Essays of an Equestrian

For years my family would gather together, sometimes for the holidays, sometimes not. Although I’d manage to make it for the big events like Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, I rarely made it to others. I’ve missed an untold number of baptisms, birthdays and graduations and I’ve missed them due to one factor: my horse.

For 30 years I would spend my weekends at the barn, riding, going to shows or clinics and participating in all sorts of equine events. While the family was getting together, I was waist deep in all things horsey. No one in my family, including my parents, ever got involved in any of my horsey endeavors, except for coming to watch a show or two.

The one time my dad did go to a show I was quickly reminded of how alien it was to him when he noticed my gelding’s sheath, pointed at it and yelled “Oh my god, what’s that on his stomach!” in a loud booming voice for all to hear.

Thanks for coming to the show, dad.

But now I’m older and burnt out from working horse projects and from volunteering. Tired from my job and home duties I’ve had to cut down on my equine activities and so I only do a fraction of what I used to do.

Now, rather than run and organize shows, I’ll occasionally go and visit one for a hour. Rather than trailer two hours for a lesson, I utilize an instructor who comes to my barn every other week. Rather than show ten times during the summer, I show not at all, much preferring to clinic here and there.

This leaves more time available for home and family and so I’ve been attending more family events, including hosting a summer barbeque for twenty five to thirty very loud, but fun people.

So now that I’ve cut down my equine projects and I’m spending more time with the family, they’re finally opening up on what they thought I was doing all those years. It was surprising to hear their thoughts.

They believed that I wasn‘t with them more often for all those years because I didn‘t like them. They added that now they were very happy to “welcome me back to the family” as if the prodigal rider had returned.

I could only blink in disbelief as I was completely unaware of having been “gone” from the family! It’s not like I didn’t see them for the three major holidays as well as the occasional wedding. In trying to defend myself I stated that I was never “gone”, but just learning and refining my skills as a horseman. I expressed my surprise and asked that if I were instead a gymnast or skater could they better understand how I had spent all that time?

They didn’t get it.

Knowing them I’m of the opinion that were I a gymnast or skater I would have been looked upon with a lot more respect by my family. I would have been admired and considered as dedicated and motivated for attempting to reach the pinnacle of my chosen sport. Athletes like gymnasts and skaters are always lauded for their dedication to their time consuming sports as you see during exposes played on every Olympic games. We are told that their sacrifice makes them noble.

But for us, not so much.

Aren’t we athletes too? Why doesn’t equine sport get that kind of respect?

This got me thinking a bit. Not only doesn’t the outside world really “get” what we weekend warriors do (and I know we apply ourselves more than just on weekends), we don’t even really respect each other.

Don’t believe me? Ask a trail rider what they think of dressage. Ask a dressage rider what they think of western pleasure. Ask a western pleasure rider what they think of eventing.

Dressage riders are thought of as snotty rich bitches.

Trail riders are thought of as lazy uneducated sacks being packed about by a horse and that most of them can‘t ride for squat.

Western pleasure riders are thought of as peanut rolling, go nowhere, four beated lope, dead horse, riders.

Eventers are thought of as being crazy, wild jumpers with more brawn than brain and a serious death wish.

Admit it, we often think that way!

Yet in reality each of these endeavors require a certain degree of skill. Skills that maybe should be a little respected. And before you tell me that trail riding takes no skill, look around and see how many dressage riders would be willing or able to take their Prix St. George horse Gunther Von Piaffer on a nice long trail ride.

Even more incredible is that within the same equine discipline we don’t really respect one another. One fraction of dressage against another. One trainer against another. One ammie against another. An instructor against their student.

Is this lack of respect wrong, or maybe is it right? Do we deserve more respect?


I have been very outspoken about rolkur, a type of dressage riding that I find inappropriate and believe it to be the antithesis of proper dressage training. I do not patronize instructors who embrace that system and am uninterested in any product they might waggle.

But why is that? Because I have decided to choose my religion.

You would think there would be one proper way to ride in any sport. Let’s use dressage as our example. We have the old masters and we have their books. Yet all the time new books, videos, dvd’s and the like are coming out, with different words and varying techniques.

Trainer after trainer tries to sell to you their reinventing of the wheel. Each trainer with their nuances, tactics and techniques. Each one advertising that they’re better than the others. Some do it and win Olympic medals doing it.

Many in the dressage world respect these trainers. Others do not. Same riding discipline but with deep divisions in methodology.

Compare it with religion using Christianity as an example. Within Christianity everyone holds a belief in Jesus but yet you still have divisions of Christians on exactly HOW one should go about believing in Him. Catholics, Protestants, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Orthodoxy, Methodists, Baptists all agree on one hand, yet strongly and passionately disagree on the other. Each applies their religion differently from the others. And each one believes that THEY are the ones who got it right. And in religion, believers of one methodology often become most passionate defending it and most critical of other ways.

Now imagine you are wanting to learn a new sport, like dressage. First, you wouldn’t know that training, a thing that has been handed down through the ages, could have opposing points of view. Without knowing you would go to one trainer, then another, and quickly become very confused. Worst yet, your horse will be very confused. So what do you do?

You have to choose your religion. In every aspect of your learning you must be mindful that there exists different ways of thinking and training. You must be aware.

Then you must make your choice. An educated choice. Apply yourself then to what instructors teach in the manner you want to be taught. Decide which books to buy or dvd’s to watch.

So when it comes to the training, it seems we need to choose our religion. Find a methodology and stick with it.

And so I have embraced mine. A religion which no longer includes purely competitive dressage and Olympic riders no longer seem like higher celestial beings.

My religion embraces a way of riding dressage which presents my horse as truly a happy athlete. My religion honors the edicts of dressage and is a slow, methodical process and often seems too slow. It progresses step by step and it takes into full account my horses fitness, conformation and level of training. And although every moment of training will not be as smooth as kisses to a baby’s butt, I choose to use technique instead of force. My religion recognizes that sometimes to go forward you have to reinforce your aids by timing, finesse and a light tap of the whip. My religion says “Ride to the limit, but not over it”.

As best I can I will adhere to these codes and ethics, a Ten Commandments of Riding. (Then I can get all jihad on rolkur!)

And like any religious egghead I’m obliged to share the word of my religion. Unfortunately I am also destined to sin.







My Ten Commandments

Thou shall ride the horse as he would like to be ridden were he the horse

Thou shall not rush any exercise, nor train in anger, nor use force

Thou shall allow for ample warm up, including a loose rein, moving forward to best prepare the horse

Thou shall hold the Training Scale as sacred, and adhere to its ways

Thou shall ride up and forward into heaven, and not down into hell.

Thou shall reward with kindness and breaks of rest

Thou shall remember the mouth is the softest part of the horse
and as such any conversation with it need only be a whisper

Thou shall use figures and exercises to advance the training of the horse

Thou shall embrace the horses soul as a kindred one, and treat it accordingly

Thou shall honor the horse as one of God’s most beautiful creations, and among the noblest as well

(for you Atheists the last line would be:

Thou shall honor the horse as one of natures most beautiful creations, and among the noblest as well)

The Art Of Boarding


Welcome back. If you’re still reading I’ll assume you want more!


My previous entry dealt with the phenomenon of Battered Boarder Syndrome. Now, I’m going to flip things a little and talk about the other population in stables across the country. Us. We, the boarders, the unwashed masses of the horse world.


Well, as it turns out, we’re just as nutty as the “pros”. A mish mosh of amateur horsemen who range from saavy national or regional competitors to the backyard bumpkin, who couldn’t tell a horse’s fetlock from a forelock. We have our own issues, apart and different from the pros.


Ours often stem from the following things:


1)     A stunningly painful lack of education


2)     A stunningly painful lack of education (ooh, have I already mentioned that?)


3)     The realization that we suffer from a stunningly painful lack of education (notice a pattern yet?)


4)     Sudden bitch syndrome (the gossipers delight)


5)     Pay-your-bills-aphobia


6)     Realizing that Pooky the Horse is a 1200 lb animal who may love you, but is still capable of squishing or breaking you.


7)     Fear and all it’s wonderful hangups


8)      The inability to mind one’s own business


9)     Greediness


10)  Low self-esteem


Let’s examine them one by one.


After decades of boarding I have come to realize that most boarders run around in various stages of cluelessness. To this day I watch them in silent wonder pontificating as to whether they just don’t know they are so clueless or simply do not care. So many have seemed to cease their ongoing education. Sure, back when I was young, it was hard to find material to increase one’s knowledge. Libraries never seemed to have enough horse books other than Black Beauty or Misty of Chincoteague. And although I’ve read both a zillion times along with the Black Stallion books and every other variation like Old Bones The Wonder Horse and Come On Seabiscuit, they are a not a substitue for a complete equine education.


There were also local horse groups, but for any given topic asked of ten people, you were sure to get eleven answers. Never did understand how that could be!


But now, in the age of the internet, when information and education is just a finger click away, the lack of knowledge still possessed by many ammies is beyond comprehension and it is with this thought that I muttle on, trying to increase my own knowledge every day.


If I could take all my fellow ammies for a group hug, the one thing I would beg them to do is to further their education. Constantly. Have a hunger for knowledge, recent and continuing knowledge and education. Don’t learn something ten years ago, and then never revisit the subject again. Keep aware of developments.


Learn about different horse foods and hays and why one might be better for you and your horse and not another.


Once, I chipped in with another boarder to pick up hay. The first time I went and picked up the hay, the second time she did and she came back with a pickup truck full of moldy, brown hay which stunk of musk. I told her that the hay was bad, and could kill a horse. She looked at me like I had two heads. So then I explained to her about botulism (which reminds me of a botulism story I must blog on) and from our conversation I came to realize that despite her having a horse for TEN years, she had no idea about bad hay.


That is a stunningly painful lack of education.


I remember once stopping in at a barn, just to see if a friend was there to say hello. I entered to find about ten boarders running around the place in a panic, all yelling. A horse had gotten itself cast in a stall, its feet wedged underneath the corner feeder which was bolted in place, and the horse was turned all wrong to free its legs. When it became apparent that no one had a clue, I took charge, something I didn’t really want to do, but in the absence of a person in charge, I decided to do it for the horse.


You see it’s not polite to waltz into someone else’s barn and start barking orders.


I called for a couple of long cotton lead lines and as I positioned them around the horses legs, I explained to the onlookers what I was doing, why I was doing it, and how I was protecting myself (as best as one could).


I flipped the horse back onto the other side and got the hell out of the way, and the horse got up, none the worse for wear. But what would have been if I hadn’t come?


It would be quite a pity if the horse was seriously injured or worse simply because the ten boarders running around screaming were uneducated.


Unfortunately, because so many people DON’T realize that a horse can get cast, they have no way of knowing that they should educate themselves of what to do in case of that type of emergency. One should realize that there are literally zillions of things that could pop up at any time during ones horse existence.


So the only thing an ammie can do is to realize the true depth of their lack of knowledge and as soon as they can, and despite their busy schedule, is to learn. Even if it’s one thing a week. That’s it…. One thing. It’s better than nothing!


As I think of myself as a useless fountain of knowledge, I will share with you one thing for you to learn for this week.


* People have used Ivory liquid dish detergent to blister a horse’s leg*


Who would have thought it, eh? The same product others use for cleaning a sheath can be used to blister a leg! Now, I’m not telling you how to do it as any type of blistering is painful, I’m just saying there is a way to do it. Lord knows some numbnut will go out there and start to try to blister their horse’s legs. Don’t laugh, I once saw a “trainer” (note quotes indicating lack of respect for said trainer) blister a filly’s legs so that they would look tighter for a Halter class.


Alright, now we’re up to Sudden Bitch Syndrome. This arises when ammies fall into the trap that gossip offers. Pure word vomit. They watch what others do, criticize that person and others and soon everyone is yapping about one another. They worry who is doing what and why, and they notice everything about people’s horses and habits. They judge others constantly and often start trouble. If you’re unlucky enough to be stalled right next to one, she’ll take up your valuable time and energy at the barn by bitching about others. And they’ll keep at it until you leave.


Then she’ll turn around and bitch about you.


When you get a bunch of ammies all getting infected with SBS (it’s like a virus really) then before you know it the barn is in an uproar and it’s an uncomfortable place to be. Many an ammie hubby is left wondering how the hell there could be all this drama in such a silly place as a barn.


One word about gossip: Don’t do it, or at least try not to. I know it is hard, but maybe try to find one close trusted friend to spew to.


It is also considered bitchy to constantly tell others what you think that they should be doing. Sure, you started with the right intention – to help them. But then you go and on, and soon you’re telling everyone what to do.


Newsflash: No one wants to hear it.


Personally, my policy is to walk down the barn aisle looking solely in the direction of my horse. As much as is practicable I really try not to listen to others conversations or butt in. I pass someone and say a polite hello but I try not to notice too much, because I’ve found that when I do, I get annoyed with people and the stupid things they are saying and or doing.


Does this make me antisocial? Perhaps in a way, yes. But I also do not get in the fray of boarders fighting. I’ve learned the lesson well of MIND YOUR DAMN BUSINESS.


Nor do I “tell” on them. Only once in the last ten years did I go to a person in charge to bitch about what an ammie was doing, and that was for the protection of the barn owner. This ammie boarder put their 18 month old child on top of a spooky horse with no helmet or any other protection. They weren’t even really holding the kid on. Well, the inevitable happened and spooky horse spooked. The child flew off and landed about twenty five feet away. I mean that child was catapulted and landed with a heavy thud! At first, the child just lay there, motionless, but then began to cry. I was glad to hear the crying because for a few seconds, I thought the kid might be dead.


I thought the barn owner might want to know about that so that they might tell that ammie “Don’t do that”.


The next item which surely your barn owner/manager/trainer will enjoy is the urging to pay your bills and to pay them on time. Sure sometimes things happen, but they don’t happen every month. And the quickest way to get people pissed at you and talking about you is to not pay your bills. In the horse world, the last thing we need to do is to GIVE people reasons to talk about us. Plus, if you’ve noticed, everyone seems to know each other. Reputations can follow you in ways you do not imagine.


Next, we’ll discuss the tendency for many ammies to think of their horses as big puppy dogs. And as much as I call my own horse Puppy as a loving nickname, I do not for a minute confuse him as one. Horses are big powerful creatures and if they really want that clump of green grass thirty feet away, and you’re leading them with a leadline with no chain, well guess what? You’re going to that clump of green grass thirty feet away whether you like it or not.


A pet peeve of mine is watching dog owners taking their dogs for a walk, or should I say drag. The dogs drag the owner from place to place and the owner does this weird getting dragged walk. Surely we’ve all seen it.


Well worse than that, is the horse owner who mindlessly walks their horse the same way. It doesn’t matter if your horse never spooks (yeah right) or is always perfectly behaved. The day will come when they aren’t perfectly behaved and you can bet on it. Also, I would mention, when lunging, or leading a bad horse, or loading a horse into a trailer, will ammies PLEASE remember to put on gloves?


All it takes is one nylon lead burn along the width of your palm to learn that lesson! That sucker burned for a week!


The next topic is fear. Fear that lurks in the hearts of many middle aged women. Fear of getting hurt and losing income because you can’t work. Fear of looking not as good as other riders. Fear of riding poorly. Fear of being ridiculed. Fear of being judged. Sound familiar?


Yes, even I, now deeply emerged in middle aged protruding belly and a gas problem that just won’t quit have got to face fear in the face.


It is fear that drives so many middle aged women to flock to Natural Horsemanship gurus and their clinics so that they can better manage Pooky, though they never do seem to ride Pooky. Ever notice that? Why is that?


I dislike……. No I hate, Natural Horsemanship gurus. Some are complete idiots for sure, but what irritates me is not really them per se. It’s the ammies flocking to them. The things these gurus teach is stuff that should have been learned when a child, or even when first purchasing or learning about horses. The fact that ammies are willing to spend their money on crap like carrot sticks.


The only good thing about a carrot stick is that it gives you something to whack the person who just bought it with.


I would like to request to the instructors reading this to please take the time to properly instruct your ammies and juniors on how to handle and care for horses. I know everyone wants to ride blah blah blah, but can’t you at least TRY to teach them ground things as well, like maybe how to properly lunge?


Of course I say this hoping to heck that the instructors know how to properly do things themselves!


Do I sound jaded?


If an ammie is fearful one must logically question the fear. Is it a fear of getting hurt? If so, their horse should be rock-solid and steady and if not, perhaps a new horse might be in order. If a discipline is in question, like jumping, then perhaps it is time to stop jumping.


There is nothing wrong with being afraid.


It is my belief that if a rider is fearful of injury, he will likely induce injury by being fearful. Horses pick up on that stuff, and if fearful and falling, a rider will tense up as they are falling and that leads to greater risk of injury than if someone did a more relaxed topple.


If the fear is of performance or ridicule or anything to do with being evaluated, judged or along those lines, then the rider must remember my own personal mantra:


There is always someone better than you, and there is always someone worse


Sometimes as ammies, we are so fixated on being the best we forgot that for all of us, riding is journey.  No one ever reaches the pinnacle, the point when no more learning can be done. And few if any of us, become Olympic champions.

 Although I embrace and admire being competitive, there becomes a point when it becomes self defeating. If you’re worried about people talking about your riding expertise remember:


It’s a lot easier riding from the other side of the arena fence


There’s a girl at my current barn who talks, talks, talks, about other peoples riding yet when she’s riding, she’s hunched over like Quasimodo humping a coconut. She also is deathly afraid of her horse and makes sure she schedules her lessons in the very early a.m.. She does this so that no one else will be riding while she’s in the indoor. But not just for lessons. She NEVER rides her horse when anyone else is in the indoor. In fact, she’s asked the barn owner if others could be precluded from riding when she is in there. Yes, that’s right, her own private indoor riding time, in a forty horse boarding facility. What makes this more ludicrous is the fact that she watches others and constantly talks about and judges them.


I find that immensely funny, in a “that’ll be fun to write about in my blog” kind of way. I guess I’m not yet totally immune from Sudden Bitch Syndrome myself!


The next subject is greediness. Greediness in a barn is more subtle, but it still exists. When I think about it, it’s not as bad as some of the other things I’ve mentioned but it still affects relationships between those in charge and the boarders. Ever notice what happens if a really nice stall opens up and everyone wants it? What about the best saddle rack or place for your tack trunk?


I’m not going to say much about greediness other than it’s there, and just be wary. Of course we all want the best for our horses… best stall, best turnout or pasture, whatever it may be.


But I will ask you to consider that if you’re not paying an extravagant amount for board, don’t expect the type of services you’d get from a barn that is priced extravagantly. Don’t expect (for $500 a month in board) to get the barn help (remember to tip your barn help if they’re good) to have Pooky’s blue sheet put on when it’s 75 degrees or higher, and the white one from 55 to 75 degrees, and the purple sheet from 40 to 55 degrees, and the red blanket from 30 to 40 degrees, and so on. If you want that kind of treatment, you can expect to get it paying $1,000 a month but not for $500!!


The last item on our list is low self esteem. I think in some way we all suffer bouts of this, so don’t worry, it’s normal. Even though most of us don’t live to have constant reassurance of our equine abilities, it sure is nice when it happens. But what do you do if it doesn’t happen? What do you do if you go through a bout (or a decade) of feeling like you’ll never be as good as others.


What do you do? You don’t worry about it.


You’re not performing brain surgery, so you just don’t NEED to be that good.


Other than being able to puff your chest and feel really cool about yourself, there is absolutely no redeeming value to being the best on the block. Sure, an Olympic winner gets all sort of endorsement deals, but that just doesn’t count in the average boarding situation.


Even if you’re a competitive rider, there are many positives to looking at things this way: I am content as long as I am better today, than I was yesterday. That doesn’t mean you have to learn piaffe today because you didn’t know it yesterday. It means that you should go out, ride your horse, enjoy your horse and be in harmony with your horse. And while some rides will be better than others, as long as you keep a sense of light and positivity, increase your education, and remember that you ride because it is fun, you’ll be just fine.


It’s not like you’re performing some life saving function. You’re not working at world peace. You’re not saving the world from destruction or the apocalypse. All you are doing is riding a damn horse.


Now go out, shut up and ride your damn horse.


And remember how lucky you are to have a damn horse to ride and that neither you, or he, are starving.


I wonder how many people in this world are lucky enough to have a damn horse! Consider yourself blessed.


Many horse owners board their horses.
Some choose to, while others have to.
Some live in cities or suburban areas.
Some just don’t have the time, money or energy to have their own place.
No matter the reason, the boarding of a horse or horses is a huge industry which continues to grow as urbanization increases.
Not only does the horse have to acclimate to the barn surroundings but the person must as well. Sometimes, it’s easier for the horse to acclimate than it is the human.

     We all know the care of the horse should be our primary concern when it comes to selecting a barn. However, we do ourselves an injustice when we do not consider  our own mental and emotional health when making such a choice. Many of us spend hours at the barn and how and where we choose to spend those hours not only determines our success with our horse but our own mental, physical and emotional well being as well. Happiness counts!  Many horse owners have had horses for some time yet they fail to consider this factor. This lack of consideration renders them far too vulnerable.

     First, I’ll explore two common denominators to Battered Boarder Syndrome. One is the desire to lead. To rule, to be worshiped. I call it the “big fish in the little pond” syndrome. It’ll be the barn owner, manager, trainer or any other authoritative entity for that barn who would fit into this group and who uses this power unfairly. If the number of barns in that area is small, it intensifies the effect, as a potential boarder’s options are very limited. I’ll refer to that person as the “person in charge” or PIC.

Battered Boader Syndrome denotes a type of abuse similar to an abusive situation in a marriage or other interpersonal relationship. It seeks to alienate and it seeks to control through intimidation, fear or belittling. Often it plays upon the victim being made to feel lesser than as their knowledge of riding and horses in less than the PIC’s.

It is essential when discussing Battered Boarder Syndrome that in order to be an owner, trainer or manager that there is nothing mandating a certain level of education or sophistication in the horse world. Therefore, many PICs are without the knowledge that you think they have. It is also essential to mention that there are PICs who are just bad people. All you need to run a barn is the money to buy or rent one. In the United States, all you need to be an instructor is the balls to hang out your shingle and call yourself an instructor. Running a barn or being an instructor is NOT in itself an indicator of knowledge or personal morals. Remember that.

     That being said we move on to the next factor:  the ‘sheep factor. That’s the desire a boarder would have to fit in, be accepted, have fun with friends with a mutual interest, chat, and be part of a group. The desire to be seen as “cool” in one’s horsey world and to follow some mentors lead. Many of the horse owners in this country are middle aged women who might naturally enjoy meeting and mingling with other middle aged women sharing common histories and interests.

Please understand that being a sheep is not derogatory. It merely refers to the people willingly being led  by that person in charge.

     In this syndrome we find PICs who believe that when running a stable that the regular laws of economics cease to exist. They forget that the boarding of horses is in reality, a service industry. I’ll repeat this. The boarding of horses is a service industry. There are those PICs who believe that they,  in their position, are king of their domain and absolute in their power. On some things, I might agree with them, on others, they couldn’t be more wrong. I understand that when you have your own place you want things done in your way and I’m not speaking against that. I’m speaking of a corrupted position of power that is used to control everyone in that environment, and to harass and abuse people.

I understand that many boarders are not always the most knowledgeable and that many need help or guidance. I’m speaking of corrupted wisdom by those with complexes who seem to NEED a boost to low self esteem or other similar issue; those who need the unwashed masses to hang on their every word; those who need to control others via ridicule, fear and intimidation.

These type of people love to ‘name drop’ in conversations in order to give the illusion that they are on the same level of the person whose named they’ve dropped. Usually, they are not.

I speak of PICs who try to convince boarders that horses only require two flakes of hay a day, or just a sprinkling of bedding on the stall floor, or that they shouldn’t speak to their friend Betty because Betty keeps her horse at another barn or has a different trainer. I’m referring to PICs like the one who told me as a child that if a mare in heat is naughty that a perfectly good solution would be to take a broom handle and help her relieve her stress via its intimate insertion. Another wanted to show me (as a child) how strong his horse was by swinging a 2×4 at its neck. (However ugly, that type of horse abuse requires its own story as does the frequency of child molestation. Barns should never be thought of as day care for your children.)

Yet another PIC claims to be on the U.S. dressage team every year to those who do not know better, yet somehow, has yet to attend a single show…. anywhere. I’m referring to PICs who whisper derogatory remarks to others as you ride in the ring, or convince children to sabotage your equipment to punish you for some perceived tort. I’m talking about a case when a boarder is taken advantage of or feels uncomfortable going to the barn. Often that boarder schedules their barn time when the odds are best to be left alone or they just sell their horse.

    I’m speaking of places that if a boarder should dare say they are moving the PIC does anything and everything to keep them from moving out. Perhaps they harass them more. Maybe they call other barns to make sure they don’t take that person in. (The most common accusation during such a phone call is that the boarder owes them money).

     Of course not every boarding stable is infected this way. There are many which are wonderful places to board, where both horse and human are treated with dignity and respect. I  board at one now and I show my appreciation by being courteous to others, paying my bills on a timely basis, and by being helpful to any who ask for help. Other barns however are pits of dysfunction and a potential boarder should be wary that this craziness does exist and what signs spell trouble.

What also happens in a barn where the PIC is lacking is that the other boarders pick up on things and either begin to gossip frequently, or then begin to themselves harass or intimidate the victim.

Often, Battered Boarder Syndrome starts in a seemingly benign manner. A new boarder arrives at the barn and is introduced to all the players. They see what appears to be friendship and comradery, a team of people striving for some personal, yet common good. They inherently want to be part of that team. They too want to chat and get along, and slowly they intertwine with others, sharing each other’s business and endeavors. They want to fit in and they want to belong. Abusive barn leaders recognize that need and use it to their advantage. At that point the unsuspected boarder is owned meat and the writing is on the stall. So many boarders pay a significant amount of money for the pleasure!


     1) Do you fear reprisal or slander if you disagree with your PIC?

2) Do you find yourself avoiding the barn because you just don’t want to deal with the PIC?

3) If you approach the PIC with a question about the care of your horse are you made to feel stupid, or lacking in the supposed knowledge the PIC has above you?

4) Are you called names or threatened constituting verbal abuse?

5) Have you considered getting rid of your horse just because you can’t deal with boarding him anymore?

6) Does the PIC play little mind games on you like taking someone else to a show instead of you as a form of punishment?

7) Are you told you suck or are stupid or useless during a lesson or any other time?

8) Do you find your things stolen, moved or vandalized?

9) Are others at the barn encouraged to make fun of you, gossip about you, or be nasty to you due to the encouragement of the barn manager?

10) Are you charged excessive amounts of money for alleged services or services whose value is different from what you are charged?

The good thing about Battered Boarder Syndrome is that you have the power to choose not to be a Battered Boarder. As it is your horse, paid for by your money, you have the power (legally) to simply up and go from your barn. The barn owner cannot stop you and you can call the police if they try or threaten you in any way.

Remember, the boarding of horses is a service industry, and if the service is not being provided, or is lacking, than you need to go. Just like if you purchase any other service or product that is lacking!!

Do not feel stupid. Do not feel alone as you are not alone. These type of things have happened to most, if not all, boarders, myself included. And just like spousal abuse, there is nothing you should blame yourself for, but you need to realize that the only path to your own happiness is to be done and move on.

Besides, your horse would like to see you more…….

     This scenario and similar ones play out daily in barns across our country. Admittedly, I do not fully understand the phenomenon or that desperate need to control.

     The saddest part of Battered Boarder Syndrome is that eventually people tire of all the drama and often they fade from the horsey set, never to be seen or heard from again. The industry loses customers who’ll never come back, due to the bad taste of horsepoop left in their mouths.

Alright, now that I’ve bashed the BAD barn owners/managers/instructors/trainers it’s only fair that I turn my attention to the bad boarders. Just like there are good PIC’s and bad, there are good and bad boarders.

Stay tuned for the next installment: The Art of Boarding

“Ride up into heaven, and not down into hell”  ~ Walter Zettl


“A horse ‘held in shape’ by his rider is only posturing in a seemingly correct form, usually for the benefit of inexperienced observers.” ~ Charles de Kunffy

“If you act like you have all day, it will take 10 minutes. If you act like you only have 10 minutes, it will take all day.” An old cowboy saying

“Firm and fair, NOT firm and frustrated” ~ Gigi Nutter

“There isn’t such a thing as a training system, there is only good or bad riding and that’s where we have to work on.” ~ Johan Hinnemann

Brutality begins where knowledge ends. Ignorance and compulsion appear simultaneously.” ~ Charles de Kunffy

“The leg energizes, the seat modifies and the hand verifies.” ~ Charles de Kunffy

“If training has not made a horse more beautiful, nobler in carriage, more attentive in his behavior, revealing pleasure in his own accomplishment…then he has not truly been schooled in dressage.” ~ Col. Handler

March 27, 2010

Rolkur: What is it and why does it suck?


Rolkur is a method of dressage training currently in style in the show ring. It is just as bastardized as the extreme peanut rolling you will find in western pleasure circles. This style of riding has become further legitimized by recent winners in the Olympics and other international dressage shows sanctioned by the worlds equestrian organization, the Federation Equestrian International, otherwise known as the FEI.Rolkur is also commonly referred to as “hyperflexion” and it basically describes the forced submission of the horse via manipulation of the neck in an extreme manner which causes the horses face to exceed beyond the vertical, often resulting in the horses chin either touching, or close to touching, the horse’s chest.There is an ongoing, lively debate within the equestrian community regarding rolkur, hyperflexion, and now it’s offspring recently named Low, Deep and Round (LDR). I’ll get into the genesis of LDR in a little bit.

In order to simplify the two opposing sides I shall, in the interest of clarity, refer to them as prolkurs (those who support and are pro-rolkur) and nolkurs (those who find the practice inhumane).

The nolkurs (such as myself) find the practice abhorrent, and akin to abuse. As such there is a worldwide movement to compel the FEI to enforce their own rules regarding the treatment of horses in their competitions.

The rule book for the FEI gives acceptable standards of performance. I’ve clipped Article 401 and have highlighted some of the more relevant terms:


The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education. As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the athlete.

These qualities are revealed by:

• The freedom and regularity of the paces.

• The harmony, lightness and ease of the movements.

• The lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating from a lively

1. The acceptance of the bit, with submissiveness/throughness (Durchlässigkeit) without any tension or resistance.

2. The horse thus gives the impression of doing, of its own accord, what is required. Confident and attentive, submitting generously to the control of the athlete, remaining absolutely straight in any movement on a straight line and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.

3. The walk is regular, free and unconstrained. The trot is free, supple, regular and active. The canter is united, light and balanced. The hindquarters are never inactive or sluggish. The horse responds to the slightest indication of the athlete and thereby gives life and spirit to all the rest of its body.

4. By virtue of a lively impulsion and the suppleness of the joints, free from the paralyzing effects of resistance, the horse obeys willingly and without hesitation and responds to the various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious balance both physically and mentally.

5. In all the work, even at the halt, the horse must be “on the bit”. A horse is said to be “on the bit” when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace, accepting the bridle with a light and consistent soft submissive contact. The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the athlete.

6. Cadence is shown in trot and canter and is the result of the proper harmony that a horse shows when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion and balance. Cadence must be maintained in all the different trot or canter exercises and in all the variations of these paces.

7. The regularity of the paces is fundamental to dressage.


Now watch this video of an Olympic medal winner and see if the riding meets the criteria as stated above. Please note the color of the horses tongue (prolkurs would have us believe it was the lighting; they might as well have said it’s because the horse was part Chow!) Look for other criteria: Nose in front of
the vertical, poll high, harmony, happy athlete. Note the horse kick at the spur.

You will be witnessing what is called Forced Submissiveness.

And it is riding like this that compelled 41,000 people to write a petition to the FEI demanding that the current rules and regulations be enforced. Nolkurs around the world ranging from schmucks like me to the highest of Masters, veterinarians and National Governing bodies have signed the petition and written letters and emails to little avail.

So what does the FEI do? They hold a meeting and long story short, have stated that aggressive riding will be punished, but that this training style is actually Long, Deep and Round. Here is a quote from the horse’s mouth (pardon the pun) regarding the round table conference.

“Hello, I’m Malina Gueorguiev, FEI Press Manager, and I have been following with great interest your discussion. (The discussion was on a popular posting forum, Ultimate Dressage)

I wanted to let you know that the low, deep and round (LDR) training technique, providing it achieves flexion without undue force, was approved as acceptable by the participants at the round-table conference. The term “low” was used in the press statement sent out after the meeting and in FEI Dressage Director Trond Asmyr’s video message posted on YouTube , but a typo resulted in “low” being changed to “long” on the FEI website. This has now been corrected to reflect the decision taken by the participants in the round-table conference. Check it out

To my mind, this is unacceptable. Unacceptable to my sensibilities and to others as well.

You would ask why, as we all do. Can it be due to the FEI being afraid of being sued, as some of these riders and trainers are quick to call “lawsuit”? Can it be due to the people at this level spending a lot of time together or engaging in business together?

Read other comments against LDR/Rolkur/Hyperflexion. This from

Blue Tongues at World Cup Qualifier


  • A quick glance at the warm up arena at the World Cup dressage qualifier of the season in Odense, Denmark, revealed hyperflexed horses and blue tongues.

    For a minimum of two hours, Swedish Olympic rider Patrik Kittel trained his stallion, Watermill Scandic, in various degrees of hyperflexion, on Friday ahead of Saturday’s Grand Prix Special. was passing by the warm up at 3.45 pm, and at this time, the rider was well into his session. At circa 5.45, the session ended.

    During the training session, spoke to a spectator who claimed to have notified one of the show’s officials of the prolonged hyperflexion. Odense’s Chief Steward confirms to that a complaint was lodged against Patrik Kittel’s riding, but it was not deemed necessary to comment or take action, because Kittel was no worse than other riders using the same method. has spoken to Patrik Kittel, and asked him if he thinks he is riding in accordance with the FEI Code of Conduct.

    “I think you should send the questions in an email along with the footage, so I can give it to my lawyers,”

    said Patrik Kittel. follows up by asking whether he himself is unaware of whether he rides in accordance with the FEI Code of Conduct.

    “Of course I do. Otherwise a steward would do something about it. But I don’t want to discuss it with you now. Have a good day,”

    concludes the rider.

    There were more horses at the World Cup qualifier whose tongues were blue. Here, the retracted lips clearly show how the curb is pressing down on the tongue, impairing blood circulation. Note the difference between the colour of the tongue and the mucus membrane of the bars.

    Blue tongue due to ischaemia

    “When we see dressage horses with blue tongues, it’s because blood circulation is reduced in the tongue. When the blood supply is reduced, tissue hypoxia ensues in the tongue, and it turns blue,”

    says Marianne Dahl, DVM, a Danish equine welfare specialist. She elaborates:

    “The explanation is in the horse’s mouth and it’s the curb bit and rein tension which cause the problem. As long as a horse is not bitted, the tongue is relaxed and takes up the entire oral cavity. The tongue is a very dextrous and sensitive organ. In a well fitted curb, the tongue can still be relaxed and fill out the oral cavity as long as there is no rein tension. The moment the rider puts tension into the reins, the angle of the curb to the mouth is altered, and pressure on the tongue is increased. The tongue, which consists of muscle tissue, becomes tense and may be flattened.

    If the tension is high – which is to say that there is a marked change in the angle between the shank of the bit and the bars of the horse’s mouth – and if the pressure is held for a prolonged period, ischaemia and hypoxia may follow. The tongue will become discoloured and turn blue or purple. If the chain on the curb is tight, the pressure on the tongue will be stronger, and if the nose band is tight, so the horse can’t open its mouth, the pressure on the tongue will be even stronger still.

    Hypoxic muscle tissue is extremely painful. So therefore, it’s completely unacceptable to subject a horse to riding techniques which causes hypoxic discolouration of the tongue.”





    Angry yet? You should be, but maybe not surprised. Abuse like this is all over the horse world and can be found and is just as alarming with many western trained reining and western pleasure horses, and it’s just wrong!

    If we do not police ourselves, others will do it for us. Idiots like PETA can run our horse shows. Oops, I forgot, PETA would have us not ride our horses at all!!


    When you look into the eyes of a horse ridden in rolkur you can see stress and anxiety. You see pain. What you don’t see is the relaxation that the mandates of dressage hold true to good riding.

    Do you call yourself a horseman, a lover of horses? If you do you must take action and have your voice heard.

     But more than that, you must educate yourself and ride with the inspiration of what it could be. Don’t aim for the Olympics. They have become a freak show with freak show riders and horses competing in them. If the FEI won’t enforce their rules, and would rather resort to doublespeak rather than protect their athletes, then I submit it’s time for either them to go, or us to go.

    The FEI has chosen to wimp out. But we can’t let them unless we’re willing to go. In their feeble attempt to soothe the masses, discussion has begun to place video cameras in the warm up ring. That sounds like a groovy idea, but if LDR/rolkur/hyperflexion is alright as long as it isn’t “outwardly” aggressive riding, what the hell good does it do?

    We must keep the pressure up.

    And if you need further convincing, check this out. Click the links. Read the book. Watch the video.

    Oh, btw, that Blue Tongue video you watched……. the FEI, after watching it, declared it as not aggressive riding and perfectly within the realms of acceptable training.

    If that doesn’t say it, nothing will.

    Before you go, a few words from the Master, Walter Zettl from his website  

    Do Something Now!


    (please note you do NOT need to make a donation for the signatures to be registered).


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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.