By now, I had wasted over a month dicking around with trying to find some Utopian version of "intro to dressage". Time was up - the Platypus was back in my hands, and the two of us had to work together to get this show on the road.
What to do, what to do. Well, several options presented themselves to me that I worked through in sequence, with varying degrees of success. No, that is not quite accurate. With really no success at all when taken individually, but the final outcome was the right one, a few months down the road.
First up... a local barn, maybe 15 minutes from where the Platypus was currently residing, was holding a series of dressage clinics with an excellent instructor. No, seriously! I am not being sarcastic. Someone I still think, to this day, can actually teach. They were going to be two weeks apart or something, I don't really remember - he would be coming on Saturdays to teach a group of people, and I could get in on the deal.
Wow! Sounds great. Only one thing missing -I didn't have a trailer, so I immediately ran out and bought the cheapest, ugliest piece of shit on 4 wheels I could locate, just to get this show on the road - that is how committed I was to the plan. (Those of you who know me, know I still own and use "the red rocket", and it is currently rotting in a field of soybeans somewhere in Highgate, waiting eagerly to someday return home so it can rot in my backyard in Kitchener).
For the record, if there is one thing that earns you more "shock and awe" looks than kakhi TS breeches and field boots at an upper level dressage barn, it is rolling into the parking lot with your PSG horse in ... the red rocket. Because the quality and appearance of your trailer is directly linked to your riding ability. Or something. I guess.
I am not sure when the transition occurred, but sometime between when I stopped riding as a teenager and started again as an adult, a move swept the nation to "pimp the ride" of our horses. I missed the memo. No more travelling around in a little steel bumper pull lugged by your Dad's station wagon with the wood stickers on the side (ahh, the smell of burning transmission still takes me back...). No, no - everyone has a big gooseneck aluminum slant load monstrosity with a dressing room up front - god forbid your horse see your undies while you change into your breeches in the back with him. Someone told me that this happened when the switch was made from Thoroughbreds to Warmbloods - Warmbloods being to stupid to back out of a trailer, and so they need to be able to turn around and walk out.
Ironically, one of the only trailer rollovers I have heard of in recent years was a Brenderup that got blown off the road by a stiff breeze. I think the Red Rocket could get hit by an incoming Scud Missile and still maintain an upright posture and a horse inside going "What was that? More importantly, why don't I have a haynet?"
I also bought the white polos AND... the $800 Cavallo boots. Yep, I was ready.
I got the trailer, got the Platypus, and limped gingerly off to the clinic, band-aids on the backs of my knees to stop the blood from seeping through my breeches.
Now if I can be serious here for a moment - well no, I will start by being a smartass like usual, then move to serious. You have been warned. Things started off well - If you ride in Ontario, you know that our advanced level male dressage rider population consists of a flock of 30/40-something, fairly short, fairly hot looking dark haired men (and one tall German guy). Until I got things straight, they were all pretty much interchangeable in my mind. They are all excellent coaches, easy on the eyes, and although they do not have a European accents, they could all easily pull off the wool cap look. So, even if the lesson had been a complete disaster, at least there was eye-candy.
And so .... what did we learn.
Well..we spent the entire lesson - at the walk. Nope, no second level, walk-canter transition miracle for me. He walked beside the Platypus, with a whip behind his butt, asking us to stop-forward-stop-forward, expecting instant reaction to my aid and backing it up for me with the whip if I didn't get the appropriate response. My homework was to go home and practice this. Go. Stop. Go.
Well, at the time, I was a bit...underwhelmed. But no problem, at least we had homework, and would be building on this next time, when he returned!
Which, of course, never happened. Shortly thereafter, something went wrong with the relationship between him and the barn owner - who knows, I wasn't privy to the details - and the instructor never came back. It could be that while sitting home that night with a glass of wine, he said to himself "my god, I am never going back to the mind numbing self flagellation which is also known as teaching beginner dressage". I like the other explanation better though.
But even to this day, I do think this lesson was so important to my understanding of one of the first principles that you must get right when you are starting a dressage horse - the horse has to GO immediately forward when you put your leg on. And keep on GOING until you tell them otherwise. No "pretty please, kick, nag, kick, come on, kick, nudge, kick, nag, cluck, cluck, cluck..." Sounds simple, but wow, it doesn't seem to be that popular in practice. I also think, good for him for making me do the world's most boring clinic to really get this principle slowly drilled into my brain, without worrying about whether I was being dazzled by my amazing progress and would be back to spend more money next time.
The other interesting outcome of this clinic was... the saddle. And the beginning of the my understanding of the THE FIRST LAW OF SADDLE DYNAMICS...which states that whatever saddle you have now, your new coach hates it.