Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Kottas Experience: Day 3, Just Too Tired

I don't remember much about my ride on Day 3. It was a Monday, so there weren't many auditors. I wisely decided to leave Spider at home and go back to get him for our ride time. I did get to audit more, which was very nice. But I was so, so tired.

The standout from my third ride is that Arthur explained to me how to ride a centerline. Somehow, in 20 years of riding dressage and many trainers, I have never managed to learn that. I always over shoot the centerline and then have to correct and then it's a mess. Arthur finally put it into words I could understand: "Ride it like a 10m circle". Oh.... Duh. It seems really obvious in retrospect, but it honestly never occurred to me before.

My lessons with Arthur Kottas were not world changing experiences of a lifetime where flights of dressage angels sung to me of enlightenment and Spider and I floated away on perfectly classical unicorn farts, but they were very good confirmations of things I already knew (other than how to hit the centerline). What I learned was more about myself, and that I am on the right track and I'm receiving good training. Almost everything Arthur said was something I have already heard from my own trainer, just with a different accent. That's a very good thing.

Probably the most important thing, and the most world-changing thing, Arthur said to me wasn't during any of my rides. It was while I was driving him to the airport after the clinic. We were chit-chatting, as one does on an hour-long car ride. I was pointing out the various fascinating South Jersey sights: "That's the landfill where they buried the dead whale that washed up on the Shore a couple years ago. That's a peach orchard. That's a soybean field. There's the Sewage Treatment Plant.", but the subject came back to horses because apparently Arthur doesn't find dead whales and sewage treatment as fascinating as I do. So, we were talking about his approach to clinics when he suddenly said, "Your horse is very difficult."  *record scratch*

Not gonna lie, I damn near threw his ass out of the car into a soybean field. Nobody, I mean nobody, not even Arthur Kottas, gets to say anything bad about my favorite horse. But I controlled myself, artfully glossed over that part of the conversation, and delivered him safely to the airport.

I then related that story to a few people, who all agreed with him. My trainer even said, "You should take that as a compliment.", and then followed it up with, "If he were easy, you'd be doing Grand Prix by now."  I realized that I can't abandon all my friends in a soybean field, because someone might miss them and then get suspicious, so I eventually just started to accept that maybe Spider is a just a smidge difficult and maybe I'm not that bad of a rider.

I'm not sure if I'll ride with Arthur again. I will definitely host another clinic with him, it was a wonderful experience, but riding and hosting is just too much for me. If I ride again, it will be only for one or two days. Really though, I learned the most by sitting and listening to him teach. As much as I want to people to ride in clinics, because I need riders to fill my clinics, I really think that auditing is the best bang for your money. Being able to sit there and listen to him teach riders and horses of all ages and levels is a truly sublime experience. If you do ride, bring along someone to video or take notes for you, because you probably won't remember a thing!

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Kottas Experience: Day 2, Redemption

After Day 1 I came to several important realizations: Arthur was basically saying all the same things my trainer says, this was not new material and I know this stuff. Arthur wasn't going to give me any step by step instructions on how to ride, I already know how to ride and I needed to actually ride my horse so he could give me some useful feedback. Most importantly, I realized I didn't really give a rat's ass what Arthur or the auditors thought about me or my horse, they're only here for three days. I was just going to go out there, ride my horse and have fun.

The whole "...you will never ride past First Level" statement from Day 1 actually didn't bother me that much. Arthur Kottas doesn't know me or my horse and I had honestly presented some spectacularly shitty work on Day 1. It's no different from a judge or a railbird watching one crappy ride: they don't know you, they don't know your horse. They can only judge what they're seeing right now. I know I can ride past First Level, because my horse has shown at Third Level and is ridden and trained exclusively by me. So, what I needed to do was just ride my horse the way I know how to ride my horse and to hell with the rest of it. 

It doesn't hurt that I'm pretty stubborn and contrary. 

Now, I will say I made one mistake again: I brought Spider with me for the whole day. (Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?)  Spider was even worse on Day 2, the running and screaming started as soon as I put him in his paddock. Since the clinic hadn't started yet, Arthur wandered over and said, "Isn't that your horse? He's so stressed. Why is he so stressed? He has a lovely paddock and is surrounded by other horses." I had to be like, "Yeah, he's.... uh... special....".

I didn't let Spider's stress level get to me on Day 2, though. Instead, I took him out of the paddock, walked him around and just hung out with him for most of the day. The second day of a clinic is always less chaotic, so I was able to do that for him. Yes, I missed auditing a lot of the clinic, but my horse, no matter how clingy, needy and generally crazy he might be, is more important to me than auditing any clinic.

I also remembered to take my pills and I washed them down with a beer. Better living through chemistry, right?

When our turn to ride came, I went in and rode the crap out of my horse. I now knew Arthur's style, that he was just going to call off exercises and critique, so I just rode the hell out of those exercises. Spider started out tense and resistant, but I kept calm and focused on my horse and my riding. Instead of getting flustered if I didn't understand something or messed up, I just asked if I could try it again. And guess what? He let me have do-overs! I only heard, "Your riding is bad." once, and it was in some canter work where my riding was actually bad. I had failed to set Spider up for the transition properly, and that's straight up bad riding.

At one point Arthur said, "Ah! You can do this!". Sweet Redemption! Arthur even said at the end, "He started out very shitty, but you ended well." Yes, that's right, my horse inspired Arthur Kottas to call him "shitty"! (He was talking about his temperament, not his overall quality. Spider threw a couple temper tantrums at the beginning.)

And then we all had a BBQ that may or may not have involved stolen corn and I went home and went to bed to prepare for Day 3.......

Oh! And to answer redheadlins' question about the rodeo from Day 1, Arthur loved the rodeo! He videoed everything and asked a ton of questions about the different events, which I answered as best I could considering I haven't been involved with rodeo stuff in 20 years. Between the four of us DQs who went with him, we managed to come up with fairly decent answers to most of his questions (I think). He especially liked the bull and bronc riding, but thought all the events were great. Honestly, it was at this point that I realized that I didn't need to be a fancy DQ on a push-button horse to ride for Arthur Kottas. A guy that likes bronc riding that much is probably going to be cool with me kicking the shit out of my horse in a clinic.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Kottas Experience: Day 1, Trainwreck

So, as I mentioned before, I was the one organizing this clinic. I did have loads of help and a wonderful venue to work with, but I still had to get there early to set up and register auditors, make sure riders got into the ring on time, get breakfast and lunch put out, etc.


Clinic set up is always a royal PITA, but this one was made far worse by the fact I had to bring my crazy horse with me. This is worse than bringing my children with me, because Spider is about 100x more needy, clingy and loud than my children. Still, I decided it was preferable to having to drive back and get him for my ride. (Mistake #1, I know he doesn't do well with away trips, even short ones, where he isn't The Center Of The Universe.)

So, I got there at 7:30 am with Spider in tow. My ride wasn't until 4:15 pm, but the farm owner was awesome and had graciously offered me a paddock for Spider to stay in. Spider hates being in a stall, and will scream and thrash around if he has to be in one, so that was not an option. The paddock seemed like a great alternative. There were other horses around him, plenty of grass and a shady spot  under some trees to nap. It was absolutely perfect, but not to Spider. He was actually OK for about an hour, then he realized no one was paying attention to him and we weren't going home any time soon and started throwing a fit. We had to turn up the PA system so poor Arthur could be heard over the crazy in the paddock. Auditors kept peering outside to see what was going on. I tried to pretend that I didn't know him, but eventually had to fess up that he belonged to me.  (Mistake #2, I let myself get stressed because Spider was stressed.)

I did get to sit and watch Arthur teach everyone else in between my hostess duties and making sure my horse hadn't exploded, which was absolutely wonderful! (The watching part, not the "I hope my horse didn't explode" part.) I highly recommend auditing an Arthur Kottas clinic if the opportunity presents itself. I listened as closely as I could and took note of how he teaches and what he was asking people to do, with the intent of being better prepared for my own ride. (Mistake #3, Like you can ever be prepared for your first ride with THE Arthur Kottas!)

By the time my ride came around, I was exhausted both mentally and physically and my back hurt. Usually when my back is bothering me and I need to ride I take something for it, but this time I just forgot. It never even occurred to me, actually. I was too busy trying to get ready. (Mistake #4, and one I'll never make again.)

Spider warmed up really well in the outdoor arena and I was pretty happy. I knew my back was really bothering me, but I figured I could handle it. It was too late to take anything by then, anyway. Into the clinic I went....

A friend of mine described what happened next the best, so I'll quote her: "You careened around like a drunken sailor." Between my back, the rapid-fire way Arthur calls off exercises, many of which were combinations I had never heard of, let alone ridden before, and the fact that I don't usually ride in a full size arena with letters, I was absolutely careening around like a drunken sailor. Actually, I was a drunken sailor without a rudder. In retrospect, it's hilarious. At the time, I just got flustered. (Mistake #5, I let myself get flustered.)

Because my back was hurting, my position wasn't great. And by, "wasn't great", I mean I looked like a drunken monkey with palsy. My hands were bouncing everywhere because I couldn't use my back well and get my hips properly aligned in the saddle. Arthur is a big stickler for position, so I heard "Your riding is bad." more times than I can even count. Eventually he stopped me and tried to explain that I needed to fix my position in order to ride correctly. And then I had a dilemma....

I have become much more open about my health problems in recent years. I started talking about it more because I want people to see past the stigma of "invisible" disabilities and realize that they probably know people with these problems who might just be afraid to talk about it, and also so that other people with disabilities like mine can see that it's OK to talk about it and be "out" about it. But, for every person I tell about my health problems who is totally cool and supportive, there are many more who feel the need to tell me I'm just using my chronic health problems as an "excuse" and if I just saw a chiropractor/massage therapist/faith healer and ate that yogurt Jamie Lee Curtis shills I'd be totally cured because their father's brother's nephew's cousin's roommate, who totally had the same thing they think I might have, was totally cured by that.  So, in certain situations, like a clinic where there are auditors I don't know and I don't really know the trainer, I tend to keep my mouth shut. I've heard, "Well, if you're that sick, how can you ride horses and go to shows and clinics?" way too many times. I was willing to just let my shitty riding be shitty riding and fix it the next day.  

Unfortunately, my decision not to say anything was a poor one. Arthur decided to take hold of my right leg and physically put it where it belonged. I wasn't expecting that, he's quick! I jumped several inches out of the saddle as pain went searing through my back and screamed, "Don't touch my leg! You can't just grab my leg!" into the face of the former Director of the Spanish Riding School. Surprisingly, he did not beat me to death with an in-hand whip. But, I then had to explain my back problems to him. He was very kind and asked several questions about my abilities and lack there-of, all of which I answered. I'm not sure if he was more taken aback by the yelling or my crippled-ness, but he very quietly said, "With this position you will never ride past First Level. Maybe you can trail ride."

At this point, my brain totally checked out. My back was a knot of agony and Athur Kottas had just told me I should take up trail riding. I finished the lesson as best I could, but I don't remember much of it. I will say that Arthur was never unkind in anything he said, and he was always 100% truthful about everything I presented to him.  He did say that some of my work was good, when I presented good work, and that my horse was very much able to do the work that was being asked of him.

After my lesson, my very good friend helped me get off my horse and get him untacked, loaded in the trailer and home, then we went out to the Cowtown Rodeo with Arthur. (He wanted to go to the rodeo, and who says "no" to taking Arthur Kottas to the rodeo?)

Then I went to bed and prepared for Day 2..........

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Kottas Experience: Preliminary Thoughts

Only one word can properly describe riding with Arthur Kottas: Intense. It's been three days, and I'm still wrapping my brain around it. This may end up as a multiple-post series, because I'm not sure I can write the whole experience in one post.

It took me about three days to recover, and also to catch up on my own neglected farm and house work. Note to self: Do not ever try to ride and organize a three day Arthur Kottas clinic ever again.  I'll definitely organize another one, but I won't ride all three days. It's just too much.

Arthur (Yes, I can call him "Arthur" now. Be jealous.) does not pull any punches. He is brutally honest, but not in a mean way. When Arthur says, "Your riding is bad.", it's not condescending or rude. It is a simple statement of fact and he just expects you to fix it. And, yes, he really says that.... I think he said it to me at least 20 times in three days (more on that later).  He holds the rider responsible for every single fault, and praises the horse when things go right.

His teaching style is to call off exercises and critique as you ride them. Nothing is drilled, even if you do the exercise completely wrong and never get it right he will move on to another exercise after only a couple of tries. He expects you to fix them later, he calls this, "homework".  I have lots of "homework", only some of which I remember. I highly recommend that anyone riding with Arthur drag along a friend to audit and take notes on your ride. Being in the lesson is pretty overwhelming, and you're going to forget or not even hear at least half of what he says.

Auditing is really the way to go, although I'd obviously prefer people ride because I need to fill clinics. You learn a lot auditing, because you can sit on the sidelines watching multiple rides at many varying levels and you can scribble down notes and absorb it all without the distraction of having to actually ride. And don't just watch the Grand Prix rides, watch all the rides. You're going to learn a lot more watching the AA on the 15 year old QH or even the Pro on the 4 year old green bean struggle through 1st Level than you are watching the BNT float through Grand Prix on The Perfect Horse.

I took a lot of time to write up bios of rider and horse so the auditors would have background information and I scheduled rides so that there were various levels, breeds and ages represented each day. I wanted auditors to be able to take something home from their day watching Arthur and apply it to their own riding and training. Yet, I heard several complaints that there weren't enough "experienced" riders and higher levels. Seriously, if you're riding Training Level at home, you do not need to see Arthur Kottas teaching a Pro rider at GP. You need to be there for the 1st and 2nd Level rides so you can learn something you can use. (Whoops, that got ranty..... let's move on)

My three days of riding can be summed up as follows: Trainwreck, Redemption, Too Tired To Even Give A Shit.

But, I'll have to leave that for another post before I end up with a novel. Stay tuned......


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