Dressage: Not Just For The Wealthy Effete


I don’t generally veer off into politics here (for all kinds of reasons) but it’s not even the hard-hitting Election Season, and I am already sick and tired of the media slanging off at Ann Romney over her Horse Habit, and for slanging off on Dressage, in general.  It’s the easiest damned thing in world to knock on the Romneys for being entirely out of touch with the other 99.99%, because – every time either one of them opens their mouths – it becomes completely clear that they are living on another planet.

But, for pete’s sake, can we keep the horses out of it?

Yes.  Owning a horse is bloody expensive.  So is owning a boat, and having a kid.  Having a horse is a lot like having a kid, and an unending stream of money flowing out of the checking account is only one of those ways.  I’d argue that horses are considerably less expensive than kids.  They don’t usually outgrow their tack.  They destroy their garments at a slower rate – usually – than rambunctious boys do.  If you have to send them for tutoring, it’s for less time and less frequently than it is when a kid needs some special training.  They eat a ton of stuff, but that stuff?  It’s hay.  Dried grass.  Maybe a little bit of grain or carrots to juice things up.  But it’s not nearly as expensive, dollar-per-pound as Kid Food.  You don’t have to send them to college.  Even if you start showing, it’s not that much more costly than having a kid that plays three sports on traveling teams, and that kind of thing is getting more common all the time.

But do we hear people slamming [insert public figure here] for having an expensive Kid Habit?  Other than Brangelina and the Octomom, that is?

Not usually.

But people hear “horse” and they don’t necessarily think “10-year-old kid who works every afternoon at the barn to help pay for their critter’s board” and they don’t necessarily think “college student who works every afternoon at the barn to pay for their critter’s board” and they don’t think “middle-aged woman who has put off this dream for 30 years until the kids are out of the nest” and they don’t think “ranch hand who rides the horse because there are plenty of places on the spread that the truck can’t go” and they don’t think “disabled vet who can’t move around independently but can get a taste of freedom through hippotherapy” and they don’t think “victim of multiple sclerosis who rides to work on balance, muscle strength, and spasticity in the hopes of avoiding a life in a wheelchair.”

The vast majority of horse owners fall into categories like those, including Ann Romney, but that’s not where people automatically “go” when they think Horse Owner.

No.  They think Pampered Princess, Living In The Gold-Covered Tower.  Which Ann Romney also is, but that has little or nothing to do with being a Horse Owner.

I don’t appreciate the media’s attempt to whip up some kind of cultural economic frenzy against Horse Owners. And if they’re going to do that, I want to see them whipping it up over every other expensive hobby, including boats, golf, stamp, coin, and antique collecting, and having kids.  They’re all choices about how you’re going to spend your time and your money, and those choices aren’t restricted to people who are born with the Silver Spoon.  We all make those decisions.

While I’m at it, I really don’t appreciate the media’s characterization of Dressage as being some kind of effete prancy horse ballet.  According to an insinuating and insulting article in this morning’s New York Times, dressage is a sport in which ” horses costing up to seven figures execute pirouettes and other dancelike moves for riders wearing tails and top hats.”

Oh?  Really? Because to me dressage is an “extremely challenging sport where riders and horses costing $600  get the opportunity to develop communication skills that are the next thing to telepathic, and execute very complicated moves including bends, serpentines, 20-meter circles, and pirouettes for riders wearing a pair of stained and (slightly torn) $40 riding tights, a Chuy’s t-shirt, and a pair of battered paddock boots and decrepit half-chaps. Oh, yeah, and a helmet.

‘Cuz you know what?  That’s what I was wearing this morning when I was out doing dressage with my 18 yo retired show jumper for whom I paid a whopping $600, and – I would like to get onto the record right away – I would not trade for any other damn horse in the world.

Now, if (when) I compete at dressage with Huey, he’s going to be wearing a saddle that cost 4 times what he did, and he’s going to be doing some 20 meter circles and leg yields.  And I’ll be wearing I don’t-even-kn0w-what, because I think you can get away with half-chaps and paddock boots at the BFE levels I expect to see.  And even if I were able through some combination of miracles to compete at high levels like Ann Romney, I wouldn’t be wearing a bloody tail-coat, I’d be wearing a shadbelly.

Get it right, journalistic idiots.  If you’re doing to put the smack-down on an entire sporting field with a 500 year history, you need to do your homework.  Better yet, go find someone else to pick on.

Another thing.  If I had access to buckets of money like Ann Romney does and a passion for horses and dressage like I share with her then you bet I’d be jaunting to Europe to buy papered Oldenburg foals, or Dutch Warmbloods, or Selle Francais.   That’s a no-brainer.  I wouldn’t trade any of those for my boy, and it sounds like she had a great horse that she didn’t want to give up either.  But as much as I hate to say it, even if I wanted to compete at high levels and had the ability to do it (neither of which I do), I don’t think I’d be able to do it with Huey The Wonder Horse.  I love him to the moon and back, and no horse will ever be able to replace him, ever, but he’s had his time in the sun with competitions, and what he deserves now – and what suits me to a T – is to have fun and to do a little bit of purely recreational showing.  No.  If I wanted to Fly High, I’d have to go to Europe – because anyone who knows anything about this area knows that the European stud-books and European breeders are where it’s at.  And I’d buy a few amazing foals, and have the bloody time of my life watching them get started by the trainer I’d be able to employ to do that, and I’d enjoy riding all of them until it became clear which of them was Really For Me.  And then we’d head for orbit, me and my seven-figure horse.  And I’d be doing it in California, where it’s never too hot or too cold to ride, and I’d have some stable with an awesome bungalow that I could have my friends come visit the horses and we’d all sit around in the evening on the patio having a drink and watching the horses – because what could be better than this? – and it would be some kind of incredibly posh place with a bunch of indoor rings, heck, let’s air-condition one of them – and a wash stall, and a shower in the tack room, and I’d have a Groom to deal with the nasty stuff that gums up the tail and to clean my tack, because I’d always rather ride than clean tack, and they’d wash the saddle pad after every ride and the horse would have one of those Back-On-Track blankets, and a bug zapper in the paddock, and an automatic watering trough, and…and…and…  It’s hard to think of some luxury I wouldn’t want for me and my horses if I were basically Made Out Of Money.

I’ll go out on the limb, and guess that every horse person who reads this post is now thinking of some package of pampery luxuries they’d get if Money Was No Object, and considering how many horses they’d have – I don’t see myself going above 4, tops, because there are only so many hours in the day, you know, but I expect there are plenty of people who would have a much larger herd.

Honestly? There are a lot of things about the Romneys of which I do not approve, but Ann Romney’s full and free indulgence of her Every Horsey Dream is not on that list.

And dressage?  It’s hard,Media Morons.  It’s about finesse instead of Raw Power.  You want to go deliver the smack down to some part of the horse industry?  Smack down the irresponsible breeders who fill up the kill pens.  Smack down the racing industry for overbreeding excessively fragile Thoroughbreds.  Or, hey, you want something you can really get your teeth into and whip up a public frenzy over?  SORING.  Go let loose a big cultural blast on the savage and reckless idiots who do that with the Tennessee Walking Horses.  Get out of my arena, and quit making me and the rest of the working-week riders, which is nearly all of us, out to be a bunch of entitled, elitist, namby-pamby relics.  Or I’ll kick you.


About Lori Holder-Webb

I'm a Southern Woman by birth and a Texan Woman by upbringing...and yet I find myself living in New England and married to a New York City boy. Up here we use the same currency as we do at home, and I don't need to travel with a passport, but the commonalities pretty much end there. The language is different, the jokes are different, the people are different, and the weather and terrain sure are different too. I moved away from Texas in 2002, and ever since then, I've been the stranger in the strange land... I've had some questions about the name of the blog - if you were not alive, or living abroad or under a rock, or in grad school during the late 1980s, Oldsmobile attempted to shuck its stodgy image with a series of commercials intended to bring brand appeal to the younger generation: this car, they said, is not your father's Oldsmobile. If you have a morbid curiosity, hit YouTube for William Shatner Oldsmobile...it will take you right there.

2 responses »

  1. When we take on a hobby they often cost us time and money. Since we are all not the same we spend our money on different things. Many times our hobbies take on more importance as our children grow older or leave the home. That .is when we decide to collect cars, get a boat, distance bike ride or get horses. Often we have been able to raise our children with horses and maybe we were raised with horses. Requires a life style and many of us have had the chance to be able to raise and own Tenessee Walking Horses and ride trails and mountains in our areas. Lucky us! As far as doing anything to harm our horses I have never done that or know of anyone that has. It is a Federal law against anyone from doing so that President Johnson put into place since he and his family owned and rode Tennessee Walkers.

  2. I am grateful that I have never witnessed that practice, and that I have not seen the after-effects. I’m grateful that the Horse Protection Act was put into place, and that it’s made a dent in the practice. I’d like to see it end entirely. Equus had a special report on it that’s available online:

    While I’m at it, I’d like to see the PMU industry go away, or at least, be limited to a level where the number of foals produced can actually be absorbed by the market. And I’d like to see Thoroughbred racing focus more on the racing (including later-age starts) and less on the sale for breeding.

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