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Archive for the ‘horse ponderings’ Category

Ever notice that sometimes you bop along oblivious to things and then BAM –– in a two-day period you get hit with the same concept five times and a light bulb dawns. The light was there all the time, you just never saw it.

I had that light bulb turned on for me recently.

First comment was by a neighbor:

Her daughter’s event horse is not made for dressage. But put the little guy in a warm-up ring full of dressage wanna-bes and he starts outperforming himself. I always put this down to the rider being more relaxed, yet inspired in the warm-up ring. Hmmmm.

Second comment was by a friend:

Pokey never coughed in her life until she went out with a horse that is known to have allergies. Quite a fuss was made over the allergic horse’s cough: coos and concerned looks all focused on the beast with a sensitivity. Soon Pokey was trying out a cough of her own. Got no response and gave it up. Hmmmm.

Third comment was at a meet of Icelandic horses:

“He only tolts when he’s in a group of Icelandics.” I must digress a moment to explain that Icelandic horses have a special gait called the “tolt.” While they may tolt away in a field, when they are put under-saddle they often need help to learn how to rebalance their body for tolting. Some riders have trouble with this rebalance and can’t get their horse to tolt. But, put a bunch of non-tolting Icelandics along side of  some tolters and the buggers will tolt for miles. Hmmmm.

I can’t help but wonder about the horse’s ability to mimic things on its own level. I’m sure there are different explanations for why each of the above occurred. It would be near impossible to make a controlled study to  prove things one way or another. I’m inclined to give my equine a nod towards the higher order of thinking and suspect there is some imitation going on. Hearing  these three stories in sequence really made me think about this phenomenon and suddenly I see horse-aping behavior all over the place.

And just in case you aren’t convinced I’m including an except my friend wrote about her aping Arab.

She has my number by Zoe English

Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 4:03pm

So yesterday I went out for a beautiful trail ride on Pokey with my dear friend Holly and her horse Patchwork. Pokes was a gem, very well behaved, brave over the high and echoey bridge, happy to plunge into the river and wade up and downstream. I was proud of her. Smart, brave filly.

Smart, I soon find out, as in calculating.

Poor Patches has allergies. As we’re strolling down the road at one point, Patches stretches her neck down and out, and starts to cough. Holly and I are instantly sympathetic –“Poor baby. Poor Patches.” Holly strokes her neck. Patches coughs. I make cooing noises. Pokey has her little devil ear cocked sideways, her eye slightly turned back to me.

I am familiar with this look: I call it the Kitten Face. It is cute and endearing, with expected benefits. She uses it when she is, to her mind, richly entitled to a reward for some extraordinary feat, like allowing me to pick her hind feet without kicking me, or not breaking out of the crossties when I sling the saddle on her back. Many clicker trained horses have perfected this look.

But here? I dismiss it and Holly and I pay careful attention to Patches, who seems okay. A few yards further down, she coughs again. I send sympathetic kisses in her direction. Holly rubs her neck and murmurs softly. Patches coughs loudly, then seems okay.

Pokey takes a deep breath, puts her head down, her ear swiveled back toward me, and coughs loudly. She raises her head and sends the Kitten Face over her shoulder. Deliberately and unavoidably. Rinse and repeat, just in case I missed it the first time.

Pokey does NOT have allergies. She has not eaten anything on this ride. I have never heard her cough, not recently anyway, and she is turned out in a field with every imaginable form of pollen producer.

“Give it up, sweetheart,” I tell her. I roll my eyes. “Not working.”

She flicks her head sideways and blows me a raspberry.

She does not cough again, not during the entire ride, not since.

My next horse will be taking an IQ test as part of the vetting, and there will be a very firm, nonnegotiable upper limit cutoff.

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You can blow the dust off a piece of paper, but how do you blow the dust off of computer writing? Perhaps letting your fingers absorb the pent-up electrical charges. If so, then it would have to be with fingers vibrating that I write this entry, as it has been a long time between utterances.

Back in the U.S.A.

Not without good reason–– My son came home from Iraq!

But that simple event also required a 2500-mile drive to El Paso. It required stops in Lexington, Kentucky to rubberneck at the border of white and black running board fencing along the highway. Fencing to keep the grazing broodmares and babies from a disastrous highway drift. It required a look across the Mississippi River remembering Tom Sawyer and cogitating on whether there were any horses in his story. It required a stop in Oklahoma City to view an art fair and look at a bevy of beautiful paintings representing the West, and pining after the oils of Michael Swearngin’s cowboys. (Contemporary Cowboy) It required a stop at the Fort Worth Stockyards–– thank you Wildstorm at Backroads Photo Blog for giving me the idea.

Back from the cattle drive

The Stockyards, Fort Worth, and Texas made me feel like I could stretch out on a horse. In New Jersey I always feel contained. By accident I stopped in at Tesky’s in Weatherford, Texas, the cutting horse capital of the world. I picked up a several pairs of great leather gloves in even greater colors. (Why don’t we find these things back East?)

My simple trip was really a journey. It was not only a journey of miles and friendship (My sister-in-law kept me from falling asleep at the wheel.) it was also a journey of ideas. It is good to open the windows of the mind and let the air blow in the sights and smells of the world outside your own. It is good to let your mind play with those senses and add the spices of information you have stored along the way and come up with new mixes and new ideas.

One of those ideas was from a podcast I listened to during those five days of travel. Simon Sinek on TEDTalks, 5/4/2010 (here’s a link) gave a great talk on what makes leaders. And, of course, great leaders get things done. We need a lot of great leaders in the world of horses right now. Race tracks, trails, competitions, living space, rules and regulations are all presenting problems to people in the horse industry and one of the biggest frustrations I see is getting others to listen and understand the concerns we have. I thought about Sinek’s talk for many miles. I am still thinking about it. I’m thinking we could make better progress if we didn’t talk so much about what we do with our horses and talked more about why we do it. Why we ride, why we like to groom, handle, smell and stand next to them. There are probably as many whys as there are people. Sinek used a phrase, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Think about why you ride and the next time someone asks you about your riding consider telling them why you ride, not what you do when you ride.

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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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