IT’S YOUR TURN

Since I will be at both the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event and the Kentucky Reining Cup, I thought I would give my followers a bit of a challenge to contemplate regarding the two disciplines I will be covering while in Kentucky.

It’s your turn to do the analysis.

As a starting point: What are the mechanics of each job (discipline) and what physical characteristics are required for a horse to excel in each particular discipline?

Which of these horses do you think would be the best eventers and which do you think would be the best reiners?

Which ones are the most athletic? Where would any limitations occur? Are any prone to unsoundness? What level do you think each horse could attain, and in which discipline (or both)?

How would it be if you rated each horse (#1-#6) on a scale of 1 (not competitive) to 10 (international competitor) for each discipline?

Please share your thoughts – as specific as possible – through the comments option.

Good luck.

Click here for the photo pdf:
Your Turn

Mother Nature

EVER WONDER WHAT MOTHER NATURE REALLY THINKS?

Have you ever tried to put yourself in Mother Nature’s shoes? Your author has been attempting to see things from the grand dam’s perspective in order to understand the big picture more clearly.

The first step was recognizing that the old gal must be extremely patient with her powers. She’s been around since the very beginning and is responsible for all reproduction as well as the adaptations of the various species. Now that’s a responsible position! And one would not want to make uninformed decisions in that role.

She’s been fair over time, allowing for a certain amount of experimentation. She’s let developments occur and encouraged decisions about what works and what doesn’t without losing sight of the big picture. However, she’s been tough on those that did not adapt, were self-centered or refused to play by the established rules.

So imagine how she rues the day that humans evolved beyond the cave. She was suddenly (at least by her timeline) forced to deal with a creature that was capable of radically affecting the evolution of other species – perhaps all species. What did she make of the human ability for ulterior motives and self-delusion?

It seems as though she tries to teach people lessons, but she must get exasperated when they refuse to learn. There’s plenty of evidence that she lets people think they are fooling her, but not for too long.

She’ll allow us to manipulate breeding, to remove natural selection and to create a universal gene pool. And, just when we think we are invincible, she gives us dogs with hip displacement, diabetic cats and deadly genetic diseases in several species, including humans. And that’s just for starters. But how many of us truly recognize our own responsibility in the resulting problems?

With all of that in mind, how does one make sense of the conflicting viewpoints that bombard us now that we have advanced the concept of mass communication?

How does she justify the view of animal protection societies that think a rib should never be seen but ignore the obese? Would Mother Nature agree that overweight is more desirable than underweight?

In fact, she’s given us the information to make that assessment. We can determine which animal – the overweight one or the underweight one – suffers the most long-term ramifications once returned to natural weight. Remember that the old gal encourages the ability to recover from lean times, but has never encouraged gluttony.

Can you envision Mother Nature scoffing at us, thinking that we are fooling ourselves by adjusting the natural weight standards upwards so we can ignore our own waistlines?

And what would she think of the extremes promoted by some animal rights organizations? Would she see the advocated actions as being contrary to her design or would she see merit in their positions? Chances are, given her history, she would prefer moderation over extreme views. Keep in mind that animals-as-pets was a human invention not one of Mother Nature’s primary goals.

And, she is the ultimate recycler. Everything is designed to die…to become food or fertilizer.

Perhaps her patience is most evident when one considers how long she has allowed us to abuse our environment before teaching us just how powerful she can be. We may think we’re invincible, but Mother Nature is really the omnipotent force in the world. And, I suspect that the longer we ignore her, the more we will see the true measure of her wrath.

OBSERVATIONS AND LESSONS

The road trip – all 8,000 miles or 13,000 kilometers of it – was educational, but it took some sorting and thinking to clarify the observations and identify the potential lessons.

The first stop was Scottsdale (AZ) and a Saddlebred show at Westworld, where my intention was to attend the line classes to take pictures of a variety of Saddlebreds and Friesians. Unfortunately most of the halter classes were either cancelled or only had one entrant. Not enough for an educational sample. The lack of entrants made me wonder how healthy that aspect of the industry is, and it saddened me.

The next stop was Arcadia (CA) where I stayed at the home of sculptor, Jude Ettensperger (equiarts.com). Thanks, Jude! From that base I covered the Breeders’ Cup races, including several days of attending early morning works at Santa Anita prior to the big races on November 1st and 2nd.

Those early morning works allowed me to not only see most of the Breeders’ Cup horses, but also some of the entrants in the Arabian horse stakes race as well as the general equine population at Santa Anita. What struck me almost immediately was the high percentage of horses with short femurs. Interestingly, hardly any of the Breeders’ Cup horses – save a few two-year-olds – and none of the Arabians I saw had short femurs. Since the short-femur construction shortens the stride (more suitable for sprinting) and leads to injuries to the hind leg, especially from hock down, I wondered about a few things.

I wondered how much of the criticism of the track surfaces at Santa Anita was actually due to the surface and how much was due to the construction of the horses. When UC Davis was conducting their studies on hind leg injuries, I wished they had been open to examining conformational aspects. I knew that would not likely happen as when that venerable institute conducted their study on toe grabs, they did not include any aspects of conformation whatsoever. Wouldn’t it be handy to have a study showing whether certain conformational aspects put a horse at higher risk for particular injuries?

While listening to two media-accredited handicappers discuss the track and its speed bias – speed carries and no one closes – it struck me that in the previous stakes-level sprint races that they were discussing had not contained a single horse without a short femur. My thought: of course there would not be any closers if the entire field had short femurs. In a subsequent stakes race I spotted two horses in the field that did not have short femurs and they closed to finish in the top three. If there truly is a speed bias on the track, good horses built to close can overcome that bias…or maybe there isn’t really a speed bias. It dawned on me that it is likely human nature, and certainly to be expected in the horse industry, to gravitate to one answer and ignore other possibilities. That includes scientists, and I will write about that in a future post.

I also wondered why the short-femur construction was becoming so prevalent. I hypothesized that it may be in part due to an optical illusion, since that configuration gives the impression of a powerful (muscular) hindquarter even if it is not mechanically efficient. That made me wonder if that was a bias that came with some of the big-name trainers who originated in the Quarter Horse ranks. And once again I was saddened by what that trend means to racing and the horse industry in general…and it filled me with dread about what a trend towards short femurs means to horses…and not just racehorses.

The next stop was in southern Texas, where I looked at a small herd of Arabians that the owner hopes to use as a foundation for breeding breed-specific sport horses. Unfortunately I was not full of encouragement, but that is one of the hard parts of what I do. If I say what the person wants to hear, the horses and the industry suffer, so I have to explain what I see even if that means disappointing the person.

From there I went to northeastern Texas to look at a competition horse that is just coming back from an injury. To my eye, the injury was related to the horse’s construction and therefore predictable. It also meant that his previous level of competition was beyond his physical comfort zone and that any dreams of having him move up in levels would be detrimental to the horse. But is that how most people think? I suspect not.

A planned visit to see a client’s barrel race horse did not pan out, so I was off to Lexington (KY) for three different events.

The first event was the US Dressage Finals where I planned on taking halt pictures for conformational analysis of horses of various breeds and at various levels of competition. Unfortunately, despite media accreditation, the allotted photo spots were not conducive to that objective. The warm-up area also did not work and the wind was howling outside.

Next on the agenda was day two of the USEF Young Horse Championship Symposium. There were presentations from the three Olympic disciplines (Dressage, Eventing and Jumping) as well as Driving and Hunters. The agenda stated that these presentations would “consist of details regarding concepts, scoring, judging, etc.”

I put considerable thought into what was observed and stated. As a result, I have done further investigation into the success rates of young horse programs in general and will be writing an article encompassing those results for Warmbloods Today.

And finally, I attended portions of the Keeneland Mixed Sale and met with a couple of clients – one from Canada and one from Australia. The sale itself allowed the opportunity to view and photograph several horses, but, due to an increase in prices, not the opportunity to purchase. As usual, it surprises me how horses, particularly Thoroughbreds at a sale are promoted and purchased based on the pedigree page and not by the individual’s functional characteristics. What saddens me about that is the fact that young horses will be pushed to live up to the human expectations that result from marketing.

The most rewarding part of the whole trip was the affirmations of my work from the clients at the sale. The Canadian client related that the horse I helped him select had been sold to Australia as a broodmare after being Champion Two-Year-old Filly and Champion Three-year-old Filly in a regional market. Not bad for a $1700 purchase. The Australian client told me that I had been accurate (as with the filly mentioned above) about the colt’s preferred distance and style of running. He further said that, after he changed trainers to one that followed my advice, the horse made good money before a brain aneurism ended his career.

In the final analysis, I decided that if just one horse has a better life because of my work, I can’t complain…even if I wish I had more influence for the horses’ sakes.

Road Trip !

I will be hitting the road about October 24th and will be traveling through several parts of the United States, so I thought I would share the general itinerary in case any of you wanted me to do any work for you… presentations, private consultations, etc. If you do, please send me an email and we can arrange things.

Idaho Falls, ID – Oct 24th

Las Vegas, NV – Oct 25th (tentative)

Phoenix, AZ – Oct 26th and Oct 27th

Greater LA area, CA – Oct 28th to Nov 2nd (Breeders Cup horse races)

Magnolia, TX – Nov 5th (a.m.) Private evaluations

Tyler, TX and Shreveport, LA – Nov 5th to Nov 7th or 8th

Lexington, KY – Nov 9th to Nov 16th (USDF Finals and Keeneland Mixed Sale)

The route home will take me through Indianapolis, Madison, Minneapolis, Fargo, Bismark and southern Saskatchewan.

Hope to see you somewhere along the way!

And Now for Something Completely Different…

I thought it might be time for a bit of levity (or just plain irreverence), so I am sharing a few previously published Mane Mare letters and responses.

Horse’s Mouth Video

DEAR MANE MARE,
What is lipstick and what is so darn funny about it? Every time I eat one of my favorite treats, all the people at the stable laugh at me and say it looks like I’m wearing lipstick. Don’t they know I have feelings? I’m not just any old grey gelding; I’m sensitive. Should I give up eating strawberries?
Baffled

DEAR BAFFLED,
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I must admit to having a bit of a chuckle myself when I read your letter. Lipstick, my dear, is the colored stuff women – and of course clowns – put on their lips. Women use it to make themselves more attractive even if they try to tell you it protects their lips from the sun and wind. With clowns it is part of the costume they use to entertain people. Either way, you should be delighted to have your favorite treat and make people laugh. A happy human is a much better thing to be around than an unhappy one.

DEAR MANE MARE,
I used to be a racehorse, but apparently I wasn’t good enough to stay with that career. The trainer sold me. (Gee I miss the groom I had there; she never made any demands on me.) For the past 4 years I have been ridden by a teenage girl, doing the canter and jump thing. All was going along rather well and life was easy. We were taking lessons from this nice lady and occasionally we all went to local shows. (I look pretty good with a ribbon in my bridle, if I do say so myself.) Well, now we take lessons from another lady and she is of the opinion that I can go further – and higher! I knew that from the beginning, but now they are intent on making me prove it by moving me from the hunter classes to the jumper classes. Now I’ve seen the size of some of those jumps when we have been to shows, and I’ve got to tell you, if I wanted to exert myself, I would have won a few races when I was younger. How do I discourage their plan? Ideas?

DEAR IDEAS,
Buck up! When approaching any fence you deem too high, too wide or a bit spooky, slide to a stop and buck. That ought to do it.

DEAR MANE MARE,
I know you usually answer questions from fancy show horses and personal saddle horses, but would you consider a question from a lowly lesson horse? If so, I would like to know how I can choose who rides me. Some of the student riders are a lot easier on me than others. Do I have a say in anything like this?
Gentle Ben

DEAR BEN,
Get a grip, lad. Just because you are a school horse doesn’t make you any less worthy than any other horse. If it weren’t for horses like you, just imagine what those fancy show horses would have to endure. You do all the teaching and they get all the credit. I say you can pick your riders in any way you see fit – kindness, affection, biting, bucking, whatever makes your preferences known. Be assertive.

DEAR MANE MARE,
My human wants to get on my back, but I buck her off. I don’t mean to be mean, but I don’t like it. What can I do to make my human happy and not sell me?!
Concerned

DEAR CONCERNED,
It seems to be a trend: humans want to ride their horses. Chances are if you don’t cooperate, you will be sold. Today’s horses are expendable. You will have to find some way of being invaluable if you really don’t want anyone on your back and you don’t want to change owners. Offer to clean your own stall, repair fences, do their homework, save children from wells…you get the idea.

Sharing

I may regret doing this, but I’m willing to take the risk. Please don’t make me regret it!

What prompted this particular topic? I get a number of requests from people who want to know if/when I will be doing a clinic or seminar in their country or in their general region. Some of them ask to be placed on a contact list if I am coming to their part of the world, and some are even interested in organizing a clinic.

Unfortunately, one of the problems for organizers is knowing if there are enough interested people in their area to warrant a clinic. That is usually because the person inquiring about a clinic has a specialized interest when it comes to either discipline or breed. It could be that the dressage aficionado is unaware that there are several barrel racers nearby who are interested in attending a clinic. Maybe the Thoroughbred breeders are unaware of the number of Pony Clubbers in their horsey neighborhood. And so on.

I am neither breed nor discipline specific, even though I create specialized and audience-specific presentations. So…

What if there was a possibility of sharing resources and having more than one presentation in order to have them as audience-specific as desired?

If someone is interested in having me do a presentation near their locale, I could collect their contact information and, if they were willing to share that info, I could put them in touch with other interested participants or organizers close to them.

Maybe combining forces – and contacts – could mean the difference between actually having a clinic in your region and just wishing there was one.

Please let me know what you think of the general premise…gently.

And, if you are so inclined, kindly email me the following information:

Name:
Email:
Phone:
Location:
Distance willing to travel:
Disciplines/breeds:
Interest in organizing (alone or in combination):
Willingness to share this information with others in your area:

Thank you and I look forward to meeting more of you in person!

Clinic Testimonials

Pedigree Mode

The last few weeks have seen me busy writing articles in pedigree mode.

First there were the World Cup Finals in Dressage and then Jumping. Then there was the Rolex Kentucky 3-day event. Then there was the Kentucky Derby. And then there was another 4* event: Badminton.

Yes, I went from dressage to jumping to eventing to racing and back to eventing in very short order.
(Note that some of the links below may ask for a log-in to Sporthorse-Data. It is free!)

The jumping finals saw Simon (Mr. Blue/Polydox) emerge victorious and his pedigree analysis will appear in Gaitpost under my column, Bold Bloodlines. I was surprised to find that our stallion, Hero’s Tribute, was related to a couple of the jumpers in the finals (Monterrey EJC and Flexible) since the Thoroughbred influence is usually European and further removed in jumpers.

Damon Hill (Donnerhall/Rubinstein I) won the finals in dressage and his pedigree analysis will also appear under Bold Bloodlines. As a son of Donnerhall, he was one of five horses in the top 10 descending from that powerhouse stallion. That is good news on a personal level as we are breeding a Hero’s Tribute daughter to a Donnerhall son this year.

Rolex once again proved that the Thoroughbred influence is still strong in the sport even though the winner did not have any close Thoroughbred ancestry. Again, on a personal note, it was great to see the horses related to our stallion: Calico Joe (3rd), Ballynoe Castle RM (4th), Donner (5th), Gin & Juice (7th), Pirate (12th), Ringwood Mississippi (13th), Parker (14th), The Deputy (18th), Daily Edition (19th), Syd Kent (20th), Houston (21st), Park Trader (22nd), Jumbo’s Jake (23rd), Ballylaffin Bracken (25th), Sal Dali (26th), No Boundaries (28th) and the final finisher, Irish Diamonds (29th). All relationships are within six generations, but some are fairly close up.

Even though he was a longshot, Falling Sky (Lion Heart/Sea Hero) earned his way into the Kentucky Derby field. And, although the sloppy conditions did not suit his front-running style, it was gratifying to see a relative of Hero’s Tribute (Sea Hero/Damascus) run in the big race, especially since Sea Hero actually won the 1993 Derby.

And then, while I was writing the Bold Bloodlines piece after Badminton, I was thrilled to find that the winner, Clifton Promise (Engagement/Cautious Style), was also related to our stallion. The sire of Cautious Style is a full brother to Hero’s Tribute’s second dam, Euryanthe. The siblings are by Nijinsky II and out of Quill by Princequillo. Clifton Promise and Hero’s Tribute are also related on other lines within their six-generation pedigrees.

And who said pedigree research was dull?

Headshot from Cathy

Hero’s Tribute

An example of a suitable photo to submit for an online conformation analysis.

How to take photos for a Conformation Analysis

It’s that time of year again… when my brain tries to hibernate. Not really, but I am kicking myself for not writing this particular post earlier.

Breeding season and the approach of the outdoor riding season correlate with an increase in requests for functional conformation analyses, and, in the online versions, the client provides the photos (sometimes supplemented with video).

What is needed to assure the most accurate assessment possible? Here’s a bit of a guide.

Photos

- One photo of each side taken with the lens aimed at the middle of the underline of the torso and the horse’s legs closest to camera furthest apart. The horse should be standing on a level surface.

- One rear view and one front view – both with the horse standing square.

- Sufficient light so that muscle development and skeletal points are clearly visible. There should not be a light source behind the horse. This is particularly important on dark-coated horses.

An example of a suitable photo to submit for an online conformation analysis.

An example of a suitable photo to submit for an online conformation analysis.

An example of an unsuitable photo for conformation analysis.

An example of an unsuitable photo for conformation analysis.

Here are a few examples that can be downloaded and printed for reference:

Photos suitable for Conformation Analysis - suitable.pdf
Photos unsuitable for Conformation Analysis – unsuitable.pdf

Videos

- Short clips of upward and downward transitions plus over fences, if that is part of the expected use.

- Free movement (flat and/or jumping) is often more informative than under saddle work.

Tips

Ceci (www.imagesbyceci.com), a photographer friend, had a few useful suggestions to share.

- Allow enough time so that you can be patient, and be prepared. Be ready to shoot (zoom set, etc.) if horse happens into the right stance.

- Turn off the camera’s flash for two reasons: risk of scaring the horse and flatness to the photo.

- The best times of day to shoot are early morning or late afternoon – not high noon.

- Kneel or crouch if need be and hold the camera steady by keeping your elbows to your side and one hand under the camera. No holding the camera at arm’s length.

I hope this helps you.

P.S. Sometimes I have to settle for less than ideal stances when taking photos of top competition horses rather than annoy the people who have been kind enough to let me take photos.

Welcome

Wow… my first foray into the blogosphere!

I asked for input from a few friends and colleagues and they all said I should talk a bit about myself, which is something I don’t really like doing. What if I start by saying that I am almost always on the horse’s side and that I realize that I may be misunderstood at times?

Oh, and one other thing you should probably know about me: I see the glass as half full, half empty and having the potential to be more of either depending on the next action or inaction…all at the same time. Maybe that is why people say I think outside the box, to which I reply, “What box?”

Some suggested that I give some insight into the types of things I intend to talk about in this blog. To some extent, I can do that. I will talk about places I have been, places I am going, observations I have made, conversations I have had, horses that I have encountered and anything else that strikes my fancy or catches my attention for one reason or another. And don’t be surprised if some of the topics (or takes on the topics) are a bit different or controversial.

Last month I was at Hilltop Farm in Maryland. Great place and very professionally run! What was I doing there? I was speaking at the US Eventing Association’s Future Event Horse educational seminar. I met some great people and think my presentation was well received.

Photos are courtesy Leslie Mintz of the USEA. Thanks Leslie!

Other things on my agenda? The usual: clinics and writing. Aside from the regular magazine articles, I started my next e-book while in Cuba. This one will be on the functional conformation of the western disciplines, focusing primarily on barrel racing, which is a departure since the last two books were on the Olympic disciplines – one on conformation and one on pedigree.

Whew! Blog #1 done and I’m still alive.