Monday, August 31, 2009

ending the day on a lovelier note, with Klimke and Ahlerich

Look at Ahlerich's floppy ears! That is a relaxed horse.


I'd like to add that part of the reason I posted all these videos is to offer an alternative view to the mainstream opinion that Gal's ride is what we who study dressage should emulate.

The other reason is that I want to make sure that anyone who reads here when I write about loving the study of dressage clearly understands what it is I'm studying. NOT what is being seen with Totilas. I want no association with that.

For me, it's about developing a relationship with the horse, and then working together to become balanced and light, with a mutual language that is invisible to anyone watching.

The definition of dressage in my experiential dictionary is a minute or so about a year and a half ago, when I was riding Keil Bay up the long side of our arena. It was chilly, but we were both warmed up and enjoying the warmth of the sun on our bodies as we worked. We were trotting, and as we came onto that long side, something clicked perfectly. He offered his back, and I received it with my seat. Suddenly the sitting trot was effortless.

About mid-way up the long side he slowed into passage. I didn't even realize what we were doing. All I knew was that suddenly we were in perfect harmony, and we seemed to be moving in slow motion.

We had stepped outside time, together, and entered Joy.

In the moment all I could think was that what was happening was so beautiful we had both acted together to purposefully make it last longer. It took what felt like a very long and very perfect time to get to the end of that long side, and when we did, the passage ended.

That's the dressage I'm studying. And in a competition, as an observer, I want to see some evidence that horse and rider have found the joy of harmony at home, in their quiet space, and that they have done it enough times together they can bring some shred of it to a competitive arena, to let all of us in on the secret.

a little more on Totilas

A still shot showing his extended trot. Note the front legs and then look at the hind legs - and the tracking.

Note the position of the horse's face - behind the vertical, and the poll. Note the angle of the curb shank.

As for the riding position, see if you can draw a vertical line from Gal's ear down through his hip, and through his heel.

This got a 90.75%???

And a video I found with Gal showing some of his training work with Totilas. I don't understand what he's saying, but the riding and technique speaks for itself.

If you're not a horse person and you're reading this, try to imagine what the horse can see when his head is cranked down to his chest. And try to imagine how well he can breathe with his throat latch closed up that way. And finally, try to imagine how it feels like to canter like that.

I'm disgusted.

Xenophon was the first one to claim that horses can become only more beautiful with correct training, never uglier. I would like to add to this that if the horse becomes uglier in the course of his work, it is the unmistakable proof for a wrong dressage training.

~ Colonel Alois Pohajsky

Sunday, August 30, 2009

classical versus competitive dressage

While I'm not an advanced dressage rider nor am I an international judge, I think all students of dressage should make it a point to look at the high-scoring rides as a means of furthering our education and developing our eye.

I'm curious what you think of this horse's movement. My comments follow the video.

Edward Gal on Totilas earned a score of 90.75% with this performance and created a new world record in the process. One article I read this evening called him the world's greatest dressage horse.

I love the way he looks out of tack, but I am not fond of the way he moves under saddle.

The first thing I noticed in this video is that he was heavily sweating when he entered the arena. He had white foam all over his chest and down his front legs. What kind of warm-up did he have?

Immediately, he looks overly bent to me, with his poll lower than the top of his bulging neck, and his face behind the vertical. I kept reminding myself that he's a stallion, so presumably his neck is very thick as a result, but still... the bulge at the top looked to me like it has developed from being ridden in that overly bent frame, which imo is not correct. (or kind, but that's another post)

His movement seems mechanical, rather than fluid, and after the opening sequence with the collection and then the extended trot, when he comes down to a walk, the right front leg seems to be punching the ground. (and he is not really tracking up behind during that extravagant extended trot, though you have to watch for that b/c the front end is so "busy" it's easy to miss what's going on behind)

The intense swimming quality of the front legs in the extended trot also seems like wasted motion and not a natural movement at all.

During the latter part of the video I tried to focus some on his mouth, which was covered with foam and open at least some of the time. It almost looked like he couldn't close it, but all I could see was a lack of relaxation.

Even in the parts of the ride where he was allowed to (and supposed to) stretch that neck and head out some, he looked tight to me.

He is of course, a handsome horse, and majestic, but if this is movement that earns 90%... I'm really glad I'm not involved in competitive dressage.

It's scary that this ride will influence so many people's vision of what top-level dressage is supposed to look like, or achieve in terms of relaxation and schwung.

more signs of autumn approaching

This week the dogwoods started to turn. It's not as noticeable from the house, but when I drove into the driveway one afternoon, the slight tinge of red stood out. The changing of the leaves here is one of the things that marks the passage of time for me, in a very deep way, and seeing that first hint of color has a tremendous and positive effect on my mood.

Also this week I noted three garden or "writing" spiders around the house. Two are by my bedroom window, and one is front and center on the front porch. As much as it would terrify me to have one on my skin, I love these yellow and black beauties, who represent writing - both in the webs and in their egg-building phase which comes later in the season. Last year I was able to watch one go through its entire process - living all summer and into the fall on the porch, building two egg cases literally over one long night, and later dying and falling from her web.

Last night my son pointed out the first of the "Halloween" spiders, as we call them. This particular one has a lovely orbed web outside of our sliding glass door. When you turn on the outside light, it's illuminated perfectly, and looks almost like a Halloween decoration.

I love these spiders because they generally take their webs down each day, curl up near the side of the house, and then rebuild in the evening when the sun sets. Watching them set up for the night, in what must be something akin to whole house cleaning, makes me feel better about the cyclic nature of chores.

A sure sign of fall for me is the cleaning out of closets. It hit suddenly, yesterday afternoon, and I managed to get the front closet completely cleared out, cleaned, and organized. Winter coats are there, and all the hats/gloves/scarves. I also tend to stick things for the thrift store there, or things I might try to sell, so I ended the day listing a number of items on Craigslist.

A closet a week should put me square into autumn, and then I can stop and enjoy the color and the coolness.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

the cute things I find stashed in my desk

(drawn, of course, by my daughter, who has a gift for capturing the true spirit of a thing)

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Last night my daughter spent about an hour photographing three of our cats who were all in the dining room laying claim to various spots on the dining room table, the chairs, and the space beneath and around.

The two sisters, Keats and Osage, and the youngling male Mystic, who was found by our massage therapist's son by the side of a dark road, so tiny he had to be fed by hand.

Mystic is a beautiful and very striking cat. The most unusual thing about him is that reminds me of a wolf. The way he moves is wolf-like, and there are moments when he seems distinctly canine. It's so odd seeing canine and feline together in one sleek creature.

He was an adorable kitten. And now he's all grown up.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

an absolutely amazing editorial by sylvia loch

Go read it HERE.

horses and discipline - bits and pieces from here and there

This week I read a post from someone experiencing difficulty in re-training a horse she'd acquired expressly for the purpose of learning all she could about working with horses who explode into fits of bucking. She had made tremendous progress - the horse had come to respect her, trust her, and all the ground issues had resolved. She realized however, that she had been holding back with one particular thing under saddle because she knew it would trigger the explosion, and the day she asked for it, the horse ended up unseating her, for the first time.

She posted wondering if she had made a mistake in taking this horse. I read on for the comments, noting that my impression of her summary of working with the horse was one of admiration. She had made much progress with almost all the horse's bad habits. She had earned the horse's respect and trust. And she had gone to the really tough place, and hit the rough spot with this horse - and then stopped to question herself before moving on. Assessing what happened and why, questioned her own part in what happened, in order to make the best decision for herself and the horse.

All of that made me think WOW. IMO, she was getting close to a break-through.

In the many comments that followed, there were only two people who shared my perspective. Everyone else encouraged her to either sell the horse or have a "come to Jesus" meeting over this issue, or have a cowboy do it for her.

I've read this kind of thing before, but never in a scenario where a really good horsewoman/rider took a horse on purposefully, did great work, and then hit one rough spot and needed some support to continue. I was shocked that most of the readers seemed to only see the one moment in the one ride where the root of the problem was faced, and chose to focus only on that.

She clarified a number of times but no one really shifted in their advice. There was no credit given for all the progress. The horse was either irrevocably "broken" - OR - needed "breaking."

This was a horse who couldn't be ridden with a whip - and yet had come to the point of trusting her so much she could carry one. And many advised that she needed to use the whip hard enough to "matter."

I was at such a loss for words I couldn't comment. The lack of insight into discipline, punishment, and the effects of such on an obviously traumatized animal astounds me still.

I also read a different post in a different place about how to deal with horses who bite. This was not a horse who pins its ears and comes at people, out for blood, but a horse who reaches in while being led and takes a nip.

The bulk of responses offered that the poster needed to make this horse think it was going to die the next time it offered to bite. Those were literally the words chosen - the horse needs to think it's going to die.

I suggested that using the handle of a whip, positioned so the horse will poke itself when it turns to nip, works well and without the drama or the "game" aspect that often comes into play with this kind of behavior. And further, that getting quieter, not louder, can be very effective with this kind of thing.

There is so much advice out there about being the alpha - with horses, with dogs, with children. And much of it involves being meaner and tougher and harsher than the most dominant behavior we encounter.

It makes me wonder how much of this has anything to do with genuine observations about the nature of our relationships to horses and dogs and our kids. It seems to have more to do with our need, as humans, to dominate the things around us.

Where does that come from?

As I typed the last line I felt something tickling on my shoulder. When I looked down at it, I saw one of the much-loved ballerina spiders who live with us. They generally stay in corners, up high, and rarely come anywhere near me. This was, in fact, the first time one has ever touched me. My reaction? A loud "aiyyy" sound and an instantaneous knocking off of the spider. Both based in fear, because although I love these ballerinas, I still have a deeply-rooted fear of spiders and can't tolerate one crawling on me.

I think the human need to dominate is probably based in fear, which rarely gets addressed. There's usually something around to be dominated, and we're sanctioned to act out aggressively in these contexts, where being big and loud, taking the alpha role, is the right approach. The right thing to do.

What if we choose, not to get bigger and louder, not to scream or jump and strike out, but instead to get quieter, more centered, more observant, and respond from THAT place?

What if we looked deeper into ourselves and asked what I am afraid of?


I've had comments turned off most of this month, and while I've gotten back to posting here, have not yet decided if I can return to posting and responding to comments the way I did before. I love the comments, and I love responding to each one, but I have needed a break from that.

Today, I'm interested in what you think, and I'm turning comments back on for a bit to see what you have to say.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

the boys of summer

Typing from my new location, a quiet corner in the bedroom, right by a window that overlooks the front field and Salina and the donkeys' paddock. I'm thinking the change is good.

I am slightly horrified to report that I only got a little bit of my barn cleaning done this weekend. I did make a start, though, and hopefully created some momentum toward completion.

I did enjoy some time with horses and donkeys, and while I sat and got donkey hugs, watched Salina whirl her hindquarters toward the Big Bay with a squeal, and fielded horse flies, my daughter captured a couple of handsome boys with the camera.

Redford has made peace with the cowboy and the two of them are on quite good terms these days:

And Rafer Johnson seems to be signaling that it's time for a picnic supper:

Considering that all of the equines are getting more lush grass than normal, I think the table will have to stay bare for now!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

weekend list

My things to do this weekend:

-charge up the camera battery so I can take it outside and get some photos of the donkey boys in all their sleek summer glory

-clean the feed/tack room from top to bottom

There are more things I want and hope to do, but I'm not going to overwhelm myself with a long list.

I had the impulse last night to consider moving my computer and desk to a slightly less central spot in the house. I'm not ready to go up to my garret, which is now full of sandplay energy and always has a tray in progress these days, thanks to my children.

I considered borrowing the art studio since it has a nice window overlooking the front field, but I'm also thinking of the bedroom since it also has windows to the field and is not so "removed" as the upstairs.

Having my desk set up right in the thick of the household has been good this year, but now it's feeling like I can't quite settle in to work.

We'll see how it flows. I may be writing from a new location next blog post.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

enjoying the break from heat

On Tuesday the temp dropped from the day's high of 97 to 77 in the span of only a few hours - a wind came through and it was possible to feel the heat dissipating. I watched the horses and donkeys come to life in the early evening - trotting in circles and cantering up and down the hill.

Yesterday we had some rain and cloud cover with a high of 83. It was nice to do barn chores with no sweat! It felt so good I did some extra cleaning in the barn, although I stopped short of what I really want to do - empty the tack/feed room out completely to de-web and get everything clear of dust, then put it all back. Hopefully I can do that this weekend.

We have a string of days in the 80s to enjoy before it goes back up to 90. And while I hope we don't get so much rain it gets mucky again, I'm loving the gentle rains that are keeping everything watered and green.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

trim notes for august 2009

Rafer Johnson: trimming role model extraordinaire! Feet looked good, lots of growth this time. He went first today and then assisted with Salina and Redford.

Redford: Almost as well-behaved as Rafer, with good feet and good growth.

Salina: Noted for B. that she had abscess in July, left front, right at coronary band as per usual. However, she's going longer between the annual abscess now - first year it was April, then May, and this year July. HUGE amount of growth this time - she needed so much toe taken off it was a bit of an ordeal doing the right front, which is her stiffer knee. The donkeys stayed close for moral support!

Cody: Dubbing on rears nearly gone, which means the AlCar is working, he's not dragging hind toes, and his hooves got the best hoof award of the day. Yay!

Keil Bay: A lot of growth too, with some ragged edges due to me not being able to rasp this month. A bit fussy by the last hoof as he gazed frustrated at the goody bag.

Apache Moon: Fuss budget award goes to the pony, whose feet were typically good and he was really leaning and pulling and swishing his tail some. He had to be backed down the barn aisle at the end so there was something good to give him a treat for! We forgive him. It's the second hottest day of the year, the fly predators just went out yesterday, and right now the summer seems ENDLESS.

We are all awaiting the chill of autumn, the changing color of leaves, and the smell of woodsmoke. Thankfully tomorrow's high is 83 with rain!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

600th post came and went

I had planned to do something special for the 600th post here on camera-obscura, but then forgot and skimmed right by it... and I had also planned to put a Rafer and Redford photo up this weekend but didn't get quite the right picture.

As of today we're in the midst of a little heat wave - highs near 100 - and we opted not to take the pony to today's schooling dressage show because of the heat.

When I went out yesterday, Keil Bay had something going on with his left eye, so I checked it, rinsed it with some cool clean water, and applied some antibiotic eye ointment. I also gave him a dose of Banamine, as our first vet cautioned me that eye pain can be terrible on horses. I put his clean fly mask on, brought him into the barnyard with Salina and the donkeys, and stayed out to do a few chores while I kept an eye on him.

Within about 15 minutes he had removed his mask (he never does this) and came into the barn to show me his eye, which had stopped draining, was fully open, and now had a glob of eye goop in the corner, which probably had the offending irritant trapped inside.


I also killed several horseflies as big as hummingbirds. Fortunately when they get that big they seem to also get slow, so the horses amble up, aim the part of their body needing rescue at me, and I smack and stomp.

I also decided that as green as it is right now - the dirt paddock is no longer accurately named, the driveway into the barnyard is now completely hidden in grass, we had to mow several areas that were just getting too overgrown - I would keep Cody and Apache Moon in for a few nights with access to the paddock and arena for some limited nibbling plus some soaked hay.

Keil Bay, Salina, and the donkeys went out to the front field through the little barnyard gate, and had access to the grass paddock and one stall. Guess where they all were this morning? Two big Hanoverians and two miniature donkeys were all in the one stall, awaiting breakfast hay and re-distribution.

I'm guessing we'll be doing baths today and tomorrow, since hosing will be on the agenda anyway and they could all use a good shampooing.

Hope everyone is enduring and enjoying the month of August!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Philippe Karl's latest response to the German FN

This arrived in my box today.

It's Phillipe Karl's response to the letter the German FN wrote to him on June 15th.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


brio \BREE-oh\, noun:

Enthusiastic vigor; vivacity; liveliness; spirit.

This is's word of the day today, and it was timely for us, as it feels we have finally come back to this after a week of ... non-brio.

Kyra the Corgi had a reaction to a flea treatment, Salina was sore and finally blew her annual abscess (I'm proud that we managed this w/o the insane intervention we resorted to last year), Moomintroll is having a bout of seizures, and of course my back has been out of commission.

We're mostly on the other side of all this stuff, and last night I had assistance with tacking up, someone to hold Keil Bay's head while I mounted (probably not necessary but it felt good), and a fellow horse and rider to keep me company.

The Big Bay is not a big fan of night riding, but with the exception of a threat to spook at the dark end of the arena, he marched me around, massaging my spine with his lovely walk, and I had not the slightest bit of pain or discomfort.

After our ride, there was the tiniest bit of chill to the air if you stood still and paid close attention, a foreshadowing of autumn and a tonic to anyone getting weary of the heat and humidity. (me)

Here's to a bit of brio for all of us.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

cleared to ride

As of today!

The doctor said I should still hold off chores, and that I should not groom/tack up. "Pretend you're the Queen of England for a few days. You can ride, but someone else has to get the horse ready for you."

Ha! This is likely the only time in my life I will have a groom.

I think we're just about back to normal here on the Hill.

Happy August!