Monday 14 November 2011

Dressage Curmudgeon... you are a downer.

Ok, I have received some feedback on my blog...  Apparently some of you find it just a tad - negative.  And you would like me to write something more uplifting.

Not to nitpick, but....


 [ker-muhj-uhn]  Show IPA
a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person.

It is not like I tricked you into it.  However - I am up for the challenge.  

Let's see, did anything good happen during the period of Platypus transformation.  Uhhh... hmmm... oooohhh... No.  Not really.  It really was depressing.

To make matters worse - I wasn't a bad hunter rider - no, I wasn't turning to dressage because I was afraid to jump, as is sometimes the case.  Someone had even loaned me a beautiful hunter horse to ride, and would have done so again for the next season.  So it isn't like I was wallowing in suckage before this whole affair began.  I truly thought I was relatively hot shit. 

This all made it even more difficult to show up at the barn each night and have well meaning people ask me "Soooo!  How is the... "DRESSAGE"... going!"  No one wants to hear you whine about how you are failing, especially when they have no fricking clue why you have changed course in the first place.

But I thought about it, and I can remember one "lightbulb" moment that did occur around this time. 

I rented "The Half Halt Demystified" by Jane Savoie.  And I learned what a half-halt actually was.

Up until this point in my riding career, I must admit - I had not the slightest clue what instructors meant when they said "half halt".  

As a child, it seemed very clear to me.  HALF - HALT.  When I want to HALT, I pull on BOTH reins.  When the coach says HALF - HALT, I pull on ONE rein.  Half of BOTH.  

Makes sense, doesn't it.  

The fact that I rode from the age of, oh, eight, until maybe fifteen, without a single coach saying "why the HELL do you keep yanking your horse's face to the outside (or inside, depending on my mood of the day) every time I say "half halt"!"  tells me pretty clearly that THEY had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, or the effect this aid was supposed to have either. Which is scary, but not entirely surprising. 

As I got older, I did refine my yank-one-rein technique to more of a subtle "make horse slow down" sort of maneuver, which seemed to satisfy my instructors, but really I still had no idea what the mechanics behind this mysterious aid were.  So when I saw the "half halt demystified" video on the shelf at Bahrs,  I was intrigued.   I rented it secretly, hiding it under some $180 full seat breeches I think, and snuck it out of the store like it was porn.  Who wants to admit to having no clue what a half halt is at this point in their riding career?  Loser!  It was like renting "how to find your clitoris" or something.  

Now if you have never watched a Jane Savoie video, I will warn you of a few things.

First, she does look a bit like Freddie Mercury, before his gay biker phase.  Not that there is anything wrong with this, Freddie was a good looking guy.  But you may find yourself singing Bohemian Rhapsody for a while after watching the video.  Just so you know.

Secondly, she does have that strange, drawling, eastern seaboard accent that drives me a bit to distraction.  She would say "haaakey"  to describe what the Leafs try to do.  But then I say "eh" and "aboooot", so who am I to judge.  

Lastly, she stares intensely at the camera.  All the time.  It is a bit unnerving. 

However, this is an educational video, not an Oscar nominated masterpiece, so just get past this and try to learn (and actually, I liked her better than Helen Hunt in "As Good As It Gets").

I won't go into details of what exactly she covers in the video - because I really don't remember - other than to say she breaks the half-halt down into 3 steps.  I forget precisely what she calls them, but basically: 

1. forward when leg is applied (hmm... exactly what that coach who never returned was getting at... must be something to it..), 
2.  Capture energy with outside rein, and 
3.  Bend with inside rein.  

It has been a while since I have watched it so I am not sure if I would be quite as enthused by it today as I was then, but it really was a big revelation to me at the time, and I do think, along with the clinic, it made an immediate difference to my riding.  For the first time, I was trying to put the Platypus together by riding forward, not slowing down.  

There was only one issue.  The Platypus didn't particularly like going forward.  Which would be his Waterloo, (just outside of Waterloo), very soon.

So there you have it - something positive that happened, as I drove to and from the barn, feeling like a loser for ever deciding to take up "dressage".  I rented a 5 dollar video, that taught me more than most of the crappy instructors I had encountered thus far.  

Thanks Jane!

(Don't worry!  It gets better soon.  In about 80 more posts or so).  


  1. I rarely smile/laugh half as much as I do when I read your blog. I remember trying to get my head around the dressage jargon, when I first started. I'd just try things that were sort of seemed remotely correct, and if I wasn't corrected I'd roll with it :) Things like bend on the inside, and check the outside meant nothing to me... now it's sort of second nature.

  2. Freddy Mercury!! I howled at this, at all of it actually. Keep in doing what you're's perfect!!

  3. Don't change anything. I stumbled across your blog yesterday, while looking for (of all things) a dressage coach in the K-W area. I didn't find what I was looking for, but on the other hand your blog has been the best serendipitous find of the year.

  4. Hey! My mustache isn't as dark as Freddie's!!!

    Love your blog!

  5. Laughing out loud here by myself, had to read the whole blog today. Keep the blog coming Curmudge, I'm hoping there is another horse in your future tho.

  6. Jane, thanks for taking the post in the spirit in which it was intended.

    I really do think your video should be required watching for everyone who dares to attempt to execute a Half Halt - and not just Dressage riders either!

    And I really do like you better on screen than Helen Hunt.

  7. Stephanie,
    I thought it was hysterical! I've actually forwarded it to a number of people.

    Love your sense of humor! I'm not sure Helen Hunt would agree, though. ;-)

  8. I liked Freddie Mercury best in his early incarnation anyway - the buff biker dude thing didn't resonate with me at all. There are worse things in life than resembling that great man in his heyday.

    Looking like Keef Richards would be worse (although I love the man, I think some moisturizer about 30 years ago wouldn't have come amiss).

  9. Haha - I'm glad to see Jane came and read your post - I hope you don't mind that I put it on her Facebook group page - I thought she would love it!