Divorcing the Diva

Well, it’s done.

Sometimes, you just have to walk out of a relationship because it’s become too toxic to bear anymore.

That was my relationship with Patti. Originally, it was supposed to be merely a lease agreement: I was leasing her gelding, Trooper.

But it turned into something ugly. Not on my horse, nor on my part. It was Patti.

I’ve learned that leasing a horse is a lot like marrying someone you later regret. The owner of the horse stops being that considerate guy or that baggage free girl and turns into someone you’d like to knock over the head.

This is what I found with Patti. From the start, Patti portrayed herself as a Very Experienced Horseman.

She did NOT ask me what sort of experience I had.

I have a LOT. I’ve had over forty years of experience handling horses, from working on a breeding farm to walking hots at a track; from keeping a horse in my backyard to managing my own equine massage business. What I DON’T have is a lot of time in the saddle. That is what I wanted to build. I just wanted to ride a decent horse, and learn to ride dressage at my own pace. I had no dreams; I had no goals, other than to learn to ride correctly.

When  I first met Patti (and Trooper) she seemed very professional, almost too detached to be human, but eh, not everyone can be Ms. Charming. And I actually liked the totally professional arrangement. I didn’t want to be friends with Patti. She was cold and detached from day one.

She carried herself with the air of a Dressage Queen.  She rode dressage, you know, not just rode around in a dressage saddle.

Ultimately, I realize now, she believed that riding in a dressage saddle automatically makes you a dressage rider. Apparently her Jeffries saddle came with a full dose of Dressage Queen. Patti assumed the faux mantle of Dressage Diva the moment I told her I was a ‘novice’.

I’ve met one or two of this insufferable species of rider. The Dressage Diva overbears one with a supercilious air that makes you want to punch her. But I will admit, in both cases, the Divas I’d met  knew what the hell they were doing riding dressage, and if you could get past their sanctimonious bullshit, you could learn a lot.

The TRUE horsemen, people like Steffie or Heather Blitz, will immediately tell you that they are STILL learning. At Grand Prix level, they’re ‘still learning’. This, to me, is honesty. They are not and never will be Divas.

Once the ‘honeymoon’ with Trooper/Patti was over, Patti went to work. She couldn’t stand that I rode bareback, mostly because she can NOT. I eventually bought a saddle. This, apparently, was Patti’s signal that I was now wanting to be ‘fixed’. By her.

Over the weeks and months, she would make comments about my riding. I told her I was going by the Wanless method, which is dressage in its basic form. As in other venues, there is no one right way or wrong way to ride a horse. She didn’t listen. She’d never heard of Mary Wanless. Nor did she care to hear anything about the woman.

We would go riding together in a covered arena not far from my home. Sometimes she’d leave me alone, but most of the time, she’d have something to say about my riding.

So I’d say, oh yeah, and just ignore her. She was NOT a trainer or a riding instructor.  She stopped being the novice rider she really, truly is and became the expert. Not only that, she demanded my respect for her and gave me none in return. She began to bully me.

In many, many ways, she was exactly like her mare, Penny. There was nothing right I could do. There were many things about me that irritated the living shit out of her.

She was angry when I had a saddle fitter out to fit MY saddle to Trooper. This service is NOT cheap. Why hadn’t I had the fitter check all HER saddles on Penny?

She hated my saddle, after riding in it once. What difference did it make to her? She stated it wasn’t very good, that her Jeffries was much better. She disliked the Albion girth. None of this makes sense to me.

She disliked that the bridle I had to build for Trooper’s angular head, because it was of two different colors. (I’d use two bridles: one horse and one cob, to get it to fit his Arabian head.)

What was wrong with his all black sidepull one? Well, I wanted to ride him in a bit, and it had the sidepull built into it. I didn’t want to dismantle it when I could use my own bridle.

She disliked that I used and prefer old fashioned laced leather reins. “How can you ride with those things?” she’d ask.

Once in a while I’d find she’d replaced the laced reins with nylon ones she’d first had on Trooper’s bridle. Without comment, I’d replace them with my leather laced ones.

She caught me once allowing Trooper to smell a pile of horse manure left by another horse.

This is what male horses do. Like dogs, they want to read the news post. There is no harm in it. When Patti saw me allowing him to sniff, she yelled at me to stop. She insisted that a horse could “catch worms” from inhaling the scent of fresh horse manure.

If you’ve ever read my other posts, you know she had no idea that male horses had tushes.

Obviously, she has no grasp whatsoever of many things: biology, physics, parasitology, equine anatomy, conformation, behavior, you name it.

All these things are the classic hallmarks of a controller. What a fool I am. I’d learned this from my ex-husband. He’d treated me exactly the same way.

But I’m not one for confrontation, and I’d learned with the ex that sometimes the best way to get around a controller is to ignore them.

Throughout the entire lease period (about a year), Patti stealthily forced me into the position of being Penny’s babysitter. Penny’s well-being and happiness was what MY job was. I was responsible for Penny’s behavior by keeping Trooper always within her sight. I was not allowed to do anything that may upset Penny. This extended to when Patti was sitting on Penny.

I had always been under the assumption that one is responsible for the horse one happens to be sitting on, NOT the one one is sitting on AND the other one across the arena, backing and bucking because she’s Upset.

I may have been riding Trooper, but in reality, I was merely someone giving Trooper something to do while Patti was doing what she fondly imagined was dressage.

Even with Trooper in close proximity, Penny would frequently blow up. When that happened, I had to go to the far end of the arena, dismount and DON’T MOVE! until Patti “got her back under control.”

I was merely a machine, really, a babysitter, but a stupid one, in that I was paying for the aggravation.

The recent dressage test was the last straw, for me. (see my 17 April 12 post titled “The Scapegoat”). When Patti blamed ME for her low scores from the judge, I realized I was dealing with a sociopath.

The truth is, Patti has absolutely NO control over Penny, and Penny knows it. Penny is the Boss, not Patti. Rather than accept that fact that Patti is NOT Alpha,  Patti makes someone else the scapegoat for Penny’s misbehavior. That scapegoat was ME. And I was paying her money every month for the purpose of being her doormat, her boot scraper.

I had had enough of the Wannabe Dressage Diva. The nice thing about terminating the lease on a horse is that, while the emotional upheaval is the same, it’s cleaner, paperwork wise than a divorce. All I need do is inform her, pack my tack, and go home.

I decided to terminate the lease on Trooper. I could have done it over the phone and removed all the pain, but, being normal, I wanted to make her feel a little of the demoralization and belittling that she had inflicted on me.

I had my reasons for her expected “why?” all scripted and memorized. I was going to let her know what I felt, truly, and tell her to her face that she was a bully.

But it came out differently. Of course.  I was dealing with Herr Patti, not a normal person.

We had made plans a few days earlier to ride that evening. The plan was to ride at the arena, as it’d been raining for days.

The day of the planned ride, Patti called me from work.

Penny was hurt, she said. She didn’t want to trailer Trooper to the arena for me to ride, leaving Penny without Trooper..(she has Dodger, her new gelding there, but no…he can’t babysit Penny. Why? Blaming the horse doesn’t make Patti feel better.)

Penny would be unhappy. Penny would run around and maybe hurt herself again, or worsen the injury.

I asked her if she’d had the vet out to look at Penny. No, she said, a vet wasn’t needed. Ah. Now she’s her own veterinarian (as well as farrier…she trims her own horses, although she’s never been to farrier school. All you need to do is watch a farrier once or twice,  to learn how to trim a hoof and the tools are easily available. I see you never knew that. Either.)

She asked me, did I want to ride Trooper in her ‘arena’ (which is uncovered). I said, well, no, it’s raining. But I do want to come to the barn and discuss something with you.

I got to the barn about twenty minutes before Patti got there. Larry,  Patti’s husband, was working on his tractor. He greeted me warmly, as he always does, and asked if I was going to ride in the rain? Oh, my, no. About then, Penny came trotting up to demand a carrot. I saw no injury, nothing at all wrong with the mare. I did not give her a carrot. She flipped her head and spun on her hocks and ran off. Nope, absolutely nothing wrong with that horse.

When Patti got home, she came into the barn. I asked her about Penny’s hoof injury. “Oh, no, she’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with her. Can’t you see her running around out there?”

Well, yes, I could. But this was from the same woman who, a few hours earlier, had begged off riding because the mare had a “hoof injury”. Maybe she has a faith healer who worked a miracle on the mare? Because once again, I was being shown that I was STUPID, in thinking the mare was injured.

I took a deep breath and said, “Well, then, this is a bit hard, but I will say it: I am terminating the lease on Trooper.

I’ll have my tack out of the room by the end of the month.”

Now, let’s say I was renting your house. I seemed to be quite happy with the house, and suddenly I up and tell you, I’m leaving, with no warning whatsoever that I was unhappy.

What would the first thing you would say in response?

Any normal person would ask, “Why?”

Patti did not.

That surprised me.

She said, “OK. I knew what you were going to say that.”

This is a classic controller tactic. If they let it be known that you surprised them, they lose. They cannot ever let someone else win in the head game they inflict. They can’t let you see that you’ve unnerved them or won a point.

They say something like “I knew that” while frantically figuring out their next move. Pretending your words or actions are no surprise, that they know you so much better than you know yourself that they know what you are going to say next. Controllers are almost always stone faced, Patti being no different. Saying “I knew that” or acting as if what you’ve said or done doesn’t bother them, is the way they re-instate their superiority and control over you.

Their motto is “never let them see you sweat”.

Then Patti did something that surprised the shit out of ME.

She blushed.

Now Patti is many things, but emotive she is not. She’s as emotional as a Vulcan, but not as smart. She has one expression…a tight lipped watchfulness, watching-and planning-your every move. Never would I have expected to see her blush.

I’ve learned that, when someone blushes at something you’ve said, it’s because they’re embarrassed by it, or ashamed because of it.  In this case, I’m certain it was the latter: she blushed because she knew damn well WHY I was terminating the lease, was ashamed of it, but didn’t have the courage to take the bitter medicine she knows she’s earned.

She didn’t want to hear me what was on the tip of my tongue: “Because you’re a manipulative bully and I am sick of being blamed because you cannot control your horse.”

She said, “OK. Thank you for letting me know.”

Ah, there was her re-establishing her fighting position, her I’m Always in Control persona. I could almost hear the gears whirling in her head.

I left.

I hadn’t been gone ten minutes when my cell phone rang. It was Patti.

“Larry wants to know why you’re leaving! I forgot to ask you why!”

Hello? How can one FORGET to ask why in a case like this? And it’s not the horse owner, but her husband, asking?

No, Larry wasn’t asking why. Patti wanted to know, but didn’t want to admit that she’d been surprised by my action. Phoning her question and blaming Larry saved her from having to deal with me.

While I’d not changed my mind on terminating the lease, I did change my tactics. I had a stinging answer all planned for her “why”, and when it didn’t come, rather than press for a fight, I left.

I’ve always hated confrontation. Maybe it’s why the bullies seem to single me out: I must have “Pushover” on my forehead.

But I’m not pushover. Sun Tzu said: “He wins who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”

Patti would have relished a fight. Like controllers do, a fight, an argument, a confrontation, merely gives them a chance to REALLY rub your nose in shit. She already had me pegged for the type I am, a non-confrontationist. I’ve been forced into that position because, in a fight, my tongue stops working and my brain overloads. Consequently I look and sound like a moron, and my opponent wins.

When you take the opportunity to fight away from the controller, it blows their mind. It makes them wonder if they screwed up, if I know it (which I do) and what does THAT mean…..

I’ve learned, over the years to never burn my bridges, because I may have to run back across them one day.

In that one split second when I had the opportunity to shove her shit up her nose, I realized that  Patti will never change. When a person has no empathy, loves nothing but herself, she thinks everyone else is exactly like her. SHE demands sympathy, understanding, compassion and patience, but had no concept of how to return it…or even what it is.  The only way the Patti’s of the world know how to deal with other people is to run over us with hobnailed boots.

Patti is the saddest thing you can imagine. Surrounded by nice people, she cannot be nice in return. She cannot let herself learn from anybody. She cannot allow herself to be seen as open, or new, or inexperienced at anything. She is like the Everglades…a mile wide and an inch deep. Such an impoverished soul. She has everything, and it is still nothing to her. It never will be. She will never, ever be happy, for she cannot allow herself even that.

Fighting or arguing with her would be like wrestling with a pig. You lose, you get filthy in the process, and only the pig has a good time.

In short, I wasn’t interested in fighting or arguing. It wasn’t worth it, really. No matter what I would say, she would deny, evade or find some way to make it MY fault. I had no intentions of working myself back up into a lather only to lose.

I feared that she would gossip about me, lying about me, telling everyone I’d done something evil or criminal, and giving her the clout I’d stolen from her. I was the lease terminator, not her.

That’s what bullies do when they lose. They resort to slander and lies about you in order to hide the fact that they were the problem in the first place.

So I said, “Tell Larry I want to move up.”

“What?” I don’t believe she knew what that meant.

“I want to move up. I want a horse I don’t have to argue with when I ask for collection.”

“Oh. OK, I’ll tell him.”

Like Larry knows what collection is? Larry doesn’t know a thing about horses except how to feed them and muck stalls.

I hung up. I felt like I’d gone a round with Mike Tyson. But I felt liberated, as well.

Patti’s persona is as toxic as plutonium. Her persona is that of malevolence, much like the Bad Juju rock…by golly, I just realized that! You do NOT disagree with Patti, not if you want to keep breathing. She always gave me the impression she was just waiting for an opportunity to put me on my lips and handcuff me.

I hadn’t been home half an hour when Kim, her trainer, called me. I told her I had terminated the lease on Trooper, and did she know of a Warmblood, hopefully, for lease?

I believe her call was serendipitous. I was glad of the opportunity to get ‘my side’ of the story in first.

Kim, being normal, was surprised. She asked, Why? In a tone of voice that said that she knew why…Patti. I told her I wanted something more amenable, preferably a Warmblood, and did she know of any for lease?

Kim is cool. She said, “I know everybody. I’ll ask around.”

When I went to the tack room yesterday to remove my tack, my bridle was missing.  I knew why. It had her bit on it. I’d planned on removing the bit and leaving it where Patti could find it, but she’d taken it into the house.

I knocked on the door and Larry came to answer. I was nervous, I wasn’t sure what she’d told him. But Larry was Larry, as friendly and open as a summer day. Now I am convinced he did NOT ask why I was terminating the lease.

I believe now it’s because people come into and out of Patti’s realm like clouds on a windy day. The last person they had leasing a horse didn’t last six months. Their last renter, Tiffany, didn’t last two. Larry is so accustomed to Patti running people off with her ferocity and egomania that he didn’t HAVE to ask. He knew.

I asked him if my bridle was in the house and he wasn’t even sure what a bridle IS…sigh.

But he said he’d call Patti to tell her that I would back that night for my bridle.

She called me about an hour later.

“I would feel more comfortable meeting you at the arena to give you your bridle.”

Okayyyyyyy. I suppose that was to make me feel that now I’m too dangerous, a pariah, not fit to go near her place or her horses.

“Fine” I said.

“I’ll be there at six thirty, and I’ll give you balance of the lease money.”

“No, that’s okay, Patti. I want my bridle, but you can keep the money.”

It’s such a fun thing, to upset your opponent by being nice to him, despite the fact that you really want to punch him back.

“Um…”

“Will you be bringing Penny to ride?”

“Uh, yes, I think so.”

This would be interesting. Penny without Trooper as a babysitter is impossible to handle.

I got to the arena about 6:10. A woman was lunging her paint mare in the arena.  I knew I was going to see fireworks when Patti arrived to ride on Penny. Penny would go for the mare like a starving dog goes for a steak.

I considered warning the woman, but I kept my mouth shut. Good thing.

Patti arrived. No horse trailer. No Penny. She had chickened out bringing a Trooperless Penny to the arena.

Not only that, she arrived ON TIME. First time EVER she ever made an appointment on time.

Patti walked into the viewing booth and handed me my bridle and an envelope. “Here’s sixty dollars, for the rest of the lease.”

“I told you I didn’t expect the balance. Fair’s fair.”

“I insist.”

Of COURSE you insist.

I took the envelope and my bridle.

“And here is your key to the tack room. It’s been fun.” I said.

“Um.” She’d forgotten I had a key. Oh, no, wait! Now I bet she hoped I’d keep it, then she could claim I’d ‘stolen’ something out of the tack room.

She left. I hope I never see her again.

In many ways, this past year, and Patti, was very much like my now ex-husband divorcing me in 2004. He intentionally made the divorce proceedings as emotionally and financially painful as possible. I didn’t know it at the time, (and it certainly didn’t feel good, for a very long time afterwards), but when I walked out of the courtroom, single after twenty years of marriage, that I’d won the war without fighting.

That experience stood me in good stead with Patti.

I know now that unwittingly, and certainly not willingly, my ex taught me a very important lesson, out of the very book he knew by heart, Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”:

“He wins who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”

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About subodai213

Retired U.N.C.L.E agent. Living in Laurasia.
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2 Responses to Divorcing the Diva

  1. ptigris213 says:

    Ohhhhhhh the desire was there, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve learned that I am incapable of fighting verbally. Times like this I wish I had a wisecracking asskicking Eddie Murphy on my side, to hand my opponent her head…but usually, if I have to respond, I come off as Elmer Fudd.
    Better to be thought a fool than to open my mouth and remove all doubt.

  2. cowgirliz says:

    Wow! I was surprised to see this, but am happy for you. Too funny about the timing of the phone call from the trainer. I’m sure you will have something nicer to ride with less human baggage in short order.
    Very well written post too. You have such great insight into people. And, amazing self-control not to rub her nose in a stinking pile of her own shit.

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