Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Cards and Equine Photography

It has become a common practice for people who have children, or pets, or vacations to take a photo and slap it onto a sliver of photo paper with a brief message (typed in) and print off a bunch and call that their Christmas or other winter holiday card. Now personally, I like my cards to fold so that you can write something personal inside them, instead of on the back for every postal worker on the job to see, but either way you need that iconic (in your own mind) image to start. Of course in my case I have to throw in a horse. I truly believe I don't photograph well without one. They are the ultimate accessory.
The internet has been around long enough that I think everyone has seen or read (at least once) the article or a variant thereof "How to Bathe a Cat." If you haven't, here it is, please enjoy.

Taking pictures of horses is not that bad. However it does take a little bit of skill, a lot of luck, and preferably a camera suitable for action shots, to get a nice photo. The invention of digital cameras (and large memory cards) is a great thing, as you can take many many attempts at getting the right photo and not worry about wasting money developing bad ones and mistakes. I would probably cry if the hundreds or even thousands of blurry, too dark, too early or too late, 1 ear down, eyes closed photos I have taken had to be developed before I discovered how inadequate they were.

So I had help with my Holiday card photo shoot this weekend, and of the close to 100 photos taken, there are probably less than 10 that I like well enough to put on a card. (With some editing.) Now I am not going to blame this all on my horse, who was a very good sport about the sidesaddle, and the wind and the flowy dress, and the multitude of paparazzi in her face. I had my share of eyes closing, talking, weird expressions and parts where I was looking the wrong direction too. But I thought I would try to share some of my insight into what went wrong and what went right.

Weather. We have been what I consider very lucky this year, and have not yet been inundated with the cold, wet, white stuff, some people cheerfully call snow, and I call white misery. Unless it is Christmas day, then I am OK with it for ambiance. That being sad, mud and bare brown trees do not a picturesque card make. But with the help of Photoshop and a tech savvy friend (or yourself if you are the techy one, as I marginally am,) weather is of little importance. You and your horse can be on a mountain with Santa, or on the beach in the surf, it is up to you.
Now I am a little bit out of practice, and I just started working on these yesterday so I apologize for the unfinished state of these pictures, and the blatantness of the photoshop jobs. The finished product will hopefully be much better, but these are for demonstration purposes only.

That said, since background is not much of an issue, the most important thing is to get the right pose, the right light, the right expression, and ears! Ears are a trial and a tribulation well known to anyone who has ever tried to take a picture of a horse. There are different tricks, noises, candies, throwing things to get a horse to put his ears up, but the best recommendation I have is to have 2 people, one in charge of attracting the ears, and the other in charge of snapping the picture once it happens, because it may not last for long. ears could be manipulated in photoshop as well I suppose that is beyond my level of skill.

Or you could add prostheses, but you will note that in the photo above not only is Jack wearing antlers, his ears are up. (Amalia's ears are up also, but that is much easier to accomplish.)

And sometimes you get lucky, and an itchy nose makes it look like your horse knows how to do tricks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Favorite Things (or 10 gifts for Horse Lovers)

I'm not Oprah or Julie Andrews, so don't expect any free giveaways or singing. but I am a connoisseur when it comes to gift giving. I don't do gift cards, so I like to come up with gifts that are fun to give and hopefully fun to receive.

Note: Somehow I misnumbered and ended up with 11 ideas. I like all of them and spent too much time to want to delete them, and the ponies are wanting breakfast anyway, so insert obligatory Spinal Tap reference about things going to 11 so it is better, and enjoy.

11) Breyer Stirrup Ornaments

This year's Winter Belle ornament in 13th in the series. A miniature version of the yearly Breyer Holiday horse, the stirrup ornaments set themselves apart from other more generic horse ornaments with the framing stirrup component. These ornaments can be found at most tack shops and anywhere Breyer's are sold. And if you're a completest like me, don't worry, previous year's ornaments can be found on eBay.  

A runner up in the ornament category is the Trail of Painted Ponies. If you've never seen these, they practically need a blog post of their own, but for now. Here is a picture.

10) Hand Painted items with "your" horse

In the past I have found eBay to be a useful site again for finding artists who like to make some extra holiday or anytime money by painting your horse (or dog, or cat, or child, or pet rock) onto a variety of items, including Christmas Tree ornaments. These come in a variety of styles and levels of skill, so look closely at any sample photos of their work, as your mileage may vary. They generally need a high quality photo to work from, the more detail, the better.

This year I have discovered that if you have those high quality photos and want a more accurate rendition of your equine friend you can purchase photo ornaments. Now in searching I discovered that many of these were flat ornaments, and not the traditional round ball type. But they are out there if you look hard enough. For example, these look very nice. I also found a website that claims it is "easy" to do your own. I am not sure I believe them, but you can decide for yourself by clicking here.

9) Stuff in "your color"

In the horse world most people have the same things for their horses, brushes, blankets, pads, crops, etc. And no matter how diligent you are about labeling, things can easily get misplaced or "borrowed." So I adopted a color scheme. Almost everything I own (horse related) is purple or some shade thereof. This makes things at a glance more easily recognizable as "mine." And matching is always fun, a saddle pad and polos that go together is great, just like when your bra matches your undies. (OK, maybe not.) So if the horsey someone you know has a favorite color, or print (zebra for example) find something fun and useful in that shade.

8) Stephens gel-eze pad

I don't have one of these, but since it utilizes 2 technologies that I have been a big fan of for my own comfort, I have been wanting one for quite some time. A combination of sheepskin (like my Bearpaw boots) and gel cushioning. (I live in Dr. Scholl's sneakers with built in gel heel cushions.) It is a little bit pricey, coming in at a bit under $200, but for a horse's comfort, it just might be worth it. I'll let you know if I ever get around to getting one.

7) Back on Track products for people and horses

I adore Back on Track products. The long wave infrared radiation technology is a wonderful invention and their products are a boon to equines and humans alike. My horse currently has the polos, exercise boots, and sheet, and my father has the gloves. If I could I would wrap us all up like mummies in BoT products for hours at a time as we are all decrepit and arthritic. Anything that can make our horses or ourselves more comfortable and fluid is a boon to our rides and therefore makes a great gift.

6) A little bit of bling

To me, the holiday season is all about sparkle. Shining lights, glittering ornaments, tinsel and glossy wrapping paper just to name a few. So what better present than a little bit of shine for our equestrian lifestyle. Now western riders have always been about the bling. I have seen western costumes so studded with swarovski it is a wonder they can move. At the very least they are protected from snipers since they are practically wearing armor. (Though with all that shine they'd be easy targets, but I digress.) Lately English riders of all ilks have been getting into the game. Dressage riders have their showy browbands, and there are a variety of crystal encrusted stirrups and spurs and whips to be had if you know where to look. While some of this can be quite pricey, there are inexpensive options out there if you look around.

Also on eBay for the crafty, I have seen blank browband channels so you can design your own. Just be very careful and make sure your design is  secured adequately and is flexible enough to conform to the horse's shape and movements.

5) Tack Trunk

Who hasn't kept their horse stuff in a Rubbermaid container, or the back of their car, or some other inconvenient and inelegant location at one point or another? And who doesn't secretly long for the shiny wood box that holds all of their horse gear neatly and in one place? I know for some of us this may be a magic box if it fits everything (like a Tardis, bigger on the inside than the outside) but a nice tack trunk is a wonderful gift. There are plenty of places to buy them. Or if you have woodworking talent, there are plans on the internet to make your own. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some designed for travel, some can hold saddles, the options are limitless. (Well except for the bigger on the inside thing, I think the laws of physics limit that.)

4) Charitable donation to an equine rescue or sponsor a horse

What do you get for the horse lover who has everything? Or maybe the don't have everything, not even a horse, but they can't take on one right now? Tis the season and charity is always a good option (no matter what time of year.) Running a horse rescue is a huge time commitment and it is always a struggle to make ends meet. Vet bills are always cropping up when least expected, and the price of everything is currently through the roof. Now personally, I am not a fan of giving money to charities, because so much of the money donated ends up going to "administrative costs." But in this case, there is another option. Donate a bag of feed, or a supplement, or some hay if you know where to get it. Or donate your time. Rescues are always looking for knowledgeable help, even if the only knowledge you can provide is the ability to tell one end of a pitchfork from another.  There are too many rescues out there to list, all fighting the good fight, whether they are saving one horse at a time, or 80. A simple internet search will find one close to you. Once you find one you can contact them and determine what their needs are. You don't want to show up with the wrong kind of feed.

3) Unique or Collectible Tack

Maybe the horse lover in your life has a unique equine hobby, like riding or collecting sidesaddles, or costume recreation, medieval jousting, or some other esoteric branch of equestrianism. In that case, you could purchase antique or collectible equipment or paraphernalia. However, if you are going to do this, I suggest you use caution, or consult with an expert before you purchase. A lot of these hobbies have very strict requirements or opinions on the quality, suitability and authenticity of the items used. For example, the side saddle pictured above is beautifully carved and would make a nice display piece, but isn't great to actually ride in for a variety of reasons.

2) Equestrian Getaway

If you hate winter and being cold like I do, this is your dream gift. Getting away somewhere warm and sunny (with no snow!) And still being able to ride. For those who like the snow, or live somewhere more temperate there are snowy places to go if you need a fix of the cold white stuff. There are a variety of tour companies (Equestrian Vacations, Equitrekking, and Hoofbeats International to name a few) to help you get the most out of your riding vacation, whether you want to combine it with a wine tour in France, a castle tour in Ireland, just ride on the beach, or train with an expert in a particular discipline while in a scenic locale you can find something for everyone. And I have seen tours that offer options for non riders, if you want to bring the less than horsey hubby along. (But who am I kidding, bring along a friend who will gallop through the hills with you.)
As a side note, I have not been on a vacation with any of the companies mentioned above, but if they (or anyone else) would like to give me a free trip I would be more than happy to give them a review or several reviews on this blog.

1) A Pony!

This one speaks for itself. And if you don't have room for a full sized horse, minis fit well under the tree.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lyme disease and why grooming your horse is really important

I am glad I didn't promise to create a post every day. As you might be able to judge by the title, I have Lyme disease. Again. So between the aches and the fatigue I just wasn't inspired to post. But thanks to the wonders of doxycycline (blech awful drug, almost as bad as the disease...but it does work) I am feeling better now.

Now this is the 4th time I have had Lyme's, so I know the signs, and can basically tell when I need to start taking medication. I have a lot of typical symptoms, sore throat, congestion, joint aches, general fatigue, and a couple of others specific to me (most notably an intense craving for salt.) I don't know who is reading this blog, so in case you aren't from the Northeast I will mention a little bit about Lyme. The ever handy Wikipedia gives a description here. Lyme disease is a tick born disease, carried by deer ticks.

Aside from checking yourself for ticks frequently, it is important to know that other animals, including dogs, cats, and horses can suffer from Lyme also. Now this comes to the second part of my title, "Why grooming your horse is really important." And by important I mean crucial. Now the obvious answer to that is not the answering I am looking for. Yes, we need to check our horses and other pets for ticks, and a good time to do that is during grooming. But I have something else in mind.
A horse is covered in fur. So one of the indicators of Lyme disease, the bullseye rash (see above) would be impossible to see/find on a horse. How do you know if your horse has general fatigue and muscle aches? Is there anyway at all that a horse can tell you he has a sore throat? Some things you can tell when riding, if you ride the same horse, and know how they usually behave. In extreme cases they may even become lame. But some things are much easier to observe if you know your horse. And the best way to know your horse is to spend time with them. Not just riding, but interacting on the ground. Learning what they like and don't like. Does your horse have sensitive skin and prefer softer brushes? Or does he have a thick coat and like hard brushes that give a good scratch? Are they comfortable having their faces and ears brushed? Where are the ticklish or the itchy spots?

Now these are important things to know about any horse you are riding. If for example you are going to ride a new horse for the first time, you can learn a lot about the horse from its behavior while being groomed. A horse that is ticklish by the girth might be very sensitive to your leg. Some horses don't like to stand still while being groomed and might be full of energy when being ridden, and some practically fall asleep during the process, so they might be quiet and safe for beginners. Once you've worked with and groomed a horse a few times, you begin to notice patterns and quirks in their personalities. If you take them out to their paddocks, and watch them out there you can learn even more. My current horse is a beach baby. She likes to splash in the water trough and lay out in the sun. Conversely she hates the cold, she is miserable and grouchy all winter long. I ride her in a wool quarter sheet to try to keep her happy. My previous horse was the complete opposite. He loved the snow. Give him a pasture full of fresh white stuff and he was romping and bucking and rolling like a kid on a snow day.

For beginner riders it is especially crucial to spend time with horses on the ground. Key signals can be learned, ear position and what it means, tail swishing, etc. If you don't know how to handle an animal from the safety of the ground, how can you reasonably expect to do so from atop their backs?
Once you have your horses general personality and behavior down, you have to learn to be observant of changes. If you have a horse who is usually nudging you and begging for treats and attention in the stall and suddenly they are facing the wall and standing still a lot, this could be a sign of something wrong. If your horse normally loves being groomed and suddenly they are ticklish and snapping then they could be in pain. (Now some horses just don't like being groomed, so if it is their normal behavior to complain about it, then that is their normal, be observant if they suddenly stop acting that way.)

A better understanding of your horse's personality and behavior will help insure a happier and healthy horse and make you a better rider.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Horses in Norse Mythology

So I saw the movie Thor last night. I admit freely that I have in my time been something of a comic book geek. I adore the X-Men, and since their movie, most of the Marvel superhero movies have been very well done. I really enjoyed the movie, and Chris Hemsworth made a nice piece of Norse god eye candy. There were also a couple of fun scenes where they got to ride horses, flat out across the rainbow bridge. So I decided to post about horses in Norse mythology.
Now being the comic book/X-Men geek I am, the first thought that came to mind was Valkyries. In New Mutants, Danielle Moonstar (Psyche, Mirage, Moonstar, pick your code name) became a Valkyrie on a trip the New Mutants accidentally took to Asgard, when the winged steed Brightwind chose her. So on the assumption that this bit of comic book lore was based at least partly on fact, I went exploring.
So while, according to Wikipedia and several other websites, the Valkyries did indeed "fly" there seems to be no evidence, other than a few modern artistic renditions that the horses of the Valkyries had wings. In fact I have not found much about them at all, other than this snippet here .
A Valkyries horse was created from air, and when they traveled to Earth, frost and dewdrops would fall from their manes onto the ground. The Valkyrie was also Odins messengers and when they ride forth on their errands, their armor causes the strange flickering lights known as the “Aurora Borealis” or Northern Lights. 
The part about the Northern Lights can be found in Bulfinch's mythology, but I can't find what his source material for that assertion was. As for the bit about the dewdrops, I cannot find source material.
I have also discovered that many sources and translations believe that they did not ride horses at all, but rather  wolves. Also that they were associated with either Ravens (traditional carrion eaters, which could easily be associated with battlefield mythos) or Swans, when their "Choosers of the Slain" moniker became more romanticized as they were thought to be selecting the fallen warriors to be taken to Valhalla and help Odin when Ragnarök arrived.

Close up of Sleipnir on Tjängvide image stone
Disappointed, I went looking for a more verifiable Norse horse, and found Sleipnir. I can find many historical sources that reference Odin's 8 legged steed. Sleipnir, a grey horse, depicted as the son of Loki, is said to be the best of horses. (As is only fit for the Allfather of the gods.) Sadly, in the movie, Odin does not ride, so Sleipnir is not present. Then again, there were not any Valkyrie about either.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Kentucky Derby

This is my Kentucky Derby post, very much belated. (What can I say? It is that time of year. When everyone with any sense wants to ride, so the lessons pile on.)

I have no idea how most people pick their favorites for the race. (Or for any race for that matter.) I know there are different variables and calculations and odds that can be factored in, but my methods are not nearly so scientific. In fact, my methods (if you can call them that) are as whimsical as any derby hat.
This hat and many others located at Dee's
I pick the pretty horses, the elegant names, and occasionally I pick by jockey. So this year I had 4 horses I was rooting for.  Midnight Interlude is just a lovely name. I always wonder why some people can think of wonderful elegant names for their horses, and others pick "Mucho Macho Man"? Seriously? Then during the post parade I decided that I really liked Decisive Moment (I've always been a sucker for a black horse.)
Decisive Moment
And then there is Calvin Borel. It isn't often that a jockey captures my attention. I'm not a sucker for a sob story, someone doing it for their mom in Mexico who has some dread disease or whatever. But I do enjoy people with an affinity for horses. And when Calvin Borel won the Derby with Mine that Bird (another astonishingly silly name) and switched onto a filly, Rachel Alexandra, for the Preakness and then won, well that cemented him in my mind as one of my favorite jockeys ever.
Calvin Borel on Rachel Alexandra
And of course lastly, had to give a nod to Pants on Fire (possibly the worst name in the field) because of Rosie Napravnik. Hard to be female and not give a girl credit (same as a filly) for competing with the boys. 
Now of course, I will be rooting for Animal Kingdom in the Preakness, because I would love to have a Triple Crown winner. No horse has won the Triple Crown in 33 years. The last horse to do it, Affirmed, was in 1978.  2011 marks the tenth anniversary of Affirmed's death (at age 26 from Laminitis.) So it seems an auspicious year for another winner. 
As a side note, 6 of the 11 Triple Crown winners were chestnut. Including Affirmed. Man o' War was also a chestnut, so perhaps a fiery coat is a good sign for Animal Kingdom. I do wonder however, which jockey will get to ride him in the remaining races. His regular rider, who did not ride him in the derby, due to an injury, or the rider who rode him to a win in the derby. It is sure to be a tough call for his owners and trainers. (He is owned by a conglomerate of some sorts known as Team Valor.)

Animal Kingdom


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame

So yesterday I went to the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, NY. I had no idea that such an historic and influential piece of Harness Racing history was only an hour from where I live. I don't intend for this post to go on and on about the entire history of Harness Racing. There is too much. What I will say is that you should go to the museum yourself and see all there is to see.
We went there on a weekday afternoon during the school year, so we had the place nearly to ourselves. Admission is free, but they do have a gift shop, so it is only polite to purchase at least a little something. The only other visitors were a camera crew shooting a documentary. There was no rush to hurry along, or annoying loud or bored children to be avoided. We spent 2 and 1/2 hours just browsing, taking pictures(allowed and encouraged) and reading the extensive placards along the exhibits.
The museum is also quite family friendly with many interactive features. There is a Standardbred auction game, where you "bid" on young horses, trying to match the price they actually sold for without going over. A 3D simulator ride, meant to make you feel like you were driving in a race. (But the perspective was off, or rather kept changing, sometimes you were the driver, sometimes the horse, and sometimes you were facing into the oncoming was a bit odd.) There is also a talking animatronic horse head. (He was a little creepy, I nicknamed him the Terminator Horse.) The horse head had several different speeches that he made when you walked close enough to set his motion sensors off.
There are also several fun photo ops. You can sit in an actual sulky. (And wear actual jockey silks according to the tour girl) Or you can put your head on top of some jockey cut outs. Very silly. The sulky one has a fake horse attached to it, which was nice. The seat on the sulky is actually very comfy.
The museum guide also gave us a brochure and told us that while the track doesn't hold regular meets any more they will be having racing 3 Sundays in June, and all of July 4th weekend. I will be definitely attending one day, so I will report back on that.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What's in a name?

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter--
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

Something similar could be said of horses. Because certain breed registries, particularly the Jockey Club, place limits on length and reuse of names, some horses are known by quite arcane appellations. For example, what exactly is a Secretariat? Known as "Big Red" to his friends like another famous race horse before him. (Man O War) it seems that all the creativity race horse owners have for naming is used up in the search to find a name to register a horse with that hasn't been used before. Deciding on what to call the poor dear is beyond the limits of their creativity. 

Secretariat at the Preakness
Now I am going to a Harness Racing museum tomorrow, and the Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, so I am sure I will have more to report about those later on. When I went to at least look up the horses in the derby and was treated to such names as "Pants on Fire", "Comma to the Top", and the hopeful "Brilliant Speed", it made me wonder at the whys behind some of these names. 
Pants on Fire is in the Pink and Orange silks
Some names are obvious of course, Brilliant Speed is hoping to use the power of names to produce a winner. My own horse "Maggie" was originally known as "B B B Fast." (Sadly for whoever named her, she wasn't.) Other horses, like the great filly, Rachel Alexandra were named after people significant to the owner or breeder. But a lot of the names, just make you wonder. Barbaro? Where did that name come from? Or why name a horse "Animal Kingdom?"  There are a lot of rules involved with naming a thoroughbred race horse, so I can see how it can be difficult to meet them all. They are as follows:

A Thoroughbred must be named by February of its 2-year-old year or a late fee will be charged. Six names in order of preference are submitted by the owner and the Jockey Club will decide which they can have. Horse names can be changed for a fee unless it has already raced or been bred. Names can be up to 18 characters, including spaces and punctuation. All horse names must be approved by the Jockey Club and there are a lot of rules about what you can't use:
No initials such as C.O.D., F.O.B., etc.
No names ending in "filly," "colt," "stud," "mare," "stallion," or any similar horse-related term
No names consisting entirely of numbers, except numbers above thirty may be used if they are spelled out
No names ending with a numerical designation such as "2nd" or "3rd," whether or not such a designation is spelled out
No names of persons unless written permission to use their name is on file with The Jockey Club
No names of race tracks or graded stakes races
No names clearly having commercial significance, such as trade names
No names that are suggestive or have a vulgar or obscene meaning; names considered in poor taste; or names that may be offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups
No names from the restricted list (Hall of Fame members, Eclipse Awards winners, Kentucky Derby winners, etc. To see all names that meet the restriction requirement check here in rule 6(F)(15).

Now Quarter Horses, both the racing kind and the showing kind also have a long list of rules to subscribe to. Too long to list in this post, so I will just highlight and put a link to the full details here. Basically, you can't reuse a name unless the horse that had it is dead and neither the deceased horse, nor any of its offspring ever competed (not won or placed) in any sanctioned event. It is not required but many quarter horse owners and breeders tend to parade their horse's pedigree in their name. So I have noticed a tendency to a lot of quarter horses having Zip and Zippo in their name. I am sure there are other famous lines that are heavily referenced, but not being involved in the Quarter Horse show circuit myself, those are the ones I have noticed and stuck in my memory. 

Breyer model of famed Quarter Horse stallion Zippo Pine Bar
Now USEF rules are not nearly so stringent. In fact, after perusing their website I could not find any restrictions whatsoever. Names can be duplicated freely, though I am sure it would be considered in poor taste to reuse the names of famous horses. (For the record there are currently 25 horses named "Sapphire" including McClain Ward's Olympic Gold Medal winning mount.) 
McClain Ward and Sapphire
And of course anyone can call their horse anything they want in their own back yard. Our barn has at various times had 2 horses who go by the name of Hank, 2 Mollys, several Codys (including 2 dogs) and a few ponies who came to us named Brownie or left us and were renamed, Brownie. What I really wonder, is what horses call each other? 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Royal Horses

Alright, who else watched the Royal Wedding to see the horses? Prince William married the now Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine the other day. They kissed twice or something. And many people wore funny hats.

OK, so maybe not this hat, but it would have fit right in.
There were two varieties of horses in the procession. Bays and Greys. Both of these groupings of equines were chosen not by their breed but rather for their colour. The bay horses were of a number of breeds, but there was a large showing of an endangered breed that is favored by Queen Elizabeth, the Cleveland Bay. 

The Cleveland Bay is the oldest breed of horse originating in Great Britain, and the only non draught (draft) breed from there. They are named for their color (bay, varying from bright bay to dark nearly black bay.) The name also comes from the Cleveland district of Yorkshire. Queen Elizabeth has been a patron of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society since 1977, but only 2000 registered horses (300 breeding mares) remain. Now it is unclear if the bay horse who made headlines during the wedding with the following antics was a Cleveland Bay, or merely a bay Bay.

The only follow up report I could find indicated that the rider was fine, but was chastised severely by the royal riding master following his mishap. I would love to know more about the horse in question. He should become a celebrity in his own right. Ridiculous people do all the time for far less.

The grey horses that pulled the carriage carrying William and Kate are known as the Windsor Greys. These are not all of the Windsor Greys, merely a team of them selected from the whole group. Again these horses are selected by colour and temperament, not by breed. I am slightly confused, as other than the Wikipedia link which is a very short article, I can't find much information about the Greys. I read this article, about a set of grey police horses who would be in the parade, but they are not mentioned formally as being the Windsor Greys and are not said to be pulling the carriage, merely escorting. If anyone comes across better intelligence, please let me know.

All horses are Princes and Princesses
Fly masks can be purchased here

As a postscript I have discovered that the new Duchess is allergic to horses. Considering the long reign of Queen Elizabeth and her patronage of the equine community, I am saddened by this news.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

On proper lesson attire

So you want to take riding lessons. Huzzah! Great idea. I heartily recommend them, both as physical and mental therapies. Nothing better than a horse to cure most of what ails you. (End snake oil sales pitch here.) So we will assume for the purpose of this post that you've done the preliminary research: chosen the discipline you want to learn, found a stable/instructor proficient in that discipline who is taking on new students, etc.

What should you bring with you/wear to your lessons? One of the best ways to answer this question is: "Consult with your instructor." Most riders and trainers have very firm opinions on what constitutes safe and appropriate gear. And they can usually give you recommendations and advice on what and where to buy.

Now I am not talking about clothes to wear in a horse show right now. That is an entirely different matter. Show clothes are meant to enhance the elegance and beauty of your horse and your riding. Lesson clothes are meant to be 3 things: practical, comfortable, and safe. In the pursuit of order, I will start at the feet and work up.

This is a horse's foot. Also called a hoof. Each horse has 4 of them. They are large, and heavy. Sometimes horses don't watch where they are walking and step on things they shouldn't. Frequently these things are a human's feet. From this I recommend two things. First, pay attention to where your horse is stepping, and try not to be in the same place at the same time. And secondly, wear boots. Barefoot is unacceptable and so are open toed shoes and flip flops. A stable is not place to display your pedicure. Sneakers are OK for working around horses, but boots are better. (Sneakers are not appropriate while riding as they can cause your foot to get stuck in the stirrup.) 

Now there are a number of appropriate varieties of boots out there, from the expensive to the less so. For your very first lesson or two, if you are not certain you are going to stick with riding you may improvise. A hiking boot, or work boot, or decorative cowgirl boot will work in a pinch. Any type of boot with a mild heel. (No high heels please.) However, if you are going to continue on with your riding it is highly recommended that you acquire riding boots. Most people go with a paddock boot for schooling, which you can get fairly inexpensively in the $30-$40 range in a synthetic leather. This is perfect for a growing child. There is no reason whatsoever  to spend $200 on boots for someone who will outgrow them long before they wear out.
Current fashion amongst my students decries a black zip up boot. Check with your trainer for what they prefer. Paddock boots are the most comfortable and practical of the riding boot options available, and in the case of young children can also double as show boots. (If your child hasn't waded through the mud in them.)

Now some trainers require that their students are properly turned out head to toe at all times. I should rephrase, all trainers require that their students are properly turned out, some just have different definitions than others. A common school of thought requires riding pants (jodphurs or breeches depending on boot style), boots, polo, belt, gloves and helmet. I am not that rigorous. Kids should have some fun in their clothing as long as it does not prove a hazard. For their legs my students can wear any close fitting pant (breeches, jodphurs, jeans, etc) that completely covers their legs all the way down to their boots. (No shorts or cropped pants.) I also recommend, but do not require half chaps.

Half chaps are a marvelous invention. Based in part on the full chaps that riders, both English and Western have worn for quite some time (still considered show attire amongst Western riders) and the design of the tall boots preferred by English and Dressage riders. It is the best of both worlds. The design allows the chap to be more flexible and comfortable than a tall boot, with more freedom than full chaps allow. (Definitely helpful when running to the rest room.) Half chaps come in many colors and varieties, leather and suede. The colored ones with cute designs look adorable on small children, but once you get past a certain age, the standard is that you pick a color that matches your paddock boots. I always recommend the zippered ones to the velcro, as the velcro catches hair and shavings quite quickly in a barn environment, and cease to fasten properly. Also, while some variants are thinner and therefore cheaper, the quality ones are preferred as the thicker suede/leather protects your legs from saddle rubs much more effectively.

As I said, some stables require a professional looking polo at all times, but that is not necessary. Any weather appropriate, well fitting top will work. Long baggy clothes that you sit on when posting are detrimental. And for anyone who likes the t-shirt above, it can be purchased here.

New riders frequently complain to me that their hands or fingers hurt. Either from clenching tightly to the reins, or from a horse pulling, or some other reason. There is a simple fix for this. Wear gloves. I have not ridden without gloves for the past 20 years, after a very rambunctious horse gave me horrible blisters. Afterwards my trainer made gloves mandatory for everyone. No matter how hot it is. Gloves can also be inexpensive. If you are riding every day, several horses a day, then I do recommend buying expensive gloves. If you ride once or twice a week or are doing a week or two of camp, tack shops have gloves for under $10. This is especially helpful if you are a growing child. (Or a child who looses things regularly.)

Last, but absolutely not least is the most important piece of riding equipment you can own. Your riding helmet. Most stables have a collection of helmets in a variety of sizes and will let you borrow one for the first few lessons. However, once you have decided to stick with riding it is highly recommended to purchase your own, in person, from a tack shop so that the fit is exact. A bicycle helmet is not an acceptable substitute. Riding helmets are required by law to meet certain standards, and bike helmets do not meet these. I cannot stress how very important it is not to skimp on a helmet. There are cheap helmets out there, and you do get what your money is worth. And your head is worth a lot more than any money. The helmet in the picture above, is what I recommend to most parents when they want to buy their child their own helmet. It is a Charles Owen JR8, and can be purchased at most Tack Shops and online retailers for between $130 - $150. Now this may seem a lot of money, but this is the inexpensive, JR model. The adult and professional models can go from $250 - $600.

The picture above is a bad helmet. I say that unequivocally. The first point is that it will not double as a show helmet. Very few people have more than one helmet, so there is no point spending money on a helmet you cannot take to even an unrated schooling show without looking amateurish.  Secondly the fit on these is very poor. The shape is not right, and I can tell you that I have seem them just pop right off a child's head (and choke them around the neck with the chin strap) when they were posting or cantering around the ring. Many of the Troxel helmets (say it now, don't buy Troxel) have the alluring feature of being "adjustable," this only makes matters worse. No matter how hard you try, the dial either gets spun too tightly and the helmet perches atop the rider's head, or it loosens as they ride and they end up with impaired vision as the helmet slips down over their face. I have seen more attractive adjustable helmets that are just as bad, so don't be fooled by a velvet cover either. The final problem with adjustable helmets is the fact that the dial by the back of your head is made of a hard plastic. If you should fall and hit your head, frequently the plastic breaks and you have a sharp jagged piece of plastic by your head. By all means be economical with any other aspect of your gear, but please, please protect your head.