Thursday 31 January 2013

Yes. If you die a crazy cat lady surrounded by 80 cats in your apartment, they will eat you. All of you. yes, Even your by-products. (Am I seriously being paid to have this conversation?)

But enough of that... back to the story.

The only problem is, there was really not much of a story to tell for a number of months.  Our last big show was at the end of September, then we hunkered on down for a long winter of essential but not particularly interesting riding.

Lots of walking. Trotting. Cantering. Circles. Surely you don't want to read a blow-by-blow of eight months of this.

We did learn to ditch the habit of longeing before each ride, since it clearly did not go well with arriving at small slippery schooling shows.  And cantering eventually became an everyday occurrence, even on cold days when it was a bit more, uh, enthusiastic, than I might have liked.  With brakes and steering now fully installed, even if Ms. V felt the need to spurt off like a nutbar now and then I was pretty confident I could get her under control before she shot through the wall of the coverall arena fabric like a stripper bursting out of a cake.

Woah!  Woah! Woah!!

However, even though things were pretty same-old, same-old for her, there was a big change in my life - I got a new job.

Not that I was actually looking for one.  There was really nothing wrong with my current job, and as you may recall, I had been there less than a year.

At the time, I was a product developer in the food industry, working primarily on processed meat based products.  It is not that this job did not have it's perks - I got to wear crappy clothes to work and didn't have to brush my hair or wear any makeup, as we were provided with lab coats and hairnets on arrival and no one cared how we looked.  I worked 7:00 am until 3:30.  Every day. No overtime. Ever. When the whistle blew at 3:30, I slid on out of there like Fred Flinstone down the dinos neck.  And I had a non-stop supply of salty processed meats and chicken fingers at my disposal... yes, I know the secrets of bologna and hot dogs, and yes, I do still eat them both in moderation.  Mmm.  Bungs.  

Get over it you bunch of fucking wimps.  If you eat an animal's legs or body, why not eat it's bung too? Seriously, what is the difference?
However - my passion was not really food science or product development per se. I loved food, no doubt. But I also loved nutrition. And I loved animals. I had spent years at school to become an "animal nutritionist", whatever the hell that is.

So, when a headhunter called and told me he had an awesome opportunity available that involved working with pets (no, no, not turning them into Korean red hots. Actually working WITH them) that was also a rung up the proverbial ladder (it sported the word manager at the end of the title, but then really, what job doesn't these days), paid much more, and the best part - involved copious amounts of travel - well how sexy is that! How could I possibly refuse!  

A few interviews later - I was in. Good-bye MSG, hello - uh - pet owning whackjobs.  I was a PR type person - kind of "the face" of nutrition for the Canadian arm of a multinational pet food company. Does that sound great or what!  Let me see if I can .... recall ... some of the fun times I had in that role!  Oh wait - that will be in my other blog, Curmudgeon who swears she will never ever again work in the pet industry...

(and no, it is not because of "the industry" itself. Not at all. Sure, it has its issues - like every other industry, including whichever one you work in yourself, I am sure.

What pushed me over the edge was the fact that many pet owners are FUCKING INSANE (but you are not one of them, right?). Talking to them on a daily basis made me want to kill myself to end the pain of being told "Who cares how long you studied nutrition, Curmudgeon, you stupid, lying, industry shill.... I read about pet food on the internet, I know my shit..)

Get over it you bunch of fucking wimps - if you eat an animal's leg or breast, why can't your dog eat it's cloaca? Seriously, what is the difference?  
And so, I found myself in a new job, with a new conundrum that faces many dressage riders.

The nice increase in my salary meant that I now had the cash I needed for more lessons and training and showing to get Ms. V to where I envisioned her going...PSG.

However the endless travel and long hours that I had to put in to get this money meant that she might be making the journey without me.


Monday 21 January 2013

Horses. The safer, less apathetic choice.

Curmudgeon!  Where the hell are you.  It has been days since you posted last!

Sorry about that.  I have been busy working on material for my next blog - "Sailing Curmudgeon".  Here, you can read about the adventures of a bitchy woman who spent a full week living on a 44' Catamaran with her in-laws.  Much to the amazement of most people who know her, she did not kill or maim anyone.

Cheap rum in the form of kickass Painkillers plays a big role in accomplishing this feat - should you ever want to try it yourself.

However, another thing that helps to keep people who might normally drive you a bit nutty on their best behaviour and under your control is a nice, low-grade dose of fear.

No, not scared shitless fear - but just enough to loosen up their turds and make the heads on board smell really, really bad. 

And - sailing is kind of scary.  This is the third time Motard and I have done a bareboat charter in the British Virgin Islands and I was still not entirely at ease.  Granted, I did much better than the first time, when we were unfortunate enough to head out into wild blue yonder only a day ahead of a tropical storm. 

(Note to all the men out there - when your terrified significant other asks you, in the middle of the night, as your sailboat thrashes around on its mooring ball during a tropical storm... "Honey...I am scared.  Are we going to be alright?"... the correct answer is NOT.."uhh...I don't know...".  For her sake, do your best to fake some level of competence.) 

And this week, as we cruised around watching a variety of sailing families screaming at each other as their boats effortlessly ripped ropes out of their hands while unsuccessfully trying to hook moorings (reverse!  Reverse you moron, REVERSE!!)...

Or while their dingies flailed around in the pounding surf trying to kill a Grandma from Newfoundland - (who, although she couldn't swim her way out of a bathtub, really wanted to visit the pretty desert island with the crashing waves -Yikes, Grandma, watch yourself there...lifejackets don't do much to prevent "crushed by dinghy" type injuries..)

Or hearing tales of $500,000 rental boats caught up in coral reefs ("we just don't have coral like that in Boston!" was the explanation given to Motard by the bewildered wife of the incompetent captain)

....I spent a lot of time thinking about how lucky we are that horses, for the most part, are so wonderfully forgiving when it comes to hobbies we may choose to participate in that could easily kill us.

I know, I know - you have probably had at least one friend or relative tell you otherwise.  I am still sometimes amazed to find that there are people out there who are genuinely afraid of horses. Or truly think they are all shifty-eyed killers - especially after watching the documentary "Buck".  The man is a miracle worker, Curmudgeon, you really have to see it. Horses are DANGEROUS creatures.  So unpredictable. 

(Those among us who have actually worked with horses do have to agree about the miracle part of "Buck".  How the man manages to fill clinic after clinic with total morons flummoxed by the challenging task of getting a horse to walk in a semi-obedient circle around them on a lead rope without getting their arms chewed off or something is really quite amazing).

But for the most part - our horses really and truly are saints.

Think of all of the other adventure sports there are out there - skiing, motocross, snowmobiling, suduko - there is not a single other one where you can be entirely and hopelessly incompetent - but if teamed with the right piece of equipment - your equipment will do its best to make sure it is not hurt or maimed, driven into a wall, lit on fire, sunk to the bottom of the sea, smashed into other pieces of equipment... etc. etc... allowing you to cling on like a tick and have an awesome time even in the total absence of any skill on your part (provided you don't fall off and get trampled). 

Case in point:  Just about any yahoo with an opposable thumb to run the throttle thinks they can hop aboard a snowmobile and have some fun. Many of the same yahoos are afraid of horses.

Yet...Mr Motard managed to go on a 4 day horseback riding tour of Ireland - mostly at an out of control gallop - without dying:

Many thanks to our leader Kiki for helping to keep Mr. Motard alive
While a co-worker of mine wound up here after 4 hours on a snowmobile:
As I ran through the trees to help him, he yelled out "Don't worry Curmudgeon! I hit this tree and it stopped me from driving over the cliff!" Silver lining - every cloud. 

When staring in the face of danger, a good horse will go to remarkable lengths to save its own ass, and your sorry one will benefit as well.  A mechanical vehicle, mountain bike, boat or kayak or other item at the mercy of the wind or water will rip off your arms and legs, sand your face off on the pavement, or drown you with total indifference, and without even slowing down to give you time to ponder your own imminent death. 

And horses - they really aren't that unpredictable now, are they.  They are just like people.  They don't want to do work they don't have to do. They don't like being around people who treat them unfairly, or act like wanks. They get scared sometimes and freak out.  If they found themselves on a sailboat, they would have bad diarrhea too.

Next time your horse does something annoying or disappointing, and acts like a total nutbar while passing a potted mum at C or similarly irritating thing, don't take it personally.  Your sailboat would probably have already killed you by now.

Sunday 6 January 2013

Don't overthink it Curmudgeon. Eat Less. Feel more.

It is winter here in Canada.

You know that that means. We buy skis, snoeshoes, and trendy puffer jackets with saucy hoods and cuffs trimmed in silky cat fur harvested in China.

The really moronic among us who are doing our best to deny climate change in Southwestern Ontario spend upwards of $10,000 on a snowmobile and accompanying insurance and trail pass. All for the opportunity to spend 6 hours driving to Sudbury a few times a year to get the chance to actually use the smelly thing, thereby justifying our crazy expenditure.

Motard is ...CANADIAN! (but that is actually my sled).

But what it actually means is - although we put a brave face on regarding the horrific climate in which we live, what we really spend most January days doing is dreaming of getting on a plane and escaping this slush coated hellhole and going somewhere else. Somewhere WARM.  To lie on a beach and work on our skin cancer.

The one good thing about snowmobiling is that you get to wear a lot of bulky clothes and no one notices the size of your ass.  The bad thing about going someplace warm is that you don't, and everyone does.

Now, I am sure we can all agree that one of the funnest experiences of being a few pounds overweight is going out to dinner with a 5'11", willowy twig-like ectomorph of a buddy, who, while scraping the last traces of whipped cream off of her dessert plate, (as you finish up your water with lemon) announces:

Seriously Curmudgeon - I think that a rider with a reasonable amount of "feel" probably does not need to focus on the horse's legs to this degree.

As though it had never occurred to you that the easiest way to look smoking hot in a bikini is to not worry about calories, or exercise, or any of the other tedious methods that may have been suggested to you to achieve our unrealistic culturally defined version of hotness.  

The best way to look hot in a bikini is to be born with the genetic ability to ...uhh... look hot in a bikini. 

Oh - wait a minute.  I am getting my blogs all mixed up here, aren't I. That is a passage from my other blog, "short-ass, sawed off and hammered down Curmudgeon who must watch everything she eats, especially since she is now over 40 and her metabolism is on some sort of crazy hard-core work to rule that any Ontario elementary teacher would envy"

What do you say to a rider who just isn't FEELin' it?  Saying "you just have to learn to feel when to apply the aids" is like saying to an overweigh person "you just have to eat less".  

Why yes, of course. Great tip. How does my fork FEEL in your eye?

(The hunter equivalent of this is of course the naturally gifted rider who says "Did you even look for your spot there? It was right there!  Didn't you SEE your spot?  Just ride your horse forward to your spot. The five strides will come naturally once you get your spot to the first jump!)

The problem with being human is - sometimes we just aren't endowed with the genetic potential to "JUST DO IT".  So fuck off, Nike.

Unfortunately, I was blessed with neither the ability to look effortlessly hot in a bikini, nor feel the precise moment to apply a perfect aid.  

However, the good news is - these things can be learned. Being a rider with "feel" is not a secret club you can't get into.  Don't despair. 

By following the concepts learned during too many years studying nutrition, and running an insane amount of kilometers per week, I now understand how not to morph into a shapeless roll-laden Sharpei dog, and it is such second nature that it takes very little thought or effort - it is part of my daily routine, and now comes naturally to me.  

And - likewise - by spending time learning where my horse's feet were once upon a time, way back when...and playing around to see how my aids affected them at different points in my horse's gait - knowing when to apply an aid now comes fairly naturally to me.  I don't have to put a lot of thought into when to ask to get the effect I want.  I have learned FEEL.  It did not come naturally to me.

Had I not done this - and had I just ridden around waiting for FEEL to strike me like lightning - the process would have been much more frustrating. I would suggest if you are waiting for this lightning - what the hell. You might want to give the footfalls thing a try. 

(If FEEL does come naturally to you - well, aren't you fucking special.  Where is my fork...)

We probably all have had different moments when we were struck by the fact that something was horribly wrong with the timing of our aids.  For me - the biggest revelation that perhaps there was room for improvement was in the walk-canter transition. 

(Which of course is one of those transitions where your hunter friends scoff at you "...Oh Curmudgeon!  We ALWAYS canter from the walk.  It is EASY!"

No. No you don't.  And no, no it isn't at first. Hunters typically canter from one or two strides of trot, shoved between the walk and canter. (Which is why the "simple change of lead through walk" cannot be faked by a hunter rider trying to show second level)).  

A dressage walk-canter transition happens in one, beautiful light step, and a good one is really one of my favourite things about dressage - so simple, so smooth, when done correctly. 

The problem is - as your horse is walking (inside hind) -two (inside fore) -three (outside hind) -four (inside fore), one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four... there is only one moment when the outside hind foot is about to take its turn in sequence - and that is the moment when you can step into a perfect, light canter.  

If you ask at any other time - the horse physically has no option but to wait for his legs to catch up with your request. It might happen...but it will take a second.  

If you are an inexperienced rider with no feel, as was I, that second feels really long.  You start to worry. Oh my god. This can't be right. I am not getting an "instantaneous reaction to my aids".  Why isn't anything happening?  I am asking for canter...giddyup there, Paddy...

And so, my obvious solution was to dig in my heel and apply the aid even harder. That always works, right?

Well, no. Since Paddy had a good haunches-in button installed, this harder aid by outside leg slightly behind the girth meant - haunches-in.  So now I had a crooked horse, unsure as to whether to canter, or crab-step down the longside, or just get pissed off and do absolutely nothing. 

My GOD.  Seriously. It took me a pathetically long time to figure this out.  Poor, poor Paddy.  (May you RIP in horse heaven, where no stupid women are messing with your mind giving you horrid canter aids).  

The worst part is that 25% of the time, entirely by chance - I asked for canter at precisely the right moment and of course thought I was finally doing something right. In fact, I was really just spinning the roulette wheel of legs. YES!  Numbah THREE!  Winna - Winna - Winna (horse steps off in a perfect canter transition).  This only made things even more confusing.  

So, what was my eventual solution to the problem...since FEEL was apparently not one of my wins in the genetic lottery? I needed to develop some little trick to follow, until feel..uh..felt natural. So, for me (and you will have to develop your own plan here, but this is how my brain worked...) the thought process was...

If we count inside hind as #1...inside fore #2....the magic moment of the outside hind stepping into a beautiful, light canter is #3. for outside shoulder to move forward - that would be #4 , the end of a given cycle - then get ready to ask in the next cycle.  

I would count...

#1 (AND...get organized..) - #2 (NOW - my leg is in position ready to give aid) - #3 (CANTER...give the aid)

One might argue that really, I still haven't fully figured this out, as I admittedly ride tempi changes very poorly and the same sort of thought process is involved...but any timing errors are even more  screamingly evident.  At least for walk-canter transitions, if you apply the aid at the wrong time but just hang out patiently waiting, a good horse will step into canter when his legs catch up with your request and onlookers may be none the wiser that you really don't know what you are doing.  

When doing 4-tempis (generally agreed to be the most difficult, believe it or not) - incorrectly timed aids give you some mess of a zig-zagging 4-4-3-4-3 count, likely with a late change or two thrown into the mix as your poor horse counts out 1-2-3-W...1-2-3-T...1-2-3-F... along with you.  

Yah, in this case...onlookers will realize you are a bit out of your league.  Just ask me how I know. 



Tuesday 1 January 2013


Unfortunately, there are other equestrian skills waiting like bouncers at the "doorway to collection".  Get em, or you don't get in.  As with sitting trot, I truly hoped that when the day came that I actually needed to acquire these "open sesame" talents, I could just google up some answers to whatever stood between me - and them - on the internet.

No - and - no.  Sorry. These other skills are just as confusing to learn, and turning to your virtual sofa riding coaches will just make them all the more frustrating, I am sad to say (and this is only second level my friends.  Use of the Double bridle - with ENOUGH contact, but not TOO MUCH contact, and not AVOIDING the CURB is all still to come...if you decide you need a double at all, you "short-cut to collection" seeking, rollkur, razor-blade-monkey lover, you)

Take heart. Should you ever find yourself entirely mystified by exactly what one has to do to learn to sit the trot, here is a suggestion.

Go to your favourite bulletin board and search for the term "footfalls" or "timing of aids".

Suddenly, sitting the trot will seem to be a total cakewalk.  You will have the urge to do some tequila shooters with the monkeys, since they are so fun and easy to be around, as opposed to the footfall posse.  Hoochie Koo boys, Hoochie Koo!

Yes.  I am sorry to say it, but you really do need to learn where your horse's feet are, and when. And yes, you really do need to learn to time your aids.  But seriously... NO, it is not nearly the rocket science you will be lead to believe by these people.

Horses - they have four legs. Four feet (What? You are kidding, right? I told you to do a vet check!). No calculus or other complicated math is necessary to tabulate the endless number of combinations and permutations that this vast array of appendages offers up.  One. Two. Three. Four.

In fact, in two of the three gaits you will be dealing with on a daily basis, your horse will be using at least two of these legs *at the same time* - so you really only have to count to two, or three.  And I am sure we have all had rides where we are happy if more than two feet are on the ground for the majority of our time in the saddle.  If we stay in the saddle.

How then can something like "learning the footfalls" and "timing of the aids" possibly be as complicated as the internet bulletin boards make it sound?

I took a little walk down memory lane and searched for this myself on COTH today.

Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom I found.  Yes, all in one thread!

If you give an aid when the leg has already left the ground the horse has no way to respond to it.

If you give a forward leg aid when the horse's leg is on the ground, you risk quickening and shortening the stride

The horse cannot respond when his foot is on the ground

Err...okay... so I am then supposed to give the aid...when?  

And of course, the go-to response to all questions, as told by classical dressage gurus was provided by someone:

Nothing replaces an understanding of a horses mouvement like the good old fashioned lunging lesson with a competant instructor.  

(Mercifully, this poster does not give us any advice on where to go for a good understanding of grammar or spelling).

One of the more cerebral participants feels the need to ask: 

Can you explain why my hips can't influence the horse in motion with his when I aid when his foot is off the ground? 

Yes.  I think I can.  It is because you are making this all TOO FUCKING COMPLICATED - the fact that you are trying to influence your horse's motion at any particular time using only your mighty hoochie-koo hips is making his little walnut brain want to explode.

(I might be wrong though.  The answer might really be found in a quote by Podhajsky.  But I doubt it).

To make matters worse - the instructors that I have run into along the way that like to pontificate the most about "the timing of the aids" are the ones that don't seem to have too much else to add to the story.  For example, a hat-wearing, fur coated classical guru can likely make progress with even the least athletic, most adoring clinic participant by following her around at a walk cooing "wan-ennn-tooo-ennn-treee-ennn-fooorrr....brav! Did you feel that dear! Now YOU try!"

My recommendation to you on this one is to use my two step process to learning "the timing of the aids"

Step One - use your fricking noggin.

Think about it.  If you are doing a lateral movement and you want your horse to swing his leg under his body - is it going to be easier for him to swing it when it is in the air, or planted on the ground?

If you want him to push off more powerfully in medium trot or whatever, will he get more power if his foot is in contact with the ground, or floating around in mid air?

And so on.  What do you want the effect to be - when would it make most sense to apply the aid to get that effect to happen?

Great.  Now that we have that out of the way -

Step Two - try to make your flabby old middle aged body actually DO this.  Because let's be honest here - we are talking about split second differences here between foot on the ground, foot off the ground.

If you are anything like I was back in the day... by the time it dawns on you that "hmm, I am making some fine looking origami with my saddle pad as I pull my heel up to my ass, but somehow Stormy just isn't getting the message - maybe I should try something new"... your diagonal-line-type-leg-yield-thingy movement is but a distant memory and you are already whipping around the corner on the short side.

Stormy's little hooves have up/downed through many an up/down cycle, all with his mute button firmly on to dull the monotonous nagging feeling of your spur poking him somewhere in the ribs nowhere near his girth, or one hand width behind it, or wherever the perfect spot for aids during lateral movements may be in your mind.  Because let's face it - the biggest problem for a lot of us when starting out has nothing to do with when to put the aid ON, but when to take it OFF to reward the horse and let him do his thing without incessant nagging.

Sigh. Take heart. I do think this one is easier to figure out than the sitting trot.

Practice. It is a good thing to do on one of those days that you feel like wandering around aimlessly and not doing anything too taxing. (For example, maybe on a day when you had McDonalds for lunch, and know you will get a wicked side stitch if the ball of ensuing grease bounces around too much in your intestines).  Remember, If anyone asks why you aren't *insert challenging athletic endeavor here* today, give them a dirty look and say "I am MASTERING the FOOTFALLS" ("asshole" implied but not said) or some equally pretentious response.

You are likely fixated with staring at your horse's head and neck anyways, why not start paying attention to where his shoulders are too. There is a foot down there somewhere - you can potentially influence with an aid someday.

Then, once you figure this out and know what foot is where - when...try to coordinate your legs. Swing them around and make them do something in time with your horses.  See - it isn't that hard. Eventually this will morph from just "something" into "something functional that improves your horse's way of going".  Give it time.

To be honest, I don't really get too hung up on "in the air" or "on the ground". You have to be pretty damned precise to get to this point - and I don't think I am a good enough rider.  But if you can at least give the aid when the leg is next up in the sequence and just about to do SOMETHING... Seriously. It will make a huge difference, especially to your lateral work.

(And I hate to say it because it is like rubbing salt into wounds... but it really gets easier once you know how to sit the trot!  Sorry!)