Jun 29, 2009

Isabell Werth - Enough Already With the Pity Party

I really have no patience for self-pity. Look, I do it -- everyone does -- but can we please remember to do this sort of thing in private? I am not interested in watching Isabell (or any celebrity figure, mind) go on the talk show circuit and proclaim complete ignorance at how her situation spiraled so out-of-control. It's patently absurd and it just makes me want to scream. What is wrong with people nowdays that we cannot accept responsibility for our actions?! Sometimes you have to grow up and just face up to the fact that you can totally and utterly fuck up. And it's no one's fault but yours. It's hard --I empathize with Isabell. But when will people please stop using the "I didn't know" response as an excuse to absolve them of all reponsibility?

I said it before and I'll say it again -- there is a major difference between accepting responsibility and apologizing for your errors, and proclaiming ignorance and using that as a way of absolving yourself of your mistakes. Isabell has chosen the latter and I suppose, in that respect, she isn't very different than the majority of sports figures lately who have been involved in other scandals (I'm thinking here of baseball, obvs). I also hated watching them try to garner pity for themselves as they made the talk show rounds. Does anyone really and truly take this seriously? Because I just want to roll my eyes at their pathetically childish behavior. My five-year-old niece is not allowed to behave in this manner, why should Isabell Werth?

I quote, from her interview, "'It is true that the substance is not allowed for horses here in Germany. I didn't know that and I'm sorry for that,' she confessed."

"'Isabell Werth's vet Dr. Stihl, a Switzerland based high performance veterinarian, told Isabell the substance would only be traceable for 6 days. "Americans have now revealed information that this substance is traceable for 90 days. My vet didn't have this information," she said."

Does this even require commentary on my part? Her responses are even more disheartening as she pleads complete ignorance on her behalf and her vet's. I have no words for this. When do you reach the point in your career where you forget the hard work, sacrifice and education that built your successes? Is it a conscious decision to suddenly decide you can rest on your laurels alone? This might come across as super bitchy, but they are honest questions. I really need to know the answers to this because I would do anything to avoid such a place in my life.

New Week, Same Controversy -- Michael Whitaker

So, Michael Whitaker now too, huh? He's been suspended by the FEI under suspicion of doping. His horse Tackeray tested positive for altrenogest (Regumate). Now, the horse is a stallion, so...clearly, they're using the stuff off-label for controlling some aggressive behavior. I've never actually seen someone administer the stuff to stallions, but I know of the practice. You can read more about it here. The weird thing is that while many people use it off-label in this manner, there hasn't been a lot of research done into the long-term side effects of this practice. So, it seems a bit risky to administer this to stallions that could be potentially worth a great deal in the stud barn. But I am clearly not the target audience, I suppose...

Regumate's usage is admissable when used on mares in international competition; it has been determined to give a mare no advantage, just allow her to focus on her job without the other side-effects of estrus (which can be far more than just behavioral -- my mare, for example, exhibited major painful, physical symptoms when in estrus - in fact, she was quite prone to hematomas on her uterus). However, its usage in stallions is clearly prohibited by all equestrian regulating bodies and I am interested to see how this progresses. Whitaker has requested the release of sample B, so I'll post later with updates to the story.

Jun 25, 2009


So, one last word on Isabell Werth before I HAVE to get some work done today. So, apparently she has accepted the provisional suspension and opted not to open the B sample. Good on her. But one thing I would like to say: I would feel a thousand times better about this if Isabell simply said that she made a mistake and was sorry. I quote from the article, "Werth said she was informed that it likely would take six days for the substance to work its way out of the horse's system, but traces were still found in the test two weeks later. Werth said she deeply regretted the incident 'but was convinced that I had acted correctly.'"

See, now, that totally ticks me off. I understand that she is in charge of a major business operation and her sponsors may not appreciate her saying that she made a mistake. But it's the right thing to do. It wipes the slate clean; it reminds fans that we are all human and prone to errors. Being convinced you acted correctly just doesn't seem apologetic and that she is accepting blame for her actions. I truly hate that. It always smacks of cowardice to me.

Isabell Werth - The Rebuttal

So, Isabell Werth released a statement today on her horse's positive results in the doping test. As we all know by now, Whisper tested positive for Fluphenazine, a drug approved for use in humans with schizophrenia. I also learned that it has been around for years on the H/J circuit as a 'fix' for difficult/hyper horses. You learn things every day...

Anyway, she explains that Whisper suffers from "Shivering Syndrome" or "Shivers." It is a disease of the nervous system that affects balance, most commonly found in draft horses. I'm no expert, but reading through articles on the web as well as her statement, I find that the syndrome manifests itself in many different ways and at different stages of the horses' development. The most common early symptom is involuntary muscle tremors when the horse is asked to either back up or lift a hind leg (for shoeing or cleaning the hoof). It can be as simple as tremors, a 'hitch' or snatch of the hind leg into the air, or a complete loss of balance that can cause the animal to fall (or at the very least, I can assume it would scare itself terribly). It doesn't seem like a painful condition and it may not even degenerate beyond what I described. Moving forward is generally not a problem, so riding and competition seems totally within the realm of possibility.

So, with my description out of the way, Isabell goes on to explain that Whisper's shivers and jerks while being shod, bandaged, etc., were causing issues for his caretakers. She then consulted with her veterinarian, who said (rightly so) that there is no cure for this condition, but he had seen horses do well with a drug called Modecate. This drug (lo and behold) contains Fluphenazine, though I know not in what quantity. Isabell had the vet administer this drug to her horse on May 16th. The vet assured her that it would take only 6 days for the substance to be cleansed of the system, and so they opted to go ahead and compete the horse on May 30th. Which is where he tested positive for Fluphenazine.

Interesting. Look, I am not a vet. I don't feel terribly compelled to have discussions about Modecate and Fluphenazine, how it could be used to help in Shivers Syndrome, what delivery method they used, etc, etc... It is clear it was likely used as a sort of sedative to help calm the tremors for some particular reason at her stable on May 16th. Fine. I've sedated a horse to clip or whatever sometimes. Okay, I understand this. Here's what's completely wrong with this story and why I have little sympathy for her:

- Fluphenazine is listed (and has been) on the list of prohibited substances at the USEF and FEI for years. On the Drug & Medications guide of the USEF, it clearly states that it takes 90 days for the horse's system to be deemed clean of the medication after its usage. Does no one she employs read these things? Does she not read these things?

- Her vet says that the medication will clear her horse's system in 6 days. She trusts him. Sorry, guys. Unacceptable response. Isabell has ultimate responsibility for everything that goes into her horse's system. I have NO SYMPATHY. I am held to a very rigorous set of responsibilities at my job. If someone I trust screws up, it is still my fault for not checking their claims.

- Her horse has a serious medical condition. WTF GUYS?! Why the hell would you suddenly opt on a new course of treatment before a competition without doing some serious thinking and studying about such a course of action. You are a freaking international competitor, representing the sport for your country. You don't take decisions lightly. You just don't.

- Which leaves the other possibility that Whisper has been on this course of treatment for awhile and we only just discovered it. That honestly doesn't change anything. Know what you are putting in your horse's body.

I pass judgment on her because what she did is wrong. Whether or not I might do the same thing in her shoes does not make it right. You have a horse with a serious condition (which, I might add, seems like it would cause issues with in competition for things like, say, backing up -- I don't know the horse, so I can't speculate, but I might retire him from competition personally) and you need to be upfront with the FEI about the need for special medication waivers / dispensations. If they refuse, well, at least you tried and went about it in the right way. But this is disingenuous. And stupid to boot, if you just look at the USEF guidelines on usage of Fluphenazine. It took me about 5 minutes to look that one up. This is a case of willful ignorance and negligence.

And I don't get all the debates going around about whether we need to change the rules on what is and isn't considered doping at the FEI level. Dudes, we can argue about that all day long and not resolve shit. The fact remains that right now, this is considered doping. He had an amount (however small) of an illegal substance in his body during a competition. Hey, he could have had triple the amount and it might have never enhanced his performance at all. The fact remains that that DOES NOT MATTER. That argument needs to be left up to professionals more learned than you or I. The point is that right now there is a set of rules. Fight them if you will, but if you choose to compete within those guidelines, you must be prepared to adhere to them.

Let me give you an analogy --I choose to work at my company and must adhere to certain regulations that I may not like or even agree with. I made a decision to work there because the pros outweigh all the negatives. But then, I have no one to blame but myself when I get cranky about one of the procedures. I can make suggestions and work to change the system, but if I want to continue working there, I still have to play the game.

And let me just end by saying that at every point in this process Isabell Werth can and should be held responsible for knowingly giving her horse a prohibited substance. She runs a business and she holds the ultimate responsibility for every single person who comes into contact with her horse. Anyone who says otherwise is just making excuses.

Jun 24, 2009

My Favorite Things - Zonk-It!

Fly Spray. Does any of it really work? I don't know. I think it all depends really on how severe your fly problem is and how sensitive your horse is. Every person I have met has a different recommendation for fly spray and why it's better than anything else on the market. So, I suppose it's a bit silly for me to be writing a post on my favorite fly spray. It's all subjective and it really just comes down to what works for you.

When it came to my horse I came to rely pretty heavily on Zonk-It! The fact of the matter is I NEVER found a fly spray that was perfect, but Zonk-It! is cheap ($9 for 32oz.), works well to repel flies even on some of the more sensitive horses, smells pretty good (though I suppose this depends on your nose -- I loved the baby powder scent and others at the barn were fairly grossed out by it) and doesn't seem to cause any skin irritation, even if you don't wash the residue off your horse for several days or weeks.

You might be saying "What?" at that last criteria, but TRUST. I used fly sprays that burned hair right off after several days of application without rinse-offs in between. Not a pretty sight.

So, give it a whirl. I promise that at the price point, it can't be beat. There are cheaper brands, but I gave up on them a LONG TIME AGO when I realized it was like putting smelly water all over my horse. And if you have more money to spare, you can always try Flysect Super 7. I also find it's very good, but a few dollars more expensive and it's on the oily side. Dust will attract to your horse's coat like nobody's business.

If you're totally against using anything chemical at all, I recommend the Eqyss Marigold Fly Spray. It's expensive ($17), but it uses a safe, organic compound that actually works. Unlike citronella products or Avon's Skin so Soft. Listen, I love that shit for the smell alone, but as far as subbing for fly spray you might as well be putting perfume and a blindfold on (for you - so you can pretend the flies don't exist).

Yawn...Wake Me Up When There Are No More Doping Scandals

Ah yes...another day, another doping scandal in Germany. In case you haven't heard yet, Isabell Werth has been suspended until further notice because her horse, Whisper, tested positive for fluphenazine (a sedative) at a May 30th tournament.

Nice. Unless her horse was schizophrenic, I'm guessing he had no business being doped with that stuff at a major competition. I know, I know, there's still sample B to consider, but in light of all the other doping issues plaguing Germany, it's hard to remain impartial. Maybe I'm overly cynical, but I always feel a little pleased whenever these things come to light. I have a bit of a complex about how competitive dressage riders can take themselves too seriously when it comes to how what they do is more enlightened than other disciplines, so I like the leveled playing field.

Jun 23, 2009

2009 Ascot Gold Cup

Yeats - When You Are Old You Will Win the Ascot Gold Cup...4 Times

ASCOT, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 19:  Johnny Murta...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Living, as I do, in a country obsessed with sprinters I sometimes lose perspective and forget that there are still places left in the world that value their stayers. Places that value breeding and training animals of great strength and soundness. Yeats is a prime example of such a program. His 4 straight win of the Ascot Gold Cup at 8 years old brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful victory. What a phenomenal horse. When I watch such a horse I feel a sort of contempt for the fragile, young creatures that flit about in the Belmont, grasping at the ground in front of them, desperate to simply finish.

He has made history twice - once for being the first horse to win the Gold Cup 4 times in a row and once for being only the second 8 year old to win the race ever. There is something of the mythic in him and I feel badly for not having known his story prior to this. I feel I often miss out on these types of important moments in history that don't fit into the modern American horseracing narrative.

And then, in the midst of my euphoria, I was a bit dishearted by this post-race analysis article: "Afterward, owner John Magnier of Coolmore Stud raised at least the possibility that Yeats would return to Ascot in 2010. He also talked of his horse’s eventual stallion career. 'The genes are there,' Magnier said on the Ascot broadcast. 'Not everybody wants to use a Gold Cup winner, but you need stamina in the breed as well. I know some breeders who are very interested in breeding to this horse.' Even though Yeats has won seven Group races at shorter distances, horses with his kind of resume usually end up as National Hunt (jumps) sires. Coolmore’s own roster of National Hunt stallions includes a number of multiple Group I winners on the flat."

Obviously it is depressing to think that his worth is lessened (at least in the flat-racing world) simply because he is not a speed horse, but rather a stayer. Look I get the whole argument for "speed begets speed," but have we really come to the point where a horse of his caliber could be shunned as a stud simply because he falls outside of the normal, modern range? How many times do we have to demonstrate that for every sucessful narrative that follows a traditional path, there are scores of outsiders that demolish all those rules? There is no 'given' when it comes to breeding. And clearly we aren't churning out scores of brilliant, tough, beloved-by-the-public horses. So, why aren't more people willing to step out of their comfort zone and take a chance on a once-in-a-lifetime animal?

Jun 19, 2009

Thoughts - Blue Fire Lady

Here you are. If you want to actually see the movie, you can rent it from Netflix, but all you really need to know comes from this original theatrical trailer.

But. Let me just say that for all of the movie's obvious faults, I do still have a bit of a soft spot for it. It plays into that super familiar formula of a talented, innocent young girl that can quiet the spirit of a wounded animal. If the Onion A.V. Club can coin the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl for that certain type of love interest in an indie movie, then I would propose the term Serene Wholesome Horse Girl for the type of girl that always inhabits these types of horse movies.

She is pure of heart and the very embodiment of tranquility. She is the modern-day unicorn temptress. And really....it is the dream of every little horse-obsessed girl to be THAT GIRL. There is a horse out there that will perform only for you. I know people like to insist that it is the equivalent of the boy-girl relationship that will supercede the horse obsession in a few more years time. That a girl's love for a horse is about power and control. But I have always disagreed with that assessment. In some ways, it's almost more akin to a religious belief that we have been chosen for a higher purpose. That we possess a mystical talent that only horses (or animals, more generally) can see.

My intellectual side tells me that these movie and book heroines should be laughed at, eyes rolling at their patent absurdity. But, you know, I can't. I still secretly want to be that Serene Wholesome Horse Girl. I still think there is that untapped talent lurking within that no horse has managed to bring out. And really what's so wrong with that?
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Movie Review - Blue Fire Lady (1977)

I'm sorry, friends. I was away to see my husband's band perform in Montreal. I brought my laptop and my list of blog topics and then promptly got cranky about having to even open the computer bag. So, all apologies for leaving you in the lurch.

BUT. I'm back with a bang, with a review of "Blue Fire Lady." Growing up, this movie was one of my horse-y staples. I really don't know how that came to be, seeing as how it's a relatively unknown movie from 1977, made in Australia. Yet, when I wanted to do start writing up horse movie reviews, I knew it just had to be the first one. It held this favored place in my heart.

And then, watching it last weekend, I realized that I hadn't seen the damn thing since I was probably 8 or 9. Let's just say that my memory of it was far kinder.

Jenny is the only child of her widowed father and they live together on a working farm in Australia. Of course, Jenny has a great passion for horses, but she is forbidden from having anything to do with them because it turns out that her mother was killed by riding. Her father hates horses, convinced they are dangerous creatures who will kill anyone who comes into contact with them. Jenny disobeys his wishes because she just loves horses THAT MUCH. And he sends her to boarding school for what seems like 2 years. (The only reason I know this is because the horse she loves is shown in montages as aging from a wee baby to about a 2-year-old.) She graduates and opts to get a job in the horse industry at a racetrack where she is a groom, hotwalker, exercise rider….all of the above really. She falls in love. With a boy, too, but mostly with a horse – Blue Fire Lady. A crazy lunatic of a horse that wants to kill us all and eat our brains!!! Okay, so not that last part, but the horse is supposedly completely loony and from what I could tell, she was saner than any off-track thoroughbred I’ve ever worked with. But supposedly crazy she is and only Jenny can handle her. Of course. She makes Blue Fire Lady into a successful racehorse, but then has a change of heart about the cost of winning. You know what I’m talking about – the dilemma about teaching the horse to trust and love juxtaposed with the cruelty sometimes necessary to win. So she quits, leaving the mare to languish under the terrible treatment of the big-business-obsessed stable. Shortly thereafter the mare is officially deemed crazy and banned from the track. Finding out that the mare is destined to go to auction, Jenny plots to buy her for herself. It’s obvious she can’t and it’s no spoiler to tell you that her boyfriend manages to convince Jenny’s estranged daddy to buy the horse for her, with the totally cheesy argument: “Can’t you see she just wants to protect the thing she loves?!” OH SNAP! Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

Things that are weird about this movie:
- The actress playing Jenny looks about 25, so it’s totally confusing after about 20 minutes into the movie when she gets sent away to boarding school. You suddenly realize that Jenny is probably only supposed to be 16, but it just doesn’t seem right. It’s one of those things that, like, I understand theoretically, but it just doesn’t actually make sense. So, when I think of the movie, I think of Jenny from the latter part of the movie, not that weird interlude in which she pretends to go to school and do gymnastics in toddler’s rompers. Ahhhh….which brings me to my second point.

- The uniform at the boarding school seems to consist of miniscule skirts covering (if you can call it that) matching panties. I know this because there are a lot of shots of the skirts flipping up to reveal the panties underneath. I guess this panty-montage was for the poor fathers and boyfriends who found themselves dragged to this movie, but it’s totally out of place.

- The mare in the first part of the movie (the one that is Blue Fire Lady’s dam) is totally an Arabian. Dudes, really? You couldn’t find a convincing thoroughbred to trot around in the paddock a bit, and you just figured one horse was the same as any other? Come on. I beg of movie studios to please find it in their hearts to take pity on horse-obsessed young girls and just fucking match the right breed of horse! God damn it, that shit bothers me.

- Also, that brings me to another point. Why did no one just fucking come out and say that Blue Fire Lady was the same horse Jenny helped foal, back when she lived on the farm. It was totally obvious to anyone watching, but all the characters in the movie don’t seem very convinced. It makes no sense. The whole time, I wanted to yell at the screen: “DUDE! JENNY! IT’S THAT STUPID ARABIAN MARE'S BABY! IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW. WHICH MAYBE YOU DO? I DON'T KNOW. IT ISN'T CLEAR. PLEASE LET ME KNOW YOU UNDERSTAND! I CAN'T HANDLE THE PRESSURE -- IT"S MAKING ME GET ALL KANYE UP ON THIS KEYBOARD!”

- Oh! And I almost forgot the weirdest thing of all. The first trainer to offer her a racetrack job arrives at the train station to pick her up and then subsequently refuses to hire her when he realizes that she's a girl. What, what?! Jenny says that when she wrote him, he responded and said she had the job. So, I don't understand... Her name is Jenny, guy. Ostensibly she signed her name to her letter; did you suddenly think Jenny was a perfectly normal man's name? How did it not occur to you to think you might be picking up a girl at the train station? Or do they just offer jobs to anyone in Australia without ever having to mention your name?

Things that are just kind of laughably awful in this movie:
- Who the hell trailers a horse in a bridle?! And attaches said bridle to the trailer tie? Really! I need to know. Was that like a thing in Australia? Because it’s fucking stupid and dangerous. No wonder the horse was loony.

- There was a weird half-hearted attempt to describe Jenny’s mom’s death as not really being caused by a horse, but by the car she fell on after falling from the horse. No, I can’t explain that better. That’s what I vaguely heard. No, it doesn’t make sense. I’m sorry to do this to you. At this point in the movie you just nod kindly and have another glass of wine.

- I feel really badly about the portrayal of the Italian woman that Jenny lives with. God, can we create any more of a caricature? Never mind – please don’t answer that question….

- Ew….her boyfriend was gross. I know he was all heart-throbby by 70s standards. But…just….ew…. I far preferred the more homely, kind groom at the stable. Why did Jenny have to end up with skeevo dude?

Jun 11, 2009

For All the Little Girls Who Are Secretly Centaurs

The Centaur
by May Swenson

The summer that I was ten—
Can it be there was only one
summer that I was ten?

It musthave been a long one then—
each day I’d go out to choose
a fresh horse from my stable

which was a willow grove
down by the old canal.
I’d go on my two bare feet.

But when, with my brother’s jack-knife,
I had cut me a long limber horse
with a good thick knob for a head,

and peeled him slick and clean
except a few leaves for the tail,
and cinched my brother’s belt

around his head for a rein,
I’d straddle and canter him fast
up the grass bank to the path,

trot along in the lovely dust
that talcumed over his hoofs,
hiding my toes, and turning

his feet to swift half-moons.
The willow knob with the strap
jouncing between my thighs

was the pommel and yet the poll
of my nickering pony’s head.
My head and my neck were mine,

yet they were shaped like a horse.
My hair flopped to the side
like the mane of a horse in the wind.

My forelock swung in my eyes,
my neck arched and I snorted.
I shied and skittered and reared,

stopped and raised my knees,
pawed at the ground and quivered.
My teeth bared as we wheeled

and swished through the dust again.
I was the horse and the rider,
and the leather I slapped to his rump

spanked my own behind.
Doubled, my two hoofs beat
a gallop along the bank,

the wind twanged my mane,
my mouth squared to the bit.
And yet I sat on my steed

quiet, negligent riding,
my toes standing the stirrups,
my thighs hugging his ribs.

At a walk we drew up at the porch.
I tethered him to a paling.
Dismounting, I smoothed my skirt

and entered the dusky hall.
My feet on the clean linoleum
left ghostly toes in the hall.

Where have you been? said my mother.
Been riding, I said from the sink,
and filled me a glass of water.

What’s that in your pocket? she said.
Just my knife. It weighed my pocket
and stretched my dress awry.

Go tie back your hair, said my mother
and Why is your mouth all green?
Rob Roy, he pulled some clover
as we crossed the field, I told her.

Random Dog Excerpt - Great Dane

The Great Dane Sultan, Denmark 1699Image via Wikipedia

"There are few things which have such a healthful moral effect upon a criminal as to find a big, resolute Great Dane standing squarely across his path. If the criminal is a judge of dogs, he may read in the grim face a look which says, 'You shall not pass,' and if he isn't a fool, he'll 'go while the going is good.'

Several years ago a burglar in Missouri met a Dane in this way, and either failed to read the danger sign or thought the dog was bluffing. He was strangled to death in front of the window by which he was attempting to enter the house, and the verdict for the dog was 'justifiable homicide.'"

Look Ma, It's a Horse On the Web!

KhemosabiImage via Wikipedia

So, I was doing a bit of research on Khemosabi, the Arabian super-stallion of the 1970s, as I was considering doing a "Horse You Should Know" column on him. I probably still will, but looking at the list of subjects I need to get to, it may be awhile. However, I still wanted to share this amazing feature I found on him. Did anyone realize that an online webcast was done with him on September 11, 1999? I certainly didn't. In fact, I was rather shocked that the technology would have worked well enough to accomplish such a thing, but apparently it went off without a hitch.

It's nigh on 4 hours long and I will certainly be the first to admit I could not watch the whole thing. Mainly because I have a terribly short attention span, but also because it is rather amateurish -- shaky camera work, lots of unintended talking and some boring bits like watching the horse sniff the ground in a paddock. But for the very same reasons, it is fascinating to at least take a peek. And the idea that the horse was just that famous enough to warrant a webcast at that time speaks extremely highly of him and his legacy.

As a sidenote, I have personally come into contact with many Khemosabi babies and they all seem to inherit his very sweet and loving personality. I've always had a bit of a horse crush on him.

Jun 10, 2009

Just What is Inhumane Exactly?

I'm going to tackle something incredibly controversial - the practice known as "tail setting" in the American Saddlebred industry. Let me just start by saying that I honestly don't have a problem with the practice. Dear reader, I bet you are shocked, especially seeing as how I rant just about everything else. Ha! I like to keep you on your toes. No, but on a more serious note, I just want to say that while I would never set a horse's tail myself, I don't feel the need to go out and shame the people who do.

Look, it's a complicated issue and there's no black and white here. I would even venture to say that half of the things we do to our horses fall into that gray category. Sometimes the shade of gray is a little darker, and sometimes we start by thinking considering a practice to be of no consequence and end by abhorring it. It is the nature of what we do as riders and trainers. We have to make the best judgment we can for the animal's care, without knowing how the animal itself feels about it. So, when I say that I don't have an issue with tail setting, I am really saying that while I personally wouldn't do it, I'm not going to condone anyone for doing it either. On the scale of things we do to horses, it seems benign enough to me.

So, with that said, let me just explain what this process entails. Essentially, the owner of a show Saddlebred can elect to "cut" his horse's tail. No part of the tail is broken, no part is docked (that, I will agree, is pretty goddamn cruel except in certain medical instances). The cut consists of two small pinpoint incisions made through the muscle that allows the horse to depress his tail. Anesthesia is used beforehand and painkillers are administered afterwards. The incisions can take as little as two to three days to close up completely. You just need to be sure to care for the area well, to prevent infection. Now basically the theory is that after this surgical procedure, you must place a tail crupper on the tail in order to stretch and loosen the muscles around the incision point, allowing the dorsal muscles to contract, and encouraging the tail to be held more easily aloft. The muscles that allows the horse to swish his tail are left completely intact and all the animals having had the procedure are able to swat at flies when not wearing their crupper. Should the crupper be removed and the horse retired or simply just put on pasture, the muscles fall and the tail acts nearly as perfectly normal as prior to the "cutting." The only difference is that the horse cannot clamp its tail to its buttocks.

My feeling is that if the procedure is done properly and the horse is guaranteed to never be turned out in the tail-set (that would be cruel, not to mention dangerous), I can't see that it is something that I need to spend a lot of time worrying about as an inhumane practice. Oh, I know that sounds horridly callous, but I can think of far worse things that we do to our animals on a daily basis. In fact, I feel far worse for the horse at being stuck in a stall 24/7. The reason, I suspect, that this subject causes so much controversy is because it is a cosmetic surgical procedure that cause some discomfort to the horse. Surgical is the operative word here. And because it is completely unecessary, we deem it horribly cruel. To be perfectly frank, I think we all need to focus on energies on improving our training methods. This sort of petty stuff distracts us from the larger aim of improving the horse's life on a daily basis.

It is far worse to tie a horse's nose to the stirrup and leave him like that for a half hour, all in the name of improving its bending abilities. It's worse to use tight chambons, draw reins and gogues that force a horse into an unnatural headset, sometimes interfering with their breathing, in lieu of proper training. It's worse to use crank cavesons shut so tightly that the horse can't even think of opening its mouth. It's worse to jump horses in draw reins. It's worse to think that you can teach incompetent riders the use of a double bridle simply by trial and error. Dudes, I can think of a million more examples that I am willing to spend my time campaigning against.

These grooming and stable management practices are never going to be something I can agree on with my fellow riders and trainers. I personally think it is terrible to never turn your horse out on pasture; I think it is silly to body clip a horse that is not on an intense training cycle; I think it is horrible to even consider using a metal currycomb on a horse's delicate skin. But all of these things are done by my peers; I can't quibble with those because I mentioned in my opening paragraph, there are no easy black and white answers. All I can say is that I do not consider tail setting to be a painful, cruel procedure. Unnecessary, yes. Uncomfortable, perhaps. But not inhumane. The word "inhumane" suggests brute force, pain or neglect. It is destructive and lacking in any compassion. By that standard, tail setting does not fall into that category.

Jun 8, 2009

Longeing Caveson - Shameless Equipment Promo

Maybe I'm behind the times here, but this weekend I got the newest issue of the Dover catalog and discovered a plethora of cavesons being advertised for sale. Well, if by plethora you understand that to mean 4 cavesons. But if I wanted to see some underlying meaning in that (which, let's face it, I always do), I would like to think that longeing cavesons are gaining in popularity again. I am pretty happy about this as I am a huge fan of using cavesons for longeing.

I hate attaching my longe line to a halter because the halter is loose enough to twist into the horse's eye and it doesn't offer much control. That being said, I would rather longe in a halter than a bridle. Though the idea of having the bit leverage can be a very appealing one, there are massive drawbacks to attaching a longe line to a bridle. Frankly, if I'm in a bind I'll do it, but I would rather not. It is much too easy to yank a horse in the mouth or simply use so much pressure that the horse can't relax on the line. Even inadvertently. The bit just isn't really meant to be used in this manner. I think attaching your longe line to a bridle is just setting yourself up for a horse that either resists the contact to the bit or becomes deadened to it. I'll admit it was a long while before I discovered the beauty of the longe caveson, but once I did I will never go back.

The one I have doesn't have the bit attachment like the one pictured above and that's really its only drawback. I dislike having to put so much equipment on my horse's head if I am going to use side reins with the bit (i.e. caveson over the bridle). Though, I have been on more of a kick to attach the side reins loosely to the side rings on the longe caveson itself -- no bit, no bridle. Of course, like with everything you have to know your horse and be careful in doing such a thing, but in theory I like the idea of this far better as I can save the mouth from getting jabbed. I mean, I would far rather let the pressure be on the nose than the mouth especially when, being on the ground, I have far less of an idea of the forces acting on the animals mouth, and thusly less control over them. Therefore, attaching the side reins to his nose will not inadvertently negate my training techniques as attaching them to the bit could do. However, if I ever need to purchase a caveson again, I will get one with removable bit attachments, so I can decide depending on the animal I'm working with at that moment.

Of course, there are the inevitable arguments over whether or not even use side reins, but I'm of the opinion that you do what is right for the individual horse. Personally, I'm going to resist putting a young horse in side reins because I want to encourage happy, relaxed and forward, not an artificial headset (which can occur if the horse doesn't understand and accept rein contact prior to adding side reins). And over the years I have learned that I would rather never use side reins that have a rubber doughnut or an elastic on them. Plain leather side reins, thank you very much. Elastic and rubber encourage leaning on the bit, which is exactly what I'm trying to avoid when I'm riding. But in general, some horses need the time on the longe with side reins and some don't. I like longeing without any other equipment sometimes, just to try to establish straight and balanced naturally. However, in many instances it is very difficult to get a very crooked horse to do this without use of long side reins to encourage straightness. I will NEVER shorten one rein versus the other. I find that problems of this nature (leaning on one rein or the other) are readily fixed by longeing in a round pen. As the horse gets stronger, he will start to carry himself properly in a main ring as well. All this being said though, I have had plenty of horses that I simply never feel comfortable longeing in side reins as they lean on the bit, resist the pressure, rush, etc.... It's a useful tool, but it's not for every horse and every rider. Growing up, my mare was built a bit downhill. Longeing in side reins was a futile exercise with her. She would lean on the bit, run, or simply hollow out -- and these were very loosely attached side reins, mind. Instead, my trainer and I worked on her back or in hand. Lungeing was used only to blow off steam. This approach won't work for everyone, but it's useful to know the individual's horse's needs and work with them. In-hand work, with long lines, can be a much better substitute often. But if you're going to longe in side reins, I strongly recommend the control of a caveson.

Jun 5, 2009

Completely Random Dog Posting - Mexican Hairless Breed Profile

2nd Excerpt from The Book of Dogs, on the Mexican Hairless (pg. 89):

"Every kind of dog, however bizarre or degenerate, can find a human friend somewhere, and this most unprepossessing product of our neighbor to the south is no exception. Though unpleasant-appearing, with his sausagelike exterior, weak, lashless eyes, and quivering drawn-in hind quarters, he is said by his friends to be a bright, affectionate little dog, which repays amply the care and regard of his master.

Much variation seems permissible as to size, form, and contour, so long as the prime misfortune of complete baldness be present. The best specimens, however, just to be bizarre, carry a topknot of silky white hair on their crown. In general they are like any medium-sized or small Terrier whose hair has been scalded off.

The skin may be all pink, all dark purplish, like old bologna, or a marbled combination of the two.

The absence of a tempering coat of hair makes them feel unpleasantly fevered to the touch, and, of course, they are very sensitive to changes in the temperature and hence are rarely seen in the northern part of our country.

For the 'purposes of a dog' they are useless."

Jun 4, 2009

A Horse You Should Know - The Lemon Drop Kid

How often do we see this happen? Who wants to take bets this will NEVER happen again? I positively love it though. I wish there sincerely was a possibility for equestrian sports other than racing to come back into the spotlight, but until then, I'll just be content to marvel over this cover and the exceedingly well-written article that accompanies it. I'm not a Saddlebred historian, not by a longshot. But just seeing the dearth of information available on the web about this ultra-versatile American breed just makes me want to start cataloging all the info I can.
Regardless, I could rehash his story or I could let you read the article. I am voting for the article. It's superb and worth spending a few minutes of your day reading. All you really need to know is that he was the only Saddlebred to ever grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. That should show just how special he was.

In Which I Try to Argue That a Post About Dogs Is Relevant Here, Thank You Very Much!

So, this is totally off-topic, but I picked up a copy of The Book of Dogs at an antique shop a couple of months ago and just recently realized how utterly AMAZING this book is. You want to talk about books that pontificate on animals with no censor and offer up the quirkiest of stories, you need look no further than this book. One speaks of bloggers as judg-y, but y'all just need to read some older animals books, those M.F.s were judg-y.

I really need to find a horse equivalent of this. Anyway, I know this is not technically horse-y, but I must share this spectacular find with the world! So, until I tire of this, I will be posting one (condensed) excerpt a day from this book, presented without commentary. Anything that has particularly tickled me... Anyone who knows of any horse books in this vein, please pass the names along!!

Without further ado, I present the first excerpt of The Book of Dogs by Ernest Harold Baynes, published in 1927:

From the description of the Fox Terrier breed (pg. 73):
"Among the best known of all dogs is the buoyant, irrepressible, and violently affectionate Fox Terrier. Somehow he is always associated in many minds with sunshine and dancing, and when properly cared for and kindly treated he is a joyous creature.

Like other dogs, when ill-treated or badly cared for, he can degenerate into anything. Often, from overfeeding and insufficient exercise, he becomes fat, and a corpulent, wheezy dog, except an aged and decrepit one, is a disgusting object to any real dog lover."

Jun 3, 2009

Because I Like You Like That - Bat For Lashes, Horse and I

I woke up with this song stuck in my head this morning, so I wanted to share with my fellow blog readers. I managed to not be able to find the official video (is there one?), but I don't care because I love this fan-made experimental video.

Tamworth Memorial

Also, please do check out the website for the Australian memorial to the Waler horse (Tamworth Waler Memorial). It was unveiled on 2005 and I think it's a really lovely way to honor those animals that sacrificed themselves (without even knowing why) and the soldiers who depended on them.

Sandy the Waler

Doing a bit of snooping and I found a picture of Sandy, the sole Waler to return to Australia. If you have time, check out some of the pictures the Australian War Memorial has online, excerpted from their exhibition for children on "Animals in the War" -- there are some pretty neat images, including the one pictured above.

A Breed You Should Know - Waler

I am resurrecting this feature because I picked up a little pocket book of horse breeds to read before bed and, like the crazy I am, started making lists of esoteric breeds. I realized in doing so that I am not so very interested in the history of the breeds themselves. I mean I am in a passing sense, but I'm not a historian and I don't feel like I have much to offer in terms of rehashing the same facts. What draws me in are all the weird, little vague details that many of my older books include. My newer books are devoid of such odd tidbits and as such, they just come across as sterile. Vintage horse books FTW!!

So, without further ado -- The Waler Horse. Horses were not indigenous to Australia and so this breed was developed from the myriad of different horses shipped into the Australian colonies during the 1800s. For the most part the Waler was a type of horse, not a breed. It wasn't until 1986 that a breed registry and stud book was founded, along with a set of breed guidelines. Until then, the Waler was simply a mutt, a combination of Thoroughbred blood, some Spanish blood, a bit of pony and some draft added in, for good measure. But the fact that this unique combination of crosses morphed into a separate breed cannot be denied. It is only a sturdy, hardy horse that could thrive in the harsh climate, under difficult work conditions and limited food and water. As such, the Waler was particularly sought after as remounts for the British Army in India. The horse was the backbone of the Australian army in the Boer War and, perhaps more importantly (and tragically) during WWI.

Over 120,000 horses were shipped overseas to forces in Allied armies in Africa, Europe, India and Palestine. From Wikipedia's excerpt of the Australian Light Horses' performance in the book The Desert Mounted Corps: "… (November 16th, 1917) The operations had now continued for 17 days practically without cessation, and a rest was absolutely necessary especially for the horses. Cavalry Division had covered nearly 170 miles…and their horses had been watered on an average of once in every 36 hours…. The heat, too, had been intense and the short rations, 9½ lb of grain per day without bulk food, had weakened them greatly. Indeed, the hardship endured by some horses was almost incredible. One of the batteries of the Australian Mounted Division had only been able to water its horses three times in the last nine days - the actual intervals being 68, 72 and 76 hours respectively. Yet this battery on its arrival had lost only eight horses from exhaustion, not counting those killed in action or evacuated wounded.… The majority of horses in the Corps were Walers and there is no doubt that these hardy Australian horses make the finest cavalry mounts in the world…. They (the Australians) have got types of compact, well-built, saddle and harness horses that no other part of the world can show. Rather on the light side according to our ideas, but hard as nails and with beautiful clean legs and feet. Their records in this war place them far above the Cavalry horse of any other nation. The Australians themselves can never understand our partiality for the half-bred weight-carrying hunter, which looks to them like a cart horse. Their contention has always been that good blood will carry more weight than big bone, and the experience of this war has converted the writer, for one, entirely to their point of view. It must be remembered that the Australian countrymen are bigger, heavier men than their English brothers. They formed just half the Corps and it probable that they averaged not far off 12 stone each stripped. To this weight must be added another 9-1/2 stone for saddle, ammunition, sword, rifle, clothes and accoutrements, so that each horse carried a weight of 21 stone, all day for every day for 17 days, - on less than half the normal ration of forage and with only one drink in every 36 hours!The weight-carrying English Hunter had to be nursed back to fitness after these operations and for a long period, while the little Australian horses without any special care, other than good food and plenty of water were soon fit to go through another campaign as arduous as the last one!…."

And yet, after all the hardships the horses faced and survived through, Australia's quarantine laws made it impossible for any of the 120,000+ horses to be repatriated after the war. Actually, that's not true. One, on record, made it back -- Sandy, the mount of an officer who died at Gallipoli. What made me take note of this breed is the passing reference to an Australian government order to destroy the animals after WWI, since they couldn't bring the animals back home. It seemed tragically ironic that such animals would face such sacrifice, help their riders through the horrors of war and then be summarily killed. Now, I have since done some research and am not totally convinced that there was any such order. It seems like it is possible some officers did kill their mounts, but many more ended up being sold to the British and Indian armies, and a large number ended up just being sold into lives of labor in places like Cairo. Therein lies a bright spot -- a Ms. Dorothy Brooke, the wife of a British army major general, arrived in 1930 Egypt to discover the streets filled with hundreds of emaciated, sickly horses being used as pack horses. Lo and behold, these were same (now elderly) horses who had served in WWI and left behind to be so ill-used. The Brooke Hospital for Animals was born to provide free vet services to all animals in Cairo (however, this has since been expanded).

You see what random, eye-catching bits of data can lead to?