Dec 28, 2010

USDF Changing Rules on First Level Sitting Trot

So, I'm late to the game on this one (see -- I really am blocking out news of the dressage world), but I just recently became aware that the USDF changed their rules to allow posting trot in First Level.  This is to take effect in the 2011 tests.  I was taken aback by that decision, though in retrospect I don't know why that should have been the case.  One can go on and on about how it's really for the good of the horse and his/her spine, rather than the dumbing down of dressage, but I find that very hard to believe.  I get the arguments in favor of posting, really I do.  It is better for the horse, in general, and I often post when warming my mare up for her reining sessions.  However, I also feel that it's not ridiculous to ask a horse/rider combination to be able to sit the trot in a First Level test.  You can practice a lot of posting at home, so as not to strain the horse's back, but in a show I don't see that it's a complete hardship to ask for sitting trot on the day of the test.  If you've properly muscled up and prepared your horse, s/he should be able to handle the sitting, regardless of dressage education and/or age. 

Dec 23, 2010

Who's Got a Prettier Face?

Pics of My Pretty, Pretty Girl

So, these aren't the best, but I'm afraid that I'm limited by the dark and gloominess of Syracuse weather.  Plus, my little Gracie really wasn't too interested in having her picture taken.  Frankly, she was pretty pissed that I kept her from eating grass.  :) 

This last one is a show photo from last year -- Miss Gracie and my trainer.  How cool does she look?  She's all "I got this, Dad."

Dec 8, 2010

Courtney King-Dye: The Power of Tragedy

Reports are out today that Courtney is officially back in the saddle, working to transition from the hippotherapy riding that she's been doing back to the level that she was working at before her accident.  I'm very, very glad that she going to be okay and able to ride again.  It'll be a slow process, of course.  As she acknowledges, "[she] hopes to ride dressage horses again this winter, and compete in Grand Prix by the end of next summer, but understands the need to be realistic about her recovery." 

Even more importantly, I hope this is a wake up call to dressage riders to rethink their decision on helmets.  I know that more and more riders are choosing to ride and show in their helmets, but it's not enough and there aren't yet enough of the right kind of role models.  If you're a high-level, high-profile rider, you should make the decision to wear helmet, just to set the proper tone for riders who want to emulate you.  I hope that she will make the decision to always wear a helmet from here on out and in that way her accident will bring about positive change in the dressage world.  I complained about her hypocritical stance on helmets over a year ago when she dodged a audience-posed question about her thoughts on helmet usage.  She wore a helmet while exhibiting at the 2009 Syracuse Invitational, but was vague about her personal feelings towards the equipment.  It was the right time and place to effect true change in the world of dressage, but she remained noncommital.  However, I am hoping she might have changed her thoughts due to her posting of October 13 on her website, stating:  Another thing I learned at WEG is top riders are role models. Everyone watches us show. So I changed my mind about helmets. There's a personal decision involved, yes, but if what you do affects someone else, then show them the right thing. If it's made a rule, everyone will show in one, and you'll look incomplete without one...

Better late than never. 

First Comes Frustration

So, I've owned my mare for 2 weeks and 1 day and I have officially entered the period of frustration.  Not with her, mind.  Just with myself.  Going from riding a good school horse to a really nice, well-trained, open-level reiner is like trying to taking leaps across a wide chasm with my eyes closed.  On my last lesson I discovered that with certain things I've taken a few steps backwards -- my lead changes are crap.  I can't elaborate more on that - they're simply crap.  I always thought of myself as the lead change queen when I was practicing dressage, but these reiners are trained just so differently...  What I've learned:  essentially I just need to figure out how to do absolutely NOTHING.  Which is difficult for an ex-dressage queen.  I always half-halted, rocked my weight back, set up the new bend, held the inside leg to outside rein connection steady and timed my changes just so.  Ha!  Good luck trying to do any of that with a reiner.  Basically my job is to stay out of her way and and let Gracie do the heavy lifting.  This is so incredibly difficult to do and while I'm getting better, it's still a struggle.

Nov 30, 2010

Shameless Website Promotions - Stock up on Supplies!

Since it's the time of year to shop, I thought I would mention that right now HorseLoverz and are both offering really awesome sales.  I just spent a chunk of change at yesterday and got away like a bandit.  Examples:  I got some Cowboy Magic conditioner for $3.99, Vetrolin Shampoo for $5.49 and EZall Detangler for $13.95.  Cowboy Magic detangler is offered for a decent price, too, but I gotta admit it's not really my favorite product.  I know everyone swears by it, but it just seems to leave my hands really slippery and I'm not overly impressed with the way my mare's tail turns out.  I haven't tried the EZall yet, but I read on some forums that it was pretty great.  I mainly liked the fact that it wasn't petroleum-based.  So, I'll let you guys know how it is.

HorseLoverz is extending its Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales for a couple more days (I think) and with it you'll get 10% off and free shipping on all orders over $75.  So, if you're in the market for some supplies, now is the time to order them.  I love HorseLoverz because they have such a wide array of items.  Like it's not exclusively Western or English and I can buy an off-billet, some polos, some vet supplies and maybe a new and interesting brand of liniment I haven't seen before all at the same time.  So many times I have to shop at three different places to get the stuff I can get at HorseLoverz.  That really annoys me.  And the other cool thing about this place is the fact that they have many items in bulk quantities (not that I need this, but maybe you do!) as well as in tiny, trial (or travel) size quantities.  I just adore the small sample sizes.  I just bought a 2oz tube of Corona ointment and a 3oz bottle of Absorbine liniment for less than $7 total.  I love being able to stock up on these items that I want to have around, but don't have a lot of use for on a regular basis. 

Anyway, between these two sales I spent about half what I budgeted on supplies for the next few months, so do yourself a favor and check them out while they last.

Nov 18, 2010

My Vote for Horse of the Year - Goldikova

Watch her race from this year's Breeder's Cup and tell me she's not a force to be reckoned with.  This five-year old mare is based in France and has placed in the top three in 20 of her 21 career starts.  She may not have the name recognition over here as Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta, but the mare may be even more impressive.  She's won 8 of those above-mentioned races against the boys.  And she's won a record three Breeder's Cup Miles in a row. 

Most impressively, her handlers are not retiring her after this spectacular win.  She's staying in training as a 6-year old with an eye to winning the BC Mile for the fourth time next year.  If that's not class, I don't know what is.  She's already won the Cartier Horse of the Year Award, the European equivalent of our Eclipse awards.  There's no doubt in my mind that Goldikova should win the HOY award over here as well, but fat chance of that happening with the fans and critics tripping over themselves to throw the love in Zenyatta's direction.  I suppose we'll see soon enough.  

Nov 17, 2010

Equine Warfare and Hollywood - Robin Hood

I can't find any excerpts of the movie online, but I wanted to mention I recently watched the new Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe and I literally squee'd with delight at one of the early scenes.  They actually demonstrated how horses were used in wartime back in the day -- more precisely, there is a scene in which 3 or 4 horses rear up and bash down a castle (I think?) door.  I was giddy with excitement because I'm not sure I've ever seen such a thing in the movies before.  I mean, we always discuss how dressage was used in the art of warfare, but you never really see that depicted on-screen.  Has anyone noticed this scene or am I really just too horse-obsessed?  And are there more depictions of this sort of equine warfare that you can remember in other movies?  Couldn't come up with another. 

Anky at the WEG Games

I'm late to the game with this, but wanted to put up Anky's reining video from the WEG games.  She's definitely not terrible, but she certainly didn't belong on the world stage in the reining discipline.  Maybe I'm overly prone to being paranoid, but I find it highly suspicious that she qualified as the reserve on the Dutch reining team, and suddenly one of the horses had to pull out, so in steps Anky.  The fact is that she's okay at this sport -- I honestly think I like her reining style far better than her dressage style -- but she's not wowing anyone.  Her horse doesn't stand still and she's just too hands-y.  She'd do better to lengthen her reins a few inches and stop worrying about his head -- believe me, I should know! 

Anyway, call me a conspiracy theorist, but it certainly didn't do reining (and the entire WEG Games) any harm to have Anky riding, especially in a new sport that's promoting itself heavily as the Next Big Thing.  I'll bet it drew a lot more of the dressage enthusiasts, and it certainly gave the NRHA a boasting point.  I suppose it's a little of sour grapes for me -- if she rode dressage the equivalent of how she's riding in reining, she certainly wouldn't be on the world stage.  And that really bugs me.  I can't begrudge people wanting a cross-over star, but maybe she needs a little more time to finesse her skillz.  Frankly, I'd be a little embarassed to do what she's doing, even though admittedly she's put a lot of time and work into this and it shows.  So, I guess that's the thing I really ought to take away from this -- not to be embarassed of putting yourself out there, no matter what the criticism.  If I could get better at doing that, I'd be on my way to Rookie of the Year.

Nov 13, 2010

My First Purchase - Best Leather Halter Ever!

I finally received my gorgeous, new, custom halter from this Kentucky leather craftsman.  I was worried about ordering it from this place because there were so few reviews of it online, but can I tell you how amazing and wonderful it is?!  For $43 I got a custom-made, exquisite piece of craftsmanship with triple stitching everywhere, thick 1" strap construction, and solid, beautiful brass hardware.  The leather is even softer than I expected - it's like your favorite pair of jeans, just the perfect ratio of suppleness and resiliency.  And can I brag about the fact that in the $43 price tag is included a $5 brass cheek nameplate that's REALLY well-engraved.  My mare looks like a million bucks and I'm thrilled.  On the Chronicle of the Horse forums, they recommended Quillin's and Walsh, but I saved a ton of money going with this supplier and I really couldn't be happier.  Plus $5 ships any order anywhere in the US and you really can't beat that.  I also ordered a lovely royal blue, Walsh nylon halter for everyday use for Gracie with a lovely brass nameplate and the whole order shipped for less than $60.  I cannot say enough wonderful things about this place.  And they'll repair any broken hardware or leather at any time -- how can you resist this place?! 

Nov 11, 2010

A New Adventure

I've been mainly horseless for the past three years of writing this blog, which is honestly one of the reasons I started it: to have an outlet for my horse-y needs.  But as of Monday, November 15th I will be the proud new owner of a 6 year old, palomino reining mare that I call Gracie.  Her daddy is this handsome fella:

That's right!  I've got a Wimpys Little Step mare who is pretty damn talented, if I do say so myself.  For long-time readers of the blog, you should know that I'm a recovering dressage rider and instructor.  :)  No, seriously, though....I just was over dressage and what it takes to actually get to the top (and then when you see horses like Totilas at the very upper echelon, it really makes you question the tenets of your sport).  So, I decided if I was going to start at the very beginning again and learn something new, it had to be something so foreign to me that my ego wouldn't get in the way of learning.  AND it had to appeal to my controlling, type-A character.  So reining it was and now that I've been doing this thing for a year, I think I'm really getting the hang of it.  Gracie is just a lovely surprise that kind of fell into my lap.

But now that I own her, I've created two goals for us next year.  Firstly, I aim for my trainer to campaign her and win a world title on her next year.  If I hope to ever own her long enough to breed her, I want her to have a solid show record.  She already has $7k+ in earnings -- we'll hopefully add a title and bunch more money to the pot.  Secondly, I hope to be Top Ten Rookie.  My secret goal is to get Rookie of the Year title, but I'm trying to be realistic and I think scoring in the Top Ten at Oklahoma is doable.  I think. 

So now that I've announced it to the world, I hope to document our journey from buying the early supplies to my wins and defeats at the shows.  Look for it to start tomorrow!  And I hope everyone will enjoy the ride along with me.

Nov 10, 2010

Zenyatta Retires After First Lost of Career

So, there's a lot of chatter on the various boards and news sites about Zenyatta's second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic.  The majority of people all appear to take the position that the mare proved herself worthy in the end.  That it was a stroke of bad luck, that she just made her move a bit too late and had she been afforded a few extra seconds, she'd have won handily.  And you know what?  I'm not going to argue that point.  It's quite possibly true.  She's clearly an ultra-talented horse, a horse deserving of most of the accolades thrown her way.  She may well have won had the finish line been but a few strides farther.  But I find it really hard to believe that people are using this near-miss as some sort of proof of her worth.  Yes, she is a great mare.  She has had a far longer career than most racehorses and until a few days ago she'd never lost a race.  On paper those are amazing facts for any horse until you consider that all of the 19 races prior to this most recent Breeders' Cup Classic took place solely in California and that she was only pitted against males once at the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic.  Of course she won that day and that should have been the start of a brilliant 2010 campaign.  Yet her owners and trainers wasted the year running her against the usual female suspects back in California.  I couldn't possibly conceive of a more poorly-concocted season. 

Let me take a moment to clarify -- I don't begrudge the mare her fans, her legacy, her talent even.  If it seems that way, it's only because I am greatly frustrated by her entourage.  They had the opportunity to put Zenyatta to the test, to toughen her up and provide her with some real challenges.  Every year we bemoan the lack of great racehorses, and when one comes along we coddle her.  I don't know of another way to say this, but that Zenyatta is an extraordinary horse, but one that we never truly saw the best of. 

There was no reason that Zenyatta had to admit defeat Saturday.  Had she been more accustomed to dirt tracks (the dirt spraying in her face) and the challenges of running against colts, she would at least have had a fighting chance.  Instead they babied her and rested on their laurels, announcing her retirement even before the Classic was run.  So, no, I don't see her second-place finish as proof of her worth.  I see it as proof that she was mis-managed and never really reached the apex of her talent.  And why is she being retired?!  Just to prevent losing face after the premature retirement announcement.  Because the mare clearly isn't done running yet.

Without making this a Zenyatta v. Rachel Alexandra stand-off, I just want to point out that Rachel's handlers managed her impeccably.  They pushed her to the brink, even when she started to falter.  Sure, she could have entered the 2009 Breeder's Cup Classic.  That would have been the icing on the cake, but she really didn't have any more to prove.  Zenyatta, on the other hand, was just as (perhaps more) talented, but was pushed only ever once or twice in her career, before retiring with a nearly blemish-free record.  What's the point?  Sure, no one likes a loser, but time will dull the losses and history books will keep the memory alive of great horses.  What I'll remember is the arrogance of Zenyatta's owners and trainer and that will always (unfortunately) leave a bitter taste in my mouth when I recall this first and final loss.

Sep 28, 2010

Rachel Alexandra is Retired

I suppose this gives me the opportunity to run this baby photo of Rachel Alexandra yet again; it offsets how sad this news makes me, though I'll be the last to argue that the mare should keep going.  I've been meaning to post something on her lackluster year of defeats, but I gotta be just didn't feel good to meditate on Rachel's burnout.  She's not the same horse she was, but that doesn't take away in the tiniest bit the fact that during her peak last year, she was one of the most brilliant horses I will ever have the pleasure of witnessing.  She deserves to go down in history for her triumphs.

But her heart wasn't in it this year.  Rachel had lost the drive, the lustre.  It wasn't that she was a bad horse; it was just that she was suddenly so average.  Even lesser company would outrun her.  So as much as I hate the decision to retire her, I certainly can't blame her entourage for doing it.  It's hard to keep running a champion that doesn't seem to carry the same magic, who appears to be struggling.  It's probably not the fairest thing to do, but some of the greats have hit bottom and kept going.  Some even staged comebacks.  I'd love to see Rachel get the opportunity for a comeback, but I have to face reality and admit that it's not the wisest thing to do financially.  She's a valuable horse, one that shouldn't be risked just for the sake of history.  She proved her worth and I suppose it's time for me to let her go prove her value as a broodmare. 

Jess Jackson said it more eloquently, "'As you know, despite top training and a patient campaign, Rachel Alexandra did not return to her 2009 form.  I believe it's time to retire our champion and reward her with a less stressful life. We are delighted she will retire healthy and happy to our beautiful farm in Kentucky."  

Here's to you, Rachel.  Thanks for restoring my faith and giddy excitement in horse racing.

Reining Newbies - Penalties & The Dreaded Zero

Okay, so I've walked you through how judges are looking to score a reining pattern and why I think their scoring system is so well-designed.  Now what's up with all those 0's you're seeing?

That's another aspect that I sort of love about the scoring system.  Besides the addition or subtraction of points for each movement, depending on its quality (great/correct/not-so-great), there are also point deductions for deviations within the pattern. 

Reining Newbies -- How Scoring Works

Since the first part of the individuals are going on right now in Reining (and streaming live and FREE on USEFnetwork), I thought it might be a good opportunity to give a concise overview of how the sport is judged.

In a nutshell, in a high-level event like this there are three judges, all scoring independently of one another.  The thought being that the scores from three independent judges will combine and the average will even out the potentiality of one judge scoring a movement a little higher or a little lower than the others.  All three scores are added together and taken as the final, which is why you're seeing 200+ point scores.

Sep 27, 2010

Reining Live Feeds

Hey, while you have to pay for live-streaming any of the popular WEG events, reining is being offered FREE on the USEF network site.  And if you missed the weekend's events, including Team USA's phenomenal rides, they're also replaying the entire coverage.  I'm going through it now religiously.

There's something to be said for getting involved with a sport that is still working on its mainstream popularity.

Team USA Wins Reining Gold

Team USA won the reining gold medal very handily yesterday, making that three consecutive WEG championship titles.  Belgium -- color me surprised, I had no idea they were so highly-ranked, but I am also newish to the reining world -- took home the silver, in what is the country's first WEG reining medal.  And Italy took home the bronze for the third straight year.

RC Fancy Step is proving to be quite the superstar, much like his daddy before him (Wimpys Little Step) and his half-sister, Wimpys Little Chic.  I admit to be being a bit biased toward him, as someone is giving me the opportunity to buy another of his half-sisters....and it's giving me definite pause. 

Sep 15, 2010

Like Adult Swim. Only in French.

Okay, I rented this movie off of Netflix the other night and I instantly fell in love with it.  With only 10 minutes into it, my husband and my mother both turned to me and asked, "Are you sure you didn't write the screenplay to this movie when you were 10 and the Belgians just got ahold of it?"  Seriously, if you love crazy, non-sensical fast-action cartoons in the vein of South Park and nearly all of the Adult Swim selections, you will LOVE this.  Trust me on this. 

And if you're a horse-crazy girl on top of that,'ll just be in heaven.  One of the main characters is a horse, aptly named 'Horse.'  If you were anything like me when you were a young, horse-obsessed girl, you spend hours playing with your model horses, making them talk and run around in a particularly frenetic way.  This little movie perfectly captures that 8 year old's need to 'show' a character talking by shaking it rather violently to and fro.  And from there, it just runs wild.  It's even better if you speak French, but my husband doesn't know a word of the language and still thought it was spectacularly hilarious.  What a pleasant little gem of a movie!

Sep 8, 2010

The Many Iterations of William Shatner -

The Many Iterations of William Shatner -

Somehow I missed this profile of William Shatner in the NY Times over the weekend. I love how horses and his equestrian activities are featured so prominently. He's just one of those celebrities that I really believe loves his horses and works hard at riding. Not like other celebrities I have met/read about.

Who doesn't love this man?!

Aug 26, 2010

My Wife Knows Everything!

Cute!  I love this video and the race announcer plays it well.  Impressed he was able to keep 'em straight, frankly.

Jul 28, 2010

Book Review: Not By A Long Shot

Two years ago my sweet, devoted husband decided to buy a bunch of horse books to give me for Christmas, one of which was called "Not By a Long Shot" by T.D. Thornton.  Like the totally ungrateful wife I am, I completely ignored this book because it wasn't one of the books that had been on my wish list.  My husband had taken the iniative to buy me something that would be a surprise and for that same reason I looked on it with suspicion. 

So, when faced with a 5+ hour train ride from Syracuse to NYC earlier this month, it was with some residual guilt and trepidation that I decided to finally take a stab at reading this book.  Armed with a couple of back-ups, too, just in case...I boarded the train somewhat bored by my reading possibilities.  Yet within minutes I discovered my gross error; this was clearly destined to be one of my favorite books EVER!

I love the casual writing style of the book.  There's no obvious narrative, no cast of characters with a story arc.  It's really just feels like you had the good fortune to sit down with Mr. Thornton and swap stories.  Ultimately his overall topic is Suffolk Downs, a hard-knock racetrack in Massachusetts that has seen better days.  What I admire most is his way of offering up a gritty, grimy view of the track and its inhabitants without romanticizing it or depressing his readers.  There are no rose-colored glasses you get to put on when reading about small-time trainers who drug the hell out of their barely-viable steeds to eke out a tiny living, or jockeys who are struggling through multiple injuries and drug addictions to earn just a pittance, or even the somewhat sad, obsessed figures who spend every moment of their lives at the track just addicted to the handicapping and wagering, regardless of how much they win (or most likely, lose).  Yet, despite all of this, you just feel how much Thornton loves and respects his subjects.  He is not an outsider looking in; he's already been swept up and seduced by that world, no matter how dysfunctional it may seem.  In one of the early chapters of the book, Thornton notes that all the track participants -- the ones there day in and day out, whether it be bettors, trainers, grooms, or simply press -- refer to themselves as racetrack degenerates.  Normally I would hate the use of this term, but somehow it is so fitting in this context.  There is a certain mix of contempt and obsession that fuels these people, especially when you consider the class of track that they are inhabiting (this is not Churchill Downs or Saratoga, people).  Your average person doesn't spend every waking hour at a racetrack, especially not one like Suffolk Downs; it is a sort of compulsion.  One that I can understand perfectly.  This is Noir at its finest, except it's not fiction.

If anything, Thornton made me really understand the industry in way I couldn't begin to comprehend on my own.  I fully admit to having been very contemptuous of casinos on racetracks and small-time trainers that wore their horses down in small-time claiming races, eventually churning out horses only fit for rescue organizations or, worse, the slaughter house.  I haven't changed my ultimate opinions on either of these things, but he certainly opened my eyes to the complexity of these situations.  Racing, in some ways, only survives because of these things.  It is a difficult thing for me to admit, but I can see now why that world has been so slow to evolve.  As in everything, it is primarily due to a difficult-to-unravel concoction of absurd politics and fear, that horseracing is in such a crisis point.  I will have a harder time condemning those in the industry now, having a better handle on their viewpoint.  But don't worry:  politicians will still have my ire to bear.

You simply have to read the book to fully grasp its beauty.  It tackles everything from a discovery of the Thoroughbred who paralyzed Christopher Reeves in his girlfriend's dressage boarding stable to an examination of the regular racetrack "characters" who are the most loyal -- and perhaps looniest -- patrons of the track.  Think of it as a collection of essays and you'll be far better prepared.  Thornton just paints the picture and you are immediately drawn in.  By the end of the book, you feel a bit depressed, as if you just spent a year at the track yourself and now have to return home to your far duller existence.

I just want to leave you with one more thought.  There was one passage of the book that made me stop dead.  I must have re-read it 4 or 5 times, with tears in my eyes.  Never had I read such an eloquent expression of how it feels to be compelled to the racetrack.  My horse-y friends can't understand my horseracing obsession -- it's seedy and filthy and everything proper riding isn't.  But like Thornton writes, "[...] I recall being about five or six years old and watching my father, Paul Thornton -- tight-lipped with his serious face on -- saddling racehorses from the other side of the fence at the Rockingham paddock (children were not permitted in the saddling enclosure) just before the visceral, throaty surge of the crowd during a wild, stampeding stretch drive.  I didn't have it all figured out, but I knew I wanted to end up on the other side of that damn fence where the horses and jockeys were, the epicenter of action."  It's a simple description for a powerful, complicated need to be at the track.  You just feel it in your very being and it's nearly impossible to describe to people who haven't felt it.  And ultimately it's why this book is such a success -- in reality T.D. Thornton just spends 300+ pages expanding on this passage, describing why -- despite the gritty, harsh realities -- all the degenerates, including him, have made the choice to be there.

Jul 23, 2010

William Shatner's Breyer Horse

I wish I still collected Breyer horses.  Hell, maybe I'll start again, especially when I hear that the newest Breyer model horse is a Saddlebred horse called All Glory.  All Glory is a multiple roadster winner with William Shatner (and his wife) holding the reins.  I have such a soft spot for William Shatner; he is so very serious about the horses he owns and he is pretty decent rider.  I've seen enough to know that he isn't a weekend rider, even if his acting schedule likely tends to get in the way of more professional equitation goals.  I've just had the displeasure of meeting so many wealthy people over the years who really don't have lofty aspirations, don't care that much for their still bowls me over when I encounter someone who genuinely loves what s/he does, not riding just to show off in front of his/her peers.  William Shatner would be riding regardless of how much money he made.  Though, I don't deny it, the money helps!  Money buys you some amazing horses.  Here's the model:

And here is his namesake, with his adorable driver.:

Jul 19, 2010

LUCK Looks Like A Lady

So, I see HBO has given the green light to the production of its newest series, LUCK, about the horse racing industry and starring Dustin Hoffman. The pilot was directed by Michael Mann, which is a plus in my book, but I'm reserving judgment until after I've seen a few episodes. I feel like this is the sort of thing that could go either way, and judging from how many TV shows I actually like, it has to hit a pretty high mark. But anything that increases the visibility of horse-racing has gotta be okay in my book. Ugh...except for maybe that new Secretariat movie -- I don't know guys, it looks pretty cheesy.

May 28, 2010

Red Dead Redemption: One More Reason to Love It (Hint: The Horses)

I am a true fangirl when it comes to Rockstar video games; they can almost do no wrong in my book.  That's why I was so thrilled to come across this article on how the Red Dead Redemption development team spent so much time and effort on making the horses in the game realistic.  They declare that the game's horses are "like nothing else in gaming."  And when you check out the trailer, you definitely see the payoff.  As an avid gamer who also loves horses, I really have to hold my tongue when playing most video games.  The horses typically look rather ugly and block-like, and by don't even approach correct movement.  The Red Dead Redemption horses look really nice.  To a trained horsewoman, there's still much room for improvement, but I definitely won't be embarassed when playing this game.  Now if they could only get the money to do this for actual horse-centric video games.

May 25, 2010

Shocking! Casinos Aren't the Cure to Horseracing's Woes

Came across a lovely article by John Clay that simply stated what I've been trying to tell anyone who'll listen, for years:  slots machines are not the way to go when trying to re-invigorate the horse-racing industry.  I really don't see how this is particularly shocking or illogical for anyone who has actually visited a racetrack with slot machines.  I'm speaking anecdotally here, as I don't have a lot of figures to back me up, but it should be clear to most people that slot machines and horses are apples and oranges.  The people there for the apples are not interested in the oranges.  And vice versa.  Maybe the casinos inject some cash into the overall facility, but not the daily handle.  You cannot convince me otherwise.

Especially when I see tracks like Keeneland, Saratoga and Del Mar making loads of money, running fewer races with bigger purses.  And now we can add Monmouth to this list.  This track looked forwards to the future and opted to cut the meet way back, bolstered purses and generally made the track a destination spot.  The key here is to make horseracing chic.  Accessible, but glamorous.  This is the oldest trick in the book.  Just look at Hollywood; they've been peddling that game for decades.  And frankly it seems like the easiest thing in the world to glam up horseracing.  It already possesses a rich and colorful history; the players are riddled with the rich and famous (or could-be famous).  Capture this fabulousness and you'll capture a whole new generation.  I mean, it shouldn't be surprising that Churchill Downs' nighttime racing caught on so dramatically:  it's sexy, fun and a brand new option for people looking for a good night out. 

People, this is not rocket science.  If you're lacking in ideas, please feel free to give me a call.  With the right backing I could be a real thought leader in this movement.  Seriously.  The industry needs me.  :)

May 21, 2010

Sloths Are Even More Wonderful Than I Imagined

Via Jezebel, I discovered this amazing video of baby sloths at a sloth orphanage.  I grew up reading all the Gerald Durrell books and whenever he mentioned sloths, I always imagined such wonderful, exotic, fascinating creatures.  Funnily enough, though the animals are barely doing anything in this video, they have managed to live up to all those expectations:

Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.

May 20, 2010

Joe Louis, The Saddleseat Rider; Also Entitled, This Post's Devolution into Questioning the Lack of Diversity in the Horse World

I was poking around the LIFE magazine online archives and came across this wonderful gem -- Joe Louis, famous heavyweight boxing champion (yeah, that Joe Louis), was a bit of a horse fanatic.  He rode, he bought a gorgeous farm which he turned into a riding stable and horse show grounds, and he was even instrumental in organizing "America's first all-Negro horse show," as LIFE magazine terms it.  AND, all you saddleseat fans, he appeared to be a saddleseat rider!

I'm not a fan of boxing, but I have more than a passing interest in it.  It's not like I'll watch bouts on television, but it's more a matter of me becoming a bit obsessed with some boxers themselves.  I suppose it's because I've always had a bit of excess agression in me, to the point where I could understand why you would want to go stand in a ring and abuse yourself (and your opponent) like that.  There's just this deep, primitive understanding of it that resides within me.  Don't worry -- I don't plan on beating anyone least not yet, but my husband stands warned.  :)

And now I find it even more fascinating to discover that two boxers, in whom I have always taken a bit of an interest, were / are true animal lovers, in a way that I find very tender and endearing -- Joe Louis, with his horses and Mike Tyson, with his pigeons.  If you're interested in a really moving portrait of Mike Tyson as more than just a emotionally damaged, violent force of nature, I cannot recommend more highly, Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew Blechman.  Not only will it compell you to completely reconsider how you feel about pigeons, there is a wonderful chapter on Mike Tyson and his love and obsession with pigeons, specifically racing pigeons.  If I remember correctly, the author was not even really permitted to speak with Tyson -- apparently Tyson takes his birds so seriously, that it seems he was fearful to allow that side of him to be exposed to public scrutiny -- but he still manages to humanize him in a way that I never before considered possible.  I honestly cannot recommend this book enough, if only for this chapter.

But now the discovery that Joe Louis was also an animal lover.  And more importantly -- HORSE lover!  I have been truly won over.  Someday soon maybe I will post on the long tradition of black saddleseat horsemen in this country; it is a rather fascinating phenomenon to me.  Saddleseat obviously originates from the need for comfortable, quiet horses to oversee the large estates in the South, but what no one really likes to admit is that the horses and trappings associated with the discipline were also signifiers of a certain class.  Which inherently means that not only were the most beautiful, smoothest, most high-steppingest horses signifiers of wealth, but also of race.  It was the purview of the wealthy white citizens to spend time showing off their best horses.

Yet, similar to the world of horse-racing, Saddleseat became dominated by a load of now-semi-forgotten, talented black trainers whose prowess with handling and gentling the best of the best movers could not be denied.  So, in a strange twist of events, this genteel sport was subverted by these gifted trainers, and despite their skin color, they crossed class boundaries.  Seems like Joe Louis understood this, especially when you consider that he put on the first horse show for African-Americans only.  And there he was, front and center, decked out with a horse originally bred to be proudly ridden by the type of folks who claimed to 'own' his grandparents.  He made it to the big-time and bought the ultimate status symbol.

Yeah, yeah....who cares if that wasn't his main goal in doing saddleseat.  Sure, he probably just loved horses and saddleseat was in its heydey in the 30s and 40s.  Frankly it doesn't matter what his motivation was, he was still defying class and race distinctions and I love it.  The problem I have has always been this: where is the diversity in riding nowdays?  I don't often see people writing about and speaking about this, but it has always been a point of worry and guilt in my mind.  Maybe it was just especially apparent to me growing up in Virginia where my class at school was over 50% non-Caucasian students, but not once did I encounter a person of color riding a horse during the 8 years I rode there.  Something about that never set right with me, but I either never dared speak about it or I just never could articulate my concerns.  Even now, it still appears to be a sea of only white skin.  Oh, forgive me, except for the groom and stablehands...even the jockeys (one of the more lowly positions in the horseracing world it seems to me).  Those are the positions in which I see a preponderence of diversity and I gotta be honest:  That really makes me uncomfortable.  I wish more people were willing to talk about this in the horse world.  

May 13, 2010

FEI Stewards Manual Annex -- Head Position

The guidelines have been published.  I am impressed that they really spent the time on really giving good direction as to what does and does not constitute hyperflexion, while still allowing stewards to rely on their own good judgment.  Great start!

May 7, 2010

Official Trailer for Secretariat

While I know I'll watch this regardless of the quality, so far this trailer is not offering me any proof that it will overcome the Disney taint of feel-good, children's animal movies.  Well, except maybe for John Malkovich.  He looks awesome in this. 

Which makes me wonder where they went wrong when, in a movie entitled Secretariat, I am most drawn to a human character.  At least so far.  Trailers are often really bad indicators of the quality of a film, so I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, but Hollywood would do well to go back and watch Phar Lap a few times to remember how to make a wonderfully engaging story about a race horse.  One in which the horse is plays a true starring role, simply because of the realistic bond between him and his groom.  That was one of the issues I had with Seabiscuit -- it was all about the story, the people surrounding the horse, but the horse just didn't present a strong figure that I engaged with.

May 5, 2010

A Horse You Should Know -- Canonero II

I defy you to watch that video and not be desperate to learn more about the story of Canonero II.  Previously unknown to me, I discovered this horse's amazing story a couple of years ago, oddly enough in a book entitled, The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing by Steve Davidowitz.  I have an obsession with books whose authors make broad proclamations and aren't afraid of pulling punches when it comes to their opinions.  Gee, I can't imagine why....

Deemed "The Greatest Upset of Modern Times" by the author -- though whether this still holds true after Mine That Bird's Derby win last year, I don't know and don't particularly care all that much -- this horse has a much more compelling story (at least in my humble opinion).  Canonero II was the people's horse.  A story for the ages.  One of those once-in-a-lifetime, the stars aligned at just the right moment, in just the right way kind of story.  And the casual racing fan (case in point - me!) had never heard his name before. 

Just take another look at the video.  Starting from the 18th position and slowly picking off his competitors...there is greatness there.  Luck may have touched his forelock that day, but Lady Luck clearly wasn't the only reason he won.  He had talent, loads of it to judge by that race alone.

However, after that race, Davidowitz writes "It seems that most did not believe what their eyes had seen.  They called Canonero a fluke, a skinny horse who looked undernourished who somehow had managed to win the Kentucky Derby through a lot of blind luck.  [...]  It was embarassing that Canonero had just beaten the best-bred, most expensive horses in the land, most of them born and raised in Kentucky."

But despite all the sneering, he broke out of the gate fast once again in the Preakness, raced head to head with the speedster of the race, Eastern Fleet, and then proceeded to zoom past him, setting a new track record.

God, what a story!  To hear it from Davidowitz's ears, the horse was an unwanted, crooked-leg yearling, sold to an Edgar Caibett in Venezuela for $1,200.  He didn't show much talent as a 2-year-old, but that changed as a 3-year-old.  He appeared to blossom into a formidable stakes winner.

What happened next is almost not to be believed...Amazingly enough, the decision was made to ship the talented colt to Kentucky for the Derby.  Why on earth they considered that they had much of a shot, even with the wins in Venezuela, I just can't fathom.  Anyway, to get the colt to Louisville, his owner booked him on a cargo plane to Miami where he would be quarantined for 48 hours before the 1,000 mile trailer trip to his final destination.  "Unfortunately a terrible tropical storm broke out in midflight, forcing the pilot to return to Venezuela, where Canonero had to remain on the place for about 12 hours before a revised flight plan was approved for a restart.  Once in the air, engine trouble forced still another return to Venezuela.  About six hours later, the third attempted flight took off and detoured an extra four hours to avoid more turbulence en route to Miami.  Everybody on board, including Canonero, had suffered some form of illness during the arduous flights.

Upon arrival in Florida, Canonero was kept onboard the aircraft, sitting on the Tarmac for the duration of the 48 hours of quarantine.  The van to Louisville turned out to be a single-horse trailer hooked up behind a 1965 Oldsmobile.  Arias, the leading trainer in Venezuela, and his groom, Pedro Quintero, shared the driving chores straight through the 26-hour trip."

Not surprisingly, when the horse finally made it to Louisville, he looked pitiful.  By all reports, his ribs were clearly visible and people were publicly exhorting the trainer and owner to rethink the horse's entry.  His subsequent win was deemed a fluke, a complete stroke of luck and one which would be erased come Preakness Day.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story is that Arias, his trainer, was a bit of a maverick in the horse-training world.  When all other horses were put into sharp works prior to the Preakness, a race that favors speed, Canonero was galloping slowly for a half mile.  That's it.  People took this as a sign of his overall lack of talent, when they really should have looked to this trainer as a bit of a unique genius - the likes of which may never be seen again.  Particularly in hindsight, as his horse won the Preakness handily.  Canonero didn't win the Belmont - he had a case of hives and likely should have been scratched.  But interestingly, Davidowitz remarks, "[...]Arias never was accepted as a bona fide training talent despite his success, mostly because he used highly unorthodox training methods that did not accent speed.

Ignored and dismissed as lucky, Arias was not even invited to attend the Kentucky Derby trainers' dinner that always includes ever trainer of a Kentucky Derby horse, nor was he given any token recognition at the end of the year for developing Canonero..." 

Imagine this - a trainer who pulled off a feat that few others could have or even would have attempted.  He was essentially shunned from the pantheon of great racing trainers simply because he was different.  What a ridiculously stupid, insular view.  He clearly had a training genius that eludes modern trainers.  And even if they did exist nowadays, what would be their incentive for stepping forward?  In fact, who would hire them?  Even if you could point to Juan Arias as a shining example.  It's disheartening when an industry becomes so fearful of change that we cannot even celebrate the few fringe members that are true artists.

This man deserves recognition, however belatedly.  And Canonero needs to be more of a household name.  Maybe I'll have to be the one to write the book.

Apr 27, 2010

The Worst That Horse-y Fiction Has to Offer - Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen

In honor of Sara Gruen giving a lecture tonight in Syracuse, I decided to finally write up my book review of her debut novel, Riding Lessons.  I warn anyone who loved Like Water for Elephants to just probably stop reading now and just know that I positively hated this book.

Seriously.  I have heard that Like Water for Elephants is a good book.  Even my mother loved it, which says a lot actually if you knew my mother.  The thing is that I couldn't be bothered to pick it up and find out for myself.  And all because Riding Lessons is such a painful, excruciating mess of a book to get through.  I get really worked up about this book and its follow-up because when I came across it in the bookstore, I was SO EXCITED!  I love to discover new horsey-themed books.  And I can overlook a lot of flaws just to get my dose of horse fiction.

Not in this case.  There are so many cliches!  Annemarie Zimmer is the next great Olympic rider whose dreams are shattered when her beloved horse falls, killing himself and injuring her severely.  Of course she never rides again.  The story picks up decades later when she returns home to the family farm -- her husband divorcing her, her petulant daughter hating her....CAN I JUST SAY THAT I UNDERSTAND WHY?!  She is quite possibly the least sympathetic character even written.  She is stupid, selfish and has poor judgment.  In general, I just had no interest in knowing anything more about her and I frankly couldn't care less about what little plot development there was.  It was a case of her not being capable of taking care of the farm, not being able to care for her daughter, rescuing a horse that....wait for it....turns out to be the brother of her beloved horse who got killed, and it goes on and on in that vein, if you can believe it.  The dialogue is terrible, the characters are unsympathetic and you couldn't pack in more cliches if you tried.  Of course, the requisite happy ending is tacked on, but by the time you get there you're just honestly shocked that you didn't quit reading.  The only thing I can say in my defense is:  horses.  Otherwise I would not have gotten through the material.  And that really isn't a good enough excuse.  All the writing concerning horses is unrealistic and just annoying.  Not even worth reading for a dose of horsiness.

Busy Mom from Ohio, a commenter on Amazon, sums up my feelings perfectly:
"...I would be really upset if I had bought this book ... it was a painful novel to read and I just finished it an hour ago. I cannot express my shock that Gruen, who wrote one of the best novels I've read in some time wrote this book.

But this book is a big disappointment. If you love to read about horses and all that, you will be disappointed. This book is about a train wreck of a woman named Annemarie. Annemarie is one of the worst characters ever in the literature world as she is selfish, self-centered, self-pitying and rude. She comes home because she lost her job and her husband wanted to divorce her and plus, she wanted to help her parents since her father was diagnosed with ASL. She ends up driving the family's business into the ground, alienates her daughter even more and instead of resolving her differences with her father who was dying, she just hides in the stables and moan about how hard her life was ever since her accident. This is perhaps the weakest character I have ever come across and I do not say this lightly. She has a horrible meltdown throughout this book and it was very painful to read (I skimmed through a lot of it). Frankly, she comes across as a very spoiled, very privileged selfish brat.

Needless to say that this book is a major disappointment and even though it predictably ends well, the ending doesn't salvage a sour taste that this book has left me with."

And don't even get me started on the sequel.  Maybe tomorrow.

Edited to add:  Here's a really specific example of how the writing concerning horses is completely unrealistic.  On page 43-44, when she arrives back to her family home, checking out the horse business she's supposed to be taking over, the French classical dressage trainer is teaching a student and his horse.  He has a double bridle on, but is clearly (based on his difficulty executing the movements asked of him) not an educated grand prix horse.  But even if he were, it is ridiculous to think any random horse capable of doing what is described next, no matter if freaking Nuno Olivera were on board, "The man and horse are moving in sybaritic union now, floating effortlessly through one maneuver after another: a full canter pirouette followed by a canter half pass with lead change, and then impossibly - brilliantly - a capriole.  The horse leaps into the air and hangs there, seemingly suspended.  At the apex of his flight, his hind legs shoot out behind him."

I'm not even going to try to explain why that passage is utter poppycock.  Any competent rider knows exactly what I'm talking about.  Which makes me really question why this book exists...if her audience were horselovers, then what the hell is she doing writing about a capriole on page 44?  Yeah, like that'll establish credibility.  And if this is for just random people and the horse stuff is just peripheral, then why bother even having all the horsiness?  It just lures people like me in and bugs the shit out of us.

Apr 20, 2010

The Sins Of Our Fathers

Call me crazy, but I cannot figure out the mess that has turned out to be the disqualification of McLain Ward's horse Sapphire from the World Cup show jumping finals in Geneva, Switzerland.  Fran Jurga is doing a fabulous job over at the Jurga Report in gatherng explanations as to what hypersensitivity is, how it is tested and the FEI's protocol in dealing with these situations.  Her latest post is a video of an FEI vet defining hypersensitivity and its potential causes (all of which can be quite innocent -- or at least induced without intent to harm).  I'm reposting it here:

I still can't really make heads or tails out of the situation.  I get that McLain Ward is furious and confused by the disqualification, but I guess I can't see a reason for the outrage / appeals to the FEI that are being lodged.  Maybe I'm naive, but it seems that the FEI acted appropriately and consistently with its policies, and I don't believe they have an agenda against any rider. 

If you're really fascinated by this story, you ought to take a look at this article by the New York Times.  I never realized that McLain Ward's father was the infamous criminal who arranged to have 4 horses killed in an insurance scam.  That was incredibly shocking to me, but it's clear it has had at least a psychological effect on McLain Ward.  He's been trying to keep his nose clean, so to speak, for years, but you can tell he has a bit of a complex about the industry being out to get him for the sins of the father.  Can't blame him, but you wonder how much of his outrage at the disqualification stems from this distrust at the industry's governing bodies.  I can't say I wouldn't be thinking the same thing.  Must be hard to have a career in horses and have that skeleton follow you around.  I don't think I could do it personally.   

Apr 13, 2010

How to Get a Horse to Jump -- NOT!

If it isn't clear to you that this is cruel and excessive punishment, then you should probably stop reading my blog now.  Michael Morrissey is way out of line on this and someone (judge, please?) should have instantly disqualified him.  You can't ride at that level and expect to get away with shit like this.  Someone needs a real dose of gratitude and humility. 

Sylvia Bishop, Racehorse Trainer

Everyone needs to read this article from the December 1961 Ebony on Sylvia Bishop, who was quite possibly the first black woman to be licensed as a racehorse trainer.  It's a great read and I love that she emphasizes kindness and gentleness in the horses' training.  So brilliant -- I had never heard of her before and I think it could make for an interesting biography. 

The Prix Caprilli Tests

I never knew about the Prix Caprilli tests before.  They make perfect sense and really ought to be offered at far more shows around the country, both jumping and dressage.  For those who have never heard of these tests, they are like a dressage test with low crossrails included.  The judging is based on the dressage system (with a mark for each movement) and you get overall marks + coefficients for gaits, submission and impulsion.  Obviously they take into account the fact that the frame will be less collected for a jumping horse, but a general impression of accepting the bit and roundness is expected. 

How wonderful.  I really wish elements of dressage were better incorporated into more disciplines, especially when showing.  To me dressage is not the ends, but the means via which we improve the general movement and well-being of all horses throughout all disciplines.  I guess what I mean is that I wish I could see more all-around horses being shown today.

Apr 12, 2010

Blue Ribbon Series -- When What You Wish For Isn't What You Really Wanted

As longtime readers of this blog may know, I have the greatest love for horse-themed fiction, especially of the young adult variety.  In fact, I have a massive collection of it.  So, it may come as no great surprise that I am a bit of a conoisseur of even the cheesy 80s series of horse books that encompass the Saddle Club series, the Thoroughbred series, the Linda Craig series (which was really mainly a redesign and reissue of the original 60s era books), etc...

In keeping with my contrary ways of liking only things that no one else appears to have discovered, I present the horse-crazy series that I cherished above all other series.  At least when only comparing amongst its peers in the 80s/90s.  If you have never had the occasion to read the Blue Ribbon series, then you really should.  If you look hard enough you can still get your hands on the 5 books that managed to be published before it was clear that no one else was reading these books and the series was abruptly canceled.  They are fairly rare, but over the years I have managed to locate two copies of the entire series.  Yes, two copies -- I somehow forgot that I tracked down the first set and bought the second set before that realization sunk in.

I'm presenting you with the second entry into the brief series because I recently read it during my brief toe-dip into the tumultuous waters that are purchasing a horse.  And ridiculous as it may sound, it kinda soothed my soul.

So what sets this series apart from the others?  It's a bit hard to explain, really.  In some ways it fits all of the cliches.  Three girls whose love of riding forms the basis of a deep friendship?  Check.  One girl -- Dara -- is filthy rich with a gorgeous horse.  She is beautiful and boys trip over themselves to be near her.  Oh, and don't forget, she and her horse make an unstoppable team who win nearly all the blue ribbons.  BUT!  She's new to town and her wealth and status can make her seem snobby.  Will she manage to overcome her haughty demeanor and show the town that she's just one of the girls?!

Kate is more of the tomboy-ish one of the trio.  Her mother runs the local boarding/training operation, where all the girls board their horses and/or ride.  Kate is high energy and talkative.  She is supposedly the most talented of the three, but she just needs the right horse to take her to...gasp!...the Olympics.  BUT!   She still retains too much love for her steady-Eddie horse who just doesn't have the talent to take her all the way.  Will she finally come to terms with the fact that her horse is holding her back?!  Will her competitive side finally show her the way to stardom?!

And finally, there's Jesse.  Her character arc makes up the requisite sad story of the books.  Her mother died recently and the family relies on her to do alot of the cooking, cleaning and taking care of her siblings (are you feeling really bad for her yet?).  They don't have a lot of money and she can't afford to own her own horse.  She previously leased a mare at the farm until the owner decided to breed her and Jesse is left horseless yet again.  Will Jesse ever feel like part of the horsey gang?  Will she ever have a bit of luck?

Hey, I think I missed my calling.  I should be writing back-cover blurbs for young adult books.  Anyway, it's plain as day that this hits many of the typical teen horse book criteria.  However, there are some things that pretty significantly set this series apart from the rest:
  • Boyfriends do not occupy an enormous amount of text.  They're there and the girls all have boyfriend troubles, but they do not take up all of the girls' time.  And the girls do not fight over the same guys.  These are two major things for me.  I always wondered how people could be such good riding when they were spending all their time fighting and chasing boys.  Most significantly they were not riding!  Ugh, I hate that.
  • The girls do 3-day eventing, which means they do jumping and dressage.  And dressage is not made out to be some super tedious means via which they can do the more exciting jumping bits. 
  • Obviously the author knows horses and riding.  S/he (for the life of me I cannot figure out if it was a man or woman who wrote these books -- Chris St. John is like the most vanilla of names) describes things mainly accurately and uses the proper terminology (there is even a glossary in the back for those of the non-horse-obsessed ilk).  No one performs miracles on horseback.  There are no riders suddenly mounting a half-crazy horse and taming it.  People get frustrated.  They fall.  They don't win.  It's like it's breaking every rule of the genre right there.
There are other things as well, but those are the major items I keep coming back to every time I pick up these books.  And the gist of this particular book in the series kinda drives all of that home for me.  Essentially the story revolves around Kate.  Her beloved horse is really holding her career back and her trainer is trying, very gently, to nudge her towards that understanding.  His brilliant idea is to sort of trick her into exercising and showing the horse for him until he finds the right buyer for it (wink Kate wink).  Ah!  But the plan backfires when Kate protests that she doesn't have the time for another horse, but her horseless friend Jesse would LOVE the opportunity.  And so, reluctantly on the part of Jesse, Kate's trainer, and virtually everyone else, Jesse ends up riding this hot powerhouse of a horse.  I can recap every point, but what you mainly need to know is that this ultra-talented horse is the opportunity of a lifetime for a girl like Jesse.  He is brilliant and Jesse and he win all of their shows.  However, the entire time she is riding the horse, Jesse is basically in cold sweats and panics.  There are equal parts of enjoyment and nervous breakdowns when she realizes just how overmounted she is on him.  And when she finally realizes that she would rather not ride than ride that particular horse anymore, she speaks up and explains her feelings.  In the end she understands that sometimes the best horse is not the most brilliant, most talented horse.  Winning is not the end-all and be-all.  Sometimes you just want the flawed horse with whom you share a deep connection.

Besides breaking the rules of the genre, it's just a lovely message.  And one I needed to hear after turning down the purchase of a horse of a lifetime.  I could have bought a horse that would propel me into the primetime, but I chose not to for a myriad of reasons.  Mainly I just didn't feel like it was the right horse at the right time.  Yet, I kicked myself day after day for not taking the opportunity to prove my talent to the world.  And silly as it may seem, this book made me realize that you have to choose the path that makes you happiest.  And happy does not always equal accolades and glory.    

Apr 8, 2010

In Defense of PETA

So, I am aware that this post may not garner me many new friends.  PETA is an extremely polarizing organization, one that seems to either engender irrational hatred or profound allegiance.  I find I fall somewhere in the middle and though PETA would likely denounce a great deal of what I do (horseback riding) and what I think (I eat meat, though only meat from small, local farms), I would like to think that there is common ground between my beliefs and theirs. 

The thing that really bothers me, and what has moved me to write this post, is that the majority of animal lovers that I have met throughout my life are staunchly opposed even to the existence of the organization.  And that really, really bothers me.  I find it supremely unfair to denounce PETA as a terrorist organization which acts out of ignorance.  The fact is that the members of PETA are very clear in their beliefs and they are not without merit.  Their purpose is to act as animal rights advocates, believing that humankind does not have the right to use animals for any purpose whatsoever. And that is a perfectly fair standpoint.  I challenge anyone to read Peter Singer's book, Animal Liberation, and not come away with at least the slightest notion that maybe we are all wrong about the present state of the world and that animals are entitled to the full range of rights that humans have.  His arguments are very calmly and solidly laid out.  AND THEY MAKE COMPLETE SENSE.  PETA has done nothing more than take his arguments and hard-sell it worldwide. 

Look, I made choices at some point of my life which have completely negated any ability for me to be a card-carrying member of the group.  My riding is exploitation.  Probably the way I entice my cat to perform tricks for friends is exploitation.  And, perhaps most importantly, the fact that I eat meat is the worst kind of exploitation.  I realize all of that and I honestly can't fully disagree with them.  Part of me thinks they may be right, but I can't give up the riding and in my heart I believe that riding is a relationship, not subjugation.

So, in short:  PETA would hate me, but I don't hate PETA.  That's the thing that I don't get:  how you can love animals and completely denigrate this group.  They are merciless, brutal.  They will bombard you with images that most humans should not have the stomach to view.  They take absurd, overwrought actions (remember the human breast milk ice cream campaign?) and are not remotely bothered by exploiting beautiful, naked women in pursuit of their goals.  But in the end, they are the only group with the balls to publicly challenge deep, long-held beliefs about the conditions and welfare of animals.  Shock tactics work precisely because they scorn politeness and manners, because they touch on taboo subjects.  More than ever, animals need advocates.  For every blood spattered, fur-wearing celebrity picture, there are hundreds and thousands more pictures of starving and abandoned animals.  People would rather focus on the shocking and obnoxious aspects of PETA without acknowledging the message behind it.  You can't tell me that those tactics don't offer some good, if only by challenging us not to accept the status quo just, you know, because...  Advocacy shouldn't have to always be polite and mannered.  Sometimes you just can't get a point across any other way than by startling them.  Humans will always be more inclined to fret over human rights.  It's only natural.  Animals will always appear to be afterthoughts.  And that's why PETA is so important -- to jar you into changing that train of thought.

Mar 30, 2010

On the Obligation of an Industry

There was a touching letter in BloodHorse today, written by Herb Moelis of the Thoroughbred Charities of America.  He is retiring as president after 20 years and took the opportunity to write an open call to the racing industry, exhorting all members to make the care and welfare of horses at the end of their career an obligation rather than a choice. 

For those who may not be aware, the TCA is a fund-raising organization whose mission is "to raise money for distribution to more than 200 charitable organizations in Thoroughbred rescue, retirement, retraining, research, education, jockey & backstretch, and therapeutic riding programs." 

As anyone who is even a casual fan of horse-racing knows, there are far more unwanted Thoroughbreds churned out by the industry.  Many of these end up neglected or even slaughtered.  Moelis' point is that by making financial support to charitable organizations an obligation to everyone involved in the industry, you would easily be able to provide the necessary care and support for these unwanted animals.  It makes perfect sense.  Why shouldn't the burden of responsibility fall on the part of all racing participants (from all sectors from breeders to trainers to jockeys and vets) to ensure that the horses will be provided for, even after their useful life is over?!  Moelis states it most eloquently:  "How about the racetracks and owners, where annual purses are about $1 billion? How about purchasers and sellers at the sale companies’ auctions, where about $652 million changes hands every year? How about the vets, trainers, and jockeys, all of whom make their living from racehorses? If we were to assess a small percentage on everyone who participates in the Thoroughbred industry, we could accomplish our mission without burdening any one sector.

My point is pretty obvious. The necessary funds are there to care properly for racehorses when their careers end.  We, as an industry, must step up and support a program that is an obligation, not a charity—to support racehorse retraining and retirement."

Whether or not this will ever happen is a huge question mark.  I am optimistic, but not holding my breath.

Mar 25, 2010

Only NYC Carriage I Approve Of

I can't add to the brilliance of this -- an artist who made a Hummer into a horse-drawn carriage, which currently can be seen on the streets of NYC.

Video Killed the Radio Star!

I am torn!  I really, really want to enter this Purina blog-o-spondent contest to get to go to the World Equestrian Games and cover dressage and/or reining.  BUT!  I detest doing anything video-related.  Why, oh why must this be a video submission?  So, do I swallow my pride and get over it?  Probably....but I'm going to have to work on my "happy-happy, get-up-and-go" enthusiasm.  I admit it may not always be my strongest quality.  Maybe after a glass of champagne!

Mar 15, 2010

And the Tragedy that Befell Rachel

Without Further Ado, I Present the Greatness that is Zenyatta

Rachel v Zenyatta - It's Off

On Horse Racing - Rachel Alexandra-Zenyatta Showdown Is Off, and It’s a Wise Move - This article really eloquently expresses my feelings on the whole Rachel vs. Zenyatta thing. As we are all aware by now, over the weekend Zenyatta kicked some ass with her first race back since the Breeder's Cup. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Rachel Alexandra who appeared to have some trouble, finishing second to a horse that probably shouldn't have even come close to her heels.

The problem is really that Rachel waged a grueling campaign last year and was rightfully allowed to rest for the past 6 months. Alas, all that time off seems to have agreed with her so much that even Steve Asmussen admitted (even prior to Saturday's race) that she was clearly not 100% back in shape yet. A race under her belt probably pushed her closer to that mark, but she's not in racing form and may need some time to get back to that point.

As Joe Drape points out, this is just going to fuel the fires of rivalry between the various Zenyatta / Rachel camps, but it's so ridiculous. This race does nothing to diminish Rachel Alexandra's greatness; it just shows that she's still just an animal that performs according to her strength level and, possibly, mood. Last year's racing card took a lot out of her and only time will tell when she will regain her powers, if she does. And it is possibly she might not. We always have to face that fact. Athletes seem to peak before anyone is ready to give them up. So, we all have to be patient. In the meantime, it is useless to speak of Rachel's inferiority to Zenyatta: she already proved her point on the track and in the legacy she will leave behind. Whether she and Zenyatta ever meet on the track? Well, I'd like to see it, but I won't be devastated either way.

Mar 10, 2010

Have You Heard the One About the "Campaign" to Encourage Dressage Riders to Wear Helmets?

I write "campaign" primarily because it seems like a big show, a way to capitalize on the events du jour.  If you haven't heard, Heather Blitz, a professional dressage rider, has issued a call to action.  A call for all dressage riders to wear their helmets when riding.  So, you think, this is great!  What's your beef, BunnyRider?  Well, since you asked....

Initially, I was charmed by her zeal.  What better way to promote wearing a helmet than to have a premier, professional dressage rider wear hers while on the circuit in Florida?  Ahhhh...but it's actually not that cut-and-dry.  Let's put aside my inclinations to simply roll my eyes when hearing about her campaign.  Oh look, Ma, a rider who rarely wore a helmet previously is now calling on everyone to wear one.  You know, because of the tragedy.  Then, I realized that was just being ridiculous.  I can't expect people to change if I ridicule them for doing so.  She deserves congratulations, right?  Well, no actually.  All it seems that Heather has managed to do is capitalize on Courtney's accident to raise her profile through this campaign-sham.  You may think all is hunky-dory if you simply looked at her facebook fan page with this photo of her in a helmet displayed prominently.  You might think that she is as good as her word.  Especially when you glance over at her horse's fan page, with the photos posted of her warm-up ride at the Palm Beach Derby.  Yep.  Helmet, check.  Oops...but if you click to view all of the photos from her warm-up ride, you'll find this little gem.  If I am not mistaken (and I don't think I am) it is a photo of Heather swapping out her helmet for her top hat.  You know, for the actual showing part of the day.  I guess her little helmet-wearing campaign doesn't extend to showing.  Just warm-ups and schooling.  Talk about really going out on a limb for something you believe in.

I call this a major FAIL.

Mar 6, 2010

But Dressage Just Isn't That Dangerous

  I cannot even begin to count the number of times I've heard that one before.  So while it is incredibly distressing to hear that Courtney King-Dye has suffered a major head trauma after falling from her horse, I cannot say that I am terribly surprised.  I am flabbergasted at how the majority of dressage riders just dead-on refuse to wear a helmet.  Or wear a helmet for schooling sometimes -- depending on the horse dontcha know -- and never wear one during a show.  I find it troubling and distressing.  I've often spoken on this subject:  it's a bit of a pet topic of mine.  I was one of those kids that watched high-profile dressage riders and thought to myself, I can't wait until I'm old enough to ride without a helmet.  In retrospect, how stupid was I?!  And to tell the truth, the only real reason I feel differently on the subject today is because I had one beloved dressage instructor who ALWAYS wore her helmet, whether she was schooling or whether she rode a Grand Prix test at a show.  She believed in them very strongly, and as I idolized her, I also became a strong supporter of helmets as well.  Seriously, you guys, for no other reason than I just looked up to her.  That's all it comes down to sometimes, and all of these Olympic riders without helmets are just encouraging more of the same.  Except in this case, the tradition the younger generations will carry on is fraught with danger.

When Courtney came to the Syracuse Invitational to do a demonstration/clinic, one of the questions posed to her was in reference to how she felt about helmets in her sport.  She skirted around that issue and I was frankly very irritated with her.  In that demonstration she did wear a helmet, but she never had an honest conversation about how she felt about it, about whether she wore one all the time (most of the time, I believe, was her answer) and whether she felt they should start making an appearance in the show arena at the uppermost levels.  What I'm saying is that she had the perfect opportunity -- an adoring audience, full of teens and college students -- and it was clear she just didn't want to take on the controversy.  And if she wouldn't, who will?  We need some young, high-profile role models in our sport willing to make that stand. 

So now we hear that she was trying out a young horse at her farm, not wearing a helmet, and the horse tripped and fell; she struck her head.  Seriously, why do equestrians do these things to themselves?!  It takes two seconds to put a helmet on.  It might save your life.  The only things, I believe, that would prevent someone from putting a helmet on (especially if you opt to wear one sometimes) is either sheer laziness or fear of looking bad.  I cannot think of another option, unless you are really vain enough to care about how your hair may look afterwards, but because that option is so repulsive I choose to ignore its existence.

And I never, ever want to hear another person tell me:
  • A helmet may still not completely protect you -- No shit!  Does this even warrant a response?!  Where is the logic in disregarding a safety device just because it is not 100% effective.  I'd like to ask them how they feel about their birth control plans.  Maybe we should just do away with those, too, because they're only 99% effective.
  • A helmet may cause you more damage -- Yes, and it is possible someone may lose control of their vehicle today and crash into the side of your house, but the probability that this will occur is likely very slim.
Look, I'm in the reining world now and I wear my helmet.  My instructor doesn't wear one, but she has never said a word against me choosing to do so.  When I show, I will be wearing my helmet.  I may be the only one out there, but it only takes one person to start to make a difference.  The western world is going to need to start making that change, too, and that's going to be an even tougher sell.  I haven't been immersed in this world long enough to know how that will work itself out, but the dressage world already has the reasons to change and the tools to do it (there are some pretty nice looking English safety helmets anymore, I might note).  Until there are high-profile people willing to step up and show in the helmets, it will continue to be the status quo.  And I will continue to have little sympathy for people like Courtney King-Dye.  Don't get me wrong, what has occured is tragic and I feel for her family, but she made a very bad choice for the wrong reasons.  Someone needs to point that out.