Wednesday 4 January 2012

Will I be getting my freak on, on your freak?

Conformation and visual appeal or lack thereof are actually the easy pieces of the puzzle when looking at sales ads. The toughest thing of all to evaluate - really at any point in time, young, old, nearly dead - has to be temperament, and specifically "hotness".  (No, no, I am not back to the running guy on the triangle with the tarp.  I am being serious here!)

Reader Jackie was kind enough to send me this link, and it does cover many of the areas where misunderstandings can exist.. for example, the relationship between bombproof, stupid, and nearly dead...

I know it is probably no different for those of you looking for love on internet sites, I can just imagine how my online dates would turn out if I didn't already have the perfect-in-every-way Mr. Motard (Yah, well... let me tell you, her pic was not bad, she sounds ok on the phone... but WOW we just aren't compatible in the bedroom.  She put her fingers in her ears and went la-la-la-la when I started talking about how important it is to get your pole* vertical, and just totally LOST it when you ask her if she has any interest in trying some "airs above the ground" - I didn't waste all of this money on the stripper kit and sex swing to wind up dating a prude. I bet riding from behind would be right out of the question - DELETE).

But really, whether sellers try to be honest or not regarding the degree of freaky their horse possesses, I don't think there is any way to totally overcome this, especially when you are dealing in the world of dressage.  We will never all agree on what constitutes "good temperament", because there absolutely is no once size fits all when it comes to temperament - or your definition of "dressage success" for that matter.

Why?  Well, when dealing with adult ams who are new to dressage, there are two main problems:

- Horses that reach higher levels and are competitive these days are firecrackers
- Middle aged women who want to reach higher levels and be competitive these days typically aren't

(And yes, I do include myself in this category on most days, so don't get all pissy and think I am being elitist)

"Oh but Curmudgeon, the pyramid says "Rhythm" is first, and that is the result of physical and mental relaxation. A tense or reactive "firecracker" horse is missing the first rung!  This is the whole issue with "competitive dressage"!

I get so sick of people saying this.  Yes, we all want relaxation.  No, we don't want rhythm mistakes, and the hotter and more reactive your horse gets, the harder it is to channel their energy in a "relaxed" way, no doubt.  But if your horse is bombproof to the point of near death, that is just a little too relaxed.

To really witness this - spend some time scribing at training level, over the course of several years (for the love of all that is holy, wear pants!).

But I am in a box!  No one can even see my legs!
There are very relaxed, rhythmic horses that will win at training level, every single one of those several years.  Again, again, again.  ZZzzz... First, they make for a very boring day, often of high scores and few mistakes, which is not at all entertaining.

Secondly - although they earn scores that would get any bulletin board to heartily agree that "YES!  If you are consistently scoring 65%+ you are READY for the next level!" for some reason... they never do move on.

Then ride one of these "relaxed to death, I smoked the first layer of the pyramid and came back for seconds" horses.  You may want to sing while you ride... may I suggest "flog,  flog, flog your horse".  Because if the horse is not at least a little reactive, you are in for a non-productive or at least very boring ride.

Unless you are a hard core low level DQ and plan to stay that way (not that there is anything wrong with that if it is your goal..), you may want to set your sights on something a little more fiery.

And the flip side of this is...I really hate to say it, I know it is going to piss someone off... but if you can't handle at least "medium salsa" in your horses, you may have to decide that "hard core low level DQ" is where your sights should be.

Or, perhaps win the lottery, because near dead bombproof AND easy to ride at upper levels is going to set you back.  Lots.

I am not saying the "bombproof" horse cannot make it up the levels.  I have ridden a few of these horses over the years now that have progressed quite far.  One was a perennial Young Rider's horse that never did particularly well in the ring who needed to be "jazzed" up a bit before he would really "come through".  After riding him a few times, I realized that "jazzed" translated roughly into "harassed incessantly into getting his lazy butt in gear", (which is maybe less scary than a horse with go, but so incredibly freaking frustrating it will sap any joy out of riding).  It is was easy to blame his lack of success in the ring on his gaits (after all, he was part TB and judges have a bias blah-blah-blah), but really, when the rider is working that hard to do everything...nothing can look very beautiful, regardless of the breed.

And I am not saying that firecrackers are for everyone, but if you truly want to make it up the levels, can tolerate a bit of terror now and again - and think your hips can take a fall or two without breaking, I do think it is your better bet.  Buy the sharpest horse you can actually ride (after being realistic with yourself about what constitutes "the sharpest horse you can actually ride"... hmm, material for a whole post right here...coming up!).

Short term, you will be frustrated as your horse acts like a wingnut as a 4 year old at training level and you get smoked by all of the nearly-deads, but longer term, as your horse boogies around the ring passaging without a whip, you will forget the times you were humiliated by his exuberance...

*Yes, I know - spelling is different.  Work with me on the joke, would you?


  1. So right - at TL we were lucky to make it around the ring because there was so much to spook at on a 20 metre circle - once we got past 3rd level he had so much more to think about that he got higher scores, not gotta have a little nuttiness in there!

  2. As a novice dressage rider, your blog continues to keep me grounded, as well as keeps me chuckling!

  3. I've actually had a trainer say to me.. "Pack him up and put him back in your barn until he is ready for 3rd." Also known as "needs more of a job" type horse :) He wont end up at Mcdonalds, we've got sizzler written all over us. LOL Of course he fitted up to be WAY too much horse and is in jumper land now... But who is keeping count?

  4. "Medium salsa" made me laugh so hard. My mare is exactly that. I absolutely love your blog and savour each post, I'll be reading every last one of them! -Ida