11 December 2014

Danish Justice

"Andreas Helgstrand Acquitted of Animal  Cruelty"

Sometimes I wonder if any good news will appear ever again.

Of course, I expected this from a country that allows people to visit legal brothels where people can have sex with animals.

28 November 2014

More Depressing News about Today's Horse People

This peer-reviewed study gave me faint hope for today's horsemen:

 "Can You Tell When a Horse Is Stressed?"

After I read this article, I wondered if the few people involved in this study knew much about the history of horsemanship, especially the branch known as classical dressage. I also wondered if the folks involved actually cared about whether or not their horses were stressed since head position is merely one indicator. 

I also wondered if most of them were aware of the multitude of problems caused by putting a horse's face behind the vertical (BTV). Considering the multitude of for sale ads I'm seeing where riders show off horses so behind the vertical that it's highly likely long periods of training would be required to (re)gain trust and willing cooperation. And that assumes the horses' anatomy suffered no permanent effects. 

The state of equestrian arts today depresses me. I wonder how many people will EVER learn that BTV is not ideal. I fear the number is small. 

05 November 2014

27 September 2014

"Are You a Rider or a Parasite?"

Here is a thought-provoking article from Peace Horse  Learning Center. I offer it here because it's good and because of late my job deprives me of time better spent writing entries on my horse blog.

Are You a Rider or a Parasite?

My barefoot trimmers and I often talk about the number of horsemen amongst horse owners. We agreed that it's about one in a hundred. I think the number of riders to parasites is comparable.

11 August 2014

Poor Grammar, Tragic Lesson

"Boy, 3, Killed by Horse: Spilled Feed Spooks Horse and Kills Boy Unintentionally"

Grammatically, this headline's a mess, but in a way the misattribution--"feed spooks . . .  and kills"--is almost correct. Obviously, the grain was without intention, but tumbling grain triggered the event. Grain's inert, innocent, and both horse and boy were also innocent. They were simply acting naturally. The problem was with adults allowing a toddler to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm sure they realized this the second the grain spilled, but it was too late then.

As flight animals, frightened horses react first and think later.  Knowing this, experienced horsemen spend a great deal of time desensitizing horses so that they'll stand calmly and even ignore movements and actions that would normally send them running. However, even desensitized horses can spook and small children are even more unpredictable than horses.

As I gathered from another version of this story, when the grain spilled, the small boy helpfully dove in to pick it up. When the adults ordered him to stop, the boy threw his hands in the air, startling the already agitated horse into firing the lethal kick. Sometimes, trust, innocence, and enthusiasm end in tragedy.

Being too trusting of both horses and small children afflicts even horse professionals. A few years ago, a couple of professional trainers were grooming a horse in cross ties when their son toddled up behind the horse. Another potential horseman died that day.

A similar confluence of careless trust led to the death of this little boy. Horses and small children both require experienced care and handling, and horses and small children together require the utmost care and handling.

01 August 2014

Racing: To Be or Not to Be

The racing industry continues to trouble me. Little about it strikes me as good, and yet I fear the entire Thoroughbred breed will vanish if racing is outlawed, and that would be a loss for mankind. The elegance and speed of the Thoroughbred serves as a heritage and a reservoir, a DNA trust if you will.  

Unfortunately, racing provides us with too many examples of cruelty, greed, and duplicity. Balancing that, at least partially, are stories of good trainers and responsible owners. Here is a story showing both sides of racing:

"Horse Returned, but Entry Clerk out of a Job

14 July 2014

Real Estate in Boulder County, Colorado

This place just came on the market. I do not know if the fracking well across the street from this facility had anything to do with it being listed for sale. It's a nice place. 

Paragon Equestrian Centre

21 June 2014

Operant Conditioning

One of my student/friends is now part of the elite Vet Start program at Colorado State University. She reported that defining  the elements of operant conditioning flummoxed most of her fellow students in her freshman course on basic psychology. The names for the four simple concepts lack intuitive connections for most people since Skinner used "positive" and "negative" in a mathematical sense--added to, subtracted from--not to mean good and bad as most people use the words. Consequently, most of the students in the class failed to identify what happens in the two types of reinforcement and the two types of punishment.

The blog Equinox Horse provides a delightfully clear set of definitions:

  • Positive reinforcement:
    • A pleasant stimulus is added to the animal's environment when a behavior occurs, resulting in an increased chance of the animal repeating the behavior.
  • Negative reinforcement:
    • An unpleasant stimulus is removed from the animal's environment when a behavior occurs, resulting in an increased chance of the animal repeating the behavior.
  • Positive punishment:
    • An unpleasant stimulus is added to the animal's environment when a behavior occurs, resulting in a decreased chance of the animal repeating the behavior.
  • Negative punishment:
    • A pleasant stimulus is removed from the animal's environment when a behavior occurs, resulting in a decreased chance of the animal repeating the behavior.
  • 11 May 2014

    More Bad Press for Andreas Helgstrand

    As if being accused of cruelty to horses were not enough, now others are accusing Helgstrand of some of the lower practices of horse-trading. He's been accused of shady selling practices before, but this article just came out today:  "Nye anklager mod toprytter: Ville snyde for millioner"

    In case you don't know Danish, here is the translation provided by the Chrome browser:
    Top rider Helgstrand, who last week was accused and the police for having abused his top horse, is now once again accused of allegedly defrauded in connection with horse-trading.
    The well-known dressage rider Helgstrand accused again of a million scams by horse-trading
    According to the 64-year-old bicycling horse dealer Jens Erik Markussen tried Helgstrand to cheat him of 1.2 million. kroner in connection with the sale of dressage horse Casio in summer 2012.
    Jens Erik Markussen owned horse with Helgstrand and a third person. At the conclusion of the partnership made the three owners, according to Jens Erik Markussen, a written agreement, which stated that all parties should agree on the selling price before the gelding was sold.
    But that did not happen. According to Jens Erik Markussen, who has 50 years experience as a horse dealer, sold Helgstrand and the third partner the horse, but that he was informed of it in advance.
    - I'll just message the day after the horse is sold, and I have to accept a given price. I did not believe the price because of my experience with horses commerce. I got it checked and found out that they tried to cheat me for 1.2 million. lion, says Jens Erik Markussen.

    Wrong selling price

    He said he was informed that the horse had been sold for 3.6 million. kr, but that the actual sales price was 4.8 million. £ Wrong selling price he was familiar, as the horse be handed over to the new owner.
    - At the time of submission, I found out that the price was not correct. Whereby the selling price is distributed differently than what I first was informed that says Jens Erik Markussen, adding that he therefore ended up getting his third of the 1.2 million. lion, as he usually stood to be cheated on.
    The accusation of fraud comes only a year after that Helgstrand was accused of fraud million in another horse trading. As BT described in February 2013 accused breeder Joan Andreasen top rider for having cheated her of 3.3 million. lion at the sale of the precious horse Uno Donna Unique. The horse was bred by Joan Andreasen, who had sold half of the horse Helgstrand. For sale should she therefore have half the price. But that did not happen, according to the Jutland breed.
    When the horse in 2012 was sold, was Joan Andreasen told that the sale price was 13.4 million. £ But when she later got hold of the contract, which was written only in Helgstrand name, it turned alleged that the sale price was 6.7 million. £ higher - ie the entire 20.1 million. £ Joan Andreasen was given by a lawyer later the 3.3 million. £

    As a king

    Joan Andreassen am appalled that a top rider Andreas Helgstrand caliber can find on the kind:
    - I did not in my wildest dreams imagined that he would do it. But Andreas (Helgstrand. Ed.) Feel like a king who is raised above the other, says Joan Andreasen.
    Jens Erik Markussen is furious Helgstrand trading methods.
    - I do not like the way that Andreas do it. He has no morals, and if he has any morals, so it stands at a very low point. He is greedy of his horse trader, says Jens Erik Markussen.
    Helgstrand do not have many comments on the allegations of fraud.
    About Joan Andrea's case, he says:
    - I have no comment on the case. If people feel that I have not done the right thing, then they are welcome to approach me, but I have no comment on the matter through the press, he says.
    For Jens Erik Markus's case, the top rider no comments:
    - If he (Jens Erik Markussen, ed.) Has a problem, he is welcome to come to me.
    Jens Erik Markussen accusing you of deliberately trying to cheat him in the horse-trading. How would you explain it?
    - I can say that we were three who had the horse, and we were all three agree, as we sold the horse. And I have no further comments on the matter, says the Helgstrand.
    Read more about Helgstrand and the Danish dressage environment in BT Sunday

    09 May 2014

    Totally Unsurprising News: Horses Remember Humans

    This study goes in the file with the recent study concluding that horses can differentiate between human voices and older studies showing the earth is not flat: "Horses Never Forget Human Friends"

    19 April 2014

    Wanted for "Possible" Horse Abuse: Andreas Helgstrand

    "Possible" offenses committed by Andreas Helgstrand include persistent use of hyperflexion (rollkur) and violent, gouging use of roweled spurs. He is also accused of competing on a sick horse.

    Helgstrand is identifiable by his iron seat and matching hands.

    Evidence against him includes videos and photos where his remarkably elegant and talented horses manifest both brilliance and agony: excessive switching of the tail, behind the vertical head position--sometimes including a blue, oxygen-deprived tongue, spur-marked flanks, hollow backs, trailing hindquarters, and even occasional brave acts of outright rebellion.

    *Hest FLIPPER ud med Andreas Helgstrand* [Horse Flips out with Andreas Helgstrand]

    The video "Hest FLIPPER" disappeared shortly after I posted this. During piaffe, Helgstrand's mount withstood being spurred hard for a few steps and then flung itself into the air. Such a beautiful mover couldn't unseat Helgstrand of course.

    However, the deleted video reappeared on another site: Click here! (Gotta love the Internet.)

    If you are impatient, start watching at 1:54.

    Andreas Helgstrand & Akeem Foldager,Aachen CDIO5* Freestyle

    Epona TV: Flogging a Sick Horse

    Update: For commentary on the likely outcome of this set of events, read this:

    03 April 2014

    Planning to Start Taking Western or Dressage Riding Lessons?

    Western and English riding lessons tend to be expensive--financially, emotionally, and physically--so my first recommendation is to be absolutely certain you have a suitable instructor. That means finding a person who is not only knowledgeable but focused on rider safety. My ideal first instructor has a calm, trusted longe horse confirmed in all three basic gaits. Group lessons and/or individual lessons may work well for intermediate riders, but a true beginner is better off not having to worry about guiding a horse while struggling to develop a solid, independent seat. Finding someone who can provide even a month or two of longe lessons gets a neophyte rider off to a stronger, less stressful start. 

    The oldest student I started was a PhD psychologist who took his first riding lesson when he was 65. He moved away after only a few months on the longe, but he was already confidently using the reins and walking and trotting my longe mare with me acting only as a fail-safe at the end of the longe line. While fairly rare in the US, the Spanish Riding School still puts riders on the longe for many months, and even US Olympic riders often take regular longe lessons. A skilled instructor with a sharp eye can stop problems from becoming hard-to-break bad habits.   

    As a person who taught herself the basics on a green horse and who fifty some years on still suffers from some seat faults because of that, I put choosing the right instructor at the top of my list. Again, it's impossible to underestimate the potentially devastating effects of even small seat faults.
    Given the importance of a correct and independent seat, knowing how to interview and select a potential riding instructor then becomes perhaps the largest obstacle in learning to ride correctly and safely. 

    Luckily, reading some good books on teaching riding can help avoid choosing an unsuitable instructor. First on my list is Jan Dawson's Teaching Safe Horsemanship. She provides advice invaluable for instructors, advice that can also serve as a template for the beginner to use as a checklist to rate prospective instructors. If an instructor doesn't follow most of her advice, I would look elsewhere. Of course, there will be some divergence. I, for example, teach my horses and students to be comfortable working from either the right or left sides. Leading and mounting from the left side is however European tradition dating back to the time men wore swords, so I warn students to expect most other horses to be used to left handling only. However, those who want to ride a horse in Japan will find horses there are worked from the right side because ancient Japanese warriors wore their swords on their backs. Sometimes knowing trivia can prevent problems.

    Reading's a good way to pick up both trivia and general principles. Good and great books on equitation abound, so picking the few to start off can be a challenge. Ericka Prockl's Learning to Ride As an Adult: A New Training Method for First-Time Riders could be a good place to start since an actual horse isn't necessary. Her book and an exercise ball can start the horseless student toward a correct, secure seat. Exercise balls give an essential feel--and one can easily watch TV or videos while sitting on one! If available, a mechanical horse is also a wonderful tool. I wish I could afford one, but they're usually found only in big riding centers. They're the ultimate in safety and convenience. Three keywords--mechanical horse simulator--bring up some great videos on  YouTube.

    One of my favorite riding masters teaches by starting her students on a mechanical horse she helped design. I've given copies of Heather Moffett's Enlightened Equitation: Riding in True Harmony with Your Horse to several of my students. Moffett, while a fully certified British Horse Society instructor, goes beyond their theory and may be considered a bit of a renegade by some because she touts the pelham bit over the snaffle for most riders. While I tout bitless over bit, both of us have the same reasoning--the comfort and posture of the horse as well as the safety of the rider.

    Moffett's Facebook page also serves as a wonderful discussion forum, as does that of another English riding master: Sylvia Loch & The Classical Riding Club. I've found the discussions on these two sites to be extremely high quality. In fact, some absolutely top level authorities, including Olympic riders post in these forums. Another Internet resource I use is YouTube. By sheer accident, I found Warwick Schiller there. I recommend pretty much all of his videos because he uses the least force of any reining horse trainer I've ever seen and he starts his horses bridleless. For a sample, I recommend "Bits for Bolting Horses"  and "Teaching Collection to People."

    One of the few horsemen I've met with a real sense of humor, Schiller's also a keen observer of people as well as horses and a clear interpreter of the theories of the inimitable but often opaque western horseman Tom Dorrance.  For sheer fun, I also recommend his "Harlem Shake with Horses." He also has DVDs and a subscription video service that's heavy on hows and whys rather than the promotion of a line of gear. 

    As to books, dozens of great books on equitation exist. For a short list, I'll recommend  a few. Mary Wanless's Ride with Your Mind Essentials: Innovative  Learning Strategies for Basic Riding Skills offers a straightforward, well illustrated overview. Wanless also talks about breathing, a powerful riding tool and something most masters of the past likely used without any conscious awareness. For those wanting more detail on, I'll slight Seunig and a number of other 20th C. German masters whose books have helped me and mention Wilhelm Mueseler's Riding Logic instead. Although Mueseler was not a classically trained rider, his Riding Logic provides a clear and relatively brief introduction to the intricate world of German riding theory. For an even better one volume work on classical riding, The Complete Training of Horse and Rider by Alois Podhajsky of the Spanish Riding School still tops my list.  

    Podhajsky's my hero. Although I haven't cracked _Complete Training_ in years, I reread his My Horses, My Teachers not that long ago and realized how profoundly it had affected how I work with horses. It did not teach me to ride, but it taught me the fundamentals of how to train horses--no force, lots of analysis, lots of reward. Podhajsky and my first difficult horse convinced me to stop riding with a snaffle. My students spend their first year or two riding bitless. When they're advanced enough to graduate to a snaffle, I often hear them say, "Why?" 

    For many pleasure riders, bitless provides all they need. So far, not much is published on riding bitless, and even some experienced riders don't know how severe some bitless rigs are. Right now, most information on bitless riding comes instructors and the Internet. Aside from natural horsemen like Schiller and Pat Parelli who demonstrate their methods, few other widely available resources exist. Facebook has bitless forums. Web sites such as LightRider Bitless Bridles exist. Hmmm. I may have to write a book on bitless work.

    Good luck learning to ride!

    13 February 2014

    Another Tiny Bit of Good Racing News

    I've long appreciated John Shirreff's training methods and general attitude toward the race horses in his stable, so this was good but unexpected news:

    "Eblouissante Benefits from Dressage Training"

    01 February 2014

    "St Nicholas Abbey's Brave Battle"

    Steve Haskin's blog at Bloodhorse.com detailed the struggles of St. Nicholas Abbey. As I'd suspected, the horse was utterly kind and possessed of a high pain tolerance, among a species known for high pain tolerances. I'm not a huge racing fan, but this horse's expression in a couple of still photos captured my attention so I've followed the story, hoping for a miracle. Alas, from Haskin's article, the horse's stoicism--we'd say valor--apparently contributed to his ultimate demise.

    St Nicholas Abbey's Brave Battle