unfortunately, dressage part board people are even more bizarre than the hunter ones - at least all they really want a someone to teach their OTTB to jump a 3' course without committing hara kiri.  The dressage ones want someone to believe that what they are doing is actually "dressage", which is often not the case. Horse that can't jump + rider that won't (or any permutation of the two) does not make a dressage horse, no matter how many buzzwords about "using the hind" or "stepping under" or "through" the person may drop.   At least if you are buying , you only need to smile and put up with this shit from the owner for a short window of time. If you are part-boarding, snuggle up!  You will be together for a while.

Based on my experiences with them, and others, I would like to suggest some recommendations on how not to choose - or even to go to try out - a "dressage horse to part-board".

1.  If the person really, really, REALLY loves the horse - run.  You would think this would be a good thing.  It's not.  Because these people are not just barn blind, they have had their eyes and all neural pathways relating to vision gouged out with hoof picks or something.

There is no such thing as a bad manner, vice, hitchy lame bone jarring gait, or (insert your other favourite undesirable traits here) anywhere, anyhow with these horses.  If you happen to notice something behavioural that you obviously mistakenly think you would like to attribute to the horse (example - finding yourself helplessly pinned against the wall wailing OWW OWW STOP CRUSHING ME AND MOVE OVER! MOVE! GET OFF MY FOOT...) you are wrong, bless your soul.  You just need more time to understand horses. The way they do.

2.   If the biggest selling feature of the part-board deal is any flavour of majical sprinkle, you are in for a rocky ride.  Run in fear from any creatively named crossbreeds.  For example, the Azteca, Commercial, Georgian Grande, or Gypsy Vanner...anything that says "this horse would be a $2000 draft cross without the fancy name brand label, for which I gladly paid an additional $8000, who wouldn't".  I am absolutely not saying that these horses can't be nice dressage horses, but if it is front and central in the ad... be afraid.  Well, unless maybe you have a show sheen and comb fetish (I am not judging you if you do).

Look!  A levade!  Told you he was talented.

3.  If the horse must only be ridden using the gentlest and most natural techniques, get ready to kiss your shoulder sockets goodbye. It will only be a matter of time until your arms are ripped out of them as the horse bears down on the bendy rubber snaffle or bitless bridle that you are forced to use.  On the plus side, your glutes and thighs will be rock hard and shapely, as you tone your legs trying to get the horse to GO without the help of a whip or spurs.  I guess if your significant other is an ass man with a passion for J-Lo, it might be a good bet, but otherwise... no.

4.  If the horse has never been shown, but the rider is schooling "advanced levels" of dressage, all by themselves  (well, besides the classical clinics of course) -  that's a big huge red light.  Again... not saying it can't happen (I don't intend to show again as long as I live, so I should be understanding on this front and cut them some slack), but generally speaking - trust me, they are going to suck.  And if you try to take any corrective action to bring the horse closer to something resembling non-sucking rideability- no matter how gentle or lifesaving it may be (a kick, a pull, an abrupt transition, a harsh word - something/anything other than that irritating little brrrrr noise that people who try to pretend they are European make) - you will be deemed to be a sad, monkey razorblade, competitive rollkur freak.

The funniest thing about both of the women in question is that although they LOVED their PERFECT dressage horses at the time, horses with endless potential - they have both since moved on to other horses for whatever reasons - and guess what, these horses are EQUALLY as perfect.  Lord knows what happened to their other gems, I don't remember seeing them at the Olympics, but maybe I was getting some chips or a beer during their rides.  And ... surprise, surprise - one has started a horse rescue..but also (anyone?  anyone care to guess??) has a stallion, and now calls herself a breeder as well.

Honestly, it would be funny if it wasn't all so darned predictable.

Monday, 12 December 2011

So you think you can ride? Snuggly will be the judge of that.

And so, after dropping off the Platypus at his new temporary sales barn home, I became then, as I am now, a horseless rider. 

(In case you are wondering, a randomly chosen friend accompanied me, not Mr. Motard.- I was not risking having to do any sit-ups, camber toss, or other feats of strength this time)

I am in good company, there is a large population of people in my same proverbial boat. We want to ride, but cannot really afford to do so - yet - because our disposable equine dollars are tied up in our sales horses. And we can't risk buying a new horse - until we get rid of the OLD one.  I am fortunate this time around and I do get to ride my horse whenever I find the time, and I do have a few other good riding options too..but I  can't move on to "the next chapter" - whatever that is. I am still stuck in the old chapter - sort of a zombie state, not quite living in, yet not quite dead to, the equestrian world.  

So what's a girl to do?  

Well - part board of course!  Surely there must be someone who would be thrilled to have my experience.  Hey, I have been under the tutelage of Frau Trainerin!  

(don't you love it when someone takes a one weekend clinic with someone noteworthy, then puts it on their stable webpage as having trained with the person?  Hmm, enough material to bitch about here that I can do an entire page... I will save this for later).  

And, It had been at least 2 months at this time since I had met any hard core equestrian weirdos - I mean, the Frau was not my idea of a party, but she was not WEIRD.  Well, at least not in the "looking for a part boarder" sense of the word.  So I was READY!

Ahhh...good times. 

Sometimes even today, when I need a laugh, I read the "looking for a part boarder" ads on the bulletin boards.  

Now granted, surprisingly enough, some appear to be posted by normal people.  The ones who have an experienced show horse that is maybe too senior for the job, or maybe they want to show jumpers now and their beloved horse is a hunter - whatever.  They are typically at good barns, and require being in a lesson program, etc. etc... not what I was looking for.  

But the remainder - well, how do I put it nicely... maybe some examples would help.  

Give me a sec.  Let me see if I can find a good one. 

Hmm... yes, "TB that looks like a WB" - seems to be important for some reason, because - why?  Can anyone help here?  I am not owning this horse, just riding it.  I could care less if it looks like a mailbox headed camel if I have good times doing so.  "Can jump, do english or wessage, good on trails"  Ok, not sure if I am dazzled by the versatility, or just plain scared.  (Wessage - that will be a whole separate post, for a day when I have drank more wine.  I would suggest leaving anything that Elmer Fudd might say out of your ad, even if you actually do have a speech impediment).  And the kicker, of course... although horse is "really quiet, and a pleasure to be around", the owner is looking for an "intermediate or advanced rider". 

Yah, baby.  The "advanced riding" part boarder is a hot commodity.  Where do these people think they are going to find all of these hibernating Eric Lamazes waiting to spring into action and hand over $250 for 3 rides per week?

Oh here is another - Off the track beginning of November, has had some downtime, now ready for an "experienced rider".  Well, that sounds like fun, doesn't it?  How much will I pay for this midway ride?  Oooh - possibility of showing, if interested.  That really sweetens the pot.  In case I want to spend MORE of MY money increasing the value of YOUR horse, you are not going to put up a fight, all doors are open!  (doesn't say if he "looks like a WB".  I am sure if we stuff his face with enough "hi fat hi fibre" (don't want him getting "hot" now do we) we can get him nice and meaty looking). 

How about a 9 year old TB mare - sweetheart, excellent ground manners, ... guess what!  "Experienced rider".  

"London is super easy to ride buy requires an experienced rider"

Oh!  Here is my favourite.

"Snuggly is available for pb to an advanced rider as it's critical that's she's ridden properly"

(So don't come here and start waving your money in my face unless you are pretty fricking special, cowboy).

Of course I know what a half-halt is.  Sheesh.

Well that didn't take long, did it.  

Now, I am not in marketing, I am more of a techie type, so this might need some finessing, but I have this nagging feeling that these people might have an easier time finding the right person, if they just make their ads a bit more.."transparent". I am proposing an alternative wording that might work...How about this...

Hello!  I have finally bought the horse of my dreams, but have determined that I can neither afford, nor handle the beast. I have thought it over, and I don't want to die, and especially don't want to die poor.  Can you help?  I am looking for someone who has spent many, many years, and lots more money than I have actually learning to ride, who also would like to pay ME for the pleasure of training my horse... for me!  If this sounds like a plan, call 1-519-55-SUCKA

Hmm, now which one should I call first...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Breakfast Club / Pretty In Pink - Dressage Edition

Some of you out there must be of approximately the same vintage as I am.

Remember all of those terrible Molly Ringwald movies that our dates took us to in high school?  The ones where although Molly KNEW Judd, when she ran into him out in the real world, he pretended she didn't exist, or had better things to do, or whatever?  Or how she would have rather burned in hell than date Jon Cryer?

This might be some amalgamation of the plotlines, kind of like Pretty in Breakfast.  I get them all mixed up, probably because we really only went to the movies so we had a dark place with comfortable seats to make out and drink a mickey, and I wasn't actually paying attention.  But regardless, there was an theme present in any Molly Ringwald movie, whereby the cool kids totally ignored the losers and pretended they didn't know them, even though they had been french kissing at the prom just last Wednesday or whatever. 

(Well, not the made for TV Stephen King one. It was kind of an outlier. Remember how disappointed we all were when she  didn't die of the plague?)

Trust me.  If I knew they were going to cast her,  I would have written in a plague inspired fiery car crash.  Or something.

I find the dressage world to be kind of the same way.

I have run into Frau Trainerin many times since the days of the Platypus, and every time I have said hello with a big sunny smile on my face, she has stared back at me blankly like I am some sort of deranged mutant.  And this was long before I began writing the blog (at least now she will have good reason).  I have even had a friend ask her about me and she insists she has no recollection of my existence.  Well...ok.

It is bizarre really. But not uncommon in the horse world. Amnesia does seem to run rampant. I better go check Psychology today to gain some insight.

Now, I have at times in my career had jobs that involved meeting a lot of people, and having no hope of remembering who the hell they all are. It doesn't matter - if any of them walk by and say hello and smile as if you are friends - well, then you might as well be friends.  You say hello and smile back.

That is called - not being an asshole.

Now I am not talking only about the Frau here... but in a general sense.  If you have met me... if there is some vague inkling of recollection somewhere back there in the cobwebs of your brain of once talking to someone who looked like me... or what the hell, even if there isn't - why not smile and say HI.  We are all in this together.  

While trapped in line beside each other waiting to pay $7.00 for an egg on a bun at Palgrave because we just don't have time to go someplace that doesn't rip us off - admittedly neither of us are in high spirits, but should we not at least make idle chit chat?  Don't you feel stupid standing six inches from someone you know, or at least have a lot in common with, without acknowledging the relationship?

Or, while standing at the table in the pavillion at 6:00 pm on Sunday as the world's slowest score-adding-up people finish doing their thing so we can get our depressing list of judges comments and fat envelopes of prize money (ha ha, just kidding), shove our horses in the trailers and go home - why don't we joke around about it a bit?  (Do they do the adding manually?  Is an Abacus involved? How does it possibly take so long?)

Or if I am volunteering at a high power Bronze schooling show and you come to get your number or whatever, even if you DON'T know me - shouldn't you be polite, smile, say something witty - do anything other than act like a dour faced entitled jerk? I know I am not "in with the in crowd" in your fancy little Cadora clique, but seriously, it won't hurt a bit.... (And people wonder sometimes why I don't volunteer at horse shows anymore...) 

We were supposed to go to the Prom together, Blane!  (No wait, wait... that was Molly, not me, wasn't it).

Not that the Jumper world is any better.  A good friend of mine and her ex sponsored a top jumper rider's Grand Prix horse for several years - I have been introduced to the woman on a few occasions now, but must have been sporting my invisibility cloak each time. She felt no need to make any eye contact with me or acknowledge my presence whatsoever during any of our meetings. I guess she is afraid swarms of paparazzi will attack her like she is Lady Gaga if she doesn't stay under the radar.  Best to be safe...

Well helll-ooo to you too, bitch!  When I win 6-49, I am sponsoring someone else just to spite her. She is going to be so fricking sorry.  

Exhibit #3 - Did I mention your horse and your saddle both suck?

And thus began 5 weeks of relentless reminders that... my horse sucked.

(Well, to be honest, it was not quite 5 weeks. I gave in and moved out about 2 weeks early, double parking my horse and paying board on 2 stalls.  LOSER!  Yep, that's me.  A place at a good hunter sales barn came available a bit early , so ...what the hell is another $300!  Sign me up.  I am outta here.

I sometimes wonder what proportion of the average boarding stable's income is made up of unused "30 day notices", where people could just not face another day at the establishment).

Each lesson consisted of 30 to 40 minutes of really good content (again - no complaints on the coaching here.  Except maybe that although Frau Trainerin did school everyone else's horse for them at least a little... she never again climbed aboard the Platypus, which was kind of a rip-off). This was then followed by at least 10 to 15 minutes of "why your horse sucks, and why you should try some of the wonderful beasts I have available, waiting here for you".

Now, surprisingly enough, I myself did not suck.  I had a LOT of potential and natural ability, that would be revealed... as soon as I got a horse... that didn't suck.

Time for the sigh.  Here.

And as she lectured me on the need for a new horse, I stared at her with some sort of expression that I hoped was ...uhhh.. neutral.  Let's say, something other than "The Scream".  Because that is how I felt.

Although her lips were moving, and I could hear some sort of external noise, in my head I was hearing this...."AAAAHHHH! AAAAAHHHH!  I know, I know, I KNOW!"

I KNOW that if I try this wonderful PSG horse, I will feel the difference between the Platypus and a "real" dressage horse built and bred for dressage (or I would fucking hope so at least, or there is something truly amiss here).

I KNOW that Suzie is overhorsed on her georgeous imported mount Wahnsinnige and would love to trade him in for something a little tamer.

I KNOW you know a guy, who has a horse, that has just flown in from Germany....


But I - JUST - DON'T - HAVE - THE - MONEY.  Do you see my horse?  Did you notice my trailer?  

"Vell, how much will you get ven you sell the Platypus?  $15,000?  $20,000?  You can probably negotiate a deal on Wahnsinnige, this will be a good start.."

I don't usually like to laugh directly in people's faces, and of course feared retribution in the form of some piece of heinous and humiliating tack or apparel that I would be forced to wear for the remainder of my stay at her barn, so I just said "uuhh...I don't think it will be quite that much". 

(I would be lucky to get enough to pay for the plane ticket for an import, let alone the horse itself).  

It was like she wanted to grab my ankle, and force me to kick all the tires in the barn.  Usually people don't want you test driving things you have no hope in hell of ever buying.  I can only assume that I am the one who was out to lunch here. That in fact, with enough pressure applied, many middle aged women totally lose their minds and do mortgage their houses and run out and buy ridiculously expensive horses they can't afford.  (If you are one of these women - call me - I have a nice horse to sell you right now!).  

And really, who am I to judge how she runs her business - obviously it is working for her, as she has a barn full of beautiful horses and owners willing to do exactly as she wishes. It has been suggested that I just don't get Germans - could be. I guess really I am the weirdo. 

Looking back, I was at fault for not steering the conversation to where I COULD probably start shopping.  For example, I should have asked what local breeders she knew of who were creating Canadian bred horses with hot Euro genetics - I know we have some good ones out there.  Or asked her what her hourly fee was for horse shopping with me, seeing as I have heard these wild rumours that there are horses for sale in OTHER barns as well.  But after a long day at work, and a long drive to the barn, and the realization that my dressage project was pretty much tanked for the time being, my brain would just shut down when the nagging discussion started.  I didn't feel like having any sort of debate, or hearing about how I was totally insane to buy a 2 year old as a dressage prospect, seeing as I had no clue what I was doing.

Sometimes we do what we do because there are not many better options, not because we think we really have a plan that makes sense.  Having her remind me of how futile my options probably were would have just been too depressing to deal with.

I also should have come back after taking the Platypus to his new barn, and taken that last 2 weeks worth of lessons  on some of the sales horse, just for the hell of it.  I paid for some awesome coaching and I walked away from it, which was stupid on my part.

But at the time, I really, really just wanted to get the hell out.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Exhibit #2 - Your Saddle. It Still Sucks.

Well, I don't have to tell you.. nothing happens quickly in the horse industry.

So although I had begun to accept the fact that I needed a major plan B which involved selling the Platypus, it took a while to get the wheels turning.

Let's see... I was now probably 3 weeks into my first month of board at Frau Trainerin's place - which means, that by the time I gave the dreaded "30 days notice", then found someplace to send the Platypus to be sold, where chances are, I would have to move in the first of the month - I was looking at another 5 weeks (and $1000+ in board) with the Frau.

(Yep.  Add sigh here).

When next we met, I told her that I was taking her advice to heart, and would begin the process of finding a new home for the Platypus.  But in the meantime - I would like to continue on with my lessons (seeing as I had paid for them and all).

"Lessons on the Platypus?  What on Earth for?  I have several sales horses here that will be perfect for you.  Why not start trying them out?"

Uhhh...  for a few reasons.  First, shelving a horse that I planned to sell for the most money I could eek out hardly seemed to be in my best interests.  Call me nuts, but I figured that working to chip away at his no-go problem and to really spruce up his flatwork could only improve his value.  It was bad enough he would not be jumping for a few months now before being sold... to put him out to pasture seemed like a really bad idea.

Secondly - I could come nowhere NEAR to affording ANY of the horses that Frau Trainerin had for sale.  I did my best to explain this to her.  Once I left.. I would be gone-gone.  For a long time.  Based on the bit of internet shopping I had done, using estimated calculations on the monster profits I stood to earn on the sale of the Platypus..  I figured I would be lucky to have the money to buy a nice, unbroken 2 year old, let alone an imported first level horse, or whatever it was she was planning on fixing me up with.  You could have me and the Platypus NOW (which she already vetoed) or ... nothing.  Nada.  Bye Bye, for at least six months to a year.

I am not sure if this pissed her off, or what (back to Psychology Today).  But what it did earn me was... a new saddle to use for the rest of my stay.

Exhibit #2 - Your Saddle - It Still Sucks.  

Well ok, she said... But if I was going to be riding with her for another 5 weeks - it would most certainly NOT be in the Tristan.  Or any of the other nice leathery saddles which she possessed.  Nope - until I got my new horse, and my new Schleese... this would be my saddle:

Oh, I hope she does sitting trot
Really. I am not kidding.  A purple, children's wintec.  Now granted, I did not have the matching pad and girth as illustrated, however, the saddle is pretty much the identical one.

Thank god for Google images.  Because for many years, I have told people about the existence of this legendary saddle, and they have thought I was totally full of shit.  How could such a thing possibly have been created.  It sounds ridiculous.

Well tonight, I googled "purple wintec" and presto - I share with you... the saddle.  Honestly, it was purple - and it is kind of hard to see in this photo, but it also had a creepy little koala embossed right near the crotch region,  with his arms outstretched and a big anticipatory smile.  It was as if he were saying, "yah, baby, c'mon over and have a seat right here on my face".

I don't know what sick saddle designer came up with this, but I can imagine that they had a huge laugh with their friends over a beer when they got home that night.  Maybe they were drinking beer while designing the saddle.  Whatever.  Why wouldn't you put the koala on the flap?  Honestly... Creepy koalas aside, the bottom line is - I try not to be a victim of fashion, the saddle doesn't make the rider, blah blah blah... but hey, I am only human. I felt like a giant tool riding my dorky pony around in this get-up.

To make matters worse, the only other riders who used the koala cunnilingus saddle were 12 year olds.  So, before I could tack up my steed, I had to wait for the other children to finish first.  Play nice, Dressage Curmudgeon.  Some day you will get to ride in a real saddle like the other big kids.

I cannot believe, to this day, that some form of gel pad or riser pad or maxi pad or something did not exist on this earth to somehow make the Tristan fit the Platypus (especially seeing as - someone calling themselves a fitter had sold it to me).  Or, that there was not some other normal saddle available in the collection of saddles at the barn for me to ride in, if the Tristan was really total garbage. I have long since wondered if the purple wintec was some form of psychological warfare designed to bring me to my knees and beg my banker to extend my line of credit to the point where I could afford the stunning Hanoverian and shiny new schleese that Frau Trainerin had waiting for me in the back stall.

But probably I am just crazy for thinking this.

Exhibit #1. Your horse sucks.

I must admit, I don't read a lot of other blogs, but one library I do visit on a fairly regular basis is Psychology Today.  They have a bunch of different bloggers covering assorted topics ranging from overcoming the difficulties of raising teenagers (easy solution - don't have kids) to work, sex, sleep (no, not all at the same time. These are separate blogs) to whatever else you feel you might like to understand better.

The ones I read are usually the ones aimed at helping me to try to answer the question that is often raging in my head as I lie awake at night after dealing with people I just don't get - namely, WTF are they thinking?

The answer to this is typically - give up trying to guess, you can never have any fricking clue what is going on in someone else's head, and trying to figure it out will just drive you nuts.  Which might explain why I am the way I am.

But to this day, I still wonder to myself what series of thoughts went through Frau Trainerin's head when it was time to deal with the Platypus situation. And how this lead me to decide that although I still think she is a good coach and awesome rider, I never wanted to ride with her again.

Exhibit #1:  Your horse sucks.

The first outcome of her two week intensive relationship with the Platypus was pretty straightforward, and entirely logical. No Psychology Today needed here. She decided he was not cut out for dressage.

Now it is easy to jump to the "breed bias" conclusion here, but in reality, from what I have seen come out of her barn since she is actually pretty understanding on this front, and will work with a variety of different horses, as long a they have a natural inclination towards dressage.  In fact, those who know the story also know that "Out of Texas by Trailer" eventually made it to GP.

But the truth is - a horse that wants to debate "forward" is just an astronomically bad bet as a dressage prospect.  The Platypus was not at all willing to just GO and keep on GOING, without a whole lot of attitude.

In case I had any doubts regarding this assessment, she was kind enough to bring her observations to life for me with the utmost in clarity, using the traditional "chase the balky horse around with the longe whip" technique. (I am sure classical instructors have a much more sexy sounding name for this).

This is a popular technique, I have since learned.  It is one of those "rubble at the foot of the pyramid" steps that occurs along the road to enlightened dressage.  For it to be effective, you need a well seated rider who can handle many degrees of freak-out, and a fleet footed assistant who can crack a horse in the ass with a longe whip, then get the hell out of the way before their head gets kicked off.

To bring the experience to life - first you must picture that Frau Trainerin was just a little too big for the Platypus, making the whole picture look a bit comical.  Secondly, the Platypus was not anywhere near the sexy and sleek type of beast that one would typically see her riding - they were incredibly mismatched from the start.

Now that you have this pictured - add to the scene this usually composed rider taking bucks from a stubborn little pony, while being chased by a working student with a longe whip and barking things at the student and the Platypus in German - the whole thing was just not anyone's vision of elegant dressage. I stood back and watched my dressage dreams for the Platypus puff up in smoke, thinking...  just when you thought your dressage nightmare couldn't get any worse, Dressage Curmudgeon.

I started to get a bit edgy and tried to lighten the situation "Hey maybe you should try yelling at him in Arabic instead?"

"EEee will not understand ARABIC!"

Oh.  Yah, good point.  I stopped to wonder when he had become so fluent in German. And decided to keep my mouth shut for the rest of the session.

When the show was over, I took a good look at the poor sweaty little Platypus. Even his eye wrinkles were sweaty.  All he had to do was go-stop-go-stop in a prompt fashion - and it was just too much to ask of him.

I know, I know, there are those among you who are thinking right now "if she had found a more tactful coach, or tried Parelli, or maybe some natural horsemanship, the Platypus would have understood.  It must have been the saddle, or the footing, maybe the barometric pressure.  Horses want to comply, and if they don't, they are confused or troubled  - dressage should never be ugly..blah blah blah...  It wasn't fair..."

Forget the technique - it really didn't matter. Horses are living animals, with strong ideas of what they would or would not like to do. What was really unfair was that I was trying to take this dorky little $1500 pony, who had a perfectly reasonable gig as a hunter and to try to turn him into something he really, really did not have any desire to become. And if "go" was debatable - just imagine what awaited us down the road when something more difficult came along - like, oh, just about anything.

I felt something in the pit of my stomach, and could tell I would cry on the way home.  It didn't matter how fancy he looked once he was going - I knew she was right.  The Platypus would not be my dressage horse.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Leave it to the Pro, Curmudgeon. Buh-Bye.

And so, with that behind me, and the Platypus in his new home, I was ready to start some intensive learning.

In two weeks.



I showed up for my first lesson - which was perfectly fine.  Guess what we worked on - surprise!  Leg on = horse goes forward NOW. Hellfire must rain down upon him, should he chose to debate this command.  He must go forward immediately when you put your leg on...Again. Again. Again.

Hmm, this forward off a light leg aid was a strangely recurring that the Platypus was not really big on.  And actually, I was fully aware of this going in.

You must remember - he had come off of a two year lease with a young girl.  When their relationship started, it took him about a week to determine that she really wasn't that committed to "go" - score one for the Platypus, check and checkmate, my friend.  There were days she was lucky if the little bugger went forward at all, and the debate almost always included lots of kicking (on the part of both horse and rider), and batting on various body parts with a crop, after which he would generally say "you want forward?  You got it, hold on baby" and tear around like a maniac.

This tearing around part is not necessarily frowned upon in the hunter ring. For some totally bizarre reason, the decision has been made by the hunter gods that, regardless of the size or natural ability of the pony, the little buggers must make a certain amount of strides between the jumps.  This is of utmost "win or lose" importance. If it means the child nearly dies at the end of the line forcing their pony to launch itself at the fence from wherever it might be when its strides are up, jamming its little front legs out like superman in a desperate attempt to fly over the fence - well, so be it. We didn't come all the way here to lose chipping in - so don't be such a wimp - ride that pony to the fence!  RIDE HIM!  GALLOP! Who cares if you crash through now and then, Sally, spines grow back.  I think.

It is totally asinine. Instead of having young riders developing with some form of "eye" for the jumps we are creating a population of little kamikaze lemming riders, ready to throw themselves and their ponies squarely into brush boxes and potted mums as long as it means "doin' it in five".

Oh I am on a tangent, aren't I.

Anyway, once the Platypus was rolling, he rarely stopped, and usually jumped everything - but overcoming that initial inertia could at times require some convincing.  So during this lease period, I rode him myself at least once a week to remind him that yes, you need to go forward when asked, and usually our heart-to-heart would inspire him for at least a few rides.  But even then - I wasn't dressage coach militant about the whole affair, I wasn't insistent on sharp or snappy.  We generally accomplished some degree slow and begrudging acceleration with only limited angry farts and pinned ears, (the Platypus! Honestly) which was generally sufficient for the hunter ring.

But at the conclusion of my first lesson, I could tell that Frau Trainerin was troubled by this lack of "go".  And so, she told me what would happen next. I would leave the riding to her for a while. So...bye!  See you in two weeks, (and by the way, take that piece of shit Stubben Tristan with you when you go).

Can I come out to watch you ride?

No, there is lots of time for watching later.  Bye!  Adios, Au Revoir, Auf Wiedersehn 'til then!

Good-Bye, Newman
Oh, come on now, you have read this one on a bulletin board somewhere.  "WWYD - Coach told me to go home while she fixes my horse".  I know I had, but I was still a little...Alarmed? Insulted? Annoyed? A bunch of different emotions, none of them ones that made me feel like any less of a loser than before I went into training.

(more sighing).

I guess looking back - I wasn't at all worried about the Platypus in terms of care - or really, in terms of training.  I knew he was in excellent hands.  But there was just something so harsh about being told that you are so not only *unimportant* to the process, but in fact, so *detrimental* that really we are all better off if you just stay home.

I didn't want to become a horse petting owner. I had some perfectly functional guinea pigs at home with whom I could explore the wonders of the human animal bond for a whole lot cheaper than the cost of training board.  What was important to me was the process of learning - in fact, it was actually more important to me than the end result.  Mr. Motard was right - what the hell is the point of a hobby that someone else does for you?

But I am also a big believer in "go hard or go home" philosophy of learning.  I didn't show up at Frau Trainerin's place to have a debate with her on how it's done.  If she felt this was the way to go - I would do it, or I would leave (just ask Coach Crabby).  There was no middle ground. I would not be one of those irritating assholes that every single stable has at least one, often two of, that follow the coach around incessantly, telling them what they have heard Robert Dover would do in the same situation.

And so - since I didn't nearly crap my pants doing a chin-up just to pack up my toys and leave after one lesson... I threw the Tristan in the trunk, and I went home.  For two weeks.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

When Engineers and Germans collide. The Chin-up.

Right from the start, Mr. Motard was intrigued by the concept of "full training board".  The engineer in him had to see how the mechanics of this situation were going to work.

He just couldn't accept what was so simply obvious to me - you go there, you ride a lot, yada yada yada - Prix St. George. For some bizarre reason, he thought it was more complicated than this, and felt the overwhelming urge to tear it down like an engine and stare at the greasy parts.

"You are going to take a lesson with this woman EVERY time you ride?  That is crazy!  Aren't you going to get sick of each other!"

"  I don't think so"  (anyone who has been in full training knows the answer to this is... HELL YES!).

"How much is all of this costing you - it must be a fortune!"

" is surprisingly affordable"  (anyone who has been in full training knows the answer to this is... HELL YES!).

"How are you going to find the time for this!  Who is going to make dinner?"

And so on and so on... instead of answering an endless stream of questions, I suggested that he be a loving S.O and come along for the ride to help me move.  Don't ask me why this seemed like a good idea at the time.  Probably because I am not good at backing up the horse trailer, I thought at very least he might come in handy.

Frau Trainerin greeted us warmly and helped me to organize my crap, that was all fine, and barn staff made appropriate comments about the cuteness of the Platypus.  Then the tour of "the horses much better than the Platypus" began.

Now to me, this is totally normal.  You could walk into a barn full of three-legged critters with their heads screwed on backwards, and the owner would begin regaling you with the life and times of each special and awesome creature in their care. How they can split the atom with their anus or some other incredible feat that makes them worth 500x their value as meat.  We are horse people. That's what we do.  But I could see the first flickers of Mr. Motard's eyes rolling in his head, as his "oh my god, what bullshit am I submerged in" alarms started to go off.

In this case, most of the horses were pretty awesome, and I was actually really interested in hearing their stories.  But Mr. Motard's final string of polite restraint snapped when we got to the one that a cart horse.

"Well, WHAT is the story on this one.  Surely you are not going to tell me you imported THIS from Germany.  Or that he has some fancy breeding.  He looks like he should be pulling a plow".

Frau Trainerin smiled wryly and said "No Eee is not Ghaman bred.  Eee is out of Texas by Trailah"

Mr. Motard stared at her blankly.

"Out - of - Texas - by -Trailah!  Out of Texas... by Trailah!  Dees is a joke!  Eet means vee don't KNOW hees breeding.  Eee has come on a Trailah from somwhere, where, we do not know, maybe Texas".

Mr. Motard stared at her blankly.  Some more.  I explained the joke to him.  I then proceeded to struggle to stop him from trying to tell it for the next 8 years.  (No - it is not that funny, honey, really.  And when you ask someone who just spent $50,000 on a Dutch import if the horse is "Out of Texas by trailer" - it is just insulting.  Not funny.  No seriously - stop.)

Then, the trouble really started. Frau Trainerin's next mount was tacked up and ready for her to warm up for her waiting client/owner.  He got that certain smirk on his face that always proceeds his "but honey, I was just making conversation" routine.   The conversation is never, never good.

He mentioned in his wide eyed and "curious" way that he couldn't help but notice that although Ms. X and Mr. Z owned this horse, and Ms. ABC owned that one, and Sue Jones owned these, and so on...Frau Trainerin rode and showed them all.  And why can't Mrs. Smith warm up her OWN horse?  Don't these  women actually do any of their OWN riding?  What the hell is the point of having a hobby that someone else does?  What gives?  Are they too old and weak?

Ooohh... did you have to go there?  Really?  We all know this is kind of the way the competitive dressage world is.  There is most certainly a large contingent of rich horse petting clients.  Part of being a truly awesome full service coach is providing them with the just the right balance of riding  (to be sure that they feel they are entirely necessary to the game beyond just the wallet part) - and not riding (so as not to fuck anything up in the training department).  The business is built on it.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, whatever floats your boat - it is not how I see my world unfolding, but gee, we don't usually stop and point fingers, honey.

It was Frau Trainerin's turn to stare blankly. I could see just a hint of "who is this asshole" somewhere behind her cool and professional demeanor.

"Vell.  You know a lot about dressage, you think, heh?  How strong is YOUR girlfriend.  Vee ONLY have strong veemen here"

"Oh, she is strong.  Really strong"

"Yah? Vell let's see her do a chin-up eef she is sooo strong.  Can she eeevan do a chin-up"?

"Oh no PROBLEM. Curmudgeon - show her!  Do a chin-up.


"Aaah you seee!  She eess not so strang now, heh?"

"Oh she is going to do it.  GO CURMUDGEON.  DO IT!"

Ahh, it took me back.  To another place and time... not a good one.  Back to grade school, when I was the "husky" kid doing the "ParticipACTION challenge".  Where I never, ever got anything other than the shitty "ParticipACTION" badge and the little plastic pin - not even a bronze badge for me - because I could not haul my chunky little ass up and do flexed arm hang for 8 seconds.  And now I had to do a chin-up.  In front of my fabulous new coach.

Sigh.  Again.  I guess I could have walked away.  But I told myself, Curmudgeon, you won't get to PSG by refusing to do chin-ups.  Or something along these lines.

Not another fucking PIN!

I took a deep breath, grabbed the barn beam, and **HUUUUHMMHHUUUUHHHMMMM**  (insert another deep breath here) ***HUUUMMMUUMMHHUUMMM** believe it or not, for the first time ever in my life I did ....a chin-up.

It was kind of like the stories you hear about when a car crushes a woman and her spouse finds some hidden superhuman strength that miraculously enables him to lift the vehicle, saving the life of his beloved. And not anything like when a crazed dressage woman drives her truck and horse trailer right over HER significant other, because she is so annoyed by his behaviour.  Which I can totally see happening too.

Well, that was that, I can't really remember anything else that happened as I think I blew a blood vessel or two in my head trying to haul my chunky little ass up just like back in '78.  I guess we made our way home and I probably had at least 3 glasses of wine to wash away the memories of my truly strange first day at my fabulous new barn.

To this day, Mr. Motard still seems to think this is some sort of bizarre dressage ritual that we do as a form of greeting when going into a new training situation.  Like Frosh week.  He doesn't get that it was just...weird.

So years later, when I finally went back into full training with a different FEI coach, you should have see the disappointment on his face when we got ready to go after dropping off my mare...

"What?  We are leaving?  But he hasn't even asked you to do the chin-up yet!"

Monday, 28 November 2011

Mr. Motard helps me move.

**Alert** Contains more graphic language than usual.  But I swear it really happened.

I bet I know another thing we have in common.  How many of you have a significant other that thinks you are ENTIRELY INSANE for even participating in this sport?

Anyone?  Oh come on, don't lie.

We will call mine, Mr. Motard.

Yes.  This is really a picture of Mr. Motard.  It is not Liz's boyfriend.

Of course, when choosing a partner to compliment one's horsey lifestyle, the ideal would clearly be to find one that is really rich and fairly busy, so you have plentiful time and money to go about neurotically pursuing the hobby.

Easier said than done, there are only so many of these to go around and they are difficult to find in the first place, let alone capture.  Count me among the failures in this department.

So I know a compromise many of us have found works relatively well is to find a S.O with a hobby that is equally as time consuming and expensive as Dressage.  Thus, the prevalence of motorsports, sailing and aviation among spouses.  That way, you can agree on a "don't ask don't tell" policy regarding expenditures, and keep relative peace in the household.

Sailing and Aviation are preferred I think because they also have monthly fees associated with either the hanger or the slip, similar to boarding a horse.  Unfortunately for me, motorcycles are quite content to hang out in the basement gathering dust and not accruing any costs all winter, which doesn't make for quite level playing grounds.  Still, not a bad compromise.

But no matter how level I may be able to convince Mr. Motard the playing field may be in terms of obsessive hobbies, time, money - I can't even begin to put a dent in his hard wired perception that the people of dressage are all nuts.  It doesn't help that Mr. Motard is a bit different himself - he is an Engineer, after all, and is a bit like Sheldon Cooper, only better looking and more interested in sex.

Part of the problem is that he doesn't come out to the barn a lot, but only shows up for special occasions.  He doesn't see us do all of the normal things we do.  Like conversing with cats in goo-goo voices, apologizing to our horses for poking them in the eye while putting on bridles, or arguing with our boots re: NO our calves are NOT getting fatter and how maybe THEY are the ones with the problem.  Totally sane and rational daily stuff.

Instead he sees the extreme things.  Like the Christmas parties where the barn manager is riding around drunk and backwards on the resident shetland pony.  Or any horse show, where grown women are walking around crying or yelling. In fact, sometimes that woman is me.

A favorite instance was a time where a totally out of control horse ridden by a beautiful blonde Young Rider in full top hat and tails came barreling up the hill to the back stable ghetto at Palgrave at a flat out gallop, with the rider leaning back and hauling on all four reins while screaming "FUCKINGGGG CUNTTT!!!" at the top of her lungs.

Mr. Motard paused, then said "Now that can't be the horse's real name.  Does it actually say that on the little brass plaque on its halter?"

He often asks me if I see Cunt at shows, and if she is doing well.  And also why I picked such a boring name for my horse.

And this all really started... the day he helped me move the Platypus.  Due to the incident involving the chin-up.

Friday, 25 November 2011

It's time. Shit or get off the pot, Dressage Curmudgeon...

First, I want to thank all of you for your comments, it is really fun to know that people are actually reading the blog, whether you hate it or love it.

I really did start it just to make my friends laugh.  Also - because I am kind of sad about selling my horse and am not sure what I want to do next in the equestrian world - it is a fun outlet for me.  I do seriously hope that if nothing else when reading you get a feeling now and then that you are not alone when faced with the total weirdness that seems to permeate our hobby.

Perhaps if you don't find any common ground at all, and think that I am just a vitrol spewing bitch - I would suggest that in some instances, you too may be able to see the various Emperor's penises (or labia depending on gender) if you look a little bit harder. And for the record, I say this entirely tongue-in-cheek - in case anyone out there isn't on side with my humour, and based on some of the posts I have read, I get the feeling there just may be a few of you out there.  So don't get too excited. (due to their lack of clothes - get it?   No real genitals were involved or displayed, I am just messing with you).  

But then on the other hand, maybe you are much better off than me if you don't.  I often do think to myself how much easier life would be if I could see the invisible shorts too, and there are many days I really wish I could.  Unfortunately if there is an ass or a dick out there, I seem to be able to spot it.  It is stressful, really.  Maybe Valium would help.  I am open to suggestions.

I see naked classical dressage instructors.  They are everywhere, walking around like regular people....

Anyway, enough of that. Back to the story.

It had now been probably 3 or 4 months since I started trying to find the right dressage coach.  The one option that is fairly obvious that I had not yet tried was to ante up and go to one of the big name, competitive coaches in my area.


There are a few issues with this, as I am sure some of you can identify with.

First and foremost - there is the associated expense.  Now, if I was starting from scratch again today, I kind of know the scene well enough that I would be able to find a good coach stationed out of a barn that does not require a full training program, and we are fortunate enough to have some excellent options in my area.

But at the time, I was not as informed, and the people I had tried had..well, you read it... they sucked.  I wasn't taking any chances.  I was going to go whole hog - full training or whatever was required to get hooked up with a known, proven FEI coach.  And they don't come cheap.

To address this lack of finances issue, I did what we all do.  I started on a hard core program of self delusion, telling myself that it totally made sense to spend $1000++ per month on learning to ride.  Who wouldn't?  I would be an idiot not to, really, don't you think?  What's that?  Did I hear you say YES?  I thought so.  

I still may not be able to count tempis to save my life, but I must say, (if you can allow me to brag just a little), that my financial self delusion program has been beyond successful, and I can probably soundly kick anyone's ass in this department.  Shazam!  Take that.

As just one example, I proceeded to drive my 1995 Honda Civic into the ground for the next 5 years and 500,000 km because I really, really loved it.  Errr...yah, that's it.  Pfft, who wants a NEW car.  I loved "Old Blue".  It had nothing to do with lack of funds... noooo, noo, nothing at all.

"We've got a thing, and it's called, Poverty".  Wait, wait - I meant to say  "Radar Love".

So that was that.  Which brings up the next issue - would they want the Platypus?

Because as cute as I thought he was - it all goes back to the invisible shorts thing and how I never see them - I knew the truth.  He was not what most FEI level coaches dreamed of having in their barns.  Forget what the bulletin boards say about "a good horse is a good horse" blah blah blah... there is no way, no how, breed bias doesn't exist.  I will get into this discussion at many points in the future, but for now, I am sure you can identify.

So, I figured the best way to deal with point #2 was just to lay it all on the table.  I called up the biggest, hottest name in my area and asked if I could come for a ship-in lesson to discuss the possibility of putting the Platypus into a training program.

Sure!  Come on over!

So I loaded up the red rocket and off we went, and had the BEST LESSON YET!  I was so pumped.  She was an awesome coach, kind of funny in a dry way, the arena was beautiful, the horses were beautiful, barn was beautiful...

And best of all, she did not recoil in horror when I asked if we were welcome.  Of course!  Come and start in our full training program next month.

Finally!  The stars were aligning.  I was about to really get started.  FEI, here I come....right?