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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Standing Up for Low-Falutin' Dressage!

My riding instructor here in northern Michigan and I were groaning together yesterday about the coming politicization of dressage because of Ann Romney's ownership interest in the horse Rafalca, ridden by Mrs. Romney's instructor, Jan Ebeling.  If you haven't caught the news, horse and rider have qualified for the U.S. Olympic team.  I said, "If people think all dressage is high-falutin', they ought to come ride with us here."

IMG_0139"Here" is Torch Valley Farm in Ellsworth, Michigan.  If you do the Michigan thing of holding your right hand open so that your palm faces you, Ellsworth is near the tip of IMG_2702 your ring finger, on the outside, and about halfway down toward the inside line of the last knuckle.  Torch Valley is a "horse boarding and lesson facility" (I would have said "equestrian center," but I'm tryin' here to keep it low falutin'), run by sisters Cathy Russell and Nadine DeYoung, two of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met.  Cathy, whose "passion is horses, taking care of horses, and teaching people how to enjoy horses," focuses mostly on running the place, schooling horses, teaching all styles of riding, and coaching barrel racing, which is the women's version of rodeo (which is big up in these parts).  Nadine (pictured, left), my instructor in the summers, is a dressage rider, coach, and a certified equine therapist who works with mental health professionals and their clients, using the relationship between patient and horse as experiential learning therapy - how to groom, lead, tack, etc. (everything but riding).  There are no full-time grooms or stable hands, just Cathy, Nadine, and a couple college and high school girls.

Owning a horse (I don't) isn't cheap (though it varies substantially, depending how close you are to a major city), but you don't have to own a horse to ride any more than you have to belong to a chi-chi country club to play golf.  You can be a spoiled brat (there are plenty of those!), or you can be a horse person who knows how to groom a horse, clean tack, fit a saddle, pick out hooves, tell when there's thrush, muck out a stall, or load hay into the barn.  I started doing this three years ago on an impulse I can't quite explain, and have learned tons about myself and about learning itself from the experience.  You certainly don't need to subscribe to Town & Country magazine, winter in Palm Beach, or mingle with people who speak without moving their lips.

However, here's the question Nadine and I were wondering about yesterday morning.  Just because of its association with hoity-toity English aristocrats riding to the hounds wearing top hats and red blazers, equestrian sports are sort of the anti-curling (in which just about everybody looks they are ready for a couple brewskis after the match).  But if we actually totalled up all of the costs - including all of the infrastructure - of getting Olympic caliber athletes to the Olympics in say, swimming, track and field, cycling, gymnastics, skiing, skating, etc., what would the difference really be per athlete versus dressage?  I bet not materially different.

ADDENDUM:  The New York Times article actually managed to understate something about Olympic-level dressage.  It referred to "$1,000 saddles."  Sorry, but a saddle for an Olympic level rider is going to be several times that much.  

ADDENDUM #2:   Ronald Reagan was an English-style rider until he got involved in politics.  I have seen footage of him riding in his jodhpurs and high boots.  When he decided to run for office, his advisors told him that was too high-falutin' and wussy, so all of our images of Ronald Reagan are in a western saddle with a cowboy hat.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on June 19, 2012 at 06:43 AM | Permalink


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