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Archive for March, 2010

Ford's 1939 rendition of Stagecoach is a classic

We just got hit with a cold rainy weekend. I gravitate towards the fire and a good “sunny” movie on such occasions. Last night it was John Ford’s 1939 rendition of Stagecoach with John Wayne. An old black and white video,  but the content is wonderful and just scratches an itch for a good action movie with lots of horses and the white hats winning.

I’ve seen a lot of horse films and have to say, reviewing Stagecoach really focused my attention on the quality of horse wrangling and camera angles. I’m not a film expert, but I believe this was one of the first big talking pictures. John Ford had a knack for camera angles, or he had the market on a camera man who did. Slowly raising an askew hat to reveal a lascivious eye says more in 15 seconds then 10 minutes of speech. No wonder this film put John Wayne into the Hollywood A list.

Stagecoach was also one of the first films to step out of the Hollywood studio and film the action on location. Anyone holding a video camera taping a lesson will be appreciative of the steady action in most of the chase scenes and the innovative angles of horses coming over the camera. Where was that camera placed?

Normally my eye picks up a lame horse in a nano second, it just cuts out everything else happening in the film, but I didn’t get stuck on any lame steeds in this one. They may have been there, but angled so as not to distract. All the beasts looked shinny and well cared for and very well-trained.

And the riding- please Lord, let me have a seat like the Calvary officer before I die. Stuck, stuck I say, to the saddle. I will no doubt slow motion that scene for the next three weeks looking at body angles, hip closures and mark up my TV screen with lines of planes running through all those angles.

If you get a copy, check out the Indian on a pinto, galloping full tilt and loading a gun, no reins in sight. His upper body looks as stable as if he were standing on the ground. Ecstasy for an equestrian. Made me sit up and take notice.

Then there was the 6-in-hand (I don’t know driving terminology) pulling the stagecoach at break neck speed for quite-a-ways.

six horses pulling away

How about swimming them across a river. The scene breaks off before the stagecoach comes out of the water and I highly suspect it was actually a raft they were pulling. The marvels of editing and the human’s mind willing to believe any suggestion.

Films now-a-days show precious few moments of horse action and often the camera zooms in on the rider’s face. Stagecoach reveled in a long chase sequence and kept the camera close enough to see what the riders were doing, but framed the entire horse-rider unit in most of the shots. There were horses in the background for the majority of the outdoor scenes.

Most of the stunt riders were out of the rodeo and someday I’ll blog a bit more about them. But today I just want to enjoy the sweetness of great riders racing across wide open country, all caught on film for me to enjoy. Outta my way folks, I’ve got a stagecoach to catch.

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The Way We Were

Can you imagine what hoof prints will do here

The geldings’ winter break is over and now I have to fight the wet ground conditions. Don’t have an indoor and the boys hate the small outdoor ring so if the trails are too wet to ride upon well, it’ll be a long spring.

I can not help but wonder about riding in times when that was the main form of transportation. Horses were generally shorter and stockier back when our country was forming and even on through the early decades of the 20th century. Were their feet, in general, wider? A wider foot doesn’t sink as far into the ground. How did people deal with well used paths and erosion?

The differences go further. Since the Garden State has become so urbanized I see a lot of changes occurring in the reaction of our horses. With 3 major airports within an hour’s drive and numerous small airports in the vicinity there is always the sound of a motor in the air. The dirt road the barn lives on has become much busier and noisier in the past 15 years. UPS, FedEX, and USPS trucks all have outrageously noisy engines. The grain man bought a new huge, noisy truck, more kids up the road-equal more school busses. New hay tractor with a Harley Davidson rumble. And all these vehicles are large boxes: walls that move past the horses and box them in.

Put a loud engine on this- how would you feel when it passed

Oh, let’s not forget the landscapers, I am the only one I know of that still cuts her own grass. Everyone else has a lawn service with a tanker truck for spraying, a tag-a-long for mowers and blowers and often another truck for crew. And the audio pollution from those mowers even hurts MY deaf ears.

The guys have become increasingly uncomfortable on their home road with all these new, noisy boxes. I am a lot more uncomfortable in bi-ped mode myself on these roads. It is more than just the amount of traffic, it is the size and sound of the vehicles as well.

I am finding more friends my age turning to hacking. Economics and age make us turn to the cheaper sport of trail riding. It should be a bit safer too, but all to often we are using the competition horse as the trail horse. It is what we have in the barn and we have a love and rapport for the animal. It might not be the best animal for negotiating the sights and sounds on today’s trails.

Again I think back to the style of horses used in our country when hauling, hoeing or hunting were the main uses of these animals. Slow and steady surely would have been valuable characteristics. Can you imagine posting 5 miles to town on the movement of an FEI horse? Suspension has its place, but it isn’t on a ride to school everyday.

How about John Adams riding all the way to Philadelphia through the winter snows on a reining champion? I don’t think he wanted any short stops and starts.

Today’s “grade” horse that most people walk past may have been the more valuable horse back in the day, and that day may dawn again. But there are limits to what any animal can comfortably cope with in its environment. This spring if your horse seems a bit more “up” then normal, take a look at the changes in the sights sounds and smells in the surrounding area over the past year or two. The poor beast may have hit his set-point. If we are to be good stewards for all our animals we need to be thinking about the total changes in everything in their environments not just the feed and hay.

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A right foot trying to compensate for the weight sitting on my heels

I’m unbalanced. Now I know my friends are laughing in their sleeves, but I’m not talking about my mind, I’m talking about my body. No, I’m not bent over – yet; but, I put all my weight on my heels with the end result that my feet fly out from under me at the drop of a hat. My body developed a nice compensation. Without consulting me, my right foot started to turn out to help stabilize me.  Well, it’s not really the foot; it’s the foot, ankle, calf, knee and hip.

Because my imbalance affects me in my everyday life I’m a bit more aware than most of how this imbalance also affects my horse. How is he supposed to slug through the mud and keep both of us safe when I’m flapping back and forth? When I did dressage I was always appreciative that my mare would perform so well with a Weeble wobbling in the saddle. And that twist of the foot and hip sure doesn’t load both sides of the saddle evenly. Ouch, poor horsey’s back.

We whip out the checkbook to pay a trainer, clinician and vet to find out why our horse isn’t performing at its peak or why it has suddenly become unsound. But how many of us ask- “is it me?”  How can we ask our horses to go exert themselves to the max when they are also trying to compensate for us? And compensate they do. Sometimes they work so hard in our behalf that they make themselves lame. Here’s a video that shows a cutting horse with a novice rider- so don’t be negative on the rider, just think about how his movements would affect the horse long-term. This is an extreme example, but we are all doing stuff like this daily and don’t realize it. BTW, want a good seat, go work with cutting horses.

Now really, haven’t you ridden behind someone who was clearly leaning to the side of the saddle? What do you think that does to the horse’s back? How about the rider who falls forward after every jump, I’ll lay money down his horse is going to have shoulder problems in a couple of years. Or what could be causing the horse to always load the right shoulder, maybe it is the way the rider loads the back. I’m a “C” and it shows up in where my boys load their shoulders. And yet, I look pretty good to the outside eye. Only a trained eye on a tight tank top is going to see the telltale wrinkles of a sloped body.

We contort our bodies to emulate a “look” Back ridged, shoulders drawn behind, and heels exaggerated down. We let those arms flail like appendages instead of integrating them into the strength of our core. We suck in our stomachs and take away the strength of the diaphragm.

I don’t think we should apply the lash to ourselves, but we should attend to the problem. We should attend to ourselves just as earnestly as we attend to the training and development of our horse.  Spend some money on yourself instead of your vet.

Work with an Alexander Technique practitioner, learn tai chi (even the CDC is viewing it to help seniors learn balance) find a superb yoga instructor or work with an individual with a degree in human biomechanics or kinetics.  It like having your nails done, it feels great. It will help in your everyday life and your riding will improve by leaps and bounds. Your mount will be happier and most likely sounder as well. As they say in basketball –– nothing but net. Here’s a site that does a much better job of explaining then I can. http://www.physical-literacy.org/hollysweeney.htm

Take some time to learn the muscles in your own body and how they work. It may take a while to wake up your body, to be able to tune into yourself, but it will come.  Hey, there is even an app for that! We are fortunate that we are living in a time when there is a lot of research into how the body integrates itself, postural muscles versus strength and movement muscles, muscle fascia (becoming increasing acknowledged for its importance), and the flow of electrical impulses and fluid through the muscles, tendons and ligaments.

You may have to search for a while; there are a lot of “wannabees” out there. There are, however, a number of practitioners who have really studied the muscle system and the interrelation between the muscles, tendon and ligament groups.  We search for our horses, shouldn’t we search on behalf of ourselves.

I continue to work on my body mechanics and understanding how to properly use a group of muscles and how it affects the rest of my body structure. It is a never ending quest. But I can safely say at this point –– “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.”

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