Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dressage Boots

Usually when I get the opportunity to do something really exciting and special, there’s some kind of back story.  That back story comes up over and over again when we reminisce about our horse experience, i.e., the clinic where I misread the directions and went to the organizer’s house in a downtown Washington DC subdivision instead of the barn, the show where I was 4 hours from home with 2 horses to show and no girths in my trailer, the dead bird story, well, you get the idea. 

These stories also make great fodder for the blogs. 

As I was thinking about this weekend and organizing the amazing lessons I enjoyed with Debbie McDonald, I thought I would tell the story of my boot saga, complete with me somehow agreeing to be part of a fashion show.

Us crazy dressage riders, in addition to putting ourselves up against the impossible standard of “the perfect 10,” with the equally impossible standard of trying to not stain really expensive white pants in a very dirty barn, insist that our very tall boots are much stiffer than the boots of our other equestrian friends. Much, much stiffer. Like you can bang on them with your knuckles and they sound wooden stiff.

The boots are all leather, and like all good leather shoes, there is a break-in period. The boots are fitted so that when they are new the leather hits the middle of the knee cap, so that when the ankle area softens (the only part of the boots that will soften, by the way) and the boots “fall,” they are still tall enough to come to the back of your knee. Needless to say, until the ankle softens, walking around, mounting, and riding is painful, often bloody torture. But once broken in, they mold to the legs like chocolate on caramel.

So, obviously, we dressage riders will go to great lengths to avoid breaking in new boots. We will repair, resole, replace zippers, anything to delay the break-in period. I bought my show boots 10 years ago, when Silly was 5, after Dressage at Devon.  I was SO STUPID EXITED to get to ride at Dressage at Devon.  After 4 years as a poor, hard-working working student, I was finally getting to ride at A BIG SHOW. 

We arrived the night before, and my old boots didn’t have zippers. I put them on to ride, and because it was evening, my legs swelled. I couldn’t get them off.  On the advice of Silly’s breeder, I laid on my back in the barn aisle with my legs in the air to try to get my swollen legs to un-swell enough to remove my boots.  Yea, this is big time horse showing at its best.

My next pair of tall boots had zippers.  I didn’t want to go to the expense of full-custom, so my semi-custom options were really tall or just at the knee cap.  I went with the knee cap size. Once they had broken in, they were a tiny bit on the short side, but not floodwater geeky-kid short, and they were broke in, so in mind they were perfect. 

As they aged, the ankles got a bit softer.  I replaced the soles.  Then I replaced the zippers. Then I did the the soles again. Then the zippers.  A few years ago I lost a bit of weight, and I needed to have them taken in.  My boots came back, well, not my boots. The widest part of the boot wasn’t really lined up with the widest part of my leg.  But they were still better than breaking boots in, so I wore them. 

The advantage of boots with zippers is they are much easier to get on and off, but the zippers need regular repair. Sometimes it’s the zipper that gives out, sometimes it’s the stitching around the zipper, which lies against the saddle, and therefore is subject to a lot of friction.  Plus leather is weakened by the stitching holes.  So after much riding and zipper replacement, the time comes when the leather is just too weakened, and the boots just need to be retired. Since my faithful boots also had developed holes in each ankles (I was dumping sand out of them daily), it was time. 

So it was time to start the whole cycle over again.  Again I had the choice of a little too tall or just at the knee, and this time I went with too tall.  But of course that size was on backorder. No biggie, show season had just ended, I could easily come up with 4 or 5 weeks between October and April to break them in.   

Then Secret and I got selected for the December Debbie McDonald clinic at Hassler Dressage.  And I had boots with big holes in the ankles and zippers that were failing. 

I called the store, and they promised to have them drop-shipped as soon as they could, but no promises as to exactly when I would have them. 

As I couldn’t very well ride for Debbie McDonald in my sneakers, I took my boots to my cobbler yet again. He said he would patch the holes and replace the zipper, but he wasn’t sure the stitching would hold. 

I picked them up and sure enough, on ride 2, the leather gave out.  Of course it did.

But good news -- that day the tack store called. My  boots were in. They arrived Thanksgiving week, giving me a whole whopping 2 weeks to get them broke in enough to ride effectively in front of 100 auditors. 

Did I mention that I ordered the extra tall boots?

I added heel lifts, and walked like the Tin Man to the mounting block until my thin chestnut-mare skin needed a few days off. Linda reminded me of the “sponge trick,” putting small, round tack sponges at the back of my knees to soften the stiff top edge of the boot. 

This helped a lot, but I really didn’t want to ride around with yellow discs at the back of my knees in front of auditors, then Maddy came up with the idea of using the black foam poll-protectors.  Perfect! I was still mounting with something far less than grace, but by the Friday before the clinic, I could bend my knee enough to move my leg back without grimacing. 

My Tin Man days were over. Or so I thought.

As part of this clinic, Hasslers was having a Christmas Shopping Extravaganza on Saturday night. Susanne Hassler asked for volunteers to help. I, of course, offered my services, hoping she needed someone to refill wine glasses. But no, she needed people to model clothing for one of the venders.  Me, who lives in fear being called by “What Not to Wear,” modeling clothing? All of us at the barn were quite entertained by the idea.  But the shop owner agreed to let me wear that brown tail coat I have been drooling over for 2 years, so ok, fine, I’d do it.

Then she hands me the boots to go with it. They looked great with the coat – they were tall, chocolate brown, a bit of bling on the top, and just looked expensive.  And they are really, really, really tall. Like over the top of my knee tall. 

And I am supposed to walk down stairs in them. 

Um, well, ok, I guess.

Just to make matters all the more comical, the DJ starts playing “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” just as I begin my lurching, rail-clutching descent.  It was all too much, I burst out laughing. 

I did my loopdy-doop around the audience, and then I was supposed to walk back UP the stairs.

Remember, I couldn’t bend my knees in these boots.

So I elegantly, in the most awesome runway-models strut, I crab-hopped sideways up the steps, hanging onto the banister for dear life.  

I don’t think the runway holds much of a career for me. 

The rides? Yep, they were awesome. I’ll give you the low-down as soon as I get caught up  enough watch the DVDs -- we ended up spending another night at Riveredge, since the snow came early causing traffic mayhem (my students who came to watch made the 90-minute trip home in a record 5 ½ hours). 

More later.