Friday 31 August 2012

Kindergarten begins now. Be all you can be. Do not pick your nose, try not to pee your pants

And so, we settled in to life at Liliput and began to put together a training program with Coach Ritenau. 

Since Ms. V was only just turning three, and I had that mortal fear of RUSHING MY HORSE firmly instilled by bulletin board nutjobs (see earlier post), based on their guidance I decided that my goal would be to work with her for about 30 minutes, 3 times per week. Apparently any more than this, and her brain would turn to soft scrambled eggs and plop out her ears in chunks.  (Or something. I forget what exactly the problem was. Something frightening).

These three rides would include one lesson session with Ritenau.  And - in addition to all of this - I would also continue taking a lesson per week on Swiffer, the pony I had already been riding now for the last month or so.

Why so many lessons, Curmudgeon?  I understand the "hunter rider deprogramming" sessions on the dressage pony, but surely you could have taught Ms. V basic walk, trot, canter yourself. 

I don't think there is a single rider out there in the world who takes lessons, who has not had at least one person say to them "Hey - I thought you knew how to ride - why are you still taking lessons".  (Usually said by someone who looks like they need to take some lessons). 

I do think there is more than one answer to this entirely obnoxious question. I can think of at least three.  Number one would of course be... why is it any of your fucking business.  Second answer to obnoxious question would be that you are striving to learn and improve your riding.  (But really, anyone who is enough of a dork to ask you this in the first place really deserves answer number one). 

The third, and less obvious reason to take lessons with someone - even if you pretty much know what it is that you are doing and how to accomplish it - is that it officially puts you in a relationship where you are giving another person permission to tell you that what you are doing... is weird.  Ineffective, Just not all that hot.  Or downright sucks. Without there being any hard feelings attached. If you only ever ride by yourself and never take lessons - well, that would be kind of like never having sex with another person, yet thinking you are quite the dynamo in bed.  If that makes you happy - well, who am I to judge. But sometimes it is nice to get a second opinion. 

(For the record...getting a third opinion from another coach behind the back of your first coach will cause just about as much strife in your life as getting third opinion from another man about whether or not you are, in fact, a dynamo in bed.  Maybe more)

I have often wished I had one of these people just in my general everyday life as well.  To help me to be all I can be. Someone who would take an hour of their time to study me intently, then announce "you have a hair growing out of your ear" or "there is a big blackhead on your cheek" or "you absolutely cannot wear those underwear with that dress".  This becomes increasingly important as I get older and my vision gets worse, and my attention to detail with respect to personal grooming is admittedly not all it used to be.  Luckily  Mr. Motard is pretty forthcoming with his critiques of just about everything, but I am so used to tuning him out most of the time, that sometimes I miss the important messages.  (Which might explain why I left the house one morning with an unnoticed lump in the leg of my pants, only to have a pair of panties from the last wearing drop out onto my foot and into the hallway halfway through the day). 

It is hard to be all you can be. 

The easiest way is apparently to join the army, (and I saw how much that girl in Officer and a Gentleman sucked at that and she is younger and fitter than I ever have been. This is my second reference to a Richard Gere movie, isn't it.  Mr. Curmudgeon is going to be so disappointed in me).  A distant second in the race to excellence is to pay someone to gently put their foot to your ass and keep on pushing you, a bit more, each day.  

This was essentially Coach Ritenau's role when it came to helping me with Ms. V.  Most of the time she watched quietly, gave a few pointers now and then, but her keen eye was trained more on pushing me out of the comfort zone and into the realm of someday accomplishing something.

Like - riding down the longside now and then, instead of staying on my safe little circle.  Or - cantering.  Or - getting on Ms. V without longeing her first. 

Professionals who put sixty days or "w/t/c" on a horses are forced to accomplish clearly defined and time driven goals, even if they feel that they may die doing so. Owners starting their own horses are more likely to go entirely the other way, and slowly and surely accomplish absolutely nothing.  We fall into the trap of "oh, she is only a baby.  It is ok if we don't canter for the next year" or other coddling modes.  A popular version of this story is, of course "it is important that my horse is exposed to all environments, so I will just trail ride for the first year to be sure we are very solid in our "walk around aimlessly" skills before we start any real work".

And so, to be sure this did not happen to us, Coach Ritenau gently pushed us to try new things, and would also climb aboard and do these things herself, just in case I thought she was just a sadist with some sort of secret death wish for me.  Voila.  They can be done. 

We also set a goal to attend a walt-trot class at a local show by the end of the summer, to up the ante just a bit.   Which of course, made me quite happy since this would not likely have been a goal if Coach Ritenau thought we were lucky to both emerge from six months under saddle alive. 


  1. Love the sex analogy!
    And I agree with the need for a trainer. . .I have gone without and me and my mare have not made it too far. . .But then I started lessons for my horse and me and she improved quickly! Then she got hurt, but we are getting back on track.

  2. Ditto Allison...I love this blog...

  3. Thanks to you, I ventured over to the UDDB. Never even heard of them before this, and man, do I want to quit dressage and write a blog about those bitches. I NEVER, NEVER, want to be an over forty five year old dressage rider still struggling to get out of training level after reading through those hens garble (yes, I made that word up but it seemed fitting). I don't think many of them get much sex from one man, let alone need to talk to a second man to find out if they are a dynamo in bed. If they did, they wouldn't be on the computer so damn much. Geez, get out and ride those five warmbloods you are moving up the levels on all ready!

    Thanks for killing it for me!

  4. When I explain, while trying to cap the sarcasm and/or strained patience from my tone of voice, why I, an old woman, am still taking riding lessons, I usually mumble something about wanting to ride better OR pay to have someone with "eyes on the ground" to make sure what I AM doing is correct. Once the eyes of the person I'm talking to stop rolling around in their head, they usually suggest I "give up" on dressage lessons and ride down the road, as you so beautifully put it, "perfecting our 'walk around aimlessly' skills."

    If I'm talking to a non-horse person, I don't mind the question or the suggestion.

    But the horse people who ask? They remind me of the portly 20-something nurse's aide at the free blood pressure clinics held at the local Kaiser medical center who asks if I am exercising regularly. I am ALWAYS tempted to answer, "Why, yes I AM exercising regularly. I suggest you try it."

    I usually say nothing beyond "Yes," however, because this aide knows where they keep needles and things and I may have to have an injection. She is the last person I want coming at me with the business end of a syringe.

    Loved the underwear story. That HAS happened to me. More than once.

  5. My husband STILL asks why I'm taking lessons every week. Usually with the eye rolls, the head shakes, and dripping with sarcasm about how little my trainer does to earn her keep. But his question has more to do with how the cost affects his ability to pay for things (You know, like for bread or milk, or really any type of food...).

    I've never minded someone else asking me why I take lessons every week. If you must ask, then you don't understand, and all further remarks about horses, or riding, will be ignored until you get a clue.

  6. stirfry at a show? now I know you're not from USA

  7. I love he timeliness of this blog post... I read it shortly after reading a message board post about a 3 year old :::GASP::: showing at training level! Because surely 5 minutes of walk, trot, canter and a couple of 20 meter circles will do irreparable damage to said horse!

    I often wonder why I annoy myself with the message boards... But when the other alternative is staring at my office wall all day it seems like the more entertaining choice.

  8. My horse went from unbroken to training level in six months, first level after about a year, a level a year after than until I1. No fuss, high expectations. He is the happiest horse you will ever know and sound as a bell. Fast track by amateur standards, a bit slow for a professional. There are so many silly women coddling their horses and slowing down their progress.

  9. Alois Podhajsky trained his groom to be his "eyes on the ground" to avoid putting his senior riders in the role of having to critique their superior. What an honest admission of the need to have someone else critique your riding!

    1. That is interesting. I have tried giving my boss honest feedback on his performance and people have suggested that it might be one of the reasons I keep getting fired.

  10. I will wait patiently until you post again.
    I will wait patiently until you post again.
    I will wait... sigh...

    I love your journey. Wish you had time to share more of it!

    I will wait patiently until...

  11. The one that drives me nuts is "Why are you taking lessons/having training rides on your LEASED horse?" As if there is something terrible about trying to improve what one has, even if one only has it temporarily. The usual argument is that you're giving the horse "free training" for its owner and isn't that a terrible thing? Um, no it isn't. It's training for *me* too, and if the horse goes back better trained than it was when I started, all the better.

  12. Love this blog, I find myself laughing out loud at your honesty and assessment of riding dressage. You are a riot, I check in regularly looking for new updates. I am in my late 40's former hunter trying to convert, your blog really resonates with me. Even read it to my non horsey husband, he gets a kick out of your reference to "Mr. Motard" Certain he feels a kindred spirit with him. My poor coach got so frustrated with me and my one leg that refused to stay heel down, I am now tied to my girth.(only one of many issues :-)) Hope I get better soon or I fear she will resort to duct taping me to the horse. Have had lessons for years, this coach is taking me back to basics and I respect her tremendously for it. I could not imagine riding without having the support of a coach....