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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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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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We still have snow on the ground here, the days are above freezing and the nights dip below the ice mark. Perfect weather for the sap to run for maple syrup. Perfect weather for putting a nice crust of ice on the snow. For those of you who don’t live in a snowy climate, think of the chocolate “dip” on a soft ice cream cone: it hardens over the soft sweetness underneath.

This environmental condition makes it tough on walking for man or beast. In fact, with a lot of snow on the ground and multiple warm/cold cycles you can end up with a half-an-inch or more of ice on top of the snow. That amount of ice supports the weight of a human and resists the initial weight of a horse. The result is an ice rink where everyone starts flying. The danger to us is often after the snow and hard cold of winter, it rests in the freeze-thaw-freeze cycle of spring.

During one particularly bad year I had an “ah-ha” moment while walking my Icelandic across his paddock. Those little short-strided, up-and-down steps had him crashing through the ice crust in complete safety. In fact, I found myself following behind to walk in his footsteps. My Thoroughbred, with the beautiful flick of her foot couldn’t go out until the paths were totally cleared and sanded, and then it was walking around the prepared trail, not at liberty in the “ice field.”  She would place her foot down and then start to load the shoulder over it. The lag of the shoulder weight over the hoof allowed the lightly weighted foot enough time to slide forward on the ice and, well, you don’t want to be watching a horse do a split on ice. It stood as an excellent reminder to me to appreciate the aspects of each individual breed instead of trying to make my breed fit a cog in a discipline wheel. He may not be that lovely gaited horse in a show ring, but he doesn’t slip and slide on a trail. I contend that a good part of that trail stability is due to his short, up-and-down stride. The “sewing machine”  action is very stable on ice; also, these horses have “ice studs” on as well.

It is interesting to look at the shift of weight and leg movements on different breeds and even the horses within those breeds. The length of stride; foot, knee and shoulder action; even the set of the neck and the use of the head will interact with the way the horse moves. And what it does. Great game for young 4-H and Pony Club members: show a photo or video of a horse breed and ask what type of terrain, climate, job the horse would be good for. Check out this slow-mo video of racing.

We forget, it was less than 100 years ago when we needed horses to be more work-functional than beautiful. Even today a lot of  “cart” horses have an up-and-down leg action where as the racehorse has a forward-and-out leg action. Each animal needs to be respected for its breed’s original characteristics, but each should be used appropriately. It saddens me to see breeds who brought in the harvest, got it to market, worked cattle on hot plains and dragged logs through granite trails filled with snow- that these animals are dismissed in today’s general society. Today’s vogue is for flash and fancy footwork, that holds up only under very expensive prepared, ground conditions. Here’s a look at how we used to get wood for our houses.

Oh, back to the snow. Some of you may be wondering about the ice crust scratching the pasterns of the animals. Absolutely happens. Which is why you might see an old gum bell boot around a horse in snow, flipped up like a flower opening to the sun. It offers some practical protection, as does the natural feathers of many cold climate breeds.

flipped up and ready to protect the pastern against ice

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Eliminating the pencil with applications

I’m a gadget girl. No I don’t need them, but I like them and I use them and I justify them by thinking of all the people I help keep employed when I buy a new gadget.

This past holiday I got an iTouch, my newest gadget. I had asked for one because I am intrigued by the applications you can get for them. I need a dictionary everywhere I go. I need a Spanish dictionary half the places I go. I need a way to keep track of what it is I’m suppose to be keeping track of. I need my contacts with me because I’m always at the post office sending stuff and missing zip codes or whole street numbers. (What “Janine in Boston” won’t get it there?)

Imagine my dismay when I found only a few apps. for horses! There’s this one for training to a tempo, great for dressage or endurance. http://www.equiapps.com/equitempo/

This app has a lot of extra features, all the FEI dressage tests, animated diagrams and ability to record the movements to match your particular horses strides. Check out the explanation on YouTube.

Being OCD about the geldings’ health I was looking for a nice equine first aid app. but only came up with ones for veterinary terms and this one (of several) for medication information: http://www.avettool.com/

Actually, it looks pretty good if you are a vet student or recent grad. There are a number of apps. for veterinary terminology, mostly flash card format. The largest number of equine or horse apps. are for racing and figuring out odds and picking winners.

But the equine community is missing a lot of apps that could do the horse world good. Hay, oops, Hey, here’s a great opportunity for some equine income for any enterprising, computer savvy, individuals, and you don’t have to be in an office and forego riding time to make these buggers.

Since I (hopefully) have inspired someone, here are my app. requests.

  1. Equine first aid; based on the Hands on Horse Care book from Horse and Rider. One of the best first aid books because it is sequential and gives practical advice, if  you need a vet  and what to do while waiting for a vet. But, hey folks, I’ll take any equine first aid app. How many of us really have the book with us in the aisle way- but an app on a mobile device is apt to be on my belt.
  2. A Nutrition App. The NCR tables (our tax payer dollar paid for them, why can’t we have access to them?). List of sources of nutrients (protein- alfalfa, whey, ect). An enterprising feed mill could develop an app. that guides the user through nutrition needs for their horse and then offers the recommended feed and amounts to be feed.
  3. A forage App.  Show me pictures of stages of hay, describe good quality, describe stages of growth and likely protein, carb and sugar content. Describe different types of hay, growing seasons, restrictions, pros, cons, etc.
  4. Equine toxic weeds. Show me pictures, and tell me the symptoms and what to do, if I should be concerned and how to rid it in my pasture.
  5. My very own equine health calendar with reminders (and cute icons- very important to have cute icons) for deworming, farrier visits, veterinary visits, vaccines, health record,  training and travel dates.
  6. A Budget App. Hmmm, on second thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Those are the horse care Apps. I’d love to see. I’ll bet those of you who show, train, trail ride, ship have a few requests of your own. I’d love to hear about them.

I’d love to be able to join in the equine cocktail conversation with, “There’s an App. for that!”

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