Monday 25 June 2012

Take a greasy whore, a rollin' dance floor. And no pine shavings. 30 Days notice

And so, with a few lessons on ponies which seemed competent and a coach that seemed to be somewhat sane under my belt, I decided to give my notice and get the hell out of MVA.  At the end of the month.

What's that you say - you just felt a chill run down your spine at the very thought of giving notice at a stable and not fleeing the exact same day?  You are already fearing for Ms. V's life, knowing that I plan to leave her in the hands of the incompetents for another 30 days?

Ha ha, yes. The dreaded THIRTY DAYS NOTICE.

(here is a soundtrack you can play this week if you aren't in the office reading this on company time.  I have always liked this song, even though I have absolutely no idea what this guy is mumbling on about, other than the "30 Days" part.  Pretend it is about shitty boarding situations).

Now, I know I did touch upon this subject way back somewhere in the blog... but I totally forget where, or what I said, and so please forgive me if I repeat myself.  But then, really, it is a topic that begs to be repeated.  Because if you have a horse, and you have boarded this horse... there has been a time when you have lived through the 30 days notice.  And actually, if you have owned a horse for any length of time, you have probably repeated it yourself too.

There is nothing more awkward than saying to the barn owner, and indirectly, to all of their existing customers once they hear you are jumping ship... "see ya, wouldn't wanna be ya".  Which, unless you have a pretty rock solid reason for leaving, is the way the message comes across - regardless of how you try to finesse it. 

Now I do want to point out that this is not just a dumpy stable problem.  I have left very very nice barns, and the story is the same.  The minute word is on the street, other disgruntled boarders (even ones that haven't bothered to talk to you for the last 5 months and you are surprised to find that they even know your name ) come crawling out of the woodwork to commiserate with you about how much THEY wish THEY were leaving as well. 

And these stories aren't only told to your face - they are told behind your back too.  Before you know it, you are some sort of folk hero who has pushed all of the injustices and crappy stable management in the barn owners fockin' face and has suddenly morphed into a ballsy boarding renegade Wonder Woman, with everything but the cape and boobs to fill the suit, when all you have really done is handed over your last cheque, along with a sniveling lame "it's not you, it's me" type tale and then tried to lay low for the next thirty days.
I know you don't put his boots on for turnout.  Don't make me use the lasso of truth.

It is tempting to blame this lack of professionalism on the fact that some players in horse industry (yes, barn owners and boarders too) lack professionalism.  However, my experience has been that the work world is exactly the same.  When you quit a job, the very best thing a company can do is lock you in your office immediately until they can round up your blackberry, laptop and company credit card and pry all three out of your evil claws, then escort you to the door with their foot on your ass, taking the "two weeks notice" hit and paying you out to get the hell out.  This puts them in the driver's seat to post an ambiguous "pursuing other opportunities" HR notice that no one is quite sure is related to firing or quitting.

The worst thing possible that a company can do is to keep you around for the next two weeks, (spreading dissent unintentionally as the people who wish they could get their shit together and quit too - but just don't have the skills or balls to do so - throw you luncheon parties and bring you cupcakes, and write cryptic witty Facebook posts to honour your saucy nature).  But this is what companies typically choose to do. Bad move.

Really, if your documentation is in such a mess that they can't figure out what the hell you did in a day without you actually being there - what difference will two weeks of  "responsibility transfer" make.  They should have started with that "keep your records in a state such that, if you won the lottery and never came back, we could soilder on without you" mantra long before you decided to quit.  (This used to be the "got hit by a bus and died" mantra, but apparently this is not politically correct).  Both offices and boarding stables should give you your money and send you on your way, and end the pain quickly for all parties involved. 

But Curmudgeon - why did you bother staying?  What was the advantage  - why not just pack it in?

Yah, I would usually agree with you totally on this matter.  But the thing about MVA wasn't that they were bad people.  In fact, I never got this vibe at all.  They were just clueless people.  Clueless people who wanted to make relatively pain free money, and who probably saw me as a pain.  By this time, we all knew that we didn't belong together.  I was fully confident that a huge sigh of relief was more likely than any hard feelings, and that no covert sabotage missions would be undertaken.  (This would have taken thought and planning, and would have been just too much work to coordinate).  Seeing me walk out the door would be like watching the pus spurt from a non-life threatening but totally irritating boil or something. strangely satisfying.

And in the months I had spent there, I had learned how to work around their cluelessness to the point that it really didn't phase me anymore.  I had developed a little network of friends that took off Ms.V's halter (that was constantly left on), sprinkled some shavings when I couldn't make it out (knowing I would return the favour), and filled her bucket at night.  She would be fine.

There were two distinct advantages to digging in and staying for the dreaded Thirty Days.

First - the thought of handing over $400 free dollars (or whatever the board was, I don't really remember) to the incompetents and leaving the scene really bugged me.  If Ms.V's life was in danger, or the unpleasantness of the situation made matters unbearable - fine.  But that wasn't the case, and so - they would at least have to work for their money (using the term loosely here) for the next 30 days.

Secondly - as much as the place drove me insane, Ms.V was quite happy there - horses like routine and sameness.  And, since she was now turning 3 and I was ready to start riding her on a regular basis - I figured that some routineness might be a nice compliment to go along with the WTF moments she was likely to experience as we went from longing to riding.  Moving to a new barn AND saddling up might actually be more stressful to her, even if it would be nicer for me.  And it is all about the horses.  Right?

And so, while taking my weekly lessons in the land of Lilliput, I got serious with the business of putting a solid "30 days" on Ms. V at the same time.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Checkpoint #4 - did you learn anything, Curmudgeon?

A few months ago, I was asked to do a talk on "Dressage" for a local pony club group.

Being asked to do a talk on "Dressage" to a local pony club group is probably sort of the same as being a dentist and being asked to do a talk on "The Magic of Flossing" to... well, just about anyone.  You have to accept right from the get-go that your audience will be underwhelmed.

But  you can't take it personally.  In my case, the audience was thirteen years old, and thrived on Prince Philip Games (whacking your pony in the head with aforementioned wooden fish on a stick and whatnot) or blasting through cross country courses, or executing really bad stadium jumping where they get to fly around at mach-5 jumping 2 foot  high fences, using levels of skill and finesse that would leave them dead or paraplegic if the fences were 3 foot high -  why the hell would they want to hear about something as dull as dressage. Or flossing.

But it was the middle of February and I had nothing better to do, so I gave it a whirl.  What did I have to lose - even if they all said I sucked once I left, it would have absolutely no impact on my life, and I really could care less.  And, I was promised there would be cake.

And so, I prepared...

I spliced together a bunch of video clips shamelessly stolen from YouTube in an attempt to show off things like "horse with impulsion" vs "horse without impulsion" and "leg yield" versus "drifting horse with head cranked in one direction" and "person with steady contact" versus "person with really long reins and busy hands way in her crotch, who looks like she is pleasuring herself".  (No, I didn't really say this.  I just thought it quietly in my head while watching the video clip).   

I think my favourite clip of all was a really wonderful "classic" dressage bit, where a woman did a series of perfect, slo-mo, set to dramatic music 4-tempis, every one of which was late... I guess that is what made it "classic" (as in "woah, man, this is classic!  I can really help these kids understand what a late change looks like!")

I took a dressage whip and did that de rigeur thingy that every coach everywhere feels compelled to do at some point in time - you know, the one where you push the bendy end of the whip into your palm, showing how riding "back to front" creates a nice round bendy horse.  Or something.

I brought a snaffle bit and some reins, and did a demo that involved a child holding the bit and me putting my foot on their ass and pushing them "into the contact".  It seemed to make sense at the time.  So far, no charges have been laid against me, so what the hell - maybe it actually did make sense.

But I think the point I wanted to get across most of all was the thing that I remember being very significant to me when I started riding the ponies in the Land of Lilliput.

If the ponies were ridden correctly - forward, into steady contact, using the concepts introduced to me way back when I learned about the mystery of the half halt... they went on the bit and stayed there, swinging along, in a forward and pleasant fashion.  While I did nothing but sit pretty, monitor the situation, and adjust as needed (a little leg here, a squeeze of hand there)....yes, as bizarre as it seemed, after years of hunchy-chicken neck-jabby-jabby-see-saw hunter riding - there was this strange possibility that I could ride around someday without having to kick-fuss-pull-wiggle every fricking step of the way.  

It dawned on me after a few lessons that this bizarre concept, taken to the extreme...yes, Curmudgeon, this general idea just might someday morph into...self carriage.  As in - when horse does stuff without you holding them up, nagging them constantly, and muscling them through every manoeuvre

At the risk of having someone tell me that I should learn to ride from riding horses and not reading books on the toilet, I will say that Kyra Kyrklund gives a good analogy of this in her book "Dressage with Kyra", where she talks about the fact that a rider should not have to influence their horse all the time, and that riding a horse is like riding a kick-sled.  Kick-go-relax and enjoy the ride.  No more kicking until speed decreases.  

(I actually used this analogy with the Pony Club kids, but I changed "kick-sled" into "skateboard" and used a picture of Bart Simpson to make it seem more hip.  Nothing like really putting the icing on the "old boring woman doing talk on dressage" cake like referring to a cool toy of the 1800's)

Woah!  Who needs an Xbox when you have a Kicksled!

Oooh, but Dressage Curmudgeon!  We must constantly be rebalancing our horses!  I do 1000's of half halts every ride!

There seems to be some pissing contest thing going that requires one to blather on about just how many half halts one does during their average ride.  Or just how one must execute these half halts.  Ass or abdomen?  Lifted, or level hand?  Zzzzz... 

Honestly, you sound like idiots.  Bottom line - there is no magic number, or magic method - you just have to play around and learn, with good eyes on the ground to let you know when you are doing it right.  But every moment the horse understands, responds, and trucks along doing exactly what you want, in a balanced fashion without your input - even for a second - is an amazing moment.  And I do remember being quite excited by this when it first came to life for me while riding the ponies of Lilliput.

(Developing the sensitivity and timing to run these moments all together into a seamless and invisible ride...uhhh, well... another story all together.  Baby steps, eh?)

Annyway to wrap things up - the cake was carrot cake - and I felt it was fairly delicious and worth the drive to Fergus.  I have no idea if the kids learned anything about dressage, or were just left wondering how Bart Simpson fit into the whole picture.  But I hope that someday at least one of them is bopping along doing a nice big booming trot, just sitting back and enjoying the ride, and says to herself... HEY - maybe this is what that crazy woman was talking about back in 2012...

Monday 11 June 2012

Baby we can have some fun tonight...Enter Coach Ritenau

I guess what my whole blathering post last time was really about was this:

Sometimes a coach may not be, for the long haul, Mr. or Ms. Right.  You may find yourself riding with a stepping stone of sorts.  Like I did.  We will call her Coach Ritenau.

Curmudgeon, how stupid was that.  You have told us yourself to go out and find the best, watch the best, learn from the best... 

Yah, yah, I know.  And I totally agree with the wise, yet somewhat catty words (not that there is anything wrong with that) of Anonymous 4 June 2012 21:51 (gotta love these creative usernames).  If you want to see how things should be done, go to Tom, Belinda or Ashley.  Or whoever your local Mr. Right is. Tada!  Problem solved.

Err...maybe not.

If you are a beginner with a 3yr old $6000 saddlebred cross, doing so will most likely earn you a giant board cheque and a standing date with a working student.  Mr. Right will stride or ride by, notice your existence periodically and politely inquire as to what's up when he does.  Kind of like the dentist during a checkup... you know he earns 3x what the hygenist does, but she is the one scraping the shit off of your teeth and dealing with 45 minutes of halitosis - he just pops his head in at the end, stares in your mouth authoritatively then prances off to the next cubicle.

Not that I am blaming him - not at all.  Because Mr. Right got to be Mr. Right by making logical choices and being a good business person.   Riding a young crazy horse - one that could hurt you and put you OUT of business - really and seriously not a good business decision.

Spending lots of time with a beginner client who is obviously never going to have the bucks to become a sponsor - or buy a six-figure horse full of commission - not a good business decision either.  No, I am not going to the Young Rider World Cup or anything else prestigious or even mildly interesting.  Sure, I am money coming in, but not much, and I am in no way a beacon of positive advertising.  And so, the time and effort that should be put into retaining me as a client should realistically adjusted accordingly.

This is no different than the thought process that any good business or business person goes through - "how do I allocate my resources to maximize returns".

Now, if I were starting again today - I would probably do this anyways.  Yep, even though I know full well that the likes of me would probably be put on the back burner.  Why?  Well - because I can.  Back in the day - money was tighter, and I really didn't have the option.  That was one reason I didn't even try this approach.

(Ok, I am ready to hear 15 stories from people who did take their economical horses, thin wallets and poor riding skills to top stables, and were treated like first class royalty by Olympic riders...proving that I am a bitchy curmudgeon. GO!)

But really, the main reason that I didn't even try was that after my experience at Frau Trainerin's I was petrified of being told my horse was not good enough.  That I needed to sell and buy something big ticket.  That the perfect horse for me was right here, right now.. for sale.

I really felt a the time that I had done the very best I could with what I had, and I wasn't about to put myself in a situation where I would be told this wasn't good enough.  Even though my situation was not perfect, I really believed (and I think, correctly so) that we were totally well suited and prepared to ..uhh.. errr... well, maybe not take the dressage world by storm... but at least to start having some fun.  Tonight.  And from what I saw, this could totally happen with Coach Ritenau

Checkpoint 3:  The Coach (let's try this again)

I liked Coach Ritenau immediately.  Let me see if I can put my finger on why.  Oh yah, I remember now.

She was quiet and polite and did not seem to be entirely full of shit.

Yep, I decided she would do just fine.

Monday 4 June 2012

Checkpoint 3 - The Coach

“Curmudgeon, you have spent a lot of time and money learning to ride.  Why don’t you start teaching lessons now?  You know at least as much as most of the crappy coaches out there.”

Hmm.  It's a good question.

And it is not that it hasn’t crossed my mind.  After all, I was responsible for technical sales training for a multinational company a few years back.  One would assume I do have the ability to teach someone something.  But really it is not even in the same realm.  

All I had to do in my trainer role was put together a nice PowerPoint slideshow to present whatever “key platform” or “value proposition” we were focusing on that quarter  Then, over the course of the presentation, ensure that the sales team was able to correctly pronounce a few important technical words so they didn’t sound like total morons in front of clients.  Lastly, I added enough cheesy jokes and entertainment to the whole shindig to keep everyone awake for 50 minutes.  Usually, this was something witty about dog stools or vomit.  My typical day was kind of like bad night at Yuk-Yuks, with a focus on digestion.  

Come to think of it, I was more like a clinician.  No deep or lasting improvements were really expected.

Braaav, Carol!  You remembered how to pronounce Colon!  Nice work.  Next we will tackle Duodenum. 

The cashier at Loblaws explained to me that they refer to this as "FENNEL".  It is much safer that way.

Now... standing in an icy arena, at night, after a long day of being nice to people at my real job –  that is a whole different bag.  The thought of staring catatonically at someone circling me on Senor Fluffbunny , silently thinking “Wow.  That is some mighty bad riding” while desperately trying to pull out of my ass some words.. any  words… the first clue or hint on what to tell them to start doing – something, anything – that might make a difference – and that they might actually, physically be able to execute…yikes, the very thought of having to do this is just too depressing.  I don’t have the skill set.  And I am too lazy (or perhaps honest) to pretend that I do. 

I think lots of coaches do pretend.  I notice this especially while watching hunter lessons now, because I am kind of removed from the gig and realize how primitive the understanding of things like “shoulder-in” or “cadence” or “bend” are to most hunter folk – and therefore how entirely stupid it is to use these terms while instructing this population of riders.   And really, for the standard of performance required to win at lower level hunter shows – how entirely unnecessary.   Sorry to sound like a DQ, but seriously.  It is true.   Watching a beginner adult rider trying desperately to pilot a half-lame 20yr old piece of equine ¾ inch plywood around a 2’3” course, careening through motorcycle turns, while hearing tips like “ask him for a bit of flexion through the joooowl – good, niiiiice, muuuuuch better – did you feeeeel that?” or some such thing is really quite entertaining.   (Always must be said with that slight coach-drawl, a blend of boredom / condescension that all hunter coaches seem to magically acquire).

(And don't forget "Waaaait, Waaaait, Waaaait, Waaaait..." If you were blind, you might think you had taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque and wound up at an Evangelical Christian Abstinence convention...)

Anyway, this whole long blah-blah intro really did not start out with the intention of gratuitous hunter bashing (but it is so hard to resist) but was really initiated just to bring us to the last checkpoint.  And to help you to see that it is not that I am entirely unsympathetic to the challenges faced by the other participants in my own personal drama.   

Checkpoint 3 – The Coach

I don’t think it is a spoiler to let you know that over the course of the eight years that I have owned Ms. V, I have had more than one coach. 

Why?  Am I an unteachable cretin?  Yah, some days that is probably it. 

But really - as a hunter rider with no dressage experience…   sticking with your very first dressage horse -that you selected yourself - from backing to PSG is not an everyday occurrence.   Sticking with one coach AND one horse from backing to PSG would be heading into immaculate conception-like miraculous territory. 

(Conversely.. .sticking with one coach and cycling through several horses – well, that would be moron on an internet bulletin board cliché #7835 – WWYD – Coach says my horse is no good, but she has the perfect one to sell me!  Again!)

Let’s see… what would it take to pull it off this immaculate conception of horse training…

First…you would need to find someone who has the patience to work with a beginner rider.  No, not a real, fresh faced beginner, without a clue... that would be easier.  No, it is typically a beginner to dressage, who thinks they already have several clues.  Unfortunately all of them really bad, and probably wrong, but they don’t know it yet.   

I am going straight and forward!  The answer to this mystery called dressage is on the way!  I think my horse is wearing a rubber mask that we can easily remove.  

Yes, the coach must be someone who has mastered the concept of watching this beginner ride around executing something that looks nothing at all like dressage, on a horse that looks nothing at all like a horse that will ever be a dressage horse – while coming up with something, anything positive to say that might begin to penetrate the impermeable crust of suckage.  

Someone who has the insane patience to try to make the simplest, mind numbingly boring concepts sound interesting day after day, even when they feel like pulling out their hair and crying.  Or becoming sarcastic, or fakey-fake smarmy.   Or condescending assholes.  There are only so many meaningful and enlightening analogies on how to tell someone to put their shoulders back, sit their ass down in the saddle, and stop yanking on the inside rein.  Or whatever. Again.  And Again.  Without ever saying FUUUCKKKK!  

But wait – there’s more!  They also have to want to climb aboard 3 year olds, who are consistently ridden by this beginner rider – the exact same one who cannot master the simplest, mind numbingly boring concepts.  And as part of their high paying gig (ha ha being funny here), try to sort out the tangled spaghetti of bad habits that the two of them have worked so hard to develop together.

Does the fun stop there – NO, don’t be crazy.  Of course there's more, much more. Because they have to want to keep on doing it – for years.  Regardless of accomplishments. Or lack thereof.   Or the excuses, or the cancellations, or waiting through the lamenesses…

And the minute something goes wrong - stalls, falls off the rails, no money, no progress, no time, (insert life circumstance of rider that has absolutely nothing to do with coach here...)... bye!  See ya!  Out the door walks a large percentage of the coach's earnings.  Because one can only suffer through so many life sucking clients at a time... 

But don’t worry about coaches – they usually have received extensive training to prepare them for this rewarding life.  Like college degrees in… uh… typically nothing relating even remotely to any of this.  No courses on adult education, sports medicine, psychology.

They have learned all they know from other coaches – who have taught them, while trying not to pull out THEIR hair, become fakey fake smarmy, or turn into condescending assholes.   

Oh wait - my post is done, and so is my wine, and I haven't told you anything at all about the coach.  Damn!

There is always tomorrow.