Friday, March 14, 2008

Dressage ladies, part 3

This is part 2 of the Dressage Ladies series on barn drama and intrigue. The names have been changed but the events are "real" and unembellished. Read Dressage ladies, part 1 and part 2.

Kindergarten lesson: Fairness
Every year, the dressage ladies sponsor a dressage show under the auspices of a local GMO. The first year, none of the boarders knew about the show until the day before it happened. We arrived at the barn to find rings dragged and cordoned off for the next day. The rings were also in use the next day so we lost a weekend of riding. There was talk among the boarders of this communication oversight. It was a continuation of a pattern of unannounced clinics, saddle fittings, and lectures. Natalie explained that the events were intended only for her clients. Nevertheless, boarders resented that during these sessions their access to facilities was curtailed.

Sign us up!
The next year I note the Greener Side annual show in my GMO omnibus. Natalie posts an announcement at the barn as well. I sign up and so does my friend Heike, who lives only a few miles away. Heike has an off the track thoroughbred, Donny, with lovely gaits and a volatile temperament. Though she is an unflappable rider, Donny tests her mettle. "He was advertised as quiet, and he was quiet when I bought him," she jokes, "because he was starved." When she took the athletic chestnut home and fed him, he revealed his true personality--that of a lunatic. Donny has mastered all forms of resistance and intimidation. At best he is fractious but controllable. At his worst he rears, bolts, spins, kicks, and bucks. On the bad days, Heike must have someone hobble Donny (holding up a foreleg) so she can tack him up. Spectators gawk at his antics in and out of the ring. But Heike still schleps him around, hoping he'll eventually settle. I admire Heike but feel she is also a kind of lunatic.

Show day!
The day of the show, we learn there are very few entries, and there are only five trailers on the grounds. I note with amusement that two of the dressage ladies are showing their upper level schoolmasters at Intro level. Harvey and I ride first level, Donny and Heike ride at second level.

this is not Heike!!Harv scores in the low and mid-sixties, first and second place in this sparse competition. Heike and Donny have a very good day, and they score 67% and 69% at second level tests 2 and 3. Donny gave his best performance ever, channeling his negative energy into a ride that was lively but contained and obedient. His suppleness and engagement show his potential for dressage. I tell Heike they have had a breakthrough ride.

The show wraps up in the late morning, and the farm provides a splendid buffet. We mingle with other competitors and the judge. Heike had ridden under this judge before, and he offers Heike high praise for her persistence and tactful riding. She receives the second highest score of the show (one of the dressage ladies scores in the 70s at Intro level). There is clapping and congratulations and praise from boarders and observers. Having endured years of bad behavior and unwanted attention at shows, Heike basks in the moment. Throughout the lunch break, the dressage ladies are off in a corner deep in conversation.

After lunch, Heike goes to collect her scores and ribbons while I wrap Donny's legs. I look up to see her approaching the trailer, and as she gets closer I notice she is stomping and huffing slightly. There is no trace of happiness in her face now. She is carrying only the score sheets. A show official--Natalie, it turns out--has informed her that because she was the only competitor at second level, she will not receive any ribbons. Despite her protestations--Heike is no pushover -- they would not yield their position.

This is just not to be borne, we agree. Heike's husband Jeff is there, and he tries to absorb what has happened. Jeff is an imposing fellow, well over 6 feet and well, kind of hairy. He drives a beer delivery truck during the week, but on weekends he rides a motorcycle he calls a crotch rocket. He has met us at the show on his bike, and is wearing all the trappings. Jeff is not your stereotypical biker -- he is soft-spoken and articulate; he loves cats; he's a good cook and he's more likely to peruse a Williams Sonoma catalog than a biker mag. But clad in leather and oozing testosterone, we feel that he is the ideal person to plead Heike's case. We brief him on dressage protocol and the lack of precedence or rules for denying a paying competitor a ribbon. Then we send him off to intimidate the officials.

Perhaps ten minutes later, Jeff walks back to us. His face is inscrutable as he approaches. He is emptyhanded, and my heart sinks. But then he smiles broadly and pulls Heike's two blue ribbons from his jacket. We clap, we chant, we shower him with praise. Jeff shrugged and said it was easy. He was polite, and after he made a brief appeal they produced the ribbons as if it had always been their intention. He wondered if Heike had misunderstood them. I assured him that Heike had understood completely.

A final word on Heike and Donny. Heike had a great season with Donny that year, but that beautiful springy trot was his undoing. After that summer, he sustained a tendon injury. He was stallbound for over a year, ultrasounded every few months, but when Heike tried to put him back in work he went lame again. He was never riding sound after that. Heike still owns him and keeps him on her property. I'm impressed by her love for this unpredictable horse. It's gratifying that their last season was a breakthrough year. And I'm glad she got those ribbons!

To be continued... Final installment!


  1. I love it! Nothing like a wee bit of masculine persuasion to get the point across at times!

    Sorry to hear about Heike's Donny, but Kudos to her for all she did and still does for him.

  2. That picture is very nice. Is that Donny?

    Again, I'm amazed how grown adults can act like children sometimes. Natalie needs some real life lessons in tact!

  3. No, although both horse and rider look a lot like the Heike and Donny. Donnie has a very . His tail is short, barely reaches his hocks (tail extensions!). Heikie is a slight blonde.

  4. Oh it does my heart good that you guys stood up for yourself. Good job. While I was reading it reminded me of soooo many people I know.

  5. Yay for getting the ribbons. I must say I can't wait to hear the last installment

  6. The tale about Heike and Donny made me cry, dedication to a horse like Donny is unusual to find nowadays. So great that he got his ribbons!


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