Sep 27, 2007

Zebra Air

I'm all for horse-y things. I'm all for black and variations of black-and-white, including stripes. But, dude, this is just plain silly. Why would someone want to have zebra Nikes. Okay, maybe you're thinking that's kinda cool, BunnyRider. And I grant you that. Zebra stripes are cool. But they're zebra stripes done in some sort of faux pony-hair. I thought that dumb fad was over. Pony-hair on ponies is good. Pony-hair on clothing is just weird.

Review - SmartPak

I'm totally going to shill for SmartPak here, but I just want to point out how awesome of a service SmartPak provides. I honestly wish I had thought it up myself. I can't imagine anyone doesn't know what the company is and what they do, but on the off-chance.... SmartPak is essentially a company that repackages giant tubs of supplements into individual wells, containing an animal's daily dosage. Think of it as the equine equivalent of those plastic vitamin/medicine divider trays that you sometimes see people using. I love this company. And yes, no one needs to tell me that I pay more to feed my horse supplements like this. They are charging for the service and the convenience. And you know what? My horse takes up way too much of my time anyway. This just makes one less thing I have to think about.

If you have a small barn with just a few horses I can get why you wouldn't want to go down this route. I mean, at that level I would just buy the tubs, save money and do it all myself. But if you're boarding your horse, I think it's a must. I won't say anything negative against people who are working at barns, but I will say that if you're working in the horse industry, you're harried and trying to do 100 things at once. To expect someone to get the feeds and supplements right for 20 horses and upwards...well it's possible, but is it necessary? Save them the hassle (and the frustration of dealing with angry owners) and just have it be totally mindless. They won't be stressed about dipping into 30 different wells of easy-to-spill powders, and the owners can be sure the horses are getting what they need when they need it. So what if it's a little extra money? Please. It's worth not having the mess, the headache, the realization that you've run out, but forgot to order more (yeah, did I mention that they send it out automatically on a monthly basis? it's a perfect system), etc...

If I had a complaint, it would only be this. I think that SmartPak has made giving your horse vitamins and minerals and other assorted supplements so easy that there is a danger you will start giving your horse plenty of totally unnecessary extras in his diet. And it's not a benign danger as I see it. I have almost fallen into this trap on numerous occasions. I'm all: "Ooh, I want my horse to be more coppery, let me add this." or "Maybe my horse should take glucosamine. I mean, it's right there and it can't hurt?" I mean, it's great for SmartPak that we load our animals up on tons of extras (ka-ching!), but is it really so good for your horse? I see a lot of those extras as just filler, but when I think seriously and honestly on whether I would put say, creatine (a muscle builder), into my body... Well, no, absolutely not. So, why should I give it to my horse?

Now that's really my problem, not SmartPak's. But I think that it's fueled by the extra convenience that they provide of just clicking online and adding 2 more wells to my horse's daily feed, and not giving it another thought. Just saying.

Sep 26, 2007

Fallen Idol

So, I have a great love of outlaws. I would love, love to be an outlaw if I weren't so afraid of being in trouble. I'm lame, I know. But it's sort of like, I'm afraid I already might be an outlaw and I just don't know it yet. You know, like I have a split personality and my other personality is out there wreaking havoc and the police may have a warrant for me....This all goes through my head. A lot. So, I'm afraid of being in trouble for weird reasons....like that I might already be in trouble. Yeah. Um....so, I don't do drugs. Honestly.

Anywho....This made me sad. It's an article about how someone actually sued Jesse James and won. And didn't get shot. Jesse James, you were supposed to be above the law. You totally sucked. Some outlaw you are, JJ.

The article is kind of long, but the gist is this (and YES, it does involve horses): Basically JJ and another of his crew held up a bank and shot the cashier. The two men left the bank and mounted their horses. One of the horses bolted, its rider's foot caught in the stirrup and he got dragged for awhile until he freed himself. He then jumped on his companion's horse. They rode out of town and met a rider along the way. They held that guy up at gunpoint and took his horse. A beautiful, well-bred mare was left behind in town, alleged to be JJ's mare. The dude who lost his horse decided to sue. How American, even in 1870. Well, only one lawyer would touch the case - McDougal - and he represented his client, suing for the value of the horse, saddle and bridle. The litigation continued for 21 months. And JJ retained the services of an attorney. God, you were a loser, Jesse James! Why didn't you just shoot the dude?! Or ignore the dude?! You're Jesse James. The law didn't apply to you. Oh, whatevs....JJ is so dead to me now. Ha-ha. That's kind of funny. You're dead to me now. But seriously, you are.

Anyway, to make a long story short, the court was unable to serve the James brothers with papers and finally the court declared in favor of the plaintiff. So, he got to take posession of JJ's high-class mare.

Yeah, that's a part of the Jesse James legend you don't hear every day. You know, because it might just have added to his mystique. Not.

Rantless

This may come as a shock to all of you long-time readers (tee-hee), but I am in such a good mood today that I don't feel like ranting. Hold the heart attacks though. I'm sure I'll be curmudgeonly by tomorrow and will bring you the full force of my anger towards humanity.

I'm all about fun stuff today. And also, this may come as another shock, I am not drunk. Yet. Still I am happy. Possibly there is something wrong with the universe.

More Round-up

DUDE, so much awesomeness today! Did the world finally get clued into BunnyRider's need for the weird, cute, and absurd?!



Well, this is THE BEST...




This mustachioed master of invention was originally looking to create a safe, simple vehicle to drive a small pony. And he discovered that you couldn't really beat the CHARIOT. Yes, folks, mustachioed man rediscovered that a small pony can pull a large man in a chariot with ease. (Sidenote: originally horses were kind of small and weren't really rideable; hence the creation of the chariot.)

So, Simon the 'stache invented this 'high-end' chariot. He calls it the Saddlechariot. So, inventive and evocative. Tell me, how did you dream up this lovely name?

But, I do kind of what to be him in that photo. It looks like super-fun.

Pony Round-Up

So many worthy news items today, so little time...



- Firstly, I love this dude. This falls under yet another one of BunnyRider's obsessions - horse-related Central Asian steppes things. It's a rather broad category. This guy has spent three years on horseback to retrace the route of Genghis Khan crossing into Europe many centuries ago. And shockingly, this is not the sole reason why I love this guy. It's simply due to the amazing awesome-ness that is the intro sentence to his news article: "He scared off wolves with firecrackers in Mongolia and rescued his dog from hungry miners in Kazakhstan." I mean, this is a guy I want to go camping with - he is prepared for everything.



- The coach of Oklahoma City's minor-league hockey team helped to prevent a stampede of Belgian draft horses at the State Fair by biting the ear of one of the spooked horses. Is this guy for real? He claims that that is the way to stop a spooking horse - by biting its ear as hard as possible. I have so many questions. How did he learn this? Why would you want to bite the ear of an animal that weighs around a ton? How do you reach said horse's ear with your mouth? Please, I really need to know.



- And in news of the 'little' variety, some weirdo smuggled a miniature horse onto a flight from Germany to Atlanta, GA in a dog crate. He was trying to pass it off as a dog obvs. And this is totally bad of the person for many reasons, but the photo of the horse in a dog crate is kind of adorable.

Sep 25, 2007

A Horse You Should Know - Halla

When I was a little girl, I had a ratty old 'Encyclopedia of the Horse' that I was obsessed with (hence the blog). Anyway, there was this little black and white photo of a tall, gangly horse jumping a huge fence. And I became enamoured of that photo. I mean, the horse's name was Halla, for starters. And most showhorses that I knew were named very long and fancy names like "CFS Foxxy Lady" or some such nonsense. But more importantly, in my little 8-year-old eyes, was the fact that Halla was a mare. I never remember hearing about lots of famous, cool mares then. I only ever heard sorta crappy things about them. No one wanted one. (I still never do and ALWAYS end up with one.) But there was this gangly, handsome (yes, I love that word for girls) mare who was a 3-time Olympic gold-medal winner. Lots of places say that she is the only horse ever to have done that. But I never fully trust what I read on the Internet. I just pass it along.

Anyway, today we celebrate Halla. I don't know how many people know of her now, but she was something pretty special in the 1950s and 60s. You don't really even find that much out there on the Internet about her. But I will always remember my obsession with that totally unremarkable photo in my ratty book.

She wasn't really that pretty and she comes from unknown breeding. I say this because I very clearly remember my book telling the 8-year-old me that she was a Trakehner (I never forget a horse-related fact). But Wikipedia is trying to tell me that she was half-trotter and half-Standardbred. And yet another site is trying to me that she is a Hessen (which I totally didn't even know was a legitimate breed. Warmbloods confuse the hell out of me.) But whatever....She was meant to be used for the Military, but was considered too difficult (translation: a mare) and ended up with the rising star of Hans-Gunter Winkler. It became a match made in heaven. Clearly this was a guy who had a way with the ladies.

Halla won back-to-back World Championships in showjumping by the time they got to their first Olympics in 1956. Of course, now is the part of the story where our hero overcomes the odds to win anyway and I shall not disappoint. During the first round, Halla took off early and launched Hans high out of the saddle. He landed back down into it very heavily and pulled a groin muscle. If he withdrew the German team would be eliminated, so he opted to ride through great pain of course, they won. Screw groin pain. Those Germans are eat groin pain for breakfast. They won the team and individual gold medal. And four years later Halla and Hans helped the German team win gold yet again. In all, they won 125 jumping competitions. And as I said, she is supposedly the horse with most gold medals won in the Olympics. She is supposedly listed in the Guinness Book of Records. I have not seen said listing. But it's probably true. The internets told me so. But I have a pretty good question: If this is true, why is she not better-known? And why is she not a mascot for the sport in general? It's a great story - a difficult mare turned champion!! Hey Disney, this is a movie just waiting to be made. Well, maybe nix the groin pain. Wait, I don't really mean that. I'm all about the groin pain.

Sep 22, 2007

Better Know a Breed - Cleveland Bay


I've missed doing this column for a couple of weeks and am working to get myself back on track all weekend. Anyway, I'm resuming normal service with a look at a relatively tame breed for once. Or what I always thought was a tame breed - The Cleveland Bay. It's been only in the last few years that I discovered that this breed was listed as critically endangered. Who knew? At the barn that I hung out at as a kid, there was this sweet mare that a particularly snobby girl owned. The mare was a Cleveland Bay and, you know, where I grew up people weren't into particularly exotic breeds, so I never really thought much of it. I suppose that even then she was quite a rarish breed, but I never knew it. To me, she looked like a heavier-bodied thoroughbred, maybe an unrefined warmblood. And I always treated her as such - oh, just another one of those posh warmbloods that everyone was doing dressage with nowdays. Hell, I kind of feel bad now. She was actually a rare breed that should have been kind of cool: the pre-warmblood. So, now I know better and I am bringing you today's column in honor of that sweet, talented mare whom I treated so indifferently.

So, the Cleveland Bay is apparently the oldest indigenous English breed. Their origins can be traced all the way back to the middle ages in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire (hence the name). There were a herd of bay-colored (again, the name) horses living there at the time that were the general purpose horses of their time. They were expected to work in the fields all week, do pack-work, hunt in the fields and then be hitched up to the carriage for the Sunday church visit and not require any special care or treatment. That's a pretty steady, hardy horse right there. And I imagine, though it is unclear from any of the websites, that this was a heavier cold-blooded herd of horses. (When you see the Cleveland Bay, in person (as it were), you just get the sense that they definitely came from hardy draft stock.) In the 1700s, they were cross-bred with Oriental (i.e. Arabian, Barb) stock and Thoroughbreds, since the fashion was leaning towards lighter, faster coach horses. (But make no mistake: by the late 1800s, this breed was well-established as its own "pure" breed, genetically quite distant from the Thoroughbred.) But with the advent of the railroad, the coach horse started to quickly wear out its usefullness.

Interestingly, the United States was an unlikely hero to this breed. In the 1850s, a Cleveland Bay stallion named Scrivington was imported to a Virginia plantation, in the hopes of improving the quality of his horses (and thereby the horses around the region). As a sidenote, he and his fellow plantation owners created a venue to show off the offspring of their precious import, thereby creating the oldest (still-operating) horse show in America - the Upperville Horse Show. This sparked a boom in importing English horses to America, Thoroughbred and Cleveland Bay alike. The Cleveland Bay was the all-around horse - the beauty, the brains, the brawn.... The Thoroughbred, the speed horse. By 1907 2,000 Cleveland Bay horses were registered in the Cleveland Bay Society of America. Buffalo Bill even used a hitch of 4 Cleveland Bay stallions in his Wild West Show.

Known for its stength, quiet temperament, and excellent health, the Cleveland Bay was used in the early breeding of nearly all the 'American' breeds - the Morgan, Quarter Horse, Standardbred, etc...and was a huge part of the successes of the US cavalry breeding program. And in Europe it was used in the initial bloodlines of many of the Warmblood breeding programs, most notably the Oldenberg. It is the uber-warmblood, if you will. But, used extensively in Europe and America in both the World Wars, by the 1960s only 6 mature pure-bred stallions still existed. (There were only a handful more mares.) And frankly, we owe a lot to the British Royal Family in preserving the breed. In the 1920s, the Queen's grandfather had bred Cleveland Bays and she felt close to the breed. So, when one of the remaining stallions was earmarked for export to the US, Her Majesty stepped in and purchased him, and from him re-established the Cleveland Bay stud and breed. Today there are about 500-600 purebreds registered worldwide and probably about 50 or so of those registered in North America.

I want one. The horse is the original warmblood - the OG of the sporthorse world. Their conformation is beautiful, all thick bones and huge muscles, and their temperament cannot be beat. It sounds like the perfect sporthorse combination, strong enough and built well-enough to negotiate the demands of modern English competition, but also sensible enough to deal with the mental demands of our sport. This is a warmblood that is carries that draft strength, but with enough lightness that doesn't stem from the neurotic stupidity of a Thoroughbred or Arabian (and no, I'm not dissing those breeds). It just seems like it's high time to resuscitate this breed's popularity. Why recreate the wheel (i.e. the modern sporthorse), when the original has patiently staring you in the face for several centuries?

Schweppes Bull

Thi is totally absurd, but as anyone who reads this blog knows, I love anything bullriding-related, so my love for this silly commercial knows no bounds.

Sep 21, 2007

Maiden for Life




Oh, I feel bad for this horse. Her name is Dona Chepa. And she has never won a race. In fact, it appears as if she now owns the (unofficial) record of number of races lost - 125. I feel really bad for her. Clearly she's not good at racing and yet her stupid trainer has been entering her in races for 4 years now and she still isn't winning. Poor little mama. Why can't they retire her and give her a job she might be good at? There are lots of things - dressage, jumping, trail riding, maybe she could be a good broodmare. And yes, just because she's not a winner doesn't mean she can't be a good mommy to racehorses or hunter/jumpers or something.


What's even sadder, I think, is the fact that in all the articles about her, she is just made out to seem pretty awful. She's referred to as a brown horse. Dude, that's just sad. She looks kind of bayish in the picture. Can't she have that at least? I mean, brown is the color all my non-horse friends call any horse that isn't white. I know it's a legitimate horse color, but dude...it's brown. How more pathetic can you make this mare seem? And what's up with this picture? Why is this the only picture I can find of her?! Has there ever been a worse photo taken of a horse? I have to try hard to make a horse look that bad and I can't take photos to save my life.


Ultimately though, I just want to say this to her trainer. Guy, give it up. Your horse wants a different career. She doesn't care about running around a track and trying to reach the finish line first. She came in 2nd once in 2003 and it clearly wasn't a rush for her - she certainly didn't try to duplicate it again. So, come on... There are other horses in the world to train. Maybe you're striving for being the trainer of the least-winning-nest horse in history and I guess that's something, but you could probably do better. In fact, it's really easy to do better.

Sep 20, 2007

A Horse and His Boy

You know, one of the other reasons horseball was created was actually to attract more boys to horseback riding. I haven't been able to stop thinking about that. We're always trying to attract more boys to riding, but in my point of view at the high levels of every discipline, there are A LOT of boys/men. Okay, I don't have exact numbers, but I still think it is pretty clear that in the grand prix dressage and jumping competitions, the number of men and women is fairly even. Maybe there are even more men at the high levels of Western and I would probably say the same for Saddleseat. This is all just empirical evidence that I've witnessed over the years, but overall what I'm trying to say is that I don't particularly see a dearth of men in the upper echelon of riding. Maybe a dearth of straight men (oops, did I say that out loud?), but not men in general.

The interesting thing is that at the entryway into riding (school-barns and the like), you're going to see primarily girls, girls, more girls, and silly older women. There are so many horse-crazy girls who aren't even that into the sport, but for some reason are obsessed with the cute furry creatures.... It's super sweet, but it kind of irritating at the same time. I wish girls weren't so silly about horses. I love the creatures, but I don't feel the need to treat them as my best friend or my baby or my doll to dress up. Sometimes I just think that if we really wanted to make riding more attractive to boys just starting out, we could do something about the hordes of little girls at the stables that just hang out, braid and dress up the ponies constantly, all the while proclaiming their undying love for a certain pony and that they will surely marry him when they get older. Look, I endured that ALL THE TIME as a riding instructor. One on hand it's kind of cute in a retarded way, but it gets old fast. I can't blame the boys at the edge of the crowd just rolling their eyes. I don't remember being that absurd as a little horse-obsessed girl. I wanted to learn and compete (in addition to braiding purple ribbons into C's tail), but the point is that I wasn't always encouraged to be a silly little girl around the ponies. I was encouraged to be a good, competitive rider and to read and study horses not just play with them like dolls. If we spent more time encouraging the girls at the stables to take an active interest in being better horsewomen and showing them great role models, we might not create such an insular world that boys don't always feel welcome to join. Instead many lesson and camp activities seem to revolve around how to make our pony pretty or to parade him around like a stuffed animal. It's okay to do those things, but we don't have to treat it like the end-all and be-all of being at the barn.

Is it blasphemous to think that we could be creating smart, thoughtful, competitive riders of both genders? Someone I actually want to hang out with away from the barn?

Look, I realize this could be construed as me being misogynistic or something, but that's totally not my goal. I'm just saying that we have a tendency to encourage girls (and women) to have infantile interactions with horses that is just totally absurd and way off the mark. It's a sport, people. (And a risky one at that.) Can't we just attempt to acknowledge this and not actively encourage silly behavior as the only type of horsey interaction?

Horseball is Tres French



So, I would never, ever want to admit that I didn’t know something horse-related, so let’s just say that I only had a ‘vague notion’ of what horseball was before today. The funny thing is that now I know more about it, I still don’t know how I feel about it. Frankly, I’m torn – half of me thinks it looks kind of amazingly awesome, and half of me thinks it’s just a fancy name for (barely) organized chaos.

So, those of you who also only have a ‘vague notion’ of what horseball is, allow me o show off my newfound expertise….Apparently it’s described as a sort of horse basketball, mixed with a little rugby. There are two teams (of 6 riders, I believe). There is a ball with lots of crazy handles all over it. There are strange basket-esque goals. Sporty things ensue. I’m a real sport-gal. It shows, doesn’t it? Mostly it just sounds like basketball on horseback; your team attempts to make goals into the basket-thing and whoever scores the most goals wins. What it amounts to is lots of people galloping an arena around with a ball.

What’s super cool and awesome about horseball is that you can ‘tackle’ your opponents. I don’t quite understand what the ‘tackle’ is all about. On one hand, it doesn’t seem like you can use physical contact against another rider, but on the other it seems you can use your shoulder and weight against another player, as well as placing your horse in their horse’s way to force them to move off-course. In theory this seems cool. I approve of mild physical violence at any time. Another thing that I am totally into is the fact that when the ball falls to the ground, a rider cannot dismount to pick it up. S/he has to swing down and scoop the ball up with his hand. I so want to be able to do this. And I’m sure it’s pretty good to teach your horse to deal with someone flopping all over and not freaking out. In fact, this would have come in handy the last time my mare unseated me and I was struggling to stay on, halfway off of the saddle. She utterly FREAKED OUT completely terrified of my new precarious position and I had no chance but to hit the dirt. Horseball training could have made that day less painful.

But I digress….Anyway, it’s kind of a cool sport in theory. Though like any team sport, when I try to watch it, it kind of makes me sleepy and bored. Trust me, it sounds cooler than it looks. And possibly it’s more fun to play than watch. I guess it was created in order to encourage people to engage in better riding and horsemanship. Because at many, many points during the game you must totally let go of the reins to catch or throw the ball and simply steer with your legs. Okay, being who I am, I’m totally down with that. Everyone should be able to steer off the seat and legs. But would I want to rely on that in that sort of situation? I don’t know, when I see all those horses galloping at each other and several riders with their hands in the air, I just cringe. You know, because theoretically you’re steering off your legs, but you’re also focused on making a goal and less on steering away from that horse dead in front of you…..It really creeps me out. I envision pony pile-ups. Maybe the horses just know what to do, like cutting horses and bullfighting horses. Their instincts are so good, they’re doing a lot of the steering for you. But still, I dare you to look at the chaos that ensues in those games and not cringe a couple of times. My horse would kick at another and suddenly in the middle of a goal, she’d take off in the opposite direction at full-speed. And she’s a well-trained horse. But clearly people do it and it seems to go well, so I don’t know…


And oh yeah, it was started in France. Who knew? First dressage, then horseball. But the French are great at it, so don't knock it. They seem to be sucking in the other horse discplines right now. I guess they excel at sports that they create the rules for. I'm so mean. But it just feels so good to be so mean. You gotta do what feels right....

Sep 19, 2007

The famous diving horse at Atlantic City New Jersey

This is kind of amazing to watch just for the pure shock value. But what's terrible is that there are people commenting on youtube that this wasn't so bad and it didn't hurt anyone...and that the horse wasn't forced to do it. Okay, that's just retarded. Of course the horse was forced to do it. He didn't decide to do that for fun one day. Horses typically learn to do what we tell them. And if one doesn't, there are 10 more who will. That's why they became domesticated. They wanted to co-exist with us and do things for us.

Sep 18, 2007

The Unbearable Stupidity of Humans



So, file this one under "WHY"? Yeah, pretty much I don't like most people. I don't really get why anyone really would. Take, diving horses, for example. This is just an reason to hate people in itself. I mean, these are two words that probably shouldn't even go together: diving and horse. Yeah, because when I think diving, I totally associate a horse with being great at it. Exactly.

So, anywho, in the late 1800s a man by the name of Doc Carver (a former partner of Buffalo Bill Cody) was putting on shooting exhibitions in the tradition of a real Wild West show. Yet, you know, shooting just wasn't enough. And by the mid-1880s he had added diving horses. It was a huge crowd favorite. He claimed that he had gotten the idea from a personal experience in which he was crossing a bridge that started to collapse (as he was on it) and the horse he was riding had to leap into the water below to escape. I don't know. Maybe that happened. I'm skeptical, but who really cares? He got the idea to make horses jump from platforms into tanks of water. And people loved it.

But get this. It wasn't simply making horses jump into the tanks of water. Oh no. They had riders. And of course people ate it up. Humans are pathetically savage. More than any other creature. I mean, it would take so little for us to devolve into getting high on daily gladiator fights, dog-fighting, cock-fighting, horse-fighting (oh, yes....it is a thing and it will be brought to you), etc... We love cruelty and bloodshed. Look, I get that nature is cruel and dangerous and all, but I don't know.... People should be able to refrain from forcing animals (and other people) to engage in weird and cruel acts just for entertainment. But I also want to punch hald the population for my own personal enjoyment, so let's call it equal...

Anyway, so people paid good money to come and view riders on horseback plunging about 40 feet off of a ramp into a tank of water. And shockingly (yeah, I'm truly shocked) on February 17, 1907, 18-year-old Oscar Smith was doing his typical diving horse routine and died in the act. The horse was okay. And, by the way, anyone appalled at the state of media nowadays that sells papers and advertising through taking advantage of personal tragedy....yeah, well, that photo was on page one and the paper sold out all over Texas. The paper bragged that it had scored a major coup. People haven't changed so much. And the horse-diving act kept going (even days after the accident).

I couldn't find information on any horses getting hurt in the act. And often, that was the whole conceit for people defending it. Well, I view that as being really super that no horses were hurt and incredibly lucky, but not as a reason to continue doing it. I mean, on what planet should horses be jumping into tanks of water?! There is footage of the act on youtube that I'll post and it's amazing, really. But the whole time I was thinking: why the hell do animals let us touch them....ever? Because we really suck at taking care of them. It's a testament to how forgiving and adaptable they are, in my opinion.

But, hey! Guess who made a movie out of diving horses?! That's right - Disney!! In 1924, a young woman by the name of Sonora Webster joined Carver's show as a horse diver/jumper/rider person. Lots of young girls did this act. I don't know why. She eventually married Carver's son and the show settled at Atlantic City's Steel Pier. She continued to do the act and one day in 1931, something went wrong and though she survived the fall (as did the horse), she was blinded (detached retinas caused by the impact). For some ungodly reason, she continued to do the diving act after she recuperated. Luckily for Disney, of course. Sonora wrote a book which was adapted by them into a movie in 1991. The film was called (get this): "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken." How touching. How heartbreaking. How moving. These horses and this girl were so brave for America and the world. Please. Some people just deserve to be slapped. And my hands are great shape.

In the 1970s the act was shut down by animal-rights groups. Finally. And in case you were wondering, most of the horses who outlived their diving days were typically sent to slaughter. Yeah, after they spent their lives leaping into the air to land in a giant pool of water, we showed our gratitude for their blind loyalty by slaughtering them. Luckily the very last two diving horses were saved by the Fund for Animals and allowed to live out their days on a nice sanctuary. That's about the only bright spot in this story.

Pony Round-up

-Bunnyrider's unhealthy obsession (amongst others)- the racehorse John Henry (who is 32 by the way) had a bit of a health issue last week. Apparently he became dehydrated, due to the oppressive heat in KY, and some blood tests showed elevated levels of blood urea nitrogen and creatinine, which could potentially indicate kidney problems. He's gotten plenty of IV fluids since and seems to be doing much better, though he hasn't gotten the 'all clear' yet. Fingers crossed he'll be okay. Bunnyrider loves John Henry. And the bloodhorse article says that everyone's favorite curmudgeon (their words, not ours) is enjoying whatever foods he wants. Apparently that means chocolate, cookies, and doughnut holes. Bunnyrider now loves John Henry even more. In fact, bunnyrider is John Henry - old man crankyness, sweet tooth and all.

Sep 17, 2007

Pony Round-Up

This is kind of interesting....Dover Saddlery is going to do a presentation at the Thomas Weisel Consumer Conference in NYC. I think the equestrian consumer market is vastly under-represented and underserved and anything to get that onto the markets' radar is pretty smart. Dover is a pretty good business model actually (though I don't always love the idea of the tack conglomerate, in general). They went public two years ago and since, they have been great about positioning themselves as virtually the only tack provider to be business-savvy about the equestrian consumer market. They should hopefully pave the way for other equestrian services to make some change off of the ridiculous amounts of money we spend on horse-related things (for lack of a better word).

Sep 16, 2007

A Horse You Should Know - Wing Commander

Yes, I'm back. I would never let my adoring fans down, now would I? Anyway, to continue with my Monday regular column - A Horse You Should Know - I was going to pick another racehorse out to profile. I have been overly obsessed with racehorses lately and particularly since I picked up a great 1970-ish book written by two sports journalists of the era that I find really enthralling about some lesser-known animals. But it occurred to me that I might be a little heavy on the racing/throughbred stuff right now. You know, because that was never the idea of this blog. I'm fascinated by all things relating to the horse and I find that many horse people tend to have their one obsession (whether it is a breed or a discipline) and don't really venture to check out the rest of the horse world. That's so bizarre. If you like horses, how can you not be obsessed with EVERYTHING horse-y? What?! Yeah, well it's called OCD, okay?

Anyway, without further ado this week's column is devoted to Wing Commander. For anyone not familiar with his name, he was an American Saddlebred and yes, he was a bona fide 5-gaited, saddleseat extraordinaire.

I'm going to pause right here and just address any of you horse people about to start rolling your eyes at the mere mention of saddleseat and the breeds generally associated with this discipline. Let me just point out that the Saddlebred and Hackney and Morgan and Arabian and however many other of these breeds you want to lump into this category were all working breeds originally. EVEN THE HACKNEY. These were cart animals, carriage horses, hunting hacks.... That's how people got from point A to point B without cars. With the Saddlebred and Tennesee Walker, any of those rare breeds that could include extra gaits, they became extra important in the 1800s in the Southern states in America. Owing to the smoothness of their slow gait, the owner of the plantation could ride all day long, comfortably, through his tobacco or cotton or whatever else kind of fields. But like any other horse, during the civil war, they were enlisted to work. Their history was not unlike any other horse's. And like all the rest their existence was gravely threatened by the invention of the automobile. Suddenly, there was a great shift in our mindset towards horses. They were no longer our comrades in work, they were these giant pets. Showy, gorgeous, flashy, giant pets. It was only natural for us to start devising big competitions around showing off these sudden luxury items. And "saddleseat" just came about as a idealization and nostalgia of those old Southern ways - I mean, geez, does anything come out of the South that isn't hung up on nostalgia for the pre-Civil War days? So, they sort of froze saddleseat in time - conjuring up the old days of the saddle suit and derby and plantation saddle. And we moved the saddlehorse from the dusty backroads of the plantation to the showrings to seek out the titles of best saddle horse to show off the famous slow gait and rack, the gaits that made them so popular in the first place.

What is shocking to me is that in the 20s and 30s and especially by the 50s, the American public was going crazy for these saddleseat shows. They were huge! Crowds flocked to them. And Wing Commander was just simply one of the greatest 5-gaited Saddlebreds ever. Luckily for him, he was bred and shown at just precisely the right time in American history to be a complete phenomenon. Born in 1943, he was a bit of a gangly chestnut colt that by all accounts took a little longer than some others to mature. Of course, it's never a good athlete story unless you talk about the hardships along the way, but it seems to me he didn't have it all that hard. It's said that he was willful and strong and it took months before he settled into a rack naturally under saddle, but if that's the extent of his hardships, sign me up for that path to fame and fortune! As a 3-year-old he was shown 7 times undefeated and was 5-gaited Champion Stallion at the Chicago International. In 1948, he won World Champion, the first of six times he would be crowned with that title.

The next year his 1949 World Champion title was not won so easily. For anyone who still has doubts as to the hardiness and toughness of this breed, think again. The judges at this particular show did not seem keen on Wing Commander winning the title yet again. They were set on another horse. They called the horses in to make them strut their stuff. (Mind you, it's about 100 degrees at the time.) No consensus. They're called back for a second workout. No agreement between the judges. A third workout was called for the animals. They showed off like pros in the heat and not one pulled out, but finally Wing Commander's rider had had enough and pulled his horse up into the center of the ring for the line-up. The other riders followed suit. In the end, Wing Commander won the title again, but not without the fight of working nearly non-stop for 2 hours in 100 degrees heat. It took all night to cool the horses down.

In all, he won 6 world championships. He was nearly unbeatable and while there are no videos of him performing, I can believe that he must have been something special. In the heyday of saddleseat, for one horse to come along and sweep it all....well, that's got to be pretty spectacular. His rack was supposed to be fluid and fast, two words you don't often hear about a racking horse. It's usually one or the other. And get this, he was the feature of a 1954 LIFE magazine article. You hear of lots of pop-culture racehorse icons and the odd jumper that is recognized by a large section of the non-horsey culture, but how many other riding disciplines have you come across that have enjoyed that same sort of success? Ummmm....not so many. He was so famous that people would come from all across America (and other countries) just to see a glimpse of him. And many avid Breyer collectors will tell you that he was been immortalized in mini-plasticized horsey-form for 8 year-olds everywhere to play with. I'll admit it - I own that model myself.

I for one think Saddleseat is pretty interesting and an important part of the American history, in general. It harkens back to a time that, hell, never really existed. I mean, not the way you see it embodied in those hot-blooded, flashy, high-stepping horses at the shows. And that rack. I don't know if I am awed by it or creeped out by it. That's probably so naughty of me to say. But really, the rack is very different. It is equal parts awesome and disturbing (probably because I have such a limited experience with this gait). I have actually ridden the rack, twice actually. Yes, it is ultra-smooth. But that's not what I was feeling when I was experiencing it - it is electricfying. Honestly. You're excited to be doing it and the horse is just exploding with tension the entire time. It should be said that the rack is extremely strenuous and that's probably what I was feeling - the extreme power and energy required to keep the gait up. But anyway.....you should see a saddleseat show just once. At the very least, if you can't see the beauty in it, you must just experience the fetishization of a bygone era, admittedly a very creepy time when men surveyed their slaves in the fields from astride a smooth-riding, fancy-stepper, trying to emulate the aristocratic airs of a veritable English lord.

Sep 13, 2007

Bunny Rider is on Vacation

I am on vacation until Monday with limited access to the Internet. This will explain my absence for the last week. Monday I will return in full (possibly fuller) glory. I know you all cannot wait.

Sep 6, 2007

Saratoga Springs, Parte the Third


Zombies. What ultimately made cinched the deal for me (and the reason I'll be going back every year if I can) is that Saratoga Springs itself is just a little bit on the quirky side, probably because it's a college town, too. So, I LOVED the fact that on Sunday night dozens upon dozens of teens/college kids descended upon the town in full-on zombie make-up and dress. All night, I kept telling the zombies just how cute they were. I'm sure that's not the reaction they wanted, but how cool were they to do that amidst the leather-y, gold-adorned yuppie set that makes up Saratoga's race-goers?! Kind of super cool.

Road Trip: Saratoga Springs, Parte the Second

I haven't been feeling very well lately and thus, my blogging has not been as awesome as I would like. My apologies...awesome-ness will return soon.

Anyway, the thing that I loved most about Saratoga was that it was the first place that I have ever been in my entire life where EVERYONE was obsessed with horses. The obsession ranged from simply wearing a horse-y tee-shirt or owning a couple of racehorses or being a small-time claiming trainer. I've traveled a lot and I've never been to a place where horses are number 1 all the time. And there's no pretension about it, really. I mean, yeah, you get a few irritating know-it-alls, but in general everyone is pretty chatty about anything horse-y. That just instantly made me pretty cheerful. I don't care that the couple behind me at the races wondered whether the same horses that were racing today would be racing tomorrow: the majority of the people aren't experts, just fans. That's just fine with me. Refreshing, in fact. You get a bit jaded being around hunter/jumper or dressage barns. They can be so snarky and insular that you forget what it's like to be around normal people (who just happen to love horses).

The only thing I can really attribute the camaraderie to is that the town's one true industry is simply tourism and the horse-racing is a huge chunk of that. So, they owe a lot to the horses and the industry. And frankly from what I can see Saratoga attracts a fairly well-heeled horsey set that just adds to the coffers.

Pony Round-up

- Wow. Huge freaking shocker....NYC carriage horses not being cared for properly. They are working without enough water, shade, or vet exams. Wow, I'm so surprised. Not. Anyone who thinks those carriage rides are magical or romantic or whatever the hell they're supposed to be, should be strapped to one of those carriages themselves for 12 hours. I loathe the industry and the tourists who keep it going. And no, I don't think you can make the working conditions better. It's just a ludicrous, dangerous industry for horses and should not exist.

- Within the first paragraph of this story from bloodhorse.com is this astute observation: "It's no secret that today's Thoroughbreds tend to be less sound, rugged, and durable than in the past." This is a real problem - anyone who says that the Arabian is just a fragile breed that is unsuitable for most disciplines needs to take a look at the modern Thoroughbred. Well, at least this is a start towards possibly fixing the problem - a listing has been compiled of sire lists whose bloodlines are identified as being more durable and sound.

- By the way, I like the way many within the horseracing industry are trying to remedy the faults of modern Thoroughbred breeding (and the breakdowns that that engenders) by installing new 'polytrack' surfaces in certain racetracks around the country - to combat speed. Okay, I'm all for making racing surfaces safe...but you know, if the industry stood up and started really clamoring for changes from the ground-up, we might not have to do silly things like installing racing surfaces to slow horses down. I don't know. It just strikes me as silly to combat the symptom, not the underlying problem.

Sep 5, 2007

Road Trip: Saratoga Springs, Parte the First

So, we took a train from NYC to Saratoga. It seemed the easiest and, besides, I have an unhealthy love of the train. I suppose it’s growing up in Europe. Anyway, across the aisle from us, a nice older gentleman was on the edge of his seat with excitement and I could tell he was going to be one of those gregarious types that sort of annoy the crap out of me. Without fail he picked my husband and me out as much too nice suckers who can’t seem to bow out of an unwanted conversation gracefully. He introduced himself (we’ll call him D), asked us if we were headed to Saratoga and if we were going to see the racing. When he found out that I was a horse-lover, the floodgates were unleashed. But what he had to say surprised me. It quickly came out that he had been going to the Saratoga meet for a good 13 years out of his adult life and just when I thought he was just some ├╝ber-fan, he blurted out that he had worked at the tracks since he was 14. I was immediately intrigued. D. told me that he had started out (yes, just like in the books) as a hot-walker, moved his way up to groom and finally assistant trainer. And he loved every minute of it. You could tell by the way his eyes lit up just talking about it. It was cool enough, but within minutes I was looking for an out to our conversation when D. starts listing off some of the horses he worked with and casually includes John Henry somewhere smack in the middle of that list. John freaking Henry?! And being a jaded New Yorker, the first thing you think is: This guy’s a joke. I’m dismissing him. And yet…I came to realize after only a weekend in Saratoga, you can’t underestimate anyone there. So many people are owners or employees or somehow involved in some important event in racing at one time or another. And as it turns out, the great racehorse John Henry was housed in the stable that D. worked for and whether he just walked the horse once or groomed him once or everyday, that cinched it for me. That gangly, clearly infirmed older man who had the eyes and demeanor of a crazy religious proselytizer had been part of a history that I revered. And he deserved my respect.

Unless he was talking specifically about horses his thoughts were a bit jumbled and disjointed, just purging out his words as they came, without censure. I rightly judged that he was the product of a self-help system, with their ideas of earnestly offering up every feeling as they have it, in some misguided attempt to rid themselves of guilt or shame. But anyway, I pieced together that he had succumbed to the temptations of booze and gambling, losing wads of money and the only career that seemed to be his calling. He hadn’t been to the track in 18 years and was as excited as a kid to be finally able to go back. It deeply troubled and moved me that here was a man who was utterly destroyed by the track and the temptations that go hand-in-hand with it, and yet he couldn’t stay away from that allure. It was his greatest love and biggest destroyer. (For God’s sake, he lives across the street from Aqueduct in NY. I mean, dude, give yourself a break.)

Now, I realize I am on the verge of over-sentimentalizing this story, but I just wanted to point out that D. is just one human casualty of horse-racing over the decades. I realize that it is all too easy for me to point out the toll that racing has taken on horses over the years, without mentioning that for every horse that breaks down or is carried off to slaughter, there are several men like D. who lose everything because of the nasty allure of gambling. And, yeah, you can argue that D. is sober now and able to revisit the places where he lost it all. But all I see is a product of our laughable self-help systems that turn people into the equivalent of a religious zealot. A man who uses stock phrases like: “God always gives back tenfold what he has taken away.” Or “Bless God for letting me see the folly of my ways.” He is a shell and no matter how much he blurts out that he is going to start a barn and working on the business plan and attracting investors, you know that he knows it’s too late for him. He lost his chance and now his only solace is those empty words. I’m dead serious. Not one person on that train wanted to speak with him, recognizing in him that overly-aggressive enthusiasm that street-corner fanatics possess and finding that extremely uncomfortable. He might be sober, but he's neither happy nor well-adjusted. Mostly, it made me feel terrible for D. I wanted to save him from the self-help crap he was spewing and tell everyone that here was an important man – someone who had touched a legend, someone who had many things to teach us about this sport that we revered. But instead, I just went back to reading my book.

Pony Round-up

- This is kind of fantastic: A British man faces charges of careless driving when his horse and buggy went up onto a lawn, trampled a bike, and nearly ran a car off the road. Apparently, he was drunk when he lost control of his horse. First of all, kudos to the horse who actually had the balls to run a car off the road and trample a bicycle. And, way to go to Amish-guy who was drinking and driving.....ha. The constable says drinking and operating a horse and buggy is very "serious" (not so much, actually) and "all too common." Wow, I want to live there and see all the crazy drunk-buggy action.

- This is interesting. A study was done in New Zealand to determine whether horse performance is affected by dental work. They took 11 horses and performed dressage tests; directly after, floated half of the horses teeth and performed the exact same test the following day. Performance was neither improved or diminished. But weirdly the rider was correct in guessing 7 of the horses as to whether they had been floated or not. So, clearly there was a difference. The rider felt it. But frankly I think the whole study is kind of dumb. The two groups were horses that had not had their teeth floated for at least a year vs horses that had had regular 6-month check-ups. Frankly, all that tells me is that I can save some money and only do my horse's teeth once a year. Doesn't disprove that floating is helpful. Not sure what the point was here.....

Sep 4, 2007

Dirty Secret

So many things to blog about, so little time. I was away for the weekend (in Saratoga Springs, actually) and will be blogging many an item about the fab horse-racing there. But something I meant to write about last week has to take mini-precedence here:

I have a dirty secret. I LOVE bull-riding. I cannot explain this love. It is so great a love, in fact, that I am not even that embarassed to tell people about it. Since it always seems to be playing on a channel somewhere in my 5 gazillion stations from TWC, I will put it on for guests at my house - so they, too, can marvel at the amazing-ness that is bull-riding. Yes, it's sad and someday I will go in depth about why I find it so fascinating, but today I just want to profess my love. And now that you understand this about me, you will better understand just why on Wednesday night I was flipping through channels, nursing my 2nd blackberry bramble (an awesome drink that can floor you faster than you think) when I stumbled upon MY FAVORITE TV SHOW EVER!!! Ty Murray's Celebrity Bull-Riding Challenge.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Celebrity Bull-Riding. We have moved way beyond reality tv shows that simply humiliate. We now want our z-list celebrities to be in extreme physical peril. And that's sort of awesome, with an "A." There's not a lot to be said about the show itself - it's pretty dumb and they sort of dredged up the lowest of the low on the celebrity list. Why these people would risk not only public humiliation, but possible death is just beyond me. Maybe they figure that the career is dead, the body just needs to follow.... Whatever - who knows, really... But, anyway, they are participating in a television show in which they have 10 days (!!) to learn to ride a 1,800lb bull at a Nashville PBR event. Celebrities include: musician Vanilla Ice, actor Stephen Baldwin, actor/musician Leif Garrett, actor Dan "Nitro" Clark, actor Francesco Quinn, former football star "Rocket" Ismail, Ultimate Fighter Josh Haynes, X-Games motorcycle legend "Cowboy" Kenny Bartram and Survivor reality star Jon "Jonny Fairplay" Dalton. I think basically they should thank their lucky stars every time they get on and don't instantly break every bone in their body.

And, so far, in every episode at least one person has gone to the hospital. For some reason that cracks me up. I am a mean, mean person. Stephen Baldwin broke his shoulder. Some dude, Francesco Quinn, broke his arm and a rib (close to the lung, I might add). I mean, YEAH. Of course. Who thought they could learn to ride a bull in 10 days?! Who thought they wouldn't break their bones?! Who thought this was a good idea?! Well, okay that is silly - it IS a great idea. The person who thought this up is GENIUS. The person who persuaded celebrity morons to do this is FANTASTIC. I love this person. I love this show. And I love bull-riding the most.