Tuesday 25 December 2012

Sally - what exactly were you smoking when you wrote that book...

Merry Christmas, dear readers, Merry Christmas.

You will be excited to know that this year, Santa has brought me a delightful shitstorm of equine disappointment that I couldn't have made up if I tried.  Unfortunately, you will have to wait to hear about it, but I promise you it will make the shorts episode seem like a non-event.  Even my much hinted at "goin' postal" episode, where I screamed in the face of Mr. "do you think I made it to the World Cup riding the way YOU do" seems like a walk in the park now. And really, I thought it was going to be one of the highlights.  Who knew!

Don't ever think the horse world has let you down to the point where you have reached your ultimate nadir.  I promise you, there is some dork out there ready to fire up their mining equipment and dig you in just a little deeper.

But first, back to our story.  The quicker I get this other stuff out of the way, the quicker we can all be depressed by my equine life as it stands today, a bunch of posts down the road.  Sounds like fun, doesn't it.  Let's go, shall we!

So now where were we...(I have been so tied up in real-time curmudgeonly activities, I have totally lost track...) oh yes - I had mastered training level on a 17 year old horse, but unlike many other middle aged women, I decided to continue on with my journey.  I said goodbye to The Swiffer, got out my crampons, and took the next steps towards "climbing the pyramid"...

Paddy Boy was just the man to help me to do it.  He was also an elderly New Forest Pony, but he was confirmed second level - which, if you have spent more than 15 minutes on any dressage bulletin board - you know is "THE DOORWAY TO THE UPPER LEVELS"...

Why Curmudgeon?  What is it about second level that separates the hunters doing a pattern from the horses doing DRAAA-SAH-GGG.  

Well, there are different ways to look at answering this question.

The textbook response is of course, that second level is where the first seeds of collection are planted.  The Purpose of first level is said to be to confirm a horse has "developed the thrust to achieve improved balance and thoroughness and to maintain a more consistent contact with the bit".  The purpose of second level is to confirm that the horse "accepts more weight on the hindquarters (collection); moves with an uphill tendency; and is reliably on the bit".  (According to our Competitions Handbook, a horse does not have to be "reliably on the bit" until 2nd level, but according to our judges - god forbid a three year old be "fussy in the contact" during a walk trot class.  Makes perfect sense, no?)

As a scribe, what I can tell you about second level from observing many a mind-numbingly boring test is this - any half decent horse can go into the ring and bop around doing a snappy tempo'd trot, some leg yeild with haunches here and there, in and out (depending on whether the instructions say shoulder-in or renvers)... and if they keep their head dead still, and are quiet and obedient - they are likely to crack 60.

But where the definition between the two levels beings to really show itself is in one of the movements that seems so simple, but in fact is really hard to do, and clearly demonstrates if a horse is just plowing around on the forehand and not sitting down and engaging it's hind end, or is actually starting to get a clue...

The simple change of lead.

Which is why it is correctly (in my opinion anyways, for what that is worth - nothing really) a double coefficient in tests 1 and 2.  (More on this later).

However, as a struggling adult am rider I can tell you the true difference between first and second level.

That nice little statement "All trot work may be ridden sitting or rising, unless stated" has cruelly been ripped from the test headers at second level.  That's right ladies.  Find yourself a sturdy non-chafing sports bra, and have a seat.  You aren't going anywhere in dressage until you do.

I would like to say that with my exceptional athleticism and equestrian prowess, I was able to easily master the sitting trot.  But if I did, first of all, all of you mere mortals would hate me for being so wonderful.  Secondly, I would be a raging liar.  Because I struggled to master sitting trot on any horse, and on Ms. V in particular until I we pretty much reached second level together.

It is not that I didn't try.  I read Sally Swift, and I faithfully tried to envision my ass nestled into a warm pile of mashed potatoes smeared all over the saddle, or whatever the hell freakish visual image she encouraged me to conjure up in my mind in "Centered Riding".  I thought of pedaling a bike backwards.  I tried to pretend I was doing the hoochie koo.  I imagined being gang raped by monkeys, picturing melting ice cream dripping from my amputated knees, dry humping the saddle, and whatever other totally useless thought patterns that were suggested to me on a variety of bulletin boards, in authoritative ways, by people who probably could not truly sit the trot themselves.  Surprise, surprise - none of them worked for me.

Curmudgeon - the key to the sitting trot lies at the base of the pyramid.  Once you master RHYTHM and RELAXATION - your horse will create a place for you to sit, and all will fall into place naturally.  

Sure. Yah. Sounds good. And I would say that is absolutely true for me today - I can get on pretty well any horse and cruise around in sitting trot without any issue.

But back in the day... it was a little more difficult

Because you know how it is. You are going around in posting trot, putting the pieces together...listening to Coach Ritenau

...forrward... ride into the connntact....beeeennnd....inside leg to outside reeeein...don't forget to giiiiveee....(ok, ok, I think I have it, I am climbing the pyramid...rhythm, yep, relaxation, yep...).

Nice Curmudgeon, he looks good.  Now try sitting just for a few strides, then posting again... (ok, ready, thinking mashed potatoes, oozing slime, dripping ice cream...ready...here I go..)

BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG - I would immediately become the ball part of a bolo bat whacking against the poor horse's back with fury.

Do you remember the Wham-O people coming to your schoolyard and doing yo-yo and bolo bat demos to make you want to own one?  Or was that only in Peel District?  (Mr. Motard says they came to his school too, so I am not imagining it)

If there actually were warm mashed potatoes on my saddle, they would have been squirting out from under my ass and spraying at the kickboards along with the ice cream dripping from my knees, and the monkeys would have their gang raping penises snapped right off their torsos (take that, little perverts), as I hoochie-kooed all over the place like a jackhammer.

It is hard for a horse to maintain relaxation and rhythm when they are suddenly faced with all of this. So that magical place to sit everyone talks about - yah, it does exist.  And yah, it will magically disappear the first time your ass gives the saddle a nice hard slap.

Like so many other things in dressage, taking one piece in isolation is easy.  Tying them all together is hard.  So, my advice to you my friend is this - suck it up and keep trying.  There is nothing deep and meaningful that any poster on UDBB can tell you to help you learn to sit the trot.  Don't expect me to provide you with some magical trick here on this blog either, I have no fricking clue what it is. You will suck.  For a long time. Practice. Apologize to your horse daily.  One day, it will all work out.

Enjoy your mashed potatoes with turkey tonight - and watch out for the monkeys.


Sunday 9 December 2012

Aren't you going to put shipping boots on your horse...? Why no. Thanks for asking.

And so, with our showing debut behind us, we hunkered on down for a long Canadian winter of circles and transitions, and all of the other exciting things that one does with a 4 year old horse.

You see Curmudgeon - showing isn't that bad.  Nothing scary happened at all

No, nothing scary did happen at the shows. And thankfully, nothing scary happened driving TO the shows either, due to our careful efforts to learn to go in and out of the trailer in a safe and orderly fashion. And as you may recall, this trailering portion of the whole event was actually the part that freaked me out the most. "Practice makes Perfect" loading and unloading sessions are of course the most essential element to  easing one's worried mind with respect to trailering

However, as with everything else in the horse world, if practicing and perfecting are just not enough to ease your psycho neurotic mind... the horse world has an app for that.  As in - some expensive gizmo or piece of tack you can spend money on and app-ly to your horse, in hopes of protecting them from whatever it is your psycho neurotic horse owning mind is keeping you up at night worrying about. For me, it was the image of Ms. V kicking her spindly toothpick legs through various surfaces on the Red Rocket.  No matter how many times she stomped on and off the trailer during practice, I could not simulate what might happen once the ramp was shut and we were rolling down the road.  

Now, those of you that know me, know that I am a zero effort horse owner.  I don't spend a lot on the frills. Hay. Water. Pellets. $9.99 plastic brush boots from Greenhawk. That's how I roll. I am the anti-tack whore. I am like the wizened and withered, lock-legged spinster of the tack buying world, or tack nun, or something like that.  But this once, way back when, because of these sleepless nights....I decided to break my own rules.  I decided to invest in the ultimate bubble wrap of horse transport - those big honking kevlar sausage shipping boots that come up to the horse's crotch, and make the same swoosh-swoosh-swoosh sound as a snowsuit as your horse parades awkwardly around the yard.

No slouchy old poo stained cottons and stretched out bandages for Ms. V.  Her legs would be encased in the equine equivalent of bullet proof vests, because I was a loving, caring, concerned horse owner. 

Top all of this off with a dorky leather chapeau - and we were ready to hit the road in perfect safety.  

No, it is not Camilla Parker Bowles sporting her favourite fascinator at the Royal Wedding. It is Ms. V ready for the Red Rocket
No practice makes perfect session is complete unless you use all of the equipment during your practice.  And so, I got Ms. V suited up and prepared to take her off to the Red Rocket to try out our new ensemble.

She stood quietly in the crossties wearing her new duds as I wandered off whistling to get her leadshank.

Then - she moved.

Next - she went ENTIRELY FREAKING BANANAS.  Like I had never seen her go entirely freaking bananas before, and thankfully have never seen her go since.

There was rearing. flailing. flipping, falling. Eventually, there was the ripping of crosstie eyebolts out of walls, and finally, the ripping of $100 shipping boots off of legs, using some combination of walls and other legs.

And there was of course about 4 absolutely stunned and helpless bystanders wondering what the hell they could do to stop the insanity, yet also wanting to live to see another day without having their head kicked off by the freakshow going on before their eyes.  As luck would have it, we were all unfortunately behind her - so grabbing her head was not an option.  (Not that it would have helped much, I don't think, to be honest).

Finally, after what seemed like a really long time, but was probably only seconds, there was one shaking, snorting horse, staring intently at the tattered remnants of the leg-eating sausages, with a look on her face that clearly said..

"take that, you son's-a-bitches. Want another piece of me?"

Curmudgeon!  You almost killed your horse!  Don't you know you should always....(please insert your own favourite piece of know-it-all advice right here). 

Yes, I did think of all of these things.  I ran them through my psycho-neurotic mind that night, as I laid now doubly sleepless in bed, worried not only about toothpick legs flying through the walls and windows of the Red Rocket, but about pieces of shipping boots flying out after them and bouncing off the windshields of passing cars.

Should the crossties have had pieces of twine attaching them to the walls, so they would have broken free easily?  Maybe.  But then we would have had an insane horse running loose through the aisles.

Should I have introduced the boots more slowly?  Maybe. But she had worn her poo stained cottons and stretched out old bandages several times without incidence, and wore her $9.99 Greenhawk brush boots every day.  Who knew these would push her over the edge?

Should I have just stuck to my old plan of being the tack spinster?  Yes. That was the only answer.  I was being punished by the aliens that run the simulation for swaying from my strategy to be the world's most cheap-ass, curmudgeonly horse owner.  One who did not spend a dime on stupid shit that horses don't really need.  Like big honking shipping boots. Or a $3000 saddle when there is nothing at all wrong with the $500 one.  Ooops, I am getting ahead of myself again here, aren't I.

(Oh - by the way - please feel free to tell a tale of a horse you know who's hock got popped off like a bottlecap, or who's knee was rubbed right off of its body due to the absence of big honking shipping boots, to prove me horribly wrong.  I love that).

Monday 3 December 2012

For the record, neither of us spat-up on the judge (despite what the remarks section says)

I went to another Bronze show and again entered the W/T classes, with very similar results - scores hovering around 60%, no ribbons, and lots of comments relating to steadiness in contact.

The second judge actually said in remarks "nice horse, but fusses with head.  Ride more forward for better contact"

And there you have it.  Dressage in a nutshell.  Thanks judge.  I will get on that.

Reading this years later, the "fussy" part still bugs me, partly because I can envision from my days of scribing the sighs and bored annoyance on the part of the judge that probably accompanied the comment.  Oh, for the love of god.  Another chompy-chomps-a-lot horse poking around the dressage court.  Kill me now.

I know, dear judge, I know. Watching 10 walk trot classes really is dull.  But I said it before, I will say it again - Curmudgeon family credo.."if it was fun, they wouldn't call it work", and last I checked, judges get paid. A young horse that is imperfect in the contact is not "fussy".  It is learning.  It is your job to be able to identify this, and put some sort of non-negative, yet not entirely positive spin on the deal.

Fussy implies having some sort of a meltdown, maybe spewing foamy cream coloured milk vomit on the shoulder of a well-meaning aunt, or parents leaving a party early because all of the other guests want to kill them and their wailing baby and are secretly wondering why they didn't spring for a sitter like the rest of them.

Forcing a judge to watch a bit-chomping 3 year old is more on par with suffering through a niece's really bad piano or dance recital (this coming from a woman who once forced her relatives to watch  a chunky young Curmudgeon perform the"Parade of the Pink Elephants" tap dancing recital, while wearing a hood with big ears and a Hannibal Lecter type mask thing with a trunk crafted out of the hose from a 1950's hair dryer, and a pink leotard).  They will either get better at the whole affair and progress, eventually getting lucrative jobs as uhh..."dancers"...or they won't, and will be stuck doing boring office jobs with the rest of us.  Just like horses.

I do totally agree with the comment regarding "riding more forward", however.

The problem is, "riding more forward" on a young horse, "energizing" their gaits, keeping them "swinging", while at the same time "up and open", "slightly in front of the vertical", and "supple over the back" (all comments to come on later tests at training level) is a horrifically difficult feat.

One easy solution is - draw reins.  Voila.  Head is steady.  And you can put your leg on and drive the horse as forward as you would like, because with all of the extra control the draw reins offer, you can stop even the most freight train inspired horses you might encounter.

The other is - put them really deep, really round, and then put your leg on.  Forward, swinging, supple, overtempo.  Voila, once again.

Another would be - outfuss them.  Start sawing on their face and really jerking your hands around.  "Set her back", "Release" in the words of the time machine schoolmaster coach.  I have witnessed her in the show ring several times now, yanking and flapping during her warm-up tour, and I must say, when she does eventually enter the ring and stop, her horses seem to be just so relieved that the party is over in their mouth they do keep their heads fairly still.

Or, lastly, as hinted at by Lauren - you could just ignore it and keep on riding well and learning and improving, until one day with enough good time under saddle, it goes away.

Don't expect the judges to go for this one though.  I can hear the tongue clicks and deep inhales already.