Tuesday 28 October 2014

I feel just like Forrest gump. Only more bitchy.

I hope you all know how much I love your comments. Even the haters usually make me smile. As the saying goes, the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy. 

But I got a comment yesterday that actually tied in with some thoughts I have been having over the last week. 

My most prolific commenter, Anonymous, wrote:

There's a fascinating thread on UDBB right now in which a "purist" decries modern competitive dressage at the international level, but cites a pony walk-trot test performed by a 5 year old as a test that she admires. With video. I can't tell if she is actively insane or not, but it makes for hilarious reading.

Well who could resist that juicy lure. And when I clicked over to the Ultimate board, I was not disappointed. Even the title of the thread is so concise, clear, and easy to understand in this crazy dressage world of travers and renvers and tempis and other weird lingo you need to figure out if you want to sit around and snipe at a clinic with the other ladies while not actually riding your horse... "I can't stand to watch competitive dressage anymore" - ahh. I get it. I get exactly where this person is coming from. Even if I think that place is fucking nuts. 

Now, I did try to watch the video in question. But I just couldn't do it.  I knew my little pea brain would not be able to hang in until the bitter end the moment I saw that the test ran 6 minutes long, and nothing had happened 30 seconds in other than the fascinating spectacle of a very small child on a fluffy white pony moseying around a ring, complete with that irritating wind sound that comes with most homemade videos. (But come to think of it - adding some inspirational classical music or the theme from Frozen as some enamoured parents might have done would have irritated me even more).  

I totally folded once I heard the parent not only perform the duties of reader, but also add a liberal dose of coaching and clicking, and waved her arms around wildly with test in hand in order to get old Cottonball to give trotting another go. 

So, admitting that I did not watch to the end - so perhaps Cottonball banged out a line of ones, or showcased the three P's just to really put a fork in it at the end, and I just missed it all - and also admitting that I am a barren spinster who has zero interest in children, or any of the apparently adorable things they do posted online (Jimmy Kimmel's I ate your halloween candy ones aside..) - I cannot possibly imagine why anyone would use this video as an example of something to watch instead of the horrors of competitive dressage. Because... call me crazy, out in left field... but it IS NOT DRESSAGE.  It is a video of a five year old displaying riding skills typical of a five year old who's parents have enrolled them in horseback riding instead of dance, or soccer, or whatever this five year old's friends are doing somewhere else online, in videos that their parents have posted. I am not being critical or hating on this kid. It is just an unremarkable video. 

Anyway... usually I would just let this pass.  But as I mentioned at the start, this stupid and unfortunately often repeated thread fits perfectly with something that has been bothering me for a while this week. 

Why are dressage riders so incredibly fucking mean to anyone who puts themselves out there and TRIES to do things, in the generally accepted "competitive" fashion. Especially when they do it to the very best of their ability, yet still really, really suck at it. Do the incredibly fucking mean people think that people who really, really suck are doing it on purpose? Because they enjoy moments lacking in harmony or whatever it is they are apparently doing wrong?

And the reason this comes to mind is that I ran in my very first, (and I am betting pretty strongly at this point in time, very last) marathon.

Now, I am sure most of you know about as much about marathons as the majority of the population knows about dressage. You may not know it involves running for 42.2 kilometres (that is 26 miles if it helps). Contrary to what you may remember from pop culture, it does not necessarily involve having your cavities probed by an insane dentist as a form of torture, however around 35km I was so fricking bored of running that I think the pain associated with dental work, or maybe some light waterboarding, would have been a welcome distraction. 

You may also not know that the world record for running a marathon is 2:03. The winner of the marathon I was in finished in 2:08. And, as you can see, I ran it in 5:04.  Wow, am I slow. I really, really suck at running for long periods, at a fast pace. 

This winner guy could have left the race, driven to the airport, cleared customs and been on his way back to Kenya before I even finished. 

Because as you likely do know, there are some countries that excel in creating great marathon runners, and some people have a genetic predisposition to being freakishly better runners than I do. Just as with horses and riders and dressage - that is just the way it is. 

If you decide to become a competitive marathon running person, hold onto your hat and get ready to have your ass kicked by people who are just naturally good at it, and then dedicate their entire lives to becoming the best at it that they can possibly be. 

But the funny thing about running, and really the majority of other sports that are not dominated by catty middle aged women...somehow when these running type people do this.. we don't begrudge them for being insanely fast athletes, or suggest to them that they are taking the easy way out. Or bitch that If they REALLY wanted to experience a marathon, they should try being short chunky legged 44 year old Canadian broads who only started running a few years ago, and take 5 mind-numbingly dull hours to slog though a marathon. Yah, that is REAL running, assholes. 

If I am not happy with this 5 hour result - I don't go home and decide to create a new version of marathon running. One that allows you to employ a scooter at 500 m intervals, or ride on a skateboard, because it is more harmonious. 

I don't decide to run only 5k races for the rest of my life because I am generally pulling off fairly respectable times at this short and easy distance. Better to stay at a lower level forever looking good than try something a little more difficult and come in last...

I don't assume that all top runners are on steroids, even if we know that some of them are. I assume that some people are just awesome. And astronomically better than I am. 

I don't decide to stay home from races forever and just tool around on the local nature trails, being my own special star in the backstreets of Brampton, claiming to run faster and better than any of those assholes trying to qualify for the Olympics...

What - you have never run a marathon?  Well then, I would like to think that you don't sit by your keyboard scanning the results and cattily say that all of the runners that can't get their assess across the line in under 3 hours really should drop down and only do half marathons, as they evidently were not ready for the full. Because what do you know - maybe they really thought they were ready, and trained for ages, and really, really did their very best - but unfortunate shit hit their fan the day of the race. Or maybe they just had a goal to run a marathon, come hell or high water, and your opinion is really not of any importance to anyone. 

And I want to hope that you most certainly do not post videos of cute little 5 year olds running around enjoying themselves in the playground and then declare that THIS - THIS is true marathon running. Because that would be fucking idiotic. 

But really that is not my only point. 

My other point is this. If the winner finished in 2 hours, and I finished in 5 hours, It takes me 2.5x longer to get across the finish line. 

Now, let's pretend we are at a dressage show now, instead of a marathon. Assume this is a Prix St. Georges test, and convert the results accordingly. And, for argument's sake, say a really awesome person shows up and blows away the competition, winning the class with an 80%, which really never happens in my neck of the wood, even the best people are usually in the high 60's but whatever.  My equivalent score would then be... 32%

Ok, now walk back to the barn with me. I have just spent 5 YEARS training this horse - and at least $50,000, likely more, and that is ignoring the purchase price of the animal.  I have just accomplished something that probably 95% of the people wandering around at this horse show will never, ever accomplish, even if they give it their very best try, and spend even more money and more time, since what I have done is REALLY FRICKING HARD.  

So how proud am I of this accomplishment?  Well, after I finished my marathon in a relatively shitty 5 hours, every complete stranger I came across at the finish like congratulated me, told me I did a great job - even the people 500 metres out were cheering me every step of the way. A very hot young Quebecois guy ran with me for about 200 metres somewhere in that final stretch, encouraging me with his sexy little accent "come on Ste-fa-neee, you caaan dooo eeet"  (I noticed as I was leaving that he did this with every woman running in that he could...so hey, it wasn't all about me, but I still appreciated the effort) Every friend, every co-worker - everyone - made a point of telling me how awesome it was that I actually put in the time and effort to train for, and run a marathon. 

Just like the when you put in your very best effort at a dressage show. Right?  Now where were we... walking back to the barn. 

Well, actually - wait - rewind. I am probably not walking back to the barn at all. I am probably still in the port-o-let crying, and embarrassed to show my face in the ghetto tent city stable. Because although I am trying to compete in an Olympic discipline, just like marathon running - and although I am your typical average everyday middle aged woman, spending her time working for a living and trying to make enough money to pay for an average everyday horse... for some insane reason, I am expecting to be right up there with the equestrian versions of the Kenyan marathon runner. Or at very least to qualify for Boston. (I would have to run a Marathon in 3:45 minutes to do this - which would equate to a dressage score of 50% or something in this exercise. I think I hear this person crying in the port-o-let next to me). And I know that if I don't crack 60% - people will not cheer me on. They will think I failed. 

Which is really depressing, isn't it. 

Long story short - competitive dressage people, you are way too hard on yourselves. Any time you show any level that is difficult for you - you should be proud of yourself. Even if things go horrifically wrong. I wish we could all be as supportive of each other as strangers were of me when I ran a molasses slow marathon. 

And if you have  chosen to drop out of the "competitive" lane and have decided to putter around doing whatever floats your harmonious boat - great. Enjoy your Zettl clinics or Wessage or whatever it is that brings you joy. But how about you bugger off and stop insisting that it is superior to what the very best riders in the world are trying to do?  


  1. Best. Post. EVER. So agree. I don't know what is up with so many dressage people and the massive sticks up their butts. I just started jumping again after a long hiatus at an eventing barn and the people are unbelievably nice and encouraging.

    1. Eventers generally are!! I have a dear friend who is an eventer, and she never misses an opportunity to wish someone good luck or tell them to have a great ride. I channel her whenever I'm at dressage shows, and I often get puzzled looks-- followed by timid smiles and a quizzical 'Thanks, you too?' :)

    2. Agreed. I have moved over to eventing and found the entire environment at shows to be much more positive.

    3. Welllllll, at 72, I have retreated from eventing (actually retreated from it around 1993, when my trail/dressage/eventer/hunter got injured, and while he recovered 100%, I figured he'd last longer if he didn't jump, so he became my dressage/trail horse (competing in both) full time). Sigh. Current horse is hot and I decided, at age 62, that this one I wasn't going to jump (maybe just the occasional crossbar). So I'm no longer an eventer and haven't been for a while, but yes, eventers are generally more open and friendlier and less critical and more encouraging. On the other hand, while some of the more obnoxious DQs may look down on me - especially since my breed of choice is Appaloosas - most have been friendly, or at worse, indifferent, but not critical. Now if there are railbirds snarking at me and my quite lovely, half-Arabian, 16.2 spotted beast who is quite a good mover and showing 2nd level - I don't know about it (nor do I care). Truth is, most assume he is a WB cross of some kind. Imagine the double-whammy if they realized he was an Araloosa!! ROFLOL

  2. This is just so.....perfect. I can't even come up with a comment that would do it justice. So, I'll just say THANK YOU!

  3. incredibly awesome post. First- congratulations on running your marathon. I just made it to 5 km and feel pretty damn good about myself. :)

    However, I couldn't agree more about the competitive stuff. People really need to lighten up a bit.

  4. Perfect and funny. My personal philosophy is every ride you can walk away from is a good one! :-) And if someone manages to keep the horse between themselves and the ground and remember the sequence of a bunch of patterns they are a rock star!

    Jane W

  5. My hubby is a strange being and enjoys ultra running and I must say that the people we run into are amazing. I've dabbled with some half marathons and even coming in terribly slow, people were cheering and clapping and made you feel worthwhile for the try. Compare that to my early endurance experiences where you have 6 hours to finish 25 miles and I came in dead last in 4 1/2 hours. Guess what I got? Glares. Sighs. Mumbled "Finally!" and told all the dinner was gone. Horse people. It is an entirely different world.

  6. i love everything about this post - thanks for writing it! also - congrats on the marathon! as a total newcomer to dressage (and eventing dressage at that, so not even the pure stuff), i just had a personal best test that still put me squarely at the back of the pack in the lowest of the low levels. it was *thrilling* for me, and haters gonna hate :)

  7. This applies to so many equestrian disciplines and I'm really glad you said this. Thank you :D

  8. Three things:
    1. Well done on the marathon! I may be a "runner" for lack of a better term, but that just sounds downright painful to me. So good on you!
    2. I think that's one of the reasons I like eventing- we cheer if you finish, and cheer if you don't. And if you manage to fall of in the water, we my even give you a special award for it!
    3. On breed bias, (and I may have already said this) I had somebody complain about breed bias in Dressage, and I mentioned that if you think dressage people are bad, you should see how prejudiced the western pleasure people are against my Holsteiner. It was a short conversation, but IMHO a fair point. Nobody enters a western pleasure class with a Warmblood and expects to win. They just aren't bred for that... but people enter dressage classes against horses who've been bred for this for generations, and are surprised when they don't beat imported horse # 1, 2, and 3.

  9. Brilliant post, thank you! And congrads on finishing a marathon!

  10. So funny and so true. And well done on the marathon. !

  11. This is really informative blog with valuable posts. I learn a log and enjoy your way of writing. Thanks a lot for great effort, keep updating.

  12. Loved this! I'm lucky to show with a pretty supportive group of people, but even so this sort of mindset shows up.

  13. Love this post. I am an adult amateur attempting dressage - i have now owned my mare for 2 years and next season we will still be at Training level. BUT - I go to the shows with an amazing and supportive group of people. They watch my tests and cheer me on, even when my mare bolts across the arena, they find something positive to say. I know that things are getting better and some day we will move up to another level. It's the small things for me and my support group see that. :)

  14. Congrats on the marathon! Somehow I stay away from all the haters out there (maybe because I'm not on any of those forums?) and surround myself with friendly supportive barn-mates, trainers, etc. Life is too short, and horses are too expensive, to let negativity enter the picture!

  15. B-) Right on the money as usual.

  16. Wow- I had one of the most aggravating days of my life (involved people with horses, don't cha no!) and here I'm reading this and laughing and feeling better about the world already. I signed up for a dressage clinic at an eventing barn and can't wait to be with happy fun loving supportive eventers instead of those darn DB's next week.
    Stephanie, I am so so very glad you are back!!

  17. Love this post! Cheers! Sharing!

  18. This is so right. I'm so glad you're back. Callin' it like it is!

  19. good lord! I visited UDBB (never heard of this place before) and by golly!! you're not kidding!! There REALLY IS a 5 year old pony video and someone saying they prefer to watch that to evil competitive dressage!! I will close my jaw now.....

  20. Eh....I kind of agree. Sort of. The vast majority of people who ride 'up the levels' (depending on where you are, Training Test 4 could be 'up the levels' and gigantic and absolutely unforgiveable hubris - and that's more what she's talking about - the social process of 'The Diss'), are doing so on a sound, healthy horse, and with the blessing of their instructor, coach(or whatever you want to call the person who is supposed to know more than you and be looking out or the horse's best interests). Their 55% or 60% or 63% is NOT going to be used to prove you need to pay them $200 dollars for a 45 minute lesson, or sell their ('amazing new dressage method!!! that only this person knows! And ONE dead guy!!!) video/book/clinic or whatever, only $1300.00 if you order in the next 3 minutes. Their horse is not being taken advantage of. He's muscled, he's fit, he gets ridden often enough and does dressage often enough, to be fit. Their horse may not have the 'big booming' extended trot, or their horse may do a little bit of a lazy shuffle for a flying lead change, instead of that expansive, mountain-climber type change the top horses make. His tongue may stick out of his mouth because 10 years ago, his previous owner didn't pull that tooth when it should have been pulled, or because he was started by some bizarre disciple of...SOMEONE, and that left an indelible impression on his mind.

    In other words, most people are not doing what I'm most worried about - taking an unfit, unsound or unprepared horse to an inappropriately high level class, after their trainer told them it was very unfair to the horse, confident in the knowledge that no one will realize how poorly they do it.

    MOST people aren't doing that. The ones that are, are in fact, thinking more about themselves than their horses.

    Years ago, when I was a Yout, we had very, very limited horses. I had a pony(sounds like a Stephen Wright joke). Our trainer advised us to move up when we had mastered the SKILLS of the level, not when our limited horses magically pulled an authentic extended trot out of nowhere and scored over 60%. Our horses were NEVER going to have a true extended trot. Later, I had a gigantic lump of a horse who took a year, and many tears and embarrassing moments, to do even a single flying lead change. They were STILL the slowest behind that a flying change could be without NOT being a flying lead change. In fact at one point a trainer from Europe was helping me and said, 'Zat is AMAZING'. 'What?' cringed I. 'That you can get this horse to do a flying lead change AT ALL'. When I told him I'd done it myself in lessons, he said, 'You need to be given a medal'.

    About that time, I found a video of Hubertus Schmidt, one of the top dressage trainers in the world and by all measures, incredibly traditional and classical (no pretzel horses in his barn), and he was riding a little pony. By God the thing did flying lead changes, the way Horse in Panic in the Village did em (Horse is a plastic toy). And by God it looked happy. And I think that is absolutely ok. I think it's ok to move up when you solidly have the ability to ride the movement well. If your trainer says, 'don't worry about what happened after I said, 'well ridden'', and you want to learn the tests, and improve your riding, go on and move up and get that 60%.

    Susan Canaday

  21. Horse people in general, especially women are just mean assed bitches. Like you, I'm a runner and I've never ever heard anything from another woman runner than positive encouraging words about other women runners. But the rumors that come back to me about me, my pony, my warmblood, or any of my other horses and how they move with or without me are enough to make me want to throw in the towel and move to the mountains and live like a hermit with my herd. But, then I get on and accomplish some incredible move or I manage to quiet a bucking horse that goes on to give me a wonderful ride and I think "suck it bitches" Let's see some you do the same and if you do, I'll be the first who will pour you a hot cup of coffee and sit and chat with you afterwards. But, I refuse to gossip about my barn mates...

  22. The hostility against other riders is generally due to LACK of experience in dressage, actually. The more one does dressage, the more reasonable one's expectations for others, as well as for oneself, tend to get. Usually.

    Plus if you have been around dressage a while, you've seen people have fits over the top winning horse - all that time. The top winning horse usually STILL has at least one movement he doesn't do well.

    The trouble basically is, that most people just don't have much experience in dressage, and the farther up the levels you go, the less anyone can relate to what you're doing, or understand it. You get to a point...usually around training level test one, LOL...where you just have to find the best trainer you have access to and just get on and do it.

    They may read a lot, they may know a lot of definitions, but they don't generally have a full understanding of it.

    When I was laid up with an injury, I analyzed the technical content of a few of the longest UDBB threads. Honestly, it was a shock. There was a serious lack of understanding of basic concepts, in the mover-shakers. I didn't expect that at all.

    So that's the other thing to keep in mind. Most of the Drang is just Sturm....LOL.

    Susan Canaday

  23. I'm a dressage rider and sometimes ultra/mountain runner. Currently bitching through a knee injury so am fatish and soft from only having saddle time. I run the long distances because I find 5ks impossibly hard and I'm too lazy to puke a lung out my nose.

    I too notice the dichotomy between the running world and the riding world and agree with many of your points here. Which isn't to say that there isn't any controversy or cattiness in running. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/sports/23marathon.html?_r=2&hp& I feel that the nature of running in itself- having an objective standard, etc., develops the higher level of camaraderie in running. Simply less to bitch about. Dressage is subjective and has been hotly contested over time, not just in the present.

    As much as I, like you, would love to see a more universally supportive riding community, I don't think it will ever happen because of that subjectivity.

    Surround yourself with people you love and who care to see you be a better rider than you were yesterday. That's all one can do.

  24. Stephanie,
    Do you miss it? Not competitive dressage, but riding? And horses? Do you think you'll return to riding someday, in another form? Maybe buy fat old stewball and trail ride? Or get into some other form of competative horsemanship? I really genuinely am curious. I've tried to break away from horses before and was never successful for long.

  25. Amen.

    But could you please get back to the story of Miss V, because I was really enjoying it and I don't want you to pull a Robert Jordan....

  26. HOLY FREAKING CRAP!!!! I LOVE YOU!!!!!! thank you. Well said. I qualified for and competed in this fall's California Dressage Society's annual Championship Show (run concurrently with the USDF Region 7's Champions show). My average score on two tests (which is how they determine placings) was a 62% - good enough for 16th out of 18 riders.

    At first, I was a bit disappointed, but then I realized that I was the 16th best rider in the state of California at Training Level. How freaking amazing is that????? :0)

    Keep on sharing, please. Love it, love it, love it!

  27. This summer my husband ran in his first Spartan race. I went to volunteer to support him as he comes to my dressage shows to support me as often as he can. The environment there was just what you described. So supportive, so encouraging, every competitor cheering every other competitor! I think I'll even try doing a short race myself next year!
    As a competitor with my young stallion, our first year out at 4 years old and 1st level, I know there are plenty of people scoffing but I also had plenty of people congratulating me and complimenting me on my boy. Felt pretty fantastic and I can't wait to work up the magical levels on him too. BTW, C/W/C has been tricky to start for him too!
    Glad to see you back writing, I really missed it!

  28. Made me laugh, made me cry. And then I read some of it out loud to my husband. When I attempt 4th level this year, he's going to remind me not to sit in the Portapotty and cry when my score feels disappointing! Wonderful perspective, and thank you for reminding us not only to go easier on ourselves, but also to extend grace and encouragement to all the riders out there. There is far, far too much judgment in the dressage world - and if we're honest, many of us would admit to having been part of the problem at times. A new day? Maybe we could all just have some fun here and encourage each other to do our best.

  29. Awesome post. We put on Bronze dressage events with all the pomp and ceremony of a Gold show but with more fun attached. Got to admit, why you would anyone think a walk trot test has a place at a show is beyond me but hey, we offer it, they fill it, so there is a demand out there. Just don't expect me to watch it. :) I don't think anyone should judge a persons ride (other than a judge), unless they've been following the pair (horse and rider) through training and how they improve through the year. There are just too many variables and then there's the "personal" preferences of the judge. What is a shame is when someone beats themselves up over a test score because they didn't get a better percentage. I think coaches, trainers and parents need to take a comparative look at the test from the first time it's ridden to the end of the season and then work like crazy on getting it better for the next year. That's how you judge how well you are doing. I'll only ZING someone who hasn't figured out that the horse they are riding is lame until a judge bells them.

    But I have to tell you ... I've seen people come and go in our barn that should never get on a horse period. No natural aptitude. Please take up tennis or golf. AND BRAVO for the marathon milestone. As a rider, my knees are now so bad, running after the blasted horse that has pushed his way out of his stall is a no go. Can I rent you for those occasions please?

  30. Glad to see that you're back. Absolutely loved this post. What we do is so stupidly difficult and expensive, even at the lower levels. The least we can do is cheer each other on!

  31. Brilliant post! As an eventer, pure dressage person & runner, I couldn't agree more!

  32. Can I kiss you??? Really, you hit the nail on the head better than I ever could! And I am a professional writer!

    I am 50something and have been slogging along on this dressage journey for 30 years - never had a trained horse - and in fact almost every horse was either purchased as a foal or I bred it myself. I finally earned my Bronze in 2011 with my 15.1 home bred Oldenburg/Arab/Pinto cross. In 2013 I earned my scores at Fourth level toward the Silver. My horse, Flying Colorz, is now schooling PSG and we hope to show PSG in 2015. And I still feel like a crappy rider, and say that all the time. I am my own worst critic. No judge could ever score me harder than I score myself.

    Am working with a new clinician, and after saying that for the umpteenth time in apology for something not working during a lesson,, she stopped me and said: "Stop it. Just stop it. You have no idea how few people could have ever done what you have done...train your own horse up the levels this far. And teaching your horse to do flying changes when you'd never even ridden a trained horse in flying changes! I work with professional trainers who are trying to get the scores to apply to be judges, and some of them don't know as much as you do about horse training. Because you've done it yourself every step of the way, learned from your mistakes and you've worked your butt off. " Really I almost cried. But most of the credit has to go to my fabulous horse. I really get tired of the sanctimonious people who have never even had the guts to at least get out and show at a schooling show, who sit on the rail and judge. It's really easy to criticize others who get out there and do it when YOU have no scores people can search on dressagescoresonline.com! LOL!

  33. What a breath of fresh air!

  34. As a formerly pathetic runner, and a mediumly less pathetic dressage rider.... BEST POST EVER!!

  35. Too true, I think from the very start when we begin riding we are really only ever given attention when we do something wrong ‘heels down’, ‘hands higher’, ‘hands lower’ etc. Dressage , competitive or not, should be about how far you’ve come at any given point in time. Always striving to improving the ability of yourself and your horse.

    I was watching a Grand Prix show the other day and found myself delighted to see horses in very early stages of piaffe and passage competing which actually just made me feel like maybe one day that could be me!

    If we only ever see the perfect riders and horses then our own goals and dreams seem so unobtainable. And giving up completely simply because we feel those goals are too hard just seems like a waste also.

  36. As both a (mediocre) runner and dressage rider, I'd say what you have written resonates on many levels. Getting into running was very hard as a "woman of a certain age," but I was embraced and encouraged by all the elite runners I encountered. The thought of competing in a dressage show now, however, terrifies me. I still love the training and strive for those perfect moments, but a negative and critical loop keeps running in my head telling me I'm going it all wrong, ruining the horse, horse is not forward enough, etc. Hmmm, where did that come from? We need more positive, encouraging, and uplifting energy in the dressage community. Thanks for your post.