Wednesday 25 April 2012

Old MacDonald had a farm. The place looked like hell, but the animals were healthy. And delicious.

So it has been pointed out to me that my luck is uncommonly bad, possibly "the worst".

I am sure those of you who have horses that have gone lame, or been put down with colic, or who have been hurt riding, can't afford horses at all etc.etc would agree that having to buy your own pine shavings for six weeks is kind of like breaking a nail on the equine bad luck scale, but whatever. Still not good.

It could be because reading about stupid things that happen to people is fun, and this blog is for entertainment purposes only.

But regardless, I am up for the challenge.

Dressage Curmudgeon, what is something in the horse world that you have  ALWAYS had good luck with. 

I would say the answer is... boarding at stables run by farmers. Or people that at some point in their life, maybe not now, but as children or teens or whatever, had to rely on the basic concepts of biology to make a living.

My dream BO.  Please email me if you have found him.

Concepts like...

- If I don't feed my cattle, they won't be healthy, and won't grow properly (or cows / milk - same idea).
- If I don't fertilize my plants, they won't be healthy, and won't grow properly
- If my pigs are miserable, they won't be healthy, and won't grow properly
- If my fences are not secure, my cattle may find somewhere to be healthy and grow properly, but I won't know where the hell that is.

And having healthy, growing things equals money to a farmer.

So, when it is time to care for YOUR animal, they will know how to get the job done.  They understand healthy, and growing (or not growing, when it comes to horses - they understand that "fat" is not "healthy").  Best of all, they won't try to use psychology on YOU to rationalize any stupid decisions they are making that just don't wash from a biological point of view.

Alternatively, someone who has worked too long in an office or service industry for a multinational company has been trained to work in an alternative universe.  A world where having the ability to convince someone that something that is total cheap and useless shit is in fact golden and wonderful is not only good, but promotion worthy.  No health or growth is required, other than on the charts in the shareholder's report quarterly.

Many millions of dollars are spent, and salary bonuses are given, to those who are best able to twist the minds of consumers to believe that:

If it is in a nice package - it is good
If it is sold at a high end store - it is good
If celebrities endorse it - it is good

And so on.

I don't need to go into great detail on this, as we are all well aware of the power of marketing.  I am sure we all have our favourite examples, I think mine right now has to be the fact that people can sell $100 boxes of laxatives that give you explosive diarrhea, and call them "Detox Kits".  That, my friends, is the power of marketing summarized in one sentence.

Now, even people who have not worked in such industries are affected by them, and thus we have many boarding stables out there who put the sizzle before the proverbial steak, and as a result, do a really fancy looking, sexy sounding, shitty job of running their equine business.

Not farmers.

The other thing about farmers is that they have a hard core, no holds barred concept of what constitutes "essential animal care".  Farmers have killed injured kittens by whacking them with shovels, and shot their own dog after it went renegade and killed the neighbour's chickens.  They have had to scoop up dead things with skidsteers, and pull calves using those winch things that go on cow's butts.  They may have ripped the testicles out of day old piglets with a pen knife.  That is how you get the job done, down on the farm.

Because of this time spent in the agricultural trenches, they are likely to focus on tried and tested things to keep your animal healthy.  Boring things like - high quality feedstuffs, fed in appopriate amounts, and regular veterinary care.

They are extremely unlikely to suggest any "alternative modality" bullshit to you, or to tsk-tsk to others when you do not drink the kool-aid of "enlightened" horse care.  They will not suggest that having a $100 per hour acupuncturist poke some flaming corks into your horses spine will be a good use of your money.  Or that water sold for $50 and labelled as "homeopathic" is just the ticket that Stormy needs on his way to GP.  Or that what your horse really needs is a $50 pail of some basic mineral with a tarted up label and name, that you can buy for cattle for a fraction of the price. Even if that price includes the scoop. Or that Lauren Bode has any foggy clue what the fuck she is talking about.

I like to use marshmallows...mmm... that my friends, is called MULTITASKING!

Which in my books, is a good thing.

You can also be fairly sure that you won't come home from holidays to a $50,000 vet bill and your horse in a sling at U.o.G Barbaro style, because "we had to do EVERYTHING to save him".  They realize that animals are animals, and they don't sit around thinking "wow, tomorrow is going to be a GREAT day! Can hardly wait to live to see it!"..but that they live in the moment, and if quality of life is not present, the horse doesn't want to be either. They will make the right choices for you, in your absence.

Now, it is not all rosy down on the agriculturally inspired boarding stable.  Admittedly farmers typically don't put as much time into thinking about things like:

- I am going to Bath and Body works - should I get vanilla cookie or berry explosion hand sanitizer for the tack room?
- Does anyone need Tim's - I am going
- Nice stall plaques lift everyone's spirits
- Wave petunias - now in white!  Do they look great out front, or what.

So if you do board at a hard core farmer barn, you may have to take responsibility for your own aesthetic joy. Your friends may make fun of you when you tell them you have to pee in the stall with your horse.  I suggest that you pack some wet wipes, and keep that part to yourself. Or don't have anything to drink within 3 hours of going to the barn.


Sunday 22 April 2012

Back to the drawing board - forget school, forget master... how about 4 legs and a pulse?

Sorry guys, but it was time to revisit the subject of lesson horses.

Now, note that I have changed my terminology here.  Forget the "master" part - let's ditch the "school" part too, because it makes one sound like a pretentious and classical asshole. Or brings to mind "school" horses of my youth that were either young equine FUGMOs destined to a life of kick-pull-kick by their lack of looks and athleticism, or buted up seniors who's owners didn't give them the luxury of retirement, so were instead limping through 4 lessons a night until the day a bullet would end their misery.

What it really boiled down to is that I needed a plain old, garden variety lesson horse.

And really, I have decided after all of these years, if you are just starting out - you really and truly don't NEED an advanced level horse to get rolling. To put this into perspective - think of what an idiot you would seem like if you showed up at Ian Millar's place and said, "Hi Ian.  Yep, I am ready to learn to ride, and hope to show Open Jumper someday.  Now?  No, I don't jump at all yet.  But I think it is important that I take lessons on an Advanced horse."  

Ian would probably tell you (in a much more inspiring way than I will here) that you would shit your pants if you had to ride an advanced level horse over a large fence, even if you physically could.  You will be placed on something sound and sane that can cart your ass around a course of 2' fences.

You are a bit ahead of the motion.  Or maybe getting left behind.  I really don't know what the hell is going on here.

Same deal with dressage.  Initially, you need a nice, easy to ride 1st or 2nd level horse.  A horse that, when asked to go forward into steady contact, does it.  And keeps on doing it without a lot of debate.  If a coach wants to try to pass such a horse off as an "advanced" level horse by using vague terms such as "schooling FEI" and that makes you feel more special, well, knock yourself out.  Even though you are kind of being scammed.  Hey, if you are happy with it, who am I to judge?

I know, I know, people will say I am full of shit - connection is one thing... but how can you possibly learn to feeeel collection unless you experience it?  You need to RIDE it to learn it!

Yah, whatever... however since the vast majority of Adult Ams don't even make it to second level, let alone collection, because of their flapping body parts and total lack of coordination, money, time - wouldn't it be better to just find a nice, steady, easy to ride 1st or 2nd level horse and work on THAT?  Once you have an independent seat and can keep this type of horse on the aids, maybe then it is time to worry about collection.  And by then, you may have developed enough of a relationship with your coach or one of their students that they will let you ride one of their advanced horses now and then to feel what you are working towards.

Hey Curmudgeon... what about the horse you were part-boarding.  Was he still at Muddy View Acres?  Couldn't you just get someone in to teach you on him?

Why yes, what an excellent question.  He was indeed still at Muddy View, and I was riding him regularly.  

In fact, one day while I was surfing the internet looking for lesson horse / dressage coach options, I got to read all about how wonderfully he was doing on, in his new sales ad!  I of course had no idea that he was back up for sale, it was my understanding that now that the owner had a part boarder helping with the bills, and since she loved him to death, she was going to keep him.

But reading the ad - she apparently had him in training with a dressage rider who was teaching him collection and lateral work.  Heeeeyy... wait a second!  That must be me!

Thinking back, I can only imagine how horrific anything I taught this horse must have been, since I had no fucking clue what I was doing - I am 100% confident it was most definitely not  "collection" or anything that one would proudly call "lateral work". (I am mocking my terrible dressage riding, but in fact I had been working him over fences as well, and his jumping was really coming along. So, I did actually add some value to his training).

Nice.  Although I stood by this horse for a few months now (he was part of the reason I put up with Muddy View as long as I did) the owner was now trying to sell him anyways, without even having the courtesy to tell me, and the real kicker - while using the work I had done on him to make him more appealing in her ad.

Welcome to bulletin board cliche #57812, Dressage Curmudgeon...WWYD - Owner of horse I am part boarding is scamming me!

I don't mind helping someone with their horse for free.  Or even to pay a little to ride a fun horse.  But what totally pisses me off is to pay part boarding fees to help someone with their "heart" horse - the love of their life, BFF, a total keeper... when really the ultimate goal is to secretly sell the horse for more money, without the inconvenience of having to pay all of those pesky bills for either upkeep OR a trainer.

I know, I know, horses are expensive, and the owner has the right to sell their horse, I hadn't signed off on supporting them for any particular period...I could have walked away at any time leaving her high and dry... All true.  But somehow finding out about it on was just a little much - I felt like a real sucker.

I will never pay to part board a horse again without a pretty detailed contract outlining what percentage of the sales price I will get should the owner decide to sell the horse during the period I am riding.  Getting this all organized in advanced just makes sense.  And, since we are talking the horse world here, we also know that the contract will ultimately be worth exactly the paper it was printed on when the owner decides to disappear and give me the shaft after they sell their horse.


So long story short - I was done with Mr. X at the end of that month.  Really, the timing all worked out.  Good Bye to all.

Monday 16 April 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I know some of you out there are saying...

"Forget the dressage thing.  I am most impressed that Dressage Curmudgeon moved into a barn with crappy stable management, had one stern talk with the owner and turned the whole situation around.  Now THAT should be an Olympic Event".

I am so sorry to let you all down, but damnit, I am ONLY HUMAN!!  What do you want from me!

(Absolutely nothing changed at Muddy View Acres).

Because I was unemployed for about six weeks in total, I was able to keep the situation under control by being at the barn, well, virtually all the time.  But once I started working, the wheels kind of fell of the whole affair. 

Luckily - the wheels did NOT fall off of my Honda Hot Rod.  Because I needed it not only to cart my ass to the barn, but also to cart around bales of pine shavings.  Someone had to buy them, and apparently, it wasn't Muddy View Acres. 

You see, Dressage Curmudgeon, BALES of pine shavings are very expensive.  (Said barn owner to me slowly, as though I was a bit learning impaired).  If we were to buy BALES of pine shavings - we would have to charge more for board.  We want to keep prices reasonable for all of our boarders.

Uhhh.. ok.  I gotcha. But could we get some other type of shavings in the stalls instead?  They don't have to be in bales. They can be in a big damp heap in the parking lot covered with a tarp, with cats digging in there and making "magic clay".  I am totally good with that.  Just - something, anything - besides the current meagre thin smear of feces laden sawdust on concrete. With puddles of pee. 

Oh, we are getting shavings.  Real ones.  Soon.  Trust us, we are working hard to develop relationships with local sources to supply you with the BEST shavings at the most economical cost possible.  We want to offer great care at great prices!  That is kind of like our motto.  So there will be more shavings soon WHEN we find a supplier that meets our standards. Be patient. She has SOME in her stall right now.  Look - over there in the corner!  Yes, that little crusty triangle.  Fluff it up a bit, and she will be fine. 

(And just a hint... maybe if you turned your horse out now and then, her stall wouldn't be so filthy).

Unfortunately, I think one thing that is often underestimated by new barn owners is how difficult it is to get good, reasonable supplies, delivered regularly and on time, in an industry known for fly-by-night everything and non-payment of bills. 

Crazy, eh?  What is that irritating thing that economy buffs always say?  Pick two - good, cheap, fast.  Can't have all three.  MVA was aiming for the good, cheap shavings.  And they thought it was just fine if that happened...oohhhh, some day.  Problem is - I think there was about 50 local barns in front of them in line, with long standing relationships and proven track records for paying their bills.  Really no one gave a shit about a brand new unproven barn or their boarders.


In case you are wondering, with a bit of pushing and a passenger that kind of resembles Sponge Bob to passers-by, you can wedge 4 bales of pine shavings in a 1995 Honda Civic hatchback.  If, by chance, said car is a rock bottom base model with no power steering let alone a passenger side mirror - you cannot see a freaking thing on the highway around you with 4 bales of pine shavings wedged into it.  And so, although flirting with death on the 401 can be exhilirating now and then, it is not something you want to have going on as a steady state.

We are coming, Ms. V!  We are coming!
 The problem is - you probably don't need 4 bales in your stall at any one time. And - NO - you can't possibly leave the unused bales outside of your stall for later use - because LATER will be approximately 5 minutes after you leave the barn, and the stall that they are used in will most certainly not be YOURS.  (Pine shavings?  What pine shavings?  I have no idea what you are talking about...).  So, you end up wedging and unwedging the fucking shavings into the Honda Civic a little too often for your liking, as you transport them from feed store to work to home to barn...

So why not just buy one bale, as you need it - why must you buy FOUR?  Well - once you start working - you just don't have time to go to the feed store daily, like you did back in the good old, unemployed days. 

The whole pine shavings thing that I was able to rationalize as do-able for really too long suddenly became an unmanageable pain in my ass. I then started to lie awake at night wondering to myself... if MVA can't manage the total rocket science involved in purchasing pine shavings... how likely are they to be able to get their hands on good hay when the current supply runs out? 

Not bloody likely. 

Good, fast, cheap.  I had been good at keeping my stall up to my own standards when I had the time, but that doesn't really count. Nothing was fast at Muddy View. So now that I was back to work, all they really had going for them was cheap, and the money was not THAT important to me.  My financial situation looked relatively secure for the forseeable future, I could easily afford to pay more. 

It was time to go.  But where...

Ideally someplace Dressage-y would be nice.  Some place with a coach.  And a school horse.

No, forget the FEI schoolmaster.  Forget the short listed European rider.  Been there, done that, not ready to be that depressed right away again.  No, right about now, I would settle for a coach who wasn't clearly nutso, and a relatively sound horse that had at least entered a dressage ring at some point in its life. 

Oh - and a stall with some some shavings that I didn't deliver myself would be nice too.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Fun with Free Jumping

Anyone with a horse under the age of three (or six if you are a kinder, gentler, crazier young horse owner) has been asked by their non-horsey friends at least a few times... what the hell do you do with a horse that you can't ride.

Well, there are lots of things.  If you want to sound hip, I suggest you stare deeply into your friend's eyes, tilt your head to the side just a degree or two, try to look a little misty, then say in a dreamy voice "we are working together on our human-animal bond". 

Then head on off to the barn to scrape off your horse's daily crust of mud and burrs, lead him around for a while, and feed him copious amounts of treats. Sounding like a horse whisperer is all about the marketing, my friends.

Within a month or two, Ms. V and I had already tried out all of the grooming related things you can do with a young horse without a single glitch - clippers, leg wraps and boots, blankets on/off, we both decided we hate mane pulling and dressage doesn't really insist upon it so that was removed from the "to do" list ...

We also did a few fun days of free jumping with the other young horse owner at the barn, along with our spouses.

Oh, Dressage Curmudgeon!  I am so glad to hear you make jumping part of your cross training program! 

WTF - No. No I don't. 

I have jumped Ms. V jusssst enough so that I can tell assholes who insist that dressage horses must have jumping as part of their cross training programs and sneer at my totally dressage-centric approach that yes, in fact, I HAVE jumped my horse.  Been there, done bugger off. 

Let me explain it to you like I do to Mr. Motard.  If I wanted to "cross-train" - I would have bought a horse well suited for cross-training.  Just as he doesn't take his GSX-R 1000 on trails, he takes his dual purpose bike instead.... I didn't buy a dressage horse to jump a 3 foot course or go crashing through hill and dale.  If this were my passion, I would have bought a nice TB suited for eventing - because that is what dressage + trails + jumping is called.  Or, maybe a QH - something sturdy and patient and relatively unbreakable, like I had when I was growing up.  Or maybe I would have even found a different Arab that wasn't a balky asshole.  I wouldn't force poor Ms. V to do things she just is not well suited to do.

Because your horse doesn't care if they "cross train".  It is not essential to their wellbeing, or whatever it is you may have been told by the cross training contingent. 

Regardless of what you may have been lead to believe, your horse doesn't sit around in his stall at night thinking to himself "oh MAAANN!  This dressage thing sucks.  Look at Lightning.  His owner is always jumping him, that lucky jerk.  Why can't I jump sometimes.  I hate my owner - I think I will act like a wank today to punish her" 

If your horse hates dressage, and hates you - well, the problem runs deeper than the fact that you haven't cross trained.

Animals don't have the ability to imagine how cool other lives might have been, or to form opinions on what we should or should be doing in the ring just out of thin air - no, seriously, they don't.  Not even if the horse communicator tells you otherwise.  The Platypus resisted our efforts to turn him into a dressage star not because he had issues with my interpretation of the pyramid or because we had differences of opinion on whether we should follow the German or French school of training, or some other cerebral reason.  It was because he had lived the good life of being a naughty pony - of having to NOT do anything he was told to do. 

He had a frame of reference, and knew there was an easier life out there. 

Once horses have this frame of reference - sometimes called the "hey.. what would happen if I said NO" phenomenon.. trouble is on the way. 

Do not allow your horse to develop this frame of reference. 

I know, I know, easier said than done with some horses, work ethic is certianly genetic.  But do your best.

As a horse trainer, we must always be working to keep the Wizard of Oz thing going on - make sure your horse thinks that whatever it is you are doing now - that's all folks - there are no other simpler, more entertaining options available. If you are starting with a blank slate and competent trainers - you should be able to create this illusion  and your horse will never know there is anything different or better, or easier going on out there, anywhere. 

I told you guys hacking was way easier than dressage.  Now just scare the shit out of her each day, and you can be on the yellow brick road to becoming a trail horse.

Sure, this is more difficult some days than others - perservere, eeek out a good transition or something else remotely obedient in nature, then get off and call it a day.  You can't just go on a hack or do some jumping instead every time your horse gets a bit annoyed with the fact that dressage is not a cakewalk.  If your horse is "not in the mood for dressage" today - I have news for your - soon, he will not be in the mood for dressage ANY day if acting like a jerk earns him a nice stroll through the hayfields.  Understanding this concept doesn't seem like rocket science to me, but in the horse world, apparently it is. 

Really, horses are lucky in this regard.  I KNOW working in an office to make a living sucks, since I have watched Housewives of Beverley Hills.  If I were a horse, I wouldn't have satellite TV, and would just think it was another fun day of life. 

Anyway, back to the free jumping.  Lucky for me, not only did the other young horse owning lady have an almost 3 year old mare as well, but her significant other happened to be a tuner car fanatic, and so he and Mr. Motard had lots to discuss as we all worked as a possee to chase our horses down the chute and over the fences.  This activity is also by nature pretty entertaining - you do get to run around and play with whips (No, in case you are wondering, Mr. Motard does not get to do this in the bedroom) - and so the boys participated fairly willingly, which was nice when the time came to clean up all of the poles and standards.

Unfortunately, I did discover during this activity that Ms. V had entirely no aptitude for jumping.  Have you seen deer jump?  That 4 footed leap?  Yah, that pretty much sums it up. Her approach was good - forward, keen, not overly spooky - but then... *boing*.  This was a bit troubling, since in the back of my head I was still formulating a "plan B" - what would I do with this horse if dressage didn't work out? 

I already knew the hunter ring was an unlikely destination, based on her trot alone, but if I had any doubts the bambi boing pretty much solidified this inkling.  To really rub it in, the other young horse - did I mention she was from Charlot Farms? - soared over the jumps with tidy knees and some semblance of a sense of self preservation. 

Yes, lack of self preservation would be another of the problems with Ms. V's jumping style. As you may have noted at any of many local Child / Am Jumper classes, lack of style is not a dealbreaker - horses can throw themselves over 3 foot fences in many different interesting and exciting ways, this is most definitely true.  However - if I were considering a jumper or eventer prospect, I would like to start with a horse that had a natural inclination to jump fences 2 feet at a time. Perferably front first, back next.  I was not sure this had crossed Ms. V's mind. 

Even now, years later - Ms. V still could not jump her way out of a crossrail division at a schooling show.  She still does the bambi boing, which is hilarious to ride - she approaches the fence in a beautiful dressage carriage, boings, then canters off once again in a beautiful dressage carriage.  It is kind of like a supermodel farting on the catwalk.

Yah, yah, whatever.   Do I have a hell of a piaffe, or what?

Monday 9 April 2012

You say longeing, I say lunging. Just don't say Round Pen. Or brrrp!

I forgot to mention one of my favourite passages from the "TOP THREE" books.  It is a paragraph from Al's book, The Complete Training of Horse and Rider. 

And now, I can't find Al.  So I can't actually quote it perfectly.  I really apologize.  I will keep looking.  It is probably under the leg of a wobbly table or is otherwise wedging something into place somewhere.  Mr. Motard may have used it for kindling.  But..perhaps someone else with a copy can validate my quote.

In there somewhere he is talking about dealing with horses that are being naughty and he basically says (my words, not his) that sometimes, ya just gotta give them a nice butt spanking. But then, being the wise man that he is, he suggests that you do it out behind the barn, where no one can see you do it.

Huh. Interesting.  Good advice - thanks Al.  If only Anky had kept his book by her toilet for reference, she could have saved herself a lot of internet slagging. 

The strangest thing about this passage - since it is so very true, and so very useful - is how it is virtually NEVER quoted on the bulletin boards anywhere.  It is really weird.  Maybe some bluebirds came by and ripped this page out of the versions of the book published after 1962, or whenever it was my copy from the Horse Lover's Library was published. 

Anyway, when I hunt the book down, I promise I will type the actual paragraph.  But now, let's move on to what it actually is you will begin reading about, when reading about starting your young horse.


Is there anything as...uhhh...diverse out there as what people mean when they say they are "longeing their horse". 

Well - for those who do longe their horses.  Because there is of course (just as with shoeing, vaccination and other things that I consider to be normal, everyday horsie things) a contingent of people that believe you should NEVER longe a young horse.  Only a cruel person would - if you make them circle around too much, they will wear down their limbs, leaving you with a weiner horse on little peg legs or something else equally as frightening.  Or their little brains will be so bored that they will melt and ooze out of their ears. 

These people are idiots.  I don't know anyone who does a decent job with young horses who doesn't do at least a bit of longeing to start rider and horse off speaking a few of the same words of a common language.  No - longeing is not the be all / end all.  But...I think it is more like Dora the Explorer for horses.  Could you become a Canadian embassador to Mexico just watching Dora? No, probably not.  Could you order any number of required beer in a polite and efficient fashion on your next Cuban vacation - uh, sure (since the drunken guy beside you on the plane typically wants to say "oooonaaa ceeerrrrvay-sa pour faavooor" at least 50 times beteween Toronto and Varadero - add this to what Dora has taught you about counting and you are good to go). 

But once you get beyond the Dora Explorer basics that typically go something like this...
1. Put horse on a rope. 
2. Make them go in a circle around you. 
3. Say things like...Waaaalk on!  Terrrr-ot!  Caaaannn-ter!  Caaaaann-ter!  aaaand woooahh (maybe add that stupid brrrrp noise here a few times)...

From there on in.. well, it is kind of the anything goes, wild west. 

Since when it comes to starting young horses, most people are sequestered away in their arenas doing whatever it is they do in private (thanks Al!), the best place to really witness how free form the definition of longeing can be is to go to a horse show.  Preferably one that has hunter/jumper AND dressage rings. 

You will see everything from people flying horses like kites with nothing but a halter and longe line, a sturdy set of gloves and 2 hours to burn - to people with their horses bound up with pads and surcingles and sidereins like Houdini trying to escape from a straightjacket with locks.  And both of these people consider themselves to be "warming up their horses" 

Caaaaannn-ter! Caaaaan-ter!  Cluck-cluck-cluck - brrrrpp!

Add to this the new and trendy ways to make your horse circle around you, such as "the roundpen".

Maybe somewhere out there there is a non-scary roundpen, but I have not yet seen it.  In these here parts, they are typically thistle filled enclosures with a 6 inch deep trough worn around the outside, and are only used by weirdos - such as those people who feel that longeing will wear your horse's legs down to nubs, but somehow, letting them go Mach 9 in a roundpen won't.  These kinder, gentler horse owners let their young'uns rip in these enclosures while turning their bodies here and there to send psychic horse whispery messages their way, while licking and chewing.  Or something. While bystanders just hope to hell the horse won't get its legs caught up in the bars as it flys by trying to kick someone's head off.

So, you can mock me for reading books written by somewhat sane people.  But I do think it helps to set some sort of a step-by-step framework for what it is you would like to accomplish with your young horse. 


Friday 6 April 2012

Toilet paper - check. Disgusting toilet brush - check. Sponge covered in hair - check. Dressage books - check.

As dressage riders, there are a few things we must keep by the toilet at all times.

I have listed them in the title of this post.

No, our friends don't get to read riveting stuff in People magazine, stuff like "WHITE POWER, SPOON, FOUND IN WHITNEY'S ROOM" or, "KRIS HUMPHRIES DOING ANYTHING HE CAN TO HUMILIATE KIM KARDASHIAN" when they need to relax on the can for a few minutes at our house (perhaps after eating my cooking - or maybe just when they need some away from Mr. Motard's incessant questions). 

No, instead, they are stuck with Dressage books.

Back in the day, it was Dressage Today magazine, but just as Cosmopolitan can only promise you the secret of how to "MAKE HIS ORGASMS UNBELIEVABLE!" so many different days, so many different ways - I got sick of reading about some permutation of "SIT YOUR HORSE ON THE BIT' month after month, and finally cancelled my subscription.  Sure, if you are incapable of conjuring up a way to get a man to...uh, you know... (Hey!  Here's one...try..1.Take off your clothes. 2. Touch his penis.  Ta-da!) you are maybe a bit more pathetic than if you can't  get your horse on the aids, but regardless - if you need to keep reading about either of these things month after month without making progress... may be time to become a trail riding nun

Dear Cosmo....I told my boyfriend I wanted to give him a Bad Ass Orgasm and he  got up and ran out of the room.  Didn't even stop to put on his pants.  I haven't seen him since.  Help!  What did I do wrong?  

But once you get a young horse, the dressage book on the toilet population does change - it shifts from treatises focused on how the hell an old bat like you is ever going to be able to "open her hips" and sit the trot, or have steady hands while doing so... and moves to books on all of the harmonious and wonderful things you should be doing with Baby.  Which you diligently study, try, fail ... before hitting the bulletin boards to get a good dose of clueless people commiserating with you, and a few realists telling you to get help.  And at least one recommendation to contact a horse communicator. Of course.

Being a good little bulletin boarder at the time, I did run out and buy "THE BIG THREE" recommended by the online know-all posse to guide me on my journey.  They would be...(anyone? anyone?)

1.  Complete Training of Horse and Rider - Alois Podhajsky
2.  Dressage in Harmony - Walter Zettl
3.  Basic Training of the Young Horse - Reiner Klimke

Actually, I am kind of lying, I already had a dusty old copy of Al's book - once upon a time, a long time ago someone had brought all of their old "Horse Lovers Library" books to a book sale (you know, the old ones with the orangey coloured covers we all had back in the day?) and I bought an assortment of them.  Al wasn't my favourite in the Horse Lovers Library though, that title goes to "Illustrated Horse Training" by Captain M. H. Hayes (published in 1889).  It has some truly innovative ideas to try when starting your horse, such as this:

Once you master that, your horse will apparently be ready for mounting.

Oh, after Fig 78., I am so ready for you, bitch.  Climb aboard. 
I would say that for sure, Basic Training of the Young Horse is the one that helped the most and that still makes a guest appearance at the toilet now and again these days.  (I do still help friends with their young horses sometimes).

Part of it's appeal is that it has cool pics of Euro dressage in the '80's - women wearing kerchiefs and men with nerdy turtlenecks.  And those little wool hats (duh, of course!)

I find it kind of odd that the book includes instructions on how to put on a bridle (page 25), then moves on to how to back a horse for the first time (page 43) - to me these things are kind of on different ends of the "do you know what the hell you are doing" spectrum - I would think there would be a few more chapters required in between (Well, I figured out that bridle thingy - whew!  Let's see, I guess it is time to climb aboard!).  But generally speaking It actually seems fairly real and applicable, and not written by someone surrounded by the singing bluebirds of classical dressage.

And it is probably the resource I turned to the most as I began getting acquainted with Ms. V.

Monday 2 April 2012

Let's get this show on the road. As soon as I am out of this body cast.

Sometimes people say to me, Curmudgeon, don't you worry that some day you will regret not having children?

Yah, maybe.  When I am tied to my wheelchair, drooling and extruding turds into my already full diaper at the nursing home, and I have no offspring to stop by and wheel me around outside for 5 minutes twice a month like the other ladies do... I might have a twinge of regret.

But by buying a 3 year old (even better if you are able to breed from scratch, I would guess), you do get to experience some tiny bit of the exhiliration of looking at your wonderful young creature, bursting with pure and raw potential, and imagining how someday, they will blossom into something really great.  There is nothing but the promise of a wonderful future before you.

And, just as with a child, you get a few glorious years of smiling sweetheart submission before they morph into wanna be teenage gangsta crack whores that you are embarrassed to be seen in public with, and must wait anxiously until (with any luck) they get their shit together just enough to become a mid level somethingorother at some semi legit enterprise somewhere, move out of your basement, and manage to pay their bills more or less all on their own.  (At which time you can start dreaming about the unbridled potential of your grandchildren to become dynamic leaders of the free world).

(To be clear, your horse will never pay its own bills. So your chances of this happening are somewhat better with a real live child)

Just as with parents and their children, one of the best ways to navigate whatever it is your horse is tossing your way (or wherever it may be your horse is tossing you) is to surround yourself with similar parents in similar circumstances.

Lucky for me, at MVA I had a perfect companion.  Really!  I am not being a smartass.  A woman with a somewhat similar horse, of a similar age, who was just beginning her training journey as well.  And I think we had a lot of fun together helping each other with our youngsters for the short time I stayed there.

(But then, maybe I am wrong.  Maybe she has her own blog out there somewhere, and is currently writing about the psycho she met back in 2004)

As usual, before embarking on this new leg of my curmudgeonly journey, I took a trip back to the bulletin boards to review what it is people in the "hurray! my horse is old enough to start riding!" camp are talking about.  It has been a while since I was one of these people, so the refresher was worthwhile, however I can see that things have not really changed.

The gig goes down kind of like this....

Phase 1:

My 3 year old is wonderful.  I can't believe how EASY everything is with him.  I was able to start him all on my own, and he is PERFECT. In every way.  In fact, I think we have some special, Black Stallion type bond.  No, actually...I think he loves me even more than Black loved Alex.  He trusts me implicitly even without all of that shipwreck and eating seaweed on a desert island together for months on end bullshit hassle.  He just KNOWS that I know what is good and right for him.

Don't you have any fucking carrots?  Seriously....

Phase 2:

My 4 year old is really growing.  Sometimes, she just doesn't seem to be herself.  It must be the associated with the aches and pains of being a young, blossoming woman (remember when you were in gym class and had to sit out with cramps?  Yah, well, could YOU have done a canter transition?  No, I didn't think so).  I am getting the Schleese guy in because I know that with all of the correct work we have been doing at the walk, her topline is really developing, and chances are, the bit of sass she is giving me is due to discomfort associated with saddle fit.  Once we get this sorted out, we will be all kumbaya on the 20 metre circle again.  Yes, I know that good times are just around the corner, I know it.  (And by that, I probably don't mean the southeast corner of the arena over by the door.  Since she won't go past the heap of jumps there without having a meltdown).

Phase 3:

Is anyone else having challenges with their 5 year old.  Ever since I got out of full body traction following the body slam into the kickboards / fall / rear-flip followed by slight trample back in January, Brecher has seemed a little nappy at the halt.  I think it could be because I go catatonic and begin hyperventilating when my current instructor tells me to put my leg on.  Does anyone know of a good advanced level dressage coach that can help me work through this?  I am listening to some subliminal audiotapes in my sleep to help me deal with fear issues, but I think I might make more progress if I chip away at this problem while I am concious as well.  I was hoping that we could do the 5 year old classes this year, so the sooner the better. 

Can the kids come and ride your horse sometime?  Sally has been taking lessons  over  at  Halting School of Equitation for six months now.  I think she is ready.
Young horse owners, take heart.  When your little precious turns into a 5 year old jerk - you are not alone.  We will all go through this phase.

(Also take heart in the fact that you can actually sell your 5 year old, if you decide that you actually like being fully mobile with four working limbs and having most of your mental faculties preserved.  Not so with children, I have been told.  You get to own them forever.  Like it - or not). 

On the other hand, if you aren't at this phase yet, and your 3 yr old is perfect in every way - shut your flapping trap.  Your time is going to come my friend.  And when it does, don't worry. Even though your co-workers and probably spouse will think you are insane - your horse friends will be there for you.  Sure, we are in this activity for the animals themselves, but the good people and friends we make along the way are a big part of what keeps us coming back for more too.