Saturday, June 24, 2017

Poor neglected blog

That was quite a hiatus. I'm at the National Sporting Library now (and wow is it amazing!), and then I should have most of a month to put my notes in order before teaching again. So, stay tuned?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Into the Woods

Been in the woods for four days, because sometimes it's good to actually take a vacation.
(we'll ignore the grading spreadsheet on the drive 'n' all that.)

Back to the woods! With no grading left (?!)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cavendish, Part III: An Interlude in the Trenches

Start at Part I: In which Cavendish is snarky

If the last two parts of this series didn't get across how much Cavendish disparaged Blundeville, and by extension Grisone, maybe this one will. At WSECS this past weekend I mentioned that his "extended weighing of the relative demerits of Blundeville was the strawman that Cavendish used to support his claim of having a new, more sensible, natural, and effective method for training horses." He was likely able to do this, safely, because Blundeville had been wildly popular, with reprints every few years, but had ceased being republished some fifty years prior to Cavendish's first publication (his French edition of this work).

"they Dig out Rings, and Entrench themselves (which is a Horrible Folly); but I desire no more for Stopping than a Plain place, with∣out Hills, or any such Toyes; and will Dress any Horse perfectly there, by the New Method of my French Book: which I Refer you to"

Here Cavendish refers to Blundeville's use of trenches dug in to the ground to keep the horse straight, and his use of deep footing to tire a horse in to submission. While the use of deep footing and hills is something I will gladly do (especially to isolate muscle groups, or encourage a gaited horse to change gears), it ought to be part of an overall conditioning regime– not basic training. In addition to using these methods in starting horses (which given a lack of facilities can be understandable), Blundeville's 'sixth correction' for a horse who does poorly turning in a particular direction is:

"GO into some soft ground newly plowed with depe forrowes, and there first pace him faire and softlye to and fro, the length of a maneging course, then folow on with a good roūd trot..."

So far, so good. Shows concern for working the horse up to it, getting them used to their surroundings, and starting slow helps prevent tendon damage that deep footing can risk. But then:

"and when he will not tourne on that hande that you woulde haue him, all to rate hym with a terrible voyce, and beat him with a Cogel upon the heade, betwixt the eares"

Cavendish is not silent on the second half, either:

"He would have Us to Strike a Horse with a Cudgel, or a Rod, between the Ears, and upon the Head; which is Abominable, though he thinks it a Rare Secret."

Yeah, Abominable is a pretty good word here.

Thus ends Part III, because next Cavendish gets in to Blundeville on breeding and there is far too much to unpack. That deserves its own entry.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Cavendish, Part II: In which Cavendish throws shade

(Read Part I: In which Cavendish is snarky)

" a Good Horse-man may be Thrown Down sooner than Ill ones; because Good Horse-men little think of Sitting... their Thoughts being all how to make their Horses go Well... whereas an Ill Horse-man thinks of nothing but Sitting, for Fear he should be Thrown, and never thinks how to make his Horse go Well; for he Knows not how to Do it..."
    Well...he's not wrong. Nine times of ten I find myself riding poorly it's because I've become concerned about falling off. Though, I might add, there is also something to the choice in what horses we ride, though I believe Cavendish is here referring only to already broke mannage horses.
"...But Holds by the Main, and the Pomel, and his Head at the Horses Head, ready to Beat out his Teeth, and his Leggs holding by the Flank; and is so Deformed on Horse Back, as if he were a Strange African Monster; and the Horse so Disordered, that to see him Sit in that Manner, is the most Nauseous Sight that can be, and the most Displeasing to the Beholders; and were much Better for the Spectators to see him Fall, and for his Reputation, so he received no Hurt by the Fall."

Of Grisone and Blundville, Cavendish says:

"They Teach to Ride one Horse two or three Hours at a time, when one may well Ride half a Dozen at least in an Hour, and give them sufficiently Enough."

And this, of course, is an argument very much alive today. It is, at least publicly, considered to be a mark of great skill to be able to complete a "colt-breaking" challenge, and be able to canter or lope an untouched horse by the end of the weekend. There are still 'cowboys' that get paid by the head to travel to ranches and start a number of horses by just getting on and staying there until the horse tires. And yet, even within these, they say less is more. Both the public clinicians and the hired hands tend to say many small lessons work better than one long one. I am inclined to agree, as even my older horses rarely benefitted from more than about half an hours training, if one defines training as teaching or refining new information. The rest, if they got more, was conditioning. The younger or more inexperienced the horse, the shorter the effective "training" section. Of course, that said, I am fond of getting youngsters out more than once a day, given you have the time and staff. I'd far rather do two or three short works than one long one. They tend to learn faster, with less stress (and thus they stay safer as well), and retain their lessons better.

And further:
"For a Resty Horse they Raise a whole Town with Staves to Beat him, with many Curious Inventions, with Squirts, Fire, Whelps, Hedg-hoggs, Nailes, and I know not What."
Yes, hedgehogs. Or, lacking a hedgehog, a cat on a stick. Yes, really.
     From Blundeville:
"Also the shirle crye of a hedgehog beyng strayt teyed by the foote vnder the horses tayle, is a remedye of like force, which was proued by Master Vincentio Respino, a Napolitan, who corrected by this meanes an olde restiue horse of the kinges in suche sort as he had muche a do afterward to kepe him from the contrarye vice of runninge awaye."
y'don't say. Imagine that. 

"LEt a footeman stande behinde you with a shrewed cat teyed at the one ende of a long pole with her belly vpward, so as she may haue her mouth and clawes at libertye. And when your horse doth stay or go backward, let him thrust the Catte betwixt his thyes so as she may scratch and bite him, somtime by the thighes, somtime by the rompe, and often times by the stones."
by the stones.
It is the single strangest training recommendation I have even read. Cavendish rants on about other ridiculous techniques, and then insults their understanding of terms. He also scoffs at their use of "the Chambetta, which signifies nothing."

Yes, chambetta does seem to be jambette. Which, yes, is not a particularly useful manuever in any sense of the word (to be fair, Blundeville does suggest it is best to look flashy when riding before one's King). To be more specific, Blundeville describes the jambette in turns in his chapter on the chambette. Like this:

It's fancy, it takes time to train, it impresses the crowd. But...ok, I'm with Cavendish again. It doesn't translate to the development of the horse as a whole.

Thus ends Part II

Special thanks to Lelian Maldonado for helping me dig in to the possible etymology of chambetta in the course of confirming that it did refer to a form of jambette.

Read Part III: An Interlude in the Trenches

Friday, January 27, 2017

Cavendish, Part I: In which Cavendish is snarky

I'd been debating livetweeting my reread of Cavendish's snarky training treatise. I did this instead.

On Cavendish's "New Method" 
Part I: In which Cavendish is snarky, and disparages all riders he has not trained.

"And though the French think, That all the Horse-manship in the World is in France."     
         I laughed unreasonably. To be fair, for a hand of centuries prior to Cavendish, much of Europe was stealing France's equestrian vocabulary.

       "This Noble Art was first begun and Invented in Italy, and all the French and other Nations went thither to learn; the seate of Horse-manship being at Naples: The first that ever Writ of it was Frederick Grison."    
         Duarte predates Grisone by a century and change, but Duarte was not in the "genealogy" of trainers Cavendish described. Duarte was virtually unknown (possibly due to only being available in an incomplete manuscript, cut short by his death). Because Duarte's manuscript spent some time in Naples, it is entirely plausible that Duarte's thoughts or even writing does belong in this family tree. For more on the life of this manuscript, I recommend this translation of Duarte.    
         More curiously, Cavendish makes no mention on Xenophon, which was available at least in Italy by Grisone's time.* Not at all surprisingly, Kikkuli is left out as well, along with innumerable other folks who undoubtedly wrote about horsemanship through the ages and remain as lost to us as the were to Cavendish. 

"As for Pluvinel, no doubt but he was a Good Horse-man; but his Invention of the Three Pillars, of which his Book Pretends to be an ab∣solute Method, is no more than an absolute Routine; and hath spoyl'd more Horses, than ever any Thing did; for Horses are not Made to the Hand and the Heel at all with them; nor will they go from the usual place where they are Ridden, nor well there neither."
         I'll drink to that.

"I must tell you that the Italian Writers are Tedious, and write more of Marks, Colours, Temperatures, Elements, Moon, Stars, Winds, and Bleedings, than of the Art of Rideing;...
         He's not wrong.
 only to make up a Book, though they wanted Horse-manship."

"Many say, that all things in the Mannage is nothing but Tricks, and Dancing, and Gam∣balls, and of no Use"
         Some things haven't changed. Cavendish's answer, being in effect that these are the foundation skills for all pursuits, will also sound familiar to modern horsefolks.

"But, What makes these Men speak against it?...the Main Reason is this; They find they cannot Ride well;"

        He goes on to explain that this is because the manage horse cannot be ridden by "inspiration," but only though the long work of training rider as well as horse. And on, and on, and just a bit more.

"They cannot do it, and therefore it is Naught: A very good and sensless Reason! He that will take Pains for Nothing, shall never do any thing Well; for Arts, Sciences, and good Qualities, come not by Instinct, but are got by great Labour, Study, and Practice."
       It seems he had some feelings on the subject.

"I would have every Horse (that wears a Bitt) Gelding, or Nagg, wrought in the Mannage, to
be firm on the Hand, both for Readiness, and Safety."
       And back to the horse! Though I do quite agree with him, having turned out even some nice western and saddleseat horses from a dressage start. To clarify, however, by "bitt" he means curb.

"But, sayes a Gallant, when I should have Use of him in the Field, then he will be playing Tricks: That Gallant is Deceived; for, the Helps to make Horses go in Ayres, and to make them go upon the Ground, are Several; and Good Horse-men have much ado to make them go in Ayres, with their best Helps; so that, if you let them alone, they will not trouble you; besides, two or three dayes March will make them, that they will not go in Ayres, if you would have them; and they are much the Readier to go on the Ground"
        This neatly undermines the received wisdom that dressage (and it's predecessor the manege) was merely off season practice of military maneuvers.

"There can be no Horse else Safe and Useful; nor can any Horse go well in a Snaffle, except he be formerly Ridd with a Bitt."
        On this I will part ways with his grace. Though I do tend to finish my horses in some sort of shanked bit, it is not always beneficial and certainly not always needed. I did once start a horse in a neck rope and a halter, alternatingly, because he'd had a terrible ear infection. He wasn't the most "useful," but a curb certainly wouldn't have helped him.
       To be fair, Cavendish advocates the use of a riding cavesson for starting horses. I'm honestly a fan of this myself (though I'll just clip reins to a regular noseband or well fitted halter), but despite the various traditions that go from bit-less to curb (like, say, bosal to spade), I don't think a curb should ever be the first bit a horse carries.

"Thus it is Proved, That there is nothing of more Use than A Horse of Mannage; nor any thing of more State, Manliness, or Pleasure, than Rideing"
        I've been called manly before, but oddly not for riding.

Here ends Part One. Read Part II: in which Cavendish throws shade.

*Edit to add: and referenced in John Astley's 1884 Art of Riding

Monday, December 26, 2016

Bit-less not Pressure-less

     I've mentioned before that some bit-less bridles, particularly the Dr. Cook's and bridles based on it, can actually apply a huge amount of psychological and physical pressure to the horse. Those I've ridden with know that I am generally a fan of riding bit-less, but do not like rigs that directly apply unfettered poll pressure. I certainly do not agree that such rigs are kinder to most horses than a simple snaffle (or even, in some cases, a basic curb).

     Today, while looking up something entirely different, I stumbled on the original patent for Dr. Cook's bridle, which contained this terrifying addendum: "The centerpiece may include a plurality of holes for receiving studs for applying painless pressure on regions of special acuity at the poll and behind each ear of the animal, or may receive a separate sleeve which includes the studs in order to apply pressure over areas of special acuity. Studs of different sizes can be fitted in a range of locations, depending upon the amount of pressure required and the conformation of any particular horse or other animal."

     Thankfully, I have never seen poll studs in use at any of my barns, nor even seen them for sale.

Figures from Patent for
"Bitless bridle for governing horses and other animals"

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Student Evals: Reading between the check boxes

   Student evals are in. This was my first quarter teaching at UCR, and even though I've been through this process before I was anxious to see how my prior skills translated to student engagement in a new environment. My evals were overwhelmingly positive, despite evals no longer being required for students to view grades. Most of my scores were a tick above the department average, especially "Overall, is an effective teacher" and "Motivates me to do my best" which I consider the most important. Good enough, right? Well, yes, if all student evals were for was a metric to decide who is allowed to continue teaching. Student evals are often skewed, and there are always outliers. Because of this, the numbers don't always means much; and comments tend to be extremely good or bad, as students in the middle tend not to take the time to type a response even if they fill out the checkboxes. I did see a slight drop for "Gives useful feedback on assignments and exams." The majority of students who responded gave me a "perfect" score, but a couple knocked of a point or two, and two gave that section the lowest score overall. Although I gave detailed comments on the first assignment and midterm, these anomalies suggest that for a handful of students there was a lack of clarity. I doubt I will be able to give more detailed comments in a class of the same size, but I'm actually not sure that would help. Reading between the lines (or rather, checkboxes), I suspect that what will allow me to help a few extra students is some form of general translation guide: here is what this type of comment means, and here are some strategies to address it. For many of my students, this is the first class that asks for analytical writing. Many have not finished their writing series, and some have not even begin. History absolutely requires this skill, but it cannot be learned in a vacuum.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


    If the radio silence didn't make it obvious, things have been particularly busy. I'm about to be swamped in student papers again, but in the meantime I thought I'd share the lighter side of having a niche research area.

    I'm used to being the go to person when someone stumbles across an equine reference in their own research. What is a grulla? How big is a hand? What does "a freno" mean? We ask questions of others when we stumble into their specialties, and it enriches our understanding. I'm also used to the standard conference questions that nearly every equine historian gets about who ate horses and when. Lately, however, one of my colleagues has effectively turned this into a meme. I get sent assorted horse pictures, with often just the word "explain" attached. And while occasionally they're still serious questions, for the most part they are absurd and entertaining.

They really are good prep. You never know what sort of off topic threads will come up.

    And sometimes you learn new things even from truly oddball questions. I wouldn't have glanced twice at this "book," which looks like a cheap romance but doesn't come up on any book searches. But having been sent this, I did look twice, at the horse somehow jumping a house. And then I realized what was really wrong here. It was supposed to be a "story of the first thanksgiving," and I was pretty sure there were no horses on the Mayflower. So I had to check. 

    Handily for this one, I had a photo of the Animals in War Memorial memorial I'd snapped from the bus in London coming home from Leeds.

And sometimes, you just need something to lighten your day.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Zombie Horses, Oh My!

Wow, it's been a long month.

   Among the multitude of other graduate student-ly things I've been up to, I've started writing for the Sport in American History blog. Last month, they put out a call for contributors. Noticing that they didn't have adequate equestrian coverage, I thought: "why not?" U.S. history isn't technically my field, but I am fairly well versed in the equine aspects, and I am certainly involved in horse sports. I didn't consider how very different sports history, and writing about sports history, is. It has been a wonderful opportunity, and has made me re-think the way I look at certain sources and events.

  Anyway. My first post was set to go live today (Halloween), so I searched for something suitably festive to write about. Originally, I wanted to write about Frank Hayes, and his posthumous win on Sweet Kiss. What could be more halloween than a jockey who won while dead? But, there are already a number of articles floating around about his unique win. A number of them leave out the impressive fact that  it was a steeplechase, but in all plenty of good reading. This one is my favorite.

   So, that was out. I decided to dig in to the potentially grisly tradition of burying the head and hooves (and sometimes heart) of racehorses separately. Some notable horses are buried whole, and some have even been carefully exhumed and moved. With one of these major exceptions being Secretariat, I planned to organize my discussion around him. He is a very accessible figure, being fairly well known even outside of racing circles. In my initial research, I discovered that Secretariat's burial stood out even from other racehorses who have been buried whole (you'll have to read the post for more!) One of my advance readers rather was disappointed that I didn't go with the dismemberment topic, because clearly the practice was to prevent zombie horses. And that means: Zombie Secretariat is possible!

   It is worth noting that the American horse who's passing was observed most similarly to Secretariat's was Man o' War. Read the Sport in American History post to see why.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Four-beat Follow-up, Part I

  A couple weeks ago I wrote a bit on four beat canters & lopes. In a footnote at the bottom, I mentioned the four-beat gallop as well as a non-standard gait that is sometimes four beat: the break. 

  We'll take a quick tour of our understanding of this "gait," seen most often out of the starting gate, but first lets look at the related gallop. Prior to Muybridge's 1870's photographic study of equine locomotion, running horses were depicted stretch out, both hinds together behind the horse and both fore together in front of the horse, like this:

  And then, of course, came Muybridge's stop motion photography study. This instantly "disproved" the common depiction, which quickly went out of fashion.

Muybridge's The Horse in Motion, 1878

   And that was that. Right? Well...not quite. In the last decade or so, we've revisited this idea with new film technology. We need to add a few caveats. The frames above are of a mare galloping at the Palo Alto racetrack in California in 1878. The gallop exhibited by this mare is the most common way of going for horses in that gait, with the footfalls being hind, hind-opposite fore, fore, followed by a moment of suspension with all four legs curled in towards the center of the body. It is not, however, the only footfall pattern for the gallop, nor is the gallop all we see from modern racehorses.

   First, let's talk about an anomalous form of the gallop whose existence is still, with todays slow motion video technology, debated. That is the double suspension gallop. In this, there are two moments of suspension, similar to a running greyhound.* The hoof-falls are hind-hind, suspension, opposite fore-fore, suspension. 

This "second suspension" is usually missing from a horse's gallop

   Secretariats immense stride is sometimes credited to his use of this gait. His winning photo from the Belmont Stakes shows him in this second suspension phase, with all feet off the ground but legs outstretched. His outside fore hangs slightly, much like the dog in the photo above. It looks so strange that I, like many, wondered if it was a glitch. Then I realized that foreleg, and the opposite hind, are still in the process of moving forward. He is on the left lead, with his left (inside) fore about to land. So I looked around to see if this glitch was repeated anywhere.

    I looked at some "most obvious suspects." California Chrome. American Pharoah. Cigar. Zenyatta. All had huge closing strides– and acceleration within the gallop is where the double suspension seems to show– and none of them seem to exhibit this gait. And then I stumbled across this photo finish from the 2011 Melbourne Cup.

   Red Cadeaux, the chestnut on the inside, is in almost the exact strange position that Secretariat was in at his Belmont finish. The photo IS distorted– the larger version shows one horse with a ridiculously large hock– but the distortion seems greatest the furthest from the finish line. And there are now a handful of non-finish line photos floating around of the phenomenon, like this Quarter Horse Mr Premier LV:

   This photo would be the moment after the phase shown above. The left fore has just touched the ground, but both hinds are already well in the air. The double suspension gallop's effects on speed and soundness, as well as it's possible heritability, are all conjecture at this point. Studies are ongoing.

But wait, what about the break? Part II to follow.

*The greyhound, however, also tends to employ a rotary gallop, with the hind-fore pair being lateral (usually the outside pair). The double suspension gallop is sometimes called the transverse gallop; this is technically true, but the single suspension is also transverse, meaning using a diagonal rather than lateral pattern.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Four Beat Canters & Lopes

   There is a great deal of discussion among western riders & judges about what a lope should look (and sound) like. The primary split is between those who favor the four beat lope, which became common in the last half century, and those that consider it an abomination. I'm going to complicate that by looking at cases where the canter also becomes four beats, most commonly in dressage and in saddleseat. In all disciplines, the number of beats can be the easiest criteria to look at, but it does not denote quality or lack thereof on its own. A more detailed understanding of the mechanics can benefit both riders and judges, and help us articulate and achieve a variety of goals.

First, let's take a look at some official definitions:

AQHA Rulebook

   SHW330.3 The lope is an easy, rhythmical three-beat gait. Horses moving to the left should lope on the left lead. Horses moving to the right should lope on the right lead. Horses traveling at a four-beat gait are not considered to be performing at a proper lope. The horse should lope with a natural stride and appear relaxed and smooth. It should be ridden at a speed that is a natural way of going. The head should be carried at an angle which is natural and suitable to the horse’s conformation at all gaits. (pg. 114)

USEF Rulebook, Morgan Division

13. Canter: Smooth, collected and straight on both leads.
14. Lope: Smooth, slow, straight and a three beat cadence. 
15. Extended Lope: A lengthening of stride while maintaining a smooth, straight, three beat cadence.
16. Extended Canter: The extended canter should be ground covering, free moving and smooth. The extended canter should show a definite lengthening of stride, while still being controlled and mannerly. Extreme speed SHALL be penalized. 
17. Hand Gallop: Long, free ground covering stride under control. Not a fast collected canter, but a true lengthening of stride, correct and straight on both leads. Extreme speed penalized.
(pg. 943)

Note: number of beats is only specified for lope. Within the chart for "major and minor" faults in the Morgan Western Pleasure division (pg. 951), number of beats is not listed. Thus, it is up to the discretion of the judge whether it should be considered a major or minor fault. The Arabian Western Pleasure division does specify "not performing a three beat lope" as a major fault (pg. 345). The Arabian division, in general, has stricter and more cut & dry rules. The Morgan Park Saddle section uses "proper cadence" as one of its criteria, but never mentions number of beats (pg. 944). 

USEF Rulebook, Dressage Division

1. The canter is a three-beat gait where, in canter to the right, for example, the footfall is as follows: left hind, left diagonal (simultaneously left fore and right hind), right fore, followed by a moment of suspension with all four feet in the air before the next stride begins.

 4. The following canters are recognized: Working canter, lengthening of strides, Collected canter, Medium canter and Extended canter. 
   a. Working canter. This is a pace between the collected and the medium canter, in which a horse’s training is not yet developed enough and ready for collected movements. The horse shows natural balance while remaining “on the bit”, and goes forward with even, light and active strides and good hock action. The expression “good hock action” underlines the importance of an impulsion originating from the activity of the hindquarters. 
   b. Lengthening of strides. In some tests, “lengthening of strides” is required. This is a variation between the working and medium canter in which a horse’s training is not developed enough for medium canter. 
   c. Collected canter. The horse, remaining “on the bit”, moves forward with the neck raised and arched. The hocks, being well-engaged, maintain an energetic impulsion, enabling the shoulders to move with greater mobility thus demonstrating self carriage and an uphill tendency. The horse’s strides are shorter than in the other canters, without losing elasticity and cadence. 
   d. Medium canter. This is a pace between the working and the extended canter. Without hurrying, the horse goes forward with clearly lengthened strides and impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to carry the head a little more in front of the vertical than in the collected and working canter, and at the same time allows the horse, to lower the head and neck slightly. The strides should be balanced and unconstrained. 
   e. Extended canter. The horse covers as much ground as possible. Without hurrying, the strides are lengthened to the utmost. The horse remains calm, light and straight as a result of great impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to lengthen the frame with a controlled poll and to gain ground. The whole movement should be well-balanced and the transition to collected canter should be smoothly executed by taking more weight on the hindquarters.
(pg 474-475)

   In all of these very different competitions, a four-beat canter or lope is considered a flaw. So what is the difference between them? Are good canters and lopes always three-beat? Problematically, no. 

   The most visible, and visibly problematic, of the four-beat canters and lopes are in Western divisions, especially among stock horse breeds. AQHA specified four-beat lopes as a flaw after USEF did, and Quarter Horses are often easier to train to perform a four-beat lope than other breeds. There is still some disagreement among judges in all breeds about if it is a flaw and how severe a flaw it is. There are related discussions on headcarriage, as often an extreme four-beat lope also has a very down hill appearance, with the horse leaning on the forehand and the head carried below the chest. This sort of movement that is very recognizable, and while it does cause the horse to cover a minimum of ground (i.e., go slow), it is clearly detrimental to the horse. I won't show examples here, but if you search youtube for "western pleasure" you will find a range of examples. While seeing the break of the footfalls can sometimes be difficult without slow-motion, horses that move in this way have a noticeable hitch in their stride as they move forward using their backs and forelegs rather than their hips and hindlegs.

   The second place where this type of gait is very noticeable and not uncommon is in saddleseat. It is not, however, talked about as a number of beats issue. It is most often talked about as a shoeing issue, as the heavy shoes and action devices can often cause the same hitching four-beat gait as western pleasure riders can achieve by backing the horse out of the bridle. In saddleseat, this gait is hugely animated, and when achieved more by equipment than by training and conditioning it can appear very strange and un-horselike. This is, of course, exemplified most by the "big lick" walking horses, but can be seen in varying degrees anywhere a collected, animated canter is desire: park classes, most other saddleseat classes, and yes, even in dressage.

   But wait, didn't I say that a four-beat canter or lope isn't always bad? I did. The reason lopes often devolve into four-beat eyesores is because we humans, as rider, trainers, and judges, get stuck on the idea of "slow." We forget that the lope is actually a type of collection, and requires building up the horse's strength, stamina, and coordination. The reason saddleseat and even dressage fall prone to a similar four-beat gait, with the horse laboring more from its front end than its hind, is the same. It is a lack of conditioning. That lack can be temporary, a moment in the horse's progression, or it can become chronic if we are not aware of the issue. The problem, however, is not actually in the number of beats.

or how about this jumper doing canter poles

   These are all cases of four-beat canters that are 'correct;' meaning, they maintain the soundness of the horse and its balance to be able to move into a different gait or maneuver. They tend to go to four beats due the the degree of collection, with the hind of the diagonal pair landing before the fore, but the pair leaving the ground together. Now go back and look at those youtube videos. Look closely at the ones you didn't like. Play with the pause button. Are any of those broken looking lopes three-beat? I'd bet a few of them are. Because of the focus on the number of beats, that issue is often fixed without addressing the underlying cause. Just as shoes aren't necessarily the issue in saddleseat (plenty of keg-shod horses also move in a disunited fashion), not all three-beat lopes are good and not all four-beat lopes are bad: it is a question of carriage, not beats. The canter, or even the lope, moves fast. So we have to learn to see fast, or take advantage of the technology we have that lets us see it more slowly, in more detail, and play it over and over again. We need to look at the quality of the movement, rather than the quantifiable numbers of how they move. No matter the discipline, we need to look at the whole picture.

I should also footnote this post with two other cases of (non-gaiting) fourbeat, being the true gallop (which is by definition four beats) and the break or jump, the little-discussed transition 'gait' see in racehorses, barrelhorses, ropers, and others who accelerate suddenly.

Saturday, September 3, 2016


   I noticed (a day and a half ago) that this blog was vast approaching 5k views, and have been wracking by brain to come up with an "exciting" post to celebrate. Well, the mark has been hit, and I don't have a fresh new idea to share.

   I do, however, have some exciting news. I received word that I was selected for the John H. Daniels Fellowship at the National Sporting Library & Museum. I will be spending two delightful weeks next summer delving into their massive and varied collection in Middleburg, VA. I will primarily be laying the foundation for my dissertation on Hanoverian horses (the historical, not the modern), but I hope to have time to glance at a few other topics of interest. Like horsebread. Or early Thoroughbreds or Morgans. And I am sure I will accidentally discover many more fascinating things along the way.

Check them out. Seriously.

   I'll work on those new post ideas (and clearing the backlog), but meanwhile I'll leave you with this news and the obligatory cat pic:

Former foster loves his new home

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Horse Protection Act

   I was initially dismayed to hear about the widespread opposition to the 'strengthening' of the HPA. This includes the American Morgan Horse Association, which in the articles I have found issued a statement of blanket opposition. I can only hope that the actual letter was more nuanced (does anybody have a copy?). I do have some faith in the AMHA, and I thought I should read the proposed changes before making a judgement. I dug up the proposed changes with some trepidation. Within the last decade, the AMHA has severely relaxed their shoeing rules.* But, they have also made strides in enforcing their own rules (which are generally much stricter than the HPA) at shows.

   I can see many good reasons why the AMHA would oppose these changes. I still hope they do (or already have) lay out plainly why they oppose these regulations, because that is important for coming up with better alternatives. But here are some of the issues I see:

   First is the call for “Horse Protection Inspector (HPIs)” to inspect horses. For the AMHA, and even the ASHA (Saddlebred), these inspectors would mean an additional cost for a redundant office. Rated shows already have inspectors for USEF, which again has stricter regulations than the HPA. Tennessee Walking Horse shows are not regulated by USEF, which is why these outside inspectors have been deemed necessary. Currently the HPA specifies Walkers, Racking Horses, "and related breeds" as being required to give notice 30 days before the show, and supply records to APHIS within 72 hours. Who is considered a related breed? I expect there is also some concern as to the availability of these HPIs, considering other staff shortages within the USDA. This concern would be heightened by the proposal that these inspectors be required at all "Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse, or related breed class or event at any horse show or exhibition" of any size. In effect, any show of any size, rated or not, that wanted to have saddleseat classes could be required to have two licensed inspectors on site. This is regardless of whether or not they had other inspectors, because HPIs must be "outside the industry." This is despite that fact that the proposed changes also state that only vets or vet techs can serve as HPIs- and vets are, assuredly, part of the industry.

   Other issues:

   Shippers (including commercial) would be required to have the address of the horse's regular farrier. While I appreciate the desire to be able to be able to penalize farriers who perform illegal shoeings, most farriers don't have a business address. You are asking them to make their home address public. And, not every horse that is being moved may have a regular shoer. What if they've been recently sold (the provision includes auctions)? These are minor issues, but it would be just as easy to require the information of the owner in the case that a horse be found in violation of the HPA.

   The use throughout of the phrase "or can reasonably be expected." This grey area is, I think, meant to allow conscientious trainers some leeway, but it is in fact the root of how the previous inspection setup could fail. Inspectors didn't need to lie to allow soreing to continue, because the inspections had a large element of subjectivity.

   The prohibition of pads (while still listing allowed hoof packing materials). I've had more than one horse who needed a pad or pads to remain sound, either to support a congenital abnormality (such as club foot) or protect a sensitive sole (not many Morgans for this, but I'm sure many Arabs).

   In all, the HPA is long, contradictory (prohibits all action devices in one area, but only those that might cause irritation in another, etc.), and puts a great deal of pressure on trainers and exhibitors who already follow stricter regulations while leaving loopholes that allow for abuse.

  There is no simple solution. I do think many breeds would benefit from being brought under USEF, though I understand the resistance to the cost involved. The prior iteration of the HPA lead to splintering of Walking Horse groups, as some folks took a stand and others tried to find ways around regulations. I'm not sure these proposed changes would be any more successful. I also think that education is a stronger, and more lasting, force than regulation.

*I was discussing this with another exhibitor. I find the long feet and weighted shoes being allowed in hunter and western classes now to be problematic. But, AMHA has not changed the maximum hoof length or weight in total, but rather allowed their maximums in more divisions. As the other exhibitor pointed out, the same horses are just now allowed to cross enter. As I am a fan of Morgans "doing it all," I can't be upset with horses crossing divisions. With turnbuckles and stacks already illegal, as well as action devices on show grounds, the rule changes of the last decade don't significantly impact the horse.  I do choose to support shows that pick judges who more strictly adhere to the criteria of each division, rather than picking the 'flashiest' horse regardless of the class. This, to me, also includes penalizing park horses who are out of control or have the lopsided, jerky action associated with shortcuts.

UPDATE: It looks like AMHAs official statement was sent via email (that's what I get for letting my membership lapse). Their main issues with the amendments seem to be the APHIS inspectors and the banning of all pads.