I spend my time in a lot of barns of various disciplines. People and horses are alike in many ways all over the country, with subtle differences in habits and customs.
I don’t get called out to competition focused dressage barns that often except for when there is a significant movement problem or behavioral problem. I usually stick out like a sore thumb in many ways – jeans and baseball cap amongst the expensive breeches, shining tall boots, expensive and large moving horses. I take my little corner with my student while big, angry horses circle and stomp around me. I hear teeth grinding, loud, heavy movement, coaches yelling, students grimacing, veins popping, horses slobbering.
I often get the hairy eyeball from other coaches, or wondering eyes from other students. Who is this person? The other thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is my students horse- stretching, breathing, licking and chewing, relaxing. Why is this not the norm? Why is this even something that constantly has to be explained, brought up, shown?
Stepping outside of my peaceful little world into these kinds of barns is like being splashed in the face with cold water. The horses so often look miserable- and if they aren’t actively resisting, they have the look of quiet desperation, the living dead, the horse in learned helplessness.
The students look, quite often, just as miserable as the horse. They imported the horse, bought the right tack, hired the top name, but sit in their saddle like it pains them to be there. The coach yelling, the strong horse resisting in self defense, the struggle to look good, the pressure to win ribbons and to keep up with the Jones…it just can’t be fun. All that money made in a job you possibly hate to spend your recreational time that tense, that stressed, for what?
So I have to ask- dressage amateurs, are you having fun? If you have a good teacher who values your horse and you, kudos to you! It doesn’t get better than that.
If not, why? A change might be so simple, like firing the tightwad coach who yells. It might be leaving your barn entirely. It might be selling the young, imported horse for one that suits you better and you aren’t afraid of. It might be a serious overhaul of the entire picture – no one can answer that but you. But if you aren’t having fun, ask yourself why. It SHOULD be fun.
Lord knows you pay enough, you ought to have a teacher who makes it fun, a horse you like to ride, and relaxing and uplifting recreational time.
It’s not the fault of the sport itself, but the culture that has developed to put performance above all- to put ribbons above the health of the horse- to put movement and obedience before relationship and relaxation. Is that why you got into riding? Is that what drew you to horses in the first place? Or did it get lost in the glamour of the barn, the prestige of the medals and the reputation for winning of the trainer?