Jan 16, 2008

Book Review - Dark Horses and Black Beauties

Dark Horses and Black Beauties by Melissa Holbrook Pierson is one of the best books about horses ever written. I am prone to exaggeration, I know, but I really do believe that about this book. Whenever I think of the book that I would recommend to any non-horse-person that would truly explain the love and obsession that horse-people have for the animal, this is the book. Yet weirdly, it speaks to horse-lovers (or me at least) so profoundly that I can read it over and over again and get something new out of it or move me to the point of tears.

It's written by a woman who was, like many a horse-lover, a horse-obsessed little girl that eventually drifted away from the sport, only to return to it with a fierceness later in life. It's a surprisingly lyrical book with no true structure. Mostly, it's just one woman's need to understand her deep connection to the Horse and it's truly all over the map. But it's profound to realize that even though her experiences are unique to her, you also quickly realize that all horse-obsessed girls (at least in this country) are united by certain common truths:
  • We all were unmistakably drawn to the horse and can never truly explain that attraction to someone who has not experienced it.
  • We all went in search of every book, magazine, drawing, photo, movie and game that had even the most remote relationship with anything equine.
  • We all secretly pranced and snorted around our yard like Velvet Brown, pretending our bodies were half horse/half girl, striving to perfect our two-legged lead changes and leaping over every obstacle that could stand in for a 4 foot hedge.
  • And we all completely resented our families' absurd notions that every little girl went through her horse phase, but that we would grow out of it when we discovered boys....Didn't they understand that boys had nothing on horses?

What I'm trying to say is that though Melissa's experiences were wholly her own, she manages to evoke only the similarities that unite all horse-obsessed girls. And by doing so you feel that she has managed to tap into your childhood memories and write a story about you. One entire chapter is comprised only of quotes from young adult horse books, and whether you read them or not as a child (disclosure: I own every single one of those books and about ten times more) you are equal parts thrilled to read them and embarassed to know that your pulse still quickens at the mere mention of the word horse.

When she begins to describe her more tempered and thoughtful adult passion for the horse is when people start to fiercely dislike this book (at least if you go by the reviews on Amazon). The author isn't trying to wax melodic about horses. She has a genuine need to understand why and how we can, as a culture, romanticize the animal and yet still be unashamedly, obliviously cruel in our dealings with them. It is just one person's attempt to reconcile her manic passion with her need to rationally examine her role in horse culture at large and why that even matters. Because it does. It is important that we are all able to take a step back and take a long look at ourselves and make sure that we are honest with our reasons and methods behind every equine interaction.

If nothing else, this book is the only book that I have ever read which honestly describes horse culture at large, in all its guts and glory. It is not simply another "women on horses" book that should just be peddled as horse 'porn' for the ladies. (Yuck, that whole sentence is weird. But you get my drift.) Yeah, horses can and do change our lives. They can be our one true love, always there even when everyone else drifts away. They are constant, our friends through thick and thin. There is something comforting in the fact that they only demand food, shelter, and kindness and in return they will let us forget our physical limitations by lending us their speed and strength. Hey, I buy into all of that even as cynical as I can appear on this blog. But in return we need to own up to the harsh reality that even the most loving of horseowner/rider can be abusive in some small measure. And that your definition of care and training is not necessarily mine. Exalt the horse if you will, but be full ready to take responsibility for every interaction (bad or good) you have with the horse and the horse industry at large. And just try to be the best human you can.

Super-Pony Power

Yay!!! Theodore O'Connor is USEF Horse of the Year!
Go pony power! Maybe this will give a much-needed boost to the US sport-pony market.
And truly....how cute is this photo?

Jan 12, 2008

My Grande Affaire

After railing against Chronicle of the Horse, and oh...let's face it the entire crop of horse magzines out there, I felt a little sentimental about my beloved Dressage & CT. (Of course I threw out all my old copies...my love for throwing things out stupidly overrode my love for this mag. Or maybe I was just drunk. Who knows for sure?)
Anyway, this past week I was trolling the Interwebs for back issues of Dressage & CT to purchase. Hell, who am I kidding?! I'll just put this out there - I was looking specifically for the series of articles that Jean-Claude Racinet wrote in defense of (and in order to better explain) Baucher's classical training methods. Yes, I really am that much of a horse-geek. There should be a word for this much equine nerdiness. I'll come up with one. Promise.
So, back to my web-search. I found some of what I was looking for, but more importantly I totes found my new favorite website/magazine. Horses For Life. Okay, so the name is sort of twee. Like, I imagine the meeting in which the final decision was between that and "Unicorns Over the Rainbow" and the founders had to choose the lesser of two evils. So, the name isn't good. But the magazine totally rules. I've only minimally browsed it, but there is some good content in this. And if you subscribe you get complete access to their archives. I will be printing and filing this shit for months. I mean, don't get me wrong. I don't think there is a huge market for this magazine. It's hardcore classical dressage. But for those of you who are into that, you should get your butts to their website ASAP. I am not kidding. This morning I discovered an entire article devoted to the proper classical method of carrying the whip. I just about peed myself.
But really, whether you get off on the whole classical vs. competitive dressage debate, this magazine seems like a must for anyone truly interested in dressage. I don't believe anyone who wants to succeed at dressage can get away with not understanding the mechanics and minutiae of the sport, no matter how much talent you have. And if it's boring and hard - well, too bad. If you want to be good at something you have to be educated about it. End of story. And this magazine truly addresses the true essence of the sport. Their articles are about the mechanics of equitation and how we, as riders, can hinder or help the equine in our mastery of the highest level of this art. There are discussions on how the stomach muscles work, on why the consensus that rollkur is bad but why we see horses in their natural state trotting or cantering far behind the verticle..... This goes far beyond how to ride the perfect half-pass to score that 70% at our next show (yeah, I'm talking to you Dressage Today).
And you know what totally cinched a subscription to this magazine for me? A free video posted on the site of Nuno Olivera practicing the canter backwards. Yes, you did read that correctly. Frankly, I thought it was a lost art. I figured I would never see this silly (not particularly useful) movement in reality. Well, I'm super glad I finally did. It's brilliant. There aren't words to describe how bizzare and moving it it to watch this old clip. To me it is far grander than even seeing the airs above the ground. It is the complete trust and confidence of the horse in his rider to even contemplate performing collection at such a level that his movement can be projected backwards. It seems mind-boggling because it is the very antithesis of what I try to promote in my horses everyday - forward, forward, forward.

Presidential Gag

Please.... The Chronicle of the Horse typically annoys me a bit anyway. Maybe they could stand to have a bit more content and less fluff. But that's my problem with all horse magazines anymore. Holla at me if you loooved Dressage & CT and are sad at its demise. I mean, there was some serious content. Sometimes my eyes glazed over, but shit.....I want a riding magzine (not all, mind) to challenge my thinking and bring out the academic in me. Yeah, fluff is good. I'm all about reading US Weekly and then pulling out a new behavioral study on dogs. But jeez, is it really necessary to devote an entire article on the new trends in riding-wear? And then write an umpteenth article on how to ride the perfect 20m circle? Okay, Dressage Today. I get it. Most dressage riders in the country ride at a very low level and that's your target audience. But would it freaking kill you to do some higher-level work sometimes?! No, it wouldn't. Really.

Anyway, as you can see horse magazines bring out my stabby side. But I accept that for what it is. And honestly the Chronicle of the Horse is less fluff than the others and therefore more readable to me. However, I genuinely question their judgement when this week I open up the magazine and read a long article on fucking Ann Romney. In case you weren't quite sure she is Mitt Romney's wife. What?! Are you kidding me COTH?! Because I'm pretty sure I'm ready to let my subscription lapse after this.

Okay, so she rides dressage. Big whoop. So we learn that she sponsors a mount for Olympian hopeful Jan Eberling. That's good. I am glad for him and more power to her. More people should sponsor horses for talented riders across America. But all of that fluff is just there to distract from the fact that the COTH is clearly writing a piece on Ann simply because her husband is running for the presidency. I mean, they certainly weren't too interested in writing about her last year or the year before. She certainly hasn't done anything so amazing in her career this past year that warrants an entire article devoted to her. Nope, really this is all political promotion regardless of the packaging. And frankly that pisses me off. Is there really nothing better to write about in the world of riding? And it makes me wonder if the Romney campaign paid them off. (Okay, I don't stress too much about this because really....is he that desperate that he's courting the horsey vote?) I paid money for this subscription to read about important goings-on in the horse world. Hell, if I'm interested in the campaign I'll read a political blog. So bite me, COTH. I pay you to write about horse professionals, not some irritating weekend dressage rider that bought her way to Grand Prix and similarly bought herself show recognition by attaching herself to the coattails of an Olympic hopeful. God, yeah, that makes me really want to vote for Romney now. NOT.

Jan 8, 2008

USEF Horse of the Year

Voting ended on Jan 4th for this honors, otherwise I would have told everyone to shake a tail feather and vote, but supposedly today the USEF will announce the choice for Horse of the Year. And how cool is it that the finalists were not at all what I expected. Call me reverse snobbish, but I seriously just expected the usual round-up of showjumper and dressage warmbloods. Instead there is:

Aequus: A 19 -year-old Arabian stallion who is the winningnest Arabian horse in the Park division. And he's the only horse to have won the open and amateur park horse championship in the same year. Did I mention he did this at 19?!

Esteban: A 6-year-old Fresian stallion, winning in-hand and driving championships. He doesn't sound so exciting to me, but I love, love Fresians and would love to see them on more people's radars.

Free Willy: A 14-year-old Hackney pony. I love Hackneys. I think they could be way more versatile and should be used in breeding an athletic cross.

Sapphire: Okay, so here we have our requisite warmblood, but still she's a Belgian warmblood which isn't that well-known of a breed. (For seriously, is there a country that doesn't have a warmblood nowadays?)

Theodore O'Connor: Yay!!! Everyone knows my love for this Thoroughbred/Arabian/Shetland eventing pony. I can't wait to see him kick ass in the Olympics. He just has to go to the Olympics.

So, suffice it to say that I am pleasantly surprised that the world hasn't turned into a corporate machine that only turns out 17hh dutch warmbloods that people mount and win every time out. There are plenty of people bucking this trend, so to speak.

Happy New Year!

So, I'm back. Two months of writing business plans, looking over financial statements, being scared of running my own business and never being able to wear pants again (don't ask)...I am proud to say that we are nearing the final stages of owning a boarding and dressage training facility in central NY.

There are moments of pure "yay!!!" and moments of "oh god, I must be insane!!!" but overall I am super-psyched and cannot wait to have more time for riding, writing, and teaching. Now I just need to find a good horse.