Essays of an Equestrian

I’ve always wanted an entourage. I’d watch in amazement as horse gurus, both local and famous, would always seem to have flocks of folks with them, listening to everything they said and blindly devoted to every word and thought, waiting in devotion for the next pearl of wisdom. In time the best devotees became handy, free labor for the guru.

With practice, a guru could get their devotees to do just about anything and some gurus in horses or other areas of life would often do their masters bidding without question no matter what was asked. Manson’s followers come to mind.

Devotees love fighting on behalf of their guru.

In the equestrian world gurus also attract such devotion as passionate as any religions. I remember once going to a horse expo and when I pulled into the parking lot there were a bunch of cars with writing all over them (high school football team style) espousing how much the occupants were in love with Gawani Pony Boy. It looked as if I’d pulled into the 1960’s parking lot of a Beatles concert, screaming swooning girls included.

It’s easy to know when young girls like something because there is high pitched screaming involved.

I cracked up laughing and begin to imagine myself pulling up in a car all marked up espousing Walter Zettl. Cute slogans written in soap with sentiments such as “Zettl Rocks!” or “Show Your Mettle With Walter Zettl”.

Give me a few glasses of wine and I can make up slogans for days.

If you could hear all the noise in my head now you’d be laughing your asses off with the scenarios my brain is coming up with. Oh look, here are some now….

Imagine pulling into a parking lot for a horse expo. Folks are barbequing by their cars a la football pre-game style. Some are wearing certain colored clothing a la the color scheme of their favorite guru complete with logos. Some have small TV’s playing their gurus best known video.

Nearby a teenage girl swoons and squeals “Oh I LOVE that video!”

A man walks by with a backpack moving from group to group trying to hawk Expo Tshirts for ten bucks apiece. Buy three for $25.00. He has an accent.

The Clint Anderson folks are tossing some shrimps on the bar-bee talking about how great his methods are. His methods seem a bit rough to me but his fans don’t see it. Instead they are huddled around talking about how all the non-fans are clueless.

The Parelli folks are huddled in a small circle. The circle used to be bigger, but some videos came out. One of the fans today has a carrot stick sticking out of a back pocket of her jeans poised up like some erect white tail. They are talking about the injustice of videos posted and how the rest of us non-fans are clueless.

Then there’s another group of fans of some cowboy who was mentored by that Dorrance guy. Good guy to have as mentor because no one really says chit about him and he’s widely respected. Now this new guy who studied with Dorrance has his own line of training videos and DVDs, all still new to the market. The fans talk about how clueless all the non-fans are and how ahead of the curve they are.

John Lyons fans are also huddled about quoting Bible and Lyons quotes. They are talking about the things they’ve learned from John (and Josh) and I’m surprised as most of it is stuff that would qualify as common knowledge that you learned in the beginning of your time with horses. Yet strangely lots of people still need to learn it. The fans talk about how clueless all the non-fans are then quote the Bible a lot.

There would have been a section for Jane Savoie fans, but they tend to be older and are too busy to be grilling in the parking lot. They’ve come in between dropping off one kid at soccer and picking up another one from cheerleading. Plus I really like Jane so its harder to poke harmless fun at her. But I guess in the interest of fairness I should try.

So now I’m listening to a video of hers as I write so that I can find a hole to poke with humor. Dammit, everything is dead on balls accurate. In this video she’s speaking of folks with terrible fear issues so I can’t pick on them either being they are already all freaked out. So here we are with Jane’s group of middle aged women pulling into the lot in their range rovers holding small lattee’s or coffees in my scenario, chatting with their children on their Blue tooths.

Anky’s group is absent because she isn’t coming to America and they’ve figured there is nothing they can learn from low life Anky neigh-sayers. They are however planning to attend some reinings so that they can watch her ride. And win again, strangely. When they do gather at the reining, they can talk about how clueless TWO groups of horse people are, both in reining and dressage.

Edward Gals entourage is in full force because he’s the new big guy on campus despite the fact that his horse of horses Totillas can’t do extensions anywhere near correct and has seemingly just about developed the pacey working walk. None of that matters to them as they are expecting him to score 99.9% on his next show appearance anyway. They lovingly stroke their show ribbons as they talk about how clueless everyone else is.

I’m with the Zettl folks and unlike the others I’m stuffing myself silly with a roast beast sandwhich while the others have salad. I cannot have salad because salad is not food. Salad is what food eats. This group is huddled about talking about how happy and relaxed their horses are. Out of fifteen of us, only one shows with any frequency. The word harmony is spoken often and we cast sidewards glances to the Gal group quietly calling them bitches and saying how mean and clueless they are.

Each group is devoted as they come and I marvel as to how the guru’s do it. And although I know I am the farthest thing from a guru myself (I’m more like a gnu that guru) I’ve seen the same kind of hero worship doted upon the local trainers in my area some of which are far, far from deserving, and I just don’t get it.

How do they do it?

It’s great to have a guru, but it’s better to have a mentor. And it’s best to keep aware and step back sometimes to evaluate what you’re hearing and seeing. Today’s guru just might end up being yesterday’s hack.

It’s tough I think to be a guru. Your smart followers will hang on every word and watch every deed and their judgment of these evolves on a daily basis. Or at least it should.

There’s a great responsibility when you’re a guru and I fear that most guru’s are destined for eventual failure. You see, they forget at what point to say “No”.

I received a comment in reply to my previous post “At What Point No?” and felt it necessary to post. It tells a fuller story of an elite athletes decision to say “No” as she was concerned for her horses welfare.

I cannot imagine how hard it would be for many of us, given the chance to ride in the Olympics, to just say “No”. Kudos to Ms. Ikle for being able to.

“I don’t know what criticism had to be endured (the team trainer resigned, don’t know if it was in protest or what), but here’s a report on why she withdrew from the Hong Kong Olympics:

The Swiss Equestrian Federation has withdrawn its dressage team from the 2008 Hong Kong Olympic Games following a statement by its top dressage rider, Silvia Iklé. Iklé announced that she will not take her 14-year-old gelding Salieri CH to the Games, nor would she allow her second horse, Romario, ridden by teammate Veronika Marthaler, to compete. Iklé cited the humidity, distance and time difference of Hong Kong as reasons not to take her horses.

In a press statement, Iklé said, “Participating in Hong Kong would place extraordinary stresses and strains, exertions I do not wish to impose upon my horses.”

After Iklé’s statement, the Swiss Equestrian Federation decided to withdraw the entire Swiss dressage team from the Games, pointing out that, without Iklé, the team would be weak.

Swiss team trainer Jurgen Koschel has resigned as a result of the Swiss Equestrian Federation’s actions.”

I wish to thank Alli Farkas for the whole story!

As an equine blogger I, and a bunch of other people, spew on and on with all that “horses being a partner” stuff.

I would like to bring up for your consideration the next logical part to that way of thinking. And more importantly if that next step isn’t feasible or logical, consider that it just might all be a bunch of bull.

Any thinking person, open to shifting sands, must be willing to acknowledge that at certain points in their life, their logic shifts and their way of thinking changes.

So what methods or belief we held as truth twenty years ago is something we’d never do today. We’ve evolved. Think of all the dubious things you’ve done with a horse twenty years ago and say that you would do it ALL today. For most of us (myself included) the answser is an unequivocal NO.

So today we are far more attentive to and wanting to “listen to the horse”. We preach of being a partner in the equine dance between horse and rider, blah blah blah.

But now what? What next?

Okay, so now we ride the horse. We work him day in and day out, trying to perfect ourselves and in turn, perfect the horses way of going.

We practice rhythm and our timing of the aids and the application of them. We do everything we can short of lighting candles, putting on Asian mood music, and praying to any entity who will listen in order we the Ying to better ride Yang.

We achieve equine nirvana and we begin to show. We advance quickly at first, and we’re able to place well too. If we’re lucky and we’ve spent enough time and money we start to show with the big boys.

Then one day things become a little harder. But we’re doing so well showing and we’re leading in points even if it’s just a small lead. We find ourselves in the position that one bad show with low test scores can be the difference between Yes and No. We have become serious and competitive.

So we push. We look for shortcuts. With a world watching (except maybe some FEI stewards because they can’t do a damn thing about it anyway) we MAKE things happen as opposed to the loftier mantra of allowing things to EVOLVE.

We have become that which we once loathed, though often we do not see it.

And often there’s nothing we can do about it. We’ve developed ourselves and our lives around showing and winning especially if we’re a trainer. Winning gives us prestige and prestige gives us money. And we need that money. We have to pay the farm rent or mortgage, pay the sky high prices and fees of showing and be able to (in lieu of spending our own money) convince someone else to either buy a horse for us to ride or allow us to ride their horse and to pay us for riding their horse. And we have to keep them convinced because at any time that person can wave buh bye and move on to the person who is doing the winning if we aren’t.

Everything depends on winning. EVERYTHING.

Pressure mounts and so does the pressure we put upon our horses. Some of us try and cheat a little when the horse starts coming up sore because coming up sore is just something that happens when you MAKE it happen instead of allowing things to EVOLVE.

People start to notice and begin to say things. Then some of them get mad at you and begin to say things on the internet. Global conversations begin with you as the topic and you find yourself being blamed for the demise of dressage as we know it and in some circles, the holocaust too. We become the subject of videos and of conversations about said videos.

We step up and defend ourselves yelling for anyone to hear that will listen stating how much we love our horse and how much education we have. Of course we love our horses because we speak nicely to them and feed them carrots and bananas when we’re not contorting them in bizarre, unrecognizable positions.

Our education with some of the top folks in the world has taught us that we are more knowing than others as to what the real deal is, what the realities of living in this world entails in the horse world. We give ourselves the excuses we need, we give those same excuses to the world and we speak of how much more we know than every one else.

We have become that which we once loathed.

It’s apparent to others that now we’ve lost our way. Somewhere, at some point, things went askew.

How do we keep that from happening?

Remember at the very beginning I asked what the next step was? Well this is the point in the equation of things that the question must be both asked and answered.

My answer: The horse must always be the driver. The horse must always lead the way.

Next question:

Given todays show environment, is it even possible for the horse to lead the way?

I think maybe no, it isn’t possible all the time especially as we reach higher levels.

It is my belief that as soon as the showing becomes complicated and entwined as an integral part of life’s set up that at some point it is no longer possible for the horse to be the driver. When things develop to the Olympic or World levels its obvious that showing has become quite complicated and has become entwined as an integral part of our lifes set up. And then there’s the money. Always the money.

So I would ask, is there a point where the sport developed to preserve “training” has now become the very vehicle of its destruction?

At what point do we say “No”?

The answer is different to different people. I can afford to make my answer to completely listen to the horse and allow him to be the driver. I’m not currently showing or even driving towards some goal and time destination.

I have the luxury of my mantra being “I’ll do what evolves based up my frequency and intensity of rides and the horse wanting to and enjoying the training”.

Others are striving for some goal and that goal might be on a local, regional, national or global level.

The ones striving towards some goal are feeling the pressure. What will they do? What will we do?

In the end when we speak of being in harmony with our horses and of allowing the training to develop we can always talk the talk, but can we walk the walk?

As you know I have just become a published author. In celebration of this event I write the following as a tribute to those I must credit. Were it not for them being there for me, I probably would not have taken on such an endeavor.

Mentor is a small, big word. Only six letters long its size conceals the life altering effect having a mentor can have on someone’s life, whether it is within or outside of the horse world.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had three mentors. Two of those were teachers and the third rather like a second mother to me. All three contributed equally to the forming of who I was to become, both in and outside the horse world.

The first, a high school teacher, probably has no idea that I consider him a mentor. He was the first to appreciate my quirky creativity and who told me I had a talent for writing. He believed in me and encouraged me as no one else had previously done and because of his encouragement I began to feel like I had an actual talent for something other than horses.

He would often tell me I was brilliant in my creativity and to be honest, I kind of liked that! Plus that kind of unbridled freedom I felt because of his unabashed endorsements really empowered me to become even more creative. No matter the writing assignment he would offer I’d find a way to swing the topic to have some sort of equine relevance.

There is one equine related story which has stayed fresh in my mind even after all these years.

He had given me an assignment and although I don’t remember specifically what the topic was to be, I do remember he wanted a lot of descriptive words to be used. He wanted us to form pictures with our words.

I remember thinking “I can do that”.

So I wrote a story about my relationship with my horse and in one section it went something like this:

“In quiet times, when it was just my horse and I sharing life silently with one another, I’d often find myself just gazing  into his large, bright mahogany brown eyes. I’d relax with my face so close to his that his warm, sweet breath would gently caress the sensitive skin on my neck. I’d stare into those eyes for hours as he looked into the distance, and I wondered if he was seeing those things that were present now or perhaps remembering some distant time. Perhaps it was a memory of running with his mother and the other colts through lush fields of sweeping, fertile grass. Grass which colored so deeply green that in the amber hues of the setting sun would slowly fade to a deep and lavish blue. It was during one of these silent bonding moments that I spoke to him in velvet whisper, telling him of my love and admiration for him.

Then, he sneezed. Arrows of green snot shot at me as if suddenly released from a cannon, scattering like buckshot upon my white shirt. In an instant a lime green design boasted thinner in some spots, more robust in others.”

Suffice it to say he absolutely loved the piece. Loved it to the point as I had to stand up and read it to the whole class. As I read, I watched them get captured in the lofty moments of sunshine and teddy bears before I hit them with my arrows of green snot. Then, as the arrows struck their mark , I got to watch them become bewildered for a moment before the comprehension set in. Then of course I enjoyed the reaction with all it’s “ewwws” and “gross!” moans.

I was hooked. Look at the power I had to manipulate their little minds just with a flowery arrangement of some silly words. Yes, Mr. Ira Shatzman taught me that.

Not too long ago I googled his name and actually found him. We’ve spoken and I’ve told him how much he’s meant to me. It was his words which gave me the balls to start this. I also know he’s reading this now. How cool is that?

So, if I write anything stupid, you can just blame it on Mr. Shatzman…..

My next mentor was the mother of one of my equestrian friends. She too always supported me and in the horse world she had my back and would go to bat for me when I wanted to get involved in different areas in the horse world, whether it be showing or being active in equestrian or civic groups.

She taught me about people and their behaviors and how to fight long and hard for those things you believe in and she led by her own example. She would routinely fight stupidity with intelligence and her motives proved pure and noble.

She always spoke highly of me, both to me and to others. She actually believed I was a person worth knowing and she would scream it from the rooftops on my behalf were it needed.

Unfortunately she passed way too soon and way too young. I knew at the time of her passing that she meant the world to me but it wasn’t until afterward that I realized how truly significant her presence in my life had been. It wasn’t until real world struggles were made easier by the skills I’d acquired with her in the horse world that I fully realized the huge impact she’d made on my life.

See, that’s the thing with mentors; Often you don’t realize they are your mentor until they are gone.

My third mentor is solidly entrenched in the horse world as an internationally recognized dressage Master and if you’ve read my many blogs regarding him you know of whom I am speaking. A reading of those blogs makes it apparent why I would choose him. Besides, who better than to be a mentor than Walter A. Zettl. I can think of no better person.

I can only hope that each of you reading has your own mentor and that they are deserving of your trust and adoration.

Choose wisely.

Soon the great American summer holiday known as the 4th of July will be with us. This holiday, also named Independence Day, marks the day in history when the colonial representatives of the original 13 colonies signed the great document The Declaration of Independence pronouncing American independence from Britain and tyranny.

This holiday remains one of my favorites of the year, second only to Christmas. In addition to the wonderful Independence Day ceremonies, fireworks, national pride and the flying of flags, other traditions have evolved such as the great American art named “The Barbeque”.

So, in honor of this holiday I bring you this Revolutionary War tune tweeked in a DressageForTheRestOfUs kind of way. I would add that in the days of yesteryear, the term Yankee Doodle was meant as an unkind term often meaning “fool” and it’s in that context that I use it. It is not meant to refer to Americans, but rather to the folks I perceive to be riding “fools” riding in forced, held, manipulated, unnatural, unhealthy frames.

It’s meant to be sung to the familiar tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”

Yankee doodle rode dressage
On a giant pony
Shoved two bits in its mouth
And made its carriage phony

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

The show I saw was FEI
The riding very vexing
Horses staring at the ground
They called it hyperflexing

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

I watched a team from overseas
They did a lot of winning
They rode with force and shortened necks
They did not see their sinning

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

So I asked the judge why high they scored
Short necks and phony frames
He look surprised in his eyes
And said it was their fame

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

Then I heard a woman say
I’m just a stupid ammie
An amateur is too unsure
She really tried to slam me

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

I turned to her and I did say
Just see the horse’s eyes
Every time you ride that way
His soul just mourns and dies

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

Next to me there was this man
Who seemed quite in the know
He said I’m right with my eyesight
A Master known as Nu-no

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

The friend with him was very grim
He muttered like a whiner
What he saw just dropped his jaw
This Kleimke they called Reiner

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

And with them was another man
A Master worth his mettle
Exercises he did train
His name is Walter Zettl

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

Then rode by a Ma-no-lo
Upon an Andulusian
Light and lofty he rode well
Classic’s not illusion

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

Masters smiled as they did watch
A rider worth his salt
His horse went well they all could tell
And his horse could halt

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

I wish I could go back and time
See Masters in a ride-off
All the ones who taught so well
And the man von Neindorff

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

Now its time to train my horse
I have to find a trainer
Wanted one who did things right
Its really a no brainer

Yankee doodle did it rough
Yankee not so dandy
Mind the music and the kur
Don’t ride so very “hand-ee”

If I could wish a riders wish
I’d have them all to teach me
Happy horse result of course
Me so glad I’d peepee

Yankee doodle not so rough
Yankee not forced framed
Ride it right it’s out of sight
Plus the horse ain’t lamed

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The good will of the horse is like the scent of a rose. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.