I didn’t have a horse growing up. I bought my first after college. A petite Arabian mare with a determined will twice her actual size. The next year I bought a second Arabian. This time a gelding who was the kindest, gentlest horse/cartoon in the world. I never had a trailer or boarded, for most of their lives my horses lived on my property and I rode them around the yard.
When I turned 40, I got a bug up my butt – I wanted to learn how to ride correctly. I was pretty sure riding my haltered horse with lead ropes for reins wasn’t correct. I had a western saddle but the rest of my tack was English, I think. It didn’t match the other pieces and it was all black so I assumed English. I rode in shorts and tennis shoes. I know I wasn’t RIDING. I was sitting on my horse’s back and we were moving. If I wanted to turn, I pulled the lead rope in that direction. If I wanted to stop, I pulled back on both lead ropes and said “whoa”. That was the extent of my riding abilities.
Motivated by this new life objective, I signed up for dressage lessons. Day one proved how little I knew. I arrived at a fancy dressage barn to meet my trainer wearing jeans and tennis shoes. She patiently explained the purpose of riding pants, preferably those with suede inner legs, chaps, riding boots with heels and gloves. I could barely afford the lessons; I didn’t have money to buy all this stuff.
I was gently directed to the local tack exchange where I found a pair of riding pants for $10. At my second lesson, I learned why they were so cheap. I apparently bought out-of-style, Dudley Do-Right pants the kind with the wide hip-pointy sides. My new trainer visibly sighed when she saw my new/used pants. Then she handed me a plastic bag. She had been at a show during the week where there had a been table of used gear for sale. She bought me a pair of chaps and riding gloves. I thought that was pretty cool.
I took lessons for a couple months. I loved it. For years I rode at home ignorant of the subtle beauty of CONNECTING with a horse. At the fancy dressage barn, I could wiggle my finger and the horse would put its head down. I could tighten my abdomen and the horse stopped. I only needed to shift my weight to ride a perfect figure eight. I had the bug. I wanted to learn everything. I wanted to become a beautiful quiet rider like the other women at the fancy show barn. Being financially (fiscally?) prudent I decided buying my own horse would be cheaper than paying for hourly lessons.
“How much will a dressage horse cost?” I asked my trainer.
“You might find something decent for $20,000 if you’re lucky. You should plan to spend at least $50,000 to $60,000. We go to Germany and buy horses every summer. We could bring one back for you,” she replied.
I thought she was joking then had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing (vomiting) when I realized she was serious. “Are you kidding me?” I asked in my head. My house didn’t cost that much! I can’t spend that much on a horse!”
That was my last lesson at the fancy dressage barn. I enjoyed the lessons and the fancy dressage people were nice. I still had the dressage bug and now I wanted to go to horse shows. But I couldn’t afford to hang out with these folks, my modus operandi was; dressage on the cheap.
I turned to my horsey friends for advice. What horse breed is good at dressage? How much will a grand prix dressage horse cost? Do you know a good trainer, someone nearby? How much does it cost to go to a horse show? Does everyone at a horse show dress up? What brand horse trailer should I consider? A dressage saddle costs how much? I can’t use my purple saddle pads at a show? My bit isn’t legal at a dressage show? Why can’t I wear my brown leather paddock boots with my black suede chaps at a show? Won’t white gloves show my hands moving around to the judge? What’s a 20 meter circle, can you convert that into feet?
I asked 10 friends and got 10 different answers. I was even more unsure how to proceed. That dressage bug was under my skin, bitin’ me like a mosquito. I couldn’t ingnore the itch! I could read a bunch of books, watch some dressage videos, consult a fortune teller then it occurred to me, silly, silly me. I have THEE best resource in the whole wide world right at my fingertips – I turned to Google!
(stay tuned for the next installment – BAM! I Swatted that Dressage Bug Real Good)