Thursday 8 March 2018

Cognitive Disannoyance: The act of annoying someone with your inaccurate version of reality.

Now wait a minute Curmudgeon... there are plenty of amateurs with amazing horses who are amazing riders... 

Of course there are.

We just call them "riders" and they blend seamlessly into the sea of other disgustingly talented riders we all aspire to be one day.

At what I think was the same show where the woman was kind enough to entertain everyone on COTH for 2 weeks with her Frosty riding skills, Canada's own Jill Irving was kicking the asses of the likes of Diane Creech and Tuny Page in Class 502 - FEI Grand Prix CDI3.  (I didn't spend a lot of time stalking this so I may have my facts on the exact show incorrect, but the ass kicking part is true).

Victoria Winter would be another person who comes to mind in this category.  Not a full time dressage pro - still an amazing rider.  I am sure there are countless examples in the U.S as well.  Jessica Springsteen is an incredibly talented International showjumping competitor.  Does it help that she has the best horses money can buy?  Yes.  Do I think I could get on one of them and get around even a 3'6" course?  Likely no.

One can't help noticing that Winter and Irving have done their best riding on horses that other people have already ridden in the Olympics.  I don't think I am catty to say this does give you just a teensy bit of a leg up.  But - THEY STILL HAD TO RIDE THE HORSES.  VERY WELL.

So I know full well that we cannot use the simple equation here of  money + horse = trainwreck when it comes to dressage and adult amateur riders.  And no, I don't have any particular issue with these people.  Godspeed and good luck.

The person you must endeavour to never, ever become, after you win the lottery and go horse shopping with Charlotte or whoever, and come home with your prancin' dancin' partner ready to head on out to the Olympics... is Milos.  From the Seinfeld episode.

Curmudgeon!  You oldie olderton.  No one watches Seinfeld anymore

Yah I know.  I can't remember the last time someone greeted me with a hearty "Hellooo NEWMAN!"  But bear with me. If you remember the episode in question it totally captures my frustration towards this group of riders.

In summary - Seinfeld goes to a fancy private tennis club.  While there, he runs into Milos - who scoffs at his tennis racket, says he wouldn't be caught dead playing with a piece of crap in his hands such as the racket Jerry possesses.  So Jerry, feeling that this guy must know his shit seeing as he is at a fancy private club, forks over cash for an overpriced racket.

Surprise!  Jerry later finds out that Milos is all talk and is in fact, a horrible tennis player.

Hilarity ensues as Jerry agrees to help Milos save face with his girlfriend by allowing him to win a match, even though he really sucks.  But - the stupid fucker can't just have a normal civil game - he has to showboat and carry on and expects Jerry to suck it up and play along.  Jerry of course eventually snaps and other shit happens, the three storylines of the show come together in some crazy way like they always do in episodes of Seinfeld, yada yada yada.

Jerry and Milos

Anyway, the relevant portion of this rambling recount of a Seinfeld episode is this - money + horse = trainwreck, category 2 women tend to be so fucking irritating for exactly this reason.

You never seem to sit beside one in a director's chair on the sidelines or at a clinic and have a discussion regarding how difficult dressage is.  Or how frustrating it is to see the trainer get on your horse and make something look effortless, then get on the horse yourself and struggle to do the simplest things.  Or that regardless of how much money you spend or how hard you try - dressage is still too difficult for you to master. And although you may be able to do bits and pieces of a I1 test someday, actually pulling it all together in the ring is a dream that you may never realize. Ever. No matter what you do.  Unless you set reality aside and head  on into the ring and give it a really awful, embarrassing try.  Like the woman live streamed from Wellington.

Instead, I find that should you decide to sidle up to the majority of these women, you are instead expected to play by Milos' rules as described above.  As they pontificate on the joys of riding a piaffe, or executing a perfect pirouette - a ha haaa, oh, all in the course of an average everyday ride - you must smile, nod, and agree with the pontificator.  Oh yes, Clarice.  It must be fabulous to experience this.  Mmm Hmm.. Yep... Ha ha ha... Oh, that crazy Steffen Peters.  Blah blah etc.

And as your inner Jerry Seinfeld screams out "MENTION TO HER THAT SHE CAN'T EVEN SIT THE FUCKING TROT LET ALONE PULL OFF A LINE OF TEMPIS"... you know that you are too nice a person to do this.  So instead you continue to smile, nod some more, and make a mental note to never, ever sit beside this woman again. Perhaps you can find out her schedule, and add a layer to this mental note to never ever attend the stable at the same time as her again.  Or pack your trailer and drive the fuck right down the laneway and on to another stable.

Now don't get me wrong.  It is not that I want to hear about how tough things are for these women so I can snark about them losing a battle that they can't buy their way out of.  If I really had no compassion whatsoever, I would unleash the inner Jerry Seinfeld and let them know- that I know - that they are full of smoldering bullshit.

In actuality, I feel really badly for them because it does suck to have a dream, and to try really hard to do something well, and find out you can't actually do it, no matter how the deck is stacked in your favour. I totally get this, and I don't wish this on anyone.

But as with so many other avenues of life - I just wish these people would be honest with themselves and those around them.  Maybe people wouldn't be doing horrible I1 tests livestreamed on Facebook if they realized that it is entirely normal and OK for middle aged women to find dressage really fricking difficult, no matter how hard they try. We could have a rational discussion about the things we are working on, what is challenging, how frustrated we can be - and we could all do it in person, face to face, instead of internet stalking bulletin boards to see if we are normal, like teenagers sprouting our first pubic hairs and reading Judy Blume books.

But instead, these people put on this fake shell to try to convince us that all is well and on track.  Despite what reality is showing the world.

At least if they want to live in the special world of Cognitive Dissonance, where no one notices that the words coming out of their mouths don't match the reality riding the horse - I wish that they will go away and never talk to me. Ever.

But alas, my frustrating tendency to smile, nod, zip my lip - and no matter how much lava pours out my ears as my brain melts down with frustration, my compulsion to avoid making people look like assholes in public makes me an irresitable target.  If only I were more like Jerry Seinfeld.

I am an FEI rider... I am an FEI rider

So, let's review - I can't sit on the chairs beside the rich ladies who don't ride.  I can't sit on the chairs beside the rich ladies who ride horribly.

How about that one over there - the one beside the parent of the budding equestrian wunderkid, getting ready to qualify for NAYRC*?  How bad can that chair possibly be?

*North America Young Riders Championship

Thursday 15 February 2018

Girl, look at my horse (He's turned out!) - I'm clueless and I don't know it

Ok, I am not proud to admit it, but sometimes I watch Family Feud.

I know, I know.  It is not high-brow TV.  But it is something good to have on in the background while you are making dinner or lying around in the bathtub, or whatever else it is you are doing that only uses half or less of your brain.

That said - I did actually enjoy an episode the other night.  It was "Celebrity Family Feud" (where the word "Celebrity" is used very generously).  In this instance, the Celebrities were NBA versus MLB All Stars.  So they really were relatively famous and talented people (versus Bachelors versus Bachelorettes.  Or Paula Deen's family versus some other alt-right Celebrity family all vying for a chance to redeem themselves by doing something light hearted and charming with Steve Harvey on TV).

The channel caught my eye because one of the NBA players was Muggsy Bogues.  Why would I care about this?  Well, he was a point guard for the Toronto Raptors, which is somewhat interesting to me, however the real story here is that he is the "Arab / Appaloosa pulling off a 70%+ Grand Prix Freestyle" of the NBA.

See if you can guess which guy he is in the Family Feud lineup.

The answer to your question is... 5'3"

Now I could just spend some time writing about how, although Muggsy made it to the big leagues - literally - you are an idiot to think that he is living proof that there is no genetic advantage to being tall in the NBA, or some other obvious story line that ties into the fact that yes, Arab/Appaloosas can sometimes do dressage but picking a purpose bred animal is a much better bet. However - the more interesting part is - although it was Muggsy who got me watching in the first place- it was Pedro Martinez who got me to stay with the game right through to Fast Money.

Poor Pedro. He did everything wrong.

"Pedro!  100 average Joe Americans surveyed... their top answers are on the board!"

"Name a word that rhymes with Mommy!"
He proudly announced his answer was... MY-YUMMY!  (as in, the CSI infested city in Florida, said with a thick Dominican accent)

"100 men surveyed - how many fist fights have you been in!"
Pedro's answer - said with conviction - "15!"

Here is Pedro taking down the 72 year old manager of the Yankees
"Name someone who you have to negotiate with"
A-HA! - he had a great answer for this one too... "My Manager!"

I don't need to tell you the total count for his answers were 0 - 0 - 0

But even though he was possibly the shittiest Family Feud player I have ever watched and he fucked up the chances for his team to win the Fast Money for charity - he did it honestly.  With a smile and charming demeanor.

The problem wasn't Pedro - it was that he was oblivious to the fact that he lives in a different universe than the rest of us..  who have never punched anyone (even during times we have really, really wanted to), and have no one to manage anything in our lives (if I did, I wouldn't be wasting my time blogging, I would be working on something constructive).   He lives in a World where understanding the nuances of English literacy is not a must and having a crazy strong Dominican accent has no bearing whatsoever on your success in life. If you are a MLB All-Star, you can rhyme your favourite US Cities with whatever you would like, and no one cares.  Until you go on Family Feud.

It isn't that Martinez didn't work hard to get where he is today.  He came from very humble roots. And had to play for the Expos.

It is just that if you take him out of his world where he is a phenomenal success, and put him into an arena where we know more than he does, he comes off as a little out of touch and quirky.  You might possibly think he is an idiot.  Or, if you are less generous, a cocky asshole (really - who would assume anyone else has a Manager, let alone 100 people surveyed at a Mall in Springfield anywhere, USA?).  And sure, we could blame it on the fact that he made more money in a season than I will in a lifetime.  But really, he is just using a different frame of reference for the world.

And this, my friends, is how I found the Category 1, director's chair riding horse ladies to be.

They were a little quirky. And more than a little out of touch with what I was up against, as a Category 2, subset 2 rider.

But not once was one of them anything but over the top nice to me during my time spent coming and going from full training barns.

And why would they have any reason to NOT be nice?  We were not in any sort of competition whatsoever for - well - anything.

They got all of the trainer's attention - whenever they wanted it.  (I was once told that weekday morning lessons were out of the question for me, because the morning was dedicated to this type of client.  Oh well, I told myself - just one more reason to trundle off to the office - Day Care is not open to the plebes between nine and noon).

They had the most beautiful horses - so there was no need to put Ms. V down in sly, passive aggressive ways to make sure I knew that their horse was nicer, further along, better moving etc.  It was obvious.

And they had no desire to become great riders.  So the fact that I could actually sit the trot after months and months of trying, or do a canter transition without drama, or any of the other things that I had fought for and won - mattered not a whit to them.  They had no jealousy of anything I had or would ever accomplish with Ms. V.

What they were, was irritating and sometimes clueless.  Just like Pedro. It wasn't that they wanted to be this way - they just were, because of their point of reference to the whole situation.

If the trainer dropped me like a hot stone to help them with - well - absolutely everything they needed to have done - leaving me with an excuse disgused as a directive to "finish up with some free walk work" or something else that you knew meant "finish up with something you can't possibly mess up even if you are all on your own" - they didn't hear this.  They heard "oh great, Curmudgeon is just finishing up her lesson!  What great timing I have!  That means the trainer is ready to dedicate their attention to Me ME ME!"

It isn't their fault that net neutrality doesn't exist in the barnyard. Or probably, in many arenas of their life.  If everyone always hustles to help you out, you assume it's normal.

They also were not cognizant of the impact of the cost of things on my ability to pay for them.  "Great news Curmudgeon!  Clarice and I had a pow-wow and decided that we really need TWO tack stalls and a grooming bay at the next show!  And one stall to put our wicker furniture in so we have a dry place to drink wine when it rains (because it will. It always will)".  What do you say when you are on a budget and your cut of the cost of the "great" things others have agreed to as a committee without you show up on your invoice?

(Question - is there a politically correct way to say "if I keep my tack in the trunk of my car, and braid in my stall - do I still have to pay for all of this extraneous stuff?"  Answer - no).

Beyond the perks which money can buy - they were irritating in other ways too.  Not because they wanted to be.  It just couldn't be helped.  If someone has not tried to do difficult things on horseback - they have no appreciation for what difficult things on horseback are.  Or what might make it even more difficult for someone to do them.

So, as they pop in and out of the arena without warning trailing saddle pads or blankets, or up and down out of their director's chairs like targets at a redneck shooting range - they do not relate the fact that your horse is spooking to the fact that they are wandering around willy nilly in an unpredictable fashion.  "Oh, I guess Ms. V is just feeling HOT today!  Is she like this all the time?"  (No. Not when your ass stays in the chair. Or you are not here).

And so on.  But, none of this was done with malice or jealousy or any other intention that was in any way directed at me personally.  Or meant to make anyone feel badly, or anything else I could possibly feel catty about.

Sorry to disappoint.

So, as much as I am sure there are a lot of you out there that would like to hear that I hated these well to do bitches in their little Pikeur suits (really, who the Hell struggles into sweaty tall boots with no intention of ever riding?  That's just weird), really I didn't.  Because for the most part, they were good at heart.

It was no different than spending time with my friends with kids who don't understand that watching impromptu ballet performances, or being interrupted every three words by your darling child any time I try to speak, or being cajoled into buying yet another box of shitty frozen steaks for the latest hockey tournament or whatever just isn't my thing, but because you are generally nice people, and I enjoy your company more than any alternatives I have at my disposal - I will look past it, smile, and let it slide.

But make no mistake.  The minute one of these ladies decides to belly on up to the mounting block and become a "rider" - uh..well, things seem to change a little.

Monday 12 February 2018

Note to service providers who have satisfied customers - you are jerks. FYI.

People ask me, Curmudgeon, now that you don't have a horse, how do you spend your weekends?

Well, I sleep in more.  I lie on the couch and watch CNN (they have this really good sit-com on right now - it is about a billionaire who takes over the White House and chaos ensues.  You should check it out.  It is entertaining when it is not terrifying).  I eat things I shouldn't.  I drink Mimosas while lying on the couch and eating things I shouldn't, because for some reason beyond logic, society has decided it doesn't have to be five o'clock anywhere to enjoy them.

If only there were some sort of Adult Day Care I could attend.  Maybe it would cost about the same as daycare for a real child, $1000 + a month.  With fun activities. Maybe horse riding. 

But I guess there isn't (or I didn't think there was, in any case) so instead... I am embarrassed to admit it... I sometimes go to the mall.  

It is actually the same mall I went to as a kid (I remember going to the door-crasher grand opening event with my Mom and her suburban housewife friends, and hanging out in the video arcade as a teenager).  Back in the day, malls were kind of one-size-fits-all.  Now, they are tailored to a demographic.  

This particular mall is now one of the "Luxury" malls in the area - pimped out with a Saks Fifth Ave store and a Pandora line that is never less than 50 people long - and all of the cool fountains are gone, which is really too bad.  

I guess after a grueling shopping session for overpriced shoes and bracelets (I loved the recent SNL skit on Pandora), one's body screams out for overpriced fruit juice to complete the trifecta, and so there are also a lot more health and wellness type stores filling up the halls now as well.  

It was at one of these stores that I saw this:

What the hell is it, Curmudgeon?  A giant cup of pablum?

Excellent guess.  But no.  It is in fact, a Golden Coconut Bliss Smoothie with Turmeric.

Apparently, this beverage "delivers a delicious, creamy, lightly sweet profile and is sweetened coconut milk and nature's candy - dates (dried apricots are likely totally pissed off that dates are so full of themselves that they feel they can claim this title. Jerks).

Beyond all of this, "the golden hue comes from turmeric which is a spice known for its anti-inflammatory properties".  The smoothie is also made with one whole banana, is gluten friendly (thank God, gluten needs some friends, everyone is trying to throw poor gluten under the bus constantly these days), is dairy free and vegan.

How much did this miracle cost?  I can't actually tell you, because who buys JUST a Golden coconut Bliss Smoothie with Turmeric?  You have to adorn it with a wheatgrass blast shot, or whey protein boost, or something else which will run the value up another few dollars and jack around the price as advertised on the board.  

Bottom line is, by the time you walk out with your Bliss on, you are looking at around $5.00.  And 300 kcals.

But take heart.  While I sat on the bench squinting my eyes at the menu board trying to determine if I was imagining things or if this was really real (and also wondering why, if turmeric is so miraculous, people who eat a lot of curry aren't all physically exceptional specimens, or why anyone would choke back a banana curry milkshake instead of actually eating an awesome Southeast Asian curry specialty of some sort) - I noticed something strange. 

Customers entered the store.. the people in the store sold them EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANTED - and they left.  And everyone was happy. 

Except me.  I wanted to run up to each idiot that spent $5.00 on a banana curry milkshake and smack the stupid thing out of their hands and tell them to get half a brain, because drinking 1/2 tsp. of something whipped into a fancy fattening beverage when you could buy a kilo of the same thing at bulk barn for the same price is totally moronic. And expecting it to do anything for your health other than expand your bum if you slurp too many is even more idiotic still. 

No - no - wait.  What I REALLY should have done is run into the store, and told the person who was merrily blending up smoothies, making their customers happy - that they SUCK.  Who except a demonic evil minded person would sell someone exactly what they want, and makes them happy, if I personally think it is a bad idea and a horrible business model?  That is fucking crazy talk. 

And if running a successful business using this model and satisfying customers allows them to live a comfortable life, with a nice house, and support their family - well, screw them.  They should have the ethics to toss those bananas and overpriced vita-mix blenders right in the trash and do something honest for a living for once.  And only make smoothies that are really healthy, not bullshit fake frame, monkey razor blade healthy  (i.e. - not make smoothies at all, but open a fruit stand).

So in any case, to head on back over to dressage - I took my mind off of the horror of $5.00 banana curry milkshakes, by pondering a question posed by a COTHer.

If developing horses and teaching clients isn't the professional horse trainers job, what is?

Very expensive adult day care?

And, I am going to say that in my experience, if we are talking Dressage - the answer is kind of - yes.  

Because really there are only a few types of customers at a professional Dressage trainer's barn.  They are all adults (or their nearly adult children).  They mostly come out during the day.  And they expect to be showered with a lot of love and care.  (Just like daycare, with no diapers. But since you have to pick up horse turds, it is pretty much a wash on the poo front). 

Let us review them.  

First - there are people who can afford amazing horses, but choose not to ride these horses themselves, but instead ride director's chairs wearing dressage inspired clothing. They expect their chosen trainer to ride an unpredictable creature, in a flawless manner, while keeping it sound and healthy.  Their role is to smile and enjoy the show.  What if the show is not what as expected?  Well, then, watch your back trainer - if anything goes wrong - your fault or not - they will take their toys elsewhere, and walk out the door with $1000 ++ of your monthly income before expenses. 

Second - there are the people who can afford amazing horses, and want to attempt to ride them themselves.  These clients expect exactly all of the same things as the first group - but they also expect the trainer to transform them into riders, regardless of their natural skill level or how much effort they put into the project

Third - there are the people who expect all of the same things as the second group, but instead of transforming themselves into riders, this group expects the trainer to transform their darling almost adult teenage children into riders, regardless of THEIR natural skill level or how much effort THEY want to put into the project - which may be next to none on both counts. 

Now - add a subset of each of the above categories.  Replace the phrase "people who can afford amazing horses" with the phrase "people who cannot actually afford this whole exercise, but are doing what they can to trick everyone into thinking they can and pull off the gig anyways"

Then - one final subset - Replace the phrase "people who can afford amazing horses" with the phrase "people who cannot afford amazing horses but have ordinary every day horses that they expect to perform as well as amazing horses, but still can afford to pay the bills".  (if you have any doubts here, Category 2, subset 2, would be where you found yours truly).

The last phase of this exercise, now that we have our categories defined, along with subsections - ask yourself - if you are a dressage trainer, which of these people would YOU most like to deal with?

Remember, you have only 10, maybe 20 stalls.  So you can mix and match here, but whoever you choose, you are limited.  Every client that walks in - or out - of the double dutch inspired doors is a huge chunk of your livelihood.  

And - depending on where you live, there are only maybe 500 of these clients roaming the streets, and 50 trainers vying for their money (or lack thereof, unbeknownst to you, in the case of subset number 1 - If you mess up and wind up with anyone in subset 1, you have just kissed goodbye a lot of time, money, and possibly turned away an actual paying customer because there were not stalls available. ). 

Go ahead!  Pick the best ones!

I don't know about you - but as long as the 20 people I wound up with were pleasant and reasonably normal and paid their bills, and treated their horses well - I would be pretty up to offering an exceptional daycare experience if it made everyone happy - i.e - if in their eyes, I was developing horses and teaching clients. 

And if I did decide to paint on a smile, offer up a carafe of Pino Grigio in my viewing room, say Braaavvv!... as long as the horses and clients were all happy as a Millennials sipping a curry banana milkshakes at the mall - would I really be doing anything wrong?  If I worked in any other profession on Earth, offering exactly what the customer wants in a way that makes them feel happy and special is pretty much how the gig of "making a living" goes.  

Any customer service role is really Daycare for someone, who wants something, and wants to feel really good when they get it. Not sure why it should be any different for Dressage Trainers.

Anyway, I could go on and on, but let us break down these segments in a little more detail, over the next few posts and few months that I spent with Coach C....

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Don't go changin'.. to try to please me..(Oh wait - you haven't)

Hmm.  Let's see.  I haven't gone on COTH forums (Chronicle of the Horse) in about a year.  I wonder what is up over there?

How much has changed in the world of dressage and message boards, I wondered to myself on this slow and snowy Tuesday.  Dum de dum dumm. Hmm. Hmm Hmmmm. La la.

Oh my lord.  Woah.

Answer to my question - nothing. Not. A. Thing.

This is the second time I have used this image.  Which tells us something about dressage.

Well if you too have been there within the last few weeks, I don't need to tell you of what I speak here today.  If you haven't, and if you are up to it.. I am referring to the spills, chills and thrills of the Del Mar Livestream debacle. 

Del Mar Livestream Debacle

I haven't even made it to the Dropbox "Ladies of Iron Horse" rebuttal.  I really think I need wine for that, and although I do agree that it is always five o'clock somewhere, it is still before noon here and I will adhere to social norms today.

(Coles notes version for those of you who don't have the strength to go wading through the muck - very weak rider on stellar, confirmed in the 70%'s GP horse puts in horrible yank-n-spank I-2 test. Test is live streamed, along with commentary. Scores 50% then eliminated. Chaos ensues on COTH).

Why on Earth was I snooping around on COTH in the first place, after a year, you may wonder?

It is a bit of a long story, however the crux of it is that I ran into a  reader who asked me why I quit, and if I ever considered finishing the story, as people would like to know how it all ends.

The answer is - I think about finishing the story all of the time.  It makes me sad to think I had this fun project going on, and now, it sits stagnant, with so many people still to be mocked. I read over some of the old posts I made, and remember fondly the stupid shit that happened to me, and wonder what masochistic part of me made me keep on going.  I thank God or Aliens or whoever runs the universe that I never ever again have to haul a horse trailer every time I see one rolling down the road, and remember the shipping boots...  And so on.

But you know, this Del Mar Livestream thing may actually help me stay on the project this time.  Because it so accurately personifies the remainder of my story.  I think up to this point, the story has been - if you don't have much money, how do you get to be a dressage rider?  From here on in, the story changes to - if money is taken out of the equation - who gets to be a dressage rider?  And who has the fortitude to deal with people who are willing to pay to succeed? 

The other thing that may help me to stay on the project is that it has been almost 5 years since Coach Costly died.  So maybe enough time has passed that I can take another shot at the story.

Yes, huge spoiler alert here. One of the reasons I am really struggling to write this next section, and in fact, the whole rest of my story, is that not only was he a coach and a friend - which makes writing a fun and sarcastic blog pretty difficult to begin with - but he also died somewhere along the way, which makes it pretty much impossible.  One of his good friends that I had a run-in with (ha, won't this be a fun post, I told myself..he heee, just wait until I get to THIS!) - well he died too.  No so fun any more, is it, Curmudgeon.

I don't know the details of why / how he died (but I have my strong suspicions, as do all people who knew him even casually), but suffice it to say that any time a healthy person in their 40's passes away, something has gone horribly wrong.  And in his case, I do think trying to work in an industry that expects perfection from the people at the top of the sport, but gives them tools that are horribly inadequate and frustrating and unreasonable with which to do the job is a good recipe for disaster if you are at all inclined to issues with mental health or addiction.

Cringing through that I-2 test, then reading the comments I was reminded of all of this - and how at this point, choosing a side does get pretty difficult.  Should she be showing?  I am sure she is doing her very best, has tried very hard, is crushed and frustrated and humiliated to see this online (wow, so glad I was never live streamed). I actually did not watch the whole test because I felt so badly for her. But - no doubt - she was not ready for the test. So who's fault is it that she was in the ring?  Should her coach be embarrassed?  Is this her first coach?  Or - were there five other coaches she kicked to the curb when they told her not to show?  Has this coach been blowing smoke up her butt and she is stunned to find out she isn't good enough? Or trying to subtly, gently, encourage her to drop down a level without losing a customer and for all we know, her ability to pay her mortgage or something else? And above all - is it any of our effing business?  Is bad riding the very worst thing that can happen to a horse or rider?

Thank goodness no one is trying to make this horse do tempis with a swinging lower leg!

Who knows.  Not me.  But this is the first time in a while I have felt at all inspired to write, so maybe we can keep the momentum going here.

I will ask a favour though - If at any time, anyone feels that I have crossed a line in telling the story of Coach Costly (and I know many readers knew him personally) - please let me know immediately and I will edit the post.  And, if you see a post get edited, please be understanding.  I am not trying to sugar-coat or hide anything, but only to show respect to Coach C.

Wish me luck...

Friday 11 December 2015

Hoping Santa brings peace, joy, and some duct tape for that client's mouth. Christmas at Coach C's

Season's Greetings everyone,

You will have to excuse me if I seem a little worn out. The new man in my life has a strange addiction. One possibly more expensive and time consuming than horses.

He loves Costco. Just driving into the parking lot is like entering the gates of Hell to me, but somehow being a part of the crush of walking dead zombies pushing carts through the giant roll-up garage style doors gives him a thrill.  So, I did my best to join in to the fun. I am now exhausted from all of the raw, unadulterated consumerism in action.

Luckily I can always find my companion in the crowd at Costco in Brampton as he is the only one who is 6'1 and Bart Simpson blond.
Being a condo dweller now, I was able to resist the pull of Christmas decoration club packs (for example "pine made of plastic" door thingys in large multi boxes. Just how many doors these people have? And how much time do they blow on make-work door decorating projects?) but did leave with enough toilet paper to wipe my butt through 2016 and a huge 1 kilo tub of grated Parmesan cheese sufficient to bog my colon into producing only small hard goat poo niblets for the foreseeable future - thus reducing my need for toilet paper. Ah, Costco, you trickster you.

Where was I going with this - oh yes. Barns. And Christmas. And Ms. V's new home at Coach C's.

On arrival back in Canada, probably the last week of Novemeber or so, not only was I once again allowed to ride my horse, but I was also invited to attend the annual Coach C Christmas party.

The timing was perfect.

First - I had only been there less than a month, so I escaped the strange tradition of having to purchase an extravagant gift for my service provider. Since really, I had received very little service thus far.

For some reason I do not fully understand, in every other customer/service provider relationship in my life, it is the role of the service provider to purchase a Christmas gift for their customer, to thank them for their year's worth of business.

For example, I will return to Costco sometime next week to hastily purchase $500 or so dollars worth of meaningless decorative baskets which I will then spend a day or two driving all over the GTA to hand out to my customers. I will note, while dropping off my uninspired choice of gift, that these customers have already received at least 40 other decorative basket thingys from 40 other sales people in the industry, as we all seem to be obliged to partake in some sort of chocolatey Christmas inspired payola scheme.

Upon my departure, the buyer that I left my payola with will perhaps crack open the basket and eat the chocolates or other good bits, then leave the shitty hard candy and tea bags for other less fortunate office dwellers (I know this, having been one, and scavenged the dregs of Christmas basket loot along with others desperately searching for something chocolatey), and presumably when even the least appealing items have been picked clean, the glitter coated watering can or whatever strange item the stuff was shoved in will get tossed in the garbage.  Ahhh, Christmas.

But just like so many other aspects of the client/service provider relationship - in the horse world, things are different.

Only once have I ever received anything bigger than a Christmas card and a cookie or something else trivial from a coach (one took pictures of everyone's horses and gave customers framed prints - nice thoughtful idea, probably didn't cost much).

Not that I am complaining, I am not a Joy-Joy-Joy person and I could care less if I do get a gift - but it would be nice if this tradition of non-giving at Christmas went both ways.

Because for some strange reason in the equine world, the expectation is that although you have spent $15,000+ on board and whatnot this year keeping your service provider in business - you will now be expected to buy THEM something for Christmas.  (Coaches out there - do you actually expect a gift?  Or is this just some peer-pressure inspired thing that clients do to themselves?)  Watch for it on COTH (if it hasn't already started)...threads on "what to buy my coach for Christmas"  It is bizarre.

Sure, I played along. I bought the obligatory Keg gift card or two. But really - think I gave my coaches a whole year of a very special gift, each and every day - I paid my bills, and did not whine about trivial bullshit.  When I decided my program didn't fit with theirs - I packed my bags and got the Hell out without a fuss.  Merry Christmas. You are welcome.

More importantly though - the Christmas party gave me the chance to get to know my stablemates. And their families. And dogs. Etc.

Oh. My.

I seriously cannot imagine a job I would be less suited to than the coach/stable owner at a full service training facility (especially one where you also live on the premises somewhere, or in poor Coach C's situation, where one's home is joined right on to the barn).

It is like having an irritating extended family of in-laws in your face, at your house, every day, expecting you to be simpering and engaged and drippy sweet friendly 24-7.

But wait, I am getting ahead of myself, aren't I.  Back to the Christmas party. There were hors d'oeuvres and wine, decorations, music and lots of conversations dominated by people you would not listen to, given a choice, in any other social situation.  And peals of  that showy, hearty guffaw type laughter that says "I am way fucking funnier and happier than you will ever be". Yep, typical Holiday fun.

Motard was with me at the time, telling the chin-up story, which of course got a lot of said hearty guffaws, since the horse world is much akin to high school, and hearing about something weird that someone in a competing clique did is always great fun.  Having just returned from our near-death sailing experience, we also gave the loudest and most pontificating parent the opportunity to let us know that:

A. He knew more about sailing than we did and would have easily managed the tropical storm, probably with a shaken not stirred martini in one hand. Maybe both.

B. Because of his exceptional nautical skills he would have bought himself beautiful sailboat long ago, but instead purchased his lovely daughter a Young Rider horse

C. In case we were too slow to extrapolate this out all on our own, he pointed out that this meant their horse was VERY EXPENSIVE

I said TWO olives!  TWOO!

And so on. And through it all, Coach C had to jump around replenishing cheese and crackers an pouring wine, and checking in on each and every guest, as any good host does. To top it all off, horses were prepped and ridden during the events as entertainment, so not only was he expected to eat, drink, and be merry along with us, but also to cajole a piaffe or two out of a stone cold Warmblood or get a Dutchie who found the whole party atmosphere just a tad on the terrifying side to do something elegant and impressive without losing its shit.  All while laughing and smiling being his imp-like over the top friendly self.

I was incapable of dealing with even one set of in-laws without wanting to punch Big Jud the Motard mom in the mouth many, many times, let alone a whole gaggle of this sort of twisted "you have to be nice to me, as I am entitled to your suck-up skills no matter what sort of ninny-like behaviour I exhibit" fun. I have no idea how any of these trainers deal with it, along with all of the other stresses of running a business, without turning to alcohol or harder drugs, or having mental breakdowns.

Well actually I do know the answer - the answer (which has recently been proven to us all again) is that fairly often, they don't.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Eureka. There is a nice horse hiding in there somewhere..

And thus began the start of my first full-full training experience.  Well, the first one that actually lasted longer than 30 days (plus of course, 30 days notice).

Sure, I did give it a try with the Frau. You may recall the few thousand dollars better spent at Casino-Rama.

Why did I stick it out this time? I think this is due to a few different factors.

First factor - (and really, this always is first when it comes to horses and their less than gifted riders)  - in the few years that had passed, I had beaten at least a portion of my cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger  effect into submission. For better or for worse. I think those who welcome a big dose of Dunning-Kruger into their lives are such a happy disillusioned lot - oh, how I envy them.

To recap - as I think I covered this before - if you are not familiar with what the Dunning-Kruger effect is, read the Wikipedia page and prepare to be depressed.  It explains why the majority of the bosses that you have hated over the years seemed to be overconfident, totally incompetent idiots.  You know the ones, the big talking gas-bags that have all of the answers in meetings and get promoted, but somehow can't even figure out how to do an email attachment or find the any key.  Science has revealed the answer - it was not your imagination - they really were overconfident and totally incompetent idiots. Thanks for that depressing info, scientific method.

Incompetent people are too incompetent to figure out that they are incompetent

The jig was up. I most definitely knew all of the things I did not know. They were pretty glaringly obvious at this time.  (Even now, I still do not have an understanding of why my horse was supposed to respond better when being yelled at in German than just being yelled at in English. But then, what fun would life be if I had all of the answers).

The important part though is that I was at the right point in this tale to willing to hand over my ego to someone who had a shot at sorting this all out.  I had left the blissful "Unconsciously Incompetent" rung of that "Learning Ladder" thing that coaches always show you, and was hanging out embarrassed and frustrated on the horrible "Consciously Incompetent" step, swearing that I must somehow climb up to "Conscious Competence" come hell or high water, and make a commitment to never return to this depressing place again. (Writes the woman who either tops her ball or digs a trench with her fairway wood repeatedly, yet refuses to leave the club in the bag).

Image not to scale. At most stables in the GTA, the red step is like a giant platform, crowded with many loudmouth people

But I was also a more receptive player this time around because I had the right horse for the gig - and also because Coach C was just such a truly gifted rider and fun person to be around.

Did he make me get a new saddle?  No. I did not hear a word about it. I had by then moved on to a Stubben Juventus (if you are a shorter rider, do give this one a try) - he either crammed his ass into it without complaints if he had to hop on when I was present, or on days I wasn't riding, he used his own.

Did he suggest I get a different horse?  No, partly because he could get on Ms. V from day one, and make her look like a million bucks.  And, he seemed to enjoy riding her to boot.  She was small and hot and took next to no strength or energy to get rolling, unlike some of the other amateur's big oaf like warmbloods, and with his feel and tact she just seemed to do what she was supposed to do.

Did he make me do a chin-up - alas dear readers, much to Motard's disappointment - no. No chin-up.

However, after I had ridden with him for a week or two, he did kind of give me the "alone time" discussion - namely, that progress could be made without me much more quickly than if I insisted on riding as well.

Once again, the stars did seem to align, as Motard and I were already booked on a holiday at that very time, and would be gone for a little over a week (the "sailing during a tropical storm - if your S.O asks if you are going to die, always say NO, even as your mast is digging into the sandy bottom of the Caribbean sea" vacation mentioned in a previous post)

So off we went to crap our pants on the high seas, while Ms. V and Coach C. worked on bonding.

And, dear readers, I am happy to report I came home to an entirely different horse. Seriously - after only one week.

A mare that could not shorten a stride of canter without a hissy meltdown had suddenly transformed into a little china doll rocking horse doing pleasant 10 metre circles without debate. Or at least with very little debate. Even the debates were not very spirited - they consisted of a few seconds of NOOO... followed by... oh that? Oh. Well, that's not so bad. Never mind. Let's carry on.

A horse that had tight little steps and was chompy in the contact was now booming around doing a forward steady working trot, complete with "flying feet" as Motard would say.

And most strangely of all - I suddenly had a horse that the other owners seemed to actually accept as part of their clique. That is not to say that they felt she was EQUAL to their own special snowflake horses - come on now, that would be crazy talk - but they considered her to be a nice horse, that belonged in a FEI trainer's stable.  Sure, they made comparisons between her and their special snowflakes that were gentle, backhanded disses targeted at things not relating specifically to dressage performance - "oh Curmudgeon, Ms. V really is lovely.  Too bad she is so tiny. Detektiv is such a desirable horse because he is the perfect size for so many riders" But nothing was ever said to imply that we were out of our league in the crowd. When Coach C. got Ms. V going well, even those on the red platform described above could clearly see there was a talented horse in there somewhere.

The other reason we were accepted as part of the FEI bound clique was because no one had any reason to think otherwise. When Coach C. was asked what her breeding was, he would just say "she is Dutch or something" and add "wow, these new bloodlines that are winning are HOT!" then carry on. Because really, why was it any of anyone's business? For all they knew she WAS imported from somewhere other than Arva Ontario, and had cost mid 5 figures or whatever a "contender" would have cost at this point in time.

When it comes to horses my friends, I am sure I don't have to tell you - perception is everything.  My perception at this moment in time was that Coach C's barn was the most amazingly happy place on Earth to be riding if you had the right horse and didn't mind kissing all of your disposable income goodbye.

In all honestly - it was the best time of my entire riding career.

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.