As I struggle with my place on the horse world, aka what I want to do with horses when I finally grow up, I thought about writing a piece exploring whether or not you can move up the levels in dressage without showing. While that’s definitely a worthy subject, it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend last summer.
Rebecca had just returned from a show. She hung out with a mutual acquaintance of ours, Sheila, in the evening at the show and had a somewhat disturbing experience. You see, Sheila wins everything. If she doesn’t score in the mid-sixties or higher, she has a fit. Blaming everyone from the show management, judges, footing, and the horse, even when she’s won the class. Now her lack of humility might be another topic for a future post, but it’s not where I’m going either. Sheila wanted to spend the evening going through the show program and criticizing every rider in it. Rebecca didn’t want any part of it, yet couldn’t find a way to discourage Sheila from her mission.
Now back in my showing days, I’d seen Sheila and her cronies sitting near the arena as I rode in at A and thanked God I never knew what they were saying about me. Yes, I, too, been near them in the stands and heard their remarks and exclamations over certain riders. I knew the types of things they were saying.
Ah, yes, the hay bale critics. We all know them, whether you show dressage or some other horse sport. Often, they don’t compete themselves, or they tried it a time or two and gave it up because the judges didn’t award them a “fair” score. Or maybe they never showed at all. Showing was beneath them. They’d seen the light, and showing was the root of all that ails the horse industry, bringing about all sorts of horse abuse. Or perhaps, like Sheila, they’ve had enough success they feel tasked with detailing others’ faults. Actually, this particular quality of the hay bale critic doesn’t require success just a sense of self-righteousness.
You see, I know of what I speak, as I am a recovering hay bale critic. Yes, I admit it. I was one of those women, superior in my knowledge of dressage, certain others were ruining their horses with their jiggling hands and bouncing seats, convinced the judges just didn’t get it. Add to that, my extensive reading on the subject of classical dressage, and I became even more unbearable in my righteousness. Not that reading classical dressage books is bad, but I’d gotten in with a group of catty women in my younger years who were essentially armchair dressage riders. We endlessly pursued the perfect circle, feeling superior in our quest. We turned our noses up at those poor souls who just didn’t get the deeper artistic meaning of dressage, certain we were better or more enlightened than they were.
We attended shows, now to show, but to watch and criticize. Our leader, Martha, had been kicked out of every dressage barn in the area because of her troublemaking and talent for spreading discontent. She's one of those disciples of classical "artistic" dressage who give classical dressage a bad name. I’m not a mean person or a catty person, but I was easily misled by Martha and sucked into her catty little world for the next few years. I even followed her around to a few barns in the area. Yes, but this was in my younger days, much younger days.
When I purchased Gailey and started showing her, it was a humbling experience and marked the ends of my hay bale critique days. My mare had talent, but I never did her justice. I became that fumbling, bumbling rider that previously Martha and I would have gasped at in abject horror. I was the one struggling so hard to do it right, to not embarass myself, or cause discomfort to my horse. And now, I was the one Martha criticized, her nose up in the air and disgusted expression on her face as she whispered to her cohorts.
After a particularly bad show, I expressed my frustration regarding my lack of dressage success to a close friend. I mentioned Gailey deserved a better rider than me. She laughed and said: “The horse doesn’t care what color the ribbons are. She adores you. You love her. Enjoy the journey. Don’t worry about the bling. It doesn’t mean anything.”
And neither do Martha or Sheila’s catty remarks, made by insecure people attempting to tear others down in order to build themselves up. I thought about this for a while. She was right. Gailey didn’t care about the ribbons. They were of no use to her. In fact, they weren’t of much use to me either. If I felt good about my test, that was what mattered. Not the opinions of a group of people who shouldn’t have an credence in my life.
Now when I go to shows, I hang out with positive people. We still discuss people’s rides, but we do it with kindness and empathy and as an educational tool among ourselves, not to impress others with our superior knowledge. Always, I have sympathy for the horse and rider. If you haven’t put your foot in that stirrup and mounted that particular horse on that particular day, you have no idea what’s going on during that ride.
I’ve been there, done that from both sides of the rail. Whenever I’m tempted to let the catty evil twin side of my personality slip out, I remember my days showing Gailey, and how much guts it took to put myself out there, and I zip my mouth shut.
I bet you all know a few Marthas. :)