Thursday 14 March 2013

I am not kidding...I swear I saw alfred hitchcock come out of that port-o-let

I have spent a lot of time this week humming and hawing about how much detail to go into regarding our first summer of showing training level.

Because the truth is - although you all pretend to be very interested in the story here, nothing is more mind-numbingly boring than listening to a play-by-play of a series of training level shows.  NOTHING exciting ever happens at training level.  Even the freak-outs are usually pretty tame, compared to amateurs crashing through hunter fences etc.

Not that we didn't try to spice things up a little now and then.  But for the most part...zzzz....

So, I have made the executive decision to condense our entire 2005 training level show season into one post. It's ok - admit it - you are sighing a big sigh of relief ("ahh, we might get to hear some good stuff before we die of old age", you are saying. I know).

I think the very best thing about this first season of dressage competition for me was the very "The Simpsons" like quality of showing up and seeing my favourite characters from earlier episodes going about their business.  You know what I mean... "Oh, look, Disco Stu is in the bachelor auction" or "Ha, Captain McAllister has passed the real estate exam".  Sure, at some point in time, these characters all had episodes where they were the stars of the story. But now, they are not the focus of this particular episode, you just notice them in passing, and these little memory lane moments are an important part of what makes The Simpsons so entertaining.

She says you should "ride forward and make him straight". You paid $75 for that? What the hell does it mean and what practical steps do I take to accomplish it it in real life? Maybe the machine isn't working or something. 
Same deal for dressage shows.  While the true focus of the episode is on the riveting drama unfolding in your own world (cliff hangers such as "where is my glove" or "should I enter left..or right"), you can't help but get excited when you see old friends and check them off of your bingo card.

And they were all there.

(Well, I guess not ALL. No hat-wearing pro clinicians. Or Senor Cavellero. They were at home being Classical, I will assume).

Hey! Over there! - There is Mr. Limpy's owner - with a death grip on her new horse's face.  Hmm..weird how Mr. Limpy never wanted to move FORWARD...

Wow - there is the time machine schoolmaster coach, sawing away merrily at her horse's mouth! (time machine schoolmaster herself was never seen again, BTW).

Oh look - there is the Reiki master dude, who's very best horse is topped out at 2nd! (Actually only ever saw him once before he went hard core classical)

Over there - it's Clubby Club Foot's sire!

And look who is judging my class - Coach Crabby!

And so on. BIN...GO!

The very best moment was, of course, seeing the Frau out of the corner of my eye watching me warm-up a very forward, very fancy trotting Ms. V. (you know, the big, active, beautiful trot that you can only do in warm-up, on a circle, but can't actually take into the ring without rhythm mistakes and freak outs).

Take that, Frau.  Is this "you need a better horse to become a dressage rider" enough for you?
And that's why they call me...The Curmudgeon. 

I don't know why this "cameo appearance" effect seems to be greater to me at a dressage show than at h/j ones.  I think it is due to ride times - at a hunter show, the entire class is left standing around for hours at ringside waiting for the mystery of when they might be required to go in the ring to be revealed... and because of this, there are no "sightings".  Everyone is just stuck in the same place in a big, miserable, usually sweaty or muddy clump.  Maybe both.  For hours.

But at dressage shows - people come and go during relatively small windows depending on their ride times. So seeing someone mounted up and sawing or kicking or yanking away is much more special somehow, not a sure thing.  Kind of like birdwatching.

You see, Curmudgeon - it is absolutely ESSENTIAL to go to shows FIRST - and observe these people in action before making any decisions on coaching or training. 

Ugh, this is so true - but so much more difficult that it sounds.  The problem is, as it always is with dressage and so many other aspects of life - you don't know what you don't know.  And so, if coach Sawsall wins whilst sawing, you just see the ribbons hung on the fancy stall curtain.  You don't hear the deep, frustrated sighs of the judge who feels compelled to give 6's and 7's for things which are not glaringly wrong, yet still not really right.  And if it is training level or first, you would have to come back in a few years to find out if the horse ever progressed.  If only there really was a time machine...

You can't really judge by the students either, since most coaches can't afford to only keep the ones that are actually talented, with good horses, and lots of money to blow. Especially since this amazing trifecta of features occurs in only one out of every 500,000 students or so. Money from Ms. Sweaty Flopsalot pays the bills just as well as from anyone else.

And lastly, you can't totally judge from just looking at the horses, since well trained can be bought for coach Sawsall. Perhaps by Ms. Hatted Spendswads, who aspires someday to sit ringside at the Olympics, neither sweating nor flopping, but just beaming silently with pride while watching her elegant tax shelter dancing lightly across the court.

It takes a good few years of experience, wasted money, and a nice dollop of frustration of course before you can really train your eye to tease out who actually knows what. Have fun with that. I am here to commiserate with you when you need me.

Of course, I also saw new characters who's episodes had not yet been written. And oh, how I looked forward to meeting them someday. Ahh, yes, these were the good old days. When there was still, in my delusional mind, a whole host of normal, sane dressage friends and coaches still to be explored.  There - I see them over there, passaging around elegantly in the main ring, front and centre...

(not off in the Ring 5 and 6 mosh pit with me and the host of coaches yelling out strangely similar instructions to strangely similar students, in their naggy voices full of just barely disguised contempt. (Or..maybe it is despair. With a side of frustration). While the students make their concentric circles all around each other, trying not to collide, while never taking their eyes off of their horse's necks. Sit back. More bend. FOOR-ward, more FOOR-ward!!  Should I ever win the lottery, I have a whole host of coaches in mind who will receive beautiful headset + microphone kits from an anonymous donor - A gift to the poor, tortured whippers-in across Ontario, forced to listen to this for 8 hours a day... (first on list...blonde braid woman, whoever you are)).

Why you should never let your non-horsey spouse hold your horse while you put on your jacket and remove your wraps, seconds before entering the ring
Some day, I will be there too, I told myself (unconvincingly). In the ring full of competent, sane people.

I am still looking for that ring. No - I take that back.  I have given up. But I have now accepted the fact that the crazy makes things more fun anyways. 


  1. I love the photo.

    Are there really not any sane people at FEI? Then again, I guess we are all crazy to subject ourselves to this very special form of torture. I wonder if there are schooling shows in hell.

  2. She looks so pretty. :)

    Great post.

  3. Yay! Another post. I visit every day, hoping for one. And, FYI, I don't think you could be boring if you tried!

  4. You. Are. NOT. Boring. Feel free to write more about Training Level, if you please.

    Hopefully Mr. Motard was rewarded with some nice green slime on his jacket for letting Ms. V grab that mouthful. She still looked lovely, by the way.

  5. There is a special place in hell for those coaches and riders who view the warmup ring as a place for a full hour-long private lesson that happens to occur in the middle of 25 other horses in the ice-box at RCRA. If you can't learn it at home, you aren't going to learn it in the 45 minutes before your test.