Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Reverse Snobbism

by Laura Crum

OK, I’ll admit it, I am guilty of the above vice. At least, where my horses are concerned. The other day I was treated to an example of exactly the sort of thing that has turned me into a reverse snob, and I thought I’d write about it and see what you all thought.

I don’t usually meet many riders on my local trails, but occasionally there are folks from the nearby boarding stable out riding. We usually stop and greet each other, chat a bit and so on. But when I met the gal on the sorrel mare, I knew she was a little different.

My first clue came when the mare spooked quite handily coming upon my son and I around a blind corner. She was a quick little thing and could move. The middle-aged female rider stayed on—barely. My horses hardly turned a hair, and looked at the snorting sorrel mare with mild curiosity.

The mare was fancy, slick as if she were blanketed, groomed to the nines, and the gal had some very nice tack on her horse. A quick look told me that she was a cowhorse or wanna be cowhorse—the gear and the look of the mare put her in that category. The rider gave me the once over, too, and I didn’t miss her dismissive glance.

Because Sunny and Henry are not fancy. Small, humble, QH type horses (Henry is actually pretty well bred and a discerning eye can see it), my two geldings are fuzzy with their winter coats and they are definitely not groomed to the nines. They don’t have any obvious dirt clumps on them when we go out riding—that about covers it. Their manes and tails have not been combed out with Show Sheen—unlike the sorrel mare. Their tack is a motley collection of odds and ends that are comfortable and practical for trail riding—my old, rebuilt roping saddle, my son’s beat up youth saddle with tapaderos and a shabby neoprene breast collar (tacky looking, but light and useful), oh and let’s not forget the mechanical hackamore I use on Sunny. Trust me, every person who thinks they are a cool “trainer” depises the mechanical hackamore. And it can certainly be a very negative thing. However, all these so-wise folks sometimes don’t notice that it can have good applications, too, like most training devices, and, in fact, my horse Sunny prefers it to having a bit in his mouth, and for my use on this cold blooded little trail horse, it is very appropriate.

Of course, then there’s the fact that I keep the halters on under the bridles—very practical if you need to tie a horse up, but doesn’t look very posh. Makes you look like you’re part of a dude string, in fact. Icing on the “unprofessional” appearance is that I ride in cargo pants and Ugg boots—comfortable and practical for an experienced rider strolling down a trail, but not at all gear that would impress any “fancy” horse person.

But I digress. Suffice it to say that ms cowhorse rider looked at me and my kid dismissively (as soon as she had regained her balance), nodded as coolly as she could manage under the circumstances in answer to my “hi”, and rode on. Or she tried to ride on. Her mare didn’t want to leave our horses and did not like the look of the trail leading down to a ditch (the trail we had just come up with no problem).

The mare balked and spun and resisted. The woman tried to sit quiet and pretty, but guess what? Quiet and pretty wasn’t getting the job done. In the end she resorted to a much needed “over and under” and the mare jumped forward and headed down the hill. When I looked over my shoulder she was dancing in front of the ditch. I grinned and rode on up the ridge on my steady horse.

Because no, our horses are not fancy, nor is our gear. I am not much of a fancy rider any more, either. But we can walk down a hill and cross a ditch with no problem, or stroll through the surf, or wade through mud, or deal with traffic. We can even greet other horses out on the trail with a calm, relaxed demeanor and walk off and go on with our ride without making a fuss. Both my horses will go as quietly bareback and in a halter as they will tacked up. Imagine that.

Neither Henry or Sunny would ever win a ribbon in a cowhorse class, or any horseshow class, for that matter. Sunny even flunked out as a team roping horse because he can’t run. Neither horse would qualify as “well—trained” by most folks standards. But they are broke—broke in the old-fashioned sense. They will go where you point them and do what you tell them. They are sensible and reliable under all circumstances.

Don’t get me wrong. I have “been there and done that”. For many years I trail rode in my show saddle on my well-bred cowhorse gelding, Gunner, who was polished till he sparkled. (And yes, I combed his mane and tail before a trail ride.) Gunner won many a cutting class in his day. And Gunner was every bit as spooky as that sorrel mare and I hung on by the skin of my teeth (and my grip on the horn) many a time on various trail rides. The difference is that I was never so proud of myself that I couldn’t see the value in tough little trail horses in plain tack. To be quite frank, I often looked at such horses in admiration and envy and wished I were on them—especially when Gunner was whirling away from yet another horse eating stump. And I certainly never ignored anyone who greeted me.

As the years have passed and I lost interest in training and showing, I went out and acquired a couple of these bombproof trail horses. And boy do I love them. I love my comfortable saddle and my non-fussy gear. I love that I don’t work hard at grooming my horse and polishing my tack to impress somebody else. I love that I ride in clothes and boots that don’t pinch or bind anywhere. I love that my horses are comfortable and relaxed and so am I. And I have to admit, as I rode away I gave that gal on the sorrel mare every bit as dismissive a glance as she gave me. In our own way, we are both snobs.

And no, I’m not in any way saying I’m superior—if she had stopped to chat we could have swapped cowhorse/trail horse stories and it might have been great fun. She could have been pretty handy with a horse; it was hard to tell from the little I saw. She could have been a less than experienced rider with money for a fancy horse and gear. If she’d been friendly, I might have gotten to know her a bit. But it was more than obvious that she wanted nothing to do with the likes of me and my kid and our plain little mounts. She never said a word in response to my friendly hello.

And its not that everyone on a fancy horse with fancy gear is a snob. I have met some mighty fancy horses tacked up like hunters, whose riders wore immaculate white breeches and shiny black high boots (for a ride through the woods) and yet these people were quite friendly and we exchanged info on what trails were open and how to get from here to there…etc. I may not be exactly admiring of such obviously expensive, restively impatient horses or particularly impressed (any more) by the riders equally obviously expensive tack and clothes. But I can certainly give everyone space to enjoy horses in their own way, and I try to be friendly and cordial to everyone I meet out riding. But as I said, the gal on the sorrel mare was different. She pointedly ignored us.

I do know that folks who appear arrogant are mostly insecure and I guess that if I were a better person I’d feel sorry for the poor things. Unfortunately I’m not so enlightened. That this does not make me the Buddha of horsemanship, I’m well aware.

I’m afraid I’m a little bit prone to this vice in other areas of life as well. When I see a woman in elegant clothes and high heels, wearing a coat of makeup and stepping out of a shiny gold Mercedes, my first thought is that I probably won’t care for her. Is this fair or right minded of me? Probably not. Conversely the sight of some slightly shabby gal climbing out of an old pickup with mud or dust (according to season) on her boots, and no make-up and un-fussed with hair makes me smile and think we could have something in common.

How about you guys? Any of you guilty of reverse snobbism? Or am I the only one who succumbs to this sin?


Anonymous said...

I often fall into this trap myself, particularly as I don't show any more and have no desire to. But I try to look past the externals and see the substance - and the lady you met was just plain rude in my book. There's good folks and rude folks, riding all sorts of horses, but rude is just rude.

Shanster said...

Oh I do that sometimes... I try not to but... I think humans aren't always the nicest of all creatures on this planet and it's in our nature.

I get sucked into thinking oh, they have money... things come easier for them. I know it's not true... but yeah, cuz I'm on the other side...sour grapes and all that.

Boy do I EVER appreciate quiet and dependable... if you met me on the trail I'd be the one looking like a scared cat while my mare was going along rolling her eyes at me...

I can totally appreciate such well behaved, comfortable horses... worth their weight in gold!

horsegenes said...

My family calls me a horse snob. It doesn't matter to me what kind of horse your ride, what you ride in - other than flip-flops and daisy duke shorts - that drives me insane - what your tack looks like. As long as... The tack has to fit properly, the horse has to be sound and cared for - not "Fit" for the show ring, but cared for, and the rider needs to have a clue. I speak to everyone I meet on the trail - hikers, bicyclist, and equestrians - equestrians are by far the rudest. About 50% will speak to me. It is my preference to go out on the trail with a clean groomed horse - not bathed or necessarily freshly clipped but within reason - that is just me. I wear jeans and boots because that is just what I prefer. My reining saddle is comfortable - I ride in it everyday and show in it - it has silver on it but tastefully. I was glad to hear you say that you ride in a mechanical hackamore. I trail ride in an old sliester mechanical hackamore with a set of round roping reins. The curb chain is let out as far as it will go. When I put it on my horse knows we aren't loping circles today. We aren't doing turnarounds, or lead changes. We are going to go down the trail and relax. I don't wear spurs when I trail ride either. The ones that I get snobby about are the ones that the tack doesn't fit - but by god it is Chavez silver, they horse is lathered from jigging and running sideways, throwing his head around everywhere because they have some gargantuan bit in the poor things mouth, and because he hasn't been ridden since last fall. The rider doesn't have a clue about what they are doing but they are in a new pair of $500 boots and cowboy hat. I say HI and the look at me like I am on Mars. Sometimes I think that are trying to will me out of there way!

Mrs. Mom said...

Have to agree with Kel. I'm guilty of being a bi-o-tch when things aren't up to par (tack fit, health or soundness of horse, etc.) And yeah, I see the made up high heel wearing Prada accessorized lady alighting from the Beamer and I think... yeah. Not quite my kind of folks. But then again, round here, I see the other side of the coin and think, yep- not my kind of folks either.

Which is why I am working towards regaining my Golden Hermit Status. ;)

Enjoy the trails Laura. You've got two awesome horses, the best riding partner in the world, and you KNOW money can't buy the happiness that comes with riding a good horse with your son. Sucks to be the folks who are rude like that gal on her fancy horse was huh? They'll never know what they're missing!

Laura Crum said...

Kate--You have a good point. I did write the post a bit tongue in cheek, actually. I didn't think much about the encounter until later, when I was amused as I studied my own reaction. Then I thought it would make a fun blog post.

Shanster--Yes, indeed, I have reached the stage where I appreciate quiet and reliable more than anything else. I guess this makes me an old lady, huh?

kel--You cracked me up. I have been guilty of riding in flip flops and Balinese drawstring pants (not shorts--chafes my legs to do that)--at the roping arena no less. And yeah, they all teased me. And no, I would not ride anything other than my broke horses in such clothes, but I feel quite comfortable doing this.

And yeah, I wince when I see people on lathered up jigging horses--fancy gear or no fancy gear. The same for the obviously unsound horses, or very fat or thin. My eye goes right away to whether a horse seems quiet and comfortable and obedient and whether the rider seems relaxed. The rest of it just doesn't matter to me any more. Are they both having fun? That's the point in my eyes.

I, too, speak to everyone I meet on the trail--its not just courtesy--its smart. When we rode regularly in the Sierras, we always greeted everyone, asked where they were headed...etc. In such a way you learn that a trail is blocked by rock and that a big pack party is camped at the lake you were headed for--very useful info. Around here I learn which trails are open and which have been closed, and where a new trail leads. And I share this info with others, to all of our benefit. I do not get why some horse people are rude. I notice this especially when I hike. Its as if I don't count, since I am on foot. I catch myself telling them I have horses and ride, too--and this really amuses me.

And yeah, I find the old mechanical hack is just right for trail riding Sunny. I had to put a bit on my son's horse--and that works better for him. They're all different--I hear folks run down the mechanical hack and I just think they haven't run across the right horse for it. I never used it in the arena or for any speed event. But for trail riding it can be ideal.

Mrs Mom--I'm like you--I'm a hermit mostly. But I do love to trail ride, and I always chat with the folks I meet out there--if they'll respond. You learn a lot that way.

horsegenes said...

I didn't say I haven't ridden in flip flops but I draw the line at the daisy dukes. I got caught doing something that I probably shouldn't do at the barn where I board recently. I thought I was by myself and whenever I think that I am alone, the kid in me pops out. At the barn where my horses stall is...I like to ride in and grab onto the rafters and swing off the back of my horse as he is walking through the barn. Then swing a little and drop to the floor. My horse is so used to it he just kind of pauses now and waits for me to grab on and then moves 3 or 4 ft till I am off. It is great fun - until you get caught by another boarders mom. :( She about had a coronary. In part of her rant I think she even asked if I thought I was John Wayne! Talk about horse snobs. Jeez.... Can't an old girl have a little fun?

Susan said...

When I was a kid I was always jealous of people who had the money for fancy horses. But it helped when I realized I was usually the better rider. And I'll always remember a quote I once read: "A good rider can do more on mediocre horse than a mediocre rider can do on a good horse."

Now I'm pretty much over it. Yea sometimes I wish I had more money, but let em have it. I have fun with what I have.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Maybe she was stressing over her misbehaving horse too much to talk to you??

I am just me- no money, no shine, no fancy trained horses. I envy those with the super trained trail horses and wonder if I'll ever be brave enough to venture out trail riding alone. I'd love to have a riding partner to "hang" with. I went to an ACTHA trail ride last weekend and felt like the people there were too snobby to deal with me because I don't have a "rescue" horse. It was a rescue ranch charity event. I was not riding, only volunteering, and no one even wanted to talk to me.
Okay, I'm rambling, but I feel like everyone should take the time for other people because you just never know what you're missing in that other person's well of knowledge and companionship.

Enjay said...

I appreciate nice things, but yano, why buy the 50k car when I can spend 2500 on a good running car from craigslist? The groceries don't taste better for having ridden in the schmancy mobile, and I can breathe so much easier when I'm not in debt to my eyeballs. I value thrift, resourcefulness, and a make do and mend mindset. That said, there is a $$$ dollar bottle of French parfum that I'm saving up for...Chanel is my Achilles heel.

Laura Crum said...

kel--I am totally impressed that you CAN do that. I could no more do that any more than I could fly. I did practice the over-the-tail dismount in my youth, as well as standing up on my long suffering horse at the trot, and other silly but fun stunts. If your horse allows it and you feel like it, where's the harm? I haven't boarded in years, but how does another boarder get off telling you what to do with your own horse? If you're not hurting the horse or anyone else, surely its your business? Or is it the setting a good example for the kids page she was on?

Susan--I hear you. I sometimes look down on people with lots of money--but I'm sure this is not a good trait. Just one of my many failings.

Voyager--You know, this is why I'm a horse hermit, like Mrs Mom. I find socializing with big groups mostly not fun, and won't do it. I well remember the cutting clubs I belonged to in my youth and how unkind some people were to newcomers. I don't even care to be around that kind of thing.

I really hear you about the trail riding. I do like going alone, but quite often my son and I ride with our friend and boarder, Wally, and it does give you a sense of security. I hope such a partner comes your way.

Enjay--I guess we all have our weaknesses. I don't like fancy clothes, but I am a snob about fabrics--no synthetics, please. And, of course, my horses are a luxury in most people's eyes. Owning a horse property is a luxury, I guess. On the other hand, I live in a 650 sq ft house, so its not luxurious by most folk's standards. I guess we all have our priorities.

horsegenes said...

She was concerned that I wasn't setting a good example and she was right. That is why I try to curb my childish behavior to when I am alone. I CAN do it because the boy is 16 hands and it is a fairly low roof! I remember as a kid doing all kinds of sillyness. I still enjoy being silly once in awhile. I am sure that it makes him appreciate the times that I ride right!

Francesca Prescott said...

Pff! What a sad, silly person you met, or maybe she was so freaked out by her problems with her horse that she couldn't get her brain into "meet and greet" mode! Like you, I always say hello to people I meet while out walking or riding, and most of the time people are pleasant and respond.

I must confess to driving a BMW, but it's always very dirty, and the inside is always covered in crumbs and dog hair and mud and straw etc (much to my husband's dismay!!), and although my stables might appear rather fancy from the outside, I really don't think Steph and I would pass the snoot's test! I do like dressing Kwint up in nice saddle blankets and matching bandages, but I don't think that makes me a snoot...maybe just a "girly girl"! And when I ride out (on the trails) I wear my cool old, mega comfortable gaucho-style Spanish riding boots, but I can't work Kwint in those as my legs are too long, and if I don't wear my real riding boots my legs get pinched under the saddle.

Ooh, speaking of snoots, I was once briefly at a stable where you couldn't speak to owner unless she spoke to you first! How insane is that? I didn't stay there long; felt mega out of place.

I appreciate peace and quiet, and prefer to mingle with kind, polite, friendly, respectful people who have their horse's best interest at heart. If they're chi-chi, that's fine, if they're not, that's fine too. As long as they're nice!

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--Well, I did write the post a bit tongue in cheek, as I said. Though I am truly guilty of thinking this least a bit. That said, I have several friends with nice cars who dress very stylishly and so on and I am very fond of them. So yeah, chi chi people can be nice, too. No question. And I think I would love your stable and you and Steff sound great. I guess I was just amused by own reaction and thought it would make a good post.

We rode today and I have to laugh at your comment (in your post) that Kwint looks like a polar bear and needs clipping. You should see our shaggy little yaks. In the photo Kwint looks pretty darn shiny and slick to me. Not that there's anything wrong with that (!)

Alison said...

Laura--you notice I have not posted a photo of my horse and me? That's because our own shagginess and 'comfort' tack (I use a bosal with sheepskin on the front that I cut from a girth cover and sewed on) is dreadful!

Anonymous said...

Just one comment about the mechanical hack.

If you've ever had to retrain a horse who has been poorly started in one of those, you'd not care for them either.


Sorry, but I get grumpy, especially since my experience with retraining an already difficult horse to the bit instead of the hack got followed up by experiencing a mechanical hack from a hunt/jump lesson perspective, where I got yelled at to take up an English-style contact. Um, no, lady, this is a leverage device and you DO ride it like a Western device because THAT'S WHAT IT IS. Even with a padded sheepskin noseband! I left that lesson barn shortly afterward.

My reverse snobbism shows up when I ride bitless with a sidepull. I'd go bosal instead, except I've not been trained how to properly fit one and I'm particular about such things. I'd like to learn, but then that would lead to bridle horse geekery, and god knows I can't afford that. So sidepull and purple toilet seat cover bareback pad it is.

My reverse snobbism also shows up in a passionate desire to show my reining horse in dressage Western tack. Do I think she could do it, and show up her competitors? You bet.

Then again, I'd like to turn around and show reining in my all-purpose eventing saddle. But my goal would be to show that a well-trained horse is a well-trained horse, in spite of the tack.

Laura Crum said...

joycemocha-No person with any real skill would try to "start" a horse in the mechanical hackamore. Poor horse--no wonder he was hard to retrain. No person of any (decent) experience would attempt to ride a horse with English style contact in the mechanical hack. Its not appropriate, as you say. What the mechanical hack can be good for, for some horses, is relaxed trail riding or puttering around, especially when the horse prefers not having a bit in his mouth. Unlike the sidepull, if you need to get that horse's attention, you have the means to enforce it. I would never use it on anything but a completely "made" horse, and then only for relaxed puttering, as I said. Reins loose at all times--except in the few instances when I let him know I'm in charge. And its not a good choice for all horses. (Like every other bit and training device that ever was.)

Anonymous said...

Laura--you'd be horrified by the number of English riders who think that the sheepskin-lined mechanical hack with a particular shank style is a very mild device. And who ride it using contact. And will argue passionately that it's mild, can be ridden on contact, etc, etc, ad nauseum.

On a broke horse, like you describe, with the use you describe, it's not a problem. When you have an alpha mare from fighting bloodlines who's a half-broke trail horse, that's a different story. One oddity of that training was that I ended up going to a mild port curb with loose jaw shanks and a snaffle slot pretty quickly, and riding her with four reins. She never did like the snaffle, but she understood the curb, and with the bastard Pelham I was able to get some lateral work done with her and work with both hands.

These days, I'd try a French link on her and stick with the snaffle. She had that fat tongue/low palate conformation that makes a single-jointed snaffle uncomfortable. But I didn't know about such things back then.

My sidepull's pretty stiff and it actually gives me a bit of authority. I started out ground driving Mocha in it, and the first time she hit that noseband hard (being stinky; recovering from an injury and feeling good and she decided to blow me off), she found that it bites! Now she has a lot of respect for it. I wouldn't have thought of using one, except that I saw a dressage trainer who was as old as the hills riding a pretty snuffy Hanoverian mare in hers, doing some hard-core schooling work. Mare wasn't blowing through that at all.

But, like Mocha and your horses, the mare was also broke pretty solidly. That noseband is actually stiffer than a bosal. I ended up putting Vetwrap on it because it barked up her nose after one session of highland flings on the ground drive. I use the leather noseband, not the lariat rope ones (or the combined sidepull and snaffles I've seen...shudder). I've also seen cable noseband sidepulls. Yuck.

A friend rides her Lipizzan stallion in a sidepull, which would be...interesting, I'd say. He's pretty broke as well!