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 attitude...how 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.


  1. I sense a 'from the frying pan into the fire' episode to come....

  2. I'm loving your stories and how much I can relate to them! My old trainer was at a facility I could not stand - plenty of fresh water wasn't a guarantee, and I don't believe in letting horses go thirsty! We built our own to avoid boarding locations, but since I don't have a truck and trailer yet this also means a limit on trainers I can get to come out to give me lessons and trailer me to shows. Since there are none within 45 miles of me I want to ride with, I was lucky to happen to find my new trainer (46 miles away) who I had seen at shows and seen the difference in how his horses go compared to the crap I see from many other trainers. I am now getting the absolute butt kicking tough work needed to improve and actually RIDE like a dressage rider, rather than just sitting in the right position, and I suspect that's a stage you had to go through in your years with Ms. V!

  3. Oh Dressage Curmudgeon, I really think you need to turn this blog into a book deal. You are so smart and funny and relatable. I see NY Times bestseller list!

    1. I agree! This would make an awesome book!

  4. Bwahahahahaha....I think I know how this will all end.

  5. Oh, yeah, this is going to go great.

    No foreshadowing whatsoever.

    Eagerly anticipating further details.

  6. New reader, now eagerly awaiting the next installment.