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".
Classical...as 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 reason...it 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 Klosettbürste - 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.