02 April 2018

Sire and Son in Amsterdam's FEI World Cup dressage

As usual, my little rural area of North America is late to televise the 2017/2018 FEI World Cup Freestyle Dressage test held in Amsterdam.

Isabelle Werth won it on her fabulous horse who's name escapes me, but Edward Gal came in second on a hugely magnificent Dutch Warmblood stallion, Glock's Zonik (which, is now followed by the letters N.O.P which I'm not certain their meaning).

Glock's Zonik is registered as a KWPN (Dutch Warmblood). 

But did anyone notice that Zonik's SIRE was ALSO in the competition?

Zonik is by Blue Hors Zack. Blue Hors Zack was ridden by Daniel Bachman Andersen. He has a website filled with this horseman's idea of true eye candy. It's all in Danish, I think, I can't read it.  Zack is registered as a Danish Warmblood but like so many good European warmbloods, (to include his son), he can also be accepted by the other Big registries.

The unfortunately all too garrulous commentators didn't mention the connection. I noted it on the official FEI published results.

Glock's Zonik N.O.P., ridden by Edward Gal
Blue Hors Zack, ridden by (I assume) Daniel Bachman Andersen

Now this is an example of exemplary breeding. Father and son are almost alike in appearance, although Zack is bay.

Call me old fashioned, but I don't really care for the extended front end asked of Zonik. Gal rode Moorland's Totillas in the very same frame at the World Equestrian Games. Unless standards have changed in lo these many years, I was always under the impression that a horse must be 'even'...his hind legs matching the forelegs in impulsion, etc. Ideally, this means that the hind legs should reach as far under the belly as the forelegs are reaching outwards. Now perhaps the modern dressage horse  has been bred to be able to attain that reach, but..in Zonik's (and Totillas') case, I wonder how much is 'forced'. I hesitate to use that word. The correct one is escaping me at the moment.

There was some tremendous talent in that ring. I learn so much about riding, just by watching the masters at their craft.

And wishing, once again, for that magic lantern. Of the three wishes I'd be granted, one of them would to be able to ride like they do.

(and please...make sure it's Robin William's genie doing the granting.)

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.