Thursday 26 July 2012

Resent Events. My favourite spelling error of the week.

As the trailer drives over from MVA to Lilliput, I thought I would take a bit of a story detour.  Because I think it is important...

It is show season!  And we know what that means - thaaaat's right.  It's time to be confused. Perhaps a little depressed.  Or even (feel free to insert your favourite "resent events" emotion here.  I like pissy, but I am sure you have some good options you could share as well).  Especially my friends, if you are reading this blog because you are following in my footsteps and working with a young horse (yes, I realize this is pure coincidence, not intentional, and you are not a creepy stalker).

I am here today to remind you of one of the life lessons oft repeated to me by my Curmudgeonly parental units:

"Nobody said life had to be fair".

(They also really had a thing for "If it was supposed to be fun, they wouldn't call it WORK").

Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to showing your green horse at training level.

Dear hoarde of Adult Am readers, bringing along your first dressage horse - please repeat along with me.

If I show my 4 year old neon green horse training level, and he behaves like he is 4 - I will get a crappy score
If I show my 4 year old neon green horse training level, and he behaves like he is 4 - I will get a crappy score
If I show my 4 year old neon green horse training level, and he behaves like he is 4 - I will get a crappy score

There.  Now that we have that out of the way... let's continue on with the rationale behind this.

What!!  Curmudgeon - If a horse is going to make it to PSG by 8 or 9 - which is absolutely the norm these days - they had better be well on their way up the levels by 4 and 5!  Go read the bulletin boards ... 4 = training, 5 = first, 6 = second, 7 = third, 8 =  PSG (because who the hell shows 4th anyways?).

FOUR is the age horses SHOULD  be showing training level!  So surely the judges aren't expecting perfection. 

Yep, yep.  This seems totally logical.  And you are right - judges aren't expecting perfection.  Or anything in particular really, beyond some form of lunch, a non-wobbly chair and a scribe with neat handwriting who knows enough to shut her trap during tests.  Some sort of paycheque at the end is probably on the list too.

But is it realistic?  If you show up with your four or five year old, for their first show, and they oogle around, shy at the judge, get strong, slow down while pooing, toss their head during a transition, come off the contact at the halt, or one of the millions of other things a horse with less than a year under saddle ridden by an amateur without an impeccable leg-to-hand (or hand-to-face, depending on the skill of the pro) terminator-like death clamp on the horse.... the judge won't mind, right?  That is what they are expecting, right?  After all, the test says:

Purpose: To confirm that the horse is supple and moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit. 

If the horse does this, oh, 70% of the time... I am going to get a 70, right?

Well, yes.  You are absolutely right.  The judge won't mind at all. While scribing, I can honestly say I have never seen a judge get annoyed by a generally well prepared, well ridden green horse doing green things.

(They do get annoyed by eyeburningly bad tests by people who haven't bothered to figure out what exactly dressage is all about, but hey, they read the test and Stormy can pull that shit off.  These people are identifiable from afar, in the warmup, long before their pierced and tattooed caller in muffin top jean cutoffs yells out AAAYYYE - ENNNNTRRRRR - EEEXXXXSS - HALLLLT - SALUTE.  For some mysterious reason I have yet to comprehend, this rider is typically wearing a purple troxell with plenty of hair puffing out, and usually riding an off breed, off the aids, off to the races, and off course (much to the obvious annoyance of the slouchy, shrugging caller), and later blames her bad score on breed bias).  

It sounds cornball, but really, judges are on your side.  In fact, in my experience, many times they are on the edge of their seat riding along with you, hoping beyond hope that none of these things happen, and saying "DOH" right along with you when they do. 

But they do. And the judges have lots of nice words for these events, like "some resistance", "hollowed", and a good dose of "unsteady in contact".  Maybe "2B rounder".  Don't forget "low in poll".  And the ever popular "more 4ward".  And since the horse is only 4, there is no shame in a "disobed" here and there now, is there? I scribed for one judge who was big on "some disturbance" which appealed to me, as made it sound like something supernatural was going on with the space-time continuum out in the dressage ring.  I kept expecting Carol Anne to drop from the sky covered in slime. 

Yes, you will get all this, and more, decorated with 5-6 and maybe a few 7's, which will all average out to a high 50, and - ta-da!  Although your coach has told you you are doing wonderfully, you are right on track, nice work, he looks will probably be dead last in your class.

What?  That is crazy Curmudgeon.  We are all in this Training level class together!  With our greenies!   Struggling with the same issues with our green horses and amateur busy life timetables and skillsets, or lack thereof?

No.  No, you are not.

Lucky for you guys, I hurt my knee this weekend and cannot do anything but sit around and feel badly for myself, which gives me lots of time to stalk things on the internet, post on a few BB's, fritter away the moments that make up the dull day.  You know.

As part of this fritterage, I decided to do some research into the age of horses being shown training level by adult amateurs at a recent Gold show.  Since it is training level, and we are all "moving up the levels" - one would expect the class to be chock full of googly greenies getting their feet wet in the ring.  (Since I was looking at Palgrave results, and every show must be accompanied by at least one torrential downpour - this part was pretty much a given).

Here is what I found - Champs of Training Level, Adult Am division:

1 - 14 yr old TBred
2 - 4 yr old WBlood
3 - 5 yr old Westfal
4 - 13 yr old Arab
5 - 10 yr old Oldenburg
6 - 11 yr old WBlood
7 - 10 yr old Friesan
8 - 5 yr old Oldenburg

Well - maybe all of those RIDERS are green - I am sure the PRO's are showing the 4 year olds...uh, maybe not.

1 - 5 yr old unknown
2 - 6 yr old Hanoverian
3 - 6 yr old Trak

You get my point.  NO ONE - with the exception of one horse - is out there strutting their stuff at the age of 4.  Even though "progression through the levels" tells us that you better damn well be working on it at home.  No, in fact, the field is being lead... by a 14 year old horse.  And I absolutely know nothing about the particular 4 year old in this class, I have no idea, I am speaking in general terms here, he may well be a droolworthy piece of dressage flesh ready to become the next Totilas,  - but the fact that he did not behave like a total ass or even a partial ass at a show at such a young age, as many horses do, might also mean that he doesn't have the reactivity to continue on up the levels.  It is too early to say.  Just because your horse flips out in the ring at 4 doesn't mean you are doomed to fail, but at the same time, just because you are a quick starter doesn't necessarily mean you are GP bound.  

(Kind of like the girl who got the big jiggling rack in grade 5 and needed to wear a bra when everyone else was still pancake flat.  Sure, maybe she turned out to be the hot playboy babe all of the prepubescent boys were envisioning... more likely the big boobs were just a sign of the big butt and big calves and big everything else on the way.  Nature is cruel sometimes).  

The good news is - there is apparently no breed bias going on here - there is a bit of everything entering the ring, and the popular kids are not all coming out on top just because of their sexy brands.  The bad news is - if you have a 4 year old, and you want to get ring time, and your horse acts like a 4 year old... let's all repeat again...

If I show my 4 year old neon green horse training level, and he behaves like a 4 year old - I will get a crappy score

Now, don't get me wrong.  I am not saying that a 14 year old horse should NOT enter training level.  Maybe that rider was very green - it could have very well been their first horse show ever, I have no idea, I don't know them at all.  I am by no means saying they have cheated, or done anything unsportsmanlike.  Because the rules are such that anyone, can show any horse, any level.  It is no one's business but their own.

I am not saying that the judges did anything wrong either.  I am not a judge, nor do I play one on this blog, but if a 14 year old horse can't smoke a 4 year old horse in the Purpose: To confirm that the horse is supple and moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit department, something is seriously amiss.  They have to rank you all somehow, and they can't give you 70%, even if your horse was perfect 70%  of the time, and then give the 14 year old horse 117% to indicate that it is kicking the living shit out of directives designed for a horse 10 years younger in age.  

In fact, in the bizarro world of dressage scores, anything over 70% is perceived to represent stellar, which the 14 year old horse probably is not.  And so, they squeeze you all into a little 10% range, you get high 50, they get high 60... done and done.  

What I am saying is that the whole bulletin board story... the one that says you must score 65 at each level to progress, and if your scores are not 65+, you better take a long hard look at your training because it sucks, and while you are at it - fire your coach, buy a new horse, and take up curling....or worse still, make that beautiful 4 year old into a hunter... just might not be entirely accurate.  Instead, I am saying... get out there and show anyways.  Sure, a score in the 50's is depressing.  But showing a 14 year old at training level with no one to beat when you score 62 -  even more so.  Help them out, friends.   

Well it has taken me so long to write this post that my knee is now better.  I have to get out there and go running.  I was that girl in grade 5, and that big butt is waiting to sneak up on me the minute I let my guard down....

Thursday 19 July 2012

One step forward. Two steps backwards. Shake those pellets like a polaroid picture.

We can all name many "tsk-tsk-tsk" moments in the horse world - ones that come along with the pithy and fucking irritating know-it-all statements.  The ones usually preceded by "well you know what they say,.."

A popular one is:

"If you are schooling at the show, you should have stayed home and schooled there, long before the show..."

Which never entirely made sense to me, since a good portion of shows are called "schooling shows".  One would think schooling there was the goal.  No, no...not if you are a catty onlooker observing a good train wreck. No schooling allowed.

(Actually here in Ontario, they are called "bronze" shows.  As in...maybe this live action moment should be cast in bronze, like one of those tacky rearing horse statues that western people own).

Disobedience - 2

(It might also have something to do with the Olympics).  

Or, they are called "Discovery" shows - where you discover you don't know what the hell you are doing. 

Regardless, another "school at home, long before the event, not at the event" (tsk-tsk-tsk) moment is, of course, loading your horse on a trailer.  

(And, it is worth saying (so I will say it) - just like Al mentioned, way back on page 63 of Complete Horsemanship or whatever it was... when it comes to trailer loading, while schooling at home, or after the event, whenever really...if there is any potential that you may lose your cool and whack your horse with anything, do it out behind the barn.  On a Thursday night at 9:00 pm or something, when no one is around. Not on a Saturday morning.

And - advice to lady of  "Trainer Beats Horse at Fair and No One Stops Her" video  fame... most definitely don't storm around waving your arms like a rabid freak and trying to hit a line drive to centre field using your horse's bum as a ball when you try to get him on a trailer coming home from a horse show.  Maintain a calm zen-like appearance, (try not to let anyone see the lava dripping from your ears.  Maybe wear a hat or kertchef.  Visor?  Babushka?),  speak in a European language if you can, (it makes you sound knowledgeable - try to make that brrrrr noise a lot), and crack his ass raw with a longe whip instead.  Don't ask me why - it is one of the world's great mysteries - however this is for some reason an acceptable form of "motivation" in many people's eyes, whereas weilding a plastic bat just makes you look like a lunatic to everyone).  

Where was I... oh yes...The bad news for me was...regardless of the date or time I chose - when it was showtime-goodbye-we-gotta-go-time - in March, at MVA - the mud was so deep I would never have ever gotten the trailer pulled out from behind the barn with a 2-wheel drive F-150, unaccompanied by a tractor and some good chains. So, as sound as Al's advice may be, it was simply not an option.  Any loading related whacking would unfortunately take place on that sunny Saturday afternoon of the event, in the rutted gravel lane, in plain sight of everyone.  

But do not fear, dear readers - I did not intend to do any whacking at all.  Seriously!  I  had a plan.  I would take my time and school my horse, teaching her to load, AS I loaded her onto the trailer.  I had all day!  What could go wrong here.

And to help me with this... I had a secret weapon (no, no - not a plastic bat).  I had Dressage Today's "teach your horse to load" issue, taken straight from its place of honour right beside my toilet.  I was well read, and ready to load my horse using their step by step, stress free method.  Kumba-yaaaaa my lord....Kum-baaaa-yaaaaaaa

Oh Dressage Curmudgeon... how could you possibly THINK you could school your horse patiently on trailer loading, while ACTUALLY trailer loading, without the input of 20 railbirds.  You fool. 

Sigh.  Damn you, italics person. You are right again. 

I was googling around this morning to try to find the link to this golden oldie online, but alas, no luck.  And I long since passed my 50kg box of back issues on to someone else. So, unfortunately I can't exactly share this program with you today.

But as I recall, the gist of it was something like this -

1. All forward motion in the direction of the trailer is rewarded with copious patting and treats, no matter how miniscule the effort may be. 
2. If horse does not move forward - you give him irritating little tap-tap-taps on the hip with a dressage whip until he does. 
3. When you get sick of giving irritating little tap-tap-taps - you then make him march backwards - yes, backwards - wherever.  Then, begin again. (tap-tap-tap)
4. If horse plants on the ramp - back him out.  And start again, (tap-tap-tap) lavishly rewarding each little forward gesture.  
5. If horse doesn't plant on the ramp - well, back him out anyways.  Mix it up a little.

It is kind of an equine mindfuck strategy. Tap-tap-tap...irritate, back up, repeat...and ultimately hope to reward sometime before you both die of old age.  Long story short - horse never gets to make the decision to NOT move. Somewhere.

Now - if horse WANTS to go backwards - you make going backwards very unpleasant, by going backwards for a really long time, until he wants nothing more than to go forwards.  Every step forward (or weight shift in a shoulderly direction, somewhat cooperative look in horse's eye, whatever) is rewarded enthusiastically.  Any step backwards earns the horse a Vulcan skin pinch in the chest and maybe some shanking, followed by 50 metres of backing up.

After a while of this low grade irritation and backing eventually decides that you are a big pain in his ass, and really he wants nothing more than to flee into the trailer where it is quiet and hide from you with the tasty looking haynet and pail of pellets.  (Or, I guess if he is prone to striking... until the Vulcan skin pinch / shanking leads him to rear up and knock your head right off of your shoulders.  I don't remember how this was covered in the Dressage Today article, but in 2012, the mantra is always "wear your helmet" so let's go with that).

Well, I am sure you can see the problem here.  None of the T(rail)er birds had read the article.  I guess really I should have had some sort of an education session before the event - with the PowerPoint, Mission Statement, and lots of talk about Testicles and other Low Hanging Fruit.

Because every time Ms. V tentatively approached the trailer, stopped, planted - and got asked to move backwards by me after only limited tap-tap-tapping and absolutely no hellfire raining down upon her... My self designated Guru Grandpa MVA ran at her, waving his arms to get her to go forward again.  And every time I tried to politely tell him to fuck right off, I had a plan - he began explaining to me that the goal was to get the horse to go IN the trailer.  IN - IN - like, as in FORWARD.  What the hell are you backing her up for?? (the "you moron" part was understood, not actually verbalized).

At which time the engineering mind of Mr. Motard would engage, and start explaining to me that yes, it did make more sense to get a horse to go IN a trailer, by moving her FORWARD. 

Well, that made two against one.  And so, joining in on the fun, the crowd at MVA began enthusiastically arm waving, asking if I had a longe whip, shaking pellets etc.  

No amount of "I am TRYING A CONCEPT HERE, PEOPLE".  Or "GO AWAY, ASSHOLES" (politely worded) would help.  Every time I tried to move her backwards (instead of adhering to the tried and true and well accepted strategy of letting her plant and yanking away at her face from inside the trailer while they flailed around behind her) was met by mass confusion and sideways glances meant to convey the message "WTF is this woman doing???"

I am sure you can imagine the reaction when I backed her out BEFORE she planted a few times - ("whaaah the faaaakkk - she was going in! She was almost in!") I think they were preparing the straight-jacket for me in the tackroom. 

Well, I tried, Dressage Today.  Really I did try.  But - I am afraid to say - I am only human, and having a lot of patience with other humans has never been my strong suit. It was just all too much to handle and I decided that if I EVER wanted this strategy to work, I had better just throw in the towel now and try it again at a much later date, in a much quieter venue.  And so - I gave up.  I let the throng descend upon us and GRRR- CLUCK -CLUCK-CLUCK-SHOO-SHOO-SHOO-Craaack!- CAAM-ONN her up into the trailer, slammed the doors shut, and off we went to Liliput.  Sorry. 

Now, in defense of the article - I must say that I did park the trailer securely at Liliput on our arrival, and over the next few months, schooled at home using the method described for a few minutes each evening - and EUREKA - it totally worked.  To the point where I was eventually able to self load Ms. V and head off to ship-in lessons on Friday afternoons, with only minimal amounts of stress and Diarrhea.  For either of us. 

But I can still remember the sight of Grandpa MVA in the rearview mirror, his arms up and shaking his head, in the universal gesture of  "good riddance to that fucking moron woman". 

Friday 13 July 2012

Ahh, a horse trailer - parked on memory lane...

Wait a minute ... How hard could it have been to get Ms. V on the trailer - you obviously got her to Muddy View Acres without incidence just a few months ago (because surely if there had been a story to tell, Dressage Curmudgeon would have told it).

Yep, that is true.  She walked on and left her birth home without a second look.  So, one less familiar with horses (like, say, Mr. Motard) might expect that this would happen again.  And again, and again. And be totally perplexed when the horse suddenly grows roots.

In practice, though, we all know that this is rarely the case. 

There are different theories on this. 

One is that when a horse sees a trailer for the first time, it just looks like an elevated stall, and they figure "Hmm.. you REALLY want me to go in there?  Well, how bad can it be.  There is hay, and you seem to be shaking a pail of pellets.  What the hell".  And in they go.

It isn't until they actually start driving around and witness the horror of the creaking, rattling vibrating stall, that they realize it was a fairly stupid idea to step in, and commit to never doing it again.  Like me, and the Tequila shooters, back at South Residence.   

(If you have never ridden around in a horse trailer, you should give it a go.  It does make you wonder why a horse ever gets on there a second time.  Really it is a miracle). 

I have another theory - one that revolves around the concept that the personality of dogs and horses does begin to resemble that of their owners over time. 

And, if you know a bit about my history with horses and trailers and the combination of both - you would realize that giant glowing green waves of DANGER DANGER DANGER seem to eminate from me like bad gas whenever it is time to trailer a horse.  Wait - now that I think of it - I do actually get bad gas, accompanied by diarrhea, when I have to trailer a horse.  So maybe it is not just a "seeming" thing.

There are many times when the sayings "ignorance is bliss" and "you don't know what you don't know" are absolutely perfectly applicable when horses are concerned.  And trailering is most definitely one of those times.

But I did know what I knew.  And sure, I am pretty ignorant.  But not when it comes to this subject.  I knew what could happen... oh yes, I knew.

Picture if you can, for a moment, the life and times of the Curmudgeon family back in the 70's.  With our poor, horse trailering patriarch, Mr. Curmudgeon.

Mr. Curmudgeon.  (actual product may not be identical to image shown)

Unfortunately, back in the 70's, good fathers who knew absolutely nada about horses were nonetheless expected to hitch up spooky steel two horses to their Mercury Monarchs (until the transmissions got blown out, at which time they had to upgrade to monster woody Wagoneers like the one Skyler White drives on "Breaking Bad") and take their own little ponies, to little shows, to watch their little children cry after not winning pathetic little ribbons.  Good times!

Now, new millenium fathers typically just hand over big sums of cash to have all of this done by their child's smiling coach, (who drives a rig worth more than many people's homes in order to get the job done).  I am sure they have their problems too, but part of the fee involves keeping this all on the down-low, behind the scenes, medicating here and there as needed, and cleaning up any mess before the parents have a chance to notice.

But back in the day, all of this fell on the shoulders of our old school dads.  Together, they learned to link arms and took turns shoving each others evil ponies onto their spooky two horse trailers -  luckily, a determined 35 yr old man and another fatherly friend can pretty well pick up a 600lb, 13hh pony and lift the bugger off all four feet, so bad loading manners didn't really come into play as much as when the horse is 1000 lbs heavier.

They learned how to manoeuver their little rigs effortlessly, so that on the somewhat regular occasion when  a hot horse show twentysomething babe got her own rig hopelessly stuck in the mud or jacknifed, the horse show dads could spring into action and show off their backing-up, turning-around prowess, rescuing her and making waking up at 4:30 am almost worthwhile.

Really, they did remarkably well for people thrown into situations not of their own making, when they secretly would have rather spent the time and money golfing with friends.  Or anyone really. 

But what these Dads could not control, (much to the alarm of their children - who at the time, thought Dads could do it all and did not fully appreciate the unstoppable power of the stupidity of some equines) was what it is the evil little bastards did once the doors of the trailer were shut.  Or opened, really.  Because standing behind a pony and lifting its ass into a trailer while staying safely off to the side is one thing.  Seeing its flailing forelegs coming at your head, and getting hung up in the partition the second you open the front mandoor is entirely another.  Watching as a fleet of people armed with ropes and blindfolds and plenty of ACE arrive to help you to pry the pony out of the trailer without killing it is also entirely another. 

Or, driving home from a horse show with the pony scrambling like a mix master, yanking the entire Woody Wagoneer rig around on the road, with a car full of crying children would be another experience that a 70's Dad would not anticipate when looking at that shining Cherokee two horse in the Bahr's parking lot.  Once again, prying the pony out of the trailer, this time from beneath the partition instead of on top, would be an unexpected ...uh... adventure.

And these are the sorts of things that happened as we were growing up and transporting our ponies across Ontario.  I still have the mental scars. It got to the point where when we were pony shopping, the first question dad asked wasn't "is he sound" or "can he jump", but instead "can he stand on four fucking legs in a horse trailer without falling over or having a mental meltdown".

To make matters worse - Mr. Motard and I had a little trouble coming home from Cape Hatteras once upon a time...there was an incident involving a construction zone, a flat tire, decorative safety chains, and several hundreds of dollars worth of destroyed windsurfers.  Let's just say it did not build my "Trailering's FUN" confidence level. 

If you are wondering what Mr. Motard is saying, as I recall it was something along the lines of "oh, my love, I am so happy we are ok and no one was hurt".  No, wait... I am confused.. maybe it was  "Put that fucking camera down before I shove it up your ass".  
Now, I know there are adults out there who have had a horse for a total of  6 months, and a trailer for 6 weeks, who merrily proceed to load up old Trigger and ship the sucker all over hill and dale.  They stop for 4 course meals with cocktails here and there along the way, while Trigger munches hay peacefully in the parking lot. I envy these people.  I will never be one of these people.  Like I said - you don't know, what you don't know, and until Trigger decides to jump through that front window one day, the thought just doesn't occur to you that he ever might be stupid enough to do so.

I really do think I have made progress (more on this later, when I make a concerted effort to do so), however I think my nervous vibes did transfer to poor innocent Ms. V and freaked her out a bit.  That, and Grandpa MVA of course, who was a scary thing at the very best of times.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Epilogue - lead, follow, get the hell out of the way...smash into others... etc.

You see, I knew the arena rules element of the last post would get you all going.

I should clarify - I TOTALLY believe that when you are done the functional "training" part of your ride, and have moved to the cool out portion, or even worse, the "wander around four abreast talking to your friends about Tim Horton's, Tom / Katie divorce, Anderson Cooper...(duhhhofcourse) etc, etc, etc... or doing absolutely anything involving a cell phone" phase - you should most certainly get the hell off the rail, and stay well to the inside.  Or, preferably you go outside, as in "far far outside the arena".  But this is not a factor of speed, it is a factor of function.  If you aren't doing anything productive, get out of the way of those who are.

Conversely - if you are "working on something" - you get to do it wherever you can do it most effectively, while abiding by general traffic rules (i.e. left to left).  So, if you want to, say, leg yield in the walk with head to rail as a training aid... you would do that on the rail. Or - practice free walk pick up / release repeatedly without having to worry about steering - on the rail.  Walk-halt transitions, prepping for trot - rail. Or - walk around on a horse with limited steering that pretty much only walks - rail.

Really, to be fair to non-dressage, parelli, western, h/j people who do stuff that makes no sense to me, but maybe it does to them - In my mind, I would say you should be able to do whatever fucked up stupid thing you feel like doing on the rail... if you think that is the place you can do it most effectively.  And, by doing so, you are not having a negative impact on those around you that they could not easily steer clear of if they felt like it.. by passing you on the inside, for example.  This is hard to write up on a "barn rules" list though.

However, I did have this conversation last night with a H/J friend of mine who was totally hard core at one time (the one who sponsored the short listed rude jumper that I mentioned a while back), and she said that she yells "rail" to anyone going slower than her - anywhere - and expects them to clear the road.  This may reflect this changing shift in arena rules in sporthorse circles that some of you have eluded to, or may reflect what happens when you spend too much time learning to ride with short listed rude jumpers.  What it does really clarify for me is why everyone I know at a barn where she used to exercise another friend's horse absolutely hated riding with her, and those who didn't realize we were good friends used to rant about what a self absorbed arena queen she was within earshot of me.  Huh.  The things you learn when you write a blog.

Having spent some time riding hunters, I do think riding on the second track when going slower, even if we are talking trot vs canter is a bit more do-able than with dressage. Hunter "flatting" usually involves going around-around-around-around-around without much stuff happening in between. In this instance, setting up kind of a W-T-C Tyco speedway in your arena really could work.   

(I like to call this "mounted longeing"... I was a designated "warm-up" (wear down?) rider for a group of hunters who traveled to a Virginia show a few years ago - wow, cantering around for 45 minutes in two-point really makes the thighs burn.  Take that, Susanne Sommers.  ).  

Fuck off  Craig with your overpriced pasta stirfrys already.  Virginia had free giant sandwiches.  

Anyways, to answer the most burning question from my last post... NO, I did not buy Jerkwad new stirrups.  I packed my things, hugged my friends, carroted their horses one last time and got ready to get the hell out.

And getting the hell out involved... anyone?  anyone?  What is the one thing you can't really practice with your green horse in the middle of winter, with 2 feet of snow and/or mud, but that requires much practice nonetheless?  The thing that if you don't master.. will draw more railbirds to you than flies to shit versus any other activity you may ever try to do with your horse?

That's right folks.  The only thing that outdoes riding a green horse in the "unsolicited advice" category is trying to get your green horse loaded up on the Red Rocket.  Drop the ramp and watch the crowd gather.  And try not to use the longe whip on THEM...

Friday 6 July 2012

Just like me, they long to be, close to yoooou.. like really close. Occupying the same space close.

But just because you aren't having a lot of problems with your horse at any given time - have no fear.  It doesn't mean that your fellow boarders aren't on hand to help you deal with this lack of excitement.  They can be trusted to spice things up for you.

And this is where I made my first serious riding mistake with Ms. V, at MVA.  Sure, I knew those around me were pretty clueless, but I assumed that they were also harmless, and really just irritating.  But actually, clueless can pretty easily cross the line to dangerous.

Oh Curmudgeon, this is a mistake one should never make around big, unpredictable animals.  That is how people get hurt.

Yah, good point.  And they did like their donuts there, some of them were pretty meaty.

Actually, I do have a video (old school VCR, so don't bother asking me to share) of one of my first times riding Ms. V. I am aided by my trusty cameraman Mr. Motard.  His arm appears in a "3-D House of Beef" style to hold her for me now and then, or pass me this or that, but his role seems primarily to yell helpful observations and pointers loudly into the camera while filming.  They actually sound just as knowledgeable as anything that would have been dished out by the railbirds themselves.  Things like - "can you make her stop when you want?" or "why is she opening her mouth - it looks like she is going AAAkkkKK - AAAAkkkKKK" or "she looks a lot better without you on her".

But the funniest thing about the video is that while I am taking these first tentative baby steps on my totally green horse, there is some nutjob running around the arena beside her horse wearing nothing but a halter (no, no...the horse.. she is fully clothed), doing some sort of clucking parelli / natural horsemanship dealie.  No, there is no lead rope actually attaching her to the horse.  I watch this now and wonder to myself how on Earth I didn't notice this stellar horsemanship display, and what on earth I was thinking when I decided to ride Ms. V at the same time as Girl who Runs with Horses (or whatever her aboriginal Canadian name might be).  Very stupid on my part.

However, it was not Girl who Runs with Horses who caused problems for me eventually.  It was Token Teenage Male who Rides.

Token Teenage Male who Rides is a regular fixture at many boarding stables.  I must word this carefully as my nephew is a TTMwR (and is wonderful in every way, Mrs Curmudgeon).  For the most part they are nerdy, gangly, and would have no hope of scoring a really hot, rich girl anywhere on Earth.  Except of course, at a boarding stable, where they are perceived as some sort of precious gems on otherwise entirely XX desert islands, and are surrounded by flocks of fawning females who would not give their greasy pimpled faces a second look in any other environment.  I guess it is god's way of rewarding them for doing something wholesome with their time instead of holing up in their basements playing World of Warcraft while masturbating, or whatever it is these little freaks typically do.

Of course, MVA had its TTMwR, who was a perfect specimen.  Tall and dorky, not particularly good looking but passable enough to get the undivided attention of the 30 or so teenaged girls who came and went, with an equally tall, dorky, and passably good looking OTTB*.

Now, the problem with TTMwR really had nothing do do with any of this.  The problem was that any teenager, regardless of gender or locale who receives too much attention for doing something entirely unremarkable morphs into an obnoxious little self important asshole.  (Come to think of it... this does cover most teenagers these days, since each and every one is so very gifted and unique).  And so, instead of perceiving himself as a typical, run of the mill teenager out enjoying his horse, the adoration turned him into a hotshot budding Ian Millar in his own special world, in his own special head.  And as such, he was an early adopter of the blowhard railbird persona.

The passably good looking OTTB was actually a sweetie, and perfect match for TTMwR.  He had been bought at auction but in a previous life, had been a fabulous Grand Prix jumper, or some such story (funny how EVERY horse bought at auction and now owned by a teenager was once a fabulous GP something-or-other, according to teen-owner folklore.  They were never just garden variety ex-racehorses). They trucked around the arena together doing seemingly normal things and besides his verbal diarrhea problem, I really didn't mind TTMwR. 

Until the day, for some unexplained reason, he decided to ride up behind us, yell "RAIL", then proceed to smash directly into Ms. V's ass.  She went bananas (rightly so), gave a massive "get the hell away from me" buck, then proceeded to run around like a freaked out nut for the next few minutes as the railbirds waved their arms and ran straight towards her face yelling WOAH!  WOAH!  WOAH!  Surprisingly enough, this just made her run away faster and in a more terrified fashion than when the whole affair began. 

Now, this was all going on without me, of course, since the buck did me in, and I was lying in the dirt busily trying to remember exactly how it is one breathes.  It usually seems so easy....

Eventually the excitement subsided - I was able to suck some air in, someone semi-sane caught Ms. V - and I tentatively climbed back abord and did a few laps of - whatever - just to be sure the event was all behind us. 

Or so I thought.  I knew I was in trouble when I saw TTMwR huddled with his teenaged sister and mother - damn, this is never a good sign.

Apparently I still needed my arena ettiquite lesson from TTMwR.

You see, he explained, the faster horse always has the right of way, Curmudgeon.  So, even though you were ON the track, when I yelled "RAIL" you should have moved out of my way. 

WTF?  On what planet?

My horse is just learning to walk.  On the rail.  That is as exciting as it gets for us, it is not cool-down period. I can't steer her reliably in a straight line on the "second track" yet, so that is not an option.  I certainly can't yank her out of your way in a hurry.  I know this sounds nutty - but what you could have done is gone around us.  Like absolutely everyone else does, all the time.

Well, we shouldn't have to do that.  Faster horse has right of way.  And - you owe me new stirrups too.

Sure enough, Ms. V had hit his stirrup when she bucked and broken it.  I felt sick to my stomach imagining what would have happened if her hoof had hit his ankle instead.  Or even worse, any part of the cute OTTB.   Or, if her foot had gotten caught in the stirrup.

This post is already pretty long, and there is most certianly enough material for an entire rant on the subject, so I won't go into it today.  Let me just say...arena traffic rules.  FUCK.  Why does it have to be so complicated.  Here is a simple solution to all of the permutations of how people should interact in an arena. 

1.  Pretend you are a car 
2.  Pilot your horse in a manner, if she was a car, you would not die in a fiery crash. 

i.e... pass left to left.  Fast moving vehicles overtake the slow ones.  If you see someone who looks like they are DUI or over 90 years of age - stay far away from them.   And if someone has a car that is not running perfectly, maybe on the side of the road, hood up, flat tire - give them a break and move over.  Driving up behind someone and laying on your horn, then smashing into them if they don't get the hell out of your way is not an effective death avoidance strategy on the highway, why would you think it is a good idea in the arena?

Well, long story short...the 30 days idea seemed good in principle, but was not a good one in practice.  As I am sure many of you have learned as well, you just can't start a horse properly at a stable loaded with people lacking in common sense 24/7.  It is just not safe and you all just irritate the hell out of each other.  (Yes, as I write this, I know there is probably another blogger out there somewhere writing about how fucking annoying it is to ride with people starting horses.  Fair enough).

So don't do it.

I think I was at about day 25 of the 30 days, so I hung up my spurs after that night (don't freak out...metaphorically, people. No real spurs were involved), and decided to wait until we headed to Liliput.  I really didn't want to know what other interesting arena rules awaited me.

And, I was glad that I was leaving the vicinity of MVA soon.  Rumour had it TTMwR was getting his 365  (or whatever it is they call beginner licences these days). 

*OTTB - off track thoroughbred

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Why do railbirds suddenly appear, every time, I am here.....

Now, those of you who do know me in person can feel free to correct me if I am delusional.

(Be sure to do it in a catty fashion while using the name "Anonymous").

You may get the impression when reading my blog that in real life, I am a big, extroverted personality.  You know the type for sure, because every stable has at least one.  The boarders who hold court and loudly pontificate about their extensive expertise. While you are trapped with them in the tack room, viewing room, washroom... wherever they can be heard, demanding the attention of those around them, whether you think they are an absolute and total wank or not.  People listen to them, smile, nod, laugh at appropriate times... not because they give a flying fuck about anything they say, but really just because can't get away from them, no matter how they may try.  Might as well make the best of it.

But really - that is not me at all. I am fairly introverted.  Quiet even, until you get to know me.  I know for sure some of you have met me, and have no idea who the hell I am.  Here is a clue to help you to identify me at your next dressage soiree...I am always the person standing off to the side watching events unfold, and being amazed and annoyed by all of the hypocritical and pretentious things that occur in any given situation.  Then whispering cynical comments about these events to my equally as cynical and curmudgeonly peeps.  Of which, there are generally always a few. 

I am not implying that this is a good way to live one's life.  It is just the way I am.  Until the bath salts kick in, anyways. (Kidding.  I am more of a meth head really.  Kidding again, just in case you are a future employer screening this blog).

For example, I can't help but notice that our best riders do have last names, and that by referring to them only by their first names in mixed company repeatedly, waiting for someone to say "Ashley... WHO" doesn't make you cool.  It just makes you an asshole.  And talking loudly on about your trip to (insert awesome European country of your choice here) with your coach who apparently only has a first name, to meet other equestrians who mysteriously also only have first names doesn't make you special either.  It makes you richer than me, or much more extended in your line of or the other.  To this I say..touché. You go girl.  Oh, and while you are at it, put a fucking sock in it, would you?

(I may also sometimes be identified by my inappropriate shorts).

Where was I going with this again... oh yes.  

If you were not familiar with the horse scene, you may mistakenly think that this know-all pontificating occurs only in barns where people actually know something.  

Oh, no.  No.  No. Absolutely not. Regardless of how lowly a barrel you think you are scraping the bottom of on the "knowledgeable place for horse enthusiasts to gather" spectrum, there is ALWAYS at least one...maybe two... of these boarders at every big and bustling equine establishment.  They generally are not there at the same time, they do shift work - since two loud blow-hard know it alls running into each other in the cross ties is kind of like that old mindgame about the "immovable post" and "unstoppable object".  

And if you need proof of this - proof of the fact that no matter how little someone knows, they will feel the uncontrollable urge to share their ignorance with you...

Just saddle up your 3 year old at a stable called MVA. 

(You can get away with doing weird things in your stall, or in the cross ties, or even on the end of a longe line - especially when you are a middle aged woman.  For people just assume that you are a horse petter with a grooming fetish and fear issues, and naturally stay away from you, terrified that you might actually want to discuss these issues with them. The zombifyingly boring tales that accompany every middle aged horse petters descent into grooming hell are avoided by even the most hard core blathering know it alls.  They usually involve some form of a fateful day, a trail ride with yahoos, and absolutely no knowledge of the existence of the pulley rein).   

And then, back in '82, I acquired a plastic curry to go with my grooming mitt...

But the minute you swing your leg over that hairy little horse that everyone wonders what the hell is up with... you are doomed.  You need help, and there are lots of morons ready to provide their assistance to you.  

I think if I am an introvert again in my next life (when the aliens reboot this simulation) I want to be a really rude introvert.  Yes, even ruder than I am now if you can believe it.  Because what makes being a polite introverted person starting your 3 year old so difficult is that you just aren't enough of a jerk to say "what the hell do you know?  Fuck off."  And this would probably go a long way to solving everything.  And would be so very entertaining to those watching from the sidelines.

But life isn't usually like that, not for me anyways. Well, I guess except for that one day when I totally lost it, dismounted, got as close to being "in his face" as I could, (with my shortness and all), then screamed at Neil for a while.  (Neil ....WHO?)  We have a ways to go until then though.  Something to look forward to. 

(Mr. Motard kind of gets away with this but then he tends to deliver the message with a goofball smile so people are never sure if he is serious, or just messing with them.  Amazingly never gets his teeth punched in (well, not yet anyways).  I could try this but I don't think many would be convinced since I could not do it without sighing and rolling my eyes). 

And so, from the minute I mounted up, I got advice.  From absolutely clueless people. Including Mr. MVA himself, who was busily breaking his herd of polkadot ringworm horses.  And from assorted other "coaches" and "trainers" who had taken up residence there and taught one or two of their own students in their spare time, and probably thought that I was a good mark - if only they could dazzle me with their knowledge.

Luckily things were pretty smooth sailing, for the most part (God only knows how plentiful the advice would have been had I actually needed help)...