20 January 2018

On the other hand, they're still bad.

Don’t hands matter anymore?
     In the process of learning how to ride, (and the way I ride to this day), I learned the ‘correct way’ to hold the reins.

     This being: The reins enter one’s palms between the pinky and ring finger, in contact with the hand itself. The rein continues up through the palm and exits forward (i.e., towards the horse’s neck), with the thumb  up and flat on the rein.   One held/holds the reins as if they were eggs. Space between the hands in a straight line from the bit to one’s elbows, which are tucked neatly alongside one’s ribs. The height should be no more than a few inches...one very good teacher told me to hold my hands only as high as an extended pinky could touch the withers.  

     Paying attention to what they’re doing has helped me develop what I’ve been complimented on as being ‘good” ‘soft’ ‘following’ hands.

    What inspired this particular post was seeing a photo of a Western Equitation rider with her hands waving about at shoulder height...HER shoulder height. Ah ha, said my now chained anti-Western Equitation demon, another way I can show how superior ‘english’ or ‘dressage’ is to WE.

     But I have learned to keep her muzzled before I shoot off my mouth, so I did a lot of Google Image searching with the search term “hands on reins’.  As hands are always connected to the rider’s arms, every photo had an example.

   What I found is depressing.

     It’s not just Western Equitation riders who don’t seem to know how to hold the reins. It seems NOBODY-not Western, not English, not dressage, certainly not jumpers or jockeys-holds the reins the ‘’’correct’’’ way. I looked at a LOT of photos, from all over the horse riding spectrum, and saw all sorts of styles. I could forgive beginners or horse husbands or kids, but I saw FEI riders making the same mistakes.
  Here is a sample of the rogue's gallery:

     I was amazed at the many ways riders hold the reins. Some hold the reins with palm up, or palms down, or out to the sides. Some were pinching a rein between thumb and forefinger, some as if holding a serving tray, many of the Western Equitation dangling them a foot or more above the neck. One or two pictured women holding the reins as if they were live snakes.

    I am including a picture (below) said to be from “Vogue”... a magazine that is published, it seems solely to market stuff to rich women. Look at this photo. I'd originally intended it to be an example of VERY bad hands, but it was just so full of 'wrong' I couldn't believe it. There are so many things wrong about this bimbo on horseback you just KNOW she’s never been on a horse in her life. I’m almost afraid for her...her boots, her bare knees, she’s bouncing up and down without a helmet. If she had pockets her hands would be in them, reins and all. But I must say that is one gorgeous horse. Not HERS, mind you.

    I even watch the riders in my own barn. Only one person other than me seems to be paying attention to how she holds her reins. I can’t bear to watch our Barnlord give a riding lesson, as she advocates holding the reins up in the air.

    Yes, I did find some hands that were correct. Finding a photo of ‘good hands’ was far more difficult than I would have ever dreamed.

    This rider’s hands are pretty much exactly what I’ve learned from good books.
But the vast majority of pictures of hands on the reins show them to be anything but correct.

    Which begs the question: is the way one holds the reins that important?

    I confess I am not experienced enough to be able to state conclusively that it is.

   Perhaps I’m looking at it the wrong way. Perhaps I’m speaking only from fairly recently acquired ‘experience’, and the horses I’ve ridden since doing so number equal two.

   Maybe I’m missing something. Because I found this:

   This single hand, apparently that of an older man, is riding in a bosal. I know nothing about this specific bridle/ reins, so I don’t know if this hold is correct or not.
   Somehow, though, I get the feeling that his hand is gentle. How a man’s hands can appear to be sensitive and giving, I don’t know. It just looks to be kind and respectful. It even appears as if he is also holding a rope. One doesn’t think of a roper having good hands. Yet, this is a gentle, giving hand. 

   Maybe it’s me, then? Am I too anal? Are sloppy hands okay now?

11 January 2018

They can hear us think, you know

Here’s the real scenario:

Last fall, Matt, our farrier, came to shoe and trim two horses: Raven, and Laddie.

You know who Raven is, and he is always well behaved when anyone does anything to him, be it farrier work, floating, etc. 

Laddie is the newest horse in the barn. He is an immense, 17.2 hand Thoroughbred. I believe he’s about 16 years old and is/was an eventer.

O, Laddie’s owner, had seen Matt work on Raven in the past and decided she wanted him to do Laddie. 

Matt –who, like me, is beginning to feel his age and is trying to cut down his workload-asked her how she came to contract him to shoe Laddie. She said Barnlord had told her about his work. I admit, Matt is probably the best farrier I’ve ever been lucky to have.  

Laddie began to act up almost immediately. Tossing his head, flicking the tools out of Matt’s hands, tried to back up, etc.  He has white line disease in his hind feet and acted as if the methylene blue (that purple stuff that has a staining radius of fifty feet) hurt. 

As the process wore on, Laddie got worse and worse. He literally yanked his feet out of Matt’s hands, reared, kicked and tried to bolt. What should have taken no more than half an hour took twice that.
Matt later told me that afterward, he felt as if he’d been hit by a pair of linebackers..and Matt is a big, bear of a man, a burly cowboy/farrier, tough as nails. 

Yesterday, I walked into the barn. The barnlord’s farrier, Bob, was shoeing and trimming a big bay horse. 

Barnlord was holding his lead rope. The horse had his head down and was half asleep. It took me a couple seconds to realize it was Laddie.

“Holy cow, what did you do, sedate him?”

Laddie was acting like any good horse, calm, patient, willing to accept anything Bob did to him.

What was the difference?

No, it wasn’t the farriers. 

It was the owner.

O wasn’t present for the trimming this time. 

O is the 22 year old daughter of some very wealthy, upper crust blue bloods back somewhere in New England (on the US East Coast.)

She drives a Mercedes. She bought a truck and a  horse trailer when she got here.  Her parents are paying her way through college. They paid to ship Laddie out here to the West Coast (something that is NOT cheap). They are paying for her rented HOUSE, and the barnlord sends all bills to the parents, not O.

O has very obviously lived a life of ease. She’s accustomed to “people”...a nice way of saying servants or employees..taking orders from her and doing things that she is too high society to do. 

She demonstrates no sense of responsibility. She is passive-aggressive-sometimes arrogantly insisting she knows everything about horses, and other times, completely ignoring the needs of her horse. Laddie was on the point of foundering and barnlord insisted O call a vet. O refused. He’s done this before, she said, all he needs stall rest. She wrapped some vet wrap around his fore pasterns as if that would fix it. 

Barnlord got pissed, and after O left, she called a vet, who got to the barn in time to prevent any damage. 
She billed O’s parents. She also, later, told O that she is NOT O’s servant, that O needs to accept responsibility for her horse. O...ignored her. 

O doesn’t really like Laddie, by the way. She’s taken him out eventing precisely once since she got to the barn last year. Laddie’s blanket is in tatters. She doesn’t care. She can easily afford a new one, but, she doesn’t care. 

And that’s the point.

We humans project energy without knowing. Horses pick up on it. You can’t lie to a horse. If you have had an argument with your husband, and are still stewing about it, you’re mentally broadcasting it to every living being in the  barn. 

 I think we humans are immune to it. We have to be, we’d go insane if we heard every other humans thoughts. But animals aren’t immune. They HAVE to hear in order to survive. Most dogs easily prove it. How many times have you experienced or  heard "my dog knows when I'm coming home."?  I think dogs are smart enough to know you’re not pissed at them, but horses aren’t. All they ‘hear’ is that you are angry, aggressive, and scary.

As well, if you don’t particularly like the horse, he’s going to pick up on that, too. He’s had prior experiences with unfriendly humans broadcasting their non-physical aggression, and he knows, now, that some humans are things to be feared.

It’s not just horses that ‘hear’ our thoughts. Wild animals are especially sensitive. 

We feed the wild birds. The deer have learned that there’s free food under the feeders. We have a group of six or seven black-tailed deer (depending on how many fawns the does produced last spring) that live on my property. If I walk out to the feeders and look hard at the deer, as if sizing them up for an attack, they bolt. If I merely glance at them, AND allow the damned earworm in my head to play or...if I mentally do my times tables (“2 times 3 is 6, 2 times 7 is 14”), they not only are unafraid, they come closer, waiting for me to dump the feed so they can feast.

(Excuse me while I boast...I no longer need to do that. They are accustomed to us trudging through the rain and snow with a pair of feed buckets that they barely wait for us to spread the feed before they’re in it. )

When Matt was there to shoe Laddie, O was supposed to handle her horse. While she did so, he began to act up. She slapped at Laddie, cussed him out, shrieked at him, and literally drove him crazy. He kept pulling his feet out of Matt's hands, making it almost impossible to nail a shoe on.
When a 17.2 horse rears and waves his size 3 hooves around your ears, it turns into a dangerous situation. 

Matt, being the conscientious man he is, carried on, but when he was finished he told her straight up, “don’t call me again. I’m never touching this horse again.”

O got pissed. She didn’t say anything but later, Barnlord said O complained to her about Matt being “incompetent’. 

I had left by then so I didn’t hear it. Which is okay, because Matt would rather she think him incompetent than risk getting hurt by her horse. 

When Bob came out to shoe Laddie, O...who had promised to be there but then decided to skip it, there was just me, Barnlord and Bob.  No one slapped Laddie. No one shrieked at him. Barnlord held the lead and expected Laddie to mind his manners like the good horse he is. She and the farrier had a long conversation about something other than the horse in front of them, and Laddie dropped his head and half slept,  as ho hum as Raven always is. 

They hear us and react. Keep a rein on your emotions.

16 September 2017

Looking through your horse's eyes

     I have been riding bareback almost exclusively for over 20 years.
It’s not that I dislike a saddle, it’s just that I prefer bareback. I don’t risk my 60+ year old bones: I don’t gallop or jump, etc bareback. I’m not foolhardy. I guess I’m just lazy. It’s so much easier to merely groom, hop aboard, and ride. Besides, when I take off my sweated/begrimed jeans, my cat takes one whiff and goes berserk. She LOVES the smell of ‘horsey pants’. It’s almost obscene, watching her rub and writhe like a porn star, inhaling the scent of horse. Hey, cat, I love the scent of horse, too. 
Ooooh, horsey pants. I LOVE Mom's horsey pants.
Sable loves the smell of a sweaty horse

     Riding without the intervening barrier of a saddle enables me to have an enhanced conversation with the horse. I can feel what his body is thinking. It’s easier for me to project my desires to him, i.e. turn left, and I feel his response that much better.

     But what I like most about riding bareback is that I can more easily see the world through his eyes.

    Horses are exquisitely aware of their surroundings. Not a thing can be moved in the world without their seemingly instantaneous awareness of the change.

    Fortunately, they are fairly calm with the fact, but there are times when it means Something Is Very Different and Therefore, Scary.

    My Arab, Jordan, was always a ‘looker’. He would routinely look UP into the trees as we rode underneath them. His ears were constantly moving, his nostrils working, sampling the air, listening for anything that may be important. He would routinely stop on a trail ride and just look around. I learned this wasn’t just laziness. Once, he stopped, ears pricked and I could feel his back tensing up-to bolt? He was an Arab, after all, one who had to have a shy a day before he would settle down to work.

   But no, this time, after a good five minutes of our standing for no apparent reason, a hiker with a dog emerged from the forest. I had no way of seeing him or knowing he was approaching, but  despite the man being downwind of us, Jordan knew he was coming long before he arrived.

   One time, I was trail riding Jordan bareback and exited the forest into an open area. Jordan shied-because the last several times we’d ridden in that area, it had been chest high in Scotch broom. In the interim, all the broom had been cut down. It had changed. 

  He jumped sideways, and I fell off. (the best reason I know for riding a  short horse is one doesn’t have that far to fall). I had held onto the reins, and Jordan  immediately stopped moving and looked at me curiously, as if to say, what are you doing down there?

   I was able to scramble back aboard (another reason for having a small horse) and then we just looked. I could feel his back muscles tensing, his ears were pricked, nostrils expanded, taking everything in. Something Is Different Here.
   Even after he had accepted that the sudden opening of a previously overgrown area was harmless, still..he took no chances. He double timed through it.

   Now, when I ride Raven, I allow him to stop and just look. I think he appreciates it.
Raven stopping to take a look.
He's looking at some bicyclists just out of the frame.

    I enjoy just sitting on a horse, I don’t need to be doing something all the time. Yeah, I know. There are horsemen who tell me I should always have a plan for when I ride, a goal, always be in a training frame of mind every single time I ride. Every step is supposed to be asked for, every motion rewarded if it’s good and worked through if it’s not. I am supposed to do everything the same way every single time. Every single ride. Really?

   Sorry. That’s not me. I don’t have the focus and my goal has always been ‘don’t fall off.”  When I mount, I usually do so without a thought in my head other than it feels so fine to be riding this magnificent beast. I am not a horse trainer and I am not an expert rider. If he does what I ask when I think to ask it, I’m happy. If he thinks I’m an inept bungler for being inconsistent, he doesn’t seem to hold it against me. He’s kind and loving and patient with me. And I am with him. 
Not my best photographic effort...after all, I am taking from his back, but it does show his lovely eye and frame of mind.

   What I do seek with my horse is that ‘silent lucidity’…that feeling of one mind and two bodies, the link between his mind and mine. I have to purposely and forcibly shush the constant narrative voice in my mind.  Only when I stop listening to my mind, and allow myself to hear his, do I see the world in a different light.

    Though I’ve seen it before, still, there is a different look to the world. I see the sunshine dappling the ground beneath the trees. I hear the wind in the grass. I feel his muscles swish his tail. I see a mare grazing in her paddock, her head moving in a semicircular pattern…step, bite, step, bite, left, right, left, right. I feel his breathing expanding his ribs. I feel the muscles in his back tensing, relaxing. I hear vireos singing in the trees, a raven knocking, a train’s receding whistle.

   This is HIS world, his vision, and I can peer into his mind best when I empty my mind and am bareback. It’s the very same world as it was before I got aboard, but somehow, there is a clarity, a precision of vision that one normally ignores.

   So if you see me seemingly doing nothing, sitting bareback on lovely, black warmblood gelding, the only motion his tail, his eyes, his nostrils, his ears…we’re really not doing nothing.

   We’re looking.

21 August 2017

Total Eclipse of the Sun becomes the worlds largest tailgate party

The Total Eclipse of the Sun of 2017 became one of the most hyped natural events of the decade.

Two years ago astronomers noted that this would be the first total eclipse viewable in a vast swath of the United States since 1918.

At first this was of interest only to astronomers and other scientists such as myself.

However, I noted that where I lived, the eclipse would achieve only 92% totality. Half a loaf is better than none, though. While I planned to ‘watch’ it, I didn’t plan on driving a couple hundred miles south to see the total eclipse. Viewing it from my backyard was good enough for me.  

Somehow and somewhen, though, it stopped being ‘just’ an astronomical event and turned into: an astronomical “EVENT”. As in: a 2500 mile (4,000 km) long party, the like of which hasn’t been seen since Woodstock (which was minuscule in comparison).  I heard that one such event planned on playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
Album cover, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon

 I can’t think of a more appropriate title. (Ironically, when Pink Floyd first proposed the title, they learned another band had a song with the same title, so they temporarily titled the album "Eclipse" !!)

 It promised to be the country’s largest tailgate party in history. Small ranching towns such as Madras, OR (population of about  7000 people) was to become a city of several hundred thousand. The city council had a scientist on the board. She realized that it was first landfall, so to speak, for the TES. Madras has everything necessary for viewing: great weather, open land and is easily reached, just off the interstate. The downside: perhaps six motels.
Nevertheless, they put a person in charge, two years ago, to plan for the crowds they were sure would come.

Smart people, who wanted to see it, began making motel and campground reservations a year in advance.

What happened to them is exactly the same thing as did to horsemen when hotel owners in Kentucky suddenly realized that fifty thousand woman would descend on Lexington for the 2010 World Equestrian Games. They all quadrupled their room prices.

 Smart people, like my friend, made (and held with a credit card) hotel reservations a year in advance of the games.  A week before the Games, the hotel refused to admit reservations had been made. Then they upped the price to at least $500 a night. Only a conversation with her lawyer made them realize that at least in her case, they’d lose a lot more money than they would gain.
They did it to a lot of others, though. The same thing has happened with the eclipse: motels were ‘losing’ reservations or gouging the person for a lot more money, take it or leave it. One heard of outrageous rates like “$1600 for one night.”
Even the town of Madras wasn’t exempt from gouging.  The planner had contracted for hundreds of portapotties two years ago. Last week, the portapotty company they’d contracted with said the same thing: the rent has gone through the roof. Pay it or no portapotties.

Greed. Outright greed. Disgusting.

Being that I was staying home, I was unaffected by this, except for one thing: the traffic.

Beginning five days before the TES, traffic started to build on I-5 South. I had to drive about 70 miles north to Seattle on Sunday, the day before the eclipse. Normally, southbound traffic on a Sunday evening is fairly sparse. This time, at noon, the southbound side of the interstate was nuts-to-butts traffic, inching along, at a rate of speed so slow one could have walked faster. It was that way all 70 miles of my trip. There were HUNDREDS of thousands of cars, all headed south. This had been going on for days.

This, I thought, was what a mass evacuation of a big city looks like.

There were thousands of people, all heading for various parts of Oregon. The television stations reported that the small airport, which normally had three landings per day, was seeing a landing every three MINUTES.  

Thank the star(s) that my prairie wasn’t in the path of totality. We would have had this:
One campground outside of Prineville, OR
Below the aircraft’s wings is a picture of a hayfield outside of Prineville, OR. Those aren’t houses. They’re tents and campers, pop up pavilions and tarps. This is just ONE spot in the eclipse’ path that runs from Oregon to South Carolina.
I would guess there are at least a hundred thousand people down there, just in that one spot.

On Thursday, 17 Aug 17, the TV news helicopter filmed a line of vehicles on the secondary road leading (Hwy 97) into Madras that was 30 miles long.
All across the nation, from Oregon to the East Coast, there are towns in the path. Thousands of people all wanting to be under the sun when it’s eclipsed. To see the “tunnel in the sky”, to see the stars come out at noon.

All that, for a two hour or so experience.

Hundreds of thousands of ‘eclipse glasses’ were sold. One, on eBay, was selling for over a hundred dollars. The thing was cardboard and tinted plastic, I think.
Many thousands of those glasses were belatedly found to be counterfeit junk, no more able to protect your vision from permanent retinal damage than tissue paper. I guarantee you, there will be thousands of people who will be seeing an eye doctor in the future due to retinal burns. No insurance will cover what they will call a willful and purposeful, intentional damage to one’s eyesight.

I did see the partial eclipse, indirectly, of course. I value my eyesight and didn’t even think of looking at it. 

I would have liked to have seen the blackened sky, stars in the morning, all that.  
But I primarily wanted to see what, if any, effect it would have on the birds in my area. I can say that there was none. The ravens still klonked in the trees, the purple martins still called high up in the sky, the meadowlarks still sang, the kestrels still hovered over the prairie.

The sunlight, though, was ‘odd’. One could easily see a difference from normal morning light.  It wasn’t at all like sunlight at sunset or sunrise. Here, the totality, such as it was, occurred at 1015 hrs. The sunlight dimmed, as if on a dimmer switch. It appeared as it does when one wears polarized sunglasses. It got a bit cooler, but then, there was a cool breeze blowing so I don’t know if that was due to the decreased sunlight or the ambient temperature.

It was also easy to know when it was ‘over’. The light came back up, bright and harsh as only an August morning sun can be.

While I didn’t see totality, I did see a partial eclipse and afterwards, I walked back into my house.

I am very happy that I didn’t travel to see it. For after the very brief moments of total eclipse, those thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of people (some of whom made the journey five days ago) will all now want to go home. Now.

Take five days’ worth of creeping, beeping gridlock and throw all that on the one interstate highway in one day. What ordinarily takes about 5 hours drive from Madras will take days?
Woof. It’s going to be very, very bad. All it takes is one accident, one incident of road rage,  or a stretch of road construction (which, at least in my state, is everywhere), to stop all traffic. 

If the highways were bad yesterday, I can only imagine what they will look like NOW.

In fact, I just did. Oregon’s Dept of Transportation website says that the ‘drive’, such as it is, between Salem, OR and Portland, OR (usually about a 45 minute drive) is currently taking 3.5 HOURS. And once they hit Portland it can only get worse. Even on its best traffic day, the 13 mile drive on I-5 North, from Portland, OR to the Columbia River bridge can take two hours.

Yeah, I missed the total eclipse of the sun. I sure didn’t miss the hellacious drive after it. 
Eclipse of the Sun becomes the world's largest tailgate party