Tuesday 26 February 2013

Dressage - you dare to be dull. That's why I loved you

Sorry, sorry, sorry...again.

Even Mrs. Curmudgeon has bitched to me now about my failure to keep up the posting pace here in February. It is winter! You should be holed up in your house complaining about dressage, Curmudgeon!

True, very true.  I do apologize. However, I have been out of town, again - this time, on a fabulous vacation to the horse show mecca, Wellington, Florida...

Yes, my time had finally come. Way back in December, I planned myself a nice little trip to sit proudly in the bleachers in West Palm (or on the rooty, lumpy grass at White Fences..wherever. Hey, not to be catty, but seriously, our Trillium shows have better rings). Yes, last week, I got to plunk my ass down somewhere warm and sunny, misty eyed, proudly watching...uh..well..errr... it ends up, proudly watching a random assortment of strangers. For no particular reason.

This is the horse world, my friends, and nothing ever seems to go according to plan, now does it. Long story short...I made it to Florida, Ms. V and her new "owners" did not. But airline tickets and other things related to fabulous vacations are not necessarily refundable, so I packed up my golf clubs and went anyways. And as a result, I am behind on my posts again.

I didn't limit myself to visiting only dressage related venues. No, I went to see some "H/J" stuff as well. And yes, a comparison of the two did bring back my love of dressage just a little tiny bit. As I walked around perusing the engraved spurs, to be strapped on to the snakeskin brown boots trimmed with alligator scrotum, to be worn with diamond studded breeches etc. at the golf cart choked carnival known as PBIEC (or, the Palm Beach International Equestrian Centre..if only the E were a U, it could be such a fun anagram..) I was reminded of one of the things that I really loved about dressage in the beginning...

It's utter simplicity when it comes to acceptable "in the ring" fashions.   White pants. Black coat. Good to go.

Sure, the whole helmet thing has added a bit of "wild renegade" to the costume, but for the most part, I could pull out the same old suit I bought back in 2004 and ride on into the ring without anyone blinking an eye.  Even my scuzzy old velvet helmet would be ok. Maybe I could paste on a rhinestone or two if I really wanted to be cutting edge.

I guess to be fair, I did get really good wear out of the grey pinstriped hunter jacket that the Curmudgeons bought me back in the early 80's.

This same jacket went on to participate in scholarship and job interviews in the early '90's, as well as Trillium shows in the early '00's, and a variety of funerals all along the way. Hey, a good wool coat never dies. I think that my niece is still using it now, 30 years later.

So really, hunter clothes can be very versatile, if you don't mind people thinking that you look horribly dull, dowdy and outdated.  And if you don't mind smelling faintly of horse manure in job interviews. (Dry cleaners can only do so much. They aren't miracle workers, people!).

(Actually, the grey pinstriped jacket never truly went out of style.  Had I splurged on a brightly coloured dark pink or purple shirt to wear under that jacket back in 2002 when I last showed hunter, I would have been almost up to date in appearance. And, as an added bonus, I could have proudly sported big drippy dark sweat stains under my pits and down my back into my ass crack like all of the other cool hunter girls when jackets were excused. (Does anyone else remember this? Who on Earth thought this was a good look?) Mercifully, I was too cheap to update my jacket OR my shirt, and stuck with my traditional white, sweat camouflaging rat-catcher).

It was not only the simplicity of the required show garb that appealed to me with respect to dressage back in the day. The whole affair was just so bare bones as compared to lugging around poles and brush boxes and coops and whatnot - no "rigamarole", as Motard would say.

Even with winter ending and show season looming just around the corner - REAL show season this time -Training level, with cantering and everything - there were really only a few basic things I needed to do to prepare for the really big shoooows.

First - the Land of Liliput did not have an outdoor sand ring, but only a fenced in, rock hard grass area. However, it was flat, smooth, and large enough for a full dressage court - including the nice big area to circle around the outside, do a last little warm-up, and have your horse freak out and predetermine your submission score for you before your enter-ex-halt-salute as you would at a REAL show (well, a real show with the exception of White Fences, I learned this weekend, where you are expected to dodge trees and what not).

 So, althought it was not perfect footing-wise, it was spatially superior to many dressage rings I would come across at fancier barns in later days.  Luckily, I was still new enough on the dressage scene to not realize that riding on grass was equivalent to wearing a purple troxel in the "things that truly cool dressage people would never do" department, and so I really never gave it a second thought.

(Actually, as time went by on my dressage journey, I would say I was more often faced with suspensory sucking deep sand footing at "professional" facilities - which we all know is a bad thing. In fact, work on hard ground is reported to strengthen bones and ligaments in growing horses.  I don't know if this is reported only by people on bulletin boards to justify riding on such footing in a way that sounds more classical than saying "I ride on rock hard, lumpy grass because I have no place else to ride" or whether it has actually been researched. Regardless - it wasn't on my "things to obsess about" radar.)

There were no dressage letters - and what I did obsess about a lot was the potential of showing up at a show and having Ms. V be terrified of potted plants and whatnot.  So, I put out the word at my new job chock full of crazy pet owners that I was looking for used cat litter pails (no, no - not the tray where the cat actually shits - the non-recyclable landfill-filler plastic pails the litter comes in), bought a roll of duct tape, and created a nice set of A-K-E-H-C-M-B-F flower pot thingys to put around the ring at appropriate places. A shovel of soil in each plus a geranium when the risk of frost was gone, and we had ourselves a pretty nice looking, regulation sized ring.

ENTER-EXS-HALT-SALUTE. We were ready to practice not only bits and pieces, but to do full run-throughs of our tests.

For Ms. V - there was really not much to do in the appearance department.  I banged her tail, and shaved off the fuzzy explosion at the top that she had rubbed ragged on the stall wall while in heat, and bought a few proper white saddle pads.  I also learned to do those big, blobby braids - actually, now that I think about it - forget the clothes.  These are very the BEST thing about dressage, you poor, poor, 40-braid hunter suckers. Twelve braids done with elastics - they alone are worth the switch to dressage.

Ha ha, suckas! See you in a few hours, you braiding H/J losers!

We were good to go.

Our first show was just around the corner - beginning of May, 2005.

Friday 8 February 2013

Take the easy road, Asshole. Remember...Nobody said life had to be fair.

And so, really the only solution to my problem was to get Coach Ritenau more involved in the training of Ms. V, in addition to just the coaching of her flopping adult amateur rider.  Although my original desire had been to do as much of my own riding and training as was humanly possible - well, it just wasn't humanly possible any more.

My program at the time, as I recall, was one lesson per week on Ms. V, and one lesson per week on Paddy the 2nd level schoolmaster.  Since I was only finding time to ride three or so times a week, the rides on Paddy had to go. I had to focus the free time I had on Ms. V.  I also added one training ride per week for Ms. V and Coach Ritenau - without me.

Oh Curmudgeon - what is the point!  Dressage is a journey, not a destination.  Getting your coach to do the riding so you can get there faster?  That is such a cop-out.

I love when people say this sort of thing.  "You aren't going to be one of those people who takes the easy road and lets her trainer do all of the work then just shows up to ride a "made" horse, are you?"

It is right up there with saying that people who ride dressage bred horses are choosing to do it because it is "sooo easy" to ride insanely big moving, hotter than hell Dutch Warmbloods the way Anky does.  And that real, hard-core riders choose to ride beasts that are hopelessly ill designed for the task, just to up the ante and make life a bit more challenging.

But I have already bitched about that elsewhere, so I will spare you the recap.

Mmm-mmm I love a sweet lemon, don't you?

Anyone who utters this phrase has obviously never spent much time in a full training facility dedicated primarily to helping the average adult amateur women who actually wants to ride and show her own horse. Take it from me.. it ain't always pretty.

Even if you let the trainer ride your horse five days a week, warming it up just right for you each and every day - if you can't ride, YOU CAN'T RIDE.  That's it.  Coaches are not magicians.  Trust me, if they were, they would magically conjure up some way to earn a living that did not involve dealing with you, every day.

You are probably wondering if I still read Psychology Today to try to figure out why so many people are so weird and fricking irritating.  Why yes, I do.  I had to take a brief hiatus since just about every other blog post for the month of December was dedicated to discussing how to get Americans with access to guns who also happen to be bat-shit insane to not shoot schoolchildren which is a bit too heavy a topic for my Canadian brain, but they are now back on track with topics that are more my speed... (things like 12 Rude Revelations About Sex...hmm, that sounds good)...or assholes in the workplace (who could resist this one...A Jerk Whisperers Guide to Jerk Management .. might also come in handy for dealing with many horse people as well).

At the Psychology Today website, different psychologists spend a lot of time discussing logical fallacies or biases in the way people think, and how this affects their perception of the world around them. These are some of the articles I find most interesting.  For example "why do 95% of people think they are above average at doing whatever the hell it is they are doing".

One topic that would be right up this alley would definitely be "The Dressage Coaching Bias".  I have not yet read an article dedicated to this subject in particular, but I am sure it is only a matter of time.

The Dressage Coaching Bias refers to the fact that any horse and rider combo that can afford to get MORE coaching than you do - at home, or GOD FORBID, in the warm-up ring at a show - is kind of a scamming "takin' the easy road" cheater (even if the rules don't say so - c'mon!  It is SO not fair. Asshole!  If I had THAT (insert advantage not available to you due to lack of funds here), I would be awesome too!).

The interesting thing about this bias is that as the amount of coaching that YOU personally can afford to receive increases - the "takin' the easy road, Asshole" bar gently slides up the scale, so that YOUR particular amount of coaching is just right - only levels of coach intervention above this are inappropriate.

If your budget dictates that you arrive at your horse shows with only your Grandma as an assistant and a lawnchair, everyone who shows up with Grandma AND Grandpa, three lawnchairs and a beer cooler = takin' the easy road, Asshole

Motorized?  Oh come ON now.  That is SO takin' the easy road, Asshole
If you can only afford to show up with a coach who once went to Germany on a school trip, everyone who shows up with a coach who actually once rode a German horse = takin' the easy road, Asshole

Did your coach once ride at a gold show? Then anyone with a coach who earned a gold medal, at a gold show = takin' the easy road, Asshole

If your coach needs to school your horse at the show because Stormy noticed a terrifying port-o-let barf out its innocent prisoner and has turned into a blubbering heap of equine jello, that's ok. Everyone whose coach schools their horse to tweak their transitions for a 65% instead of 60% = takin' the easy road, Asshole 

I haven't actually done research on this myself, but I would imagine that someone having their horse warmed up by Edward Gal prior to a training level class at a Bronze show would still object to another rider having a microchip implanted in their brain so that the neural synapses of Charlotte Dujardin could be piped directly to their spinal cord.  "Oh come ON now, that is SO takin' the easy road, Asshole

At Psychology Today, the writers always encourage us to overcome our thought biases.  I try readers, I do try.  But I know it is not easy. I remember one day of volunteering at a Bronze show, many years ago, when who arrived but a favourite Gaah-man coach, with her little dressage protege children and their china doll ponies in tow. Why, the first Gold show is next weekend!  We need somewhere to practice before our big day!  Hellllooo Conestoga!

Frau warmed up the perfect ponies impeccably and plopped the actual child riders down in their saddles, ready for action. They then proceeded to enter their training level classes or whatever they were, and of course, smoke the living shit out of the competition - hairy, unruly pony club ponies, ridden by hunched over children sawing enthusiastically away at their faces with their knuckles hitting their knees to get them "in a frame", while their clueless mom and dad "coaches" watched from the sidelines.  And, as their Curmudgeonly whipper-in said silently to herself "Oh come ON now, that is SO takin' the easy road, Assholes

It is so weird. Sometimes my knees hurt when I ride. 
I would probably have been able to swallow this whole scene, had it not been for the mother of the china doll pony children.  As she walked away from the prize table with her arms full of all of the goodies, she had to announce in a very loud voice "Oh my GOD!  More halters and saddle pads!  We win these EVERY time!  What am I going to DO with them all?"

Hey, I am not perfect.  I struggle to overcome this Dressage Coach Bias too, even when I don't have a dog in the fight, as Dr. Phil would say.  I have to remind myself that some people are just socially awkward, really fucking irritating, and only have loud voices. And just make a mental note to stay far, far, away from them.  Then stick to this mental note.  Then make a mental note to remind myself stick to my mental notes.  And also remind myself that whether I like it or not. I know, Mr. Curmudgeon, I know.  Nobody said life had to be fair. And if it ain't against the rules, short listed riders can warm up ponies at Bronze shows - it's not pretty, but it IS entirely fair.  

I guess what I am saying is this... in defense of myself, and my gradual progression away from "self reliant rider, bringing her horse along all on her lonesome" to "Curmudgeon in full training and hating every minute of it"... If you think it is depressing to NOT have the money to get the very best training for your horse, I agree.  It really sucks.  But try to get over it.

Because I have witnessed something even worse - people who have all the money, the sound horse, the right coach - and still  are not able to sit the trot, or ride a transition, or do any of the other basic things to get out of the dressage basement.  When you are in this boat, there is no one to blame but you.  Now THAT must be depressing.

So next time you are at a show, and sneering away from the sidelines at these bouncing yanking women - well, just stop.  Do your best to overcome Dressage Coach Bias. There is a good possibility that these women are actually jealous of you, relaxing with your Grandpa and a beer in a lawnchair.  I don't know what this bias is called, but it sounds much less stressful to me.