04 October 2018

Dare we hope that the FEI has come to its senses?

Perhaps the FEI has gotten a fad out of it's system.

     That fad being the huge trot (but forelegs only), as seen in the performance in the 2010 WEG by Moorlands Totillas.
2010 World Equstrian Games, Moorland Totilas and Edward Gal

    I didn’t get to watch anything more of the 2018 World Equestrian Games than the team dressage and the Grand Prix. 

    The sponsor of the Games didn’t quite come out and say it, but many of the events were rained out, and I do mean RAIN. Hurricane Florence, while having been downgraded to a tropical storm, brought FEET of rain to all of North Carolina. Entire towns were flooded. 

    Having witnessed natural disasters before, I often feel it’s rather rude to carry on with something as specious as a horse show when there are people drowning or clinging to their rooftops. 

   But, as is so often the case, when there’s money to be made, the guy whose pockets are the ones filling up say, damn what happens to others, let’s continue. 

    Of course, the televised dressage mentioned none of this. In fact, the skies were , for two days, ominous but dry, save for one poor Dutchman, who was caught in a cowpissing downpour. 

   (an American saying is ‘it rained like a cow pissing on a flat rock”) and only when you see that actually happen do you get the idea. 

    The freestyle dressage was cancelled, the cross country postponed, the endurance race (I can’t call it real endurance) was canceled in the middle of the race, and an endurance horse was put down due to heat stroke (it gets HOT and humid in North Carolina). But I digress.

   There were amazing performances in the individual event. 

    Of course..well, of COURSE, Isabel Werth won it. She’s won it so many times, and in most cases, deservedly so. Sometimes I wonder if it’s given to her because she’s, well, y’know, Isabel.

    In both competitions it was a tight, tight race between the Germans, the Brits, the US and the Swedes. Scores were high and differences between points were razor thin, on the order of .1 or .2. There was tremendous talent out there and fantastic horses.
     Which brings me to this post.

     At the 2010 WEG, Moorland Totilas and Edward Gal swept the boards. Totilas apparently blew the judges away with that HUGE trot...his forelegs virtually vertical at the trot. 

     But his hind legs? Wellll, unless a trot has changed since I was a kid learning what a balanced trot was, it wasn’t balanced. With Totilas it was all foreleg, and a bit of hind leg.

     This apparently so wow-ed the judges that, in the last 8 years, it seems as if
one’s dressage horse simply could NOT win if he didn’t kick his forelegs out like a can-can dancer. Flashy? Yes. Dressage? No.

     If you read of what happened to Totilas (as he was later re-named) after the Games, he literally burned out. He is no longer competing.  His new owner/rider could not get out of Totilas what Gal had demanded and received. Totilas said in so many words, eff it, I hate this shit, I’m DONE. 

    His refusal to work tells me that all that flash and dazzle was forced.  His huge trot wasn't natural, it was commanded.  Once he had the ability to say 'no', he said No, I mean it. I'm done.

     Remember Fuego XII at the 2010 Games? (now named Fuego de Cardenas). Fuego was a grey, PRE stallion, ridden by Juan name name name Diaz, representing his Spanish homeland.

    Fuego started dancing the moment he entered the ring. It was noticeable right from go that he was a horse who loved what he was doing. He was a ham, soaking up the cheers and adoration of a crowd that loved him solely because they could see what he was: a gorgeous stallion performing with so much brio and bravado, let's say it: joy.  Did you see that look on his face? The controlled power, the swagger, the machismo oozing from every pore of his snowy skin,  the bounce to his trot? It was added by the HORSE, not asked for by the rider. 

   Horse and Hound Online magazine has a video of Fuego dancing at the 2010 games. If you can watch it without chills going up your spine, maybe...well, maybe that’s just how I felt about what was, to me, an incredible (if not quite technically correct) performance. 


As a complete aside, someone noticed..and wrote about his unusual shoes:

    When Fuego and his rider got low scores, the crowd BOO-ed. “Official” videos of the event edited the boo’s out, but it’s real. We boo-ed. Dressage people simply do NOT do this. I think we scared the judges. I was ready to put them to the stake. Couldn’t they see that this was a horse who was doing dressage out of love for it? Whereas Totilas was..let’s put it mildly...obeying his rider. 

    In retrospect, I admit that Fuego wasn’t quite as good as the other horses, but still, which would you prefer? A horse doing something out of love for the activity? Or a horse that is doing what he’s told?
If Totila's trot wasn't quite a true trot, then how could the judges not allow the same for Fuego? 

Fuego de Cardenas, snipped from Horse and Hound Online Magazine

Edward Gal and Moorland Totilas by DigiShots.

     The reason I bring this up is because at this years’ WEG, I watched Edward Gal ride out on Glock’s Zonic.

    A KWPN, Zonic could be Totila’s twin. Gal rode him the same way he rode Totilas in 2010. Zonic’s forelegs were in the next county. It was high school, circus horse stuff. He had the same huge,booming trot in front, with so little action in the hind legs that it was as if they were there solely because FEI regulations demand that a dressage horse must have four (4) legs.

   By all appearances, Gal's plan was to win the same way as he did in 2010. Not with the same horse, but with a look alike and the very same way of riding.

Edward Gal and Glock's Zonic snipped from Pinterest.

    This time, though, the judges saw past the high kicks and scored him low enough to keep him out of the winnings.    

  Perhaps the FEI judges have begun to sober up from their Big Lick of Dressage binge. Throughout the entire test(s), it wasn't the high forelegs that won...it was good riding, harmonious and balanced.  With a few copycat exceptions the top three horses were all ones with a balanced trot, even in back and front. 

     Those horses won because they deserved the win, through excellent horsemanship and proper dressage.

       Grey baroque horses  aren't what the FEI believes to be the "ideal" dressage horse.  Dark bay or black Northern European warmbloods are the 'ideal". We boo-ed the judges decision on placing Fuego's 2010 performance because we saw what was obviously a double standard.

    Fuego's performance might not have been technically correct or 'within regulation'-but neither was Totila's. 


30 September 2018

Protective vest adds to self confidence

I purchased a Tipperary Eventer protective vest.

Despite my doctor's order to never ride again, I rode Raven today.

Sue had been told by HER doctor, no riding for 6 weeks as she heals from abdominal surgery, so I put myself on the same abstention.
But Friday was her release from durance vile, and today was mine.

Oh, gosh, that ride. 6 weeks was a penance but it's paid now.  He felt fabulous. I felt fabulous. He was his happy normal self and me...in my vest..felt, well...cool.

Real riders wear vests. Ones who board a 17 hand rocket and go belting, full speed, over a cross country course. Real riders race down tracks wearing vests. Heck, even the smart bull riders wear them. It just looks cool.

I felt it wrapped around my ribs and spine like a protective cocoon. An added benefit is that it encourages me to sit up straight.

An even better benefit...Sue took one look and said, I will wear one, too. Mine fits her as well as it fits me. We're the same shape...flat chested and tall and I am so happy that I can at last contribute something to this team of three..Sue, Raven and I..other than grunt work and insuring the horse has a steady supply of carrots and scritches.
So I share my vest with her.

And it's not so bad riding in a saddle.

At the latest Three Day event, I did some shopping at the inevitable vendor's tents. I looked at the inflateable vests and discussed their merits with one of my oldest, dearest friends who's done just about everything one can do on a horse in an english saddle (to include polo...) I was told by both vendor and friend that the inflatable would not protect my hips. Whereas the non -air one seems to at least cover me from neck to tail bone.

Thus I forego the inflateable. 

So I"m back in the saddle, wearing my  too cool vest...looking like I know what I'm doing.

And, with the return of cooler weather, Raven is happy bombing around when he's not carrying one of us.

12 September 2018

Zen and the art of bread making

     I love to cook. To me, being able to combine ingredients, process them with heat and turn it into something delicious, is truly an art. 

     I didn’t learn to cook from my mother. I was a horse obsessed tomboy without a lick of patience; grew up in a Midwestern beef and potatoes household ruled by a xenophobic and tyrannical father who considered plain cheese pizza “exotic” cuisine. 

    The Army introduced me to an entire culinary galaxy. I learned that people from other cultures ate things like mushrooms and garlic. I learned to eat a lot of 'exotic' things and all of them were almost always delicious.

    While in the middle of marriage #1, I decided to start making dinners. I started off using Hamburger Helper. It didn’t take me long to realize it was awful stuff, and that there were things called “cookbooks’. I bought a copy of “Joy of Cooking”, and took off from there.

 Joy was the impetus for my ever widening forays into cooking.

   “Joy of Cooking” is a treasure that is as necessary in a kitchen as a stove. It is an encyclopedia of all things edible. If I’m ever marooned on a deserted island, I hope to have Joy with me, for it will teach me how to cook the things I find growing on it. Of course, there is a bad side to Joy...I can think of no better way to torture someone into submission as to put them on a bread and water diet, and the only thing to read is Joy of Cooking. 

    Despite my being a confident and competent cook, I will never, ever not have a copy of that most wonderful book. 

    I’ve created recipes out of whole cloth, sometimes by just throwing things together. I’ve folded the properties of different spices and ways of cooking into my DNA. I am fortunate to be able to say that on the few times my experiments have flopped, I’ve been able to toss it into the compost pile and have a peanut butter sandwich for dinner. 

     I’m also one of those people who insist on sitting down at the table for meals. No eating in front of the TV in MY house! 

   I never, though, have been a baker.
    Cooking is chemistry.

    Baking is witchcraft.

    I’ve tried baking in the past. My first ever attempt at baking, before I had Joy at my side, was making banana nut bread. I thought that baking soda was the same thing as baking powder. No. Even after 40 years, I’m certain that somewhere in a North Carolina landfill rests a perfectly formed, still solid banana flavored brick. 

   I just didn’t have the patience.

   But today, ah, today. 
   The rains have returned, thank the weather gods, for now we can stand down from our constant worry about wildfires. The drought has been broken. 

    Listening to the rain on the roof, I thought, hmm. Too wet to ride, let’s try to bake something.

   I pulled Joy down and flipped through the pages until I reached pita.

    I like pita bread. No one does it better than the Greeks, but I have had excellent pita in Saudi Arabia. You can buy it in the stores. It can’t be that difficult.

   It wasn’t. What surprised me, though, was that I learned that I’ve finally developed patience for baking. 

   Maybe it came about from riding. If one is impatient with a horse, one is going to have resistance. 

   The recipe called for me to knead the dough for 10 minutes. 

    I found it calming. As I kneaded, my normally constantly chattering brain shut up. I found a tranquility in the motions of my hands, fully concentrating on the rhythm of rolling, folding, pushing. I’ve always been one who learned best by doing, and this work was no exception. I began to feel the change in texture, from sticky (add some flour!) to tacky, to something pliable and full of promise.

   The recipe called for rolling the individual rolls of dough to about 1/8th of an inch, and 8” across. An eighth of an inch? How do you measure that? 

   Another nicety of having a well-stocked kitchen is there is always something that will do in a pinch. In this case, it was a set of wooden disposable chopsticks. One chopstick is 1/8th of an inch wide at the top (the spot where you snap the two sticks apart) and is 8” long!!

   As with a well cooked and delicious meal, I was proud of my first attempt at baking bread of any sort. My pitas were a tad plump. Like my dressage 20 meter circles, (which are never 20 meters across and certainly not round) , my pitas weren’t 8 inches across and not very round. They didn't form a pocket. But they were still very good and made nice sandwiches. 

  Next time, I will roll them thinner. Now that I have found a serenity in baking, I'll be doing more of it. 
 Banana nut bread, anyone?

11 September 2018

Why the US shouldn't host the FEI World Equestrian Games ever again.

Why the US shouldn’t host the FEI World Equestrian Games

In 2010, the Kentucky Horse Park was chosen to host the first ever FEI World Equestrian Games in the US. It was a huge landmark event, and American horsemen flocked to it in droves.

It was, to be blunt, excrutiating. Not the horse events, mind you. No, it was the tsunami of relentless, ubiquitous and obnoxious advertising by Alltech.

The fact that this was the FEI’s World Equestrian Games was almost lost in the flood of Alltech advertising. It was, in reality, The Alltech Games.

You could not do a thing without seeing, hearing or having Alltech advertising in your face. A plane circled the Park every single day, all day long, towing a gigantic banner with the words Alltech on it. It was so low that, during the Dressage tests, the audience was silent...but the plane droned and droned and DRONED overhead.

Everything had the Alltech brand on it. Shirts, hats, horse blankets, you name it. They had an entire tent...a gigantic one..filled with nothing but Alltech stuff.

A year before the Games, Alltech put out a request for volunteers to ‘help’. I did, and was accepted as a scribe for MY veterinarian who was going to serve (and paid) to be one of the Endurance ride vet checks. I even got an official Acceptance from Alltech as a scribe. I was assured I’d have a place to stay during my work as a scribe, and that they’d contact me ‘soon’ with more details.  
But months went by, without another word from Alltech. I emailed, I called (and got a ‘this number has been disconnected” ) without any luck. One month beforehand, I, using a phone number my vet had, managed to contact someone at Alltech regarding my acceptance email. First, she snapped, "how did you get this number." When I told her I was going to be working with my veterinarian,  she was very pissed, and proceeded to tell me that there was ‘no record’ of my being accepted as a scribing volunteer. Somehow, my acceptance letter had disappeared into the internet black hole.

Wisely, I’d made other arrangements..to go as a spectator, not as a volunteer. I went with 7 other women. We got our tickets, rental cars and motel rooms arranged. Had I not done that, I would never have gotten the tix, nor the motel rooms. Those were booked or snapped up within days of the tickets going on sale.


Within days of that call, I received an email from Alltech, saying that I HAD, actually, been accepted as a volunteer, and they really, really wanted my free labor.

But not doing what I wanted to do.

 No, they bamboozled me and many, MANY other horsemen into doing the shitty jobs, the dirty jobs, the Nothing to do with Horses jobs that Alltech didn’t want to pay a company to do.

Tasks like recharging portapotties with toilet paper. Handing out maps. Picking up garbage and trash, bussing tables, standing guard -they had a lot of people doing guard duty-at the entrance to the stadium or the cross country course. Jobs like managing the parking, the bus station, jobs that needed to be done but Alltech didn’t want to pay a company to do it. No, the hoodwinked volunteer did that. I talked to a few of them. They were, by the way, told not to answer questions about Alltech’s bait and switch tactics. Nevertheless, they did. One woman told me “If I’d known I’d be stuck refilling the portapotties with toilet paper I would NEVER have volunteered.”

The volunteer was given an Official Alltech fanny pack with a box lunch (Alltech logo prominently displayed) consisting of a white bread sandwich, an oatmeal cookie, and a bottle of water. For an entire day of work.
If you happened to be actually working in the competition arena, (for instance, showing people where their bleacher seats were), you were allowed in to that venue ONLY. You weren’t allowed to WATCH. Should you want to see anything else in the Games, you had to buy the tickets for it, just like everyone else.

No free parking was given to the volunteer, and despite the original assurances that you’d have a place to stay, no accommodations (i.e. motel room) were provided.

The most onerous of Alltech’s disgusting advertising onslaught was at the main entry gate.
Well, let me back up.

Alltech provided A food court. The tables were few, especially considering that the average daily attendance was in the thousands. The culinary choices were typical horse show food: pop, mystery meat hamburgers and bubble gum pink hot dogs, all horribly over-priced. I purchased a plastic box (with a plastic fork) of wilted lettuce with one half frozen cherry tomato and a slice of soft cucumber, accompanied by a tiny packet of industrial grade raunchy I mean ranch dressing. I think it was supposed to be ranch, anyway. Price: $9.50, tax not included. A bag of M&M’s was $4.50.

Oh, I could have paid $35 to enter the VIP tent where real meals were served...but that was just to enter the tent and sit down, I’m told. But the hours were unrealistic and the food smelled no better outside the tent than in the ‘food court’.

Alltech wasn’t done gouging. If you were wearing a shirt or cap that had the logo of a company NOT Alltech but horse related, you were told to remove it. Even the vendors for things like riding boots and saddles were discouraged from displaying any form of advertising if it didn’t say Alltech.

That still wasn’t good enough for Alltech. They had Gate Nazis. I don’t believe they were volunteers. The Gate Nazis INSPECTED your bags...for food. They didn’t want you bringing in so much as a peanut butter sandwich.  One woman said, “I can’t believe Alltech has this World Class Event and is feeding horse show food.”  
But they were. One of the friends I went with made the mistake of having a bag of potato chips in her bag.

The Gate Nazis took it. They literally confiscated it and did not re-imburse her for it.  I’m surprised they let her in, but she DID have a ticket.

They even gave me a hard time over a Nalgene water bottle I carried in. The gate Nazi asked me what was in the bottle. I said “Water” and looked her dead in the eye, daring her to take it from me. She backed down, but still... it rankled. Yet I sure in hell wouldn’t have wanted to do that job. I am truly astonished that they didn’t frisk us. I think the only reason they didn’t is that it would have held up the lines of people wanting in.

So from then on, we hid our lunches on our person. Before we went through the gate, I carried four Subway sandwiches (only one was mine) underneath my sweatshirt. All of the rest of my friends did the same. Between us, we all managed to carry in chips, sandwiches and snacks, food that was much better and that  we’d bought outside of the park, at much more reasonable prices.

Now fast forward to today, 11 Sep 18. (let me pause here for just a moment. :-( 

The 2018 Games are being held in a little town in North Carolina called Tryon.

The grounds are owned by someone named Bellisimo. He promised great things but in reality, never gave a thought to the support staff of the various countries sending teams.
For instance: this World Class Event, only the second to ever be held in the US, made sure that the riders had motel accommodations. But the grooms?
Well, Bellisimo-if he thought about them at all, decided at the last minute to put the grooms up in TENTS. Big tents, similar to those used by the Army. In the tents are bunk beds.

Snipped from Horse and Hound online magazine, 10 Sep 18

I spent too many years in the Army to say that tents are suitable accommodation. In a war, they’re better than sleeping in the rain, but in a world class athletic event? Nope. Imagine, if you can, the stink that would be raised if someone here in the US said, hey, we’ll host the Olympics and the athletes can sleep in tents!!

Bunk beds are not suitable for grown-ups. These tents, from what I understand, have no air conditioning (a necessity in the Southeast). Bathrooms? Nope. Showers? Nope.No place to store your clothing, your wallet, your passport, nothing. Not a bit of privacy. This  looks like something out of the 1940's open bay Basic Training.
Maybe the grooms can bathe underneath a garden hose?

Nor are tents suitable for the people who traveled half way around the world, to care for the very animals that are the whole reason for the Games: the horses.  Most of the horses are worth thousands of dollars and who, overall, make an awful lot of money for the FEI.
No, the tents were an afterthought. Someone said to Bellisimo, um, where are the grooms going to sleep? And he said, “Grooms? You mean like at a wedding?” That’s about as far as he went, I suppose.
If you’ve have never been to North Carolina, I (having been stationed there for three long, miserable years) can tell you, it’s not a very nice place to live. It is humid...100%, usually, hot, and mosquito filled. The grass is full of chiggers and the trees are full of ticks. The water is horrible tasting. But somehow, the FEI thought this was a suitable place for the Games.

Although I think it may be due to a last minute thing. I believe I heard that Montreal, Canada backed out of hosting the Games at the last second, leaving the FEI scrambling for another venue in which to hold them.

Let’s also consider that at this moment, a Category 5 hurricane, Hurricane Florence, is headed for the North Carolina/South Carolina coast. She is packing winds of 140 mph.
Once she makes landfall, after tearing the coastal cities to shreds, will trek inland and dump FEET of water in torrential downpours.
If the winds don’t tear down the tents, the barns and the grounds, the flooding will. Both states are putting out evacuation orders...and where will those people go? Inland.
Once the hurricane hits, even if the winds don’t hurt the tents, the water will do what it always does: destroy the power lines. Flood roads, bring down hillsides, tear out bridges, strand living things on tiny islands, bring in torrents of filthy water carrying dead animals, floating sewage, wreckage of houses, terrified cats and drowning dogs,   tossing cars atop houses, into people, uprooted trees carried like battering rams...
What happens when the rain drowns the grounds? All the hay, the bedding, the horse trailers, all flooded? The arenas, hock deep in water? No power, no water, no way out? It’s going to be a dreadful mess.

What to do? Honestly, the thing to do is to cancel the games, take the horses farther inland...like to Colorado, evacuate the area and refund the money for the tickets.
That’s the smart thing to do but I admit it’s infeasible and once rich men have money in their wallets, they sure in hell don’t ever give it back.

But also, honestly, the thing to do is, I’m sorry to say, cancel the concept of the Games altogether...or keep it in Europe.

Americans have proven they cannot do it right. First, with Alltechs all consuming advertising, so bad that is was  really the Alltech Games, not the FEI and a coalition of riders from all over the planet, and now, with lousy planning and a refusal to accept that grooms are people, too as a background to the very real possibility of lives being lost in Tryon’s upcoming flooding...no, we just aren’t up to it. There’s just too much fixation on how much money can a few rich men make rather than it hosting a showcase of international horsemanship.