Wednesday 23 May 2012

Dressage in the land of Lilliput

Then, one day I got a tip from someone – I forget who – that a hot “Young Rider” who had gone abroad to train with some Dressage foreigners that I have never heard of (but, hey , whatever – does it matter?  Being foreign, they must be superior to anything local, it goes without saying, right?) was returning to these here parts to begin her own program.
A local barn would be her base – and, wait for it, wait for it… the even more exciting news was that they had experienced dressage horses I could use for lessons.  Exciting, no?
Err.. well – that was not entirely accurate.  On further investigation, they actually had dressage ponies.  Experienced up to 2nd level.
Now don't panic.  This was not a bad thing.  Finally all of those years of looking at group photos and wondering who the pathetically short person standing beside her statuesque friends was (and realizing with some horror that it was, in fact, me) were about to pay off.  Bring on the ponies, hold the roller skates.  It could just work.
And so, I set up a lesson and off I went to investigate the potential of experiencing dressage in the Land of Lilliput.  
Oh Curmudgon… will this be the magical place where the impossible triad of decent digs, a decent coach and a horse to take lessons on that is not half dead actually coagulate together?
Well – kind of.
Checkpoint 1:  The facility 
The barn was…uh…rustic. 
Especially after Muddy View Acres, where everything was brand-spanking new, walking into a typical “built 30 years ago with the battle scars to prove it” type facility does underwhelm you a bit.  Which makes no sense at all.  Just like many other things in the horse industry.

Now - really - barns are like everything else in life, aren’t they. 
The people in charge of deciding what’s hot, what’s not, have to keep moving the target.  Who would want to move to fabulous NEW barns, for fabulous NEW prices - if really nothing had changed.  So, we must poo-pooh the old, embrace the new, and crack open the wallets.  If we really loved our horses, we would.  Right? 
Although it is hard to put in words what exactly it is that makes a barn look tired and dated - there is something - you just know it when you see it.   And it is not simply a factor of time in and of itself.  It is an accumulation of little trendy stylistic things that all add up to say... yikes...this is not a barn of the new millenium.  It is kind of like Jessica Simpson in mom jeans.  Not hot.  You just know it.  How?  You

Make fun of my jeans all you want, I still have one hell of a nice rack!  Take that, biatches!

And so just like concert shirts with white bodies and black arms, or mullets - there are stable design nuances that were fine and  hip and hot and trendy 30 years ago…  But now – even if you were dropped from a time machine into a stable of the 70’s, even in its hottest, hippest, trendiest heyday, even when it was brand spanking new… you would just KNOW it was a stable of the 70’s.  

Think back to the first barn you ever took lessons or boarded at.  Remember how excited you were!  Every horse was beautiful, and the place was palatial.  Right?
Remember stalls with that 1 inch mesh stuff stapled into the openings on the doors and fronts?  Now – ghetto. 
Deep brown creosote everything – ghetto. 
Ahh, the smell takes me back...I can almost feel the skin peeling off of my hands as I imagine painting all of the chew marks on the stall walls

10 x 10 stalls?  Once the norm.. now – ghetto (this one is probably due to the fact that a horse that is under 16 hands high is now considered by many to be – ghetto). 
Arenas with small windows made out of that corrugated see-thru green plastic stuff – chewed up wood fencing instead of electrobraid – plain plywood kickboards – grooming in crossties instead of a specially designed grooming cubbyhole – no heated wash stall – dusty little viewing rooms with smeary plexiglass windows and chairs too low to sit in and actually see out at the same time, and yellowy piles of “the Corinthian” dating back to 1979 (what? Sympatico is DEAD?) - incandescent bulbs encased in little cages to prevent breakage so your horse won’t electrocute himself when he goes bananas in the crossties (since he is not in a special grooming cubbyhole) and whacks his head into them - all now considered to the signs of a horribly, pathetically old-school ghetto stables. 
(I am kind of in the swing of things now, but there was most definitely a point when I got back into riding where I would go to a new barn, and be paralyzed with fear that I will do something unacceptably 70’s, and wind up having some bitchy blogger making fun of me behind my back).
And so this was exactly the vibe I was getting as I toured Land of Lilliput Stables.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with anything I saw there.  If the year was 1980.  Or if I focused solely on function over form, which would be the logical thing to do. 
The arena was a coverall, and I must admit, they are not my favourites, for a lot of reasons, none of them have to do strictly with functionality, but instead are based entirely on the vibe you get from coveralls.  Which is stupid – but true.  They are flappy and noisy, and make that freaky ziiipppp sound when the snow falls off them.  Sure, on a sunny winter day once in a while, they heat up and you can wear a T-shirt while riding (and feel guilty as your horse melts in a pool of winter coat hair and sweat).  As is usual with coveralls – it was not actually attached to the barn, which meant you had to walk through some assortment of mud / slush / ice to get to it for a large portion of the year. 
But there were definitely positives as well – the barn was owned by former farmers (need I say more).  Former farmers that now worked for a fencing company – so although the paddocks weren’t huge, they were safe.  The stalls were of average size, with rubber mats and fresh clean bedding (oh, how novel!), and the fact that each one had a different door design could be interpreted as…charming.  I think.  The hay was clean, green and dust free.  The footing in the coverall was firm and sandy, not the typical fluffy brown stuff which is composed of who knows what ... but really, if you have to choose, firm is better than deep and suspensory sucking.  And for the care they were promising to provide (and I was giving the benefit of the doubt here, and assuming they would deliver) the board was insanely cheap. 
To summarize… I was not sold on the facility..  But for no reason relating to anything other than pure unadulterated cosmetics.  It looked safe and comfortable.  Homey even.
Come on Curmudgeon.  Get over yourself!  Ms. V doesn’t care about the aesthetic appeal of her digs.  If she is warm, dry, and not sleeping on concrete, who cares if the cats outnumber the horses here by at least 57. 
For once you speak the truth, italics person.  This is true.  Very true.  If I were blind, I would have been totally pumped about the place.  So, I put my snobbery aside, and soldiered on.  Let’s try the lesson. 

(Again, I thank whoever it is that I am supposed to thank to prevent enternal damnation that I am not single and internet dating, because I am sure that is a whole new dimension of underwhelming, but in the same general ballpark).


  1. Oh we totally had one of those in our area. Mr. I rode in Germany, I teach jumping lessons! Which basically equated to the equine version of a demolition derby..... Success was gauged on clearing a fence. "OH look! You made it over 3', lets crank it to 3'6" and see if you make it to the other side alive!". Yikes.

  2. Oh, new installment!

    But you know, once you feed the addiction...

    May we have another??

  3. I boarded my first horse in a place like that, sans the cover all arena. I took lessons at a fancy/schmancy barn, I cleaned tack for my lessons.. but when I got my first horse.. I boarded her at a place exactly how you describe the barn you may have taken a lesson at....
    Come to think of it.. where I currently do self-care for my horses, is an old dairy barn that had the stanchions removed, stalls put in with hog panel wire on the stall fronts and doors...and metal plates covering where the cleaning chain used to be.
    The metal plates are only infront of the doors so you have to be careful where you step. The old bulk milk tank now holds grain, and the stalls range in size from foaling size to 8x10 hopefully.
    We don't have an arena per se, its an oval space just a hair bigger than a round pen, and the panels look like scaffolding, most bent a little.
    I keep my tack at home because other boarders have shoved the "tack room" full of saddles and boxes and things...
    My horses and ponies have a run in shelter, a large grassy paddock/small pasture, shade trees, automatic waterer...
    And the land/barn owner is a former/current farmer who at age 78 still does her own hay cutting and baling. I have learned to drive a tractor and bobcat there.. Quite like Muddy Acres!!