Pressing Onward

gustafson_-_jack_and_the_beanstalk-726768A 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.

                                       In the Bling of an Eye

(posted 1-17-22)

Country music star Tim McGraw‘s dad was famous too — the top reliever/closer for the New York Mets and later the Philadelphia Phillies. In 1980 his ninth inning World Series strike out of the Kansas City Royals’ Willie Wilson gave the Phillies their first title in 97 years. After the game he was asked how he could stay focused under the pressure of 50,000 howling fans screaming at him with the game riding on every pitch. “I have a theory,” he said,*

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Last night I attended an ably presented one and a half hour online webinar on the changes to DR120.

If your rule book isn’t handy, that’s all about the dress code for dressage competitions.

It made me sad.

As a curmudgeon–in–training, I recognize that time doesn’t stand still and the Old Guard always laments changes to their familiar world. That was true from the time that one tempis, a non-classical “trick,” were added to the Grand Prix, and much more recently when vocals became the norm in freestyle music.

The wildly expanded list of fabrics, textures, patterns, and doodads to every element of clothing and saddle pads, aside from opening up a multitude of clown show/masquerade ball Las Vegas-y potentials, is that it took that long to explain what is and is not now permissible. AND in this highly subjective realm, a violation of the new code requires mandatory elimination. In the spirit of the NFL‘s “Is it a catch or isn’t it a catch,” technical delegates are advised to take photos of the possibly offending attire to send to the USEF for a definitive ruling on their legality (obviously not on their taste).

What makes me sad is so much time, effort, and money being diverted to something so far from why presumably we are all there— the riding, remember?

Perhaps it would be simpler to have a fashion show on Saturday evening and conduct a non-glitzy competition the next day. I have said before (back in the top hat and tails day) Dressage is the only Olympic sport where the athletes dress as though they are going to a duel. Either give them pistols or let them wear something akin to track suits (and boots) in their national colors. Were it not for the chafing issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next step leans towards the uniforms of women’s pro beach volleyball! Anything to boost the TV ratings.

When the webinar concluded, I didn’t feel much like eating dinner. I stayed awake late into the night pondering the added burden of divorcing from my mind the distractions of gross and absurd costumes when I am trying to judge our sport. And then I remembered Tug McGraw‘s theory.

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“How do I block out the din of thousands of shrieking patrons? I remember scientists predicting that in the far away future when the sun has gone supernova and shrunken to a tiny white dwarf, the earth will become an uninhabited, charred cinder, and no one will care if I got this guy out or not.”

And that’s how I consoled myself as I finally drifted off to sleep.

                                      On Attitude

(posted 1-11-2022)

An arrogant rider can be so lacking in awareness that they are blinded by their self image. Yes, it’s good to be confident and not ride tentatively, but introspection and self analysis are critical parts of good training. You don’t have to take my word for it I Listen to the maestro:

“I have made countless errors in the training of literally thousands of horses.Luckily I am aware of these faults, for otherwise I would never have made further progress. I know that I still have much to learn, and will go on learning until my dying day, not only by riding, but by studying, thinking deeply, and observing” – NUNO OLIVEIRA #nunooliveira

It’s a delicate balance. You must be willing to question what you’re doing, constantly re-evaluate, and be willing to adjust. This is normal and shouldn’t discourage you. It can be the source of great discoveries if you’re open to them.

                        Not How It’s Supposed to Work

(posted 12-17-21)

I was recently informed by a potential student with a young mare that she has never permitted a male to get on any of her horses. Years ago I would’ve been mightily offended. Now I just rolled my eyes and thought “how shortsighted of you.”

I do understand wanting to be protective of your horse, but gender per se seems like a poor delineator to choose a rider. Truth be told, there are some trainers I would not want on any of my horses either— some are men, some are women. The deciding factors have more to do with their patience and empathy then with physical strength.

The availability of strength has little to do with how much and when it is applied. A wise rider, whether male or female, should always be looking for the opportunity to use smaller, lighter aids if they work. And an important goal is to ride in a way to ensure that they will work!

If I’m riding a horse for someone, I want first of all to make it correct, and second make it rideable for its owner. This might even include riding some of the time with my stirrups of the length that matches those of the eventual rider.

Unless it’s a totally unsuitable horse in the first place, if I train the horse so that it works for me but not for the person paying the bill, it misses the point.


The texts of past blogs which used to appear here have their own page. Access them with a simple click below