Sunday 25 January 2015

Dear Dressage Trainers. My condolences. Really.

The one thing that was true for sure at this point in time - I was in a much better place for coach shopping than I had been in the past.  After hanging out at shows for the last three or so years, I really did have a good picture of who was available, who I would be able to stand listening to for a few hours a week, and whether or not they were likely to be able to help me on my way up the levels.

I had now witnessed some of my "oopsies" from the days of trying out bad coaches - and no, it was not just me. None of them would have been suitable if I had stuck it out long term. I am adding Coach Ritenau to the pile of course. (Hindsight is always 20/20 as the saying goes).

For example - Time Machine Schoolmaster woman gave off the impression of being someone who is actually in the game at higher levels - but although she has a lot of nice horses, and appears to have a lot of parental money backing her up - she has not yet had a lot of success in the FEI sense of the word. Which is too bad, and as I have harped on about already, dressage is not easy - but if with all of that going for her, she is still kind of in the backwoods, it is unlikely she would have been the one to help a less endowed rider such as myself.

Limpy's owner has the country's finest PSG Arabs - all two of them. So, I guess she deserves some credit. But there was just something about her horse's way of going that seemed off to me - they looked tight and miserable. I knew how to make a horse look tight and miserable - all on my own - so paying her to help me do it better seemed unnecessary.

Also - she only showed higher levels at breed shows. I feel a pro who expects to be paid for training your horse should show up in the ring at a recognized show at least once in a while as well. Sure, breed shows are better than not showing at all, this is true, But come on now - get out and get into the game properly. Claiming on bulletin boards that the reason you don't play with the other kids is because of breed bias and the high cost of showing gets kind of old. If you can cart your Arabs all over North America to attend congresses or whatever it is you Arab people do - you can foot the bill for one show at Palgrave. 

Now, the one coach on the pile that I know COULD have definitely brought us up the levels was of course Frau Trainerin. No doubt in my mind - she would have gotten the job done. 

So why didn't I give her another try? Simply because she snubbed me in the stir-fry line? Sure, she seemed to be kind of a stuck up or socially awkward person, but if I had showed up with my $1200+ in hand every month, I bet she would have turned that frown upside down in a hurry... She was undoubtedly located the closest to my home out of all of the contenders (I could have ridden my bike there if motivated)...and I knew for sure from watching her at shows and coaching others as well as riding herself that she was truly the real deal in terms of FEI trainers...

Why did I reject even the thought of returning to her with Ms. V?

Well, this brings us to kind of an interesting turn in my story - the point where I stopped feeling like the horse owning customers were always getting the shitty end of the stick.

Somewhere around this point in time, it began to dawn on me. Being a dressage trainer is really a tough gig. I would never wish this fate upon anyone.

When you are at a mixed bag barn, or a hunter barn with a few dressage riders, or any of the other barns that I had been up to thus far - you get a little bit of a mixed bag of people. As much as I complained about the folks out at Muddy View Acres, there were enough sane ones stirred in there to make life bearable. Lana Acres had a few teens, and eventing people. There was a balance of sorts.

But when you go hard core, all-in dressage - there is one demographic that dominates above all others.

Crazy, type A women, with lots of disposable income, who think that because they can afford nice horses, and expensive coaching - they are somehow entitled to act like total bullies, or mind-fucking ninnies.

Is Aschwipen all warmed up?  Because I am READY TO RIDE, Coach!

And - they don't always come alone. The ones that are not actually riding themselves bring along their entitled ninny children, all unique and special just like every other child, and all hell bent on attending NAJYRC (North American Junior and Young Riders Championships)

Watching the dynamics between clients and coaches in the stable areas of horse shows, or listening to clients on the sidelines revealed the most terrifying side of choosing my new barn. I was wading into the territory of hard core, nutcase dressage clients. I would commit to doing my very best not to be one - but could not avoid the others already in attendance.

And the Frau had a doozy. Loud, pretentious, in your face - and to make matters worse, she was a holistic nutritionist who hawked dubious "natural" supplements everywhere she went - which, as a real nutritionist, was also blood curdlingly irritating.

The thought of dealing with being in her presence (and hearing about the miracles of magnesium or whatever shit she was on about on any given day), after a long day of work was too much to bear. Because of her, I eliminated the Frau from contention.

(But no worries. You won't miss the fireworks. She catches up with me later).

I also eliminated a nice young couple that trained together from contention - because they had a barn full of pre-menopausal high maintenance ladies. As someone who is still menstruating, I felt it was a little early for me to join the hand wringing, obsessive horse owning but non-riding lady club.

(But again - fear not. We will circle back here too. Even though I do continue to menstruate, I was not able to escape this fate. Double whammy).

Which left two good candidates in the 50km radius / seemingly tolerable club. Both were easy on the eyes, and both had good, biblical names. How could I go wrong?

Coach #1 was short listed - which I figure meant expensive - and extraordinarily charismatic - the kind of person you saw from a distance and wanted to get to know. He was always surrounded by a gaggle of people, and most seemed to be having a good time.

Coach #2 was more up and coming - a little more subdued - but was very friendly and gracious, and seemed to have pleasant, sane students who were progressing nicely.

I decided that I would start with the more low key option. I wasn't entirely sure I wouldn't get bulldozed by all of the fun hanging out with Coach #1.

I am, after all, a Curmudgeon.

Thursday 15 January 2015

I am sure the people on the Apprentice feel the same way after having to put up with Donald Trump..

Now as a person who considers herself to be a trained scientist, I do my best not to be swayed by bullshitty things like chance, or superstition, or of course my favouites, coincidences.

Hey, who can argue with any of this shit. Sounds like me alright.
However it was really hard at the time to not think that some alien force was on my side as the "I am leaving - hey, me too" stars aligned. I started to merrily consider my options for my next dressage coach, and I can remember feeling a boost of positive energy towards my riding for the first time in a really long time. All signs were pointing to an exciting new phase in our dressage "journey"... new coach - and hopefully a new breakthrough - and just maybe some real progress after a solid year of drought.

And hey - let's be honest here - I bet Coach Ritenau was feeling the same way. When I told her that I was moving on, I am sure she went home, cracked open a nice bottle of red, and slid into a hot tub, thinking to herself "ahh... never again do I have to try to solve the problems of that nutty horse and her hopeless rider...All signs are pointing to exciting new students... "

I have been fired from a job or two in my day, and no matter how much you hate the job, packing your bags and walking away from money is never easy. However - the sigh of relief you feel when someone puts their foot to your ass and pushes you out the door is oh, so satisfying. I bet the Coach felt this "ahhhh...hhhh...hhhh" big time when I broke the news.

I did attempt to present the parting to her somewhat diplomatically - first, I asked her what her plans were for her students once she left Lana Acres we all became coachless waifs (no plans...nice, nice...that made things easy).  Next, I said that I understood where she was coming from with respect to life being easier for me with a new horse - but even if the two of us were destined to be together without Ms. V, I felt that a second opinion was warranted. I would be moving to a new coach for at least a few months to get some fresh input.

As I recall, she took this all in perfect stride. (Again, a pretty strong sign she was already dreaming of that Valpolicella and bubble bath).

Ahhh... now let's see - Chapter 1. How to find students that are not insane..

I am pretty sure that at the time, she thought I would pack my bags, head out to a big ticket trainer, her assessment of our potential to go on would be validated, Ms. V would be sold, and I would continue on with another horse.

Which, as you know, is not how things shook out.

And if you are wondering.. yes, Coach Ritenau is also fully aware that this is not how things went down. The horse community is small. I saw the Coach many times after we parted ways and Ms. V and I continued to struggle our way up our lopsided and pathetic pyramid. Our interactions were always cordial but not cozy (but really, our interactions were always pretty much like this, even at our very closest times) so I liked to think that she had shrugged, said "huh - guess I called that wrong", moved on, and that was the end of that.

Which would have been fine. And not weird. But then...

At my last show ever, one of Coach Ritenau's students who I knew from the Lana Acres Epoch approached me early in the day to let me know that the Coach and her students would be on the sidelines with their popcorn to watch me attempt to show PSG later that day.

It was an awkward moment - I wasn't sure how to take this news.

If Ritenau intended to make a point to watch my ride (and really, who makes a point to watch Adult Amateur PSG? Parents, and judges and coaches who are being paid to do so - no one else. Maybe masochists I guess.) she could have, at any moment in time, put down her hose or pitchfork (I could  see her across the yard at that very moment, going about her horse prepping business) and wandered over to shoot the breeze, congratulate me on making it to PSG, said she was going to be on the sidelines to cheer me on...any or all of this would have been normal. Hearing second hand that she planned to watch my test in a stalker-like fashion - with her students - was weird. Actually - it really bugged me.

No worries Curmudgeon, I told myself. She probably doesn't want to make you nervous. Once you complete the test, I am sure she will come by and congratulate you. Or exhibit some other behavior that is similarly professional and classy in nature. You are being paranoid.

And so, I went in, saw her sitting in the stands, rode my test, got 4's on horribly ridden tempis as usual and had a few other bobbles here and there but had an otherwise sane, sensible and unremarkable test - (got a score of 57%)..came out to the cheers of a huge crowd of 4 stablemates - with Coach Ritenau nowhere to be seen.

She vanished. Without a word.

You are probably also wondering if Coach Ritenau really had the skills to get any horse to PSG, and if the combo of me and V was just an unfortunate outlier that didn't fall within her area of expertise. Well, it is difficult to stalk how someone's students are doing, so for all I know she has stableload of up and coming stars and I just don't know their names, having been out of the loop now for a solid year or more.

However - stalking her own results on Equine Canada - since we parted ways in 2006 or whenever it was, she has done a kickass job of bringing several horses as far as First or Second level, and a few further than that - but has not had personal success in returning to Grand Prix or even PSG.

This could be due to many factors, as we all know, that have nothing to do with her riding ability. Horse soundness is a huge one, and I know she has had some tough breaks in this department. Time, money, inherent talent of the horses that are sound... all tough hurdles to overcome.

All of the same hurdles that I would have had to overcome, had I given up on Ms. V as per her recommendation. As a trainer, she has had several shots at it with client horses and STILL not found the magical combo to get her up to being competitive at FEI levels again.

Which just goes to show how the deck would have been stacked against me.

Anyways... putting that all behind us... let's carry on, as things do begin to get even more interesting now. The next few chapters in the story will be difficult to write, as those of you who know me in real life will understand (and yes, you will all understand eventually...) but let me see what I can do.