Tuesday 25 December 2012

Sally - what exactly were you smoking when you wrote that book...

Merry Christmas, dear readers, Merry Christmas.

You will be excited to know that this year, Santa has brought me a delightful shitstorm of equine disappointment that I couldn't have made up if I tried.  Unfortunately, you will have to wait to hear about it, but I promise you it will make the shorts episode seem like a non-event.  Even my much hinted at "goin' postal" episode, where I screamed in the face of Mr. "do you think I made it to the World Cup riding the way YOU do" seems like a walk in the park now. And really, I thought it was going to be one of the highlights.  Who knew!

Don't ever think the horse world has let you down to the point where you have reached your ultimate nadir.  I promise you, there is some dork out there ready to fire up their mining equipment and dig you in just a little deeper.

But first, back to our story.  The quicker I get this other stuff out of the way, the quicker we can all be depressed by my equine life as it stands today, a bunch of posts down the road.  Sounds like fun, doesn't it.  Let's go, shall we!

So now where were we...(I have been so tied up in real-time curmudgeonly activities, I have totally lost track...) oh yes - I had mastered training level on a 17 year old horse, but unlike many other middle aged women, I decided to continue on with my journey.  I said goodbye to The Swiffer, got out my crampons, and took the next steps towards "climbing the pyramid"...

Paddy Boy was just the man to help me to do it.  He was also an elderly New Forest Pony, but he was confirmed second level - which, if you have spent more than 15 minutes on any dressage bulletin board - you know is "THE DOORWAY TO THE UPPER LEVELS"...

Why Curmudgeon?  What is it about second level that separates the hunters doing a pattern from the horses doing DRAAA-SAH-GGG.  

Well, there are different ways to look at answering this question.

The textbook response is of course, that second level is where the first seeds of collection are planted.  The Purpose of first level is said to be to confirm a horse has "developed the thrust to achieve improved balance and thoroughness and to maintain a more consistent contact with the bit".  The purpose of second level is to confirm that the horse "accepts more weight on the hindquarters (collection); moves with an uphill tendency; and is reliably on the bit".  (According to our Competitions Handbook, a horse does not have to be "reliably on the bit" until 2nd level, but according to our judges - god forbid a three year old be "fussy in the contact" during a walk trot class.  Makes perfect sense, no?)

As a scribe, what I can tell you about second level from observing many a mind-numbingly boring test is this - any half decent horse can go into the ring and bop around doing a snappy tempo'd trot, some leg yeild with haunches here and there, in and out (depending on whether the instructions say shoulder-in or renvers)... and if they keep their head dead still, and are quiet and obedient - they are likely to crack 60.

But where the definition between the two levels beings to really show itself is in one of the movements that seems so simple, but in fact is really hard to do, and clearly demonstrates if a horse is just plowing around on the forehand and not sitting down and engaging it's hind end, or is actually starting to get a clue...

The simple change of lead.

Which is why it is correctly (in my opinion anyways, for what that is worth - nothing really) a double coefficient in tests 1 and 2.  (More on this later).

However, as a struggling adult am rider I can tell you the true difference between first and second level.

That nice little statement "All trot work may be ridden sitting or rising, unless stated" has cruelly been ripped from the test headers at second level.  That's right ladies.  Find yourself a sturdy non-chafing sports bra, and have a seat.  You aren't going anywhere in dressage until you do.

I would like to say that with my exceptional athleticism and equestrian prowess, I was able to easily master the sitting trot.  But if I did, first of all, all of you mere mortals would hate me for being so wonderful.  Secondly, I would be a raging liar.  Because I struggled to master sitting trot on any horse, and on Ms. V in particular until I we pretty much reached second level together.

It is not that I didn't try.  I read Sally Swift, and I faithfully tried to envision my ass nestled into a warm pile of mashed potatoes smeared all over the saddle, or whatever the hell freakish visual image she encouraged me to conjure up in my mind in "Centered Riding".  I thought of pedaling a bike backwards.  I tried to pretend I was doing the hoochie koo.  I imagined being gang raped by monkeys, picturing melting ice cream dripping from my amputated knees, dry humping the saddle, and whatever other totally useless thought patterns that were suggested to me on a variety of bulletin boards, in authoritative ways, by people who probably could not truly sit the trot themselves.  Surprise, surprise - none of them worked for me.

Curmudgeon - the key to the sitting trot lies at the base of the pyramid.  Once you master RHYTHM and RELAXATION - your horse will create a place for you to sit, and all will fall into place naturally.  

Sure. Yah. Sounds good. And I would say that is absolutely true for me today - I can get on pretty well any horse and cruise around in sitting trot without any issue.

But back in the day... it was a little more difficult

Because you know how it is. You are going around in posting trot, putting the pieces together...listening to Coach Ritenau

...forrward... ride into the connntact....beeeennnd....inside leg to outside reeeein...don't forget to giiiiveee....(ok, ok, I think I have it, I am climbing the pyramid...rhythm, yep, relaxation, yep...).

Nice Curmudgeon, he looks good.  Now try sitting just for a few strides, then posting again... (ok, ready, thinking mashed potatoes, oozing slime, dripping ice cream...ready...here I go..)

BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG - I would immediately become the ball part of a bolo bat whacking against the poor horse's back with fury.

Do you remember the Wham-O people coming to your schoolyard and doing yo-yo and bolo bat demos to make you want to own one?  Or was that only in Peel District?  (Mr. Motard says they came to his school too, so I am not imagining it)

If there actually were warm mashed potatoes on my saddle, they would have been squirting out from under my ass and spraying at the kickboards along with the ice cream dripping from my knees, and the monkeys would have their gang raping penises snapped right off their torsos (take that, little perverts), as I hoochie-kooed all over the place like a jackhammer.

It is hard for a horse to maintain relaxation and rhythm when they are suddenly faced with all of this. So that magical place to sit everyone talks about - yah, it does exist.  And yah, it will magically disappear the first time your ass gives the saddle a nice hard slap.

Like so many other things in dressage, taking one piece in isolation is easy.  Tying them all together is hard.  So, my advice to you my friend is this - suck it up and keep trying.  There is nothing deep and meaningful that any poster on UDBB can tell you to help you learn to sit the trot.  Don't expect me to provide you with some magical trick here on this blog either, I have no fricking clue what it is. You will suck.  For a long time. Practice. Apologize to your horse daily.  One day, it will all work out.

Enjoy your mashed potatoes with turkey tonight - and watch out for the monkeys.


Sunday 9 December 2012

Aren't you going to put shipping boots on your horse...? Why no. Thanks for asking.

And so, with our showing debut behind us, we hunkered on down for a long Canadian winter of circles and transitions, and all of the other exciting things that one does with a 4 year old horse.

You see Curmudgeon - showing isn't that bad.  Nothing scary happened at all

No, nothing scary did happen at the shows. And thankfully, nothing scary happened driving TO the shows either, due to our careful efforts to learn to go in and out of the trailer in a safe and orderly fashion. And as you may recall, this trailering portion of the whole event was actually the part that freaked me out the most. "Practice makes Perfect" loading and unloading sessions are of course the most essential element to  easing one's worried mind with respect to trailering

However, as with everything else in the horse world, if practicing and perfecting are just not enough to ease your psycho neurotic mind... the horse world has an app for that.  As in - some expensive gizmo or piece of tack you can spend money on and app-ly to your horse, in hopes of protecting them from whatever it is your psycho neurotic horse owning mind is keeping you up at night worrying about. For me, it was the image of Ms. V kicking her spindly toothpick legs through various surfaces on the Red Rocket.  No matter how many times she stomped on and off the trailer during practice, I could not simulate what might happen once the ramp was shut and we were rolling down the road.  

Now, those of you that know me, know that I am a zero effort horse owner.  I don't spend a lot on the frills. Hay. Water. Pellets. $9.99 plastic brush boots from Greenhawk. That's how I roll. I am the anti-tack whore. I am like the wizened and withered, lock-legged spinster of the tack buying world, or tack nun, or something like that.  But this once, way back when, because of these sleepless nights....I decided to break my own rules.  I decided to invest in the ultimate bubble wrap of horse transport - those big honking kevlar sausage shipping boots that come up to the horse's crotch, and make the same swoosh-swoosh-swoosh sound as a snowsuit as your horse parades awkwardly around the yard.

No slouchy old poo stained cottons and stretched out bandages for Ms. V.  Her legs would be encased in the equine equivalent of bullet proof vests, because I was a loving, caring, concerned horse owner. 

Top all of this off with a dorky leather chapeau - and we were ready to hit the road in perfect safety.  

No, it is not Camilla Parker Bowles sporting her favourite fascinator at the Royal Wedding. It is Ms. V ready for the Red Rocket
No practice makes perfect session is complete unless you use all of the equipment during your practice.  And so, I got Ms. V suited up and prepared to take her off to the Red Rocket to try out our new ensemble.

She stood quietly in the crossties wearing her new duds as I wandered off whistling to get her leadshank.

Then - she moved.

Next - she went ENTIRELY FREAKING BANANAS.  Like I had never seen her go entirely freaking bananas before, and thankfully have never seen her go since.

There was rearing. flailing. flipping, falling. Eventually, there was the ripping of crosstie eyebolts out of walls, and finally, the ripping of $100 shipping boots off of legs, using some combination of walls and other legs.

And there was of course about 4 absolutely stunned and helpless bystanders wondering what the hell they could do to stop the insanity, yet also wanting to live to see another day without having their head kicked off by the freakshow going on before their eyes.  As luck would have it, we were all unfortunately behind her - so grabbing her head was not an option.  (Not that it would have helped much, I don't think, to be honest).

Finally, after what seemed like a really long time, but was probably only seconds, there was one shaking, snorting horse, staring intently at the tattered remnants of the leg-eating sausages, with a look on her face that clearly said..

"take that, you son's-a-bitches. Want another piece of me?"

Curmudgeon!  You almost killed your horse!  Don't you know you should always....(please insert your own favourite piece of know-it-all advice right here). 

Yes, I did think of all of these things.  I ran them through my psycho-neurotic mind that night, as I laid now doubly sleepless in bed, worried not only about toothpick legs flying through the walls and windows of the Red Rocket, but about pieces of shipping boots flying out after them and bouncing off the windshields of passing cars.

Should the crossties have had pieces of twine attaching them to the walls, so they would have broken free easily?  Maybe.  But then we would have had an insane horse running loose through the aisles.

Should I have introduced the boots more slowly?  Maybe. But she had worn her poo stained cottons and stretched out old bandages several times without incidence, and wore her $9.99 Greenhawk brush boots every day.  Who knew these would push her over the edge?

Should I have just stuck to my old plan of being the tack spinster?  Yes. That was the only answer.  I was being punished by the aliens that run the simulation for swaying from my strategy to be the world's most cheap-ass, curmudgeonly horse owner.  One who did not spend a dime on stupid shit that horses don't really need.  Like big honking shipping boots. Or a $3000 saddle when there is nothing at all wrong with the $500 one.  Ooops, I am getting ahead of myself again here, aren't I.

(Oh - by the way - please feel free to tell a tale of a horse you know who's hock got popped off like a bottlecap, or who's knee was rubbed right off of its body due to the absence of big honking shipping boots, to prove me horribly wrong.  I love that).

Monday 3 December 2012

For the record, neither of us spat-up on the judge (despite what the remarks section says)

I went to another Bronze show and again entered the W/T classes, with very similar results - scores hovering around 60%, no ribbons, and lots of comments relating to steadiness in contact.

The second judge actually said in remarks "nice horse, but fusses with head.  Ride more forward for better contact"

And there you have it.  Dressage in a nutshell.  Thanks judge.  I will get on that.

Reading this years later, the "fussy" part still bugs me, partly because I can envision from my days of scribing the sighs and bored annoyance on the part of the judge that probably accompanied the comment.  Oh, for the love of god.  Another chompy-chomps-a-lot horse poking around the dressage court.  Kill me now.

I know, dear judge, I know. Watching 10 walk trot classes really is dull.  But I said it before, I will say it again - Curmudgeon family credo.."if it was fun, they wouldn't call it work", and last I checked, judges get paid. A young horse that is imperfect in the contact is not "fussy".  It is learning.  It is your job to be able to identify this, and put some sort of non-negative, yet not entirely positive spin on the deal.

Fussy implies having some sort of a meltdown, maybe spewing foamy cream coloured milk vomit on the shoulder of a well-meaning aunt, or parents leaving a party early because all of the other guests want to kill them and their wailing baby and are secretly wondering why they didn't spring for a sitter like the rest of them.

Forcing a judge to watch a bit-chomping 3 year old is more on par with suffering through a niece's really bad piano or dance recital (this coming from a woman who once forced her relatives to watch  a chunky young Curmudgeon perform the"Parade of the Pink Elephants" tap dancing recital, while wearing a hood with big ears and a Hannibal Lecter type mask thing with a trunk crafted out of the hose from a 1950's hair dryer, and a pink leotard).  They will either get better at the whole affair and progress, eventually getting lucrative jobs as uhh..."dancers"...or they won't, and will be stuck doing boring office jobs with the rest of us.  Just like horses.

I do totally agree with the comment regarding "riding more forward", however.

The problem is, "riding more forward" on a young horse, "energizing" their gaits, keeping them "swinging", while at the same time "up and open", "slightly in front of the vertical", and "supple over the back" (all comments to come on later tests at training level) is a horrifically difficult feat.

One easy solution is - draw reins.  Voila.  Head is steady.  And you can put your leg on and drive the horse as forward as you would like, because with all of the extra control the draw reins offer, you can stop even the most freight train inspired horses you might encounter.

The other is - put them really deep, really round, and then put your leg on.  Forward, swinging, supple, overtempo.  Voila, once again.

Another would be - outfuss them.  Start sawing on their face and really jerking your hands around.  "Set her back", "Release" in the words of the time machine schoolmaster coach.  I have witnessed her in the show ring several times now, yanking and flapping during her warm-up tour, and I must say, when she does eventually enter the ring and stop, her horses seem to be just so relieved that the party is over in their mouth they do keep their heads fairly still.

Or, lastly, as hinted at by Lauren - you could just ignore it and keep on riding well and learning and improving, until one day with enough good time under saddle, it goes away.

Don't expect the judges to go for this one though.  I can hear the tongue clicks and deep inhales already.

Monday 26 November 2012

Ms. V versus The Swiffer...our first show

The STORY Curmudgeon!!  Tell the fricking STORY!!

Oh, sorry. I lied. That was totally a rant, wasn't it. But seriously, it goes perfect with the next chapter of the story.

Ms. V's first show.

Yes, the time had come.  After about six months of walk, trot, occasional canter - circles here there everywhere and herky jerky transitions - we were READY!  We signed up for our very first Bronze show - Intro A and B.

For those of you not in Canada, Bronze shows are the lowest on the totem pole of shows, and really, this makes them the most fun of all to attend.

Anyone can go to a Bronze show and feel welcome.  Purple Troxel - sure. Half-chaps - yes. Is your horse a Georgian Gypsy Commercial Vanteca?  You will fit right in.

Is your horse not only in front of the vertical, but also often in front of the horizontal?  Are you tempted to do your training level freestyle to a song by Sir Mix-A-Lot, in honour of your horses scrambling gaits and/or butt size?  Great.  Come on down.

There are usually happy little prize baskets with carrots and horse shampoo and a lead shank, maybe a saddle pad, and generic ribbons with no year printed on them so they can be used indefinitely.  And of course, at least one or two self important, busybody volunteers who are treating it all like the World Cup has come to Puslinch.

But really their true appeal lies in the fact that you don't need multiple expensive memberships to enter, and the actual entry fees are reasonable.  Yep, they are dirt cheap, in the grand scheme of all things relating to dressage and horses.

And - surprise, surprise!  You tend to get what you pay for in this world, and bronze shows are no exception.  When I arrived on site at some ungodly hour of the morning with Ms. V, The Swiffer, and my mighty entourage in tow, the first alarming fact was that the "Longeing Area" was a slippery square of sloping grass in the parking area, still wet with dew.  Kind of more of a "Legbreaker Area" than a "Longeing Area".  Who's leg? Dealer's choice.

Tip #1 for those of you who always longe your horses before riding - stop doing that if you plan to go to small shows with limited facilities. You need to be able to get on your 3 year old right out of the trailer, when she is high as a kite... first thing in the morning, when she hasn't been turned out yet, at all, and is incredibly confused as to where she is and why.

Instead of longeing - maybe start a training program that involves leaving your horse inside for the day so she is slightly off kilter and nutso when you arrive. Then ask someone to come with you and ride around in the ring on a bicycle, or with a screaming kid in a stroller holding balloons...something, anything totally weird and distracting.  Mix it up. Lastly, drink four RedBulls before you start riding, so you are jittery and distracted and forget everything that you usually might do during a nice normal ride. If you plan to show, practicing under these conditions will help you to prepare more than longeing before you ride on a daily basis.

Live and learn.

The next problem was, of course - the warm-up.  Because during my lessons and most of my in-between rides at Liliput, I either rode entirely alone or with other boarders who were incredibly courteous and stayed out of our way if anything went amiss.  Oh, having issues with your young one?  I will just stay down this end of the arena.

Tip #2 - these people are not at the show.  Instead, the warm-up is an entire herd of people with things going amiss, who all need to stay out of each other's way while trying not to die themselves.

I was no stranger to the show ring, but my last experiences a few years prior to this were at mid-level (Trillium) hunter jumper shows.  The warm up rings there are so refreshingly simple as compared to dressage shows.  Any dressage shows, really, not just the lower level ones.  Everyone just goes around the on-the-rail speedway, left to left... when one decides to jump a fence, they yell out their intentions in the de rigeur whiny sounding hunter voice "heads up owwwt-syyyde..." or "heads up axxx-sserrr" or whatever - and everyone knows what the hell is going on.

Not so in the Bronze dressage show warm-up, where 10 adult women on the edge of having nervous diarrhea are all somehow trying to pack 20 metre circles into a tiny sand ring, without crashing into each other, while staring intently at their horse's necks.  Accompanied by 10 or so pony club kids, who are darting here and there fearlessly with no regard for traffic regulations of any sort.

Right up to the end of my showing career, I never ceased to be amazed by people who would cut you off in the warm-up as though they had no concept of where you could possibly be heading.  Even at the Gold shows. Here is a tip - dressage is just not all that mysterious.  If you see a horse doing a medium trot, just about anywhere... assume they will continue going in a straight line.  Half pass - probably going to head on over doing a diagonal type line.  If someone has been on a 20 m circle for 5 minutes - they are probably going to stay there.

Sure, there is the off chance they will suddenly whirl around and head off in some totally unexpected direction, but play the odds and figure they won't - don't suddenly do some asshole maneouver right in front of them just because the voice of God (or your coach) is being piped directly into you headphones and told you so.

Anyway... once she got over her initial shock and awe at the fact that other people had the nerve to show up ride in her private little space and she settled into a groove - things actually went very well.  The ring at this particular venue is tucked into the "U" shape formed between the two barns and arena, so it is very quiet and private, and when we headed into the ring, Ms. V sighed a huge sigh of relief (ahh, those assholes are gone!) and went to work.

The result?  Sevens for our trot circle and free walk.  Sixes everywhere else except our centreline / halts - fives.

Collectives - seven paces, six impulsion, five submission, six rider.

Overall score - 60%. No ribbon, I think we were sixth or something .

Comment in just about every square, the reason we got sixes instead of sevens (the scribe should really have come up with a shorthand) - unsteady in contact.  For a three year old in Intro A. I guess I have to tell myself, what else do they possibly have to say?  There just isn't that much going on.

And so, with the Intro classes over - I knew at that time the most important part of the day was not the actual showing, but getting Ms. V out and about and seeing the sights to make being off property less frightening and mysterious. I brought along a sidekick who then walked her all over the grounds exposing her to this and that, while I took The Swiffer in the Training level classes.

We won both handily, with glowing comments and scores in the high 60's.

In retrospect, this experience pretty much sums up dressage shows, judging, and moving up the levels.  Talented young horse showing in an age appropriate class, with age appropriate issues - not likely to win or score high.  Topped out at training level senior citizen going through the motions for the 98th time in his life without batting an eye...smokes the pack.

Your scores at the lower levels tell you NOTHING about the likelihood of your horse to progress in dressage.  Although this was so long ago that the results are no longer online so I can't be sure, I would hazard to guess with some confidence that Ms. V was the only horse in the 2004 Intro A/B division that went on to school Grand Prix. No, not because she was the only talented three year old in the county, but because I was the only owner stupid enough to bother showing Intro A/B at a bronze show.

It is hard to be objective when you arms are bundled with carrots and leadshanks and shampoo, and you are basking in the glory of kicking the ass of other sweating middle aged women on their sweating middle aged horses, but really, that should have been it for me and showing.  Even at this rinky-dink show, with the troxels and halfchaps, the concept was very clearly laid out for me. I should have said "AHA! This is a stupid racket!  No wonder the big dogs don't bother fritzing around at training level!  See you guys at PSG!".  But I didn't.

And hey - what would I have spent those thousands of dollars and lost weekends on, anyways?

Saturday 24 November 2012

Airbrushing and the Art of Dressage.

Thanks for indulging me in one of my periodic rants. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Kind of, anyway.  Because something very timely caught my eye over at Chronicle of the Horse (COTH) that brings to light another rant, or re-rant as I have already touched on this once.  

But let's back up first.  Ms. V. Learning to drive standard.  Aids on / aids off.  

Release the clutch!  Release the clutch, for pete's sake!
I am not going to even begin to make excuses for the fact that Ms. V was way too reactive to the leg, to the point that every time you put leg on, she spurted forward / sideways / where ever.  This is not a normal problem that most people have, and it should have been addressed much earlier than it was. 

However - having inconsistent contact at this stage of the game is actually pretty common. 

I would say almost every young horse I know, ridden by a less than perfect rider (and even many of those ridden by riders who are perfect in their own minds), either has contact that is too light, too inconsistent, heavy as lead, too low, too BTV, not even on both reins... please add your favourite variation of this theme here.  

Because young horses are learning.  i.e - they don't know how to do it right yet.  

It is just not easy to get perfect, quiet, light yet solidly "through" contact developed in a young horse, which is just one of the reasons why it is so incredibly irritating to hear the armchair Ankys of the internet world critiquing people frame by frame on video for every dip or bobble in a horse's head carriage. 

(Not to mention that they expect horses to be able to do it in a double AND a snaffle, while executing perfect everything lightly and in harmony, whatever the hell that means.  Of course).

No problem Curmudgeon... if we go to shows and compete against other horses that are also working on the same concepts, at the same level of training, we can see how we are doing by getting the judge's feedback. 

Ah, great point.  Because all of the horses progressing up the levels will pretty likely be going through some personal phase of "taint right" with respect to contact.  One would expect that a judge will observe, comment, mark fairly, and send the riders of these horses don their way with great feedback regarding what they have seen before them. 

After all, they have taken the L program, as described in Lauren Sprieser's recent blog post over at COTH.

Pretty is as Pretty Does - A Day at the L Program

Basically the gist of this post is this... Lauren Sprieser (who I don't know from a hole in the ground, I have no axe to grind with her in particular...but she is apparently a Young Rider superstar, now up and coming coach, training with big dogs, blah, blah, blah...good for her) decided to help out with an L program training session by bringing her hot young prospect to the course to show off the fact that a horse that looks pretty is not always working "correctly".

She knows it will be nerve-racking to be shot full of holes by learning judges, but does it for the good of the sport, to help them learn.

A-HA!  This sounds like it will be a good read, I thought to myself, and may be in line with exactly one of the points that I am trying to make in my blog - don't panic if things aren't perfect all along, just keep on progressing.  It is great that this woman is getting out there and showing them what that pupal stage looks like.

And so she does.  She writes about the fact that her horse's contact is less than perfect, that he sometimes goes behind the vertical, and that "an authoritative connection to the hand is hard" for her horse.  Oh, how my heart warmed.  She is human, her horse is equine... she is showing judges that this is how the real world of working with talented youngsters look.

But then... this.

I'm glad that the future judges of the world are on the lookout for these things...(blah blah blah)... It was a good pat on the back for not showing him yet, even though he's putting together pieces of the upper-level work and could certainly show third level with nice scores. I don't want nice scores - I want to be brilliant, which means the connection needs to be beyond reproach.

Yes, that is what we should do.  Even though we think our horses are heading for upper levels... we should hide them in the closet because they aren't perfect yet. Wouldn't want anyone to see THAT!

And, we should train judges to attack the faults of horses that aren't working perfectly at the mid levels, who have some inconsistencies in the contact or bobbles here and there - because they aren't "brilliant" yet. Even if the trainers working with these horses think they are exactly on the right course in the big picture of things.

WTF?  Way to go girl.  Big pat on the back.  How does this make any sense?

ARRRGGHH!  Why aren't we instead focused on helping people understand what is NORMAL?

Properly trained horses are always light and perfect in the bridle at all stages of their training. And this is what women look like in bikinis
I guess it comes back to the whole discussion on the purpose of showing.  Is it to:

A: Confirm that horse, having begun to develop whatever the hell it was he was supposed to have begun to develop at the previous level, now demonstrates an increase in whatever the hell it is he now needs to do to continue heading on his merry way to Grand Prix


B: Show off that a horse that is 3 years older than it should be in the given level, based on objective of getting to Grand Prix before it dies of old age, can prance on through the test blindfolded

To be fair to the L program - in this post, we don't get to hear what was actually said regarding how this horse would have been scored in an 3rd level test.  Was there a discussion regarding the fact that everything this horse does is totally normal for a progressing superstar?  Possibly.  Was there another 3rd level horse shown that was dead broke and bottomed out to show the difference between imperfect potential and perfect dead end of the road?  I can't tell from the blog post, but if not, something is terribly wrong with the training program.

If this horse really IS headed for upper levels, there must have been lots of things the instructors of the course could have picked out to show the students.  Kids...scrape away the "small stuff" on the surface - sometimes btv - sometimes unsteady in contact - and focus on whatever it is that this horse is displaying that leads Ms. Sprieser to believe that she is headed for Grand Prix.  Presumably some sign of this greatness to come must have been on display, along with the faults, and THAT is what judges need to see, and to understand, if showing and the feedback received at shows is REALLY going to help us at all.  Who cares about the blips along the way?

Otherwise showing doesn't give us feedback - it is just another airbrushed pageant of perfection. Why bother going at all? 

To be fair to Ms. Sprieser - I can't blame her for not wanting to show her imperfect horse.  Because who wants to work with an up and coming coach who's horse isn't scoring 70's at 3rd?  As we sit at our computers surfing centerlinescores.com , we can't see if a coach got 60% on their test because they scored 8-3-8-3-8-3  - pure brilliance interrupted by moments of nerdy young horse... or 6-6-5-6-5-6 boring end of line performance.

Better not risk it, Lauren. Hide that horse at home.

Monday 19 November 2012

The Stretchy Circle. Like the nipples on batman's suit.

I probably don't have to point this out to you, since you are all dressage nutjobs as well, but I do have a somewhat obsessive compulsive streak to my personality.  Once I develop a habit, it sticks with me and is hard to shake (if you have ever seen my bloody and disgustingly bitten thumbnails, or seen me biting said thumbnails right after cleaning a stall or picking some hooves, you know what I am talking about.  Nothing stops me.  I like to tell myself it builds my immune system). 

My most recent obsessions are going to the indoor driving range (which you already know about), and listening to podcasts while I do just about any activity that does not require listening to the drivel going on in world around me.  Driving, mowing the lawn, running, having dinner with Motard - I pretty well always have the ipod going with some stupid podcast on. (I haven't yet tried listening to a podcast at the indoor driving range.  Hmmm... )

You can listen to a podcast on just about any subject.  Did you know that Nazis are living beneath Antartica?  Neither did I, until I got into podcasts.  I also know more about American politics than most Americans (you poor, poor people), and am right up to speed on the "PetWell" affair (if you don't know what this is - you should listen to more Slate podcasts).

One of my favourite mindless and stupid podcasts is "How to Do Everything".  It is a National Public Radio offering during which two guys answer listeners questions on how to do a variety of stupid things, like how to stop your cats from licking out your earwax while you sleep. (Yes. This really was one of the questions. I am not making this up).

On a recent episode they covered the topic of Skeuomorphs.  


I thought I had no idea what Skeuomorphs were, but once they start talking about them the definition is obvious - they are design elements with no functional purpose, that are retained for purely ornamental reasons.  So, for example - when you touch the keys on your ipad and they make a little clicky sound like a typewriter - that is a Skeuomorph.  They could be silent, or make the sound of howling wolves or laser beams or whiny hunter jumper coaches - but the designers have maintained the old fashioned sound you expect a keyboard to make.  Wood grain on your laminate floor - Skeuomorph.  The fact that the "save" icon on your computer looks like a floppy disc, even though kids these days don't even know what a floppy disc is anymore - Skeuomorph.  

The most excellent example given in this particular podcast that really illustrates the principle of the skeuomorph is the fact that Batman's suit has nipples and abs moulded into it - a showy yet functionally unnecessary display to let us know that there is a ripped human in there somewhere under all of the foam rubber. (You can tell that the scientist explaining the concept is not entirely comfortable with this example, but it really appealed to me). 

This, my friends, is how I see the stretchy circle. When I see a "dressage rider" reel out their reins at the end of their ride and let their horse plow around on the forehand with it's nose dragging on the ground (usually while giving smacky theatrical pats, maybe making that brrr-p noise or cooing "GOOOO-OOOD BUUOYYYY!" in an irritating smoochy voice), what I am really seeing is a big rubbery nipple on a batman suit. 

Yah, yah - we get it. Just like the Batman abs and nipples tell us that there is someone strong and manly within, capable of kicking Joker's warped and twisted ass, we get it that you are a master of Drass-hagge, who has aced the art of having your horse follow your soft and giving hand into impeccably correct contact.  Brav. Braaav-oh.

There are only a few problems with the "10" stretchy circle - that is "allowing the horse to stretch forward and downwards" as a badge of honour. 

First - just as not all men who could potentially save Gotham City have exactly the same conformation as Batman - not all horses are ideally conformed to do a big, dramatic, draping double coefficient stretchy circle.  

For example, quarter horses can't generally sit right down and piaffe by design, but they can typically do a mean stretchy circle.  Conversely, a horse that is born and bred to be uphill (with sperm-meet-egg planned with dressage in mind) may have a natural predisposition to NOT plow around with their head way down by their knees and their nose poking out..

If you think I am smoking crack and need some concrete evidence - consider that the FEI 4 and 5 year old tests give a nod to the fact that a horse should be reaching into the contact by asking for 1/2 circle (from F to K or whatever) of "Let horse stretch on a long rein".  Fair enough. I would hope we are all in agreement that a horse that is held in a "frame" is not going anywhere fast in the world of dressage.  

However - for our lower level tests, this quick check of correct contact is not nearly enough.  

Instead, the Training level tests AND First level tests in our Dressage Canada handbooks ask for a FULL 20 m circle, and a circle of not just "stretching on a long rein", (which could be interpreted in a way to allow for many different permutations of a relaxed and stretching topline depending on the conformation of the horse), but "allowing horse to stretch forward and downward", complete with a little cartoony illustration of a peanut rolling horse with his nose poked out, and a wide handed forward slouching rider, in case any judge is unclear on what this movement is supposed to entail.  And the nipple on the rubber suit is of course that this maneouver is a double coefficient in all but one of the first six tests, training through first. 

Suzie! Lean forward - FORWARD! Drop those hands and WIDER please...how many times do I have to ask you to round your shoulders. Look at yourself in the mirror and channel your inner hunchback, my dear.  

The problem then becomes that the up and coming stars are being evaluated using a different set of benchmarks than the horses ridden by the rest of us.  While we are busily mastering the art of getting our horses to tank around on the forehand for two years, the 5 year old horses are moving on to things that show a propensity towards the upper levels - medium canter, collected canter, simple changes of leg...By the 6 year old tests, the horse is expected to display self carriage by NOT stretching when the reins are given for a few strides - something that doesn't show up until Third level in mere mortal dressage. 

Worse still - (just a sec, I need to put my flame suit on here) - once you get out, about, and work with some more experienced coaches with better horses - you cant help but notice that a rewarding stretch for an uphill, upper level horse does NOT actually look anything like Test 3, Movement 13 illustrated above.  It actually looks more like this... 

with the horse's poll only slightly lower than the withers, and the nose typically behind the vertical.  

My GOD!  How can that POSSIBLY be correct?  Has that man not seen the cartoony pic?

Somehow, our system of rewards has spawned a whole league of lower level riders that are validated in their beliefs that a happy, peanut rolling, double coefficient scoring training level horse is somehow working more correctly than a horse that prefers to stretch in a more "low deep and round", behind the vertical outline. 

This whacked out logic is of course supported by bulletin boards dedicated to trashing coaches that are working with highly talented horses that are being warmed-up by stretching into the contact in a way that matches their conformation and level of training - namely low, deep and round - versus wrestling their faces down to their fetlocks and throwing them onto their forehands for no particular reason other than the fact that it is rewarded at the lower levels..a design element with no functional purpose. 

Get out your protractors, people.  We need to study that cartoony pic, and be sure our horse's faces NEVER go behind the vertical.  We wouldn't want anyone to accuse us of being Devil worshipping Rollkur fanatics, now would we.  Oh, and by the way...nice nipples, Batman. 

Thursday 15 November 2012

If the student ain't happy - ain't nobody happy. happy and stagnating. It is what we all want. Right?

Wait a second here... you were not "self teaching" yourself.  You had Coach Ritenau helping you!

Yes I did.  She was right there at my side for 2 lessons per week or whatever it was at the time.

And herein lies the problem with many lower level, starting out coaches, working with many lower level riders.  I will of course never know what she was really thinking, but if I were to guess, I would say it was something along the lines of..."Curmudgeon read a book, she thinks she is doing what she is supposed to be doing... I will stay out of it and let her continue on her merry way".

I am sure if I had said at that time - "hey, let's try a horse communicator" - answer would have been...great idea. "Bitless bridle?" Sounds like a plan. "New saddle?" great. "Horse and Rider Pilates pole dancing?" that should help. "Chiro, massage, and flaming marshmallows?" let me get the matches for you. "Stuffing jalapeno peppers up horse's butt?" Why not. Whatever you want to try, my dear student, let's give it a go. If it will keep you feeling engaged, intelligent, and like pulling out your pen to write that cheque - I think it is a marvelous idea.

You can google just about any phrase and find a picture to go with it. The internet never ceases to amaze me .

(The other alternative is that she had no idea that things were amiss, and really didn't realize that we were in the process of creating a Faberge egg of a horse that would eventually become very confused and offended when the time came to put the aids ON. I will give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that this was not the case).

I know Dr. Phil does not usually bring up the topic of dressage on his talk show.  Actually, I even searched his website just now to be sure, seeing as a topic about an insane wife spending all of the family's disposable income on buying and training a dressage horse wouldn't be totally out of the question as a subject for a show...("WHAT were you THINKING!").

But if Dr. Phil did decide to broach the subject of why it is so many adult amateur dressage students are spending so much time and money on truly mediocre coaching, even when they live in areas with lots of good instructors... he might say the reason is "if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy".

That is, for a great percentage of adult ams out there - if they feel useless because they can't accomplish any of the things the coach is suggesting... it is only a matter of time before they find a coach that likes whatever the hell it is they ARE doing, making themselves temporarily happy.  Until some life altering event occurs to open their eyes to the sad state of reality - like seeing a video of some jiggling slouchy rider flopping around on her horse and realizing with horror exactly who that person is.

A coach like Ritenau knows that if you aren't happy - ain't nobody going to be happy, because you are likely going to pack your bags and go elsewhere. To be temporarily happy, then unhappy with some other coach and start the cycle all over again.  When you are just starting out with only a few students, you don't want to do anything which might scare any of them away, you just can't afford it. Really, an adult amateur with a 3 year old who can get on, ride around and execute circles and whatnot without being terrified or close to death is a relatively good catch, in the grand scheme of things.  Beggars can't be choosers.

So I am sure when she watched us go around creating an overall pretty picture 95% of the time, save for a few herky-jerky transitions and moments of unsteady contact, she told herself that things were just fine.  Happy horse, happy rider, no resistance on anyone's part.  Looking good.

You of course recognize my situation, and know at least 10 people who are in it, or have read about them on a bulletin board, since it is so incredibly common.  Here I was, obsessively going to clinics, reading, critiquing total strangers and coming up with ways to avoid their fate - while not realizing at all that I was comfortably settled into exactly the sort of enabling relationship that would ensure I was right there with them, mastering the 20 metre circle forever.

If I had had the time, I would have put the cherry on top, I am sure, and gone onto UDBB to tell everyone about my fabulous new mare, then proceeded to explain to everyone how lightness, harmony and love were going to take us up the levels, just as the masters had promised.

(And yes, to answer your question...fast forward 10 years down the road to today... when you see my post titled "Help! I need the perfect stallion to breed my stuck at 1st level mare to..." OF COURSE this has been my plan all along, silly!)

Saturday 10 November 2012

Read - Execute - Totally fuck up. Welcome to self taught dressage

So what were these things that a 3 year old horse was so eager to perform that I was able to label her as an "overachiever" even at this young age?

Go. Stop. Turn.

Really, what else do you do with a 3 year old?

Well, actually - I should be more specific.  Because being horseless, I have been riding an assorted mixed bag of loaner horses these days and during this process, have been reminded that really these things can only be easily defined on a "macro" level (i.e. if horse is no longer moving = stop.  Horse moves = go). 

Once you get a little more granular in your evaluation (throwing that buzz word in there just for the office dwellers... don't you hate when your boss says "granular"?  It always makes me think of sugar, then I get hungry.  Or I start dreaming of being on a sandy beach) you quickly realize that there are fifty shades of go and stop.  And maybe 150 shades of turn. And people out there who think none of these 250 shades of anything are required to execute a course of fences, which amazes the living hell out of me, and is the main reason that I always tell people "I LOVE perfecting flatwork!" when they suggest I try jumping their horses. 

(They probably think it is because I am old and frightened.  I am good with that). 

What I was deathly afraid of back in the day was screwing up GO with Ms. V- since this was the fundemental issue with the Platypus (who on very good days still gave the equine equivalent of sigh/eyeroll before GOing), and also with most horses I had observed at clinics etc .  Right from the first time I climbed aboard, I was very commited to this idea of - put your leg on, horse goes forward immediately.  If they don't - rain of hellfire until they do, followed by petting and other niceties to cement the correct reaction in the noggin.

I also really wanted my horse to have that kicksled / skateboard quality that Kyra talks about in her book - i.e. once the horse does GO, you back off and let them cruise along, you don't keep nag-jab-kicking just for the hell of it.  When horse is not going forward enough for your liking - leg on and GO again, then ease off on the aids.

And, with these two ideas in my head - instantaneous go, followed by release of the aids - I proceeded to merrily instill an incredibly irriating habit in Ms. V, that somewhere down the road would require much work to undo. What was not entirely clear to me when reading about how to teach this kick-sled phenomenon was the fact that YES, you stop kicking.  NO you do not remove all traces of the aid from the horse and leave your leg sort of hovering on her side , such that once you do touch her again with your calf you surprise the hell out of her and she blasts forward as if shot out of a cannon.  Especially if she is an overachiever.

This happens all the time in life - people really and truly think they are doing the right thing, but instead, they are driving off on some crazy tangent and just making life more difficult for themselves.  The brain is always willing to fool us. It is the reason I still sing the lyrics "I'm hot, chicken feet, from my head to my feet" to myself when I hear the song Pour Some Sugar on Me. No matter how hard I try to stop. It seemed to make sense at the time, however in retrospect, is so totally ridiculous. How could I have thought this was correct?  Why would someone have rhymed "feet" with "feet".  Or sang a hard rockin' tune about Dim Sum?  Come on, Curmudgeon.

Yaaah!  Sing it, Joe Elliot!
And nowhere is this more true than in self-taught dressage.  The slogan for self-taught dressage should be ...Read it in a book - execute incorrectly on your horse - fuck up totally. 

As I am sure you can imagine, this same approach of - apply aid and back off when horse responds - can also make a real mess of a horse's steady contact.  There is a fine line between "softening" the contact and "dumping" the contact all together.  And when you are riding an overachiever, it takes only a very few corrections to create a horse that shoots forward like a rocket when you put the leg on, and assumes what feels like a nice light contact in the mouth when you even touch the reins, creating a lovely eye pleasing picture of a big forward trot and a lovely headset...without actually being "on the aids" at all. We were superstars in my mind.  Was that easy, or what?

I did get some glimpses of issues still to come, but of course at this point, when the "big stuff" seems to be going so well, the small things don't seem particularly relevant. 

The first one was - riding Ms. V was a bit like learning to drive standard. (Please don't say "hmm, I never learned to drive standard, I can't relate to that one at all". Women who can't drive standard are an embarrasment to the species. Do me a favour and humour me...just lie and pretend you can, and hope no one ever calls you on it like George Costanza on the Marine Biologist episode). 

The Curmudgeon family learner vehicle.  Three kids - three clutches

Remember how you would give the car too much gas and let go of the clutch and the car would jettison forward and burn rubber?  Or, not quite enough and it would do a stuttering jerk-jerk-jerk stall? Yah, that was kind of the feel  you got when riding Ms. V. Aids were all or nothing - you were going, or you were stopping.  And both things happened as suddenly as back when you were learning to drive that car, and getting yelled at by whoever was crazy enough to try to teach you. 

But much like learning to drive standard, once you were in the groove and rolling along- ahhh, it all seemed so easy.  It was just the application of the aids part that was as bit... uh... abrupt.  That will all smooth itself out. Right? 

She was also incapable of standing still - because every twitch / shift / nudge of any part of my body was interpreted to mean GO by the overacheiver.  An actual halt required me to sit absolutely immobile which really is not as easy as it seems to be when you are vegging on the couch.  Of course in that day and age, the absence of a halt was easy to ignore - it didn't stop people from winning Olympic medals, so why would I fret about it here doing walk-trot on my greenie. 

The other thing that was not developing quite like it should was... anyone... anyone... yesss, that's right kids. Two marks for stretchy trot.  But actually, I think the subject of stretchy trot is worthy of an entire rant post all of it's own, so I think I will save it for later.  Suffice it to say - when you can't put your leg steadily on your horse, or take a feel of their mouth - stretchy trot can be a bit of a challenge. However, being a kick-ass master of stretchy trot in and of itself doesn't mean you are doing things right either, smug reader (yah, I know you are out there, acing that double coefficient at training level), so don't get all proud of your peanut rolling downhill horse tripping around on the forehand.

I guess in retrospect, it still was a better place to be in than having a balky 3 year old that had a hissy fit and kicked out at the leg when asked to go forward - Or one with a mouth of iron that yanked me around the arena like the time machine schoolmaster from way back when.  I generally didn't get any negative attitude at all, unless I rode for too long or drilled something more than I should have based on our stage of training, which did sometimes happen. 

We all need to have something to fuck up when starting our first dressage horses. On the grand scheme of things, I think issues that stem from excessive willingness to please were pretty good problems to have. 

Monday 5 November 2012

Ottawa. It should not be a Double Coefficient.

Aha!  So you see, Curmudgeon - it really is all about temperament. I have said it a million times on bulletin boards. Ms. V's overachiever attitude made her a natural to succeed in dressage. 

Oh surrre it did.

As a barren spinster, I get to witness the exploits of my friends and their children as an impartial observer. I have determined that nothing is a bigger pain in the ass than an overachiever as a child. As a dressage rider, I have learned that this is true for both humans and horses.

It brings to mind a dinner gathering a few years back which included a friend - let's call her Mrs. Momzilla. M'zilla happened to be the proud mother of an overachiever, and on this particular night, she recounted the horrifying tale to us that has now gone down in Curmudgeon folklore as "Ottawa - it is not worth two points".

I forget all of the fine details of this story, but the crux of it was.. this woman's overachieving 4th grader or whatever she was had to write a test on the capitals of Canadian provinces, and the bonus question - the Capital of Canada - was worth *TWO POINTS*.

Here is a tip for you canuck kids - if you get St. John's and Saint John confused - Just remember that "stupid" is spelled with an "S". And Newfies live in Newfoundland. Thus, by using triangulation, we can determine that St. John's spelled with an extra "S" = Newfoundland. It is not politically correct, but you won't mix them up again.

Well, Princess blew the Ottawa question.. losing two marks in the process, due to Ottawa being worth *TWO POINTS*..whereas any other error would have only dinged her one.

Being an overachiever  she was, of course, distraught.  M'zilla only had two choices. She could have told Princess to turn the frown upside down, suck it up, buttercup, or some similar catchy phrase that an irritating mother might say, and that would have been the end of that.

Or - alternatively, she could have gone to the school and gotten into it with the teacher regarding the framework of the test, and the total idiocy of making Ottawa worth..*TWO POINTS*.  Which is of course what she did. Eventually teacher saw the error of her ways (aka - wanted M'zilla the hell out of her office), made Ottawa worth the one measly point it rightfully deserved, and Princess gained a mark.  Thank goodness, justice was served. Take that and shove it up your beaver tail, you stupid canal skating, MP pocked city.

M'zilla then went on to explain to us that if the Canadian education system insisted on hiring only people with Master's degrees to teach our children, this sort of travesty could be avoided.

Having had just enough wine to be open with my opinions, but unfortunately not quite enough to be oblivious to the annoying conversations around me, I told her that as someone with a Master's degree, I would rather burn in hell than have to have some bitch of a mom come in and cry the blues to me regarding Ottawa being worth *TWO POINTS*.  Forget summers off.  I would have driven a letter opener into my heart right in plain view of her and princess, just to end the pain of listening to her whiny voice.  I almost wanted to do it right there, and then. At the restaurant.

(I guess I actually should have said that the topic of overachievers brings to mind a dinner gathering a few years back which included a former friend).

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is not just to firmly cement the "former friends" bit, on the off chance that M'zilla happens to read my blog, but also to stress that overachievers do not make for easy times for either parents or horse owners.  It is instead very likely that child and parent, or horse and rider, will feed off each other and both will eventually morph into balls of hard-core irritating whiner who have such amazing power they can even suck the joy out of a dinner that includes both red wine and Tiramisu.

To succeed as the parent of an overachiever....it takes a delicate balance of allowing them to indulge in just the right number of drama fits, when they are trying to achieve and failing (which will happen many times in dressage) while at the same time, still gently pushing them enough to someday help them to understand the right course of action.    If you don't indulge them at all and only punish the drama  - you will cause their brains to explode and they will give up trying.

But overindulge - and you become the horse owner we all know, with the talented youngster (who is only 14, still just developing), who can't canter on both leads without some gorgeous version of unscripted Cavalia type leaps and spins as a prelude.  Sure, he can't do a through transition to save his life, but look at how athletic he is! He is a genius!

These overindulgers and their overprotected babies typically wind up in classical barns, where they do things "correctly", never push their horses past (or even anywhere within eyesight) of their limits, and never, ever show - why bother, when the judges just won't understand their delicate, sensitive horses.

I think this is possibly the equine equivalent of having a 30+ year old musical genius child living in your basement "creating sounds" or whatever until they are finally "discovered" (possibly by the police, after being notified by the neighbours about a strange smell coming from the backyard, where the children have buried the parental bodies so they can continue collecting their social security cheques).  But unfortunately, whining to Linda Zang and friends that stretchy circle and free walk should not be worth *DOUBLE COEFFICIENTS* probably won't get you as far as harassing an Ontario civil servant.  However, should anyone decide to try, let me know.  I think it will be fun to watch.


Tuesday 30 October 2012

Oh Platypus...how I miss your evil orange ass.. NOT

But enough about me and my obsession with watching others fail.

You may be wondering how Ms. V was making out with her new career as a Draaah-saaagh Hass.

Very well, thanks for asking.

In fact, after the surly sideways glances and constant scheming of the of the Platypus, she was truly a delight to work with.

Let me put it to you this way.  Pretend the Platypus and Ms. V were students at the same high school.

The Platypus would have been busily flirting with the cougary Ms. Crabapple type teachers, to distract them from the fact that he was using the wimpier children as drug mules and selling pot in their classes.

Ms. V on the other hand would be distraught and crying in the corner because she got 97 on a test instead of 100, and wondering why-WHERE-HOW she possibly went wrong.

Now, there are owners out there that are perfect matches for both of these horse personality types. To be honest, I don't think I have exactly the right personality type to own anything besides maybe a bicycle, and even Mr. Motard doesn't think I am quite cut out for that.  (Did you know they require something called "maintenance"?)

Thank goodness I wore pants.  I didn't offend dressage people, and had no inner thigh chafing either. Win-win.

To be honest, in retrospect the Platypus really was a much more amusing horse. Do you ever spend time fondly remembering the total asshole bad-boy type you dated in high school, then thanking the lord that he is permanently gone from your life?  Yah.  When I think about the Platypus, I have that same sort of feeling.  Ahh-hahh-haa... good times, glad you are long, fucking, gone.

The funniest thing about him... and we all know a horse like this.. is that he was constantly scheming and cooking up some plan to get out of doing whatever it is you wanted him to do.  But he was such an incredibly bad actor you could practically smell the smoke coming out of his ears as the little hamster in his brain ran on its wheel. This was of course most obvious when you were longeing him, as you could stare right into his sneaky little eye and almost read his evil mind.  It was usually saying something like this...

"Hmm.. I am going to make a run for it.  Yep, I am going to tear over to the gate, and rip that bitch's arm right out of it's socket.  Picture waterskiing through dirt at the end of that longe line - that's what I am envisioning for her.  Here it comes.  Waiiit, wait for it, waaiit, got to make this turn.. then..."  

And he was always shocked when I was ready, braced, wearing sturdy leather gloves, and weilding a longe whip. Typical man. They never expect you to be so well prepared, do they?

Mr. Motard's very very favourite Platypus story revolves around a visit from a work friend of his who had a lifelong dream of riding bareback (yes, I am sure there is something in there that Freud could have a field day with too, but let's stay on script here, shall we?).  And so, we brought him out to live his dream with the Platypus.

He was not a particularly small man, however Arabs in the western world have to deal with much worse, and he was by no means hurting the Platypus in any way as he rode around bareback, hunched over and gripping a hunk of mane in one hand, reins in the other.  But what was annoying the Platypus was his insistence on thump-thump-thumping him with his legs every time he wanted some action, instead of squeezing as I asked him to do repeatedly.

Every time he thump-thump-thumped, I could see the unmistakable look of an annoyed Arab flash across the Platypus' face.  Kind of like the look of a teenager being asked to pick his underwear up off the floor of his filthy bedroom - as I understand it, they are very similar expressions.

Now - I am usually a nice person. Well, sometimes I am a nice person. Ok, I have been nice to people a time or two in my life.  But something came over me that day as I watched this dude ride around in a fetal ball on the pissed off Platypus.  I suggested to him that what he should do - if he really wanted a good ride - was to kick the Platypus again.  Also - sit a little further back.  Yes - right there.  Now give one more good kick.

Mr. Motard still says I am mean to have told my horse to buck off his co-worker.  But I am telling you, it was just too perfect.  I felt some synergistic at-one-with-the-horse power come over me, like some warped and twisted horse whisperer. Yes, I have whispered with this horse.  He says he thinks you are an idiot, and he wants you dead.  Or at least off his fucking back.

And so - riding Ms. V on the typical night was just so easy compared to the psychological mindgames posed by the Platypus that in all honesty, I remember very little of the first 6 months.  Each ride, we longed first in sidereins and surcingle, switched to saddle, walk-trotted around, and that was that. Nothing really memorable happened.

Err.. I guess that is not entirely true.  Because although I really and truly don't believe in payback or Karma or whatever you call it (I just pretend to, in order to keep you new-age type readers intrigued), sometimes it really does seem to come and get you, doesn't it.

Shortly after I moved to Lilliput, Coach Ritenau's father showed up at the barn, coincidentally right about the time I was getting ready to ride. I proudly showed off my horse to him, and told him the wonderful work his daughter had been doing with me to get her going under saddle.  I then lead her up to the mounting block, swung my leg over ... not quite high enough, kicked her squarely in the ass, and sent her bucking bronc-ing across the arena, for about 20 metres or so before she put me into the kickboards and then squarely onto MY ass.

I got right back up, jumped on, and continued on with my ride as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Dum-de-dum. But I am sure I heard a sound.. it was faint, but I am certain that somewhere, out there, at a hunter barn east of Toronto, the Platypus was tenting his little evil hooves and laughing demonically.

Touche, Platypus.Touche.

Ahhh- haaa - haaaa!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

I know my riding is awesome... but be honest... does my butt look fat in these pants?

Oh come on... you aren't seriously going to another clinic, are you?  You have already bitched about clinics a few times!  Give up already.

No, no, you have misunderstood my feelings towards clinics entirely.  Really - I LOVE going to good clinics, operative word here being..GOOD.  The clinician must be someone who actually rides, and has proven that they can teach someone to do the same.  Riders should be an even split of amazing pros on horses that are breathtakingly wonderful, and puffing red faced amateurs exactly like me.  One group to inspire, one group to help you feel better about your pathetic inadequacies. Throw in at least one rider who says they are training level but shows up in a double because "I just seem to have more control with it", or has an ewe-necked, 900lb, 25 year old OTTB who is "schooling Grand Prix" just to add a few awkward sideward glance moments. Voila. Perfect clinic.

Believe it or not, I am in fact going to audit a clinic this weekend, or as Mr. Motard likes to call them, a "show'n'shine". Based on my description to him of what typically happens at a clinic, he interprets it as an event where people gussy up their horses and ride around showing off their tricks to onlookers (if all goes well), but don't actually compete per se.  Errr.. yah.  It is kind of a show'n'shine I suppose. 

(He even asked if he could attend this particular "show'n'shine" with me, for something to do.  When I told him he would have to sit on a lawnchair wrapped in the emergency blanket from the trunk of his car and drink cider from styrofoam cups, he quickly lost enthusiasm.  Thank God.  In reality, there were excellent lunches and delicious brownies and comfortable couches in a heated viewing lounge with piped in sound from the clinician's mike. This shall remain our little secret). 

Anyway, around this time in my journey, I audited a LOT of different clinics. I do think this was a really critical activity that did help me to keep my eye tuned in to riding that did not suck, and how one might go about recreating that in one's very own arena.  Although I did feel that things were progressing well with Coach Ritenau, she kept her upper level horse at a different barn, so I didn't get to see her ride him, and there were not any other mid to high level riders at Lilliput. Just me, and a few other solidly training level ladies, doing pleasant 20 metre circles.  I needed to keep my eye on what was supposed to happen NEXT...

Because getting Swiffer "supple and moving freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit" in a training level sense of the word was becoming quite easy.  It totally made sense to me now.

What was confusing was... how that possibly morphed into "accepting more weight on the hindquarters, moving with an uphill tendency, especially in the medium gaits, and being reliably on the bit" in a second level sense of the word.  And how the hell I would know exactly what a "greater degree of straightness, bending, suppleness, throughness, balance and selfcarriage" was, and when I had arrived at this point - "the beginning stages of collection".

To make things more confusing - as I mentioned before, when you go to the average show to observe, it seems like there was a whole chunk of people missing from the chain of events. You sort of get the "training level, first, yada-yada-yada, PSG" version of the story more often than not...  flat toplined "dum-de-dum-dum" low level people moving freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm around the outside in the warm-up with flexed, sweaty foamed, arched neck things snorting like steam trains while doing pirouettes and passage in the middle.  I found myself constantly wondering where the pupal stage was...

Enter A, X halt salute.

I reasoned to myself that maybe it was somewhere, out there, transforming .. possibly by attending clinics. 

In truth - the pupae aren't generally seen at clinics either. As in the insect world, whereas worms or caterpillar may be kind of cute or interesting, and butterflies or ladybugs or whatever are beautiful - the pupa stage is generally ugly.  No one gets excited about seeing a webby coocoon or crusty insect shell thing.  Likewise - one would not take their horse in the throes of the webby, crusty stage of training to a show'n'shine.

But what you did see at clinics were lots of people boldly driving their horses right up to the proverbial second level wall, and BANG - smashing into it.  Then kick-nag-kick-nag-kicking at them to try to somehow motor on through it and on to the butterfly stage.

I did get to hear plenty of different suggestions by the clinicians aimed at somehow getting the riders to understand that something much more dramatic was required to get their larval asses into a coocoon.  (Forget about getting out of it.  First things first). Which generally did not happen, and the clinician eventually backed off so as to save everyone face, encouraged rider to do a few transitions that didn't suck and whole show was generally over.

But now and then - you would go to a clinic with a clinician who really didn't care who the hell he or she pissed off.  Who told it like it was, even if it made people very upset, all for the right reasons.  And what they generally told these women was - make your horse go forward, and let go of its face when he does.

I started to feel good about the fact that I could SEE there was a problem - but more uncomfortable than ever about the fact that these riders just didn't seem to be able to get anything out of their horses that approached the power and suppleness that would be needed to change caterpillar into butterfly. I also was starting to feel more uneasy about the fact that such a large percentage of riders could not see or feel that what it is they were doing while riding was not taking them anywhere near where they had to be.  So many riders truly seemed confused when the clinician burst their "we are going to show third this summer" bubble.

And if you think I am being judgmental here, or catty - really, I am not.  Forget sitting the trot, or learning the footfalls or whatever other crap you may be worrying about now.  Just knowing when you suck - that is a skill that really takes time to develop.

Thursday 11 October 2012

You say outside.. I say inside... you say canter...I say travers...canter, travers, canter, travers..how bout you get the hell off...

Well, it was a rainy long weekend here in Canada... and you know what that means.  I have had time to go on a few bulletin boards and do a bit of stalking.  I don't do this as often as I should, and as a result I miss great opportunities to share. 

For example, one post that was already pretty dead when I got there was about white gloves - wear them / don't wear them, blah blah blah, and most of all, what a pain they are because they always get filthy.

Had I been earlier to the party, I could have shared my "white glove/smooth ass" protocol:

- buy only white gloves of synthetic material with the little plastic nibby things on the palm and fingers
- after your gloves get dirty (read: after one show, possibly after one class or one warm up, or just after leading your horse to the warm up), wear the gloves while you take your next shower
- use plenty of nice body wash, and scrub your butt and other scaly areas with the little plastic nibby things while you shower
- rinse foamy black horse filth and skin particles generated during exfoliation off of your butt
- rinse and wring gloves out when you are done and hang on line.

Voila - you have clean gloves and a smooth ass, and your secret is safe with me.  Win-win. I have yet to try wearing my filthy white breeches in the shower and scrubbing THEM with the white gloves, but that option on the theme would probably work too.  Which idea is better?  Well, your breeches would be clean, however your butt would not be as well exfoliated.  As with many other things in dressage, it really comes down to deciding on your priorities, and following through with a plan.  I can't make this decision for you.

Ahhh, I am feeling smoother already.
Anyway, the post that caught my eye today was the one on canter aids for dressage horses, and whether or not a horse that has been taught to canter from an outside leg aid is a good bet as a dressage prospect.

WTF?  Really?

If this is really and truly your biggest concern regarding whether or not you should buy any given dressage horse, I certainly hope your budget is in the comfortable six-figured range that will allow you to become picky about totally irrelevant things.  In the grand scheme of things this "problem" is right up there with pimple on ass or mane not silky enough (as many posters have pointed out).  If you can ride your way out of a wet paper bag, you can fix this "issue" in about a week.

However, as stupid as I feel this question may be, the discussion did get me thinking about something that dressage people say that drives me a bit insane.  It also gives me a chance to do some reverse hunter-bashing, since I have been a bit harsh on these posing prissies the last few posts...(oops, I am doing it again, aren't I.  Sorry, it is a compulsive habit) and as Anonymous 6 October 2012 10:23 pointed out, GM (that is "Gee the Man" George Morris people!) can do smokin' hot tempis when mounted on a totally trained horse.  (To Anonymous 6 October 2012 10:23 I say... wow, how about that NHL lockout!  When do you think we will see them back on the ice?)

Dressage people of the world, if you ever find yourself uttering the phrase:

Ha ha, I let my hunter friend ride Schnecke yesterday, and she couldn't even get him to move, let alone canter!  Stupid hunter people.  They can't ride at all.  We are so much better than them.  

Consider this...maybe you are better than them.  Maybe you aren't.  But if a five year old cannot get on your horse and make it go forward and DO STUFF, there is the possibility that a big part of the problem is that your horse is just not all that well schooled.  Perhaps what you have been doing is not creating a finely tuned dressage horse, but instead painstakingly crafting a surly douchehorse that no one enjoys riding but you. (Just throwing it out there).

The stuff that they do may be eye-burningly bad.  But regardless...your horse should go forward when leg is on, yield to contact, swing butt to-and-fro when lateral aids are applied (even poorly and if that is in no way the intention of the rider), and move sideways and forward in some sort of leg-yeildy/half-passy direction if asked to do so.  And yes - if outside leg is back, and inside leg is on - horse should make some attempt to canter, probably in an aggressively haunches-in position - but canter nonetheless.

There are some things your horse may not be able to do with a beginner rider on board - clean flying changes are one of them, since if your horse is falling on the forehand with a rider on its neck, it will be nearly impossible for him to get his haunches down and under to jump through properly (this may also be observed at the end of a line of 4's if adult am dressage rider finds herself in the same place on horse's neck due to her inability to keep her ass in the saddle for five consecutive changes.  So I have heard).

But with a little instruction, lots of the "tricks" should be easy, if not totally pretty. After all, I have seen Mr. Motard - who really can't ride at all - execute beautiful mediums on a retired GP oldster, doing nothing other than sitting back, hanging on for the ride, and screaming "w-w-w-h-h-h-e-e-e-r-r-r-e-e-e i-i-i-s m-y-y-y b-a-a-g-g-g s-u-p-p-p-o-s-e-d-d t-o-o-o b-b-e-e-e I-I-I a-m-m c-r-r-u-s-s-h-h-h-i-i-n-n-g m-m-y-y-y n-u-t-t-t-s".  (I was unable to answer the question).

(With no instruction at all, the horse will eventually give up and start giving the finger, which is why buying a schoolmaster and not keeping them in training is a stupid idea, as has been pointed out by many as well.  Which is no different in hunter, is it?  Anyone ever heard the one about the poor beginner who bought the point-n-shoot that will no longer jump a stick and is now winning the hack division?)

I desperately did not want Ms. V to become the surly douchehorse that no one wants to ride.  But I knew that the odds were against me, as clinic season was beginning here in Ontario, and there were lots of opportunities to pull up an uncomfortable lawnchair, wrap myself in the smelly trunk blanket, and watch and learn.  Good clinics this time, put on by decent barns, with a few excellent riders.  Along with many, many adult ams who were busily creating exactly this type of beast.

And one thing that became quite evident is that although much is said about the evils of "crank" - and it does make for great photo opps for the rabidly anti-deep-n-round crew - really, a good blue-tongue inducing crank takes a degree of strength, athleticism and determination that many of us adult am ladies don't possess. It is just not observed that frequently in our circles.  A gentle nagging spur-whip-spur-whip is much more our speed, isn't it....