Been There, Done That

commentary on many different thoughts

Month: October, 2013


Halloween Cthulu cake.  If you don’t recognize the reference, try H. P. Lovecraft;  appropriate for this season.



Show Ring Politics

I learned a little about show ring politics with my first real hunter trainer.  I’d started out doing mostly seat-of-the-pants and do-it-yourself, then turned pro with my BHSI certificate and learned about the eventing ins-and-outs from one of the best.  We went and did, and if we won that was great, and if we didn’t, we figured out what went wrong and tried to fix it for the next time.   Never occurred to us that there were politics involved.

Then I started paying attention to (and coaching) Medal and Maclay competitors.  I learned that it really does matter who your teacher/trainer is.  I learned that there were parents who mortgaged their homes so that their little princesses could come East to work with the gods, demi-gods and heroes of the equitation world, and that if you weren’t working in this closed circle, you might as well not bother.

This lesson was reinforced when I started showing hunters with Cameo.


Unknowingly, I’d arrived at the barn of one of the BNTs (big name trainers) in our area (I chose the barn because it was close to home, clean and neat, not for the trainer, of whom I’d never heard – I was going to event again, but Cameo thought otherwise).  I started noticing that every single time I went into the ring with Cameo, BNT would make a point of being visible by the in-gate.  Point being, “hey judge, this is one of mine”.  Must admit that it helped.

On the other hand, I have never been one to enjoy success on someone else’s laurels.

In the dance world, it’s the same sort of game.  There are pro/am professionals (trainers) whose students pay huge sums to take coaching with the big names, knowing that at one point or another, these big names will be judging them and remembering them.  These pro/am pros also will carry their students on the competition floor – essentially doing all the work while the student just looks pretty.

I have never been one to enjoy success on someone else’s laurels.

My wonderful partner/teacher/friend  insists that I do my own homework.  If I sit on my posterior in the studio because I’m not doing what I’m supposed to, so be it.  If I’m not trotting with impulse and collection, there’s a spur or two.  If I’m getting strung out and heavy in hand, there’s a brisk half-halt.  It means that I’m learning self-carriage.  Which is a good thing.

Yes, on the competition floor he will cover for me if I lose it, but he still expects me to pull my own oar.  And we don’t play politics.  Granted, it has affected our placements occasionally, but I want to get good enough that they can’t ignore me, even if we don’t play politics.  Wish us luck!!!

Teachers, Trainers and Coaches oh my

What’s in a name?  What’s the difference between a teacher, a trainer, and a coach?

A teacher is one who teaches the fundamentals of the subject being learned.  If you are learning ballroom dance, the teacher is the one who shows you the difference between a waltz and a foxtrot, and the difference between a tango and a tarantella.  She “larns” y’all the steps, shows you how to move gracefully and correctly, and starts adding a bit of polish, so that when you start working with a trainer, you have the foundation to progress.

A trainer (who may or may not also be your teacher) presents you in the ring or on the floor.  The trainer takes the basic material provided by the teacher (hopefully good, solid foundation material) and polishes it, teaching poise, ringmanship (floorcraft for dancers) and showmanship.  This applies in every subjective sport from acrobatics to zen.

A coach adds the “je ne sais quoi” that separates the good from the great.  A coach usually visits occasionally, or just meets at the competition to provide warm-up and good advice, and to critique.

My eventing teacher (a once-in-a-lifetime find) was more a coach than a trainer, since she left us to get on with it outside of lessons, but would provide occasional fine-tuning.

My current dance partner/teacher/trainer/friend is as much moral support as physical support (I lose my balance and he saves my butt – literally).  We get BNDs (big name dancers) in periodically  for coaching sessions – it’s always good to have a third eye on the couple, since my partner can’t monitor everything I do while we’re in dance hold!

And my driving teacher/trainer/coach in the new world of Saddlebred driving is doing one heck of a job being all three!

More Line-Drawings

Another Chronicle rant,  They ran an article on the 17th about the FEI jog at Fair Hill.

(Backstory:  Fair Hill, Maryland, runs a two-star event in the fall, one of the last ones of the season. Since it’s a _-star, it is run, as are all starred events, under FEI rules.  FEI requires 3 soundness jogs during the course of an event:  one prior to dressage (the idea is to make sure that the horse is, in fact, the horse declared as a runner, and that he has four legs in working order.  Period.); the second jog was (I don’t know if they still do it in the expletive-deleted short-format) between phase C and phase D of cross-country, to make sure that the horse was really fit enough to do the cross-country run of phase D);  and the last jog was before show-jumping, to make sure that the horse was sound enough, after cross-country, to handle a course of jumps.) FEI rules stipulate no drugs (exceptions being pre-certified and reported in advance), no this, no that and no the other thing.

Among the “other things” rules is that the vet may not handle the horse during the vet inspection.  The horse is jogged in front of a panel, is declared accepted, held for re-inspection, or spun.  There isn’t much in the way of an appeal if you are spun – which means you wasted time, effort and a great deal of money, and can just turn around and go home, thank you. If the horse is held for re-inspection, the panel has him jogged again, and makes a decision.  The concept has always been that if the horse is patently lame, then flatly out.  If not, dressage alone shouldn’t affect it one way or the other, and the dressage judge or judges have the authority and the power to eliminate a horse they see as unsound, or have it re-checked if there is a question.

Anyway, at the Fair Hill vet inspection, a foreign judge decided, on his own, to flex-test several of the horses.  Now, anyone who’s ever flex-tested a horse knows that if you torque it right, any horse will take irregular steps for the first couple of yards.  This judge spun all of the horses he tested.  Now, I wouldn’t have as much of a fit about this if it weren’t for the fact that THIS IS SPECIFICALLY PROHIBITED UNDER FEI RULES. The panel may not handle the horse during the vet inspection.

Apparently, this is a rule that isn’t well-known (until, of course, it suddenly matters).  What really made my blood boil was a quote in the article by Big Name Rider. It appears that (oddly enough) the horses that were spun were being presented by “just folks”, who didn’t know about the rule.  BNR (big name rider) goes on record stating that “if they’d had someone like P—- D—- or C—— F—— (even Bigger Name Riders) with them, they would have known that the rule had been violated and that they had to appeal immediately.  These “just folks” riders did what they were told by the judge and withdrew their horses from the competition.  They found out about the rule after, but were informed that since they’d already withdrawn, they couldn’t appeal the decision any more. So, reads the subtext, if you want to do FEI-level competition, you have to have a BNR in your corner. (deep sub-text:  send money, send lots of money, to BNR.)

I would have been homicidal by that point ….

People ask why I no longer follow eventing, even ignoring Rolex.  With this as an example, with the politics now involved, and with no American riders worth following, why bother.  And when the short-format became the rule, turning what used to be a spectacular spectator sport watching beautiful thoroughbreds gallop and jump and is now a technical stadium course in the open for huge, gallumphiing warmbloods, again I say why bother.

Drawing the Line

Where do you draw the line between practicality and overprotectiveness?  Case in point:

Recently had a long conversation with a dear friend, an avid cat person.  He has four at the moment.  I told him about the last pair of cats I had, and what had become of them.  I acquired them as a favor to someone who was mortally ill and needed to find them a home.  The female went to one of my students, and eventually lived 23 years as queen of the roost.

The male and I did not get along.  He blamed me for the loss of his front claws, his manhood and his mother (all legit complaints) and made his annoyance quite clear.  He found himself a very happy home with the mother of my secretary.  She was 85 at the time, competently living alone, but lonely to the point of depression.  The cat turned this around completely.  She had someone to talk to and pamper.  And pamper she did.  I don’t think that cat ever set foot on the floor.  She carried him to his litter box, poached salmon for him (he preferred white wine sauce), stroked him while she watched her soaps, and let him help her pick out pieces for her quilting.  The cat went from a lithe 7-pounder (when he came to me) to a 19-pound grey furry meatloaf.

What caused the dispute with my friend was my comment that the cat’s obesity, in this particular case, didn’t matter to me at all.  My point was that the cat had a job to do (providing an elderly lady with companionship) and if the immense amount of weight affected the length of his life, that wasn’t particularly important, as long as he was otherwise healthy and the elderly lady was happy.  My friend was horrified and called me abusive, saying that the cat should immediately have been put on a strict diet and forced to exercise, etc …

I think there comes a time when pragmatism and the weighing of evils takes precedence over paternalistic protection.  The cat was happy, the lady was happy, and he lifted her out of her depression and enabled her to live the life she wanted.

I’d welcome your takes on this.

When your legs don’t clear the saddle

You can still ride respectably and respectfully even if you are 10, weigh less than 80 pounds, and have Moses to take care of you!

Moses - Katy Caddell

More Freedom

This is Caryn Reynolds on Tory.  She’d ridden Tory maybe 3 times before this event.  And look at the freedom.

Tory Caryn


This is what it should look like over a really big fence.

form over fences

And More Equitation

If I can do it, it can be done.  This is a free-jumping hunter.  Yes, Cameo was special, and it took me years to develop this kind of seat, but it CAN be done.


Equitation, my @)(%)()@(%#

The Chronicle of the Horse is running live streaming of the Medal and Maclay finals.  I have never seen so many poles being dropped (in a BIG equitation class yet), so many horses with huge pelham bits and tight martingales, and so many horses with their noses cranked in to their chests, jumping ears-first.

There are two major and one minor reasons which can explain why our current international teams are floundering.


Kids aren’t riding out in the open.  All their work is done in enclosed arenas, and way too many rely on indoor schools (they used to look at me strangely when I rode outdoors in midwinter, but all my horses benefited).  The current crop of kids has no concept of jumping out of hand and riding your horse’s best stride rather than a pre-measured 12-foot stride.  They also aren’t used to riding horses that haven’t been pre-tuned by their trainers.  I guess when you buy a horse for your kid that costs more than your mortgage, you don’t want the kid messing it up or possibly injuring it on a trail ride.

Second major problem is the infernal crest-release.  Col. Littauer’s forward riding called the crest-release the “beginner’s release”.  As you progressed, you learned to ride with an independent hand, a floating hand, rather than lying on the horse’s neck for support.  George Morris and his ilk are to blame for turning the crest release into a  stylized pose.  My father used to comment on this when watching some of the major equitation classes “these are decent riders.  Why aren’t they using their bodies in balance rather than posing so stiffly?”.

MINOR PROBLEM and my own personal beef:

Buying these kids the huge fancy expensive imported warmbloods.  These are essentially draft crosses, and have a lot in common with the Sherman tank. Put one of these equitation stars on a Thoroughbred and watch what happens.

I guess it’s nice to be able to raid the trust fund for a fancy equitation horse that someone else has made, someone else cleans and primps up, someone else warms up and tunes up, but whatever happened to the joy of doing it yourself?  And yes, it’s nice to have a great big beast which makes the 3’6″ fences look tiny (I rode ponies in England over fences that size, and looking UP at 3’6″ from a 12.2 pony has its own thrills), but wouldn’t it be nicer to have a horse you can actually control with a fat snaffle rather than ten pounds of pelham and that doesn’t need constant leg to keep it going?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that an equitation rider ought to be a complete horseman, and truly be able to ride the horse, not get on a pre-tuned robot.

This is what a free-jumping horse should look like:         Or maybe this

perfect formscan0003

Yes I’d put a helmet on, but hey …….