Monday 31 October 2011

Realization #2... Santa, Sasquatch, and Advanced Schoolmasters..

First, I must begin with an addendum...  

Mrs. Curmudgeon had concerns about my last post.  What happened to the Platypus?  Is he ok?  It sounded so sad...  

More details to follow, but for now I will assure you he did not wind up as the guest of honour at a European dinner party.  In fact, after my rude intrusion into his hunter pony gig, he returned to his roots and went on to put his brief dressage nightmare to good use.  Based on my internet stalking (oh, come on now, you do it too) he in fact went on to "hack his way to the Royal" which has nothing to do with pneumonia or phlegm. It is actually the catty way of saying that a horse somehow qualified, despite the fact that he could not jump his way out of a paper bag.   So who knows, maybe he could have been one of the top FEI dressage ponies in Canada after all.  Seeing as there are typically only two entries in the class, really the sky is the limit.  

So it all ended well.  

Now on to the subject at hand.  Ahh yes.  Lessons on the "Advanced Level Schoolmaster".   

Remember when you were about - oh, twelve.  Maybe fourteen if you are a bit slow.  You knew Santa didn't exist.  In fact, it had been many years since you were a believer.  But still.  There was that day, about this time of year, when Zehrs is already packing up the chocolate bars from Halloween and putting out the Egg Nog... That you thought back to how incredibly stupid you must have been to ever believe - really believe - that there was something as wonderful out there as Santa.  Cretin.  Honestly, you actually thought this guy was going to fly around, deliver toys, blah blah blah...moron!  Of course not.  

That is kind of how I feel now thinking back to my days of looking for "the Advanced Level Schoolmaster".  

(Cue theme from National Geographic here..IN SEARCH OF...THE DRESSAGE SCHOOLMASTER.  da dah dah dAAAH dah, dah dah daaaah DAAAH dah DAAH daaa daaaa DAAA!

Where are they?  Why aren't they available?  And why do so many imposters prevail?

Really they mystery is not that difficult to solve.  (Now Sasquatch.  There is a mystery for you).

Imagine for a moment, that you are a dressage instructor.  (Maybe you in fact, are, and you are entirely disgusted by my blog.  Whatever).  You have your old Grand Prix horse, Schlie├čmuskel.  You know, the one that Mommy and Daddy imported for you from Europe 5 years ago, fully trained by Herr Piaffenstein, so that you could really kick ass at Young Riders.  Take that, suckas!  Ahh, memories.  Haaaaa....(insert sigh full of memories).

Now where were you.  Oh yah, you love Muskel to pieces, but you know that if you hang on to him for a few more years, the only other one who is really going to love him is Fido, once he is rendered down and extruded into wholesome, holistic kibbles.

What to do...what to do... I know!  Find Muskel a lovely, kind, wonderful, aged horse petting woman.  One who wants to peter around doing some half pass, maybe some pirouettes, but mostly just some hard core, unplugged, extreme..uh... grooming.  One who likes to spend time selecting supplements, and choosing just the right herbs for horses.  Oh - and one who has, ummm, $30,000 to $50,000 to burn.  Yah, that's the ticket.  And since Mommy and Daddy are a bit miffed that you have taken up with that up and coming indie alternative music artiste, and the bucks just aren't flowing like they used to... that $30,000 will go a long way towards your next horse.  But that is too much info, isn't it.  I digress.  

I am not going to post a link because it might get me in trouble, but for fun, go to Dressage Daily.  Go to the $30,000 - $50,000 category, or even the $50,000 to 75,000 category, and search for horses 15 to 20 years of age.  You will get my drift.  There is a 20 year old horse on there, for sale for $30,000 for goodness sake.

Now why would any instructor in their right mind decide that, no no NO, are you nuts??  Sell Muskel?  That's crazy talk.  I don't want that 30 G up front.  What I would MUCH rather do is get it one hundred agonizing dollars at a time, teaching lesson after painful lesson to bouncing Amateurs that I found randomly on EMG.  I enjoy watching Muskel get his teeth ripped out nightly, that will teach him for the time he decided to poo during the extended trot and we got "loss of rhythm, 6".   And let me do the math, as long as I teach 3 lessons per week, and he stays sound until he is 25, and never misses a beat, minus probaby $5000+ annually in expenses and upkeep... that money is mine, baby, all MINE!

Yah, yah you say.  That is only the asking price.  You know how everyone exaggerates on the internet. They might only get...oh, $28,000.   Whatever.  Bottom line is - great dressage schoolmasters are like gold.  They are owned by fabulous, rich, wonderful owners, who cherish every day they spend with them.

Damn those bitches!!!

The rest of us are stuck with... well, give me some time, and I will give you some examples.

Thursday 27 October 2011

The Duck Billed Platypus

By now some of you are probably wondering...."why doesn't this stupid woman just buy her own horse?"

Valid question.  In fact I already owned a horse.  We will call him the Duck Billed Platypus.

If you want to find all the cops they're hanging out in the donut shops..

In 1999, shortly before the world was about to spiral into utter chaos and destruction thanks to Y2K (do you ever just stop and think about how stupid it was to worry about this date?) I was set to have my 30th birthday.  Yes, I knew at that time I was OLD.  Like really OLD.  One step away from Depends and a walker.  (do you ever just stop and think about how stupid it was to worry about this date?).

In fact, I had made a vow to myself that I would get back into riding by the time I turned 30, before I lost all mobility and balance and drooled all over my horse (after all, Adult Ams on the hunter A circuit have one foot in the grave at the golden age of 36.  My time had almost come) .   Although I was just a little late (no point in buying the horse when lawlessness and anarchy would be reigning in a month due to those missing digits, I figured) in January of 2000, I bought the Platypus.

What on earth inspired a grown woman to buy an Arab pony?  Yet another good question.  I was 30 after all, perhaps it was the senility of old age setting in.  It also had a lot to do with the fact that I am 5'3" and wanted something young, sound, a decent mover.....and oh yah - my budget was $1500.  Let's be honest, that pretty much decided it for me there.  (This amount of money may buy you something spectacular in today's pathetically tanking horse market, but at the time, it really wasn't much).

I am not going to go into detail of the life and times of the Platypus and me, as really that story belongs in the Hunter Curmudgeon blog, and there are plenty of people that think that since I have time to write one blog I am loser with no life, let alone two.  Long story short, had Platypus for a while, got bored, leased him out to a nice family for a few years... and that few years was almost up.  He would be returned to me shortly.

Now at some point just as the "got bored" phase of this story was about to begin, I crossed paths with a "dressage instructor" who told me that the platypus would be fabulous FEI dressage pony.  Dressage pony?  WTF?  Is there really such a thing?  Ooooh yes.  This was apparently an up and coming thing. Soon, there would be a massive market for such creatures.  Big, big bucks awaited me if I took the time to turn the platypus into a dressage star.

Huh!  That sounded pretty good.  I have a pony, I like money... I love it when a plan comes together.  I kept the thought in the back of my mind.  When the time came, instead of doing the sane and rational thing and selling him as a hunter pony immediately upon his return to me and buying a real horse, I decided instead to bone up on my dressage skills to prepare myself to tap into this lucrative "FEI dressage pony" craze that was about to take North America by storm.

Well I don't need to tell you, I was sadly misguided.  On several fronts.

First, the "dressage instructor" turned out to be... how do I say it gently... insane.  Anyone who's resume includes both dressage master and reikki master is a bit...different.  I really don't want to say too much else because he also has that certain lawsuit flair to him that makes me want to say...nothing.   Secondly, no matter how many times it is discussed on the internet... (in fact, there is a post on EMG right now!) the dressage pony market sucks.  Why on earth would anyone put all of the effort and years into the correct dressage training of a pony when you can get big bucks after six months if you can install an "auto change" and a pony jock can kick the little sucker around hunter course at warp speed with their head cranked to the outside (why do ponies always have to look to the outside?  I have never really understood this).  Thirdly, if someone does decide to spend the time and money to train a pony to FEI pony level - they are sure as hell not going to start off with a platypus.

So, maybe that was a bit of a spoiler, as you now know that things aren't going to end well for the Platypus. For now, he was still safely with his nice little family, as I honed my dressage prowess.  Poor guy.  He didn't see the longe whip coming at him until the working student ran up and hit him in the ass with it.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

The Playboy Grotto, Dressage version.

Have you ever wondered, if there was a dressage playboy grotto, what it would look like?

Well, there would be an old guy in a hat, and squealing women.  Otherwise, it would not be a playboy grotto, would it?

I think he is getting straighter!
However in a dressage playboy grotto, the women are middle aged, the hot tub is replaced by an arena, and to keep the women coming back for more, there are plenty of Iberian stallions.  (Horses!  Seriously, where is your mind?)  Beautiful white horses, with flowing manes and tails, gently Spanish walking through the dirt.

Yes, my experience at Senhor Cavaleiro's barn was like being part of some sort of an eclectic classical dressage dinner theatre enacted by undersexed women en route through their mid-life "eat pray love" crises. Only without food.  A place where one could  ride the stallions they have dreamed of all their lives and gush over an old guy while being encouraged by his soft, cooing European accent that their ex-husband from Milwaukee most certainly did not possess.

I had no idea what I was in for.

I should have had a clue when I was told over the phone that I would be the first rider, and was then told what the other riders would be doing  (Suzie will be learning half-pass on Escobillia, followed by Lucy on Profilactica, who has always dreamed of riding the piaffe and Spanish walk).  It was evident that I was expected to stay for the evening, which I found strange. Typically I want everyone to clear the hell out of the arena during my lessons and figure that anyone who stays to watch the drudgery which is my riding has entirely no life whatsoever.

I arrived in my - (ok, now don't be too alarmed, I am going shopping in a few more posts) - field boots and khaki coloured breeches, since I was still officially a "hunter" rider (wrong). I neither hugged nor kissed Senhor Cavaliero (wrong) but just stood back awkwardly while Ms. Michigan et al. squealed, kissed and gushed because they were so elated to be here, in this exotic villa perched on the edge of romantic - uhh - Mono Mills.

It was obvious from the start that I would be the star of ACT I... you know, the part where the wayward H/J rider receives salvation.  For this unfortunate participant in the grotto, there is no Iberian stallion. Only a fat draft cross of some sort with a back somewhere between a sofa and a sausage.  Wearing only a pad, surcingle and longeing cavesson.  Hop aboard and around (and around and around) we go!

Ms. Michigan et al. perched on stools at the side of the arena, watching intently as I rode the trusty Salchica, arms out like airplane wings, guided by the soothing voice of Senhor Cavaliero.  "Reeeelaaxx, loooooseen the heeeeps, floooow... now, you will ride oonnnnnlyyy weeeth your seeeeeet... floooowww..." And so on.  For, about 30 minutes.  Dum, duh, dum, duh, dum... around and around on Salchica...

I am sure if you had never ridden a horse before in your life, this would have been challenging and exciting.  However, if you rode at all as a kid - this was also known as your typical Tuesday evening.  Forget the longe line.  (If Tracy is reading this... I think you ruined more than one soccer field while doing this exercise on the legendary Patches.  All for free).

As the grand finale of the exercise, Senhor Cavaliero explained to the audience the ultimate goal of "the dressage seat".  When one is truly at one with their horse, they ride only with their seat, and in fact can bring their horse to a halt using ONLY THE POWER OF THEIR SEAT!  (Ooooh! from Ms. Michigan..)   "Now, we will try.... Seeeet deeeeep, deeep, beaaaar dowwwwn and theeenk slooooow...." (Dressage Curmudgeon wonders... should it feel more like I am pooing or having a baby?  I can't ask that.  I have never had a baby, and neither has he, so what is the point?  Neither of us have a frame of reference.  Maybe these things feel the same?)

As if by magic, Salchica bounced gently to a halt.   The squealing from the sidelines started - they even clapped.  I may be a crusty bitch, but really, it was so cute.  As awesome as I like to pretend that I am, I am sure that Salchica had done "the longe lesson" so many times that he knew exactly how many circles he would do before I would be asked to use THE POWER OF MY SEAT to bring him to a halt.

But you know, where I was critical of the last Classical instructor for copping out, I had to give Senhor Cavaliero credit for putting a lot of work into the whole show.  For ACT II - Suzie and Lucy got on his adorable white stallions, and they pranced around the ring like perfect little circus performers, doing mechanical flat half passes and shoulder-ins like robots, more to the aids given on the ground by Senhor Cavaliero than the riders I am sure.  He merely had to stand beside the horses and flick his whip at their hindquarters, and they ticked into piaffe, whip out to the front and it changed to Spanish walk.  And when Suzie got off her smile was huge - she actually gushed (I kid you not) "that was better than SEX".  Which might just explain why she was divorced.

Lastly, for ACT III - Senhor Cavaliero brought in the Lusitano stallion owned by Ms. Michigan.  She had bought the horse based on dreams, not reality (welcome to the club, you say), and now could not ride the beast.  Senhor Cavaliero worked with the horse, on the ground then under saddle and got him to do ... something ... I don't really remember what, or whether I would find it impressive today... but at the time, I did come away thinking it was pretty neat.  Probably it involved a lot of tense prancing which does seem to wow the ignorant.  But whatever, kudos to him for actually getting on the horse.

When it was all through, the grotto girls and I all did a group hug and air kiss with Senhor Cavaliero, and promised to stay in touch.  Well of course, I thought to myself.  Don't we need to do this every week, Senhor?  To really learn, to get better?

He looked kind of confused - uhhh.... I am touring, doing clinics, on the road... I am not here for weekly riding lessons like the average "poor schmuck".... oh, for christ's sake, not this again.  I hit the road.

So, all in all, it was good entertainment, but it was not what I was looking for on my journey to become a dressage rider.  However... did you see the way those girls rode the half-pass?  Huh.  What if it really was better than sex?  I got home and checked the internet... yes, after an hour or so surfing bulletin boards, the next step was obvious.  I needed to find myself a good "SCHOOLMASTER" to take lessons on.  That would fix everything.   Luckily, EMG said there were a few just around the corner!  To the batmobile!

Sunday 23 October 2011

Fate - don't let it choose your instructors for you.

Once upon a time, long before there were MILFs and "Yummy Mummies" (and all of the other sexy and exciting titles which are now bestowed upon women in their 30's saddled with whiny children to make the gig sound much more glamorous than it really is), poor Mrs Curmudgeon used to take my sister and me to ride our ponies at a boarding stable on the edge of the burb of Bramalea.  (If you are not familiar with the place, I will say that although the "lea" part may make it sound romantic and full of green rolling hills... Bramalea is neither).

For the most part, I remember it being cold and damp, and I cried a lot.  I still cry a lot, even when I am neither cold nor damp so I am pretty sure it was not entirely the environment.  Regardless, I am confident that there were a lot of nights Mrs. Curmudgeon would have rather driven a spike through her left eye than sit in the clammy tack room one more time, then listen to me cry about my stupid pony on one more drive home.  But she persevered, and one day, an amazing thing happened.  A sexy horseback riding guy showed up.  Let's call him... Senhor Cavaleiro.

Now don't get me wrong, there was - and still in fact is, 30+ years later - a Mr. Curmudgeon.  However, who can argue that a little bit of eye candy might brighten up yet another dull night sitting and shooting the proverbial breeze with the other suburban moms at the barn.

Now not only was Senhor Cavaleiro a adult heterosexual man, which right away made him interesting and unusual at your average boarding stable in Bramalea... but he was European.  With an Accent.  And, he wore a cool cap - this tweedy wool number with a little pointy peak.  But wait - there's more.

He was... a bullfighter.  Yes, my friends, he showed up at Derryvue Acres not only with a horse (a man showing up there to hang out with the kids without a horse would not be sexy, he would just come off as a creepy pedophile).  But also with his own bulls.

(For the life of me I am not sure how he found the place.  These days, you can't even find boarding for a cribber, let alone your Lusitano road show, complete with stallion and bulls.  Can you imagine the "LF: boarding"  post on EMG?)

After all the kids had finished up whatever it is we did when we were riding, Senhor Cavaleiro would take over the arena with his stallion and bulls, and a long stick, and do some sort of something that I recall just looked awkward to me at the time, but I guess it was really.... Classical Dressage.  Like - really classical dressage.  From a time when people taught their horses to go sideways and spin around on their hindquarters not to pull off some impossible feat like putting a smile on the face of Linda Zang - but for practical reasons, like to avoid being gored to death.

After some period of time, Senhor Cavaleiro got his shit together and moved the road show out of the stable of suburban housewives, to a place of his own.  We actually went there with Mrs. Curmudgeon after he left, to see how he had settled in.  I remember nothing but "the pillars".  There was no horse in them or anything, but their mere presence seemed just way cooler than upended oil drums with a pole across them, or brush boxes made out of old skids, the kinds of things I was used to in terms of "arena adornments".

So anyways, what does all of this have to do with the journey of the now middle aged Dressage Curmudgeon?  Well, when I started looking for my magical "longe lesson"... guess who I found!  It must have been fate, right?

Thursday 20 October 2011

The importance of longe lessons, as described by Al.

I am a bit torn about whether or not to ruthlessly mock longe lessons.

(just one sec... pffff - pffffff- that is the sound of me blowing the dust off of my copy of "The complete training of horse and rider" by Alois Podhajsky in preparation for this discussion.  Do you mind if I call him Al?  Now where was I ...)

On one hand - I do see the value.  Everyone who calls themselves a rider should be able to, in the words of Al,  "control his seat in all movements without ever holding the saddle".  Can't really argue with that one.  "Control the firmness of their seat in all transitions", oh yesss.  And "maintain an upright posture" while "learning the correct positions".  Oooh baby, I am feelin' the shwung.

But if you are anything like me, you are probably a middle aged woman, not a pubescent Viennese boy growing up in 1965 with an intense desire to join the Spanish Riding School.  Spending six months grinding your scrotum into a saddle while circling on the longe is not totally necessary for you.  First, you don't have a scrotum.  Second, it (no not the scrotum... keep up.  The longe lesson) is not really needed to meet your ultimate goal: finding yourself sitting under a tarp in the pouring rain at Palgrave one day, crying softly into a bottle of red, wondering why on earth you just spent $2000 to stop by a dressage ring for a total of 15 minutes over 3 days to get the opinion of a wizened biddy who rode a horse back in 1911 or so.  While decorating your new $300 white pants with indelible clay splashes.  And busily digging trenches during a downpour to keep your horse from floating out of the ghetto land tent stable on a bale of $10 pine shavings.   For this, it is probably not a dealbreaker if you decide to learn to ride by actually riding.

Riding without stirrups all by your lonesome, for a few minutes during each ride will also allow you to lengthen your leg, deepen your seat, etc. and as an added bonus, you also get to learn how to steer at the same time.  It is like multi-tasking.  Or - now I know this sounds crazy - but what you could also try is doing all of that with stirrups, to make it really tricky (since it is actually so much easier to have a deep seat without them).  Oh wait.. then you would just be riding.  That hardly seems as unique or discussion worthy as "ohhh, I am taking a longe lesson at the Pine Moulin Academy".

That said, I totally would not be opposed to a tune up on the longe every once in a while if an instructor suggested it.  And, riding around on the longe line with no stirrups and your arms waving in the air may not be all that critical in everyday practice but it does seem cool.  It is one of those useless things that you should be able to do just for the hell of it if the mood strikes you.  Like being able to tie the stem of a maraschino cherry in a knot using only your tongue.

According to my buddy Al, The final stages of gymnastics on the longe should include vaulting.  Suggested maneuvers include "swinging the legs forward until they meet over the horse's neck".  Note that it is suggested that during the exercise one "take care not to touch the horse's head and frighten him"

Huh - kicking horse in head = bad idea.  Thanks Al!

So - now you know how I feel today.  Back in 2004 or whatever it was, I was way more keyed up for "the longe lesson".  I was going to be a dressage goddess after "the longe lesson".  I drove across Toronto at 5:00 in the afternoon for "the longe lesson".  And I still laugh about it today.  So really - maybe it was good value for the dollar, in retrospect.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Stupid idea #1 continued... memories of - the clinic

So, come back in time with me, 8 years or so, to an ill fated Saturday.  The Classical Clinic.

I showed up at some posh stable somewhere, ready to audit, $20 or whatever was required in hand, wrapped in the smelly emergency blankets from the trunk of my car- because of course, it was a clinic, in Canada, and therefore - it was frickin freezing.  Got my obligatory styrofoam cup of lukewarm apple cider and cuddled up with the others on the benches.

As usual I was late - the action had already started.  Herr Van Coachenhof  was giving the rider in the ring shit for... something.  Something to do with not listening and riding in a non-classical fashion, something that could only be described by using the cliches of the classical coaches of yore.  Was it front to back or hand before leg?  Ride him forward and make him straight?  I can't remember, probably wasn't listening either.  Anyways, it isn't particularly important to my tale.  I do wish I could remember if *I* thought she could actually ride, but with my level of experience at that point in time, I would have had no true clue in any case, so it really doesn't matter.

Bottom line - yikes, some rider in a double got her ass kicked immediately.  None of us rode in doubles, imagine the wrath we would have had to endure in her boots, we really sucked. This guy meant business. (all together now...oooohhh.... let's look at other with surprised and nervous sideways glances).  Double lady left in a huff, undoubtedly wondering why on earth she spent $150 to ride with this jackass.

Annnyways.. next up - a very large bottomed lady on a very small horse, with a very long back.  Honestly, I am not (merely) being catty - it truly was not a match made in heaven.  Ooooh... if double bridle lady got her butt kicked... what would happen to this poor soul!  Aye carumba, the butt was large, the kicking would be great....

But - a-ha!  She did the right thing immediately.  She gushed.  And smiled, and giggled like a schoolgirl.  Oh, Herr Van Coachenhof, I am so honoured to be here!  Blah blah blah.  (more riding, less gushing, lady.  Let's go, cider isn't getting any warmer).  Oh, there would be no resistance here, she was already putty in his hands.  (Not to be confused with razor blades in the hands of monkeys which for some reason is something that we must fear in the world of classic dressage).

However, even with this sappy intro - it didn't start well.  There was a lot of bouncing.  There was an attempt at circles, longsides, all accompanied by plenty of.... bouncing.  It might have actually been posting.  Hard to tell.  I suppose the bounces were rhythmic, and her cheeks did look fairly relaxed.  Parts of her body were schwunging to and fro, despite her sports bra's earnest attempts at collection.  But even with my limited experience, I could tell this was not what the spirit of "the pyramid" had in mind.

But then - as if by magic, a cloud of dressage excellence somehow descended upon our pair - and Herr Van Coachenhof announced that they were ready to work on... Walk / Canter / Walk transitions.  Yes, forget the complexities of... uhh... trotting.  Or basic cantering around.  You are ready to move right on up to... uhh.. 2nd level!  Let's DO it!

They spent the rest of the clinic, on a tiny circle, doing canter / walk / canter / walk - no more than a few strides of canter at a time, walk immediately.

I was perplexed.  What happened to "the pyramid"?  How could this person who couldn't trot a 20m circle suddenly be ready for these transitions, the first steps of collection?  But hey, I don't claim to be Herr Newman, I never chummed it up with Nuno, what the hell do I know.  This guy is "classical", he has an audience of women fantasizing about him even though he is an old toad... surely to God there is some master plan at work.

So at break, I nervously approached Herr Van Coachenhof to ask him to help me to better understand the intricacies of designing a training program which could instantly take a pair from walk-trot to 2nd level.  I need to learn, please, enlighten me.

He smiled a condescending smile, the kind you use to talk to an idiot (or me, apparently. Hmm. Probably just a coincidence).  "My dear, did you SEE what she was doing to that horse's back?   I couldn't watch it any more.  I had to have her do something - ANYTHING else, to stop her from bouncing and hurting the poor animal!"

Oookay.  So rather than helping her to fix - anything, not a single thing about her terrible riding - he found a loophole and sent her home thinking she was ready for 2nd level, at the doorstep of collection. (cue singing angels here).


Which helps her - or the poor horse - how??  Wank.  Instead of having the balls to take her aside and tell her the truth...or working slowly on her seat at the walk or something boring like that... he copped out and sold her the dream.

Which of course, we got to read about on the message boards the next day in the clinic reports.  She knew she was destined for greatness... she knew her horse would ascend the levels...and Herr Van Coachenhof had seen her potential, within minutes, where other "poor schmuck" instructors had entirely failed to see the light.   Just WAIT until he comes back next time.. wow, just wait.

Ahhh!  Of course - THAT is who it helps.  Not the horse, or the rider... it helps the pocketbook of the trainer.  She was a satisfied, soon to be repeat customer.  Nice work.

And that, my friends, was the last time I attended a "classical dressage" clinic.  Yes, first and foremost because it irritated the hell out of me, but also because now I knew now what I really needed to succeed in dressage... I needed a good seat.  And for this...the internet says you need....Longe Lessons, of course.  To the batmobile...

And I must add as a post script - I do know this rider "in person" now, and should she happen to read my blog (unlikely), I am sure she will think I am a terrible evil bitch for writing this.  Well, maybe I am, but maybe I might help someone else from wasting their money....

Monday 17 October 2011

Stupid idea #1. Find a "classical" instructor. Whatever this means.

When I got back into riding in around 2000, after a 15+ year hiatus, I of course returned first to my hunter / jumper roots.  Getting a feel for the "who's who" on that scene was easy.  It hasn't changed in 30 years.  Those coaches that I thought were "really old" when I was a teenager really are "really old" now.  And I am the same age now that they were when I thought they were "really old".  This startling realization alone was nearly enough to send me running to a new discipline.  

But I had no idea who was who in dressage.  No worries.  The internet guided me.  Step #1 is apparently to find a "classical instructor". opposed to...what?   It is an obvious question.   The stock answer is "classical as  opposed to competitive, and focused only on endeavors steeped in evil, such as winning Olympic medals"

After much retrospection and many years of observation, I think a true "classical" instructor might secretly in their heart of hearts answer this question somewhere along these lines... I am "Classical" as opposed to being a "poor schmuck" - you know, you boring old coaches grounded by the drudge of reality, actually having to help students tackle their problems week after agonizing week.   

Instead, "classical" instructors have mastered the fine art of showing up for one, maybe two, magical clinics per year, attended primarily by adoring middle aged women, giving the vague impression of having split some version of the dressage atom during said clinic, then zipping off to be showered in the adoration of middle aged women in the next town on down the line.  See you in six months, suckas!  Oh, I mean "sweethearts".  Yah, yah, that's what I meant to say.  Or should I say Jah, jah, sveethats,  Braaaavvv!

There are a couple of things that make "classical" instructors "classical".

First, it goes practically without saying that if you are a "classical" instructor, you are a man.  This isn't the LPGA, middle aged dressage women generally don't want to shower their adoration on other middle aged women.  (Not that there is anything wrong with that, I am not here to judge, I am just saying).

For some really helps if they wear a hat that looks like this.  I have no idea why.  But it appears to be part of the uniform.  Fair enough, I guess you can't be a gangsta rapper these days without a big high baseball hat with a pancake flat brim worn slightly askew on your head.  So why shouldn't classical instructors get to have a look too?

It also helps to pair this hat with other tweed items.  Maybe a sports coat.  Or if it is cold, something ridiculously long, impractical, and trimmed with fur.  Something that says "I didn't grow up in Ingersoll, baby.  I came from far off foreign lands, just to be here with you."

Next, you need an accent, from, say, a European or Slavic country of some description.  A sexy romance language inspired something from South America - YES.  Southern states - NO.  Southeast Asia - DOUBLE NO.  

Now, you need some names to drop.  You will want to include Alois Podhajsky for sure, maybe Pluvinel, and try to work Xenophon in there somewhere.  Then, quote "the pyramid" a few times.  You don't even have to actually say what the hell it means, just say something like "we are all guided by "the pyramid", JAH?"  in an intimidating fashion and then stare around at the crowd (preferably out from under bushy grey eyebrows of experience), just daring anyone to say "what the frick does Egypt have to do with anything" exposing their ignorance to the crowd.  

Lastly - and most importantly - avoid actually getting on anyone's horse - ever.  

It is best if you are too old and frail to ride, or at least are able to give that distinct impression.  Because you can tell, even from the ground, that if you were to get on Sally Jone's dear sweet Klosettb├╝rste - the one thing he needs most in this world is actually found somewhere in the bits of rubble at the foot of the pyramid.  Long before you even get to approach the realm of takt or lossgelassenheit, let alone the magical (and somewhat kinky sounding) schuwng.  You can tell without a doubt - in order to become a solid dressage citizen, step one is to kick his lazy butt into gear... and oooh, weeellll.... that wouldn't be very magical.  Their might be signs of discord. Dare I say, loss of harmony.  He might even...go behind the vertical.  Best to leave that for the aforementioned "poor schmuck" coach to deal with.  And choose something easier.  Hey, you only have to make it through 45 minutes!

I was almost entirely spared the experience of the "clinic with classical instructor" - almost... but I did have two fleeting moments of it, just enough to get a taste of the sweet, sweet snake oil before moving on.  

For the first, I was mercifully only an auditor.  

Friday 14 October 2011

Realization #1. Message boards are like Wal-Mart. Only stupider.

Now don't get me wrong.  I am not blaming internet message boards for all of my most stupid dressage mistakes.  One doesn't blame tequila for the fact that they danced naked in the halls of South residence during frosh week.  They just go "woah. I should really do my very best to stay away from tequila" then thank whoever it is they pray to that Facebook and digital photography didn't exist in the early 90's.

But wow, when I headed off down the dressage pathway, the stuff I read there without a doubt lead to the biggest and best "head in the toilet, what the hell was I thinking, did I just barf in my car" versions of dressage hangover stupid moves that occurred along the way.  Ultimate Dressage is hands down the worst, but Chron of Horse has it's days, and the local EMG of course gave me the resources needed to meet up with weirdos in person.

Imagine with me reader, for a minute, that you had never in your life ever gone shopping.

Then someone took you to Wal-Mart.

Wow!  It is cool isn't it.  It is cheap.  There are these yellow smiley face things everywhere.  It is brightly lit and lots of other people are here too, all enjoying themselves and sharing in the glory of the low-LOW-prices.

What sort of idiot would spend more money and go to, say, Mexx.  Or Jacob. Or buy shoes at Aldo. God forbid Anne Klein.  Only an idiot would pay for that shit, when we can do it all here together, Wal-Mart shoppers, for way less money.  Let's rise up and share our knowledge.  Who needs those jerks and their natural fabrics and tailored jackets.  Wanks!!   Look, we have George.  He makes fashionable stuff.  Who needs anyone else.

This, my friends, is the way I see Message Boards and their value to dressage.  Why pay for the knowledge and experience of someone who actually knows what the hell they are doing, when you can talk to anonymous morons for free.  But if you have never been shopping before, it takes you a while to figure out that spandex tights and hoodies and pleather boots really shouldn't be worn by anyone, anywhere, even if they talk a good game and sound like they really, really know how to pull together a look, and 15 of their friends pipe up immediately and say "hot, wow, you are it baby".

Well, maybe message boards are a little different.

Like, for argument's sake, say Anne Klein actually walked in to a Wal-Mart, and decided to buy some socks or maybe some dish soap because c'mon, really, the prices ARE good... If Wal-Mart really was a dressage message board (say, Ultimate Dressage), the shopping hordes would rise up and bludgeon her to death with a 60 pack of Nestle Halloween treats, because what on EARTH does Anne Klein know about clothes or fashion or shopping, and how dare she even suggest that she knows how to buy socks any better than us just because she calls herself a designer.  Bitch.  We are livin' it here baby, livin' on a prayer, and we don't need HER!  She will probably take the socks home and smother puppies with them, the cruel, hate filled cow...

And that is why you probably won't see Anne Klein in Wal-Mart, well not in Cambridge anyways, or anyone who knows their ass from a hole in the ground posting anything on a dressage message board.  The mass of morons inevitably rise and kill off any spark of helpfulness and sanity that they might contribute with cries of rollkur and quotes from Walter Zettl. So don't even bother trying to find help there.

Maybe this doesn't make sense to anyone but me, and well, that's fine. I am used to it. Long story short - crack open the wallet.  Pay for good coaching.  Stop reading message boards.

Next time, I will share with you some of my fun filled message board inspired lessons.  Or as I like to remember them "$100's of dollars and hours of my life I will never, ever see again..."

Thursday 13 October 2011


Here I sit, on a Thursday night, watching a truly awful episode of the 2011 version of Charlie's Angels.  It's only redeeming feature, perhaps, is that the women have real boobs - real, as in, non existent, which is entirely appropriate for 5'11" women who weight 120lbs, yet rarely seen in Hollywood.

And what does this have to do with dressage, you are undoubtedly wondering?

It has everything to do with dressage.  Because the reason I am inside, watching Charlie's Angels, is because my horse is 2 hours away, at a beautiful barn in the middle of nowhere, being sold.  Because I am finished my "journey" or "pilgrimage" or "Odyssey" or whatever trendy and heartfelt word you prefer to use to describe the 8 years and $50,000++ I have spent to become that elusive beast... the insanely naive Adult Amateur who bought a 2 year old and stuck with the creature, through thick, thin, and alarming gobs of money, to eventually ride down centre line wearing the ole' top hat and tails and show PSG.   (This all occurred pre 2011.  Now it would be tails and approved helmet.  Whatever, you get the gist).

And yes, I sucked.  Yes, I scored in the 50's. (So the catty among you can feel entirely free to bash me on EMG, I am fully aware of my inadequacies).  Yes, I lacked the basic ability to count to 4, and instead proudly rode perfect 3's across the diagonal with a smile on my face which dissolved to confusion when the judge blew the "what the hell are you doing" whistle.  Yes, my ass bounced alarmingly as I held on for dear life and tried to ride some form of extended trot across the diagonal.  And so on.  Good times, good times.

I remember the excitement of looking at the first class order of go to see who was in my "PSG Adult Amateur Class.." then seeing that Balmoral, a horse shown to Grand Prix by Jacquie Brooks was in my class, and realizing that me and my 9 yr old greenie to FEI had not a flying hope in any burning version of hell of coming within 10% of first place...

I remember leaving the ring sweating and defeated at training level on my wound up 4 year old, and seeing the next competitor enter the ring and ride around like clockwork, never missing a beat, depressing the living shit out of me... only to hear her friend ask her upon leaving "Hey Suzie!  Wow, great ride!  Congratulations!  How old IS Spunky now?" and hearing the answer "Well, he is rising 17!"  And realizing that I only had to put in another 13 years before my horse could walk, trot and canter as though nearly dead, so that I too could win Adult Amateur Training level 1...

And so on.  Once again.

Anyways, what brings me to write here tonight?  (Besides numbing the pain of bad Charlie's Angels, goes without saying).  Well, I feel that I have something to offer to others who are starting the same journey.  Those among you who believe that if you get the *right* classical coach, do Pilates, get a Schleese saddle, ride a schoolmaster, do longe lessons, try Parelli, buy a Lusitano, save an OTTB,  try a dressage pony, or follow the sage words of Gallop on Ultimate Dressage... what-freaking-ever... you will make it there too.  Maybe you will.  But maybe on the way, I can make you laugh with some of the incredible failures... and great successes... I had on my own journey...

Tune in!  Drink wine!  I can assure you I will...