Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dressage Ladies, Part 4

This is the final installment of the Dressage Ladies series on barn drama and intrigue. The names and numerous details have been changed but the events are "real." Read Dressage ladies part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Kindergarten lesson: Courtesy
I boarded at Greener Side Farm for five years. Toward the end of my tenure there, the dressage ladies form a quadrille team and set their sights on a USDF award. It's an admirable goal and they are methodical in their planning. They practice together twice a week for an hour. They post an announcement on the barn board that they will need to reserve the indoor arena for their use from 6-7pm on Tuesays and Thursdays. There is grumbling among the trainers, whose bread and butter depends on access to the ring that is heavily used already. But most boarders are impressed by the enthusiam and commitment of the ladies. At any rate, no one puts up a fuss.

Most of the summer, things go smoothly, and the dressage ladies are doing well. There are few quadrille teams in our region -- in fact they may be the only team in the region -- but even without competition, their scores are good. There is one problem. The ladies are not strictly adhering to their set training times. They start late, they finish late, they ride longer than their appointed hour.

One evening my own lesson with Amanda is switched to 7pm Tuesday. I tack Harv up and walk to the indoor ring. I find the dressage ladies there, and Amanda is seated on the mounting block in the corner. She tells me the ladies want to run through their test one more time. I wait along with Amanda so that it's clear that we are ready.

It is 7:25pm. The dressage ladies have run through their test two more times. They have not looked in our direction. Amanda, sitting on the mounting block, is inscrutable. Harvey is bored. I am furious. But we sit.

Did I ever tell you I'm from the midwest? One of the cornerstones of the midwestern culture is the avoidance of conflict. For better or worse, I can absorb a lot of abuse. But a lot has happened, not just to me, but to people around me. Karen, Heike, Amanda, they deserve respect. I deserve respect. But this group of women cheerfully walk all over us.

They complete their 2nd test since 7pm, and Natalie suggests they run through the last part again. With this, I lead Harvey into the center of the ring. I reach for a clear, authoritative tone and say, "Okay. You need to wrap up now." Roberta, one of the ladies, puts on a smile and makes a plea that "this last part is very short." My response: "You've already had a half hour of my lesson time." There is a pause. Then Natalie laughs and declares to her ladies that they will pick up again on Thursday. They agree to throw in the towel, and start to walk their horses out on a loose rein.

Thank God that's over. Amanda and I move to the far end of the ring, away from the ladies, and we work on a 20 meter circle at the walk. I try to listen to Amanda, but the ladies are laughing and speaking in theatrical voices that boom out across the ring. Much sooner than usual, Amanda has me pick up a trot--I suspect this will allow her to shout brief directives that I might hear better. We make a few circles, and then I come around a turn to find Roberta cutting across our circle on a long rein. She's not looking at us and is chatting merrily away on volume ten. I make my circle an egg to avoid her. About every few minutes someone non-chalantly walks their horse across our circle. Our twenty meter circle. In a 150' X 200' ring.

Harvey is spooky and distracted at this end of the arena, which has a loose door that shakes periodically. This is turning into a awful ride. I decide that I am going to focus on the lesson and my horse, and the dressage ladies can look out for themselves. I concentrate to getting Harvey more forward, since he trying to shy as we approach the door. I see Natalie walking on the outside track, and I figure she'll stay on the track. I continue on my circle.

Harv is turning away from the scary door and it rattles a bit -- without warning he scoots away away just as Natalie turns off the track and into our circle. Our horses collide glancingly at the shoulder and Harvey shuffles away. Natalie's young Dutch warmblood leaps sideways and then crow-hops down the long side. Natalie stays on, but she loses her seat and is hanging off to the side for a few strides.

Natalie rights herself and adjusts her saddle. It was not a bad crash, but we were lucky it wasn't worse. Harv is okay, but he's upset. I can feel his heart beating against my leg. My lesson is more or less over. Midwestern values or no, a voice in my head is saying this is enough. Now my volume dial flips up to ten, and I address the ladies:


Natalie's voice snarls back, "Why don't you control your stupid horse!"

Not exactly witty repartee.

Natalie's response makes me feel smug, and I'm relieved that her comeback is dorky. Also it seems to me that she has revealed her true nature. This is the "real" Natalie, without the veneer of sophistication and class that she's put over on us for years. Caught off balance, literally, she's suddenly just a mean old lady.

After they leave, Amanda turns to me, looking bemused. "I can't believe you spoke up," she said. It's kind of a backward compliment. I guess I'm not known for bravery. Maybe she sees that I'm in need of praise, because she says, "Good for you."

This is as close to a come-uppance as I ever got. So what happened to Natalie and the dressage ladies? Natalie left her ladies high and dry one day, moving to Ohio, and I believe she works out of an elite barn that holds World Cup qualifiers, stallion tests, and the like. Every once in awhile she is the featured trainer in Dressage Today's question and answer column. I changed barns, and later on so did the dressage ladies. I think they are in New Jersey now. I see the whole hee-haw gang at Devon (they have a box seat), and they're pleasant and chatty. I suspect in a well-managed boarding barn, without the politics and overcrowding, these ladies are probably nice, regular folk. Greener Side, under new management, continues to be a hotbed of barn drama; I'm just glad to be out of there!


  1. hehehe, good for you!!

    just wanted to let you know i LOVE reading your blog and check it every day for updates... keep up the good work!

  2. That could have ended much worse! all four of you could have been hurt. I hate riding with people who (by mistake or on purose) don't look where they are going. It's scary and dangerous. Eyes up people! And ride left to left, lesson horse gets right of way if there's a question!

  3. Boy, oh boy! What a story! I'm glad you and Harv have a better home.

  4. It was a whack-a-doodle barn. The kicker is that these weren't the most "memorable" experiences at Greener Side. Along with the DQs, a cutting/reining trainer ran a training operation there. Quite a character that one. Stories for another day...

  5. Oh man you definitely needed to move. I cannot believe how rude those laides were.

  6. More stories!! I love them!

    It is always nice to know that the barn drama in my barn is a global problem, not just in small-town Ohio.

    If not more stories, then at least more video of your husband poo-pooing the inspections.

    So great. Keep it up!


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