Friday 18 November 2011

An afternoon with Coach Crabby. Uh.. make that half an afternoon.

Alrighty, back on track.  Who was next in the lineup.

Oh, yes.  Coach Crabby. 

As mentioned earlier, the Platypus was still residing at the hunter barn he had called home for the last few years.  However - the woman who owned the barn happened to have a passion for dressage.  She suggested that the two of us team up and get her favourite dressage coach to come in to teach both of us.

Uhh - ok.  What are her qualifications?  (Good question eh - see?  I am learning). 

Why she is a JUDGE!  And has been for many, many, years.  Since the dawn of dressage here in Canada.

Well that sounds awesome.  A judge must really know her shit.  Right?  This is going to be perfect.

Oh, Dressage Curmudgeon.  You were so innocent back then.   Assuming that judges that have not actually ridden or shown themselves in eons are a sweet, sharing bunch, full of enthusiasm about the sport that has earned them their living, excited and happy to help newbies to the sport excel. 

Ha ha, ha.  Ha.  Haaaa..

(Oh, give me a sec to wipe the tears from my eyes, haven't laughed that hard in a while).

It didn't begin well.  At all.  (But you knew it wouldn't).  Coach Crabby showed up with a cold or some sickness, I can't remember what it was, but enough to giver her an immediate excuse (in her special world) to be surly and gruff, and to seek sympathy and some sort of high-five for making it out to teach the lesson.  (Again - that's why they call  I can't imagine starting a conversation with one of my customers by bitching about how much it sucks to have to help them out when I have issues of my own).    She barely said hello before stomping on out to the arena and plunking her ass down on a chair - her interest level in me, my horse, my goals - all somewhere around zero, or below. 

And so, we headed out on to the 20m circle.  With some spooking on the part of the Platypus.  Every time we went past the mounting block, he would throw his body to the inside, totally ignoring my leg or attempts to maintain bend on the circle. 

Well, we all know, from reading stuff or whatever it is our coaches have said to us in the past, that when your horse is spooking at something on the rail, throwing himself to the inside and losing all bend, we should ride in "shoulder-in" position past the spooky object.  Right? 


However I now also realize that probably 99% of the riding population has no clue what a shoulder-in actually is.  I was solidly in this majority at the time, and my "shoulder-in" was actually a face crank back to the inside with an indirect rein, boot-boot-boot with the inside leg, and shove the horse back onto the rail and sideways past the spooky object in whatever fashion seemed to work.

And truthfully - even now, the concept that one could elegantly float past something horrifying on the rail, even mounted on an extremely well schooled horse in a correct shoulder-in is pretty optimistic.  Laughable really.  If the object out there truly is spooky - there is usually some serious debate with the horse beyond "dressage in harmony" that must occur to schwung on by. 

Well, Coach Crabby did not like my technique.  At all. 

"Go back around and ride that again.  Ride straight.  Use your shoulder-in.  Don't cross your inside rein over his neck"

Great advice.  If you are optimistic enough to believe that telling someone taking one of their first dressage lessons on a hunter pony is likely to have any fricking clue on how to execute it.  Annnnd sooo....Platypus proceeded to scoot to the inside of the circle again.  And again.  And again.  As I tried to ride straight, use my shoulder-in, and not yank him back to "inside bend" by crossing my inside rein over his neck.  Again, And again, And again. 

"Do it again!  You are NOT listening!  Stop crossing your rein over his neck!  Ride a shoulder-in!  Use your outside rein to keep him straight!"  Blah - blah - blah...It was beyond futile. 

Looking back, one of three logical things really should have happened.  None of them did.  Coach Crabby could have said:

1. "Look, this isn't very productive.  Why don't we move the 20m circle to the other end of the arena and work on something else"


2.  "Hey, how about I move this object.  Your horse finds it scary". 


3.  "Ok, let me get on and show you how it's done".

Ha ha, that last one is funny isn't it.  Because the most arrogant, know it all instructors do seem to be the ones that would not get on your horse if you held a gun to their head.  Instead, Coach Crabby came over, grabbed either side of the bit and wiggled it around in Platypus' mouth until he submitted to pressure, then told me to get back on the circle.  To this day, I have  no clue what this bit waggling was supposed to do, but what it did do - was absolutely nothing.  Around we went, and surprise!  Platypus spooked, I crossed my rein over his neck to yank him to the inside, and the yelling started.

WHY are you crossing your rein over his neck!!  I have TOLD you SEVERAL times now to STOP - WHY do you insist on DOING IT!

Uhhh.. because I have been doing it... forever.  And it is not that I don't agree with this advice - no, not at all.  But after 15 years (or whatever) of riding in the hunter ring, where a finessed indirect rein was preferred to an obvious opening rein when all else failed,  having one woman tell me 5 or 6 times to STOP really had no impact on my neural pathways whatsoever.  I didn't even know I was doing it, I am sure, it is just what I *did*.

"Stop doing what?  I am not doing it.  What?  Am not"

And in fact, after 8 years of dressage - although I have proudly overcome the indirect rein entirely - I still do not:

a.  Sit back
b.  Keep my reins short enough
c.  Sit back
d.  Keep my thumbs on top
e.  Sit back
f.  Elbows in
g.  Keep my shoulders down and back
h.  Look in direction of movement during half pass - oh wait, depending on the coach - look where horse is looking during half pass

Etc. etc. etc.  In retrospect, it was so incredibly stupid of this woman to think that by telling me to cease and desist that I actually would.  On what happy planet did she usually teach on, where telling someone to do something a few times magically eliminated a deeply ingrained bad habit?  Wish I was there, I really do. 

But I guess as a judge, pointing out errors is your forte.  Actually having the patience and knowledge to fix them - not so much.

And so - I did what I should have done during my lesson with the 4 year old schoolmaster.  I got off my horse, and together we left, with Coach Crabby nattering some shit as we did so.  That was that, after about 20 minutes.  A relatively quick and painless end to Coach Crabby. 

Somewhere down the road, on my new horse, I did actually get judged by Coach Crabby, and I thought my marks were very fair, generous even.  So I don't think she is a total jerk on purpose, just for kicks. Well, maybe not, anyways. 


  1. Lol, an old & pleasant dressage judge? Maybe I just have bad luck, but I find dressage judges are muhc more likely to be crabby than cheery... even if they still give you good marks.

  2. LOL I think within the past 2 years I've had a lesson with Judge Crabby on her own dyed in the wool FEI Schoolmaster. At $200 per hour. Went back several times even so I could be thoroughly pulped, not just demoralized. Decided I would NEVER (nor did I want) to have the leg strength required to propel this animal forward. His other rider(s) did kick boxing as their hobby. My horses at home immediately relaxed and started to go better.

    Judge Crabby looks as sour as ever.

  3. this old bag is on the DC rules committee as well, conflict of interest? I fucking think so?