Essays of an Equestrian

Miscellaneous

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!

HOW TO TELL IF YOU SUFFER FROM BATTERED BOARDER SYNDROME

     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