Tuesday 25 December 2012

Sally - what exactly were you smoking when you wrote that book...

Merry Christmas, dear readers, Merry Christmas.

You will be excited to know that this year, Santa has brought me a delightful shitstorm of equine disappointment that I couldn't have made up if I tried.  Unfortunately, you will have to wait to hear about it, but I promise you it will make the shorts episode seem like a non-event.  Even my much hinted at "goin' postal" episode, where I screamed in the face of Mr. "do you think I made it to the World Cup riding the way YOU do" seems like a walk in the park now. And really, I thought it was going to be one of the highlights.  Who knew!

Don't ever think the horse world has let you down to the point where you have reached your ultimate nadir.  I promise you, there is some dork out there ready to fire up their mining equipment and dig you in just a little deeper.

But first, back to our story.  The quicker I get this other stuff out of the way, the quicker we can all be depressed by my equine life as it stands today, a bunch of posts down the road.  Sounds like fun, doesn't it.  Let's go, shall we!

So now where were we...(I have been so tied up in real-time curmudgeonly activities, I have totally lost track...) oh yes - I had mastered training level on a 17 year old horse, but unlike many other middle aged women, I decided to continue on with my journey.  I said goodbye to The Swiffer, got out my crampons, and took the next steps towards "climbing the pyramid"...

Paddy Boy was just the man to help me to do it.  He was also an elderly New Forest Pony, but he was confirmed second level - which, if you have spent more than 15 minutes on any dressage bulletin board - you know is "THE DOORWAY TO THE UPPER LEVELS"...

Why Curmudgeon?  What is it about second level that separates the hunters doing a pattern from the horses doing DRAAA-SAH-GGG.  

Well, there are different ways to look at answering this question.

The textbook response is of course, that second level is where the first seeds of collection are planted.  The Purpose of first level is said to be to confirm a horse has "developed the thrust to achieve improved balance and thoroughness and to maintain a more consistent contact with the bit".  The purpose of second level is to confirm that the horse "accepts more weight on the hindquarters (collection); moves with an uphill tendency; and is reliably on the bit".  (According to our Competitions Handbook, a horse does not have to be "reliably on the bit" until 2nd level, but according to our judges - god forbid a three year old be "fussy in the contact" during a walk trot class.  Makes perfect sense, no?)

As a scribe, what I can tell you about second level from observing many a mind-numbingly boring test is this - any half decent horse can go into the ring and bop around doing a snappy tempo'd trot, some leg yeild with haunches here and there, in and out (depending on whether the instructions say shoulder-in or renvers)... and if they keep their head dead still, and are quiet and obedient - they are likely to crack 60.

But where the definition between the two levels beings to really show itself is in one of the movements that seems so simple, but in fact is really hard to do, and clearly demonstrates if a horse is just plowing around on the forehand and not sitting down and engaging it's hind end, or is actually starting to get a clue...

The simple change of lead.

Which is why it is correctly (in my opinion anyways, for what that is worth - nothing really) a double coefficient in tests 1 and 2.  (More on this later).

However, as a struggling adult am rider I can tell you the true difference between first and second level.

That nice little statement "All trot work may be ridden sitting or rising, unless stated" has cruelly been ripped from the test headers at second level.  That's right ladies.  Find yourself a sturdy non-chafing sports bra, and have a seat.  You aren't going anywhere in dressage until you do.

I would like to say that with my exceptional athleticism and equestrian prowess, I was able to easily master the sitting trot.  But if I did, first of all, all of you mere mortals would hate me for being so wonderful.  Secondly, I would be a raging liar.  Because I struggled to master sitting trot on any horse, and on Ms. V in particular until I we pretty much reached second level together.

It is not that I didn't try.  I read Sally Swift, and I faithfully tried to envision my ass nestled into a warm pile of mashed potatoes smeared all over the saddle, or whatever the hell freakish visual image she encouraged me to conjure up in my mind in "Centered Riding".  I thought of pedaling a bike backwards.  I tried to pretend I was doing the hoochie koo.  I imagined being gang raped by monkeys, picturing melting ice cream dripping from my amputated knees, dry humping the saddle, and whatever other totally useless thought patterns that were suggested to me on a variety of bulletin boards, in authoritative ways, by people who probably could not truly sit the trot themselves.  Surprise, surprise - none of them worked for me.

Curmudgeon - the key to the sitting trot lies at the base of the pyramid.  Once you master RHYTHM and RELAXATION - your horse will create a place for you to sit, and all will fall into place naturally.  

Sure. Yah. Sounds good. And I would say that is absolutely true for me today - I can get on pretty well any horse and cruise around in sitting trot without any issue.

But back in the day... it was a little more difficult

Because you know how it is. You are going around in posting trot, putting the pieces together...listening to Coach Ritenau

...forrward... ride into the connntact....beeeennnd....inside leg to outside reeeein...don't forget to giiiiveee....(ok, ok, I think I have it, I am climbing the pyramid...rhythm, yep, relaxation, yep...).

Nice Curmudgeon, he looks good.  Now try sitting just for a few strides, then posting again... (ok, ready, thinking mashed potatoes, oozing slime, dripping ice cream...ready...here I go..)

BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG - I would immediately become the ball part of a bolo bat whacking against the poor horse's back with fury.

Do you remember the Wham-O people coming to your schoolyard and doing yo-yo and bolo bat demos to make you want to own one?  Or was that only in Peel District?  (Mr. Motard says they came to his school too, so I am not imagining it)

If there actually were warm mashed potatoes on my saddle, they would have been squirting out from under my ass and spraying at the kickboards along with the ice cream dripping from my knees, and the monkeys would have their gang raping penises snapped right off their torsos (take that, little perverts), as I hoochie-kooed all over the place like a jackhammer.

It is hard for a horse to maintain relaxation and rhythm when they are suddenly faced with all of this. So that magical place to sit everyone talks about - yah, it does exist.  And yah, it will magically disappear the first time your ass gives the saddle a nice hard slap.

Like so many other things in dressage, taking one piece in isolation is easy.  Tying them all together is hard.  So, my advice to you my friend is this - suck it up and keep trying.  There is nothing deep and meaningful that any poster on UDBB can tell you to help you learn to sit the trot.  Don't expect me to provide you with some magical trick here on this blog either, I have no fricking clue what it is. You will suck.  For a long time. Practice. Apologize to your horse daily.  One day, it will all work out.

Enjoy your mashed potatoes with turkey tonight - and watch out for the monkeys.



  1. Merry Christmas Curmudgeon :)

  2. Sorry you had a crappy day, because with the imagery in this post you just totally made ours!

  3. Looking forward to the remainder of your promised posts. I am still struggling with POSTING trot. I think if I just give it the "oh, hell, WHATEVER" 'tude, things might improve. My life tends to go that way. Hope your Christmas WAS merry ;o)

  4. Oh the imagery! Rotfl! Love your blog!

  5. And nothing compared to M. Wanless or whatever who says "there is a hook coming through your ribcage and attatched to your spine... Do you feel it?"

    Yeah we feel it alright... Mrs. Dexter.

    1. Oh I missed that one! Darn, I am sure it would have REALLY helped.

  6. Amazing article! I have envisioned many a different scenario and it all comes down to this...my TB beats the ground, and therefore my body to pieces (note: we retired from Dressage and hit the Jumper ring where he'll never again have to trot). Here's wishing my new horse will be easier for my bum to get along with!

  7. I laughed until I cried. "Centered Riding" will never be the same. I will no longer be able to innocently pass by it on my bookshelf again -much less be able to think of anything "Centered Riding" without imagining gang raping monkeys and mashed potatoes. This blog was a gem -thank you for writing it!

  8. Hahaha! I've been working on sitting trot for the past month or so and just had this talk with my trainer the other day. I asked her if it EVER gets easier and if there's some magic word or something I can visualize and she said almost the exact same thing you wrote in your second to last paragraph. Love it!

  9. A long time ago I bought a horse who didn't like the rider to post the trot. A month or two of only sitting when I rode five or six days per week pretty much did the trick for me. I think that's how you have to approach it: just jump into the deep end and don't get out until you can swim.

    Since then I can sit on pretty much any horse for any length of time and it's no big deal, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

    To quote an old instructor of mine, "You need to introduce your ass to the saddle."

  10. Yeah, I um..well, I have this nice little fridge in my barn and um..well..when folks aren't around I have a beer or two while tacking up and theeeennnnn try to tackle the sitting trot monster. No, I wasn't drunk, just slightly more relaxed and a tad bit more courageous. You see, I tend to be on the tense side in life and on the job. Kids, do not try this at home (unless you have a fridge in your barn and there is no one to tattle on you). Oh, and I was singing songs and reciting my ABC's so I could keep the whole 'breathing and staying loose' thing going. My neighbors must think me mad. I know I do. Whether it was the improved collection from an insane amount of money spent on lessons over the year, the cold brewski enjoyed in my quiet barn with the radio on and the world..well a world away, the off key singing or whatever...we have arrived! Now it's not perfect mind you, but 2nd level...here we come.
    Thanks for the laughs Curmudgeon!

  11. I have no memory of learning how to sit the trot, but I can certainly do it... at least to an American hunter standard! I'm also pretty sure I've been doing it since I started riding lessons at age 5 so I guess *something* sunk in over the years. And I don't think my childhood instructors mentioned gang-raping monkeys or mashed potatoes, but y'know, I could be wrong. Shall I check with my mother? ;-)

    Great writing as always, with authentic and useful advice thrown in for good measure. Keep it comin'! (And yes, we want to know about your current travails, for which I'm sorry in advance. Spill it.)