Thursday, March 6, 2008

The dressage ladies, part 1

Setting the scene
It’s 2001, and I‘m boarding Harvey at Greener Side Farm [not the real name], a 60 stall training facility that is leased to four trainers. Boarding at a barn with four trainers is like living in medieval times among warring fiefdoms. It is not pretty. The barn owner doesn't mediate the territorial disputes and posturing -- there were no guidelines on ring use or sharing laundry facilities, for example. However, there is a tacit understanding that the successful and established "cash cow" trainers have the right of way in all matters.

Natalie, a successful grand prix dressage trainer, is the reigning queen of the barn. If you saw Merle Streep in The Devil wears Prada you've got a pretty good picture of Natalie. She is tall and elegant, with a voluptuous figure, sharp features, and short silver hair. A clan of devoted female clients trains with Natalie--affluent, confident, attractive women. They are probably my age, but I refer to them as the dressage ladies. The ladies have multiple horses ranging in experience from green to schoolmaster level. Natalie travels to the Netherlands to import horses for them. The imported horses are gorgeous and talented, but they're not easy to ride. The ladies stick with their schoolmasters, and they pay Natalie to ride the imports.

Alpha mares of dressage
You'd like the dressage ladies. I like them. But they are a paradox. They have big, warm smiles. They show interest in me, and Harvey, and they have encouraging words and suggestions. But somehow, in this hotbed of barn politics, they're distant too, never quite making eye contact. They seem keenly aware of their place in the hierarchy. Or, maybe they just missed a few basic lessons in kindergarten.

Kindergarten lesson 1: Sharing
This facility has two available wash stalls. The dressage ladies choose to groom their horses there. Endlessly. They chat, they laugh, they groom, they fart around. Meanwhile, there are hot, sweaty horses and owners lined up to use the wash stalls for their actual intended purpose—washing off their horse. I'm one of them. The ladies acknowledge us, “Oh we know you’re there. We’ll just be a moment.” Big, warm smiles in our direction. And they continue to behave as if we are NOT there. Twenty minutes later we're still waiting. Their jocular manner sets the tone, and everyone is polite. None of us in the queue exchange glances or show impatience. I suspect it is because the ladies have acknowledged us, and because they are being so nice.

Patience is not my strong suit, and I'm finding the situation hard to stomach. I give up, walk to the other end of the aisle, and ask the barn workers if I can use their hose to wash my horse off. Standing in the driveway, I squirt Harvey with freezing water. He's tethered to me via the lead rope, but resentfully moves his hindquarters away when he is spritzed. I pursue him, hose spewing water, and he keeps pivoting away from me. We move in a small circle, both of us tripping over the hose. When all's said and done, I'm actually wetter than Harvey. We look foolish, but at least I’m out of the queue.

To be continued...


  1. I think I would just smile my warmest smile and tell "the ladies" to groom their horses away from the space dedicated for washing off. I would of course say that in my nicest voice and in the nicest possible way. Exactly matching the behaviour of "the ladies" ;))

  2. I envision them nodding enthusiastically and saying "Oh, yes! In a minute!"

    But you're right, no one, including me, ever tried this approach.

  3. Oh, I cannot WAIT for the rest of this story... good writing, Stacey, as always. I really enjoy your blog.

  4. Oh my. I guess affluence, money, riding talent, and nice horses don't go hand in hand with manners.

    These kinds of ladies are what gives us down to earth dressage riders the titles of Dressage Queens. Sad that such a few can spoil the impression of all.

  5. What's funny is that despite the stereotype, and the fact that I seem to do a lot of diva-bashing, the vast majority of the dressage riders I know are NOT divas. This particular barn just seemed to bring out the worst in everyone.


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.