Thursday 15 November 2012

If the student ain't happy - ain't nobody happy. happy and stagnating. It is what we all want. Right?

Wait a second here... you were not "self teaching" yourself.  You had Coach Ritenau helping you!

Yes I did.  She was right there at my side for 2 lessons per week or whatever it was at the time.

And herein lies the problem with many lower level, starting out coaches, working with many lower level riders.  I will of course never know what she was really thinking, but if I were to guess, I would say it was something along the lines of..."Curmudgeon read a book, she thinks she is doing what she is supposed to be doing... I will stay out of it and let her continue on her merry way".

I am sure if I had said at that time - "hey, let's try a horse communicator" - answer would have been...great idea. "Bitless bridle?" Sounds like a plan. "New saddle?" great. "Horse and Rider Pilates pole dancing?" that should help. "Chiro, massage, and flaming marshmallows?" let me get the matches for you. "Stuffing jalapeno peppers up horse's butt?" Why not. Whatever you want to try, my dear student, let's give it a go. If it will keep you feeling engaged, intelligent, and like pulling out your pen to write that cheque - I think it is a marvelous idea.

You can google just about any phrase and find a picture to go with it. The internet never ceases to amaze me .

(The other alternative is that she had no idea that things were amiss, and really didn't realize that we were in the process of creating a Faberge egg of a horse that would eventually become very confused and offended when the time came to put the aids ON. I will give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that this was not the case).

I know Dr. Phil does not usually bring up the topic of dressage on his talk show.  Actually, I even searched his website just now to be sure, seeing as a topic about an insane wife spending all of the family's disposable income on buying and training a dressage horse wouldn't be totally out of the question as a subject for a show...("WHAT were you THINKING!").

But if Dr. Phil did decide to broach the subject of why it is so many adult amateur dressage students are spending so much time and money on truly mediocre coaching, even when they live in areas with lots of good instructors... he might say the reason is "if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy".

That is, for a great percentage of adult ams out there - if they feel useless because they can't accomplish any of the things the coach is suggesting... it is only a matter of time before they find a coach that likes whatever the hell it is they ARE doing, making themselves temporarily happy.  Until some life altering event occurs to open their eyes to the sad state of reality - like seeing a video of some jiggling slouchy rider flopping around on her horse and realizing with horror exactly who that person is.

A coach like Ritenau knows that if you aren't happy - ain't nobody going to be happy, because you are likely going to pack your bags and go elsewhere. To be temporarily happy, then unhappy with some other coach and start the cycle all over again.  When you are just starting out with only a few students, you don't want to do anything which might scare any of them away, you just can't afford it. Really, an adult amateur with a 3 year old who can get on, ride around and execute circles and whatnot without being terrified or close to death is a relatively good catch, in the grand scheme of things.  Beggars can't be choosers.

So I am sure when she watched us go around creating an overall pretty picture 95% of the time, save for a few herky-jerky transitions and moments of unsteady contact, she told herself that things were just fine.  Happy horse, happy rider, no resistance on anyone's part.  Looking good.

You of course recognize my situation, and know at least 10 people who are in it, or have read about them on a bulletin board, since it is so incredibly common.  Here I was, obsessively going to clinics, reading, critiquing total strangers and coming up with ways to avoid their fate - while not realizing at all that I was comfortably settled into exactly the sort of enabling relationship that would ensure I was right there with them, mastering the 20 metre circle forever.

If I had had the time, I would have put the cherry on top, I am sure, and gone onto UDBB to tell everyone about my fabulous new mare, then proceeded to explain to everyone how lightness, harmony and love were going to take us up the levels, just as the masters had promised.

(And yes, to answer your forward 10 years down the road to today... when you see my post titled "Help! I need the perfect stallion to breed my stuck at 1st level mare to..." OF COURSE this has been my plan all along, silly!)


  1. At least you rode around "creating a pretty picture 95 percent of the time." I'd settle for riding around creating any kind of picture that didn't suck 9 percent of the time.

    This journey business is making me tired ;oD Oh well. Dressage is keeping me very humble as well as body sore and poor. Masochism 101.

    1. I'm right there with you TBDancer. The only thing I can be consistent about 95% of the time is being inconsistent...

  2. You forget you FIRST had to go around NOT looking 95% able on the platypus, so you had in fact improved upon that LOL. I swear we ALL have that first horse when we made the switch that had to try and go all transvestite to make the cut but just stood out like, "Im not a dressage horse just watch!" So a lot of those 1st level dressage horses are actually "le platypus" with tons of training to get there and people stick it out because their trainer doesnt know what "can't do it" looks like vs wont.

    But more often you are right it is the shingle trainer who hung up their shingle once they had one person say they should teach (usually their mother).

  3. LOL, I love your blog!

    We all have our stories with instructors I guess.... I finally quit one instructor who was making me feel like an idiot. I know, you might be thinking, but she must be being honest!!! No, she is a perfectionist. Learned there is a huge difference. Apparently my horse and I were only ready for intro at our first dressage show per her: should only be walking in circles, trotting in circles, not cantering, making my horse horribly dull to aids, and wasting what little energy she has on "calming down and focusing".

    Went back to previous instructor (she is great but since she is so great it can be hard to schedule lessons which I why I was looking) who in one lesson prepped me for Training Level tests. We got a 1st and a 3rd at our first dressage show ever. This was only our second show ever! She did tell me we are ready to try first level tests too at our next show, and we are working on second level now. If I had gone to that show at Intro, I would have gotten my rear end handed to me (someone got over an 80!!! I do not have a horse that will every score that high.) and it would have been a self fulfilling prophecy of how much I suck at dressage.

    Perfect little walking 10 meter circles can bite me.... So can perfect 20 trot circles.... Previous instructor (now current instructor again) rocks! She is honest yet somehow we make progress!

  4. There are a lot of bad instructors out there, and it's hard to find the good ones. I've ridden with probably 15+ instructors in my years of riding (that's not a good thing) and the ones that scare me the most are the ones who have no feedback for you whatsoever. I figure that's because (1) They know how to ride, but they can't figure out how to communicate HOW to achieve what they are asking you to accomplish, which then means they are a crap instructor, or (2) They actually really don't know. Either way, not a good scenario.

    My last instructor sounds a hell of a lot like Ritenau. She kept telling me I was "fine" when I would worry aloud about whether I'd make it back from a jump course alive. I finally realized she was putting money before safety. Scary!!

    I feel like trainers are like any other athletic coach -- they have to push you out of your comfort zone, without tempting death, so that you get better at whatever you are aiming for. That's what you're paying them for. Someone who maintains the status quo or scares the crap out of you is not the right one.

  5. ""Help! I need the perfect stallion to breed my stuck at 1st level mare to..." OF COURSE this has been my plan all along, silly!)"

    Breed her to a Friesian! Breed her to a Friesian! All the hair the resulting foal will have automatically will make it a sooper dressage star. Or, breed her to Guaranteed Gold so that you'll get a kewl kolored foal that will be worth a gazillion dollars!

    ...I spend way too much time on the forums, rolling my eyes at things like that^. :D Love you blog! It helps get me through my boring work days!

    1. Yes, stay tuned for my next blog, where I breed horse to GG, get a kewl kolored foal that is insanely talented...err...but only ever shows on the line.

      Actually, I am trending towards Redwine, as long as she throws in couple of dead chicks from her bathtub into the deal.

    2. Ahhhh, yes, the house full of animal poop and a bathtub of dead chicks... Also, nothing says "professional" quite like having your semen lab on your kitchen counter. If you order Redwine's there's a good chance that it could end up being one of the other stud's- it could be a lot of fun taking bets on who the actual daddy ends up being. :D