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Sunday, September 14, 2008

[Zed] Natural Horsemanship part 2: In which we meet the recreational horse-riding community and discover that we most definitely do not fit in. . .

See Part one ...

So we drive out to Jennye's estate, which boasts an impressive array of stables, barns, and, yes, there's a house in there too. After a bit of searching, we find her behind the barn in the nearby "showing area" with a small clump of admirers.

With a few exceptions, these are exactly the sort of ladies one might expect to spend a great deal of time fretting over their relationships with their horses – perfect candidates for Natural Horsemanship. Averaging about 48 years old, I'd say, they chat anxiously with Jennye about their horses and their various neuroses.

She begins the affair by going into the barn and turning on some music. I myself have been subjected to some pretty bad synthetic music (including a horrible plinky electric version of Pachelbel's Canon set on repeat, for an hour, as I lay immobilized and full of needles on an acupuncturist's bench), but this is something else.

As we struggle to pay attention to her lecture (which begins with a 20 minute history of her riding career and the sheer wonder of an amazing technique called Natural Horsemanship which has changed her life) I can't help but marvel at the aural atrocity playing in the background. It opens with a recording of thunder and some hoof-beats . . . and then gets worse. It sounds like the dramatic and suspenseful music that would accompany the marching of an evil horde in a trailer for a fantasy movie, except it lacks percussion and the ghostly choir has been replaced with that tinny sound you get when you set your Casio electric keyboard to the "choir" setting.

Throughout Jennye's introduction, horse-ladies arrive in small clumps, some of them with husbands in tow. The husbands don't look particularly uncomfortable or even bored, but I hardly hear a word out of any of them. Perhaps, I muse, they have been dragged to more than a few of this sort of event, and are resigned to accepting all the eccentric extremes of their wives' hobby.

One of the wives, I notice with amusement, gets a bit of mud on her leather boot and spends a minute hopping on one foot, trying to wipe the mud off on the grass. Who comes to a horse-riding event wearing boots that she can't stand to see dirty?

Anyway, the talk continues for another 20 minutes. We are made aware of Jennye's 25 years in Dressage and her revolutionary discovery of Natural Horsemanship. A Natural Horseman must understand her equine's motives and fears. She must trust the horse and be trusted by the horse. While describing the wonderful nobility of the species she mentions the fact that the "herd mare" remains in charge for years and years, but stallions come and go. Speaking out for the first time, her husband shouts (from inside the shed, where he's busy finding something for his wife) that he's been around for 25 years, but no one really pays him any attention.

Unfazed, Jennye continues to tell us that horses have been companions and assistants to the human race since time immemorial, asking nothing in exchange but our love and respect. In fact, she boasts, without these majestic animals, humanity might not have survived. The crowd nods earnestly, and we realize that we have come to the type of event where Cynics like ourselves feel utterly unwelcome. Feeling very out of place among a group that could take this talk seriously, we sit well away from the sycophantic crowd and exchange knowing glances and the occasional snicker.

If she understands and loves and respects her horses as she says she does, then why did she buy 640 bales of hay for them without finding out if they would even eat it?

Eventually, we see what Jennye is doing here. The gathering isn't a friendly demonstration – it's a sales pitch. She continuously mentions the kind of Natural Horsemanship wizardry we'll be able to pull off with our horses (if only we'd enroll in her course of personal lessons), but will not explain a single detail of how to begin with Natural Horsemanship.

Melinama, meanwhile, is fuming. Her distaste for sales-pitches, advertising and all forms of solicitation is legendary, but she's been trying to hold off an outburst: irritating as it may be, Jennye is our supplier for Jethro's favorite hay, and we con't afford to burn bridges. Melinama's ire has been held in check thus far, but when Jennye's talk moves from Natural Horsemanship (our real reason for showing up) to her loving relationship with the horses in her barn, Melinama loses control.

Braving the disapproving stares of the horse-devotees, she raises her hand and says that she had thought we were going to learn how to do some of this Natural Horsemanship training, and if one was to begin with an equine, what would be the first step in a Natural training routine? Jennye is taken aback, and replies after a moment in that reproachful-yet-grudgingly-patient tone that would be familiar to anyone who's seen a bad teacher trying to show a child how to write a word: "Your first step would be to take one of my lessons."

Melinama quietly groans and asks me "how are we going to get out of this place?"

Jennye then prepares to bring out her horses for an exhibition of their marvelous talents: "Honey, bring me my orange whip!" Her husband complies, and she brings out the first horse. After explaining the life story of her darling Buttercake, a brown Hanoverian something-or-other, she stands beside him and shouts, "Honey, turn on the song. . . . No, you're doing it wrong, track 8!"

Track 8 is an appalling rendition of "I can't live without you," and to her credit Jennye mentions that she loves Buttercake very very much but she could probably live without him. The manic gleam in her heavily-made-up eye gives me cause to doubt her disclaimer.

We are then treated to a display of something that, in the world of the horse-cognoscenti would be called a display of virtuoso horsemanship. To me it is the sight of a lady and a horse erratically prancing around a pen in funny patterns. I admit a certain lack of class or consideration when it comes to this sport, but I must admit I was impressed when she got Buttercake to walk sideways. Our equine would never do that.

Jennye repeats this routine with another horse, this time a black, failed thoroughbred rescued from a German glue factory by a timely intervention on her part. Once she's done, she announces that we will all move to the "arena" to watch her do Dressage, which as far as I can tell is the same prancing routine, but with the human on the horse, rather than next to it. I see an opportunity. Hoping to beat the crowd (and avoid the angry glares of the horse-ladies) we hurry back to the car as the others slowly stand up and tell each other how marvelous the showing has been thus far.

We finally reach the car, but WE'VE BEEN PARKED IN! And worse, we're directly in the path of the ladies walking from the barn to the arena! We only have a few feet to work with in front of and behind the van. Melinama, at the wheel, tries to work her way out from between the cars, bit by bit. We're trapped, and the crowd gets closer and closer! Now they can see the whites of our eyes! Will we make it? Just as the van is almost free, the front-runner taps on our window like the serial killer in Scream. Horrified, Melinama opens the window. Instantly, we can tell that this lady isn't here to help us pull out.

She wants us to give Jennye another chance. She tells us proudly that she has eight horses, and her work with Natural Horsemanship has greatly improved her relationship with them. She continues to speak, but we're too caught up in the terror and embarrassment of getting caught while sneaking out to pay her much attention. Melinama does a very bad job of hiding her irritation behind some short, angry nods, and the lady gets the hint. She gives one last plaintive try at winning us over—"just so you know, Jennye didn't send me"—and walks off, disgusted.

Finally, she's done, but before we can get out of the Labyrinth of Jennye, another lady shows up. She doesn't even try to convert us or even speak to us, and moves one of the cars that blocked our exit. We're free, but now we have to turn around. And do it without hitting anybody. Melinama makes several attempts at this feat, but by now the main mass of horse-ladies is upon us. In desperation, she gives up and backs down the long, winding driveway. We are free.

We go home and give our equine a banana peel.

Note: While looking up some facts on Natural Horsemanship, I discovered that Natural Horsemen have a bit of a reputation in the horse-riding community for their aggressive salesmanship. I found the following on a website of horse-related jokes:

Question: How many Natural Horsemen does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Answer: You must instill respect in the light bulb, so that it sees you as the Alpha light bulb, using "light bulb dynamics" (video available at $99.00 on my Website).

Once you have done this, you will find that there is really no need to change the light bulb at all, but that the light bulb will, with very little coaxing from you (using patented "light bulb coaxer" designed by me - $99.00 each, for extra $49.99 you get video thrown in) will behave as all good light bulbs should."

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At 10:17 PM, Blogger Hannah said...

LOL, Zed. Sounds like you guys were had!

At 6:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! Do you think she's a Republican?

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Unknown said...


I wouldn't doubt it. . .

Dressage Queens are the new soccer moms--we can expect to see McCain pander to them with horse refunds for the wealthiest 5%.


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