Strange last few months. So very hot. It’s always hot in Florida, unless it’s December through February. Day after day the sun beats down mercilessly; like a heat lamp in a small box..I felt like a roasted chicken still breathing and walking. I did my barn chores; I watered the gardens, but my body screamed to hide in the shade; to run to the AC cooled house, to shower, to change, to become DRY, away from the constant sweat and its clammy chill when back inside. This summer and the start of fall has been worse than any other I have lived while here so far. Global warming? I don’t know..but we are all soggy toast.
We attended one of our Dressage club’s schooling shows in September. It was – as should have been expected – ridiculously hot. The poor judge, whom I scribed for one morning till noon, was surrounded by fans in the little wooden box-hut facing the ring. She suffered greatly from the stifling sun and heat and the closeness of it all in that small space. I sat next to her and felt the solar burn as well; but being used to being outdoors often on the farm, I was happy to let all the fans and cooling units face her. I soldiered up and kept it cheerful, by trying to hide in a tiny sliver of shade in the back of the box, scribbling notes on the tests to follow her thoughts.
Dressage tests are always interesting; at least to people involved in the discipline. Every one is different; every attempt by the same team in the same level is unique. The weather, the mood in the warm-up, the emotions of the rider; the attention of the horse, all affect the immediate outcome of that particular test at that moment in time. Rail-birds watch and judge ad hoc, sharing comments and critiques – for or against – depending on their own depth of understanding of the sport, and their politics; taste, and proclivities.
The rider is always aware of the multiple factors going on around them that can affect their own confidence, focus, and reactions to their horse and the people watching both. When it is successful, it’s what we all imagine of the sport. Judges love to give good scores and nice comments. I have rarely scribed for one that was not generous, kind, and optimistic for all. But they are all from different schools of thought, experience and motivation for judging in the first place. Generational differences are present, as are ambition and politics, with each one. Scribing is a wonderful way to learn more about Dressage and riding Dressage tests; judging, scores, and competitive riding in general. You get to talk to the judges more or less, depending on the individual and the time frame and their openness to it. Sometimes you hit it off with a judge in a way that makes a lasting friendship.
Scribing also humbles you. You see that even those upper level riders you might admire or envy have to work hard to get the nice numbers; and one little mistake or lack of attention to the geometry or transitions can affect an otherwise good score allot. No one is exempt from disappointment and responsibility for what they do out there. It is a very demanding discipline for both horse and rider, and no matter what school of thought or “tribe” you belong to in the discipline, it is never easy to do well every time in Dressage.
When we came home, the equestrian pursuits rested, while we turned our attention to the TV, and the Judicial Hearings on CNN regarding Judge Brett Kavanagh and his accuser Doctor Christine Blasey Ford. Mary was back in her office juggling calls and worldwide meetings for her job; and I was transfixed on the hearings. Somehow it all became more than a political moment for me. I was mesmerized…stuck..in the thrall of the moment. I listened so carefully to Dr. Ford’s words, her reactions, her appearance. I recognized something there I had not examined since it had happened to me decades and decades ago. My own high school sexual assaults. My own close escapes from rape. My own trauma un-acknowledged consciously, all these years.
Thinking about it all I began to realize for the first time in my over fifty years – that I had NEVER told anyone about those four separate incidents in that early period of my teen-hood. Four times I fought off my assailants – either in parties or dates, struggling to maintain my virginity after being plied with alcohol and dragged into bedrooms or struggling across grass backyards with unknown boys pulling at my underwear. I kept my girlhood intact, but my reticence with boys and men lasted a lifetime, and manifested itself in different kinds of unhealthy behavior and loneliness.
I am not special. I know my story is not so different from that of many girls and women across the world. I never thought of myself as such. I simply learned to keep it to myself, stay away from danger, and remain wary. I am sure most women do. I never told a mother who was remorseful about her second daughter’s lack of social life and boyfriends, I never told my older sister whom I had followed and wanted to emulate, into those dark houses sans parents. She let me tag along, she and Mary Jane, my former horse crazy buddy in earlier youth; who had become a precocious dater, now more attached to my similarly interested older sister, than to backwards immature me. They led me to the slaughter, unbeknownst to them – or perhaps they were just too busy dealing with their own struggles in those unknown rooms with alcoholic induced excitement. We never reconnoitered afterwards…it was always a singular experience, kept silent to oneself.
I never felt safe as a young girl. My father left parenting almost completely to my mother who married young, from a country home, and was pretty naive herself as a young wife. We – my sister and I – were pretty much on our own. Heart to hearts with your teenager were not done in our day; at least not in our home. Our attire and our make up and whether we did the dishes or not was my mother’s primary focus in regards to us. She wanted us to have a “normal” high school social life similar to what she apparently had experienced back in her small town in Vermont during the war. But things had changed so much by the time we were teens, and were changing rapidly each year. My mother thought of dating as a nice little early evening outing with a respectable boy well dressed, paying for a soda at the local fountain and chatting with hopes of a hand to hold; or a movie in a theater with a well-behaved beau respectfully sharing popcorn. In our experience, it was an alcohol laden scramble to keep from being raped, and afterward, to hide from the inevitable “boy brag-talk” in the cafeteria and halls of the high school about one’s indiscretion. I don’t know how my older sister managed..we never compared notes. But she was considered a town beauty – with the self-confident haughtiness a girl earned from years of family favor. She was always told she was beautiful, and even in her girlhood, she was allowed to wear her tresses in long ringlets, laboriously styled by my mother. She was photographed in elaborate hand-made dresses with frills and satin bows, from earliest childhood. She was a real life “Shirley Temple” to my mother, a doll to dress up and admire. As she grew up, she never let anyone abuse her as far as I know. She believed she was “all that” and demanded a great deal of respect and appreciation from any boy who dared to desire her. She has never really changed.
I was the pathetic younger sister – The “Tom Boy”. I was bone skinny – built like an adolescent male well into my late teens. Like my sister, I scoured the pages of “Seventeen”, “Glamour”, and “Vogue”- the popular fashion periodicals my mother subscribed to for us to learn from. I loved fashion, and I loved the beautiful romantic images on those pages of clothes and make-up, and especially the perfume or jewelry advertisements. They always showed dreamy black and white images of pretty girls I thought I might emulate; with their boyfriends, embracing or laughing along a beach walk, a rainy city street, or a country lane – with all the hopes and dreams we girls of that time latched onto. I cut them out and pasted them into my scrapbooks, I pinned them to my cork board, and drew them in my sketchbooks. I wanted that to be so for me..I longed for it. But in real life, I was not confident with boys..I had a tooth defect in my front tooth – a mark from a fall as a child from a high chair that affected my then growing permanent tooth. I didn’t smile in high school or any school. I grinned on occasion, careful to keep my lips closed. But flirtatious laughter, and flashing white smiles were not my reality. I had to be mindful of the mistake in my face..I had to be careful. My older sister was perfect. Gorgeous in fact. She resembled the all American girl image of the time. Dark golden blonde hair and a perfect Hollywood worthy smile; greenish hazel eyes and a pretty figure. She was the dream girl of all the boys in our county. But few ever asked her out. She was unapproachable, a “good girl”, a “lady”, still very much a title of benefit in those days, the early 1960s. She was friendly and sure of herself, but never “needy” never “wanting” or lonely. She valued herself highly and only deigned to spend time with those who behaved likewise. Somehow her natural grace and self-confidence was felt by everyone, and though she was selective, she always had a nice young man to accompany her when she wanted one. Most of the time she had one steady beau; though she wasn’t naive about her charms, and was aware of other young men in the wings, around her most of the time. I couldn’t even begin to emulate her, though for that short time in my early years in high school I tried to follow her some. It didn’t take long for me to realize her social life was out of my league. I was not perfect, I was not self confident, and I was not convinced by my own upbringing as she had been..that I was desirable.
Finally a cooler day after months and months of unrelenting heat, bugs, and discomfort. The sky is overcast. I love the grayness of it, it brings me back to New England and upstate New York, my home country. Who would have thought? Back then and there, we yearned for sweat producing summer days, in those few short months of green trees and lush grass. Here we sacrifice the glory of summer days where one can leap into any cooling stream or pond without worry we might be eaten alive or bitten, stung, and otherwise destroyed by some tropical critter. There is a deep azure colored pond right next to our property here, through a few trees, and right where some kids have built a swing to splash into the water, where we might go. But it has never happened. It is too scary. There are gators in most of the water here, and water moccasins, and other dangerous life. Locals swim in it sometimes..and they seem to escape unscathed..but the sounds of baby alligators echo from there in spring, and we even had a few wander into our pasture pond for a bit this summer.
Horse Clubs. GMOs we call them in Dressage. Group Member Organizations! Clubs that bring Dressage riding lovers together in an area, to help organize schooling shows, clinics and other activities relevant to the goings on in the greater United States Dressage Association. My own local GMO is called FCCDS – ie; First Coast Classical Dressage Society. It’s not really a Classical Dressage organization. It’s really a local competitive Dressage group..with schooling show series that accrue points, and then Championship awards at the end of each year. This GMO also accrues points, for members who show in Recognized shows, who proclaim those show points towards a GMO award series. The “Classical” part is more lip service than real..being that showing and show judges are not necessarily Classically motivated. There is some effort to educate about past Classical Masters; and emphasize humane and time-tested training. But it’s really about the little shows; or the big shows – and the fancy ribbons and the awards.
The fun of this kind of organization is participation with a group of like-minded people in a discipline or sport ..however you see it – on a regular basis, where love of horses and riding is paramount. It is a wonderful thing when it’s not fraught with the dangers of VOLUNTEERING! Volunteering is usually mandatory, (oxymoron I know), in all these clubs. It’s required to keep the thing functioning during shows, clinics or events that need manpower of any kind. If you volunteer the mandated no. of hours..in our case eight; it can be simple and uncomplicated. If you do more than that, it can become a mission; a devotion to the cause; with all the fraught relationships and disappointments that includes.
So…last month I took on a monumental project. I volunteered to take over our GMO – Club Newsletter. Not so hard I thought. I have done this before back when I was in my thirties in Vermont. I love to write and am an artist, so the design and aesthetic part of it should be enjoyable. The President of our club was suffering a family death and all the attendant demands that brings, so she was more than happy to have me take over one of the more time-consuming parts of her duties. I asked to use her template. She said it was “too complicated” …do your own. So I happily engaged my usual Google-Docs software and clicked on a simple Newsletter template and went ahead. Immediately I found enjoyment here. The use of images from my library of museum quality art involving horses, became an asset. The articles on past Dressage masters and living ones thrilled me with the research involved, and the fun of selecting pictures for the articles from the archives increased my knowledge and exposure.
I did have some issues with negotiating the software..I am no techno whiz. But I kept my design super simple so it wouldn’t overwhelm me this first time, and edited again and again – and again and again….before sending it to the lady that seemed to be standing in for the President of the club on this issue. She hated it. She tore it apart, but gleefully volunteered to edit it for me. She got into the program via computer sharing and it changed before my very eyes into something not at all like I had imagined. I went with the changes..or most of them. I wanted to be co-operative and a team player. But I balked at some of them and argued and “discussed”. She was pretty self convinced. Many edits came and went out by email. Finally I was exhausted and discouraged and frankly insulted. I felt my art training and experience in aesthetic matters trumped hers and wondered why she wouldn’t let me have at least a little creative leash. It went on for a week or more. Finally I met with her at the horse show thinking we had somehow worked it out for the most part. Then one night when she’d had a few glasses of wine too many, she told me her work and Lisa’s..the aforementioned President – was like a Five Star Restaurant, compared to mine, that was “Burgher King”. I swallowed the insult in good faith at the moment, and asked “what about the articles”? I was thinking OK..maybe she can do the design part and I’ll just submit articles.. “Burgher King” she said, and quickly added “and Lisa thinks so too”. “We will work together on this” she said jovially.. thinking all was good between us there and I would be fine working with her as my leader, given my effort that was so inferior..”Burgher King.”
I got home very late that night from the horse show and dashed off an email to Lisa; the President of the Club..still up in Pennsylvania attending a Memorial for her Mother. We were all friends I typed in my own alcoholic haze…no problem..love you both..just can’t do this Newsletter with Heather on my tail calling it “Burgher King” etc. NO RESPONSE…
Over a week later here I am after a number of attempts to get an opinion from Lisa the President of our Club whom I thought was a friend of mine. Finally I am getting that there will be no real response to my appeal for a verdict on my Newsletter. Even my housemate Mary, a more formidable person than myself, and on the Board of this horse club..tried to get an appropriate response with a phone call to this same President. She got a simple short response:”am coming home from PA will do catch up.”
Several days later..still nothing. I sent another email appealing to her for a decision. Nothing. I think she doesn’t like it.