Sunday 14 April 2013

It's My Party. And You Can Get The Hell Out if I Want You To....You Would Cry Too, Dealing With You.

Oh ye readers of little faith.

Do you seriously think I can't put up with a little bit of control freak in the form of a barn owner?

Pffft...piece of cake.

Now, there have been very few barn owners along the way on my journey that I have felt I could trust 100%, without a single sleepless night, to do what they thought was absolutely best for my horse.  Dr. Lana was undoubtedly one of them.

In fact, Dr. Lana fell into one of my very favourite categories of barn owners - women operating under the...let's call it the, hmm, how do I put this...the "It's my party, and you can get the hell out if I want you to" philosophy.  And I truly do respect this position.

Perhaps you have one of these barn owners in your area.  Here are some clues on how to spot the signs:

Forty-something. Type A. Successful career. Lots-o-money.

These factors allow them to:
Build a beautiful barn, buy beautiful horses.

And most importantly - these factors mean that having you as a boarder is not at all essential to their financial plan. Your money is a "nice to have" but not a "must have". And the way you are treated does reflect this reality. Don't expect a lot of sunshine blown at your butt. Fair enough.

So why would someone like Dr. Lana bother with the likes of a Curmudgeon at all then, if they can live without the dough? anyone who has had their own barn knows, riding all by yourself, night after night, is actually very lonely.

It is nice to have some other people around at the barn. If you fall off and break your spine, it is always a reassuring feeling to know that someone might hear your anguished groans. Someone with opposable thumbs capable of calling 911, and not just your horse who will only continue to run around like an idiot without you, thinking to himself "listen to her scream!!  I KNEW there was something horrifying in the corner, but noooo, she said, it is only your cooler slung over a standard, she said...she forced me to go in there totally against my better judgement, causing me to freak out like a ninny...and now it is killing her slowly. Why didn't she TRUST me!!"

It is nice to have some company, even during the good times, when you are putting away jumps together or sharing stories of training or frustrations. There doesn't necessarily have to be an ambulance involved to do some bonding with like-minded equestrians. These people help to keep you motivated to ride, especially when it is still snowing and freezing, halfway through April. Like right now.

However, that said... if your boarders are NOT essential to your financial plan, but are really only required for companionship and occasional comedic relief... well, as the saying goes, she who has the arena...rules.  Or something like this.  The minute boarders cross the line from entertaining comrade to nagging horse freak, these forty-something type A successful career lots-o-money owners have every right to kick you to the curb. And trust me dear readers, they will.

But hey, entertaining is my middle name, people!  When I went to tour the facility prior to moving in, I hit it off with Dr. Lana immediately. She was a little bit sarcastic. Slightly derisive. Fairly jaded.  Imagine Ms. Krabappel of the horse industry, and you are somewhere in the ballpark. And, as I am sure you can also imagine, you are in the presence of someone whom I would like very much.

How does one get to be this way in the horse industry?  Well, I think being a veterinarian can predispose you to it, just as being an elementary school teacher can. You enter into the profession fresh faced and optimistic, looking forward to helping horses, only to be faced by a bunch of nutbar owners who want miracles at a low-LOW price - actually free would be good - that slowly suck away your misguided enthusiasm.

What? You expect to be PAID for your time? But Patches was sick! You are supposed to love animals and want to help them as part of your very nature....What! You are failing Stormy on the vet check just because he is missing a LEG? Four legs is classic genetic redundancy, maybe if you had stayed awake in class while getting your DVM you would know this (I assume M stands for Moron in your case)...What? A snotty nose is NOT an emergency? Are you crazy? This could be some equine plague! You are not seriously going to charge me a call fee for trying to stop the plague? Get me my computer. This is going on EMG*...

Now, like an elementary school teacher, as a veterinarian, or a barn owner for that matter - your subjects will come and go, and you will have your favourites and your... well, not so favorites. This is only human nature, you can't help having preferences. Not everyone can be the teacher's pet now can they?  Fair enough.

But as any of you with a child, or a friend with a child knows, nothing is more heartbreaking as a parent than when YOUR child is for some strange reason, NOT the teacher's pet. Or even in the mid-pack of kids that the teacher is ambivalent about. Sometimes, for some strange reason unbeknownst to you, even though a child may have been under the radar at all of their other barns, or even liked by other barn staff - in certain classrooms, with certain barn owners - they are instantly branded the pariah freak of the group when the new year begins.  And this is really, very hard to overcome.

Oh, I am getting all confused here. Am I talking about teachers or barn owners? Whatever. It doesn't really matter.

Bottom line is, I knew as soon as Dr. Lana laid eyes on Ms. V and loudly proclaimed "she has a pelvis like a dairy cow!" that she would not be the teacher's pet. But I optimistically assumed that she could earn herself a spot somewhere in the middle of the pack.


*EMG - local internet bulletin board

Tuesday 2 April 2013

They are looking forward to spending more time with their family. Travelling. Doing some consulting. Stuff like that. Uh..really.

And so, that was that.  We were no longer dressage show virgins. Training level was crossed off of the list of things I thought I wanted to do in my life, and to this day, I am not exactly sure why on Earth it was on there in the first place.

We had survived the mud and rain and inevitable horrific weather of Palgrave, (how is it that you can drive for an hour in the sunshine from Guelph, only to have dark clouds descend upon you in the hills of Caledon? Every time?), the purple troxels of Glanbrook Cadora, and everything in between.

I photocopied memberships and coggins tests and faxed before deadlines, mailed in money for overpriced stalls, shavings and to pay the man who can magically get your horse to pee in a cup...I ate wilted strawberries and melted vanilla guar gum foam posing as ice cream while trying to be "social" during a downpour in July...

Warning - actual product is absolutely nothing like what you see here

I searched the lists of scores on the wall fretfully with all of the other kids, wondering where the hell my result was (was I so bad they left me right off the list? Why aren't I on the list? I wasn't that bad, was I?), until I finally broke down and asked the world's bitchiest score-adding-up volunteer for assistance....

"excuse me - could you please help - I can't find my score" only to be snapped at... "can't you see the word PROVISIONAL?? That means the list is INCOMPLETE! (you moron, implied not said)", to which I responded "can't you see the words TRAINING LEVEL AMATEUR? That means I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE HELL I AM DOING" (you bitch, implied not said).

I bleached the living hell out of my white breeches then hung them out in the sun to try to remove the indelible clay splashes, leaving them weakened and sickly piss yellow - they punished me for this torture by ripping (mercifully, across my thigh) the next time I tried to climb aboard.  $250 well spent.

And so on, so forth...I am sure you are all mentally adding your favourite moments of horse shows here as well...

But... that was all in the past now.  Curmudgeon, I told myself - shake all of that off.  Bottom line - you survived. Time to sit back (no, no, not just metaphorically - sit BACK! And down!  Put your ass in the saddle, you are not a hunter rider any more Curmudgeon!) relax, and enjoy almost 9 months of preparing for ... FIRST LEVEL.  Right?

Errr.. no.  Of course not.  Nothing is ever THAT simple with horses, you fool.

Probably in...oh, September or October, I was futzing around, reading emails at my desk whilst drinking coffee and taking a break from the insurmountable challenge of trying to develop "communication strategies" to convince pet owners that *no*, in fact, your Chihuahua-in-a-handbag does not require the same ancestral diet as a gray wolf scrabbling for survival in the Canadian tundra... when the email from Coach Ritenau arrived.

I knew right away it was bad news, because she was not one to communicate...well, much of anything, besides the absolute nuts and bolts of Dressage 101.  This was 2005, and so to be fair, there was no constant stream of texts or BBM or facebook or whatever it is that barfs out info to us incessantly today from anyone, but she was less communicative than even the average twenty-something person in the early aughts...and so I knew something was up right away.

Yep - the email was professional and written with a flowery touch that I am sure did not come directly from the cranium of Coach Ritenau without some assistance... It had that faint whiff of a Googled "how to write a dismissal letter".

(No - no - not me - don't be ridiculous.  I was a $400+ per month meal ticket.  I would have had to have ridden around the showground naked and on fire screaming "Rollkur, me BABY! MORE ROLLKUR" to embarrass her enough to ditch ME.  Just watching your student score 53% or whatever might sting, but not enough to put in an application at McD's to make up for the income loss if one were to choose to unload her).

Nope - Coach Ritenau was packing up her bags, and leaving the land of Lilliput   She had a new "sponsor" of sorts, a local Veterinarian who had just built a wonderful new facility and was looking for a keen and fresh faced young up'n'comer to be her right hand woman. Yes, the doors were opening at the fabulous new facility Lana Acres, and Ritenau would be running the show.

She thanked Liliput for their years of dedicated service, and wished them luck in their future endeavors.

And added - oh, by the way Curmudgeon - sure hope you ditch them too and come along to Lana Acres with me.  

Oh for fuck's sake.  I remember sighing deeply and thinking to myself,"just what I need". And...of course "I wonder how much THIS is going to cost me".

But to be fair - I totally understood where Ritenau was coming from.

She wanted to make her mark - and move up and on in the world of dressage.  And as much as *I* didn't have a problem with muddy laneways and flapping coveralls, and rock hard grass rings, and thick black clouds of arena dust, and 50 cats peeing on all of my stuff  - most clients who are paying for full training really won't put up with this shit.

For many in the land of Adult Amateur dressage - the sizzle really and truly is more important than the steak.  And, when you are in Coach Ritenau shoes - with your star pupil wowing the world with big 53%'s it is pretty hard to convince people there is any steak happening at all, especially when backed up by a sizzle that is really not a sizzle per se, but more of a gurgle (the predominant sound of one of the 50 cats trying to breathe through the thick snot that they are about to sneeze out onto your cooler, which they have just recently peed on). Really - she had to get the hell out of Lilliput if she hoped to progress at all in the world of "dressage trainers".

Aghhh!  Really I had no choice.  After all of the time it had taken me to find a Coach who I could stand it would make no sense to stay at a trainerless Lilliput. My less than amazing show season had proven that I could not make a go of dressage WITH assistance, let alone on my own, no matter how many Lessons with Lendon I studied, executed, and totally fucked up.

But I did have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind - Dr. Lana's name was strangely familiar. I called up one of my very oldest friends, Pollyanna Obliviosky - yes, sure enough, my memory was correct - she had boarded with Dr.Lana once upon a time, long ago, when she ran a different facility.

And she told me to RUN. Far away.

Which was quite unsettling, because Pollyanna is undoubtedly one of the lowest key, least anal, non-fussbudget people on Earth - the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse could be performing some sort of death quadrille in the arena with her and she would fail to notice the anguished wails of her fellow equestrians if it meant looking up from whatever it was that was catching her attention at that particular moment.  She just did her thing. Whatever fucked up thing that might be, social norms notwithstanding   With this could Lana Acres possibly not be a fit?  Feed, water, basic care... I thought the two of us were pretty much on the same page as to what constituted essential services. And beyond that in her world, just about anything went. So what was the problem here?

She will drive you insane, she warned. She nitpicks and nags - nothing is ever good enough.  You will feel like SHE is the customer, and you are blessed to be there at all... you will dread walking through the door at night...and so on.  So forth.

Oh come on! I told myself.  I can't imagine anyone wearing me down in this fashion.  I can get along with anyone - I am the easiest going person around (yes, I have come to realize this only holds true if I am trapped alone on some desert island).  And really, Pollyanna drives me crazy sometimes, with her irritating Obliviosky attitudes - what the hell does she know.  I am sure everything will be just fine.

I thanked Pollyanna for her input, totally ignored everything she said, gave my 30 days notice at Liliput, and emailed Ritenau back.  Lana Acres here I come.