11 December 2015

After a year of farrier science.

    Last year, (2014) we realized that we had to do something about Raven's feet. I've documented it before. 

    He was trimmed last month, I've just now gotten around to writing it up.

    With good trimming, and supplementing his diet with biotin, Raven's feet have improved immeasurably.

    I wish I had started taking decent pictures of them in November 14, when we first began a dedicated course on fixing his feet. Thus, the pictures that are usable begin in January.

  It's been a year. Here is what we began with in January 15, and what we have now:

Left hind outside post trim Jan 15

Left hind outside post trim Nov 15

Left hind inside pre-trim Jan 15

Left hind inside post trim Nov 15

Right Hind outside pre trim Jan 15

Right hind outside post trim Nov 15

Right hind inside post trim Jan 15

Right Hind inside post trim Nov 15

     As the television ad used to say, isn't that amazing?. With the exception of the RH outside, these are now normal hooves. The RH outside seemed to have weaker hoof growth.Not sure why, but horses feet are individuals. So Mark plans on putting shoes on the hind feet for maybe two trims, just to bolster that last bit that needs to grow out. 

   Over and over again, I am amazed..and grateful that we ditched the old farrier for Mark. Old Farrier was over his head with Raven's feet. They were so very bad...the pics in January don't do it justice. We cleared up the white line disease. We got rid of the thrush. Little by little, Mark has reshaped the hoof, bringing the lines back into alignment, putting those heels back on the ground where they belong.
Raven is going much better now. I'm sure he's forgotten how bad his feet were. 

   Will I take more pictures on his next trim in February? Probably, but whether I post or not, I don't know. After all, with the exception of the RH outside, these are GOOD FEET.

10 December 2015

My best teacher is the one underneath me



    The saying is that one doesn’t really gain mastery of a skill until she’s done it 10,000 times.

    It may be so. What it is saying is that one must practice, practice, and practice. I know this works. There are skills I learned in the military that I practiced so often that they did become automatic. For instance, I can probably still strip down-and re-assemble-an M-16 with my eyes closed, even so many years after retiring from the military.

   I now know, too, that as one ages, that ability to gain and keep a skill, such as riding, seems to take longer.

   Riding, for instance.

   I got back into horses in early 2011. I had never been good at riding before, as I’d not been a regular rider as a kid. Nor had I lived in an area where there were horses, or when I did, I couldn’t afford lessons, or, while in the military, didn’t have the time.

   The children who are blessed with riding lessons in their early days are truly lucky. Most of the horsemen I know are like me: they had lives that didn’t include horses up until their children left home and they had enough time and money to indulge in their passion.

   I owned Jordan for the last five years of his life, and rode bareback, but I was still working and didn’t have an arena in which to ride.

  So. I’ve been riding, mostly bareback, since 2011. I’ve had a few lessons, picked up several good books, but still, I’ve relied mostly on just getting comfortable on a barebacked horse.

  At times I’ve grow discouraged. I will never get this, I would think. I certainly don’t have ten thousand hours atop a horse, even at this point. I’m old enough, though, to know that, starting so very late in life, I will NEVER be the rider I see all around me. If I can be a little bit better than I used to be, that is good enough for me.
I didn’t put a deadline on my desire to be a better rider. I decided, I won’t push it. I will relax and just enjoy the feel of a good horse underneath me.

   It was with a sense of astonishment, and I should say, pride, when I made a breakthrough last month. I have found my core and can engage it. Why that makes a difference, or whether it does, I don’t know. I don’t really think it matters, despite the fact that it seems to be the cause de jour lately.

   I was riding Raven, bareback. We were alone. I have been practicing turning him and moving him without reins. He’s so very patient and willing for me. He’s a good horse.

   I-and I hate to use the word suddenly as often as I’m going to in this post- but I suddenly felt as if I was truly plugged into his spine. I’ve had brief glimpses of this feeling, but this time it wasn’t ephemeral, here and gone like mist in the wind. No, this time, that feeling of my spine being connected to his in one fluid, crystalline piece was here. I was balanced. I was IN the horse, not on him. I was amazed. I lifted both my legs off his sides and wagged them back and forth and felt as solid on his back as if I were truly plugged into him. He spooked at something, went sideways, and I hardly moved. I even laughed.  It was a lovely feeling.

   Three days later I got back on…and felt it again. And the next time. And the next.

I am balanced. I am comfortable on his back. This feeling, it’s here to stay. I have finally learned to sit on a horse.

   That was more than enough for me. I felt proud. My patience and Raven’s teaching had finally been translated into muscle memory. My confidence has climbed several notches.


   I wasn’t done with breakthroughs.

   Two days ago, I led Raven into the arena. I hadn’t planned on riding. It was raining very hard, the wind was blowing into the arena, and all the horses have been confined to quarters, because our monsoon has arrived and the paddocks are fetlock deep in water.
   Raven is a horse who wants and needs work every day, and I knew he was very fresh. I thought it’d be safer to just lunge him.
   Raven, though, had other plans.

   He dislikes ‘dope on a rope’. Sue can free lunge him, but I am not that adept at it, so I tacked him up with a lunge line and asked him to ‘walk on.”

   He turned and faced me.

   No.

    It wasn’t arrogance, or stubbornness, or an obstinate refusal. It was just a polite no.

    “Come on, Raven, walk on.”

     His warm brown eyes bored into mine.

     No. Get on.   

    “Really, Raven? Don’t you want to work?”

     Get on. I have something to teach you.

   Okaaaaaaaaaaay. So I untacked him, left him free in the arena while I ran for my bridle and helmet. When I returned I could see he’d rolled, which I had hoped he’d do. It’s good for their spine, and I suspect he’s not had a good roll in three days.

   I bridled him and mounted. The wind was howling louder than the rain, but I trusted him to be calm as always.

  I settled myself. I always give him a carrot per side, reward for standing until I’m ready to move off. Seat bones? Got ‘em. Core? cough cough there you are. Arms, click click cuffed to my ribs. Shoulders back, head up. Breathing? Nope, I still to this day can’t remember to breathe when I ride. Someday I’ll pass out and fall off.

    We walked off, sans reins. I like to let him drop his head, stretch his topline, and just generally walk the kinks out before I touch a rein.
   I’ve been practicing my hands. I imagine my upper arms to be handcuffed to my ribs. I pretend I am holding a baby chick in each hand. Now I can feel Raven’s mouthing the bit. That’s a new one, too.

   Once we were both settled and ready to ‘’’work”” I picked up the reins. I cheated by looking at where I try to keep my thumbs on my laced reins. (I love laced reins, more for their looks than anything else, but having a definite spot for my thumbs helps me a LOT). C’mere, chicks, hop into my hands, we’re going for a ride.

   After several rounds of the arena, I thought, what happens if I just gently squeeze those chicks. Not even to hurt them, just to see what happens.  

   I have to explain a failing of mine. I don’t take verbal instructions very well. It’s not obstinacy, or arrogance. I just get easily confused, especially if the instructions are multi-faceted, as riding almost always is. It’s hard for me to put two legs, two arms, two hands, all doing different things at the same time. Let’s not forget that I must also think of seat bones and weight shifts and which side is out and which in.

   Thus, when taking instruction or lessons, I’ve listened and reacted backwards. I would tell my teacher, I want to learn to do a half halt. (a subject always one of contention. Every rider I’ve ever met does a half halt differently and can’t tell you how. They just Do it.) So my instructor would say, do this, do that, do the other thing…THERE! Did you feel it?

   Well, no. I’ll say “yes” but I know I didn’t do it. I think, I’ll memorize what she just said, and I’ll repeat it the steps in order, and by reverse engineering, I should get the same result.

   But it doesn’t ever work right. I’ll do it the same way and if I’m alone, Raven continues on serenely as if I never asked a thing. If I’m being taught, I eventually get a GOOD, you did it! But I am lying to her.

   It’s a case of Raven figuring out what I want, due to the instructor’s voice, and he does it. Hey, don’t laugh. This is a horse in front of whom we must spell ‘c-a-n-t-e-r’  because he loves it and will at the mere breath of the word. One of these days he’ll figure it out. He already knows “C”. The rest will come, sooner than later.

  I think Raven just responds because he hears me wishing he would do it. We both know I didn’t make him do it, I didn’t do the steps right or at all. He’s just a kind, loving teacher.  

   Which is another reason I prefer riding bareback, and alone. I can fumble along, take things at my own pace. If I accomplish nothing but enjoy the ride, and he’s happy, I’m good.

    But this time…this time I was listening to him. I squeezed the reins, gently…and felt SOMETHING. Something Different. Something…collected.  

   What do you feel?

   “Oh my god, Raven, what did you just do? Can we do that again?”

   Can YOU?

  

   It wasn’t until late that night, in bed, that I, rehearsing what I’d felt, finally understood a phrase I’ve heard so often but have never experienced. 

 I dropped the reins, we did another round of the arena, then I picked them up and asked the same way.


   I felt Raven “come up underneath me”. His ears were pricked forward, his neck arched so beautifully and for the first time in my life, I knew I was riding a collected horse.

   I finally know the best teacher I will ever have is the one underneath me.

   I might finally be on my way to learning how to ride.



26 September 2015

You have to see "Unbranded"

     Horse movies are notoriously unreliable. (I know, an oxymoron). They're too weepy, too syrupy, too unbelievable, just TOO. Sometimes, as in the case of "Secretariat" or "Seabiscuit", the horse is distinctly a side character, merely the base for what was, in reality, a chick flick with horsehair. Up until now, the only horse movie I truly liked was "War Horse". While it had some stretches of incredulity, in general it was probably the best horse movie I'd ever seen.

   Now I've seen another.

   Last night I watched "Unbranded". This isn't a movie. It's a documentary. Produced by a wildcat bunch under the moniker "Fin &Fur Productions", "Unbranded" was funded by Kickstarter!

    "Unbranded" documents the efforts of four Texas A& M graduates to train and ride 10 mustangs across the U.S., from the Mexican border to the Canadian. 

(for my European readers, Texas A&M is an 'agricultural college" in Texas. Students are known as "Aggies". For the life of me, I cannot find what the M stands for unless it's Machinery. I don't know. But I do know that the college is primarily one for students of the land: farmers and ranchers. They have a veterinary college, I think) (The Aggies, too, have an undeserved reputation for being louts and clods. One of the many Aggie jokes is: Why does Aggie football stadium have synthetic turf? To keep the cheerleaders from grazing during half time.)

   The leader of the group, Ben Masters, has a dream...to adopt ten mustangs right off the range, break and train them to ride and pack, and then ride them from one border to the other. He recruits three other graduates. The horses are chosen from bands rounded up by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), trained for 90 days by professionals to accept saddle and bridle, and then off they go.

   They set off from somewhere in Arizona. This is the shakedown part of their so called 'cruise. They stick mostly to game trails and Forest Service roads. Indeed, almost all of their journey is in the backcountry (although I'm certain in some spots they had to be on pavement). As they progress north, you can see the men changing, maturing from college punks to men. As well, the horses change, too. They stop being green broke mustangs and turn into reliable saddle horses. Of course, being that they're riding, you see some incredibly beautiful scenery. You also see some hair raising terrain. You honestly wonder how in the hell did the horses make it across that part. 

    If nothing else, the movie demonstrates the incredible durability, the settled minds, the very essence of what makes a mustang a mustang. Your typical Quarter Horse in the barn would never have made the trip. These horses are TOUGH.  They have good minds. They don't scare at much (except helicopters, dirt bikes and quads...machines used to chase them into captivity.). They're in incredible physical condition and almost all of them made the 3000 mile trip without problems.

   As it's a documentary rather than a scripted movie, much of what's going on in the men's heads is left to the viewer. Still, it's so well produced it feels scripted.
Master's dream was for the same ten horses to go from border to border, with the same four men. You and I, being horsemen, know that Things Happen when horses are involved, and they do. I will tell you that while they ended the trip with ten mustangs, it wasn't with the same ten they began with. One had to be dropped because one of the young men failed to heed Wise Horseman's rule of never turning a horse out wearing a halter. 

 The movie is seamless, carries the plot from start to end, and is at once entertaining, informative and very, very good.  

"Unbranded". See it.

31 August 2015

My farrier works miracles (slowly)

   I have to 'post and boast'.

Raven the Beautiful 

     Look at this gorgeous beast. This was taken in July at a local dressage test. Raven was wired to the max. My gosh, he was high voltage. Sue even wondered if she should do the second test on him, he was so much horse. But we encouraged her to do the test and she came out of it with some very high marks indeed.

     I have made some big steps in riding him. I took a lesson from our super trainer and she's helped me a lot. I am even riding him at the trot bareback, having finally been able to make that transition. Literally. 
My hardest part right now is collection. I still don't have that feel for when he's truly up underneath me. As I noted in my last post, he is not an easy horse to ride. He's long backed, which makes it more difficult for him to collect, and I'm not rider enough..yet... to know it when he is.
But when I do it right, and we're trotting, suddenly it's easy to ride him. Those moments are fleeting yet exhilarating when they do come. They keep me motivated.

      Last year at this time he had just settled into his new home at New Barn. In January we realized that his feet were deteriorating so quickly that soon he would be lame. So we changed farriers. Matt, our new farrier, took Raven's feet as a challenge and ...well, here are some photos of then and now.

     I have, in the past, kept a running account of the progress on his feet. I will condense that to the worst of his hind feet, the left hind. This is a picture of his hoof from January 2015, after we'd been dinking around with the feet for six months of the old farrier. I cannot remember if this was taken before his trim or after. I believe, judging from the fuzz on the ground, that it was after. It was also after we'd given up on the epoxy in his feet.
 
Left hind outside January 2015  
      I still cringe when I look at this. It was so bad. It had white line and, now we know, thrush as well. The crevices were from nail holes that had rotted out. Literally. So we took him out of shoes permanently. Old farrier had steadfastly warned us that "this horse can never be barefoot." With this foot, there was nothing left for a nail to hold onto, as was evidenced in the right hind, which isn't pictured here.

       Now look at this same hoof, 7 months later, after trimming:
Left hind outside post trim August 2015


 To quote an old tv ad.."Isn't that amazing'"

     It IS. We've been feeding him Trifecta, a supplement that contains biotin. We know now that he must have biotin for the rest of his life. Small price to pay for a good hoof. 
We also give most of the praise to Matt, our Wonderful Farrier. He had the courage to take on these ugly feet. We obeyed his 'commands' in dosing the white line, the thrush, and keeping the hoof dry with his concoction of Venice Turpentine/Iodine. 

    What? Yes, it is. It's the same foot. I swear. 

     Matt has done miracles. Notice how he also has slowly improved the angles of the foot to what they're supposed to be. Old farrier had paid so much attention to the 'rotten' parts of the hoof that he trimmed them to the point where there was no heel contact. The heels were contracted. 
     Matt has gently and slowly brought the hoof back into alignment. The heels are opening nicely and in contact with the ground now. He will never go back into shoes. He doesn't need them, and in another few months we hope to take his fores out of shoes, too. The only problem they had was again, Old Farrier had trimmed them to the point where they were beginning to club. 

   Raven is very happy in his new feet. Earlier this month, he was busting around in his paddock with his buddy and tore up the outside. But it was, in my opinion, the very last parts of the old bad hoof. Within days the bent up portion had worn off without damaging the underparts.

   These are new feet. 

    I'm telling you. If and when you find a GOOD farrier, treat him like a king. (well, you know what I mean.) Matt has our business for as long as he wants to keep us. They're minting new veterinarians every year, but I cannot think of more than one young man who is taking on the job of farrier. Every other one is in his early fifties and older. Horseshoeing is part science, part experience, part empathy, and a little bit witchcraft. It uses the same tools as from five hundred years ago. It's archaic. It's also a science, and an art. When you find that man who can do the job right, treat him nicely. You won't regret it. 
 

30 August 2015

Someone who rides worse than me



   I’ve learned that the reason warmbloods are usually scored higher in dressage tests is NOT because the judges prefer them over ‘home growns’ like Quarter Horses and Arabians. 

    It’s because, as I heard a highly ranked judge tell a complaining woman, ‘Warmbloods are not easy to ride.” My god, is that true. Raven is very difficult to ride. He’s not stubborn, but he makes you earn every correct step. Every single time. Whereas your typical mellow Quarter Horse is like a Labrador retriever, always happy to make you happy. Thus, a higher scoring rider of a warmblood EARNED it.

     I’m not going to pretend I know how to ride dressage. I am learning to ride dressage. It’s frustrating, time consuming and at times, so aggravating I sometimes wonder if I should just give up even trying.

    I don’t blame dressage in and of itself for that. I know without a doubt, it’s ME.
Having grown up poor, I didn’t own my own horse until I was grown, although I’d taken every chance I could to get aboard a horse as a kid. Those horses were always wearing a western saddle. It was de rigueur. Only sissies rode "English". Only the bluebloods rode “English”. Only the English rode "English". Thus I came to riding often late in life, long after my body had settled into its muscular routine.

My training in riding a western saddled horse was simple:

1. Get on.
2. Kick the horse’s sides to get him to go.
3. Hang onto the horn.
4. Yank on the reins to stop.

    I don’t say that all Western riders are as poor a rider as I was. Although I must say that Western Equitation (to differentiate it from plain ol’ cowboy Western) appears to be designed to give novice riders a ribbon no matter how they ride.

   I’ve seen western riders; reiners, range riders, barrel racers, ropers, cutters-ride as if they were glued to the saddle. These riders (whom I have much respect for) let their horse travel at a good canter with its head up.  Indeed, my 1965 copy of “Breaking and Training the Stock Horse”, despite its title, could be retitled “Breaking and Training the Dressage Horse in Western Drag.” Charles O. Williamson, a cowboy from the early 1900’s, wrote “when there is work to do or action wanted, it is necessary that (the horse) be collected.”1
 
     The Western Equitation folks have gone so far from Williamson’s training advice that it may as well be called “Arena Riding.”

    I got back into horses in my forties. By then I’d realized I had no desire to ride western, especially western equitation. The barn I boarded my horses was strictly a hunter/jumper barn. My horses were anachronisms and I was sneered at, but…board money is money. I tried riding in a jumping saddle. No way. I just couldn’t get it, and I don’t jump, something my horses were in full in agreement with. I tried an English saddle and sadly, didn’t care for that, either. Thus I found myself riding bareback…and loved it.  
  I still ride bareback more often than not. Riding bareback has taught me all the basics of balance, rhythm, soft hands, etc., that are so important to riding in general.

     I didn’t like English because the lack of a horn unnerved me. Deep inside I knew one wasn’t supposed to hang on to the horn, but I had no concept of collection, contact, or most importantly, balance. The horn was a crutch, both psychological as well as physical.  

     Western riders didn’t talk of doing the work of carrying oneself. You got on the horse and rode. The more miles you had in the saddle, the more adept you became at staying aboard-but the horse was doing all the work.
One steered the horse by neck reining.
The latter has changed.  Indeed, these days, there seems to be a mindset, at least in the show ring (which again, seems to have been usurped by the Western Equitation folks) that the reins aren’t used at all.


     It wasn’t until much later in life that I first rode a friend’s 4th level dressage horse in a dressage saddle. To say that I was completely unprepared for the exquisite sensitivity and instantaneous response a well-trained 4th level horse provides is putting it mildly. Only because the mare loved me did she even tolerate me aboard her.
    But the saddle-the saddle! gave me the physiological equivalent of an ‘aha’ moment. It felt RIGHT to me. I immediately went out and purchased a used dressage saddle for my horse.

   As for western riders: it appears that the Western Equitation fad is dying out. Thank god. Too many truly Western loving riders were sickened and disgusted by the artificial and (let’s say it out loud) cruel way of forcing a horse to go “western Equitation style”. Horses are meant to move out in a fairly rapid speed with their heads UP, not dragging in the dirt at the pace of a slow turtle.

   But the cadre of people who learned to ride western via western equitation is legion. Like a pig through a python, it’s going to take a generation of riders to get past the WE style.

   This style, I learned, involved not using the reins whatsoever. Indeed, I wonder why they even had a bridle on the horse, as the rider would stick her hands way out in front of her, the reins drooping like wet rope from her extended fists.
Here are a few pictures of a high ranking WE rider. 





She’s not as bad as some I’ve seen, although she looks as if the reins are hot. I’m a bit pissed at the heavy mascara on the horses. When I was into Arabians, I was under the impression that makeup on horses was illegal. Apparently the show folks worked their way around that. Jesus, look at that grey. He looks like a clown.


   I feel sorry, honestly, for those folks. (although in the above pictures, the horses seem to be happy).  The only thing they can do is ride a slow horse in an arena. It’s like they’re a cult, and can find acceptance and validation only within that cult. The rest of the riding world, to include Western riders, thinks of them as vapid and silly. But it brings in money. And that’s what drives the horse business. 
   I've used this picture in the past, and will add it here, to truly give the sense one gets of the horse in Western Equitation:

    THIS is what disturbs the 'old fashioned' Western rider, and me. THIS is what Western Equitation wants a riding horse to look like.

   In the past two or three years, a new concept has arisen in the Western riding world, and in my opinion, it's way overdue and very welcome.

  It’s called “Western Dressage’. I cannot say for sure, but it seems to involve age old concepts of: collection, contact, and balance. (Concepts used daily by dressage and English riders). They’re learning that making a horse use both sides of his body enables the horse to go further, keeps him supple, and keeps him in better shape. Riding using dressage principles teaches the rider to carry herself in order to lessen the burden on the horse. Dressage is a team effort.

   It’s an admirable concept, a daring departure from the western equitation fad,and I think it’s going to do a world of good for western riders.

  But it's probably come too late for some. At our last dressage test, where a ‘western dressage’ test had been added, I saw a rider who I can (in my own mind..I'm not a boaster)(although a case could be made that is exactly what I'm doing here on my blog.) see someone who rides dressage worse than me. At last, I can look better than someone who probably is a better rider than I’ll ever be, but was, unfortunately, trained to ride Western Equitation. Which means, she’s got a handicap that she’ll be laboring under for a very long time. Old habits are hard to break.Just ask me.

    Look at this. 

  






I was embarrassed for her. I have no idea what the judges scored her. The judges in my region have proven to me (at least) that a training show is strictly that, so they aren’t savage with their pens. But the judge HAD to have seen this girl riding like this. She did TWO tests like this. She obviously has miles and miles of Western Equitation under her belt. Her horse was very willing, but didn't seem as if he was out of control or going too fast. I don’t know the rules for Western Dressage. There were four other people in her class and they all rode in Western saddles. Maybe one can ride western dressage in a dressage saddle? It’s weird.The thought hit me, maybe she's a dressage rider who wants the score but not the reputation, so she entered a western dressage class? I have no idea.
    I don’t know who, if anyone, is training her, but if so, that trainer should be hammered. Any trainer, who allows a person to do a dressage test like this, who thinks that one’s arms are supposed to be stuck out like that, should be ashamed of herself.
   But then again, perhaps the trainer (again, if there is one) was trained WE as well.

  Whatever, I am very glad that it isn’t me riding like that in front of god and everybody.

ADDENDUM:
Just when I thought I'd found the worst WE image on google, I found even more egregious ones. This is a screamer.  The rider is showing him both english and western, and oh my gosh. It's bad, folks. Really bad, when she gets ribbons for riding like this:
 If that is 'collection', I'll eat my boots. But I will give her this: her arms and hands are down.

Cite:
1 Breaking and Training the Stock Horse” (5th Ed.), pg. 52.  1965  Williamson, Charles O. , Caxton Printers, Ltd, Caldwell, ID Lib. of Congress number 62-22012
Due to such early printing, no ISBN has been assigned to this edition.



23 July 2015

When the professionals cheat, revisited

    I used to blog on word press. 

   Here is a post I made on it last August. Please excuse any issues with it's appearance. Word press used to be the very best blogging site but they decided that they would make blogs primarily for a phone.  Do you know ANYONE who is willing to type out 2400 word blogs on a PHONE? 
Me neither, nor any of the other thousands of bloggers....some of whom had paid for their personal word press domain. Word press made the change total, all encompassing and literally said EFF you if you don't like it. 

   Most of us didn't. Word press ignored the thousands of complaints from many word pressers. Like many of them, I left and began this blog on Blogger. 

   So saying, I am unable to export any of the posts I made on that blog website. If you'd like to read them, go to http://throughthebridlelightly.wordpress.com and have a look. 

   In the meantime, please read this, as I'm going to add the 'punchline', so to speak, BEFORE the original post. I suppose you call this a "forward". 

   After I posted 'When the Professionals Cheat", it still kept eating at me, so I finally contacted the United States Dressage Federation. 

    I told them the entire story, this time with names intact.

   I was soon contacted by a very high official in the USDF. I mean Nose Bleed high. 

   First she thanked me for being a volunteer, and encouraged me to continue. Volunteers are the lifeblood of any sort of venue, be it a horse show or a car race, and they are always desperate for idiots like me to come and work their butts off for free.

   That official then contacted the owners of the farm in question. One of them is the one who begged me to volunteer, as I've used her professional services in a different horse related situation. The other is the rider I talk about, the professional who cheated. She did NOT talk to me. I'm far too lowly for her, it seems.

 I'll refer to the one who called me as P.

   I've known P for several years. She called me and we had a long chat about how,well, you know, it was a mistake. It was the GROOM who did the tacking up of the horse, NOT the Professional Rider. She made all sorts of apologies for Professional Rider, none of which were sincere, in my humble opinion. She was just afraid I'd take it further than I already had. 

   I didn't back down, though. P is a professional rider herself. She knows that, ultimately, it isn't the groom who is responsible for the horse/tack. It is the RIDER. You never ever hear the groom being credited when a horse wins the Olympics. Nope, it's the rider. 

   I told P that. She said, yes you are right (but)
    
  Oh, the unspoken 'but'.

   I could hear a slight threat in her voice. 

   This pissed me off. I don't start fights but I'll be damned if I'm going to turn and run when someone thrusts one on me. If you knock me down, you better kill me, because if I get back up, I won't stop fighting until someone is dead.  

   In this case, though, I knew it wasn't worth fighting over. In the long run, Professionals win every time, because they have big lawyers. I can't afford a lawyer good enough to go against Big Money. P and her business partner/professional rider have that sort of money. 

   And, when the professionals cheat, we remember. All I have to say is a few names: Lance Armstrong. Tom Brady (of the Boston Patriots). See?

   I'd made the decision to not go back. However, that decision was taken out of my hands. 

   I was NOT invited to come back this year.

   Break my effing heart.  

   So, without further ado, here is my cut and pasted post, "When the professionals cheat", taken from my wordpress blogpost of Aug 2014


This past weekend, I volunteered at a 2nd level dressage show.

I’ve done this before. Last year a TD (technical delegate, a person officially designated by the USDF and USEF, to know and enforce all the rules and regulations at official shows.) trained  and supervised me on  bit checking. So I went in on Saturday feeling comfortable that I knew what I was doing. I also had a copy of the regulations, and there was (supposedly) a TD on the grounds.

“Bit checking”, at a sanctioned show, entails several things: checking the bridle and cavesson to see if there is two fingers worth of looseness, feeling or opening the horse’s mouth to feel the bit in order to insure that the bits are regulation (i.e. no sharp edged or cornered bits, no Dr. Bristols, no twisted wire, etc), check the rider’s spurs, run a hand down the side of the horse to check for blood from non-regulation spurs, check the length of the whip.

One wears disposable latex gloves and changes them out with every horse. That’s to prevent transmitting ugly diseases such as stomatitis.

Finally, USEF/USDF regulations call for a third of the class be checked. The classes at this show, at least in the afternoon, were very small. In some cases, there only four horses in a class.

The farm where this particular show was held is a professional barn. The owners (two of them) buy or import European Warmbloods as well as breed their own. They train them to FEI levels, and sell them. The prices they ask for a horse would buy me a very comfortable house, so you can understand that these folks have money in very large amounts.

I met the Technical Delegate (not the same one who trained me last year) in the morning. I helped her check the ring’s fences. That is the last time I saw her as anything more than a retreating back.
I took over bit checking in the afternoon (I swapped jobs with another volunteer. I’d been doing in gate work in the morning).

The afternoon’s classes were all higher level stuff-specifically, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th level dressage.

The last class of the day had ONE horse in it,owned and ridden by  one of the farm owners. I’ll call her Professional Rider. PR had ridden not only several of their own horses, but horses owned by several other people not connected to her barn. This means that sometimes she rode three horses in the same class.

The woman (another volunteer), who’d done bit checking in the morning’s lower  level classes (which were more heavily populated) told me that Professional Rider had complained to HER (not the TD) that she’d been checked “8 times”. I said, ‘she’s a pro. She knows that, in a class of four horses, she’s probably going to get checked.”

Now mind you, the entire time I was working gate or bit checking, I saw the TD perhaps twice. She spent the day, I believe, sitting in the shade of a large canopy,  next to the announcer. (it was bloody hot, in the high 80’s (30 C) and bit check/in gate had NO SHADE). Of course not. One can’t have a canopy inside the ring.

Therefore, I and my co-volunteer got a really good roasting. We spent the entire day out in the sun.
Professional Rider rode several horses in the afternoon. In the 3rd level class, I stopped her to bit check her horse, and she said, “You already checked me.”

I said, “Yes, but that was in the last class, right?”

She said “Yes” in a tone of voice that clearly meant “You effing turd, how dare you.”

The last class of the day was 4th Level. Professional Rider was riding her horse, the only horse in the 4th level class. She has competed on this horse, by the way, at FEI level shows for at least two years.
She finishes her class. The in gate lady, the judge and her scribe all leave the ring.
Instead of exiting the ring, Professional Rider continues to ride her horse in circles in the ring.
She spends, oh, five minutes riding in circles. Perhaps it’s to cool down her sweaty horse?

At a trot??

No.

NOW I know why. She was waiting for me to leave, without conducting a bit check.
I may not be the brightest spark, I may not own a horse, I certainly do not have the money to afford a 100K horse on a $500K farm.

I’m just a volunteer, but damn it, I’m a good one.

I go by the rules. Always have, always will.

Simple math tells me, one horse in the class means that one horse gets bit checked. To me, it doesn’t matter that the show is over for the day and all the officials have left. I do bit checking until my task is done.

Finally she stops her horse and I approach her, saying, “Excuse me, but I need to bit check your horse.”
I should have looked at her face, but I didn’t. It would have told me what was going to happen.
No, I make eye contact with the horse and say, gently hey big horse as I approached him. This horse is FEI level. He’s had bit checks done hundreds of times.

I begin my regimen of  bit checking.

I tried to run two fingers under the cavesson.

They wouldn’t fit. The cavesson was so tightly cranked down on his face that I couldn’t even get a finger tip under it. I said, “Wow, this cavesson is too….”

That’s as far as I got.

The horse knocked me sideways with his head. He began head tossing, and dancing,  avoiding my touch. I’m not afraid of horses, and I know they can be testy, so I let him toss his head, waiting for him to rest. The moment he did, I again tried the cavesson and he began the head tossing again. Again, I let him come to a stop and thought, OK, I’ll check the bits before I try the cavesson.

The flash noseband was on so tightly that I could only just barely fit a finger into his mouth. I ran it up the curb, but try as I might, I couldn’t get to the back of the mouth to feel for the snaffle. And again, the horse was violently resisting, pushing, tossing, pulling away. Maybe (I know now) it’s because that bit was pulled back..HARD. Professional rider had tightened on the reins.

OK. I’ll try the other side.

I run my hand down his right side, behind the riders leg.

The horse cowkicked at me. As athletic as he was, he almost hit me. I yelled at the horse and the rider said, “He’s hot and tired”.

Well, damn it, so am I, and you are not making this job any easier I wanted to say, but I didn’t.

I walked behind the horse to get to the left side…and the horse backed up so quickly I almost got run over.

Still, I tried. I checked his left side, and then was heading for the cavesson, when Professional Rider  rode away.  I hadn’t ‘released her’ by saying, Thank you very much, as I did with her and every other rider. She rode away, dismounted about fifty feet from me and led her now calm and quiet horse away.
She KNEW she had the cavesson cranked down too tightly. She KNEW the flash noseband was so tight the horse couldn’t have opened his mouth.

She’d purposefully held back from exiting the ring,  knowing the judge had left, knowing that the TD had made no attempt to help at the gate, allowing the volunteers to do all the work. Professional Rider had counted on me leaving, too. She’d seen me roasting in the sun like a rotisserie chicken, and figured I’d leave, too. She’d get away with cheating.

But I hadn’t left. There I was, patiently waiting for her.

She’d tried intimidating me earlier, and learned that I won’t be intimidated by anyone (unless they have a gun aimed at me.)

So she made her horse act up, figuring I was enough of a horseman to know that it’s not worth getting hurt.

Which means, she succeeded in making me back off, she succeeded in getting away with blatant abuse of her horse.

She was cheating. She probably got high scores on her 4th level test because her horse was forced into obedience. That’s not the spirit of dressage, when a horse is supposed to be willingly obedient.
She was pissed at me because I’m a nobody who insisted on playing by the rules, and if she had, too, she would have gotten lower scores on her test..which, ultimately, means her standing in the Dressage lists would be lower.

Damn the comfort of the horse. A couple of numbers on a list, is what matters to her, and if a horse has to suffer to get those numbers, so be it.

Damn that woman. I won’t name her, because people who can afford several hundred thousand dollars of horse can also afford several hundred thousands of dollars of lawyer.

The saddest part of all is, all the rest of the riders, all of them, were amateurs. They weren’t riding Very Expensive Horses.  They were riding ten dollar ponies. (well,not really, but you know what I mean).

Not a one of those folks cheated.

Not a one.

They played the game by the rules. They were beaten by Professional Rider, who cheated.  A professional rider who, I believe now, has reached the nosebleed heights of dressage riding, by  cheating. For YEARS.

I’m absolutely certain this isn’t the first time she’s cheated.  She was too practised for it to be the first time, oops, I did tighten it too much, didn’t I.

It’s just the first time someone caught her.

And is unable to do anything about it.