A couple of years ago I started assembling some thoughts for a blog, but, oops, it became DRESSAGE Unscrambled. Other than The Godfather, Part II, I can’t name very many sequels that measured up to the original.
So, now it’s back to Plan A. I ended D.U. for the same reason that you stop eating potato chips—at the time I was full and, presumably, so were you. But like an old dictator haranguing the crowd, I’ve got my second wind now. You probably join me in observing that many, many riders get in their own way—by over-analysis, by under-analysis, or sometimes because they just ought to be in analysis.
Dressage is full of Truths. You are bombarded by them in books and articles, during lessons and lectures and even over a glass of chardonnay at your dressage club meeting. Unfortunately, those truths are not all equally applicable across the board in all circumstances. Some obfuscate; others downright confuse.
Navigating the whole shell shocking world of dressage is as fraught with pitfalls and booby traps as the task of Buying Your First Horse is to an unwary and unaccompanied novice. I certainly don’t claim to have a monopoly on dressage wisdom, but the same rules that apply to the human condition are equally valid as applied to our sport—exercise some common sense and avoid the mistakes that everyone before you has made.
And, for heaven’s sake, don’t take it all so seriously. It won’t make you ride any better. As before, the tales which follow are not arranged chronologically but in studied disorder. Some are meant to illuminate. Others to distract. Some just can’t stand to hide in the dark any longer. Light and Truth R Us.
And, oh, by the way, feedback is GOOD! I’m afraid that within me there’s an element of Alexander Haig after the Reagan shooting or Riff in Rocky Horror–“I’VE GOT TO KEEP CONTROL!” Consequently, this isn’t an open contribution blog. Tell me what you think. If it fits in, I’ll post it. If not, at least I’ll have learned something. CLICK to comment on anything below.
If horses had ears…
… Oh, wait, they do, so never mind. To rephrase that, if horses could tell us things they’ve overheard, these would probably be some of the things.
The judge to the rider after a spectacularly abysmal test, the horse extremely inverted the entire time: “Well, if there’s a flood, at least he’ll be the last one to drown!”
A spectator complaining in the office to a show manager: “Someone left the purse holder in the Porta John all wet.”
“If you’d let me ride slower I’d have more time to remember where I’m going.” (from a student who doesn’t stress).
On why the rider didn’t wear spurs with her lazy warmblood: “I used to, but I stopped when I got my new boots because I didn’t want to put marks on them.”
A thirtyish event rider replying to an apologetic concern from the clinician (and who might that have been?) that in light of the #MeToo Movement, he might have verbally overstepped his bounds: “Nonsense, I am paying good money to be harassed by you!”
From one East Texas clinic auditor to another when asked if she were bringing her horse for a dressage lesson: “Naw, my horse ain’t right in his head for this.”
Another East Texas rider informing me that perhaps she had been trotting too long in her lesson: “Ahm fixin’ ta git tarred!”
Speaking of unfit riders, me to a student, “You can walk soon. Make a transition at the far end at A.” The student, wailing, “That’s not soon!”
And from another thirty-ish eventor (said admiringly of her horse as I arrived to teach her): “You know your horse is well broke when you realize you forgot to change into your sports bra and he’ll ground tie outside the trailer while you slip in and fix things.”
Down for the Count
I passed through a student’s kitchen to grab a drink of water, and the visiting house cleaner stopped me to ask a question. Driving through the neighborhood earlier, he had noticed a horse lying flat out in a pasture by the road. He had gone a little farther and then, worrying, had turned back to see if the horse was okay. By then, he was standing and grazing, but his question was “Is this normal behavior?”
I applauded him for checking and, of course, assured him that everything was fine. His concern reminded me of another incident back in the day. It was the better part of 50 years ago, and on Sunday mornings I used to hang out with an ex-racetracker who ran a layup farm. We’d sit by the fire, drinking instant coffee sweetened with canned milk, and he’d regale me with stories from his days on the track. Sunday was also the day when the owners of the horses he cared for would occasionally appear to see them. These were “owners,” not necessarily to be confused with horse people.
I was in the process of turning out a young thoroughbred in a 50 foot square paddock when, coincidentally, the owners pulled in. They emerged from a long black caddy, attired in a most unsuitable way for a barn visit— he in a cashmere topcoat and fedora, houndstooth checked bellbottoms (Remember, it was 1970) and shiny, tasseled loafers … the big-haired, made up wife/babe in her mink.
As they picked their way through the mud and slush towards their horse, I unclipped the shank and stepped back. With a snort and a buck, the colt turned himself inside out and flung himself on the ground, legs in the air, scratching his back. Owner and wife/babe shrieked in unison, thinking their $50,000 investment was committing suicide. They, too, had never seen a horse lie down or roll. They didn’t know it was possible! The house cleaner’s reaction had been a little more understandable to me. He, at least, had not spent what was then a small fortune on something he knew that little about.
I suppose I should be more forgiving. I remember even farther back to a time before I had any relationship with horses at all. I was in high school, just old enough to drive, and I had gone off to visit my little girlfriend who, unlike suburban me, lived out in the country. We were strolling along—probably holding hands in an innocent sort of way—and down the road came a horse. No tack, no halter (though at the time I would not have recognized one anyway). Just a horse.
Nowadays—or even just a few years later—I would have slipped my belt off, slung it around the horse’s neck and figured out where he came from. At the time my young lady said, “What shall we do?”
The best I could offer at the time was the tentative and meek suggestion, “Maybe he is supposed to be here…” In retrospect, as oblivious to equine realities as the guy in the bellbottoms.
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