Monday, January 30, 2012

Mouthy Monday

Sillypony shares a great point about show ring perspective. Her outlook has certainly changed over the years, how about the rest of us?


I recently dug out the old box-o-home movies. When I was showing horses as a teenager we didn’t have Youtube. We didn’t even own a video camera. When I would get lucky enough to borrow one and beg my mom to tag along to a lesson or to a horse show, I would get a tape. An actual TAPE. If I wanted to show the video to anyone, I’d have to take it to someone’s house, or if it was one of those “convenient” mini-tapes, I’d have to take the whole video camera and a bag of obnoxious cables.

Of the eight or nine shows I did as a teenager I have only a few bits and pieces of footage. Don’t get me started about the one that was accidentally recorded over with hours of CNN and how I sat fast forwarding through the news, tears streaming down my face hoping in vain there was at least some of it left… Those recordings were precious, and they still are. But nearly 20 years later, watching those videos, I now understand why we didn’t win every class, but I sure didn’t at the time. I have the gift of perspective.

I lived in a small town and only did one or two shows a year; a small, saddle club open-show and the County Fair 4-H show. Most of the 4-H kids just learned from their parents or at the three or four open arena nights that the volunteers would host, having to explain that a curb bit needed a curb STRAP in order to actually work. There were a few of the better riders who would trailer their horses an hour or so away for a lesson or two. So the fact that I could get up to two lessons a day in the summers (in exchange for stall cleaning, lamb feeding, and whatever else I was told to do) made me feel like I knew a LOT about riding. I also read a lot of books since my interest/obsession in horses preceded my actual start of riding, by oh, say 13 years, give or take.

My first riding instructor was classically trained. She was sophisticated, elegant, and one of the kindest women I have ever met in my life. I will remember and cherish ALL of the lessons she gave me. She taught me well, but she was much more interested in making sure I was having a good time than anything. She was not at the forefront of the ins-and-outs of trends in horse shows, nor did she much care for them. She’d had her heyday 10-20 years earlier, and a successful heyday it was. We were relentless at begging her to ride in the “Over-the-Hill” class at the show. I still wish she had obliged.

“I only knew what you told me!” was my mother’s response when I joked with her about how the videos contained (in addition to my sub-standard riding) her whispered voice saying how I’d been “robbed” in certain classes, or quietly criticizing the other rider’s performances, even making comments that the Judge must be blind or “related” to the winning riders since the class was being judged so unfairly. We weren’t truly poor sports, mind you, just disappointed in the outcome because we didn’t really know what the judges were looking for. Yes, we, all of us, only know what we’ve been taught. I thought I was riding well, so Mom thought I was riding well. We didn’t understand that the judge was looking for something different. We thought the judge was wrong. And we might have been a little bit biased… I’m sure you never felt the same, right?

It was the mid-nineties in a small farm town. There was no Internet. Today if I want to know what’s winning at the big shows I go to Youtube and I watch the winning runs from Scottsdale, Congress or the WEG. The information is right there. Back then we only had books, the small shows we could get to, and whatever instruction we could find. BOOKS! I’m currently re-reading what my first instructor referred to as her bible: “Horsemastership” by Margaret Cabell Self. Though there is a terrifying suggestion of spreading used motor oil on the arenas to keep the dust down, there are no animations, no color photos, just detailed explanatory text, line drawings, and grainy black & white photos in the middle of the book with references to the pages of text on which they are discussed. Mrs. Self’s words give me sensory flashbacks to my lessons, which is somewhat delightful. It also brings into perspective how difficult it was once for people to get information. You had to GO to a trainer to get information, now you can buy their DVD’s. Books are made with huge colorful photos on every page. You don’t have to flip to the photo section and remember what plate was referenced. Text is shortened. The Internet is lightening fast. I own a late 80’s copy of “Show Grooming: The Look of a Winner” which mentions the difference between the West Coast style of western riding and the East Coast style. Now we see videos of people riding western pleasure Quarter Horses in Germany, and aside from the arena banners I can’t read, it could be any big breed show in the US. Our global perspective has created a narrowing of our knowledge as well as a broadening. Mrs. Self goes into great detail in her sections on training about the different methods used by the different Olympic competing nations. I wonder if they’re all as different now? And what I wouldn’t give to have video of the first years of QH Congress.

But, back to my home movies. I watched with some embarrassment how far forward I was leaning at the trot, practically resting my hands on the horse’s neck. My feet were stuck out in front of me at the walk. My free hand in Western classes was stuck out to the side of me at a 30 degree angle. Then there was “Nikki.” We never understood why she won all the classes on that slow and boring QH gelding she had. He had no animation. Did I mention I was showing Arabians in a ring full of pasture pets, Paints, and QHs? He was so slow and he never extended a trot when asked. How on earth was she winning!?! Now that I’ve moved into that world of AQHA an APHA I see what was happening. I know that flat topline the judge was looking for. I also see, when I really look, how our performance was far from perfect. Not only was my posture crap, my horse was a bit of a nutter. I thought they were prejudiced against Arabs. Now I realize they were prejudiced against inconsistent horses who break gait and weren’t as mannerly as those dumpy quarter horses. It seems I have a selective memory of those rides. I still don’t go in for the crippled-crab-stepping-four-beat-brain-dead-frightened-dog-tailed daisy pickers, but I now recognize that if I am going to these open shows, I need to understand what is expected. If you’re going to bother playing the game, learn the rules.

These days I have the convenience of a pocket-sized HD video camera and a tripod. I can record myself ride any time, plus usually a barn friend to hold it for me at shows. I can edit those videos down and upload them to my blog and to Youtube to share with anyone who wishes to watch. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t have this ability when I was 16 as the Internet would be full of my uninformed riding and videos of my show chickens, but that’s fodder for another blog. It’s scary sharing that much information with the world. Someone is certain to look at my recent videos and think exactly what I think when watching those old VHS tapes. I only hope they are either kind, or silent. I can watch the winning Amateur runs at Congress, do the pattern myself and compare the two clips. It can be an excellent training tool. It can also be depressing, knowing just how good we’re NOT. But I can watch my own progress and that is encouraging.

Back in high school I thought I knew what I was doing. Now, with a few years of perspective I realize how little I knew, but I also realize that an additional 15+ years of equine learning hasn’t made me nearly as knowledgeable as I thought I was when I was 16. I am aware that I will never know enough, but I keep trying. I take as many lessons and clinics as I can afford. I keep reading, both the new shiny books AND the old ones without pictures.


flyin'horse said...

I am not a show person now but I really enjoyed your well written post. I entered a couple of western pleasure shows 40+ years ago as a kid with my grade horses. I look back and think what a brave and ignorant kid I was! One entry was bareback equitation and I rode my dad's tall, rangy, block-headed strawberry roan that he picked up starving from somebody's back yard for a few bucks. That horse had the roughest gaits I have ever sat. Why I chose to ride him in that class I have no idea. Ha! I rode probably 6 miles to get to the show ring along the railroad tracks and across busy highways. I'm sure I was the only kid there that didn't trailer in! I have a picture somewhere of my mare tied to the family station wagon door handle at the show grounds. All my tack was used and there wasn't a bit of silver to be found on any of it. I learned everything I thought I needed to know from my dad and a few lessons at the rental stable prior to getting my own horse. Needless to say I never won and I'm sure with plenty of good reason! I cringe now when I think how poor my technique probably was. But I pat my child-self on the back for trying and not caring what the kids with the well bred horses, trainers, trailers and blingy tack thought!

Heidi the Hick said...

WOW. This story could be my story!!

I was in my early to mid twenties in my show days, but yeah, half Arabian horse with a high head and flying hooves among rock solid QH and me hanging on for dear life. I had no trainer, a handful of lessons, terrible posture...! I knew pretty quick that I was in need of some learning, and the more I learned over the next ten years or do, the more I realized how little I knew!

It's all valuable experience. Luckily a couple girls took me under their wings and taught me so much I'll be forever indebted to them.

And the horse show videos? I cannot watch them. It's too awful.

Kel said...

Sillypony's post: "She taught me well, but she was much more interested in making sure I was having a good time than anything"

I think you lucked out but in a good way! The ones that try to teach something (however minimal) while keeping it fun are the ones that keep the kids riding (as opposed to the jerks that yell at and berate their students, or over-horse them, etc). If you're too afraid to ask questions/learn 'cause you're always shot down, you won't remain in the sport for all too long.

I wish I had videos from when I started riding to compare to the couple I've taken recently.

I'm weird; I think they're a blast to watch and pick apart to figure out a) what I've improved on, b) still need to work out, or c) how what it felt like in the saddle translates to how it looks.

Jill said...

great post! Love the topic! I have one tape of all the scrappy clips from riding when I was a kid in the 90s, with my Mum's huge camcorder!

I can empathise with your showing experiences too, although in English! It wasn't until I saw a video of myself at a championship show that I realised I rode with my legs well away from my horse's sides! I can't watch the video to this day, I'm so embarrassed!

Considering getting the other one put on dvd though...some good memories!!

Breathe said...

Wonderful post, great memories.

No shows here, except dog agility. :)

Emme said...

great post.
As newbie to riding, although its been ten years since Daughters first lesson, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the information available to me. With this much free training and hints available, who does one listen to, and who is really the "expert?" Can be overwhelming at times.

Anonymous said...

Loved this post !!!! And boy can I relate ! I absorbed any and all information ravenously - remember the "free" Beery training pamphlets? I read and re-read those, and picked up "training tips" from "The Black Stallion", "Black Beauty", and all of Margaret Campbell Self's tomes of wisdom. When confronted with my first REAL horse - Oh my - he sure was bigger than I anticipated. And I was so unco-ordinated, I was sure I was going to fall off at the walk...and what was I going to do when he finally took off (it never happened) how was I going to stop? Fortunately I had the greatest best friend in the world who let me come and ride her horses....and her saint of a horse Comanche, who saw me safely through 4-H and a ton of equine wisdom. God Bless them both (and her mom who hauled us to all of the local 4H shows).

mel said...

Amen! If I only knew half as much now as I thought I knew then.

This could have been written by me except I was riding a Morgan huntseat. I did win some but not as much as I thought I should have. It pains me to know that "my horse's problems" were really mine. I wish I could make it up to them. But they were loved and lived out their days with us...

mugwump said...

I may have some video of Mort sonewhere, it's got me thinking....

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