The Pitfalls of Animal Rescue

 Posted by on 18 April 2015 at 10:00 am  Animals, Economics, Horses
Apr 182015

I saw this post on a group about draft horses on Facebook a few days ago:

Here’s my question: How many sweet, wonderful, and sound draft horses went to slaughter while this person lived out his fantasy of “fate” with this poor colt … who will likely never be more than a pasture ornament? This kind of emotionalism — combined with the broken window fallacy — makes me so very sad.

On the Risks in Eventing

 Posted by on 1 March 2015 at 7:46 pm  Horses, Personal, Sports
Mar 012015

On Facebook, eventing legend Denny Emerson wrote:

One experiment that I’d try in an attempt to continue to have cross country be the heart of eventing, while at the same time trying to reduce the falls that create injuries and fatalities, would be to simply make the XC courses substantially longer, but also somewhat less technical.

That would start to weed out the horses that were good in dressage and show jumping, but were not real galloping stayers.

Instead, say, of a six minute course, make it 8-9 minutes, and so on. An 8 minute test would become 11-12 minutes, and so on. Riders would have to start to get very real about fitness, and they would start to select tough gallopers, the kind of horses the sport was originally invented to test.

I don’t think the modern pros would go for this, because it would dry up some of the money, which is what upper level eventing in 2015 is increasingly “about”.

My thoughts:

I like this proposal better than any that I’ve seen before, but I fear that it wouldn’t make a dent in the alarming rate of horse and rider injuries/deaths in eventing… because it’s not just the technical fences that are the problem. Three examples:

(1) When I was a cross-country judge this summer at the Colorado Horse Park, I was judging two easy, straightforward galloping fences. I was unhappy to see that none of the training-level riders — except the professionals — compressed/rounded the canter of their horses before the fence. Those people weren’t galloping too fast or anything, but the horses weren’t really alert to the upcoming fence, either mentally or physically, as they should have been.

As a result, I saw bad jump after bad jump… and then finally, I saw a rotational fall that could have paralyzed the rider. That rider didn’t do anything worse (or better) than the others: her horse just got into a bad spot, and he was so discombobulated that his front legs said “another step” and his back legs said “let’s go!” I thought the rider was dead or paralyzed as she lay on the ground. Thankfully (!!), she’d only broken some ribs.

(2) I was watching the last fence in prelim at a horse trial in Santa Fe this summer — again, a nice straightforward table — when a horse left out a full stride. (Literally, a full galloping stride.) Thankfully, he had enough scope to clear the fence, but holy cow, that was hella scary. As the rider pulls up, I hear her say very casually to her trainer, “Oh, I thought he was going to add a stride.” She didn’t seem to recognize just how dangerous that jump was, that she ought never ever have another one like it, and that it was her job as the rider to ensure that.

(3) Yesterday at Full Gallop in Aiken, a group of people were schooling over a baby fence to a training table under the guidance of a trainer. One rider looked at her hands intently through both fences, and the horse couldn’t even canter properly between the fences as a result. The horse muddled through, but he was clearly nervous and jumped poorly. The trainer never told the rider to look up, and they moved on after two rounds of bad jumping, leaving the rider to her poor form and the horse with less confidence than before. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.

I’m too new to eventing to say much of what’s wrong (and I have my own share of bad habits that I’m working hard to correct), but I am alarmed by the kind of riding that I see even on non-technical jumps. My sense is that people seem to be relying too much on the natural athleticism of their horses to just get over fences rather than developing the skills required to ride cross-country according to best (and safest) practice. That poor riding seems to be aided by trainers who aren’t demanding best practice, if they even know what that is (!?!).

Such problems cannot be solved by a change in format, I don’t think. Sure, perhaps greater demands would induce people to invest more in conditioning and training. Some people would do that. But others wouldn’t, and the result might just be even more injuries and deaths for horses and riders alike.

In any case, Denny Emerson has had some really good posts on this topic in the last day or so. I appreciate that, as I’ve been thinking a good bit about the risks of my sport lately.

On a related note, I’ve decided that I’m very happy to compete Lila at novice level again next year. We’re not ready for training level yet — and with her particular draft-cross build, she might never be ready.

That’s fine, because we’re going to work on being damn perfect over the smaller fences at novice level (2’11″). That’ll be far better for the development of my skills than trying to muddle her over bigger fences.

Plus, I’d never forgive myself if I destroyed her honesty over fences and her trust in me by pushing her beyond her limits. She’s such a good girl — so willing — and I want her to always enjoy cross-country as much as she does now. If that means staying under 3 feet forever with her, I’m happy to oblige. She’s my girl, and I want to keep her that way.

Head Trauma: Not Fun, But Doing Better

 Posted by on 14 February 2015 at 10:30 am  Horses, Medicine, Personal, Sports
Feb 142015

I’m sorry to report that my horse Phantom and I parted ways on Thursday afternoon, shortly after a ditch during cross-country schooling. She was scared and jumped it big. Immediately thereafter, I went left and she went right. I ended up unconscious on the ground, and she ran back to the trailer to her buddy Lila. (Poor Phanny didn’t mean to unseat me; she doesn’t have any meanness or screw-you in her, just fear.)

I woke up quickly, but I was pretty woozy for the rest of Thursday. (I got a CT scan that evening, and hooray, no bleeding!) So I just have a concussion. Basically, I got my bell rung, harder than I’d like. I wasn’t injured other than that, except that I bit my tongue. I was, of course, wearing a protective helmet and vest.

So now I need to take life gently for a few days. That’s not easy for me, but I’m going to work at it. I’m really eager to get on both horses again, although it was a real treat to watch Eric Horgan ride Phantom on Friday.

Anyway, the really good news is that I’ve made such good progress since that first night — to the point that I’m feeling pretty normal now. So I’m game to go ahead with Sunday’s broadcast of Philosophy in Action Radio. We’ve got some great questions on tap, and the first one is even relevant to my recent experience!

Las Cruces Horse Trial

 Posted by on 13 December 2014 at 10:00 am  Animals, Horses, Personal, Sports
Dec 132014

Back in November, Lila and I left the sub-freezing (and by that, I mean -12°F) weather of Colorado for a few days in warm Las Cruces, New Mexico for a horse trial.

Here’s our dressage round:

Here’s our stadium jumping round:

Lila was great in cross-country too — bold and forward. I was particularly pleased with how we jumped the ditch: I stayed up, and so Lila jumped it without a second glance. Alas, I don’t have any video because the USEF has banned helmet cameras due to safety concerns. (Hopefully, that will be temporary.)

We ended up in 5th place… which isn’t bad. If we’d just not had that unlucky rail down in stadium, we would have won. Them’s the breaks!

An Exciting Hack

 Posted by on 6 December 2014 at 1:00 pm  Animals, Horses, Personal, Sports
Dec 062014

Earlier this week, Phantom was a bit of a handful on our hack along some neighborhood roads to get to the arena. Here’s our conversation:

Phantom: The sun is setting. I’m worried.

Me: We’re all chill, nothing to worry about here. We’re just on a nice quiet hack.

Phantom: I’m still worried. My buddy Lila is missing me. I miss her.

Me: It’s okay, lovebug. Lila will be okay, and you’ll see her again soon.


Me: It’s alright, he’s just going for a walk, like us.


Me: No, let’s just keep walking, love.


Me: Oh sh*t…

Video from Eric Horgan Clinic

 Posted by on 6 December 2014 at 10:00 am  Animals, Horses, Sports
Dec 062014

Over Halloween weekend, I rode Phantom and Lila in a three-day clinic with Eric Horgan. (Eric was the reason for going to Aiken, South Carolina last winter… and the reason for doing the same this winter. He’s wonderful.)

Here are some video highlights from my rides on Lila:

I was particularly delighted with Lila’s flatwork. We’ve come a long way, baby!

Here are some highlights from my rides on Phantom:

Phantom was very excitable the whole weekend — mostly due to being separated from Lila, I think. So that was a struggle for me. Still, we made progress, and we’ve been doing really well together lately.

Introducing Helga!

 Posted by on 29 October 2014 at 2:00 pm  Horses, Personal
Oct 292014

Last week, I flew to Cincinnati to buy this behemoth known as a “toterhome” — it’s a big, big truck with living quarters attached to the cab, plus a bed in the back long enough to attach a gooseneck trailer. Her name is “Helga.”

Toterhomes are mostly used by people who race cars, but I’ve seen a few at most horse trials too. Basically, I’ll use this to haul Martha Deeds’ big four-horse trailer when we’re competing in horse trials far from home, as well as for our month-plus trip to Aiken, South Carolina. (In Aiken, I’ll live in it.) It’ll give us more living space and more amenities than Mart’s trailer alone, including a kitchen and bathroom. Also, Paul and I will be able to go on treks with it, with or without the horses. I’m even using it for this weekend’s clinic with Eric Horgan, as the horses and I will be staying at Mart’s.

It’s quite something to drive, but I managed over 1200 miles in a day and half for the trek home — including through some city streets and gnarly construction.

Now I just need to buy myself an “I love fossil fuels” t-shirt!

Oct 182014

Here’s the video from my helmet cam of Lila’s cross-country round at the Greenwood Farm Horse Trial in Texas. (That was last Sunday.) In sum, Lila jumped wonderfully boldly from a gallop for so much of the course — until disaster struck! — and then we recovered to complete the course nicely.

Here’s the video, but you might want to read the description below it for context before watching.

The bold jumping that Lila gave me throughout this course is exactly what I’ve been struggling to get from her for some months. Her hock injections, plus some changes in how I rode her, made a huge difference.

In particular, I was so proud of her (and me!) for how we jumped the trakehner. Trakehners are logs set over ditches, and this was a max height log (2’11″) over a deep ditch. Lila isn’t great with ditches, and I’ve always been freaked out just by the thought of these fences. We’ve not ever schooled over them, although we jumped a log with a half-ditch under it in the horse trial at Santa Fe. (We didn’t do that very well, however.)

Over this trakehner — which you’ll see right after the white fence — I cantered her into it with plenty of gusto and determination, and I kept my eyes above the horizon. She jumped it without the slightest hesitation, and you can hear just how pleased I was by that.

Not too long after that, we had our minor disaster at the log fence headed into a gully. I was quite tired heading up the hill into the pasture. (My stirrups were a hole shorter than they’d ever been, which was good, but extra-tiring.) So I didn’t sit her down in the way that I should have in the few strides before the fence, and I probably didn’t give her any leg. I was just a passenger, and that’s never good.

So as you can see on the video, she stopped suddenly in the stride before the fence, and I was thrown forward, hard. I ended up in front of the saddle, arms wrapped around her neck, with my face looking close-up at her ears. I really really didn’t want to fall off, so I shimmied backwards when she raised her head and neck. That took just a second or two.

As soon as I sat up — still in front of the saddle — Lila decided that she’d had enough. She began cantering back up the hill, and I started getting pretty scared as she went faster and faster. I realized that I could have a pretty bad fall unless I stopped her pronto, so I put on whatever brakes I could, stopped her with some difficulty, and then wiggled myself back into the saddle. You can hear the panic in my voice during that segment. Yes, that is funny! Laugh away!

Then we jumped the fence properly, and we finished the course just fine. (Well, the ditch to the brush was a bit rough, but we got through it.) The only casualty was my glasses, which I never did find.

Despite that bit of craziness, I’m soooo proud of Lila for jumping so well. Obviously, I need to work on my balance and endurance in my cross-country two-point, and that will get done in the next few months. (It’s already underway!)

We ended up in last place, but that’s fine. Lila showed me a whole new level of potential on this very difficult course — the most difficult novice course we’ve ever done — and that pleases me greatly.

Shire Horse Race

 Posted by on 22 September 2014 at 2:00 pm  Horses, Sports
Sep 222014

Now here’s a horse race that Lilapotomus might be able to win… maybe:

Dressage in Harmony

 Posted by on 6 September 2014 at 10:00 am  Horses, Sports
Sep 062014

Last weekend, I found this lovely bit of dressage from the World Equestrian Games. It’s Dutch rider Diederik van Silfhout on Arlando. He makes some mistakes — the piaffe is all wrong, for example. Still, I love his harmony and lightness with his horse. He’s not dragging back on the reins or digging in with the spur. His horse is not compressed behind the vertical. There’s so much of that in high-level dressage right now that this ride was a real breath of fresh air.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha