I spent twenty one years in the Army, doing jobs not normally done by women: I climbed communication towers (yes, those BIG ones), and repaired M1A1 tanks. The only female in my platoon, I took my forty men to the deep desert during Desert Storm, and brought them all home, alive and unharmed. When you’re an NCO in the Army, you are given responsibilities not normally found in the civilian world. Those included the lives of the people assigned to you. It’s an enormous and sobering responsibility, never to be taken lightly. I always thought things through before I made decisions, and I always took my position as Platoon Sergeant seriously. Consequently, I have always been responsible, honest and willing to take my lumps when I screw up.
I live that creed to this day. I keep my promises. I don’t make decisions lightly. I take into account as many ramifications as I can see. And when I screw up, I own the mistake. If I have an ass chewing coming, I’ll man up and take my medicine. My only demand is that I want it NOW. Don’t make me ruminate over my fuckup over the entire weekend. Punish me NOW, so that I can go to the hospital, have my ass sewn back on, and I can then enjoy my weekend.
There are people, though, who can’t accept the fact that they screwed up. When they do, with annoying consistency, they blame someone else. Sometimes they do it so cleverly that I never see it coming.
If you read this blog, you will know that I underwent my first dressage test. I did poorly. In the first test, my horse, Trooper, bucked. In the second, only a few minutes later, I was still so surprised by his unexpected misbehavior that I blew the second test, as well. I forgot the pattern, and my 20 meter circles were…well, a lot less than twenty meters and certainly not circular.
The judge was fair. She didn’t write “this moron has absolutely no business doing a dressage test or even being on the back of a horse.” Nope. She gave me useful feedback and constructive criticism, stuff I wanted and needed.
In the write up of my first test, the judge said, quote “Athletic horse but tense and naughty at times this test. Rider needs more consistent correction and contact to be able to influence head and maintain steadier tempo.”
The second write up says, quote, “Steadier this test. Horse quite capable but needs to accept steadier contact and maintain rounder frame. Watch for correct bends in circles. Thank you!”
Thank YOU, Ms. Appleby, for your kind and constructive criticism. This is why I tested. I wanted a stranger to judge me without bias, and she did. I’ve already put it into action: I put Trooper in a bit. I’m seeing differences already.
I’d not gone into the test wanting to “win”. I did it to LEARN.
Patti, Trooper’s owner, did the test to WIN. She had her husband video the tests we did. I really wasn’t paying attention to Larry’s activities. I didn’t know he’d filmed me as well as Patti. So when Patti invited me over to ‘watch the video’ of the test, I (who would much rather have ridden, but the weather was ugly) agreed.
Patti put the memory card in her TV. It’s one thing to watch yourself screw up on a tiny, one by two inch video camera screen. It’s a completely disheartening thing to watch yourself screw up on a 56 inch TV in full, unflinching color.
I was miserable in my test.
But that’s okay. I learned a lot. I learned that I am capable of sitting a trio of hard, backwards crowhops and not even grab the bucking strap. I learned that I am NOT supposed to yell “KNOCK IT OFF” to my horse during a dressage test. I learned that my horse was not listening to me. I learned that he was not only not collected but successfully resisted my efforts to make him do so.
What blew me out of the water that evening was what I learned from Patti.
After my first test, I knew I had to go back in after Patti’s first test. I rode Trooper out of the ring, my cheeks crimson, probably. The steward murmured, it’s okay. It’s your first test. I know. It didn’t make things better, though.
Patti came out, smiling. She’d had a good go, apparently. I went into the arena and blew my second test. My composure had been completely blown, and all memories of the pattern had left my addled brain.
When I left the ring, it was absolutely pouring rain. I didn’t want my saddle to get wet, and my husband had shown up, too late to see me ride. He was on time, but it was time set by the original schedule, the one that had been thrown out the window by virtue of the fact that everyone save Patti and I had scratched their Introductory A level tests.
My man always sets my heart afire and makes my head whirl. When I see those sexy grey eyes of his smiling into mine, I kind of lose my mind. I thought of nothing but the handsome man in front of me, and the handsome horse in my hand, who was still being very much a ‘naughty’ horse. Despite the downpour, at that moment, I was the happiest woman on the planet. I had my horse in my right hand and my husband’s hand in my left. What could be better than that?
Patti and Penny, testing at that moment, were the furthest things from my mind.
So I’m sitting on Patti’s couch, watching the video’s heartless recording of my badly done tests. Then, of course, I watched Patti’s first test, which was done very well. Patti, by the way, had been given an inordinately long period of time to warm up, in the ring, out of the rain, something I had not been given.
Then came Patti’s second test.
“OK, now here is where WE screwed up.”
I was gob smacked.
I repeated, “WE?”
“Yes, WE. See, Penny starts calling here, and veering into the middle. The judges cut me two points every time she whinnied.”
It was true. Penny was calling, and had her head way up, rolling her eyes. Patti was very obviously Not In Charge.
I was still flabbergasted. I could only repeat the unbelievable “WE?”
“Yes,” she said, irritated.
“How can it be my fault?”
I still could not see where it was MY fault. I found myself defending myself, completely undone by her slanderous accusation.
“It was pouring rain! I was done!”
“You left. You were supposed to stay where Penny could see Trooper.”
I still could not get my head around what she was saying. I’m not always so swift on the uptake, especially when I’m being attacked from way out of left field. My jaw was still on my knees.
Patti was clearly pissed. I was clearly refusing to accept my responsibility for intentionally screwing up her test. Speaking like I was deaf or retarded, she said,
“Penny started whinnying when YOU LEFT with Trooper. See? Let me rewind and I’ll show you.”
She very pointedly rewound to the point where, through the downpour, you could see me leading a trotting Trooper on my right, away from the arena. There was the proof of her accusation. Trooper and I rapidly disappeared from the camera’s view.
The moment Trooper was out of Penny’s view, the mare started acting up, calling, tossing her head, veering out into the middle of the arena. Larry’s camera caught the whole thing.
“See! When you left, she started calling and that’s when the judge started cutting points!.”
I just stared at her, absolutely mind blown at her accusation.
Patti looked at me expectantly. I guess I was supposed to start apologizing for the fact that she had lost points. I was to blame for her poor score. Despite this, she won TWO ribbons (by virtue of the fact that we were the only two to test Intro A level). I won the gate.
I didn’t apologize. I was still trying to make sense of what she said. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let her stomp all over me like that. I was innocent. It was HER responsibility to manage her horse, and I’m tired of having to think like a babysitter rather than a rider.
“She’s going to have to get over that.” I said.
This did not set well with Patti, but she let it drop.
But it was very clear. She was blaming ME for her poor score.
Not HER, the woman very obviously videod sitting atop the horse in question. Me.
I was responsible for a horse I didn’t even ride.
It appears that I am responsible for TWO horses’ performances, mine, and Patti’s.
I’m never been quick with a witty retort, or able to immediately destroy my opponent with devastating logic. I’ve always been the one who’s left with their reputation slashed, their face lost, been called names, never been quick-witted enough to make the opponent look like the liar she is.
Perhaps it was because, up til now, I thought I was merely someone giving Patti money to lease her gelding. It never occurred to me that I was her opponent, her mare’s babysitter, or Patti’s scapegoat.
So, by being tongue-tied, I suppose I validated Patti’s outrageous charge, that being I had ruined her test.
I ruminated over this for several days. Then I related it to two very smart, experienced women who are my friends, and are far better horsemen than I shall ever be.
They assured me that I was not out of line to be insulted by Patti’s insolence. To put it mildly, they were infuriated.
One pointed out that the very essence of dressage is that the horse is obeying, and submitting to the RIDER.
The other is still frothing at the mouth, so angry she probably could board a plane and fly here just to hand Patti her head.
I love their support. Because they both, also, are honest with me. They pointed out that Trooper was not listening to me. He was paying attention to where Penny was. And he didn’t want to collect when I asked for it.
I admit it. It never occurred to me that his bucking and refusal to collect was anyone else’s fault but mine. I had no idea where Patti was at the time of my test. I was to blame for my low score. No one else. I was not in control of my horse, and he was not listening to me.
Penny is herd bound, cannot bear to be away or out of sight of Trooper. Furthermore, she does not respect Patti. Penny does as she wants. She allows Patti to ride her, and when it’s just her and Trooper in the arena, she obeys.
In a way, Penny and Patti are alike. When things are going their way, they’re fine. But, as I’ve related in earlier posts, if another mare comes into the arena, all thoughts of obeying Patti flee the mare’s mind. I’ve seen Penny attack a strange mare, bolt across an arena in order to lunge at a stranger, her ears flattened and teeth bared. Patti is not a rider in control of the horse. Patti is merely a passenger.
But Patti refuses to see this. She cannot accept that she’s not the great rider she thinks she is. Rather than take her lumps that she earned, she blamed ME for her horse’s misbehavior.
There is something pathetically sad about this. She’s a very small-minded person. She’s also an arrogant asshole.
I refused to accept her accusations. She gave me the silent treatment for a week. It was nice, riding without having her constantly telling me how she thinks I should ride. I even got in a bareback ride, something she is too cowardly to attempt. But she is quick to demand that I ride in a saddle, because “it’s not safe for me to ride bareback”. In reality, she doesn’t want my bareback riding to show her up.
Only when Kim showed up to give us a lesson and I laughed at how Trooper had bucked with me, did Patti mumble something to the effect that she ‘should have told me to wait around for her to finish her test.”
Well, that’s wrong, too.
The rules for this schooling show stated explicitly that horses not actually in the arena are not allowed in the vicinity of the gate. In this case, it was because there just wasn’t room, and second, this is right because it keeps the horse in the ring from being distracted by other horses. Never mind that it was pouring down rain.
But the thing of it is, once again, Patti expected me to one, read her tiny pinpoint mind, and two, forego my personal comfort and desire so that SHE could increase her chances of doing well. From the first day of this lease, I’ve been expected to always think of Patti’s wishes, never my own. I must always think of what I do with Trooper in how it‘s going to make PENNY feel. Patti cannot handle Penny when she’s in Full Mare Mode, but she will never accept that she is unable to correct or control her horse. I must, therefore, bend over backwards for the mare.
And I must do all these things by reading Patti’s mind. She never asks for something. She always chastises me after the fact: “You made Penny mad, she doesn’t like Trooper being so far on the other end of the arena.” “Don’t canter when I’m cantering, it confuses Penny.” This is controlling in the extreme. Always keep the other person guessing. I should know this, my ex husband was the same way.
I could have asked Patti, why didn’t she stick near the arena when I was testing so that Trooper could know where Penny was?
But it never occurred to me to do this. One is supposed to be in control of one’s horse.
Patti could not accept the fact that she was (and seldom is) in control of her horse. She is dishonest, with herself as well as to those around her. She cannot bring herself to admit that she is NOT a good rider.
She is other things, but, I’m sorry to admit, words failed me then, and they fail me now, to adequately explain what I think of her.
This is the second time she’s (not literally) slapped me in the face with unfounded, off the wall accusations. She comes up with this stuff right out of the blue.
I earned my low scores.
She earned hers. But she refuses to accept it. It’s MY fault. I am to blame for her horse’s misbehavior, despite the fact that I was several hundred feet away from Penny.
I love Trooper. He’s taught me a lot. But there are other horses.
I am sick and tired of the owner. She’s taught me a lot, too. None of it has been instructive or useful. Much of which I already knew, but not of her. Until now.
I’m lucky. Unlike Patti’s long suffering husband, I don’t need to put up with this shit.
I can pack my tack; leave a note vacating the lease, and leave, never to be run roughshod over by Patti again. She’ll have to find someone else to blame for her failings.
Will you, my readers, accept my blogs if I don’t have a horse underneath me to validate them? Because it may take me some time to find another one to lease. And I don’t want to stop writing.
Maybe you should stick around, even if I don’t have a horse. Because you have to admit, anyone who can ride two horses at once, with the horses being separated by a couple hundred feet, is one hell of a rider.