Friday, February 29, 2008

Rider jumps without irons

I found this video while noodling around on YouTube. This young woman manages not only to ride through an epic bucking fit, but then to finish the course without stirrups. I love how at the end you get to see the bucking in slo-mo; that horse catches some serious air. Well ridden!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What universe are you living in?

A recent Dressage Today Viewpoint column by Cindy Sydnor left me absolutely apalled. I had sort of forgotten about it, but this month's letters column was devoted to reader responses to the column (all negative), so I guess I wasn't the only one who thought it was awful.

Sydnor's column is entitled "Own a Better Horse." She wastes no time in appearing both arrogant and clueless! I guess she thinks all of us riding dressage have limitless disposable income and bomb around on any old horse we find lying around because . . . why? We're masochists? We're unaware of the existence of fancy warmbloods?

The first few paragraphs aren't so bad. She talks about making sure your horse's conformation allows him to do the level of dressage you're asking for. Fine (and, duh). She talks about how sometimes an extremely well-trained non-warmblood might lose to a less well-trained but fancy warmblood. I think all of us would say that's too bad, but it's a fact of life. And I don't personally care about winning the class when I compete; I just care about my score. I think that's true of many amateurs. From a fair judge, you can get a great score on almost any horse if he's well-trained. And lots of amateurs don't even care about competing.

Then comes her first claim that provoked a little rage: "When riding a better quality horse, you actually do become a better rider." Huh? Since when? I've seen so many amateurs who have bought fancy, extravagant warmbloods, and then find they can't even sit the trot. How does being overhorsed make you a better rider? I learned the most from riding a little off-the-track spazzy thoroughbred mare. She was never going to be competitive, but her gift was that you could only sit her trot when she gave you her back. If you didn't have it and tried to sit, she'd take off. But when you had her back, wow. She had the loveliest trot with a killer extension. And nobody would ever call her a high-quality dressage horse. Riding a well-trained horse will definitely make you a better rider; riding a high-quality horse doesn't guarantee a single thing.

Then she claims you can't get a competitive dressage horse for $5000. Baloney. What level of competition are we talking about? The Olympics? Then she tells you to take out a loan for your horse. Using what collateral? What if you already have a car loan and a mortgage? Her next claim is that "most people drive cars costing $25,000 to $30,000." Um, most people? Yeah, sure.

She goes on to reassure us that "You can get a very good horse for between $20,000 and $50,000." This is where I burst a blood vessel. I absolutely detest rich people who write about these amounts of money as if they're nothing.

So, this month the letters section was devoted to responses to the column. All the responses were negative, but I'm guessing they only published the more diplomatically-worded ones. Anyway, Sydnor wrote a response. Selected highlights: "No one ever bought me an expensive warmblood. I have bought all the horses I have ever owned except for the three that have been given to me" (emphasis mine). You've had a horse given to you not once, not twice, but three times? Do you think this happens to most people?

Then she claims what she meant by her original column was "try to ride better horses, regardless of the price." Then what was up with her claim that you need a minimum of $20K to get a decent horse? She also claims in the followup that the breed doesn't matter, although in the original column she specifically said most breeds besides warmbloods aren't worth wasting your time on.

She closes with "I just purchased a mare in October for which I took out a loan. I sold my car and bought a reliable Chevy Aveo." Note she doesn't say a used Aveo; it seems to me she would have made a point of having bought used, if that were actually the case. A new Aveo runs $10,000, minimum. To Sydnor, that's trading down.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dr. Pierce's Pleasant Pellets

About four blocks from my house there's a really cool old barn with an original turn-of-the-(last)-century advertisement.

It turns out Dr. Pierce was the most famous patent-medicine peddler of all time. In addition to hawking his Pleasant Pellets, he sold a million bottles of Dr. Pierce's Smart Weed. I wonder what was in that? My research indicates that his elixirs also usually contained opium.

I also turned up the following New York Times "article" from 1894:

[The pellets help with] "a multitude of distressing diseases, such as headaches, indigestion, biliousness, skin diseases, boils, carbuncles, piles, fevers and maladies too numerous to mention. If people would pay more attention to properly regulating the action of their bowels, they would have less frequent occasion to call for their doctors' services to subdue attacks of dangerous diseases. . . . Dr. Pierce prides himself on having been first to introduce a Little Liver Pill to the American people. Many have imitated them, but none have approached his Pleasant Pellets in excellence. . . . To relieve distress from over-eating, nothing equals them. They are tiny, sugar-coated, anti-bilious granules, scarcely larger than mustard seeds. Every child wants them."

It seems like Dr. Pierce was a little mixed up about the liver and the bowels. Or maybe he thought they were the same thing?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ebay and Childhood Trauma

A friend's blog post about finding a long-lost cookbook on Ebay (for making clown cakes) made me think of my own recent long-lost finds on Ebay. I was the absolute weeniest child when it came to scary movies. Now I love them, but until the age of fourteen or so, I really should have been kept away from the horror oeuvre.

When I was five years old, my best friend had a slumber party, during which we watched what I remembered as the most horrifying movie ever made (actually, it was an hour-long TV show, but in the throes of utter terror, it seemed to go on forever). People were stranded on an island with a mud monster. Two scenes stuck in my memory: 1) The monster reaches his arm into the cabin, and the people shut the door, cutting the monster's hand off. The hand falls into some spilled salt and catches on fire. 2) To kill the monster, the people trip him so he falls into the ocean, where the salt makes him catch on fire.

Beginning in the late 90s, I began searching the internets for "The Mud Monster," even though I was pretty sure that wasn't what the show was actually called. A few years ago, I started getting some hits -- other people my age who were completely traumatized by the show, too. I found out the show was actually a failed series called "The World Beyond." And, finally, I found the episode with the mud monster on Ebay! Starring JoBeth Williams! And, OK, it's not very scary, but I see why my five-year-old self freaked out.

The hand-cutting-off scene and the tripping scene were exactly as I remembered them. Even funnier, there was a scene where the people discover the monster has destroyed their boat, and they accidentally drop their last bag of salt (their only hope!) into the bay, and that image of the bag of salt dropping down through the water created the strongest flashback to the utter despair I felt watching that moment as a child.

Even more recently I went on the hunt for a children's series that aired on Nickelodeon in the early 80s. The time slot on Nick was called "The Third Eye," and they played children's sci-fi series. The one I remember was called "Under the Mountain." Twins Rachel and Theo must save the world from a race of slimy brown tentacle creatures called the Wilberforces. Scenes that stuck with me: 1) Rachel and Theo each have a small white stone that is some sort of weapon. During the final attack, it's imperative they don't drop their stone for any reason, but Theo does, casting doubt on the weapon's effectiveness. 2) Cousin Ricky waits for Rachel and Theo offshore in a small boat, while the slimy Wilberforces mill about on the beach. Ricky thinks he's safe, because the Wilberforces are only interested in the twins, but suddenly they attack his boat from below, dragging it and Ricky down with their brown tentacles. You see dead Ricky floating face-down along the shore.

Ricky's harrowing, violent death was really not appropriate for children, IMO. It scared the crap out me. I just bought the series on Ebay and rewatched it, and again, it's not all that scary, but again, I see why my ten-year-old self was impressed. One thing that really surprised me: it's a New Zealand series, and the kids have the thickest Kiwi accents. How come I didn't remember that?

Did work in hand with Willow this afternoon and got a most excellent collected trot with some almost passage-y moments. Kept that feeling for fifteen minutes under saddle and called it a day. Good girl!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ballroom dancing for the first time in four years

I recently made a new friend here--a friend of the male persuasion who likes ballroom dancing! This type of male is actually on the endangered species list. Last night we went to a ballroom mixer for the first time. I had to dig around to find my ballroom shoes; they were still in a box.

The mixer was at a lovely old ballroom on the U of O campus. $6 to get in, two lessons (rumba and merengue), and then two hours of open dancing. My new friend is a pretty good dancer! We had success with rumba, merengue, swing, waltz, and fox trot. I was happy to find that latin hip action, sway and counter-sway, and rise and fall all came back to me. Just like riding a bike. Although I must admit that I'm exhausted and sore today.

By the way, all you fellow dressage ladies: take some ballroom! Two major things carry over to your riding: independent balance, and the mechanics of lead and follow. In ballroom, the lady follows the man's lead (feminism doesn't apply, so get over it). You quickly find that when you're dancing with a gentleman who's a "strong" lead (strong as in, clear and direct, not as in shoving you around the floor), that gentleman will make you look good even if you're a mediocre dancer. On the other hand, dancing with a poor lead is really frustrating. It's impossible to tell what they want you to do.

How does this apply to dressage? Well, in dressage the rider is the lead. If you're a strong lead for your horse (clear and direct), you'll have a happy horse. If you're a poor lead, how is the poor animal supposed to know what you want? Take some ballroom, dance with some poor leads, and you'll gain a whole lot of empathy for your dressage partner.

Finally, a video of me and Willow

My friend and fellow dressage nut Ted visited from Texas a couple weeks ago. He graciously agreed to freeze his fingers off and capture a video of me and Willow. I hadn't been on her in a couple days, so she was rather full of herself, and to add to the fun there was lots of activity in the arena, and Willow is still somewhat intimidated by other horses under saddle (funny, 'cause she's the biggest social butterfly in other situations. When I lead her down the aisle she'd like very much to chat with every horse that sticks his head out of his stall). Anyway, I'm really pleased with how she looks in this greatest hits compilation.

I forwarded the video to my beloved former clinicians, Wolfgang and Suzanne. Suzanne gave me some great advice -- basically that it's time to start to carefully bring Willow up in front. Half halts, half halts, half halts! I'm always afraid of artificially elevating the horse's neck and head, so that will very much be on my mind. Thursday night I shortened the reins a bit and chose several points around the arena where I would always half halt and send her forward. Happily, the ride went really well, and I felt the beginnings of a more powerful connection. Shoulder in and travers got easier, too. Thanks, Suzanne!

Back to the night that Ted taped me. Willow was a little tense, but I thought I had worked her through most of it. Ted is an experienced rider, so I let him get on. Well, that didn't go so well. Apparently Willow was still harboring some tension, because she bolted and dumped him. I felt horrible! Luckily, Ted was fine and good-humored about the unplanned dismount. Here's a still from the video: Ted on the ground, and Willow saying "I am SO outta here!" (Lesson learned: Don't take anything for granted with a six-year-old. They'll always surprise you!)