Monday, October 28, 2013

Rules are made to be bent and reinterpreted and maybe even tossed entirely

There’s Something You Need to Know About The Rules | Mr. Money Mustache

The linked blog post by Mr. Money Moustache is a lovely treatise on elementary school, honesty, and what rules really are about, so I hope you'll take the time to read it.  I especially hope you'll view the chart about midway through that differentiates good from evil and chaotic good from chaotic evil.  Priceless!  It has nothing to do with horses, but a great deal to do with social psychology, which is why we're here.

If there's one thing the horse world has plenty of it's rules.  There are rules for trainers, rules for buyers and sellers, rules for management of horses, rules for comportment at horse-related events (many of said rules involving sherry), and above all rules of fashion.  We are adrift in a manure-spotted sea of self-imposed rules.  It's a wonder any of us ever gets past the first ride, let alone all the way to successful horsemanship, without becoming homicidal.  I've seen riders come to blows over the color of a pair of gloves, so this actually isn't too fantastical to imagine.  And oh, the horror when someone showed up with biothane tack!

Why rules exist is two-fold.  First, we need some rules to keep people from being stupid.  Stupid is our natural state, and it behooves us to have a few sane souls preventing us from doing things that would kill or injure us or our friends and horses.  The second fold involves the desire to belong and at the same time to feel special.  Fraternity handshakes, poodle skirts, piercings, Jimmy Choo strappy sandals...all of these are gang signs that allow us to feel less alone and at the same time to parlay the group's cachet into something that belongs to us as individuals.  Some rules, then, are okay.  Some not so much.

Regular readers of my blog and books know already that I'm not a huge fan of nonsensical rules.  There are plenty of sensical ones, like rules about one having to actually feed and water one's horses and the like.  But we humans simply adore making more and more rules and trying to force other people to adhere to them with often hilarious results.

Dakota knows the rule about not leaving his stall without permission
even when his lax owner forgot and left the door open for two hours.
Some rules need to be left alone. 

The barn owner for whom I worked who withheld permission for one of my students to attend a show with us because the reflection of the ingloriousness of her riding ability would be blinding to all comers made me laugh at the ridiculousness of it all and cry for the poor woman who would have been left behind.  She wasn't because I took her along myself.  There's nothing about a local club show that screams excellence, believe me.  I was a bit more taken aback by a show mom who was delighted that someone had, without permission, removed the braids from the mane of another child's horse at a rated show because they hadn't been done professionally (the girl did it herself, for which I gave her many props) and reflected badly on her barn mates (the woman's daughter, of course, being one).  My rant burned her ears and we stopped being friends.

Rules, rules, rules!

Most recently  there was a continuing push by former Olympian Jim Wofford.  Wofford writes columns and articles for such publications as Chronicle of the Horse and Practical Horseman.  It was in the latter that I found a wonderful follow-up to his firmly stated belief that equestrian sports are dying a slow, painful death in part because 1) no one understands them, including many equestrians, and 2) they compete for corporate sponsors with sports everyone understands, like football and NASCAR.  His biggest drive is to change the style of clothing worn by high-level competitors (which, one might hope, would trickle down to the rest of us) to make the sport more exciting and appealing to crowds of fans who lie just off-screen waiting for us to do something to make them watch.

He, naturally, was beset by the know-it-alls, one of whom, at 13, seems to be a budding picky-ass horse person who believes that top hats and shadbellies and man-tailored jackets on women are all god-given and must not be messed with.  In response, Wofford made the perfect comment.  He asked which of the traditions we should choose.  To wit:

   If we are sticklers for tradition, we might find ourselves riding a dressage test attired as Federico Grisone, the Italian dressage expert of the period, was in the mid-1550s--a huge hat with an ostrich plume, long velvet coat, ruffled shirt, jodhpurs and enormous roweled spurs.  A more recent tradition, between 1912 and 1952, restricted Olympic riding discipline to men in military uniform.  Given that our modern sport is roughly 88 percent female, I doubt I would find many supporters of that now-outmoded tradition.  My point is that our sport has evolved.  If we do not continue to evolve, we risk becoming extinct.  (Jim Wofford, Practical Horseman Nov 2013, p8)

Let me add to Mr. Wofford's rant that body clipping, braiding, and most of all the terrible requirement that the insides of the horse's ears be sheared for English flat and jumping classes and Western pleasure and halter classes are some of the most bizarre requirements ever conceived.  We could do away with all of that and the spangles on Western Pleasure riders and their mounts and have a much happier population of horses and riders alike.  If we're relying on trappings to show our respect for our sport, then we're in bigger trouble than I thought.  It irritates the crud out of me to hear someone say that less white pad showing around a saddle flap would earn additional points from a judge.  Is that really what it's come down to?  Doesn't anyone care whether or not the horse is healthy and we can ride the event better than someone else?

It's obvious that Mr. Wofford is a man to love and one who has the best interests of the sport in his heart.  At least he has the interests of top competitors there.  But really, that's where it all begins.  Much as we plebes might rail against competition (yes, I have) as the be-all and end-all, if competition in the form of everything from local shows to the Olympics to racing and on did not exist, there would be little use for horses in this current era, would there?  Why would anyone keep a pet large enough to beat up an SUV and eat one's paycheck whole for breakfast were it not for the prospect of doing something more exciting down the road?

My daughter, Jessica, looking spiffy in her dressage test....

...but does she look any less awesome in full cross-country-leg eventing regalia?
Why do only eventers and barrel racers and trail riders get to have fun?
Sure, we all love horses.  They're lovely and lovable, and many of us are happy just seeing them romping in our pastures.  But we basic horse owners are not the ones keeping the breeders, trainers, dealers, and manufacturers of horse stuff alive.  So in my opinion, making equestrian sports of all kinds both safer (the helmet thing, and total body armor as needed) and more appealing to more people would benefit us all.

Jim Wofford is a voice in the wilderness.  I'd like to add my very small one in a supportive squeak.  Rules sometimes have to be broken to make the whole machine functional again.

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