Rationalize the Pursuit of Dressage Perfection

Type-A or Artiste?
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How do you stay motivated to ride? A hunter rider friend recently asked me this via Facebook. “Because when it’s this wet and raw, all I want to do is stay inside where it’s warm and cozy and drink tea,” she said. 

“Oh,” I smiled, typing away. “It’s easy. Because we Type-A dressage personalities are so obsessive that we just know deep in our hearts that all the good work and clinics we attended last fall to get our horses off the left leg and loading evenly behind and up and forward has now gone to Hades in a hand basket because, with the rain, our horses have had three days off in a row, and we may as well not even think about showing this year, or ever again because we’ll never get them back the way they were, just last week.” I was joking, of course, but as a comedian, I will tell you that humor only works if there is an element of truth in it. The actual “ha-ha” part of it comes from cartooning the truth out of proportion. 

But truth be told, dressage has always seemed to attract people that are, in general, accomplished achievers in several areas. They seem to have tremendous self-discipline in both academics and sport. I think of Olympic greats, such as Dr. Reiner Klimke and Isabell Werth, who were/are also lawyers. And then there are friends of mine that graduated college with honors and went on to compete internationally—fluent in three languages, tremendous business sense, that sort of thing. 

Then there’s me. I only went to community college—hardest five years of my life. I wonder why I am so obsessively drawn to dressage. It can’t be just because I needed an oxygen mask to keep from fainting in the starting box before cross-country and embraced, instead, on a discipline that didn’t have a mandatory object called a “coffin” connected to it. It can’t be because I ooze self-discipline. No one with tremendous self-discipline would have two-year-old tupperware containers in the fridge as frightening to open as mine. The answer becomes clear when I watch, for the umpteenth time, the YouTube videos featuring Dr. Klimke’s 1984 Olympic one-handed, one-tempi honor lap or the breathtaking musical kürs of Totilas: it’s the art … the harmony … the grace. Surely this is the reason behind the years of dogged pursuit of the perfect 20-meter circle. I am, despite the absence of any other marketable skills, an artiste!

It’s cute, isn’t it, how we can delude ourselves for so long before being thumped back to reality? “I was thinking about dressage,” I mentioned to Paul, after dinner, because all husbands eagerly anticipate the conversation to turn to horses when there’s an NBA championship being aired at the same time.

“As opposed to,” he replied, refilling his wine glass, “the State of the Union?”

“About those who ride dressage,” I amended. “About how it has a reputation for attracting Type-A compulsive personalities. I don’t fit that bill at all.”

Had he not been laughing so hard, Paul would normally have been rather aggrieved to spill his nice pinot noir down the front of his sweater.

“Alright,” I said. “Give an example.”

“All tack must be cleaned after use and hung up exactly so,” he said.

“That’s just being professional.”

“Sweeping the aisle clean every time you walk into the barn.”

“That’s good horse management.”

“Being down on your hands and knees, during a power outage, with a flashlight picking up any stray horse poops you might have missed, after picking a stall in the evening.”

“Well,” I started, then frowned. I went to my laptop and pulled up the weather forecast. Another storm front moving in. How to stay motivated? Watch some more Olympic YouTubes, I guess. And then hit the barn and go reorganize all the tack boxes. Because, after all, I am an artiste!

Pam Stone was a stand-up comedian before committing to dressage full time and earning her USDF bronze and silver medals. She teaches and trains from her Stone’s Throw Farm near Landrum, South Carolina (stonesthrowfarmdressage.com).

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