Thursday 20 September 2012

Ayyy! So what if my hands are all over the place... Fugetaboudit!

Curmudgeon, do share - what was (and likely still is) your go-to Bad Hands habit of choice.

Hmm, good question, good question.

I would say I had a moderate case of what you may know as "Magician Hands".  You may also know this by its latin based name "Fugetaboudititis".  Although people of all ethnicities may be afflicted, there is some suggestion that people of Italian descent may have a genetic predisposition to the condition, and unfortunately, I do carry a portion of these genes

While hunter riders more typically are inflicted with a mentronome-like back and forth sawing motion in the hands and arms, the less common but equally as mock-worthy clinical signs of Fugetaboudititis can be distinguished by their total lack of of any rhythm whatsoever. 

The hands and arms may move and gesture anywhere, at any time, as needed to communicate something  with extra emphasis and zeal.  This may be entirely appropriate when you are telling an exciting story to your Nono.  Not so much when you are attempting to communicate with your horse's mouth.  Up / down / over the crest / to the knee variations may all be seen, and may be seen in the same ride.  Maybe even on the same 20 metre circle. 

And THIS is a special aid I use to ask for some inside bend..
As I mentioned once upon a time, a long time ago - my real weakness was my tendency to cross my hand over my horse's neck when asking for inside bend.  This can actually come in quite handy when riding hunters. If your reins are really long and in your crotch, you need to move your hand 12 - 14" in some direction to have any impact on your horse's face.  This can make steering difficult to do in a subtle fashion.

For example - say you have to turn a corner to avoid hitting the fence/other horse/standards - or maybe you are one of those raging assholes who likes to maintain that fucking irritating little 15 m circle directly around the judge who is standing in the middle judging the hack class, so she has no ability to see any other competitor.  Moving your hand up/down/over to the inside this distance would be very visible to onlookers.

But - if you cross your hand over from inside to outside - well, there is a good 8 - 10" right there.  Take it waaaay to the outside - voila.  Your horse's face is cranked right in.  I even knew one trickster (you may want to sit down for this) who would bring her inside hand to about midline, then hook the rein with her pointer finger of the outside hand, and pull on the inside rein with the outside hand.  Sneaky eh. You have to be creative to put the Pee in Pleasure my friends.

This technique has other uses as well - when cantering on the wrong lead, if you cross the outside hand over the crest to the inside around a corner, you can easily crank your horse's head to the rail, throw him entirely off balance, and force him to do a skip change to avoid falling on his face.  It is gold, I say, PURE GOLD!

(Errr... unless you are hoping to get some sort of true connection going on with your horse's mouth.  Minor detail).

Now sure - due to my Fugetaboudititis, my hands and arms were partial to other gestures as well.  Yes, I have punched myself in the knee while riding.  However - it was this inside-outside hand crossover that was really the biggest problem, because it is pretty much impossible to begin to take even baby steps towards keeping a horse straight when you have popped their outside shoulder out by cranking their face in from the outside (does this make any sense to anyone but me?  Hopefully yes).  And as we all know from Zettl (or some other hat wearing dude), the three keys to dressage success are 1. ride forward, 2. ride straight 3. insist that your monkeys use Neet should they decide to remove any hair from their furry little bodies.

And so, my initial lessons on the dressage ponies Swiffer and Shortstop involved lots of creative reminders on the part of Coach Ritenau to STOP-DOING-THAT-BEFORE-YOU-DRIVE-ME-FUCKING-INSANE.  Of course, Coach Ritenau was quite possibly one of the most polite people on Earth, who wouldn't say "Classical Dressage" if her mouth was full of it. And so instead, she used gentle, Julie-approved type language such as "hand on either side of the crest" or "keep him between your hands" or "straight between both reins" and many other creative versions of STOP-DOING-THAT-BEFORE-YOU-DRIVE-ME-FUCKING-INSANE.

Worst of all - after so many years of riding with not a passing thought regarding straighness, I really was having trouble feeling whether or not I was keeping the horse straight between both reins, in a fashion that would enable a good solid connection.  But luckily - I had a natural, build in Straight-o-meter right before my eyes.

Both Swiffer and Shortstop were fairly lean, fit ponies - but they were still ponies, and as such, they had relatively meaty, cresty necks.  One of the benefits of this (and you may have noticed this yourself) is that when a horse with such a neck is working properly "through", the cresty part relaxes and looks kind of soft and jiggly.  (This sounds gross. It is hard to put in words, but really, it is a good thing).  And so, I started watching for this sign of connection and relaxation - tense muscles across crest = bad.  Best of all - both were absolute saints, and if ridden correctly, were quite easy to get through, and generously rewarded me for my efforts to STOP-DOING-THAT-BEFORE-I-DROVE-THEM-FUCKING-INSANE.  Another bonus - this really enabled me to develop the "clueless beginner dressage rider who stares at her horse's neck and is totally oblivious to all around her" habit quite quickly. 

The good news is - of all of my bad habits, I would say that this "crossing over" affliction is the one that I have entirely overcome, partly because it is impossible to fake breaking this habit. Is my Fugetaboudititis entirely gone - no. No chance.  But there are worse things in life than getting punched in the knee now and then.

The judge wrote "hands low and wide".  WTF is that supposed to mean?  Is she on drugs?

Tuesday 18 September 2012

When I'm walkin' I strut my stuff..but my reins are all strung out...Bad hands, I know you're the ones...

I guess it is up for debate (and no doubt, has been debated ad nauseum  on many a bulletin board) but I would say the first thing recovering hunter riders need to get straightened out is their hands.

Because without half decent hands, there is no hope in hell of half decent contact.  You get to post in training level, so you can do a pretty good job of faking some version of a seat.  Even in the canter, you can still hover your ass around on the saddle as usual.  If questioned, just make some excuse about the maturation of the young spine, and no one is likely to argue with you, especially if you say it slowly with a sugary smile and a whiff "oh, I am talking to a moron again" condescension - the go-to tone of voice to use whenever you are trying to convince another horse owner that yes, you do know what the hell you are doing.  Even when you don't.

But if you are doing any of the typical weird hunter things with your hands and arms, it is kind of a screaming giveaway that you, in fact, don't know what the hell you are doing.

If dressage lessons were like GolfTech Player Performance Centres
In the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy, I would like to suggest the following.  Please feel free to add in your own. 

You might be a hunter rider if:

- Your arms appear to be elbowless sticks
- You have ever punched yourself in the knee while riding
- Your wrists flap like johnny on the spot doors at a fall fair beer tent as you ride
- If you have ever been asked if your horse ever says YES-YES-YES-YES just to shake things up 
- If a video of you has been used during a pony club presentation as an example of "person with really long reins and busy hands way in her crotch, who looks like she is pleasuring herself".  
- If you have ever been on the "pro" side of a conversation relating to the use of a chambon while riding
- If you have ever uttered the phrase "a pelham is pretty much the same as a double" in a non-mocking context

And so on.  

Curmudgeon!  Seriously. I have been riding hunters for years.  I win the "show hack" class at every Trillium show.  People are constantly asking me to get on their horses and frame them up. I think I know what I am doing.  

Ahhh yes.  The hack division.  Perhaps you are a Showy Road hackin machine who puts the Pee in Pleasure.  I have been there too.  And I thought I knew what I was doing as well.   

I know there are many of you out there reading this blog who have no idea what the hack division at a Trillium show is.  You lucky ducks. Let me help you to understand.

Once upon a time - people went to hunter/jumper horse shows to actually ride their horses over JUMPS.  Big ones.  Sounds crazy, doesn't it.  

But then, somewhere along the way, someone figured out that there was a rich, untapped population of riders and horses who wanted to go to shows and win stuff... without actually ever having to have learned to ride very well.  At all.

And so - a whole world of new classes were created.  Low beginner children's hunter.  Modified low beginner adult amateur hunter.  Modified low beginner crossrail children and relatively immature adult amateur hunter. Etc.  

But - even though the managers of horse shows progressively reduced the height of the obstacles, eventually they were left with a rail on the ground between two standards with a few cedar boughs in front and some potted mums on either side.  Yet there was still an plethora of people who could not ride their $50,000 import over this obstacle without a coach with a longe whip and lots of clucking. 

And thus, the hack division was born. All flat classes, none of the hassle of actually having to leap over anything.  

Who are these people who wake up at an ungodly hour to participate in not one, but three flat classes, you may ask?  Well, they are a diverse mix of folks.  Some are pros riding 3 year olds that don't jump stuff yet.  Fair enough.  

But many more are people riding horses that actually did jump stuff once upon a time. But then they learned that if you put little Suzie face first through the rails enough times, all of that nonsense comes to an end, and instead you get to hang out in the sun at horse shows after only 15 quick minutes of hacking around, alternating your speed now and then and holding your head and neck in a variety of different positions as prescribed by the amount of sawing on your face that your rider does at any one time.  

Curmudgeon! You are on a tangent again.  How does this relate to dressage?

Oh Sorry.  Well, the problem is - the judge is supposed to be judging you on things that they call "collected trot" and "extended trot" and other terms that sound familiar to the average dressage person - but look alarmingly different.  A horse pushed to Mach 5 in the trot until it flings its feet out in front to avoid snapping its fetlocks as it falls forward onto its face is not ACTUALLY doing "extended trot".  And slowing your horse to a wessage like crawl is not actually collection.  Unless you are in a wessage class (it is so confusing, isn't it?).  However, if you are routinely rewarded for these things at the local shows, you may mistakenly get the impression that you are right on track to show 2nd level. 

And so, when actual dressage folk recoil in horror when you sit down and start building that frame with a nice saw-saw-saw... well, don't worry.  We have all been there.  And - STOP IT!! You look like an idiot.  

Keep your hands still - give - thumbs up - blah - blah - blah.  Hands out in front.  GIVE!  Give from the elbow.  Think of how gorgeous Charlotte's hands look!  (no, don't look anything like her.  Don't be ridiculous.  But try). Oh, and while you are at it... shorten your reins.  (No, really - do it.  I am sure you are not actually pleasuring yourself, but why not remove any doubt).  

There.  That's better.  We can still tell you don't know what the fuck you are doing.  But you are at least a little closer....


Saturday 8 September 2012

Breaking horses is easy. Breaking bad habits... now that is hard work

Then, one day, something strange happened.  Strange, wonderful - and most of all, exhilarating. 

A ruggedly handsome vampire pirate with amazing abs strode confidently towards me.  My lip trembled softly as he gently took my hand in his own strong, long fingered grasp. I noticed his golden curls blowing gently in the whorls of swirling arena dirt.  I breathlessly asked him his name.

"I ahm Herr Christian Greyenhoff.  I have heard of your struggles, and ahm ere to whisk you ahway to Hogwarts Haute Ecole of Drraaasage". 

I felt a warm moistness spreading between my thighs.  (I guess that is to be expected when riding bareback on a sweaty horse).  

"Brav, Herr Greyenhoff.....Brav"

Oh.. wait a minute. I am in the wrong blog, aren't I.  That is the one I am writing to actually make money.  Sorry about that.

Where was I.  Oh yes.  Hunter Deprogramming lessons on Swiffer.

Really, there wasn't all that much work to be done.  I only had a few areas of weakness that needed addressing... my seat, of course, as well as my arms, torso and legs.  Maybe some fine tuning on my hands, feet, fingers, and head and eyes (which still insisted on swiveling around to look for the next jump, instead of staring intently down at the neck of my horse, oblivious to any and all people, events, explosions which may be in our vicinity, as is de rigeur for shitty beginner dressage riders).

There is a lot of psychology stuff out there on how long it takes to break bad habits.  Some people say it takes 90 days.  Others - 3 months.  To this, I say - HA!!!  IF ONLY.

My opinion is that you may be able to beat a bad habit into submission for some period of time, but really they are like bad breath.  They sneak up on you and return without you even knowing, until the day people recoil in horror when they are in your presence.  Oh my god, how can she not notice how BAD that is!  Maybe they offer you gum.  (in the case of bad breath - the reason is obvious.  If you are riding, it might be some desperate and likely totally in vain attempt to help you to stick your ass in the fucking saddle like you have been told to do approximately 5,000,000 times).

I think I mentioned earlier that I am taking golf lessons.  I go to this high tech indoor golf centre, where they rig you up in a harness with a long wire hanging out of your back like you are an Avatar  creature, only less tall, sexy and blue.  Then, they take pictures of your golf swing while the Avatar harness measures every pathetic turn and angle of your body.  Next, to make things really sad, they show you pictures of yourself beside Tiger Woods, or some other person who can actually golf.  Lastly, they put them all online for you, so any time you want to feel bad about your golf game, you can peruse pictures of your hunchy twisted self next to Michelle Wie's willowy elegance on demand.

After about my second lesson, my instructor said to me "Curmudgeon, I don't want you to get discouraged about the fact that I have to keep reminding you to stop (insert bad habit here.  I can't actually remember what it is he was telling me to stop doing.  Which indicates how well I absorbed the lesson, and really goes to prove the point I am about to make)"

"Sometimes it takes several lessons of being reminded before you are able to break a bad habit" he said gently.  (No, no.  He is not a vampire pirate and his curls were not swirling above the square of astroturf.  Stay on track, would you?).

Really.  You don't say.  It actually made me feel very sorry for the guy.  Does he actually have to work with people who think you CAN change a habit and become a superstar in a few lessons?  Then, I thought about his likely clientele... blowhard businessmen, who live in some cloud of disillusionment and think everything they do is just fricking awesome (I am very jealous of these people, and wish I could find one of these clouds myself).  The ones who smoke cigars and laugh loudly on the golf course, while hitting slices deep into the forest on the side of the fairway, taking a mulligan, 3-putting, then marking down 4 for par on the scorecard.

Uhh, yah. I guess he probably does.

I told him not to worry, I wasn't yet discouraged.  Little does he know he is talking to a woman who has spent about $50,000 in lessons, and still can't keep her ass in the saddle during a flying change.  I realize he is not a miracle worker.  And I am ok with that.

I thought about telling him this to make him feel better, but then - maybe it wouldn't.  Maybe it would just make him break into tears and run from the building when faced with the gravity of the situation that he faces over the next six months.  Sometimes no news is good news.
To close this week... I wanted to thank reader Lauren for designing the new header you see on the blog.  She couldn't stand seeing that volunteer wearing shorts at a dressage show anymore, and took it into her own hands to create something less offensive to the eyes.  Thanks Lauren!

And If you want to see a bigger version of the drawing I am working on - look for it on my facebook page!