Friday, August 31, 2012

The Political Horse

How Horses Affect My Vote

Well, sort of.  In this case, let me warn you, I am going to be making a very political post here, so if you aren't interested, don't keep reading.

First, let me tell you, I am politically biased. I am a Democrat and rather liberal, so there is a definite slant to what I say.

But, in the interest of fairness, I did watch a good part of the Republican National Convention, where--for my non-US friends--Mitt Romney was nominated to run for the office of President of the United States. Mr. Romney has already made his less than impressive mark in Great Britain where he criticized the Olympics, so some of you may know of him.

Here in the USA, he has gained a reputation for being a kind of "wooden" figure with little human personality. He made his acceptance speech last night, and did his best to present himself as a warm, compassionate person. To a large extent he succeeded.

However....I am forced to question his sincerity mostly because of, get this....HORSES!

Ironically, the Olympics also figure into this.

As you may well know, Mitt Romney and his wife Ann, own the Olympic dressage horse, Rafalca. The mare competed in the 2012 Olympics under rider Jan Ebling and while she did not medal, they put in quite a solid, nice performance.

Regardless of what I think of Mr. Romney, I was quite excited and pleased about Rafalca, and was proud to know dressage had moved into the national spotlight because of its connection to the Presidential race.

Too bad Mr. Romney didn't feel that way too. In fact, the horse became quite a sore issue in the campaign. Many newscasters mocked out the Romney's for their "expensive, elite" lifestyle filled with dancing horses--"horse ballet."  OK, well enough. Add to it the $177,000 income tax deduction the Romney's took for the cost of their horses, and I suppose some of that criticism was valid. But, I didn't mind all of that too much. I was happy the Romney's had horses and happier still with their dressage connection and felt it did make them more "human."

Until...the crucial moments.  The week of the Olympics arrived and Mr. Romney was questioned about Rafalca's Olypmic debut.  What did he say?  In an interview with NBC news, here was his take:

"I have to tell you. This is Ann’s sport. I’m not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it, I will not be watching the event. I hope her horse does well."

What?!  Mr. Romney brags about his saving the Salt Lake Olympics from bankruptcy, suggesting a strong commitment to the Olympic games, and he doesn't even know when his own horse will compete? Worse, he claims it's his wife's horse and he doesn't even have enough interest to support her passion?

My take. The political heat was too much for Mr. Romney. He simply did not have the courage to stand up to negative press and say, "This is a once in a lifetime experience for my wife and our family. I am proud of our horse and Jan Ebling, and delighted to be a part of representing the United States in the Olympic games."

Nope, instead, he ran away from the whole scene.

OK, political expediency perhaps excuses his behavior, but then, last night in his acceptance speech, he lauded his father for standing by his mother's side during her run for office by saying:

"When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way. I can still hear her saying in her beautiful voice, 'Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?"

He admired his father for that, yet somehow, he could not emulate his own hero.  Further, in the film introducing him to the convention, he said of his wife: 
"He recalls telling her that he would be a happy man 'as long as I’ve got my soul mate with me.' "
 Read more:

Well, he certainly didn't think enough of his "soul mate" to bother being at her side during one of the most exciting and important events of her equestrian life. 

"Hypocrisy" comes to mind and sticks there. 

And that's a prime reason I will not vote for Mr. Romney. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mustang Under Saddle

Rosie Grows Up!

My friend, Stacie, bought a mustang mare from the Rutgers University young horse auction two years ago.  At that time, Rosie was 2 years old and had just been groundworked.  

Students in the program do all the horse care and basic training, as well as monitoring the feeding and general health care of the horses. In the last few years, they have added American Mustangs to their program.  At the end of the school year--in the Spring--they auction the horses off to the general public. 

Stacie sent Rosie to a trainer for a month and now has her back home. Aside from a gallop off or two, Rosie has been a star pupil.  Personally, I think she is adorable. 

Here's a picture of Stacie riding her a week ago or so:

Looks like the start of a great partnership. 

Monday, August 27, 2012


To All of Nature's Quirks

I have not been riding, in case you haven't noticed. Even on the days when I could, I don't. The prospect of facing the B52's, mosquitoes, and other flying attack pests just overwhelms me.  To put the bug armor on when I saddle up takes perhaps another ten minutes of tack up time. Because the horses are not fit, I would only be riding for perhaps twenty minutes.  Doing all the extra prep work therefore, takes up about the same amount of time I'd spend in the saddle. Hardly a bargain.

Meanwhile, Tucker's flysheet is now fastened on with two double end snaps and baling twine loops threaded through the broken surcingles. The sheet is not torn, but the surcingle buckles are missing. What in the world has he been doing to break both surcingles while not doing any damage to the sheet itself?  I've never quite seen anything like it.

On a sad note, my friend Stacie, had to put her horse Lucky down yesterday.  Lucky was a lovely, large 13 year old warmblood she had raised from a yearling. She competed him very successfully through first level dressage before he developed a chronic lameness in his front end.

I think I posted about this years ago, when Lucky underwent surgery to clean up some necrotic bone in his front ankle.  Despite super care and Stacie's devotion, he never did become sound enough to ride again, so Stacie retired him to her farm where she has loved and cared for him for many years since the surgery.

Unfortunately, over the last year or so, Lucky had become more and more unstable in his hind end due to some kind of neurological issues. Yesterday morning, he went down and was not able to get back up despite all of Stacie's efforts, efforts her friends and neighbors, and the help of her veterinarian.  It was hopeless and the only answer was to humanely euthanize him.

Regardless of the circumstances, losing a horse that has been a loving, willing companion for so long is always a heartbreaking experience. While we all know there was no other option, my heart is still breaking for her.

I'm sure Lucky is now off galloping the green pastures of heaven with all the other beloved horses lost and mourned by those of us left here.

RIP Lucky Luciano. Your life was a gift to all who knew you. Run free.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Finally a Dry Day

But Still Hot

We are supposed to have a cold front eventually, but so far, the heat is still on.

But the humidity has dropped a little and for once, I don't think there are any thunderstorms in the forecast. So we have at least one day's reprieve until the unsettled weather returns for the weekend.

The upside is that here in my part of New Jersey, the crops are growing well. Tomatoes, corn, and all kinds of veggies are plentiful, and the field crops seem to be thriving.  I don't know how the hay crop is doing, though, as the frequent showers might be making it hard for farmers to dry and bale.

Also good for me is that with rain, the aquifer replenishes and I don't worry as much about my well drying up so that I have no water. We have had years of rationing in the past, but not this year--so far.

The swimming pool closed down on Tuesday due to storms. Yesterday, I drove by around 3 PM or so and it was closed again. But then, I called and found out if I had been 10 minutes later, they would have been open again.  I quick changed into my suit and drove back over to get in my swim of a bit over 30 minutes, and even managed a couple rounds on the Lazy River. I showered, headed home and within another 15 minutes or so, thunder began to rumble again, so I suspect they closed down again.

I really do get addicted to swimming nearly every day, so the pool's closing is really frustrating.

Needless to say, with the heat and the bugs, I haven't been riding. It would have been cool enough this morning, but I overslept and by the time I got out to the barn, the sun was already filling the arena, beckoning the B52's.  No fun there.

I certainly hope that when autumn rolls in I will get back into the habit of riding regularly again. My knees still are not fully recovered from the surgery, but riding doesn't seem to cause too many more issues than either swimming or riding the exercise bike.

When I was younger, the summer heat did not stop me like it does now.

I guess I'm suffering from a little bit of age and motivation at the same time. *sigh*

Monday, August 13, 2012

While the Grass Grows

I Mow Again

The grass keeps growing this summer despite periods of really hot days. The intermittent thunderstorms are just enough to perk up the crabgrass and weeds, of course.

So I had to mow the lawn again.

And the Boys are spending time actually grazing in the riding arena. The surface may be sand, but around here nature uses any opportunity at all to take root.  Since I haven't been riding, the grass has taken hold. I'm sure it will pull up as winter approaches and I drag the arena more. But, oh, my goodness, in the meantime, it's pretty green out there.

And the bushes and other weeds have really taken over along the fenceline. I honestly cannot keep up with it as I have neither the energy or the strength to deal with the growth.

Then too, of course, most of the days recently have been really hot and that puts me off completely. When I was younger, I could bear up in the heat. No more.

I also have to do some bush trimming along the driveway where the lilacs and maple saplings seem to be trying to take over. I guess I will have to do a little at a time until I get things under control.

Were I in a better financial state, I would hire a yard company to deal with some of this stuff, but my budget it too tight at the moment. Things may ease up, eventually, but it's not to be so right now.

It is kind of fascinating. Behind my riding arena used to be a farm field that my grandmother used to plant. When she stopped farming, she leased the land to a local farmer. You'd never know it to look at it today. It is a total forest.

My grandmother's house has been torn down and her property--now part of the State Park--is also virtually total forest as well. It hasn't been dozens of years either.

Around here, you have to beat back the forest if you want to keep some open space.

Nature insists on having its way. It's a blessing and a curse.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Olympic Disappointment With a Huge Grin

A Grin Mitigated with a Frown

First, hats off to Steffen Peters for pulling out all the stops in a extremely difficult and well ridden kur. He said in an interview, that Ravel seemed "distracted " today, hence the uncharacteristic mistakes in the test, but there is no doubt it was still a tremendous performance. I certainly wish he had scored higher--I think in his case some of the scores were lower then deserved--but it was a masterful effort.

Ravel will probably retire now and as a gelding, live a happy life, I hope. There is no hint that his owners intend to sell him, so that's good.

Disappointment was overcome by the incredible rides of the British dressage riders! Wow! Charlotte Dujardin's  ride brought tears to my eyes, and a worried shudder at one small mistake at the end. But for once, fate and the judges chose wisely and she won the gold medal with an incredible 90.089%! (Gee, she would have beaten Tucker!!)

The best part was watching how correct her horse, Valegro, was. He was ever so slightly in front of the vertical in all the extensions and in the piaffe as well, carrying himself in beautiful natural balance without being cranked into the bridle. He was round, engaged, willing an just beautifully ridden.

The worst part was, again, Adelinde Cornelisson's 88+% ride on Parzival. Once again her horse was tight and
"closed" in the neck, opening his mouth against the bit. Despite the restricted frame, he was able to move well enough and execute the exercises, but it was far, in my mind, from the grace and beauty dressage should  present. Parzival  is an amazine horse to be able to extend his gaits while his neck and frame never lengthen to match his stride.

I was watching the tests with my friend on the phone--she is a dressage rider as well--and after Adelinde's test was over, she was sure it must have scored out of the medals. I warned her, "Just watch. She's going to have high score of the day."

My friend replied, "No way, that was horrible." And then, when the score was announced, she said it again, "NO WAY!"

At that point, both of us were cheering Charlotte on with a vengeance.

Once again, the good guys won. I hope against hope that the British victory might  begin a new era of dressage where truly correct training and performance once again wins the day over horses forced into submission by the evils of rollkur.

Here are the FEI guideline pictures:

These exercises are acceptable for ten minute intervals.  How does this picture from the Olympics compare?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

And Tucker Earns a 90%

While The B52 Aborts Chance's Score

Every time the Olympics come around, I love to pretend I am riding there, scoring way above everyone else in a Grand Prix test. Today was no exception.

I was out in the arena during the lunch break in London--something like 8 AM or so here. It was the first truly cool and not too humid morning in weeks. My arena was still in shade and it was quite pleasant riding.

I rode Tucker first.  After a short warmup--neither he nor I am exactly fit for a long schooling session--we performed Olympic First Level Special Test Number Whatever. The Boy was a star. Leg yields were fine as was all the rest of the trot work. We were heading for a 98% score when I asked for the right lead canter depart and Tucker laid back his ears and simply refused. I didn't have my whip, so I slapped him on the should with the rein, at which point he half reared, and then lifted himself into the canter. good score on that one. He is very opinionated and does not like to be corrected. I'm not sure why the canter is still and issue, but since we weren't in a real frame and he probably wasn't exactly prepared by me to canter, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. His indignation at being slapped was obvious, but it did make the point and he was fine for the rest of the ride.  Obviously, his score suffered from the disobedience, but the rest of the test was so perfect, he earned a high score of 90%--good enough, I'm sure, for the gold medal.

Chance was next and after another short warmup, we started to ride Olympic Training Level Special Test Number Somrthingorother/ We made it through most of the trot work when competition was disrupted by the arrival of one rather determined B52 Bomber Fly.

Because it had been so cool and lovely, I had not dressed Chance in the protective bug armor, but just used some Mosquitp Halt fly spray.  Apparently, despite it's rather noxious odor, the spray does not deter B52's. Now, Chance has never bucked with me, but he was certainly getting fussy and really distracted by the evil bug's attack.

Discretion was once again the better part of valor, so I called it quits, dismounted and got Chance and me back into the barn as quickly as possible.

Competition aborted. But the rest of the ride was lovely with nice trot and canter, so I suspect he might have earned that elusive 98% if we'd been allowed to continue.

Better luck next soon as the next lovely day arrives.

Monday, August 06, 2012

More Controversy

Olympic "Hands On" the Horses

So now, a few Internet folks are raising questions about the bits and rigs riders are using in the show jumping.

And, I do have admit, some of the contraptions are pretty ugly. I'm not even sure how to describe them in correct technical terms.

In small defense, jumping is generally a lot more dangerous than dressage, so there is some reason to want more control over the horse....but, when does that become overkill and should it really be necessary??

Someone, on a post, suggested that if a horse could not be ridden in a snaffle over fences then something was wrong with the training. Well, that may be, but even my super well trained hunter--who did do all his show hunter rounds in a snaffle, needed "a little more bit" cross country. He was an enthusiastic fellow who'd jump nearly anything I set him at, but once we were "out in the field" he'd like to take charge so much I might actually not be able to point him at the right spot without a little more leverage. I used a kimberwicke and never needed anything more.

I can fully understand, therefore, the need for more bit on a jumper, especially on a course requiring speed, sharp turns and accurate "take off" spots. But I do have to question some of the complex rigs with tie downs, weird, severe bits, too tight nosebands, and who knows what.

All of that gear is a shortcut to hours of really good training. Disagree if you will, but there should be a limit as to how much hardware a horse can wear in competition.

As for the dressage, there are bitting rules, strictly followed, but even they do not protect a horse from a rider's abusive hands.  Sure, the judges can only score what they see in the competition arena, but a horse behind the vertical can be penalized on each score and  also have scores lowered in the "general impressions" section of the test.

If I recall correctly, in an extended gait, the horse is supposed to extend his head and neck a little. The frame lengthens with the gait.  Here's another place a rollkured horse is not going to gain any points. Just because a horse has the natural talent to go well despite some incorrect training or riding should not be the basis for an "8" or "9" on a movement. It's a sad commentary on what "classical' dressage has become as a competitive sport.

Ah, well, the debate will continue until someone in power takes a stand on all of this.

I'm glad I'm not a judge or official in the midst of the controversy. I'd be cringing, knowing how my decisions might "make or break" some of the top scoring riders and that I'd probably run into all kinds of flack from my fellows. The FEI rules are rather "whimpy' on all of it, after all, but there's a lot left open to interpretation.

Maybe it's time someone took the risk of interpreting them in favor of the horses.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Rollkur Rears Its Ugly Head in London

And the World Watches

Once again, dressage was dealt an ugly blow in front of the entire world.

Some of you may have seen the warm up picture of Patrik Kittel using rollkur in the Olympic schooling arena. It's gone "viral" on the Internet and is causing an uproar in the dressage community. Bad, indeed, but according to the FEI, no rules were broken and the rollkur was "momentary...."  Yeah, right...

Top it off by Adelinde Cornelisson's entrance into the competition area, cranking Parzival's head right, left, right, left over and over every time the horse even took a breath or stretched correctly into the bit. I was screaming at the screen, "For pity's sake, leave his face alone!!!" prompting my friend who was on the phone with me to ask what was wrong.

But it gets worse. Even during the test, Parzival tended to go behind the vertical with the only "payback" to his rider during the reinback. They halted, and then Cornelisson asked for reinback, Parzival momentarily resisted, as if to say, "What do you want? My head curled up, or something else?"

During a replay of the test they showed a close up of Parzival's head with only a scant few inches between his chin and chest.

But the final blow was the score. Second place at over 80%.

As long as that kind of riding gets a reward in the competition arena, it's not going to stop. As long as it's tolerated in the warm up, it will be used.

And now the entire world thinks that's how a dressage horse should be ridden.


Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Colbert Rides Dressage

What a Great Horse to Take a Lesson On Conchita, a 14 year old Hanoverian mare, owned by Michael Oyson was the mount of choice. Mr. Oyson is on the Phillipine dressage team, and has won numerous Grand Prix tests riding this girl. We are not talking child's school horse here. Conchita does spook, probably at the cameraman, and if you notice, Colbert sits that out really well. His seat at the passage is darn good too, making me pretty sure he's done some riding in his life. Rumor has it he rode dressage as a child, but it looks like there's been some more recent saddle time than that. I'm glad too that he's wearing a safety helmet, even though he did have a top hat to wear instead. Last question: what competition hands out jeweled tiaras as a prize? That is just plain unusual, as far as I am concerned. Anyhow, hope you can view and enjoy this adventure into the world of "frou frou" dressage.
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