Blog .:. May 2008 7 Entries

What a Week

31 May 2008 Comments

I’m not even going to tell you how many moments of sheer stupidity I had, but they started with having absolutely no idea what day of the week it was until mid-day today, when I learned it was Friday, not Thursday as I thought. Darn those three-day weekends; they’ll get you every time.

But riding wise—the last few weeks, we’ve been working on establishing contact with the horse, which means having to deal with the fact that I want to throw the reins away as soon as I feel the horse on the other end of them.

My frustration with all of this is self-directed: I know what I need to do, I can even feel when I lose the contact, but I can’t make my body do what it needs to do. Or, if I can, I’m not quick enough. I keep waiting for that magic switch to kick in, so that the exercise becomes as instinctive as posting.

In all this struggle for me to “get” it, my instructor has been really good at switching things around—giving me new techniques to try, or having me focus on different things, or changing the pattern I’m riding in the arena. Which is exactly what you have to do with me. I’m not one of those riders who can go around in a circle for the entire lesson and focus on the same thing the entire time. It drives me nuts. I’m sure you’ve known horses like this—they get bored and frustrated with the constant repetition and it starts to work against the exercise. That’s me, too.

If I ever step back into the show ring, you can bet I’ll ride the most complicated test I reasonably can. I would ride Intro 4 over Intro 1, for example. Not because I think I’m too good for Intro 1, but because I would be a nervous wreck and the least helpful thing I could do would be to ride an easier test. Much better to ride something complicated, where I really have to think about what I’m doing and where I’m going so there’s less time to psych myself out. I’ve noticed when I look over my old test scores that there are a lot more Test 3’s and Test 4’s in the mix than there are Test 1’s and Test 2’s.

So drilling an exercise until I’m perfect at it doesn’t work for me. I don’t learn that way. I learn better if I drill it until I sort of have it, but maybe not entirely. Then I need to move on to another exercise that incorporates the troublesome exercise without focusing on it.

I’m not saying I should be trying 1-tempi changes if I can’t get 3-tempis or anything like that (oh, to be at a place where that was my concern!)—but back when I learned to do a shoulder in, for example, we focused on it for a lesson or two and then moved the shoulder ins to the warm up or cool down, or else did exercises that started with a shoulder in and went into something else. When shoulder ins became part of a broader context, they finally made sense and I was able to break through the problems I was having.

Gosh, I love it when I have my whole learning process so perfectly mapped out like this. Life looks so easy. Here’s the solution! Go forth and ride!

Yeah, right. It’s one thing to know how I learn best, it’s another thing to really believe, when I’m in the middle of not getting an exercise, that I really do need to move on and try something different before I drive the instructor, the horse, and myself entirely insane. I want to be perfect now, darn it, not in a couple weeks when things have synthesized.

Tagged: Horses

Constantly Amazed by the Online Experts

28 May 2008 Comments

You probably think this will be about people trying to spout training techniques over discussion boards and blogs, but it’s much simpler.

I am constantly amazed, just absolutely astounded, at the number of people who are rock-solid certain they can divine a person’s meaning, intent, and tone based on a few words on a blog post or discussion board.

True: a talented writer can convey meaning, intent, and tone. A talented reader can divine something of the writer’s meaning, intent, and tone. Probably. Depending on what literary theory you subscribe to, anyway.

Also true: the vast majority of bulletin board posters are not talented writers. Even when people are writing informally, you can generally tell who has a good grasp of language and who does not. And, frankly, if someone does not have a good enough grasp of language to write intelligently enough to get their point across, I have a hard time believing their “analysis” of what other people said (or, even better, meant to say).

Which is why I love, absolutely love, the discussions that devolve into arguments like this:

Person 1: I like X.

Person 2: I don’t.

Person 1: Why do you have to be so nasty about it?

Person 2: How is saying I disagree with you nasty?

Person 1: Here, I’ll quote you: ‘I don’t.’ If you can’t see that you’re being nasty, I can’t help you.

Person 2: It’s a free world. I’m allowed to state I don’t agree with you.

Person 1: I wish you would just go away. What are you, a troll? (joke!) [laughing icon]

Person 2: Wait, so I can’t disagree with you, but you can call me a troll?

Person 1: It was a joke! Look, I put a laughing icon up! God, you’re so dense!

Person 2: No, I’m trying trying to understand why you can make jokes at my expense but I’m not allowed to disagree with you.

Person 1: There you go being nasty again. Why can’t you be civilized?

And on and on. Of course, it goes the other way, too, with people who claim “free speech” and “just telling it like it is” as a cover for being unnecessarily rude (all under cover of being “witty” of course).

The amazing thing here is how everyone is an expert at determining what other people meant, even if they can barely write a coherent statement (and if you misinterpret their self-proclaimed meaning, then you are the idiot, of course, because it’s clearly stated in their post. They can’t help if it you don’t know what “grzzzfartzik horse pffilsblu ride hoggrottdisk stirrups” means.).

Have you ever watched a group of English majors arguing over the meaning/tone/intent of a text? You should, sometime. It’s great. It’s like the most heated of the discussions on horse boards, but with even bigger egos. Really. If you want to see some serious online catfights, go read a writing board. It’s not just the topic at hand that gets debated, it’s peoples’ ability to interpret what’s going on. And since their career path is dependent on their ability to interpret, well, you can imagine how personally they take it. (They, we, whatever. I like a good literary discussion as much as the next person, and I have no small ego with regard to my abilities.)

Thinking about this makes me itch to go write a thesis on interpreting online discussions. I suspect my background in psychology is not quite strong enough for this, but it could be amusing to interpret exchanges using multiple literary theories. Hmm. Yeah, in all my spare time.

At any rate, I doubt this is all going to change soon, which means I can continue to be amused by these arguments. And attitudes. And the complete disconnect between apparent writing and analysis ability and apparent belief in one’s writing and analysis ability.

Now to post this and then discover the thousand and one mistakes in it, because if Murphy’s Law #637 is that you will always type your password incorrectly when someone is watching, Murphy’s Law #638 is that the person who sets themselves up on a high horse over any sort of writing skills invariably makes the stupidest mistakes of all.


Can I play hunter/jumper for a while

21 May 2008 Comments

Don’t worry; I have plenty of cheese to go with this whine.

I’ve said before that my background is primarily hunter/jumper, and almost all the dressage I’ve done has been in a seat somewhere between the hunter/jumper forward seat and a true dressage seat. This has worked for me, and has been good for me in a lot of ways, but now, of course, my trainer and I are working on developing a real dressage seat.

It’s hard. It’s really hard. Every time the horse and I get stuck, I want to tip forward on my pelvis and get my seatbones off the saddle.

And trust me: it’s not that I think hunter/jumper riders have it easy, or that it’s so much easier to ride in a forward seat. It’s just that it’s instinctive for me. I know those aids. My body will default to those aids without having to think about it. I have to think really hard about dressage aids.

Wah, wah, wah.

I feel better now.

On the plus side, I think I’m starting to get riding into the contact back. Somewhere along the line, I apparently developed a fear of riding into contact, so that as soon as the horse reaches into the bridle, I want to throw the reins away. I have no idea where this came from; it’s certainly not how I was trained. How frustrating.

I think part of it is a barely-conscious fear that if I ride with real contact, the horse will fall behind my leg aids and I’ll end up with a horse moving with a hollow back and a false headset. Whereas if I drop the contact, I can focus on riding the horse forward from the leg. Or something. In this age of multi-tasking, sometimes I despair at my ability to get my aids working independently.

Self analyzing aside, my last lesson was better. Much better. More consistency, and by the end I remembered that I could indeed reestablish power from behind if we got a little stuck—without having to toss the horse’s head away and start all over.

(The other lesson learned: do not forget how tall the horse you’re riding is. Smaller horses can have huge stretchy movement that feels like a large horse, but if you dismount from a 15hh horse as if it were a 17hh horse, you’re going to hit the ground a little before you expect it. And that’s awkward.)

Tagged: Horses

It’s Friday Night. Do you know where your sanity is?

17 May 2008 Comments

My cat hates me because I cleaned the whole house before I fed her.

I do not understand this apparent love fest with the phrase “He’s a good handle” in classified ads. Is this a Texas thing? Are horses naturally knobby things that open doors? Are they the wooden ends of sweeping implements? Have we forgotten the difference between the noun “handle” and the verb “to handle”? Am I just a grammar snob?

I went shopping for groceries, came home, and discovered the only thing I didn’t buy was anything I wanted to eat right this moment.

The cardboard boxes in my living room are now broken down and stored away. Does this mean I’m finally moved in?

Why do people refer to their horses as a “YYYY model”? Do all horses born in 1996 have three white socks? Were all 1988 horses a little nuts? Do all 2003 horses have bad pasterns? Do we secretly wish our horses were cars?

Should I buy a house? Will any bank lend to me?

If I clean my half chaps, will they darken at all? I have nothing to oil them with, and although a pass a tack store daily(!) on my way to work, it’s never at a time when I can stop and buy some oil.

Why do I love awful teen flick movies so much?

Has anybody ever had a good experience with Ariat boots? I hate mine with the fire of a thousand suns. I want new boots.

Is it horribly wrong that I am reveling, yes, reveling, in the fact that I don’t have to wear those puke-green hunter breeches any more? God, I hated them.

At what point does one become the crazy cat lady? Can I have a certificate when I become one?

Can you go crazy from looking at software specifications for nine hours in one day?

How can I own hundreds of books and yet have nothing to read?

What do you do when you discover the super-secret horse name you’ve been treasuring for years has awful connotations that you never knew about?

Where are my glasses? I cleaned the whole house, and I can’t find them.

What is it about human nature that makes us say, “Wow, that’s potentially dangerous. I should be really careful…. oh, ####. ####. ####. Oh, ow, ow, ow, #### ow.” I think I’m going to end up with a new scar, all because I decided to pick up a broken glass vase last week instead of sweep it into a dustpan.

It feels like forever since I’ve ridden. Thank goodness I have a lesson this weekend.

Thank goodness it’s the weekend. I think my head’s going to explode.


So that was an A show, was it?

11 May 2008 Comments

So, I finally had the chance to go watch one of those much-vaunted A-rated hunter/jumper shows. It was an interesting combination of impressive and appalling. 

There was a horse in the hunter ring who was a little enthusiastic about running down the lines. I thought the rider did a great job with a horse that looked excited to be there and jumping—she negotiated the course well, wasn’t ripping her horse’s face off, and although she looked unhappy coming out of the ring, her conversation with her trainer afterward was quiet and composed. Each time she returned, the round looked smoother. I was really impressed by how she handled what was either a bad day or a green horse that needed seasoning.

The jumper ring was more interesting.

There were a surprising number of refusals, and the responses ranged from the tactful to yank-the-face-and-boot-the-side of the horse. I have no idea why some of the riders were carrying crops, since they never bothered to use them, and there was one rider that made me want to go thank whoever sent her in to the ring without a crop because her tantrum was ugly (and completely ineffective at teaching the horse anything). I’d have hated to see what she would have done with a crop.

I was also surprised at the entitlement displayed by both riders and trainers. One rider refused out at a fence at the far end of the arena. As she rode towards the in gate, she looped through the scary fences, showing them to her horse. Initially I thought she was just taking a smart path through the jumps on a horse that obviously found the jumps spooky. But when she got near the in gate, instead of exiting, she turned around to keep riding through the jumps. Are you kidding me? How is this appropriate behavior? This is a show, not your personal schooling ring. The announcer had to tell her to get out, and even then she took her time.

Also rude to both the judge and other competitors: the lower-level jumpers who took their sweet time getting to the ring. I lost count of the number of times the announcer asked them to hurry up, until finally the announcer said that if the riders did not enter the ring in a timely fashion, the judge was going to close the card and pin the class. Meanwhile, the last rider to go dismounts and she and her trainer leisurely adjust the saddle. Yes, of course, it’s important to make sure tack fits correctly, and it could have slipped in the warmup. But then the rider mounts and stands at the in gate while she and her trainer discuss the course.

I really wanted the judge to close the class on them.

Look: it’s a jumper ring. You already walked the course. The class has gone SO slowly, with SO MANY long breaks between riders entering the ring that you can’t tell me there wasn’t plenty of warm-up time. This was the last rider on course; she should have already known the course trouble spots and she and her trainer should have had plenty of time to discuss any adjustments to the plan made during the course walk. And even if they hadn’t had time yet, they should have been discussing those adjustments while they were fixing the saddle so that as soon as the rider mounted, she could head in to the ring.

I didn’t watch them warm up, so I don’t know if there was some last minute problem. Maybe the trainer had several riders in the class and horrible time management. But I can tell you, it looks really, really awful from the stands when the announcer is sending increasingly exasperated “hurry up” announcements over the PA and the last team to go are casually adjusting tack and discussing the course with no apparent regard for the show as a whole or the judge.

Overall an interesting day, perhaps more interesting because I didn’t know any of the people involved or the history behind horse/rider combinations. All I had to go on what what I could see, and based on what I saw, if I had been trainer hunting, it would have been very, very easy to distinguish between who I would want to talk to and who I would want to stay away from, no matter how many ribbons that might have had hanging up back by the stalls.


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