Tuesday 30 October 2012

Oh Platypus...how I miss your evil orange ass.. NOT

But enough about me and my obsession with watching others fail.

You may be wondering how Ms. V was making out with her new career as a Draaah-saaagh Hass.

Very well, thanks for asking.

In fact, after the surly sideways glances and constant scheming of the of the Platypus, she was truly a delight to work with.

Let me put it to you this way.  Pretend the Platypus and Ms. V were students at the same high school.

The Platypus would have been busily flirting with the cougary Ms. Crabapple type teachers, to distract them from the fact that he was using the wimpier children as drug mules and selling pot in their classes.

Ms. V on the other hand would be distraught and crying in the corner because she got 97 on a test instead of 100, and wondering why-WHERE-HOW she possibly went wrong.

Now, there are owners out there that are perfect matches for both of these horse personality types. To be honest, I don't think I have exactly the right personality type to own anything besides maybe a bicycle, and even Mr. Motard doesn't think I am quite cut out for that.  (Did you know they require something called "maintenance"?)

Thank goodness I wore pants.  I didn't offend dressage people, and had no inner thigh chafing either. Win-win.

To be honest, in retrospect the Platypus really was a much more amusing horse. Do you ever spend time fondly remembering the total asshole bad-boy type you dated in high school, then thanking the lord that he is permanently gone from your life?  Yah.  When I think about the Platypus, I have that same sort of feeling.  Ahh-hahh-haa... good times, glad you are long, fucking, gone.

The funniest thing about him... and we all know a horse like this.. is that he was constantly scheming and cooking up some plan to get out of doing whatever it is you wanted him to do.  But he was such an incredibly bad actor you could practically smell the smoke coming out of his ears as the little hamster in his brain ran on its wheel. This was of course most obvious when you were longeing him, as you could stare right into his sneaky little eye and almost read his evil mind.  It was usually saying something like this...

"Hmm.. I am going to make a run for it.  Yep, I am going to tear over to the gate, and rip that bitch's arm right out of it's socket.  Picture waterskiing through dirt at the end of that longe line - that's what I am envisioning for her.  Here it comes.  Waiiit, wait for it, waaiit, got to make this turn.. then..."  

And he was always shocked when I was ready, braced, wearing sturdy leather gloves, and weilding a longe whip. Typical man. They never expect you to be so well prepared, do they?

Mr. Motard's very very favourite Platypus story revolves around a visit from a work friend of his who had a lifelong dream of riding bareback (yes, I am sure there is something in there that Freud could have a field day with too, but let's stay on script here, shall we?).  And so, we brought him out to live his dream with the Platypus.

He was not a particularly small man, however Arabs in the western world have to deal with much worse, and he was by no means hurting the Platypus in any way as he rode around bareback, hunched over and gripping a hunk of mane in one hand, reins in the other.  But what was annoying the Platypus was his insistence on thump-thump-thumping him with his legs every time he wanted some action, instead of squeezing as I asked him to do repeatedly.

Every time he thump-thump-thumped, I could see the unmistakable look of an annoyed Arab flash across the Platypus' face.  Kind of like the look of a teenager being asked to pick his underwear up off the floor of his filthy bedroom - as I understand it, they are very similar expressions.

Now - I am usually a nice person. Well, sometimes I am a nice person. Ok, I have been nice to people a time or two in my life.  But something came over me that day as I watched this dude ride around in a fetal ball on the pissed off Platypus.  I suggested to him that what he should do - if he really wanted a good ride - was to kick the Platypus again.  Also - sit a little further back.  Yes - right there.  Now give one more good kick.

Mr. Motard still says I am mean to have told my horse to buck off his co-worker.  But I am telling you, it was just too perfect.  I felt some synergistic at-one-with-the-horse power come over me, like some warped and twisted horse whisperer. Yes, I have whispered with this horse.  He says he thinks you are an idiot, and he wants you dead.  Or at least off his fucking back.

And so - riding Ms. V on the typical night was just so easy compared to the psychological mindgames posed by the Platypus that in all honesty, I remember very little of the first 6 months.  Each ride, we longed first in sidereins and surcingle, switched to saddle, walk-trotted around, and that was that. Nothing really memorable happened.

Err.. I guess that is not entirely true.  Because although I really and truly don't believe in payback or Karma or whatever you call it (I just pretend to, in order to keep you new-age type readers intrigued), sometimes it really does seem to come and get you, doesn't it.

Shortly after I moved to Lilliput, Coach Ritenau's father showed up at the barn, coincidentally right about the time I was getting ready to ride. I proudly showed off my horse to him, and told him the wonderful work his daughter had been doing with me to get her going under saddle.  I then lead her up to the mounting block, swung my leg over ... not quite high enough, kicked her squarely in the ass, and sent her bucking bronc-ing across the arena, for about 20 metres or so before she put me into the kickboards and then squarely onto MY ass.

I got right back up, jumped on, and continued on with my ride as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Dum-de-dum. But I am sure I heard a sound.. it was faint, but I am certain that somewhere, out there, at a hunter barn east of Toronto, the Platypus was tenting his little evil hooves and laughing demonically.

Touche, Platypus.Touche.

Ahhh- haaa - haaaa!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

I know my riding is awesome... but be honest... does my butt look fat in these pants?

Oh come on... you aren't seriously going to another clinic, are you?  You have already bitched about clinics a few times!  Give up already.

No, no, you have misunderstood my feelings towards clinics entirely.  Really - I LOVE going to good clinics, operative word here being..GOOD.  The clinician must be someone who actually rides, and has proven that they can teach someone to do the same.  Riders should be an even split of amazing pros on horses that are breathtakingly wonderful, and puffing red faced amateurs exactly like me.  One group to inspire, one group to help you feel better about your pathetic inadequacies. Throw in at least one rider who says they are training level but shows up in a double because "I just seem to have more control with it", or has an ewe-necked, 900lb, 25 year old OTTB who is "schooling Grand Prix" just to add a few awkward sideward glance moments. Voila. Perfect clinic.

Believe it or not, I am in fact going to audit a clinic this weekend, or as Mr. Motard likes to call them, a "show'n'shine". Based on my description to him of what typically happens at a clinic, he interprets it as an event where people gussy up their horses and ride around showing off their tricks to onlookers (if all goes well), but don't actually compete per se.  Errr.. yah.  It is kind of a show'n'shine I suppose. 

(He even asked if he could attend this particular "show'n'shine" with me, for something to do.  When I told him he would have to sit on a lawnchair wrapped in the emergency blanket from the trunk of his car and drink cider from styrofoam cups, he quickly lost enthusiasm.  Thank God.  In reality, there were excellent lunches and delicious brownies and comfortable couches in a heated viewing lounge with piped in sound from the clinician's mike. This shall remain our little secret). 

Anyway, around this time in my journey, I audited a LOT of different clinics. I do think this was a really critical activity that did help me to keep my eye tuned in to riding that did not suck, and how one might go about recreating that in one's very own arena.  Although I did feel that things were progressing well with Coach Ritenau, she kept her upper level horse at a different barn, so I didn't get to see her ride him, and there were not any other mid to high level riders at Lilliput. Just me, and a few other solidly training level ladies, doing pleasant 20 metre circles.  I needed to keep my eye on what was supposed to happen NEXT...

Because getting Swiffer "supple and moving freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit" in a training level sense of the word was becoming quite easy.  It totally made sense to me now.

What was confusing was... how that possibly morphed into "accepting more weight on the hindquarters, moving with an uphill tendency, especially in the medium gaits, and being reliably on the bit" in a second level sense of the word.  And how the hell I would know exactly what a "greater degree of straightness, bending, suppleness, throughness, balance and selfcarriage" was, and when I had arrived at this point - "the beginning stages of collection".

To make things more confusing - as I mentioned before, when you go to the average show to observe, it seems like there was a whole chunk of people missing from the chain of events. You sort of get the "training level, first, yada-yada-yada, PSG" version of the story more often than not...  flat toplined "dum-de-dum-dum" low level people moving freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm around the outside in the warm-up with flexed, sweaty foamed, arched neck things snorting like steam trains while doing pirouettes and passage in the middle.  I found myself constantly wondering where the pupal stage was...

Enter A, X halt salute.

I reasoned to myself that maybe it was somewhere, out there, transforming .. possibly by attending clinics. 

In truth - the pupae aren't generally seen at clinics either. As in the insect world, whereas worms or caterpillar may be kind of cute or interesting, and butterflies or ladybugs or whatever are beautiful - the pupa stage is generally ugly.  No one gets excited about seeing a webby coocoon or crusty insect shell thing.  Likewise - one would not take their horse in the throes of the webby, crusty stage of training to a show'n'shine.

But what you did see at clinics were lots of people boldly driving their horses right up to the proverbial second level wall, and BANG - smashing into it.  Then kick-nag-kick-nag-kicking at them to try to somehow motor on through it and on to the butterfly stage.

I did get to hear plenty of different suggestions by the clinicians aimed at somehow getting the riders to understand that something much more dramatic was required to get their larval asses into a coocoon.  (Forget about getting out of it.  First things first). Which generally did not happen, and the clinician eventually backed off so as to save everyone face, encouraged rider to do a few transitions that didn't suck and whole show was generally over.

But now and then - you would go to a clinic with a clinician who really didn't care who the hell he or she pissed off.  Who told it like it was, even if it made people very upset, all for the right reasons.  And what they generally told these women was - make your horse go forward, and let go of its face when he does.

I started to feel good about the fact that I could SEE there was a problem - but more uncomfortable than ever about the fact that these riders just didn't seem to be able to get anything out of their horses that approached the power and suppleness that would be needed to change caterpillar into butterfly. I also was starting to feel more uneasy about the fact that such a large percentage of riders could not see or feel that what it is they were doing while riding was not taking them anywhere near where they had to be.  So many riders truly seemed confused when the clinician burst their "we are going to show third this summer" bubble.

And if you think I am being judgmental here, or catty - really, I am not.  Forget sitting the trot, or learning the footfalls or whatever other crap you may be worrying about now.  Just knowing when you suck - that is a skill that really takes time to develop.

Thursday 11 October 2012

You say outside.. I say inside... you say canter...I say travers...canter, travers, canter, travers..how bout you get the hell off...

Well, it was a rainy long weekend here in Canada... and you know what that means.  I have had time to go on a few bulletin boards and do a bit of stalking.  I don't do this as often as I should, and as a result I miss great opportunities to share. 

For example, one post that was already pretty dead when I got there was about white gloves - wear them / don't wear them, blah blah blah, and most of all, what a pain they are because they always get filthy.

Had I been earlier to the party, I could have shared my "white glove/smooth ass" protocol:

- buy only white gloves of synthetic material with the little plastic nibby things on the palm and fingers
- after your gloves get dirty (read: after one show, possibly after one class or one warm up, or just after leading your horse to the warm up), wear the gloves while you take your next shower
- use plenty of nice body wash, and scrub your butt and other scaly areas with the little plastic nibby things while you shower
- rinse foamy black horse filth and skin particles generated during exfoliation off of your butt
- rinse and wring gloves out when you are done and hang on line.

Voila - you have clean gloves and a smooth ass, and your secret is safe with me.  Win-win. I have yet to try wearing my filthy white breeches in the shower and scrubbing THEM with the white gloves, but that option on the theme would probably work too.  Which idea is better?  Well, your breeches would be clean, however your butt would not be as well exfoliated.  As with many other things in dressage, it really comes down to deciding on your priorities, and following through with a plan.  I can't make this decision for you.

Ahhh, I am feeling smoother already.
Anyway, the post that caught my eye today was the one on canter aids for dressage horses, and whether or not a horse that has been taught to canter from an outside leg aid is a good bet as a dressage prospect.

WTF?  Really?

If this is really and truly your biggest concern regarding whether or not you should buy any given dressage horse, I certainly hope your budget is in the comfortable six-figured range that will allow you to become picky about totally irrelevant things.  In the grand scheme of things this "problem" is right up there with pimple on ass or mane not silky enough (as many posters have pointed out).  If you can ride your way out of a wet paper bag, you can fix this "issue" in about a week.

However, as stupid as I feel this question may be, the discussion did get me thinking about something that dressage people say that drives me a bit insane.  It also gives me a chance to do some reverse hunter-bashing, since I have been a bit harsh on these posing prissies the last few posts...(oops, I am doing it again, aren't I.  Sorry, it is a compulsive habit) and as Anonymous 6 October 2012 10:23 pointed out, GM (that is "Gee the Man" George Morris people!) can do smokin' hot tempis when mounted on a totally trained horse.  (To Anonymous 6 October 2012 10:23 I say... wow, how about that NHL lockout!  When do you think we will see them back on the ice?)

Dressage people of the world, if you ever find yourself uttering the phrase:

Ha ha, I let my hunter friend ride Schnecke yesterday, and she couldn't even get him to move, let alone canter!  Stupid hunter people.  They can't ride at all.  We are so much better than them.  

Consider this...maybe you are better than them.  Maybe you aren't.  But if a five year old cannot get on your horse and make it go forward and DO STUFF, there is the possibility that a big part of the problem is that your horse is just not all that well schooled.  Perhaps what you have been doing is not creating a finely tuned dressage horse, but instead painstakingly crafting a surly douchehorse that no one enjoys riding but you. (Just throwing it out there).

The stuff that they do may be eye-burningly bad.  But regardless...your horse should go forward when leg is on, yield to contact, swing butt to-and-fro when lateral aids are applied (even poorly and if that is in no way the intention of the rider), and move sideways and forward in some sort of leg-yeildy/half-passy direction if asked to do so.  And yes - if outside leg is back, and inside leg is on - horse should make some attempt to canter, probably in an aggressively haunches-in position - but canter nonetheless.

There are some things your horse may not be able to do with a beginner rider on board - clean flying changes are one of them, since if your horse is falling on the forehand with a rider on its neck, it will be nearly impossible for him to get his haunches down and under to jump through properly (this may also be observed at the end of a line of 4's if adult am dressage rider finds herself in the same place on horse's neck due to her inability to keep her ass in the saddle for five consecutive changes.  So I have heard).

But with a little instruction, lots of the "tricks" should be easy, if not totally pretty. After all, I have seen Mr. Motard - who really can't ride at all - execute beautiful mediums on a retired GP oldster, doing nothing other than sitting back, hanging on for the ride, and screaming "w-w-w-h-h-h-e-e-e-r-r-r-e-e-e i-i-i-s m-y-y-y b-a-a-g-g-g s-u-p-p-p-o-s-e-d-d t-o-o-o b-b-e-e-e I-I-I a-m-m c-r-r-u-s-s-h-h-h-i-i-n-n-g m-m-y-y-y n-u-t-t-t-s".  (I was unable to answer the question).

(With no instruction at all, the horse will eventually give up and start giving the finger, which is why buying a schoolmaster and not keeping them in training is a stupid idea, as has been pointed out by many as well.  Which is no different in hunter, is it?  Anyone ever heard the one about the poor beginner who bought the point-n-shoot that will no longer jump a stick and is now winning the hack division?)

I desperately did not want Ms. V to become the surly douchehorse that no one wants to ride.  But I knew that the odds were against me, as clinic season was beginning here in Ontario, and there were lots of opportunities to pull up an uncomfortable lawnchair, wrap myself in the smelly trunk blanket, and watch and learn.  Good clinics this time, put on by decent barns, with a few excellent riders.  Along with many, many adult ams who were busily creating exactly this type of beast.

And one thing that became quite evident is that although much is said about the evils of "crank" - and it does make for great photo opps for the rabidly anti-deep-n-round crew - really, a good blue-tongue inducing crank takes a degree of strength, athleticism and determination that many of us adult am ladies don't possess. It is just not observed that frequently in our circles.  A gentle nagging spur-whip-spur-whip is much more our speed, isn't it....

Saturday 6 October 2012

It all seems so easy at the gynecologists...

So, it was definitely my hands that needed immediate attention and improvement.

But...just wondering...

Am I the only one whose legs continually contracted up towards my body like testicles in cold water?

Most of my other bad habits could be somewhat camouflaged for now, since I was officially a "training level rider".   But it is pretty hard to camoflague the fact that your feet are hovering in the pockets of air somewhere inside your stirrups, without actually pressing down on them. Anywhere. Or to hide the fact that your knees are protruding past the front of your saddle. Even the blind can tell something is amiss when the rhythmic sound of boots bobbing off of floating stirrups now and then follows you wherever you go. (Be sure to wear spurs to add a flashy metallic *ting* to your musical ride). 

Curmudgeon!  Seriously?  Didn't you practice riding without stirrups to learn to LENGTHEN YOUR LEG?

Ahhh yes.  Riding without stirrups.  The cure all, magical panacea to oh, so many equestrian woes. Hands up if you have ever heard a hunter rider who is pooh-poohing the difficulties of dressage utter a phrase something along the lines of this...

"Oh it must be so easy to sit the trot in a dressage saddle.  You have such LONG stirrups!  Really it must be like riding in no stirrups at all!  And that is EASY!"

Yes, it is, my hunter/jumper friends. If you are anything like I was, trotting with no stirrups IS easy, no doubt.  As is cantering, and jumping stuff as well. In fact - if you are a somewhat competent rider, all of these things can easily be done bareback too.  Apparently if you REALLY master these skills and team them up with a death grip crest release and a $100,000 ex-jumper, you are well on your way to a big Maclay Eq win.

If you were or are a good little hunter princess, at some point in time you probably put a lot of effort into mastering the hunter "ride with no stirrups" leg.  This lovely look is created by first firmly bending the leg into the appropriate right angles - shoulder/hip/heel alignment! - next, the toe is jammed aggressively skyward, heel aggressively down - lastly, this whole assortment of angles is superglued to the horse's side, never to move or jiggle regardless of what the horse may do with his shoulders, hips or heels, or what alignment he may try to put them in.

Yes, any hunter trainer worth anything uses a few minutes of "no stirrups" like some sort of sadistic tool on their students.  Come on now kids, cross 'em over the pommel - you know the drill.  I even had an instructor at one point in time who bragged about riding whole courses with no stirrups AND no girth, while her mighty coconut cracking thighs clamped her saddle perfectly in place. 

(I have no idea what became of her, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that she has continued on with her tradition of bragging about useless skills - perhaps she has switched to dressage and now pontificates about how she can execute poorly ridden GP test in a bitless bridle. In retrospect, I do wonder why - if this story was true - she didn't put these mighty gams to use performing erotic feats of strength at the Sword and Shield or Pure Gold. She could have earned enough money to buy a decent horse then and wouldn't have had to put up with teaching us stupid bouncing kids).
And so, around we all went, doing a pinchy kneed "rising trot", which consisted of gluing the lower leg to the horse and pivoting around awkwardly from the thighs up, gradually sanding all of the skin off of the insides of our knees. Or, "sitting trot" - which entailed slowing your horse down to a virtual crawl (also known as "collected trot" in hunter circles) and firmly vise-gripping the entire lower body around the horse's barrel, eliminating any wiggle anywhere.  The good news for hunters is (as you soon find out in dressage), clamping on to your horse's body with your legs blocks any looseness or swing, and does generally cause your horse to grind down to a barely moving shuffling trot, which makes keeping everything firmly adhered in place quite simple.  Ahh it feels so right, doesn't it?

Anyway, where am I going with this - oh yes.  Perhaps if you are one of those prepubescent Spanish riding school boys I mentioned way back when, with unspoiled by hunter/jumper coach, non-coconut cracking thighs - riding around with no stirrups actually helps you to accomplish something - your leg hangs effortlessly, elegantly draping down your horse's sides like seaweed or wet toilet paper or my greasy hair after a week of backwoods camping (or whatever it is that Sally Swift tells us we are supposed to visualize). 

However - If you are a hard core recovering hunter rider - you only think you are putting in some virtuous saddle time that is taking you closer to long legged, loose hipped Nirvana.  You are probably wrong, Pinchy-Pinches-A-Lot.  Unless you have some good eyes on the ground helping you out to beat your old habits into submission (i.e saying "stop pinching with your knees - stop pinching with your thighs - stop pinching with your calves" regularly), you are wasting your precious time.  The day will come for no-stirrup work.  That day is probably not today.

Yes, readers, it sucks.  But you some day have to learn to ride with your feet actually in contact with the stirrups.  So you might as well uncross them now.  (When the day comes that you no longer hear *ting*ting*ting*ting*... maybe give it another go).