Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tough Cookies

I'm not ranter.  It's not my style.  But some things just annoy me, and I hope you'll forgive me this rant.

Here's a funny picture to make it worth your while.

In my years of riding, I have had the good fortune to ride with many different trainers, coaches, and instructors.  Some were good, some were meh, some were awful.  But I learned from them all.

The best ones were the tough ones.  The ones who didn't gloss over anything.  The ones who told me straight up that I was riding like shit and was going to ruin my horse if I didn't fix it.  They weren't always super effective in telling me what I needed to do to to fix it, but at least they weren't blowing smoke up my ass.

The worst trainers were the ones who coddled me.  They wanted paying clients, so they told me I was doing wonderfully.  And then, when I went out and rode like a drunken monkey in a show and got a deservedly low score, they'd tell me the judge was "biased" against me.  Ha!

But those coddling trainers always have a flock of followers, and I hear the word "biased" thrown around more and more.  I see the tough trainers, the ones who tell you the truth, bashed in forums all over the internet.  I hear them bashed in conversation with my peers in every day conversation.

Nobody wants to hear that they suck.  I get that.  But, sometimes you need to hear it.  It's not just you out there.  You're sitting on a living, feeling, thinking animal and if you're riding like a drunken monkey, that's not fair to your horse.  How do you think your horse feels when you're yanking his face off, slamming into his back, or riding him for an hour with his hocks trailing into the next zip code?

Suck it up, Buttercup!  Your ego has no place in the saddle.  Now, I'm not saying that you should put up with actual abuse.  But, if somebody tells you that your riding is bad or detrimental to your horse, you should probably give that some thought.  Don't just blindly say "Nuh-uh!  You're a big 'ole meanie!"

I'm not saying you should blindly follow their instructions, either.  Go out and get a second or third opinion.  But, please remember, if your second opinion tells you that you're riding perfectly and the only reason you're not doing well is because of a vast conspiracy against "correct riding" or "XYZ breed" or "XYZ riders", they may be blowing smoke up your ass.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Thoroughbred (noun)    A breed of horse known for its speed, agility and natural inclination to break everything on your property.

This is why we can't have nice things, Jack.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Vinny's Story

I don't write much about Vinny.  He was already retired when I started this blog.  His chapter was over, and I was writing about my training experience with Spider.

Many parts of Vinny's story have floated through my head over the years, but I always planned to tell it when he died.  His story would be a sort of closure for that chapter of my life.

But, Vinny has made it clear that he isn't planning on dying any time soon, and it's a story that needs to be told.  So, I'm going to tell it now.

I met Vinny when he was 18 and I was too young to know better.  He was an FEI Schoolmaster, I was a working student.  We seemed to get along well, and when his owner told me she had purchased a new horse and needed a good home for Vinny I jumped at the chance to acquire him.  She gave him to me, free and clear.  Little did I know she was lying about everything.  She was getting rid of him because he was soured and and difficult to handle.  She was scared to death of him, and for good reason.

"Never look a gift horse in the mouth"

I'm the only person who ever called him "Vinny".  His real name is Stravinsky.  He is by Strauss, the famous Swedish Warmblood sire.  He was bred for dressage.  Bred for it, built for it, tested for it and should have been amazing for it.  But, somewhere along the way he was soured.

I didn't know that when I took him on. I knew he had some quirks, but surely I could handle them.  I was young, I was strong and powerful and had all the convictions of "classical" training and knowledge behind me.

And so I "scored" a free Schoolmaster.  I thought I had really made it.  Vinny had other ideas...

Once I started to work him consistently, his vices started to come out.  He could be difficult to handle on the ground.  Under saddle, he bucked, he spun, he reared and he bolted like a saddle bronc on the rodeo circuit. But he only acted like that sporadically.  Most times he was great.  So, I dealt with it.

I began to show him and ride him in clinics, which is when I started hearing the stories about him.  Random people would come up and ask if this was "The Stravinsky": The Stravinsky who had the blowup at the Horse Park, The Stravinsky who dumped that BNT, or the other BNT....

They were never good stories.  It turns out Vinny had spent most of his life going from trainer to trainer because of his behavior problems. But I was able to manage him, so I just shrugged and laughed it off.  We all have our quirks, and surely age had cooled him off.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Vinny was well and truly soured, and his behavior got worse and worse. He was dangerous. He only dumped me once, but he broke my back when he did it.  That injury was the end of my career as a horse professional.

The trainer I worked for at the time wanted him out of the barn immediately. She wouldn't touch him. No one would.  At the time, I didn't have my own farm, so I sent him off to a retirement farm.  Which he then got kicked out of for bad behavior.  So, I sent him to another retirement farm, which he also got kicked out of for bad behavior.

Luckily, by the time Vinny got kicked out of the 2nd farm, I had my own place and he came home to live here.

I remember when I went to get him like it was yesterday. I hadn't seen him in months and it had been two years since I had been his primary caregiver. He must have heard me or smelled me as I walked down the barn aisle, because he stuck his head out and pricked his ears up as I approached.  He remembered me.  I loaded him up with no issues and drove him home, unloaded him and put him out in the pasture. And I didn't have a clue what to do next.

I resented the hell out of him.  He had ruined my career.  He taken everything from me, and then continued to be a thorn in my side by getting thrown out of the purgatories I'd sent him to.  And now he was at my house and I had to see his sorry ass every day.  I had to feed him and take care of him every damn day as though he weren't the creature who had ruined my dreams.

I expected him to resent me, too.  After all, I was the last person who had made him do dressage.  He rebelled against me so hard back in those days.  I could still remember the last time I rode him: the way his eyes glassed over when I asked him to enter the arena, the way he had just shut down and decided to do whatever it took to get me off him.  I was just in his way.  And now here we were, forced to co-habitate.

He didn't resent me, though.  He greeted me every day like an old friend.  He was still a prick, and still got into trouble, but he didn't hold any grudges against me.  And, slowly, I let go of my resentment for him.  It's hard to hold a grudge when your grudgee pretends like it never happened.

Horses don't hold onto grudges or resentment.  I have no doubt that they remember things, but they don't hold onto them like we do.  Vinny was perfectly happy to give me another chance, which was more than any human had ever done for him.  He had spent his life bouncing from trainer to trainer and barn to barn as the humans in his life got fed up with him.  In spite of that, he gave me another chance and I couldn't do any less for him.

I've owned the bastard for over a decade now and, while I wouldn't describe our relationship as "warm and fuzzy", we do have a mutual respect for one another.  He may not have been the Schoolmaster I wanted, but he taught me enough.


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