Thursday 23 July 2015

On the road again. Hold on to your hats.

I know there are people out there that get really riled up about the fact that social media allows their frenimies to craft an alternative reality. Some sexy and exciting persona to put on display for others, allowing them to portray themselves in a funner, richer, more appealing light than reality offers them.

Well, yes. Undoubtedly. Who doesn't have the friend that you have removed from your Facebook feed because you are so sick of seeing only the wonderful, none of the nasty. 

However I do think that social media gets kind of a bad rap, because the motivated among us have been putting forth an impression of non-reality to wow bystanders for years.

I always have to remind myself that one can image craft in the real world too, no need for the internet. With readily available knock-off everything from China, and BMW base models that cost less than well equipped Toyota Camrys, and "warmbloods" that are "imported" from PMU farms in Alberta - it is easy to present a magical tale of something that is not actually what you and your net income can support.

As an added bonus, stir in some horse folks that have no qualms about boarding somewhere they absolutely cannot afford for a few months, falling far behind on their bills, then disappearing into the night...well, these assholes can keep up a really good appearance of living in the fast lane and making you feel like you are on a tricycle on the sidewalk.  For a period of time, in any case. 

Although the year was 2006, and Facebook had just barely expanded beyond its original goal of helping nerds get laid, when I pulled into the drive for my first visit to Coach Costly's facility, I felt as though I had just surfed into a perfectly managed profile page. Tinkling fountain, cobblestones, horses with heads stuck over half doors, etc. Before I even stepped out of my 475,000 km, rusty paneled (but fully paid for) 1995 Honda Civic I had already convinced myself that everyone I would come across within the joint had their much more expensive shit, much more together than I did.

In such situations it is easy to feel like you are the only person in the equine world who is not independently wealthy, or supported by a fabulous spouse or parental units, isn't it. 

In fact - Exhibit A was riding that very morning. Let's call her Debbie Dubai. She was everything I knew I was not at the time. And I immediately felt a little lost. 

  • Middle aged woman, maybe 50, no helmet and a bouncing bob (as was the style at the time), and a nice little Pikeur riding suit.
  • Schoolmaster effortlessly tooling around doing extensions, stiff but clean changes, halfpasses - he looked a little long in the tooth, but regardless - making things look easy for the rider. 
  • Slightly older, slightly paunchy and grey, proud new husband on the sidelines.
  • Coach Costly on a stool somewhere around E, smiling as always and chirping out little pointers now and then that the pair easily followed, or asking questions - "how's your bend on that circle?" or, "did you lose his haunches around that corner this time" and whatnot.

Picture what Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes might be like as an adult, and you will have a pretty good picture of Coach Costly. Chipper, cheerful and a bit mischievous. Big grin. Or at least he had one at this point in time. 

Bend!  More Bend!

And hey, why wouldn't he?  He was a short listed dressage rider - "A" list, kids, not the big long rambling "B" one. He had just sold his star horse for what I heard through the grapevine was a mid six figures price. He was heavily involved in the Young Riders program, coached the majority of the team and may have even been the Chef d'equipe that year - don't quote me on this one. And, to top it all off, he had a beautiful, funny wife, and an adorable set of children.

Actually even in recounting this now, I wonder to myself again why I felt I belonged in this environment, at that point in time - this all seemed very out of my league. Why would he want me and my nutty horse as clients?

I stood quietly off to the side, not wanting to interrupt Debbie Dubai's lesson, and not yet realizing that there were not lessons per se at Coach Costly's stable, but just a constant watching eye. All the time. Any time you got on your horse. (Many nights I thought he was busy on the phone in his office, paying no attention to my bad riding, only to hear the little window into the arena slide open and have him yell out "why not try a quarterline!  Get off the fricking wall for a while!" or some similar thing, followed by window sliding shut.)

So, when you rode there, you didn't get your 1 hour slot where Coach C fed you a list of things to do in sequence, using the aforementioned obligatory droning coach voice. You were expected to figure this out yourself based on how your horse was doing on any particular day - and if you didn't, he would ask you what needed improvement, and how you planned to go about fixing it.  If at that point, you didn't know, or were executing poorly - he would provide you with ideas, and expect you to try them. If you were not able to get a result - he might hop on and demonstrate.  And so on.

I don't know if you have ever ridden with a coach who worked this way, but once you have, it is hard to go back to the standard recipe lesson. It just makes so much more sense. Why would we work on pirouettes today if I don't even feel I can do a good 10 metre circle?  If I don't feel my horse is properly warmed up in 15 minutes, what is the advantage of moving on with the lesson other than the fact that it allows us to pack some interesting goodies into 60 minutes?

The other nice thing is that you can then be riding with 4 other people, all at different levels, and learning from their lessons too. The Coach can help you through a good shoulder-in or whatever, then turn around and help a more advance student do tempis while you have a walk break and watch and learn. Forget auditing clinics, at Coach C's barn, every Saturday morning at any given hour, you could see bits of anything and everything from green to GP all riding and being coached at once.

Most important of all - it forces you to use your brain.  You are not being fed a set list of cookie cutter exercises to do. He expected you to be riding around doing something constructive - which he could then add to and improve - not to be wandering around waiting for someone else to feed you your dressage pablum.

Nom-Nom-Nom... mmm Half Pass.

Really, I have no idea why all dressage barns don't work this way.  It is so much more conducive to actually learning to ride.  When I win the lottery, then get struck in the head and develop amnesia so that I totally forget that I never want to be associated with dressage nutbars again, then open my own fabulous training facility - we will use this coaching method at my stable.  

I will let you know when this all unfolds so you can get on my waiting list. 

Sorry, I am on a tanget as usual, aren't I.

After D.Dubai was finished riding, and I heard all about her darling husband and how he had bought her the horse of her dreams, and how she was hoping to show third level next year even though she hadn't been riding long (blah blah etc. - she was actually a very pleasant woman, but had evidently read the book on "What to Expect When Expecting to Look and Talk the Part at a Dressage Stable") I showed Coach C. a few clips on my video camera to give him an idea of what he would be dealing with, and much to my relief and slight suspicion, (remembering the Frau's enthusiastic acceptance of the Platypus, and hoping I was not walking into another bait and switch) he nothing but was totally supportive.

By the time I left, I was all set to move in following my (anyone - anyone?) that's right, 30 days notice.

How did the 30 days go?  Actually, surprisingly well.  All three parties (boarder, coach and barn manager) were pretty much onside that things were just not working out.  Kind of like a conscious uncoupling or whatever the hell the fashionable word is these days for mutually dumping others in your life.

When the time came to leave, I packed my things and horse in the red rocket, then thought I would be courteous and say bye to Lana one last time, obligatory handshake and whatnot.

And there were no hard feelings at all, she smiled and shook my hand with a caring look in her eye. "So glad everything is working out for you, Curmudgeon" she said. "You will be so much happier once you get rid of that horse".

Thanks for the support Lana.  As usual.


  1. Excellent post. Never heard of training quite like that before.

  2. So glad you're posting again!

  3. Harney Stone Racing thoroughbreds can be racing in as little as 5 weeks from arrival. There is no waiting 12 months to see if they can perform. The horses arrive broken in and ready to run.