Despite the days reaching 29 (84 Fahrenheit) the mornings these days have a crispness to the air. Seoul was absolutely oppressive all of August, so it's a nice change that lasts until I step into my office. Having worked for Korean government in the capacity of teacher, I know that decisions can be arbitrary. Thus the building I currently work in was probably one of several designs submitted and the Person in Charge of Choosing (that's an official title), chose what they liked, not what is practical.
The front of the building is shaded by the glassy back of the building. This helps keep the large four stories high atrium hot in the summer and cold in the winter while ensure all of the offices are sweltering. Since the atrium is expensive to heat and cool, all the staff in the building are charged with energy conservation in the offices.
Thankfully woman can wear shorts to work. No, men cannot wear shorts. What kind of dress code do you think the our company has? Anyway, since we have no afternoon classes my dress attire is quite casual. Nevertheless, I threatened to come to work in a bikini yesterday. The air conditioning was turned off because its late September actual temperature notwithstanding. Also notwithstanding is fall attire. Koreans are donning long sleeve blouses, trousers and jackets. It's fall, and though global warming has raised the temperatures, that doesn't mean one shouldn't dress for fall.
From an American standpoint, I find this is amusing in the same way I find running to buy an umbrella every time it sprinkles funny. It does feel socially ... awkward... to be wearing shorts and t-shirts amid hundreds of fall attired people. Then I get to my office and all is well.
Back in my university days, I read something about the psychology of women and hobbies. For men, doing the same thing is just awesome. As in, what they loved when they were twelve, they will still love when they are in their fifties.
Woman on the other hand have a much more complex relationship with hobbies. They might take up a hobby for six months and then try a new hobby or six, eventually swinging back to an old hobby. Take crafting for instance. A man might enjoy woodworking or building scale models. Generally speaking though, men do not take up sewing, quilting, needle point, soap making, scrap booking, and all the other things. Thus while women might dream of a crafting room filled with supplies to do all the things, men dream of a room filled with all the supplies to do one thing very well.
It's funny now to think about this. When I moved to South Korea, I gave up baking, painting, drawing, horseback riding, fishing, and all the other things and reinvested the energy into to writing. I dreamed of making an income as a writer. Said desire stemmed a lot from hating my job and then, after I came to South Korea and became an ESL teacher, it seemed that I should want more out of life than to be an ESL teacher.
"Why are you still doing this?" one of my peers asked. "You're super smart... smart enough to do a lot of other things."
She was right to a great extent. Being an ESL teacher was a cakewalk for me, never mind that I thoroughly enjoyed it and still enjoy it. In fact, I never tire of teaching and getting better and learning more. The disparity of what I did and what I could do drove me back to the United States where I tried my hand at being many things, but without the joy. Thus, 11 months after landing in the States I headed back to South Korea content to do work that I loved and keep writing, no longer driven by dissatisfaction or the thirst to do something more with my life, in hobby-ville.
And yet in doing so, the desire to write rides the tide of impulse to do that is the core of every hobby. The upswing hobby impulse these days is horse riding, horse training, and gardening. Specifically weed eating. I love to cut swaths of order out of overgrowth taller than my head and then force submission by not letting the weeds and vines grow back
In the meantime, my computer sits idle, my oven does not bake cakes, my coloring book remains uncolored and my nail polish coagulates in their bottles.
But I washed Rex, the German Shepherd, last week and we got him into the truck and took him to the vet for his shots. And the chicken house got repaired and brush burned so it was a good week.
It started with the stables in Yeongju. Well, actually I was born loving horses so my problem probably started in the womb. However, this particular horse problem is related to riding in South Korea. If you're look for a place to copy and paste 승마 into your browser. You'll get the top results, but a trick I use for a lot of things is to look at pictures and follow links. You'll find more stables that way.
Anyway, I wish I could quit horses. Well not really. However, not riding in South Korea would alleviate some frustration. The things that frustrate me are below, and though it is long, its not an exhaustive list.
Riding in South Korea starts at roughly $30.00 for 30 minutes, but that is outside of Seoul. Seoul will run about $90.00 for 30 or 40is minutes. That said, because I can train and am so horse hungry am willing to pay the $30.00 to do it, I usually get to ride multiple horses for as long as I want. I didn't ask for these relationships. They kind of happened when I asked to be allowed to brush horses.
Since horses and saddled for riders and most Koreans show little interest in doing the work, the stables are happy to let me groom. That said, the first time I do, I'm watched like a hawk. As it becomes more apparent that I'm competent if eventually the over comes to play with man horses.
Expensive horses that are starving
And when they point to a horse like the one in the picture above you'll be thinking. Champion of what? But actually, the horses at said farm could range in value $10,00 to over $200,000. I've been told the horses are skinny , "So they'll be safe to ride." And also because "It's summer."
Since horses are a relatively new hobby, many very wealthy people have invested their money into stables (. And you know how to make a small fortune in the horse industry don't you? Start with a large one. ) without having ever owned one horse let alone a riding school. Overall horse riding is an emerging hobby so...
Strange Safety Devices
It really depends on what kind of riding you're used to, but I'm American and I gave up the hunter/jumper/ dressage world in favor of trail riding. I didn't give it up easily. One of my earliest dreams was to jump. But naturally nervous and someone who does not like to just "ride it out" (because I don't like getting hurt.) The first non-reactive horse I rode was a quarter horse. This breed was generally sneered at by the English riders and looked down upon for being small and overly expensive. Trail riding, was after-all, something you did with horses that had injuries. Then I landed in Tennessee to attend a beyond my means University to study Equine Science degree. In Tennessee I hit the trails, learned a lot of things I didn't know and had a lot of biases challenged and realized I wasn't the right rider for jumping horses.
South Korea has been greatly influence by the English style and unfortunately, groundwork is still largely ignored. One trainer, Warwick Schiller, is making huge inroads with dressage and jumping horse training methods. Good desensitization goes a long way to making a horse calm, though to be fair that $60,000.00 competitive jumper that is now trotting around with beginners on his back probably naturally has too much octane in his blood for the job he's now doing. Thankfully, said horse will have been completely desensitized to leg and reign aids and sensitized to everything else.
Between beginners being taught collect a horse by pulling on reins, grind their seat and squeeze nonstop with their legs, and the horses training the trainers to remove everything said horse doesn't like from its environment, said horse.
"That bucket scares you? We'll just hide it."
"You won't go without a whip but jump across the arena when you see the whip? We'll just sneak up to you with this thing behind our backs and hand it very slowly to beginning rider with instructions not to waive it around, or changes hands or do anything that scares the horse. In other words, even if you are the caliber of rider who can rider a grand prix jumper, you might still want to take out life insurance before participating in a lesson in South Korea.
PHD's in Equine Science.
This is bit of a grip on Korean culture. I've written before about how where you got your degree means more than experience. My friend ran/runs a website company. She studied programming in college and came back to Korea at the time to do really well. Having been educated from age fourteen in Australia she did what us westerners tend to do: Hired competent workers. In the end though, her most competent workers weren't allowed into meetings because of where they were educated. Experience? What's that? And she had to hire someone who was inexperienced from Seoul University because that's who her clients wanted in the meetings.
The same thing is happening in ever industry and riding stables are not immune. To start a stables you should have insanely expensive horses and a trainer with at least a masters in Equine Science though a Ph. D. is better. As anyone knows, a university degree is heavy in theory and light in practical experience.
And it's a strange system. The trainer is the top of they pyramid so the horse is saddled by someone and handed to the the trainer to train, which really is schooling. But the trainer doesn't know the difference between schooling or even half of what the horse knows.
The first time I rode Double I was honest with the stables. My friend translated for me that I'm competent but I like a quiet horse, something that was calm, not skittish and wouldn't rear or buck. Because they know that not feeding horses to keep them calm is plain old wrong, they ride their horses a lot before using them in lessons.
A few rides later, I started brushing her which in turn led to being allowed to work with her. She was a lot of horse. One of the expensive imported performance quarter horses who ended up being sold to Bonghwa after the farmer's finger was broken.
The first week I did ground work with her, I worked with her for over an hour and then only rode about 15 minutes. Over time the ground work and ride time. I do my best and leave the rest each week. And that's really hard because she talented. I mean I'm no reining trainer but she breed for it and built for it. She turns like a cat and as the ability though lacks the training to do a sliding stop.
As the weeks turned into months information about double has matriculated my way via my Korean speaking friend. Comments like, "Double doesn't usually let people rider her." and "Why isn't she throwing her head?" And my favorite. "There was that one time she flipped over on of the boys."
It's been fun actually. I've seen the guys scratching their heads after I got double to sand beside the mounting block on a loose rein. And they scratch their heads when I lunge her and she stops and turns to face me and goes when I point my finger and goes faster. And they don't quite know how, me, self confessed nervous rider, is trotting around on this horse with nothing but a rope halter.
These days when they try to switch out another horse for Double, its because they want something fix. But I don't swap double for others often. Fixing a problem is never fixing a problem. It means fixing the root of the problem. If I have time and my friend doesn't mind, I'll work a second horse because I love horses and because I know if I can work this this horse a little she or he won't be unintentionally abused. But at once a week, it's taken me 6 months to put 28ish rides on Double. She's beginning now to be the way I like a horse. Thoughtful, confident, and understands what cues mean.
Double is about six and in those few years she's been through a lot. She has nerve damage from her right ear.* I'm guessing it's a result of a rope related training faux pas. Lots of rope is used for everything from putting the saddle on to shoeing. She has a dent in her neck muscle which I'd bet was a training accident that stems from forceful training. (I've seen much worse stateside, American's don't have the excuse that the information isn't in their language.) Finally, I suspect hard foods and perhaps the bit, hurt her in a similar to the way ice cream hurts some people's teeth. Again, I'd bet that running the rope across her gums and pulling on it with all their strength to lunge her is the root.
Since, Bonghwa deals in horses.-- training them and selling them-- I'd love to buy her. Sometimes I worry that the work I'm doing means she'll be sold and then starved at her new farm. And though she's much better about her ear, she really needs a special bridle that sweeps back from the ear muscles. Stubben makes one and I'd love to get it for her, but the price is prohibitive, especially when you factor in import costs. And then I worry that if she's sold they'll use those over the pole tie downs to keep her head down.
To buy her I'd have to come up with between $6,000 and $10,000 dollars. My friend and I do plan to get a horse together and keep at her family's farm. We have to put up a fence and a shelter first and though I love Double, I think if I bought her, we'd have to find another horse for my friend. Double is a willing, responsive horse and just not right for a beginner to learn on.
But I can dream of some how being able to have Double and doing spins and sliding stops and taking leisurely trail rides.
M.R. Jordan is a writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. Lives in South Korea with her two cats, Bear and Geumbi.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Gold in English)... then (above) and now (below).