Beer Budget Dressage

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Mitt Romney, move aside. You may have increased attention for the elitist sport of dressage in national media, but I am here to rip it back down to the working class. Technically, I would consider myself on the modest side of middle class, but in dressage terms I practically qualify for a UNICEF grant and a TV ad with a crying Sally Struthers trying to get me adopted.

“Beer budget dressage” was what I was calling my hobby the other night as I was trying to manage my high maintenance four (almost five) year old warmblood. Whitman reacts to the wind if it suits his mercurial moods. Not to stereotype, but I am currently riding three horses of my own. Ries is eight years old (or maybe nine??) OTTB, Tas is a ten year old Morgan, and Whitman is an Oldenburg.

All three are stereotypes of their heritage. Ries is the typical sensitive, workaholic race track flunky. Despite some people’s opinions on OTTB’s, ours are generally stoic and about as bomb-proof as you can get. Ries sets the bar high for steadfast. The wind can make it sound like the arena roof is going to be torn off and he doesn’t twitch an ear. The snow was sliding off the roof and it doesn’t change the ride one bit. Since it was a lesson student, I was very appreciative. I can barely keep the fellow sound, but he is well worth the effort and expense. I adore Ries. He is about the most dependable (soundness aside) facet of my life. Unless he is pain, the horse does not have a “no” button. At the same time, I am developing an OCD trying to find a dressage saddle for him that we can both agree on. Ries is certainly on the “pending sainthood” list. He is super light to the leg, and wonderfully forward in a good way. I could set my watch by that horse (again, not counting soundness).

Tas is much more high-strung. He could occupy a string of therapists. Tas is a bit like a neurotic labrador – meaning a field trials Lab. He adores humans, needs to be in your pocket, is a tad co-dependent, and can go-go-go from sunrise to sunset. Tas is certain that everything is his fault and if he could speak, every other word would be “sorry”. Snow coming off the roof upsets him, but if the human keeps a steady head and hand he can function. True to his breed, he is way too smart. Most horses do not seem to have a concept for “up” or “above”. Tas was unaware of this and we were all impressed by how he could contort himself to look up and watch the snow sliding off of the clear panels in the arena roof. Like our other Morgan, he also exhibits the Morgan characteristic of self-preservation. These guys know where all of their body parts are and just how to keep themselves safe. As long as you can stick with them-not always an easy feat-you are safe.

Now take Ries’ sensitivity, add in Tasman’s level of reactivity and strip away the commonsense and self-preservation. Ladies and gentleman – allow me to present Whitman. I led him out of the barn today after tacking up. I have no idea what set him off, but he went bounding across the driveway with me ski-jouring along on the ice. We managed to get to the arena and as the door opener engaged, he tried to bolt again. This time with traction on my side, it was less interesting. However, I decided that despite all of the turn out time, that lunging was a good idea. I. Hate. Lunging. I also have a very high opinion of my ability to stay on. This lets you know just how high-as-a-kite nitWhit was.

So we longed, and we longed, and we longed. Then the little rat went bucking and bolting on a hard left turn while we were lunging to the right and got away from me. Once he was caught, nitWhit decided to try that three or four more times. This time, I was prepared – between a better grip on the longe line and getting my butt nice and low when he tried to tear away – and we were able to come to more agreeable terms.

I alternated between thinking “damn, that is one nice horse” and “sh$% – I have to get on that thing?!”. On the bright side, once I swung a leg over, nitWhit was ready to settle in and work. So we had a lovely ride to the soundtrack of falling snow, howling wind, and an endless tirade of desperate snowmobiles trying to get down the trail right by our arena one last time this weekend.

Stay classy, western New York!

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