Friday 31 August 2012

Kindergarten begins now. Be all you can be. Do not pick your nose, try not to pee your pants

And so, we settled in to life at Liliput and began to put together a training program with Coach Ritenau. 

Since Ms. V was only just turning three, and I had that mortal fear of RUSHING MY HORSE firmly instilled by bulletin board nutjobs (see earlier post), based on their guidance I decided that my goal would be to work with her for about 30 minutes, 3 times per week. Apparently any more than this, and her brain would turn to soft scrambled eggs and plop out her ears in chunks.  (Or something. I forget what exactly the problem was. Something frightening).

These three rides would include one lesson session with Ritenau.  And - in addition to all of this - I would also continue taking a lesson per week on Swiffer, the pony I had already been riding now for the last month or so.

Why so many lessons, Curmudgeon?  I understand the "hunter rider deprogramming" sessions on the dressage pony, but surely you could have taught Ms. V basic walk, trot, canter yourself. 

I don't think there is a single rider out there in the world who takes lessons, who has not had at least one person say to them "Hey - I thought you knew how to ride - why are you still taking lessons".  (Usually said by someone who looks like they need to take some lessons). 

I do think there is more than one answer to this entirely obnoxious question. I can think of at least three.  Number one would of course be... why is it any of your fucking business.  Second answer to obnoxious question would be that you are striving to learn and improve your riding.  (But really, anyone who is enough of a dork to ask you this in the first place really deserves answer number one). 

The third, and less obvious reason to take lessons with someone - even if you pretty much know what it is that you are doing and how to accomplish it - is that it officially puts you in a relationship where you are giving another person permission to tell you that what you are doing... is weird.  Ineffective, Just not all that hot.  Or downright sucks. Without there being any hard feelings attached. If you only ever ride by yourself and never take lessons - well, that would be kind of like never having sex with another person, yet thinking you are quite the dynamo in bed.  If that makes you happy - well, who am I to judge. But sometimes it is nice to get a second opinion. 

(For the record...getting a third opinion from another coach behind the back of your first coach will cause just about as much strife in your life as getting third opinion from another man about whether or not you are, in fact, a dynamo in bed.  Maybe more)

I have often wished I had one of these people just in my general everyday life as well.  To help me to be all I can be. Someone who would take an hour of their time to study me intently, then announce "you have a hair growing out of your ear" or "there is a big blackhead on your cheek" or "you absolutely cannot wear those underwear with that dress".  This becomes increasingly important as I get older and my vision gets worse, and my attention to detail with respect to personal grooming is admittedly not all it used to be.  Luckily  Mr. Motard is pretty forthcoming with his critiques of just about everything, but I am so used to tuning him out most of the time, that sometimes I miss the important messages.  (Which might explain why I left the house one morning with an unnoticed lump in the leg of my pants, only to have a pair of panties from the last wearing drop out onto my foot and into the hallway halfway through the day). 

It is hard to be all you can be. 

The easiest way is apparently to join the army, (and I saw how much that girl in Officer and a Gentleman sucked at that and she is younger and fitter than I ever have been. This is my second reference to a Richard Gere movie, isn't it.  Mr. Curmudgeon is going to be so disappointed in me).  A distant second in the race to excellence is to pay someone to gently put their foot to your ass and keep on pushing you, a bit more, each day.  

This was essentially Coach Ritenau's role when it came to helping me with Ms. V.  Most of the time she watched quietly, gave a few pointers now and then, but her keen eye was trained more on pushing me out of the comfort zone and into the realm of someday accomplishing something.

Like - riding down the longside now and then, instead of staying on my safe little circle.  Or - cantering.  Or - getting on Ms. V without longeing her first. 

Professionals who put sixty days or "w/t/c" on a horses are forced to accomplish clearly defined and time driven goals, even if they feel that they may die doing so. Owners starting their own horses are more likely to go entirely the other way, and slowly and surely accomplish absolutely nothing.  We fall into the trap of "oh, she is only a baby.  It is ok if we don't canter for the next year" or other coddling modes.  A popular version of this story is, of course "it is important that my horse is exposed to all environments, so I will just trail ride for the first year to be sure we are very solid in our "walk around aimlessly" skills before we start any real work".

And so, to be sure this did not happen to us, Coach Ritenau gently pushed us to try new things, and would also climb aboard and do these things herself, just in case I thought she was just a sadist with some sort of secret death wish for me.  Voila.  They can be done. 

We also set a goal to attend a walt-trot class at a local show by the end of the summer, to up the ante just a bit.   Which of course, made me quite happy since this would not likely have been a goal if Coach Ritenau thought we were lucky to both emerge from six months under saddle alive. 

Sunday 19 August 2012

hummala bebhuhla zeebuhla bop - Life goes on... without me

Meanwhile… back at the blog…
You may wonder – what ever became of Muddy View Acres? 
Well, the horse world is no different than any other ecosystem, or maybe the juice in the container in your fridge.  Over time, all of the different bits and pieces filter out and find their right niche.  No matter how you might mix up the silt and gravel or pulp and watery orange stuff, they always work to return to their proper place in the hierarchy over time.  People who expect blanketing and boots go to barns where you pay for blanketing and boots.  Or, they change their standards to match their pocketbooks.  Or, they hang around whining about the situation, until everyone is wishing they bought “pulp free”, or at least one of those containers with the built in stirring thing so you could try to flagellate them into…er, somewhere else.  Anywhere else. 
And MVA is in exactly this same situation – it has found it’s own sedimentary layer of boarders who don’t mind mud, nicks, cuts, burrs, absence of boots and blankets for turnout etc. etc. etc.  if it means they can actually afford to own their horse.  And there is nothing wrong with that.   Actually, I drive by it about 2x per week, and it appears to be thriving.  The owners were fairly ignorant when it came to caring for horses, true.  However it was as though construction was in their blood.  They have since built row upon row of beautiful outdoor shelters, contained within decent safe looking fences, round bale plunked in the centre…and they have become one of the “outdoor pasture board” havens of the region.
I would say there are probably 50 horses on the property, which makes me wonder what sort of horror show the arena is now, but it is probably not bad at all – In reality, I would guess that out of that 50, maybe 5 are owned by “serious” riders that do much beyond petting, grooming and hitting a trail now and then.  The rest are likely just people who love their horses.
They also don’t seem to have a website, or a lot of advertising – so I am assuming they are full or not hurting for business, anyways.  
Also I did want to clarify – please do not think that I am implying that MVA had an exceptionally exceptional batch of railbirds.  No, not at all.  I would say every barn with more than 10 boarders – some with more than 5 – have at least one or two people who you just would love to silence with duct tape. 
(I have of course been fortunate enough to run into one of MVA’s new generation of hot railbirds at a dinner party a while back, and listening to her talk, one would assume it has transformed into some sort of breeding ground for future World Cup riders.  Mr. Motard was intrigued – wow, MVA has come a long way since you were there, Curmudgeon!  Me, uh...not so much.  Luckily, the red wine was plentiful and not from Ontario, and by using it as an invaluable tool I was able to more or less dull the pain of listening to her voice).
And, it is not just the equestrian world either.  For example - for some reason (*cough*Mr. Motard*cough*) I attended a radio controlled airplane show a few weekends ago (Yes.  Really.) and paid $5.00 to bake in an open airfield while watching grown men play with their $2000 toys.  (How stupid is this, says the woman with the $100,000 pet).   I eventually ended up behind some big sweaty radio controlled airplane enthusiasts in the food line.  I recognized one of them as the owner of one of the fastest, fanciest jet planes in the show
(I don’t know a single thing about the radio controlled airplane circuit, but he was from the U.S as were several other exhibitors, so I am assuming this was a fairly decent show - but based on the venue, no World Cup.  Maybe like a Palgrave Gold show).
The line was hot and freakishly slow, and so I got to hear more about the politics of radio controlled airplanes than I ever wanted to hear as the two of them gossiped.  Well, come to think of it, I never wanted to hear anything on this topic, so it was really an overload.  (What would have been really interesting to know is why the big sweaty dude felt he needed 2 hotdogs plus fries and a soft drink, but that is just the nutritionist in me being horrified by mankind and expecting that there is some sort of reasonable explanation.  There never is).
The point of my story is… you could have taken out key words like “Yak 54” or “ARF” and replaced with “Dutch Warmblood” and “Schoolmaster” and you would have thought you were at a dressage show.  The same gossip themes abound everywhere

“Oh, yah.  That Joe is quite a piece of work.  He fixes up crappy ARFs people have given up on, then expects premium price after he puts in a little time.  I am on to his game”
(Translation – he buys poorly started horses and flips them)
“Sure, sure, the Yak 54 he bought is a nice plane, I am not arguing with you on that. But the bottom  line is.. he still is going to have to know how to fly it or it is garbage”. 

Sit back!  Sit back!  

(Translation – she may have imported a nice schoolmaster, but she still sucks as a rider).  

Yep, the toys may change, but the human operators don't.  We just have different stretchy pant uniforms.  

Which reminds me… it is time to start talking about how my lessons with Coach Ritenau were coming along, isn’t it.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Karma. I want to shove a stir-fry in your face

I am going to ask today that you indulge me a little, and let me depart from the typical chronological events format of my blog. 

Also, I must warn you that I might not be very funny, because, well, I am not feeling happy tonight.  

Somewhere, back in the history of my blog, I covered what I like to call the "Pretty in Breakfast" syndrome.  This is my scientifically created term for the fact that in our sport there is a large contingent of self important assholes who, although they have done nothing in particular of note in their dressage careers (or even if they have), grow some sort of poles up their tight little sphincters and decide that they are simply too special to even acknowledge the lowly adult amateurs in this sport (unless - of course - these amateurs are, at that particular moment, actively involved in placing money in the hands of said ass-rodded people).  

These sorts might involve Gha-mann coaches who have no problem taking +$2000 of a client's money to pretend to train obviously untrainable ponies. While at the same time pushing expensive dressage horses upon them instead. Then later refusing to even acknowledge the presence of life beside them in the stir-fry line at Palgrave.  

Or, they might be cocky jerk riders who decide to wander off with volunteer whipper-in's schedule lists.  They are important and busy, and need to know what is going on, right?  And because of this, they are entitled to create panic among volunteers, and then look at them like they are dirt when (after searching crazily for their list for 5 minutes) they ask desperately for their return so they can keep the show running on schedule. And, as an added touch to lighten things up, the cocky jerk riders have the right to make fun of the volunteers to make their friends laugh.  Don't they? (oops, haven't told that story yet, have I).  

But there are, out there, a few dressage pros who apparently didn't get the memo.  And so, they are strangely nice, for no particular reason. 

When I was first starting out at shows back at training level - putting in awful, amateurish training level tests - I am sure most coaches (including my own) were more than prepared to totally ignore me, lest anyone in the immediate vicinity get any impression that they were at all responsible for my scary riding. 

But there was this one guy out there - I could never remember his name, he was short, good looking, and had dark hair (but as mentioned earlier there is a whole flock of these here in Ontario) who always smiled.  And said hello.  While working patiently with other horrible adult amateurs like me.  

If I was scribing - he looked me in the eye, and said hello.  

Stir-fry line - hello. 

Disgusting mud washstalls at Palgrave - hello. 

Tent ghetto stables - hello. 

It was almost eerie.  He was nice.  And friendly.  For no apparent reason, other than because that is just what people who aren't jerks do. (I would have thought maybe he had a "thing" for me, but I am pretty sure I am not his type). 

So anyways, when the time came eventually that I knew I had to change coaches - I of course decided that he was #1 to consider.  I had to figure out his name to accomplish this - and his name was (if you haven't figured it out by now) David Marcus. 

But, the stars did not align, as I recall he did not have his own barn at the time and deciding to jump ship to join a nomadic coach is generally not a good move.  And so, after a few pleasant conversations on the phone, I decided to head another direction - he supported my decision, said it was a good one and said nothing but complimentary things regarding the coach I chose instead.  He wished me the best.  And I really felt he meant it. 

A few years later on - when Ms. V and I were practicing overcoming our fears of trailering and overnighting in new places (probably more on my part than Ms. V's I am not too proud to admit), my coach at the time suggested that I contact David Marcus and ask if Ms. V and I could create our own "mini-clinic sleepover party" type deal at his beautiful new barn to get some exposure.  He happily obliged.  We spent an excellent weekend there, had a few great lessons, he rode Ms. V and was nothing but positive about her or her potential to continue advancing up the levels... and to top it all off... he charged me an absolute pittance for the whole affair.  Who knows, maybe he owed my coach a favour, or something deeper than I knew was going on behind the scenes that I was not privy to.  But really - I don't think so.  I think he is just a genuinely nice person.  

And even later on - when things turned ugly where I was, and people had to make decisions on where to go instead... uhh...well, you will have to wait and see how it is I decide to unwind this one, because even I am not sure yet.  As the guy on "Tales from the Riverbank" used to say.. "that's another story"

Are you sure this is England?  It looks like Switzerland.

Long story short - David Marcus came through for many people. I stuck it out where I was, and to this day, do sometimes wonder..what if. 

So, anyways...when his whole fairy-tale came true, and he got a fabulous new sponsor, amazing horse, and was off to the Olympics... I was sure that the bitch Karma finally had things right.  She was going to pay him back for all of the times he was nice.  And normal.  And friendly.  She would show those fucking stir-fry snubbers.  

But, this is dressage.  And horses are horses.  And life, for the most part, can be so incredibly disappointing.  I am imagining the sinking feeling of my very worst ever dressage test (ridden in front of probably 5 spectators, only 2 of whom actually gave a flying fuck about what was going on and only because they are my parents and feel obliged to do so) and multiplying it by some large number.  Even then, I am not sure I have it just right.  

Arrgh.  Like Mr. and Mrs. Curmudgeon said in my last post ..."nobody said life had to be fair".  Sometimes I really do resent recent events.  And - just to be clear - I am not saying all this because I am super close to David Marcus, or hang out with him in my spare time,.  Really, he probably has no idea who I am, other than being some person that he says Hi to.  Just like he does to everyone else.  

Now..this being dressage - not everyone has this opinion. It takes a long time to shove that angry rod up your ass, and hey, you earned it, right?  And so, if you are among the "I didn't make it to the Olympics yet, and David Marcus did, and I deserved it way more than he does" crowd, you may smugly be thinking that Karma is right on track.  

You are assholes.  Get a life.