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Archive for the ‘people and horses’ Category

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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The four winds are blowing

Carry me brave and true

Some horses

Are coming

–– Sung by Brave Buffalo

I spent a fair amount of time in my youth watching Westerns, which boiled down to fights between cattleman and sheep ranchers––­­ and cowboys and Indians.

Indians were depicted as stealthy and expert horsemen. During battles the Indians rode bareback, slipping off to the side of the horse, becoming invisible while they shot arrows from below the horse’s chin. In short, they always out rode the cowboy, but they always lost the battle.

My recollections bring forth a pre-battle dance around the fire with chanting, rattles and drums. The War Cry. But something happened and now I am wondering if they were singing to the horses that would take them into battle.

dance stick honoring a prize horse

This week I got a chance to review to those images when I attended the National Museum of the American Indian with fellow blogger Global Horse Culture.  The name of the exhibit says it all “A song for the Horse Nation.” In addition to some well-preserved artifacts the exhibit depicts the importance of the horse in the life of the Plains Indian. Global Horse Culture has a nice link to the exhibit information.

I am always amazed at the impact of the horse on people. The Indians met the horse quite a while before they actually could use the horse. The Conquistadors were careful not to let their steeds into Indian hands. Sometime in 1680 it is credited that a large herd of horses were freed in a battle and that’s when Indians became involved with the horse.

By the 1870s most of the Indian Wars were over and the U.S. government had pretty much stripped the native population of their horses. The most notable horse story is of the last Nez Perce battle and the loss of thousands of its appaloosas.

buffalo hunt on foot

So in a period of a bit more than 150 years the many divergent parts of this culture learned how to ride, train and breed the horse. In a span of 150 years the horse changed the Indian’s life because before there was the horse, life was pretty much walking in search of food. There was no additional time for beadwork, painting teepees and other art forms. Every day was consumed with finding food and shelter. On horseback food came faster and easier, freeing more time to make beautiful things that all depict stories of their life on the plains. The horse helped them move their belongings and yes, the horse helped them wage war on each other and on the new invaders.

The horse is depicted in numerous scenes and became the base for its own art form of beaded saddle pads, cruppers, hoof covers,  bridles and saddles. The word “horse” showed up in names like; Crazy Horse, Horse Capture and Her Many Horses. They gave horses as gifts and stole prize horses from other tribes and the U.S. Calvary. They immortalized their favorite horses in teepee drawings, beadwork and dance sticks. An Indian’s prize possession was a good horse and the number of horses owned indicated status. They had different horses for buffalo hunts and war parties.

Daybreak

Appears

When

A horse

Neighs

–– Sung by Brave Buffalo

In 150 years the horse had become a mainstay and focus of their culture. The marriage of the two becoming so entwined that when the Indian lost the horse, they felt a loss of their essential being. It was a crushing blow to their culture. For the Plains Indian no other animal became such a critical part of their culture in so short a period of time. They depended on buffalo and elk for sustenance, and they had dogs throughout the camps. But it was the horse they sang to and of.

Friend

My horse

Flies like a bird

As it runs

–– sung by Brave Buffalo

It was the horse that humbled them and it was the horse that brought individual honor. Even now the American Indian struggles with his identity without the horse in it.

That speaks well for the power and magic of a horse. That this animal could offer life changing opportunities, become integral to the culture so quickly and the loss could be felt so profoundly for so long.

I never thought about honoring my horse with a song, but I think the next time he carries me safely back from a harrowing ride I will compose a song and sing it to him. But it will be hard to come up with anything as beautiful as this one:

Out of the earth

I sing for them

A Horse nation

I sing for them

Out of the earth

I sing for them,

The animals

I sing for them

-Sung by Lone Man (Teton Sioux)

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New Hampshire Red

Have you heard the story about the little red hen that wanted to make a cake? It’s an old story and in summary form runs like this:

Hen wants to bake a cake

Hen asks friends to help

Friends all have an excuse

Hen bakes cake all by herself

Friends come to ask for a piece.

Hen has a few choice words for friends.

I am starting to feel like that hen: already have the chicken legs going, am known for flapping my wings and I

Chicken legs, big belly

look great in red. But it isn’t cakes that interest me, it is the use, health and welfare of our horses. Being in New Jersey, we are the sentry for what will eventually occur throughout the country. We are in regulation mode, losing real estate mode, losing horses and services mode.

As an industry we are diverse, non-cohesive and therefore non-threatening to politicians and non-important. We grumble when regulations come down to affect us, but we just wad up the notice, kick the dirt and spit. Wow, that really got a lot done. We are not proactive nor reactive, but very involved in the animal that is the target.

There are a lot of reasons for this problem, I’d like to tackle many of them in some of my future blogs. And they are valid reasons. But if we are going to control our own destiny we have to understand the reasons for this malaise and work to solve them.

I propose that there are three major hinderances to getting people engaged in the workings of the horse industry: Fear, Ignorance, and Time

My personal guess is that Fear is the largest factor. People are afraid to be involved. That fear has a lot of different bases and if you asked someone he/she would deny it vehemently, except for the perceptive individual who understands what makes themselves tick. Fear doesn’t come from just the monster in the closet. Fear comes because of the unknown, commitment, or anticipation of  negative consequences. When we ask for someone’s help we are asking them to help with the unknown.

We are the great flexible, adaptable society. The dark side of that is the fear of anything that might affect those attributes. What if I commit to making a phone call and it’s a sunny day and I want to ride instead. Well, we do commit to things, to paying the mortgage, going to work, taking the kids to soccer practice. How do we overcome the fear of commitment when it comes to involvement with horses?

Let’s say I ask Bill to call a few people about holding a horse show. Bill has agreed the idea is a great one, and is very enthusiastic, offers to sponsor a fence and the use of his tractor. But he won’t make the phone calls. Why? Because there is fear. How much time is that going to take, what if the people called say no- rejection is a powerful force, will I be mired-in and be asked to do more things that I don’t have time for. Bill is afraid. He would never think that, he just thinks that he doesn’t have enough time. The truth is he is afraid of the unknown, of what this effort will mentally cost him, of losing time, of being rejected.

We are in an era where we are all VERY busy, we are too busy. That is not going to stop, so we need to determine methods that are easy for a very busy person to work with. How do we organize an effort so that it is in a digestible time-bite? Perhaps part of it is supplying all the needs. If I need you to cut out circles, here’s the paper, the scissors, the circle stencil, and I’ve timed it, should take you about 1 hour. Now it is known, a beginning and end, and I have an idea of how long it will take- and it’s not too long!

Then there is the great Unaware. The majority of equestrians who own horses don’t own the place where the horse lives. They are ignorant of how regulations affecting the property owners will eventually affect them. They are ignorant about how regulations affecting veterinarians, feed mills, etc will affect them. How do we engage these individuals to understand their voice is needed to ensure there is property to house and ride their horse, etc. In this case we need to educate them, but then we also have to deal with the fear of involvement as above.

We are not at a loss of problems facing the horse industry, but I believe the number one problem is the engagement of the horse riding and loving population. And for that engagement I think we have to overcome the Fear, Ignorance and Time constraints.

To wit; lack of youth involvement – Ignorance (less kids know or experience horses), Time (pack in between their already jammed schedules)

Boarders raising their voices about land and use issues: Ignorance, Time, Fear

Support for industry sectors such as racing: Ignorance, Time, Fear

I can keep going, but I suspect you’ve got the point.

What do YOU think are the major issues preventing people from becoming active in the expansion, use and regulation of horses? Better yet, what ideas do you have to help change this, to overcome these three or more obstacles? And who is the chicken that is going to do all of this? Where are the leaders for our industry? Where are the FUTURE leaders of our industry?

You can start to see the complexity of the issue. Life in today’s world is complex. Writing computer programs and developing financial instruments and fighting terrorists is complex. Yet, we do that every day. So we CAN handle complex situations, we just have to be willing to.

Hey, who's been eating my cake?

Oh, oh, oh, what’s that? Hey, the oven timer just rang, I’ve got to pull the cake out. Anyone interested in helping put on the frosting?

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