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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Some Smokin Hot Sh!t

Manure Muffins Slow Cooking: If I had left a little more space between them, I could have had a neat little carriage driving obstacle...
Composting is near and dear to my heart.  This year, I have been experimenting with a new to me product for bedding; Corn Cob Pellets.  As I am not known for following recipes, I do not use the product as the instructions indicate, but have devised a method that suits my needs.

The stalls in my rented former dairy barn are concrete and slightly sloped.  I use wood shavings as cushion and the corn cob pellets for absorbency.  Where the horses usually pee, I cover with a dusting of the Corn Cob Pellets and pile the shavings over the top.  The horses rearrange the wood shavings where they want them, but the pellets stay in place.  I have found that the pellets absorb the urine like a sponge and hold it better than the shavings alone, which act rather more like a paper towel in absorbing the urine, soiling more bedding.  As the Corn Cob Pellet Bag claims: Use Less Bedding.  Hurray.

I know that wood shavings tie up more nitrogen in the soil than they deliver while composting, but the particulars were beyond me, so I contacted James A Fawcett, Ph.D., Field Agronomist with ISU Extension to enlighten me on the Wood Shavings vs. Corn Cob Pellets Tournament of Composting.  He said, "While the carbon source (wood chips) is being broken down, the bacteria need nitrogen to function so the N is not available for plants [on which the un-composted manure is spread] until the carbon source is decomposed and then the bacteria die and release the N back into the environment. The composting would not be as important with the corn pellets as with wood chips, but after the composting process the N would be available faster than if the bedding (corn pellets) is applied directly to the field. I believe the C:N ratio in bacteria is about 30:1, so any carbon source with a C:N ratio higher than this will temporarily tie up some nitrogen. Grass clippings are one of the few carbon sources that will not tie up any N as it breaks down since the material already has enough N for the bacteria."


To further explain, he told me, " Bedding materials with a high C:N ratio ties up N in the soil and/or manure until the bacteria break down the carbon source ( wood chips). I assume corn pellets are made from corn cobs and/or stalks. They would have a C:N ratio of about 60:1 compared to 200+:1 for the wood chips, so there would be less of a problem with using up the nitrogen."


You can see from the eminent Dr. Agronomy's explanation what effect putting raw manure has on your hay field.  Using the Corn Cob Pellets decreases your carbon footprint by a whole lot of shoe sizes.  Composting eliminates the footprint altogether.


I have noticed that my baby manure pile, not quite to the composting size, is already smoking away, much hotter than normal.  I suspect the Corn Cob Pellets of adding more heat to the sh!t pile.  If my suspicions are correct, it should take less time to turn into Compost Gold.


Composting is easy.  You make a pile of manure [in the shade is best], spread it out to be about four foot high by four foot wide, with a nice flat top and let Nature Mama do the rest. Sure, you can turn it, but unless you have a skid loader or tractor [Santa Baby, I've been an Awfully Good Girl], but you really can skip this step. In 6-9 months you have helped give birth to black gold compost.  The joy of new life for your garden, hay field, for whatever you need fertile earth.


You don't need to be a radical hippy, tree hugging environmentalist to compost.  It makes cents.  Spreading raw manure on your hay field will reduce yield/quality.  Composting will increase yield/quality.  Using the Corn Cob Bedding will reduce bedding costs.  Win. And. Another Win.  If you don't have Corn Cob Pellets as a local alternate bedding supply, look for another.  I once knew a gal who used sunflower shells from a local oil producer.


Local Bedding Supply and Composting: Fun!  Easy! Good Stewardship!  Makes You Happy!


Kind Regards, 
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stable Exercise and Winter Weight Control Program

As the temperatures fall, my jeans begin to tighten.  I usually accept that this as The. Way. Things. Are.  During spring and summer, I loose weight.  Fall and winter, I gain weight.  The trouble with accepting this as a fact of life is that every year I seem to loose less weight in the temperate months and gain more in the intemperate. My skinny jeans are most unforgiving of this trend.

This year, I moved the horses from livery back to my full and complete charge.  Cleaning stalls and acquiring the amount of food & bedding required to keep four horses helped me to loose the additional 20lbs that clung on me over the last five years of paying someone else to to the hard work.  My skinny jeans favored me.

But after Thanksgiving, the waist band is starting to bind.  And Christmas Cookie Season is just around the corner.  I do not want to unpack the fat jeans.  So, I decide to turn stable management into a gym.  Yes, cleaning stalls burns calories, but if there is no sweat involved- as in the summer, the weight hangs on steadfast to the love handles.  By altering how I clean the stalls, I manage to produce the much needed sweat and return to pre-Thanksgiving weight.

Adding lots of light layers of clothing is a must for sweat inducing labor.  One big coat makes me too hot.  It must be a slow sweat.  Instead of trying to scoop as much poop as possible on each forkful, I scoop smaller forkfuls faster, increasing the aerobic-ness.  The addition of lunges really adds to the workout.  Realizing that I scooped and dumped always on the same side, I re-positioned the wheel barrow so I had to lunge, scoop and twist the other direction as well.

By the second stall, I have a good, even sweat going, and feel the routine is worthy.  I make sure I am breathing well [exhaling on exertion, inhaling on recovery], using good balance during twists to support the weight on the fork, and using each side of my body equally.  I finish by briskly sweeping the alleyway, incorporating more lunges and twists, equal on both sides.

Cleaning the stalls this way takes me an hour to do what normally takes forty five minutes, but afterward I am glowing and feel quite energized instead of the normal feeling of thank-god-that's-done.  And I don't have pay  to go to a gym and spend an hour sweating there, which pleases me no end.

Lucy has weighed in on the subject with her usual enthusiasm.  Her useful advice: after any period of inactivity, perform a deep Downward Dog Stretch.  Then, the Lucy Fur Method of Extreme Fitness calls for: terrorize bunnies at top speed for an hour or until the Humans call you and offer a treat.

I'll stick to the Stable Routine, leave the bunnies to Lucy, add in the Downward Dog and I am confident that I can enjoy a few Christmas treats with out the Wrath of the Skinny Jeans.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Combined Driving: David E Saunders

A Brief History of the Sport of Combined Driving
by David E. Saunders

Horses and carriages have always been fundamental to any civilization. The Assyrians were the first to use the horse drawn chariot as part of the military machine. The enormous benefits of controlling a team of horses with accuracy at speed proved to be a winning edge in battle. So for thousands of years almost every civilization has used horses and carriages for everything from delivering freight to delivering warriors into battle.
As Head Coachman to HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Saunders was involved from the very inception of Combined Driving from its format to the development of the open back step marathon vehicle.

In the early 1970's H.R.H. Prince Philip the Queen of England's husband who was at the time the President of the International Equestrian Federation (F.E.I.) decided to develop a sport based on combined training but with horses and carriages. Combined training, (Military) was designed originally to keep the cavalry officers and their horses sharp and prepared for war.

The ridden dressage prepares the horse and rider to move at different speeds and in different directions under control, this helps prepare the horse to become more agile during battle. The cross country simulates riding cross country chasing down the enemy. The stadium jumping to jump unfamiliar colored obstacles for instance men in colorful uniforms etc.

Combined driving is based on the same premise as combined training. The dressage simulates the precision that the gun carriages, horse drawn or supply carriages would have to move in close formation. The marathon or cross country simulates military equipment and gun carriages being moved across difficult terrain at various speeds. The cone driving is directly related to the stadium phase of combined training to demonstrate the skill of the competitor to move horses and carriages at speed with precision on the battlefield.

The Modern World of Combined Driving
The competition lasts 3 days.

Dressage 1st day

The dressage takes place in a marked arena on level ground 100 meters long by 40 meters wide. Various letters mark strategic points in the arena. The competitor will perform a set test. This consists of a series of precise movements starting at one letter and finishing at another letter. There are several paces required, a walk, a collected or slow precise trot to demonstrate the horse can move slowly and precisely. A working trot which demonstrates the horses' ability to move consistently at a medium trot and an extended trot to show the horses' ability to move at a more exaggerated and faster pace. A halt demonstrates the horses' ability to stand still and not move under pressure and the reverse or rein back which demonstrates the horses ability to push the carriage backward with the same precision as moving forwards.
Saunders performs a Shoulder In with the leaders of a four in hand of Morgans in a dressage test.

There are normally 5 judges who will give marks out of 10 for each movement. 10 being excellent, and 1 being very bad. They are also looking for the horse to move with obedience and lightness and if multiple horses i.e. pair or four- in-hand the horses must move together as one horse. They are also looking for, a picture of sartorial elegance and harmony, the elegance and the beauty of the horse, carriage and driver.

Marathon or Cross Country 2nd day

The purpose of this part of the event is to prove the horses can be driven over varying types of terrain and arrive safely at the prescribed time over a course of 10 to 12 kilometers.

This part of the competition is divided into 3 sections. 2 trot sections and 1 walk section. All 3 sections are timed and have to be driven at a prescribed pace, the penalties are given for early or late arrival.

Section A
Section A is 4 to 6 kilometers in length and is done at a working trot. There is an average speed and each kilometer is marked so that the navigator/time keeper behind the competitor on the carriage can keep the competitor on time and on track.

Section D
The next section is the walk section. This section consists of a kilometer where the pace of walk must be maintained and again it is timed.

Rest Halt
The horses then arrive at the compulsory rest halt, all the horses are checked by a judge and a Veterinarian. The horses then have a 10 minute rest and the (pit stop activities take place) bandages and boots are checked by the crew, the horses are cooled out, harness adjusted and the tensions mount.

Section E
The next section is 8 to 10 kilometers, which would include 7 or 8 marathon hazards. These hazards are to test the competitor and horses ability to negotiate a hazard in the track, for instance a bridge is washed out and the horses have to ford a stream, a tree has fallen across the track and the competitor has to negotiate the carriage safely around and still arrive at the finish on time.
Spectacular form in a Section E Obstacle performed by Saunders and a four in hand of Morgans

The marathon hazard consists of an entrance and exit gate at the gate there is a timer to record the exact time the competitor is in the hazard. There are also 2 or 3 hazard stewards that record the route that is taken in the hazard. There are a number of lettered gates normally A to F, each gate must be passed through in the correct order before the hazard is finished. The gates are marked with red and white flags, red must always be on the right as the competitor passes through the gate.
Most competitors will drive different routes at different speeds. After passing through the hazard finish gate they must continue on the prescribed route and still finish on time.

Penalties are accrued through time taken in the hazard, missing gates, going through gates backwards, or out of order, navigators falling off, harness breaking or carriage tipping over. At the end of the marathon the horses are checked by judges and veterinarian.

Obstacles or Cone Driving 3rd and Final Day

This part of the competition takes place in the arena and it consists of a marked course of up to 20 pairs of cones with balls on the top, the cones are measured at 3 to 4 inches wider than the track width of the carriage. There is a time allowed, the course must be driven clear (in time without dislodging any balls). Penalties are given for exceeding time allowed and dislodging balls. This part of the competition demonstrates the competitors' ability to present horses that are still fit, sound and supple after the marathon. This would equate to having horses fit to fight another battle.

To produce horses for this sport takes an awful lot of time and training. Also the driver who is the competitor relies a lot more on his crew, i.e. navigator/timekeeper/groom. So there is a true team effort that goes with every competitor, everyone that competes in a combined driving competition is a true horseman and warrior.

And in the continuing spirit of the ancient Assyrians who forged the true relationship of horse, carriage and driver we are carrying on the same tradition.

©Copywriter David E. Saunders, Reprinted with Permission

A charming raconteur with a wealth of knowledge, Saunders gives presentations and clinics on all aspects of carriage driving.  Where else can you get instruction from a professional coachman who was entrusted with the Queen's horses and a founding father of our beloved sport.  Despite his illustrious career, Saunders is affable and entirely without pretension.  He has a gift not only for driving, but also for fascinating instruction.  As the old saying goes, I wish I knew a fraction of what he has forgotten.  


For more information: www.davidesaunders.com or call 352.258.8355.


Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Traditional Vehicle Tutorial

Body Break from Pony & Carriage Ltd's Traditional  Reproduction Carriages Slide Show
For those wishing to brush up on their carriage knowledge in the run up to the Elizabeth Lampton Carriage Sale in Lexington, KY, November 19, I suggest grabbing your copy of Driving by the Duke of Beaufort and watching Pony & Carriage Ltd's most excellent slideshow of vehicles.  Most, if not all, I'm no expert on vehicles, are of European design, but that is what chapter XIX on Modern Carriages [written by George N. Hooper], discusses: packed with vehicle descriptions and history.

https://picasaweb.google.com/ponyandcarriage/TraditionalReproductionCarriagesHomePageDisplay#slideshow/5422892823570846546

Grab a cuppa, a blanket and your favorite alternate source of heat [spouse/cat/dog] and wile away a cold, damp November eve with Beaufort's legacy and Pony & Carriage Ltd.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Elizabeth Lampton Carriage Collection Auction

I was privileged enough to attend John Seabrook's carriage collection dispersal auction in New Jersey in 2002.  It felt like a piece of history and the upcoming Martin's sale of Elizabeth Lampton's collection in Kentucky promises to be another such milestone.

Please God or Santa or Iowa Lottery:

This carriage deserves to be mine.

On November 19, 2011 in Lexington, KY, 600 lots of carriage history will be sold under Paul Martin's hammer.  Here is a link to the sale brochure:

http://www.auctionzip.com/cgi-bin/showimage.cgi?lid=1217372&type=at&in=1

Looking through the photos makes my heart quicken.  There are so many wonderful vehicles and the harness, oh the harness...[she sighs]


If you are a carriage enthusiast, no doubt you will be there.  I am going to try to reorganize heaven and earth to be there myself.


Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporatiohn company.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Rider And Driver, 1893



Harness Racing has begun at Prairie Meadows here in Iowa.  Coupled with the waning colors of fall, I always find myself reminiscent.  Usually this sends me straight to the NY Times Archives, but, ho, I found another source of bygone relevancy today.  Thank you, accidental sagacity!

The Rider and Driver, copyright 1983, courtesy of the Stanhope Libraries is a treasure trove.  An article on the coaching revival, various viewpoints on what constitutes a True Saddle Horse for promotion in the Chicago World's Fair and predictions about the participation of draft horses at said fair, scuttlebutt about the metamorphosis of harness racing with the introduction of the bicycle sulky, and much more all promise to keep me in bedtime reading for awhile.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I:
http://books.google.com/books?id=eAfc5oJJjZoC&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Mermaid's Dad

As Beautifully As I Can
When I was a tween, my mother made me join the town swimming team.  There were a number of reasons why swim team was a complete torture for me.  Firstly, it took time away from riding horses.  Secondly, I have many confirmation faults that can not be disguised by a Speedo.  Standing next to the other lithe, long legged little mermaids on swim team, I felt like a troll with my high waist and thick thighs.  Lastly, while I can swim, I am not a fast swimmer.  Coupled with my fierce competitiveness, I felt like a failure of a troll.  My coach helped [unwittingly] heap insult to injury by assigning me to be the anchor of the B Team's Medley Race.

At every meet, after the beautiful, bronzed dolphin swimmers had completed the race, I stood at the edge of the pool, while my fellow troll teammate floundered through her laps of the butterfly stroke, before I dove in and swam my lengths.  All alone.  When I finished, I drug my rubber limbs from the pool and dove into the anonymity of my beach towel.

"Everyone went to the concession stand," I told myself.  "No one was watching."  Dripping hair about my face disguised the tears of humiliation.

After one particularly gruesome home swimming meet, I was trudging in flip flops, robed in beach towel back to the car, to get the You'll Just Have To Try Harder Lecture when one of the Mermaid's Dads stopped me.  "I just wanted to tell you that my favorite part of these swim meets is watching you in the Medley Relay.  You swim so beautifully."  I hope I remembered to thank him despite my tween stupor at his compliment.

When I climbed into the car, I burst into uncontrollable, convulsive sobs, so moved was I by this man's kindness.  Misunderstanding, my mother said, "Well, if you feel this strongly about it, I guess you don't have to go to swim team anymore."

"No!" I shrieked and those sobs choked out any form of explanation.  She let out one of her characteristic I'll Never Understand You Child Sighs and drove me home.

I finished the season in swim team, trying to swim as beautifully as I could in the medley relay for the Mermaid's Dad. The Troll Team never came close to winning a race, but we came third once.  As I climbed out of the pool, I heard cheering, lead by none other than The Mermaid's Dad.

He died too few years afterwards.  At his funeral, I promised him I would spend the rest of my life trying to do everything I could not do as well as others as beautifully as I could.

For the most part, I have kept my promise.  I try to walk and breathe as beautifully as I can.  I try to ride and drive horses as beautifully as I can.  Whether I can win or not, I try to compete as beautifully as I can.  And whenever I can, I give an awkward little girl a compliment from my heart: as the legacy of the Mermaid's Dad.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In the Box Seat With Boyd Exell

Our dear friend and ace film maker, Tim Maloy of Cavewood Productions has produced a brilliant series of film shorts with Boyd Exell driving obstacles at Sandringham. I can watch them repeatedly and see different angles and something I missed on the previous view.  These film shorts are stupendous from the advantage that you and I can witnness how the current World Champion drives: what he does and the standout things that he does not do.

I am not going to spoil these films by babbling.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.  Once again: All Hail, Tim Maloy!  And sincere thanks to Boyd Excell for sharing his seat with us.


Boyd Exell - Sandringham Obstacles 1 and 2 from Tim Maloy on Vimeo.



Boyd Exell - Sandringham Obstacles 3 and 4 from Tim Maloy on Vimeo.



Boyd Exell - Sandringham Obstacles 5 and 6 from Tim Maloy on Vimeo.



Boyd Exell - Sandringham Obstacles 7 and 8 from Tim Maloy on Vimeo.


Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation Company.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Morning Dew Musings

My dew laced weather vane
A low mist hung in the corn under a lilac and rose pink sky this morning before the sun dawned.  The birds and the crickets were singing as I sipped a cup of Mocha Java, contemplating the day.  "Iowa," I mused.  "You can be so bewitching...Ouch!  Bloody Hell!"  Mosquitoes were biting chunks out of me.  That is how it goes: get too sentimental about Iowa and it bites you in the ass.  Literally.

Dawn is starting to sleep in as the kids go back to school.  Heavy dew drips from the corn and the infernal heat of summer is only an ember most days.  All the signs that Villa Louis Carriage Classic is right around the corner.

With the strength and conditioning phase of training over, Don Pecos and I are working on elasticity and form.  This is the most difficult part of the training curriculum, but also the most rewarding. I must convince the horse to repackage his strength from stamina into performance.  While Don Pecos never complains, he just 'pretends' that he doesn't 'get' it, perhaps with the hope that I will give up or the season will end.  But I know he has it inside.  I just have to get it out in two weeks for the show.  And before winter wraps us in her long, cold embrace.

Oh, Iowa...

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Worth 1000 Words

Theresa Burns and her four in hand in front of the Villa Louis.  Photo: Lori Schoenhard
 As preparations for Villa Louis Carriage Classic come quickly, thinking about organizing photographs of your turnout are probably not on the list.  This year, I am having Lori Schoenhard concentrate on my turnout.  Her photos are really lovely and her perspective differs from the established horse show photographers in that she looks for the picture to tell a story, rather than an overview of the turnout.  It is just nice to have a different angle.
The Picnic Class at Villa Louis Carriage Classic.  Photo by Lori Schoenhard
 Lori grew up in Prairie du Chien and worked summers at the Villa Louis.  For the last few years she has attended the show with her camera and taken some really memorable shots.  "It would be nice to actually get to meet the people I'm photographing," she told me recently.
Lucy, Don Pecos and I in the workout section of the Picnic Class at Villa Louis Carriage Classic.  Photo by Lori Schoenhard
 So, here is your chance to have a personal photographer 'follow' your turnout at the show.  Lori can be reached through her website: http://lorischoenhardphotography.com/ Or view more of her Villa Louis Carriage Classic photos at: http://lorischoenhard.zenfolio.com/villa-louis-carriage-classic-2010
Blanket for Two: the Picnic Class at Villa Louis Carriage Classic.  Photo by Lori Schoenhard
Looking forward to seeing all our friends at the Villa Louis Carriage Classic, September 9,10,11th, 2011!

Kind Regards, Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On The Fly: A Brief on Bugs

With summer in full swing, and fly season entering its third month here in Iowa, I thought I'd share some of the tricks that have been working for my horses thus far.  The Morgans suffer from fly bites so horrifically they rub themselves raw.  All but one of them refuse to leave on fly masks and fly sheets are shredded within hours.  So, I have to treat the symptoms.  I have tried garlic, vinegar in the water, feed through fly control, fly predators, composting manure, timed fly spray misters in the stalls, Cortizone injections and a bevy of fly spray recipes ranging from costly essential oil mixtures to my own mad scientist versions [see How Does Turquoise Smell? http://hossbiz.blogspot.com/2010/04/how-does-turquoise-smell.html ] as my horses break out in enormous hives if I use fly spray with petroleum distillates: which is the only fly spray that actually works for any length of time.

This year, I had a gallon of Bronco fly spray on hand, so I decided to add some vinegar, and Dawn dish washing liquid.  The vinegar cuts the petroleum distillates to manageable levels and the Dawn helps it stick.  Or so I believe.  This worked fairly well, until it got hot and the bites were all over all the horses, not just in the usual spots.  The horses were crazy with itching, so I got out a bottle of Betadine Surgical Scrub added it to some water and gave them all sponge baths.  Which, of course, they all complained about vociferously.

But...aha..itching subsided, as did the incidence of new bite sites.  I have continued the sponge baths a couple of times a week and now my mare comes up and whinnies at me when I am bathing one of the boys, lest I forget her.  She stands stoically for her sudsing, as she has never stood for one second in her lifetime of baths.

"If this is so good as a sponge bath," I reckoned, "Maybe I should put some In The Fly Spray."  I will say with confidence, this is the first time in 14 years of treating this problem that I have felt I was at least keeping up with it, rather than continually losing the battle until October.  I put about a 2-3 table spoons of the Betadine Surgical Scrub in the fly mix of Bronco/ Vinegar/Dawn to make a half gallon of potion.

The Morgans can come and go as they please, inside or out, so they manage their own grazing. I spray them twice a day [more if it's beastly hot & humid] with my homemade hooch fly spray.  This system is working quite well, but when I leave for five days for a show, I return to find them insect bitten mad horses.  After a couple of days of sponge baths, we are back to a manageable bug tolerance level.  Sponge bathing 4 horses isn't as time consuming as it sounds, you really only have to scrub the suds into their coats, not dowse them with it.

This is not a cure, don't get me wrong, but it is a vast improvement for my herd.  It is cheap enough, with results in a short period of time.  Let me know if it works for you.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation Company.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Introduction to Vehicle Performance

The Whip's Retort has published a very interesting article on center of mass in marathon carriages.  While this may sound like more than you need to know, I found it quite enlightening:
http://drivingnews.us/whipsretort/

Driving a gig, which has a very high center of mass, I have learned from experience that I can't take turns too fast.  People always remark that driving a gig takes a lot of bravery, but mostly it is a case of respecting the vehicle and understanding its limitations.  I know I'm not going to be the fastest through cones, so I adjust my strategy and try to find the best route for the gig.  This usually involves taking turns slower and tighter.

However, in the marathon carriage, there just might be a false sense of security for some folks.  Having the experience with the gig, I naturally drive slower and look for angles.  This article made me stop to consider a few things.  Of course, there are very many variables involved in any equation and when people and animals are added the results are bound to be incalculable.  However, I think this article has value and I hope you find it useful.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pole Heads for Pairs & Teams

Gotta love the folks at Pony & Carriage for their video shorts: so full of information, so easy to absorb!



Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bandaging Tips

This is a nice, brief look at bandaging from the most excellent Horse & Country.

Video: Bandaging explained


Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www,hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Child, Dog And Pony Problems

I made the decision not to have children when I was eight years old.  Looking back, that was a rather sagacious choice.  How could I be a good mother when I was such a problem child?  I just didn't understand the whole Kid Role.

You can dress me in frills, buy me a tea set, but I'd rather be out on the Ford tractor with Grandpa.

"We are going on a long trip in the car and you have to go potty now."  But I don't have to go potty now.  "But you will later, so you have to go now."  But I don't have to go potty now.


"Where is your brother?"  He is in [insert a place we were forbidden to go].  "I thought I told you not to play in [insert a place we were forbidden to go]?"  But I'm not playing in [insert a place we were forbidden to go].  "Go get your brother out of [insert a place we were forbidden to go] right now.  But I thought I wasn't supposed to go to [insert a place we were forbidden to go]?


How do I know I am really me?  "What are you talking about?"  How do I know I am really me and not someone else?  "Because you are you."  How do you know I am really me and not someone else?  "Go to sleep."

My poor parents.  It wasn't until I got a dog that I realized what they were up against with me.  My problem poodle, Lucy Fur [who is a Beagle, but that is another blog], does not want to potty in 'our' yard.  She prefers to do her business in the neighbor's yard, which is all very well and good when the neighbors have dogs who have the same bathroom habits as Lucy.  However, when the neighbors don't have dog[s], don't like dogs and are submitted to Lucy barking at them after she has completed her toilette in their hostas, this makes for a rather strained set of relations.

Yes, Ma'am.  It is quite dead.

The parallel: Lucy goes potty when she has to go potty, not when I tell her to go potty.  Going potty where she is forbidden to go potty will be the last place I will demand that she goes potty.  Lucy does not fit neatly under the list of ideal dog characteristics: loyal, faithful, obedient.  While she has certain measures of these qualities, the problem arises that she defines them differently, just as I did as a child and [ahem] still do.

To treat Lucy like a dog is the source of the problem.  She is an individual who also happens to be a dog.  My horse, Kitten [that was another blog, but there may be a pattern emerging] also refuses to be treated like a horse, she has higher expectations.  I see this in ponies all the time.  They are the original hedge fund investors: taking long and short positions on the market price of domestication.  In almost every case, it is those individuals with the extra large personalities that will not be contained within the title "dog", "pony", "child" who provide us with not only the most trying, but also the most hilarious, most poignant, most precious anecdotes.

But they are so cute when they're asleep.

Today's accidental sagacity is look at your problem dog/pony/child as an individual before you treat them as their title.  They might still potty in the neighbor's yard or tear up the horse trailer if you leave them [tied to it], or be incapable of holding down a real job with benefits, but it will perchance be easier to understand and therefore love them in spite of it.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Carriage Driving - Basic Driving 1



A superlative, classic film by the British Driving Society in three parts with all manner of neat information, and of course, Britishness.

Enjoy!

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Working Pleasure: A Photo Tutorial

Laurie Renda has graciously agreed to use photos of her horse to demonstrate my philosophy of developing a horse for working pleasure.  Missy is a four year old Friesian cross mare.  These photos were taken last summer during one of my Carriage Driving Clinics.


Missy is demonstrating a common tendency among Friesians and Morgans: all front action, no back end engagement or motor.  Horses that move this way are not correctly using their bodies.  I hold that flashy knee action without engaged hindquarters is not desirable, nor pretty.  My dear friend and mentor, Bob Riley called this 'cake walking' although, unfortunately I don't know why.  When I see a horse moving this way, it looks like he is dragging himself around with his front end.  Wrong.  Not Pretty.  In this photo, Missy is heavy on her forehand, a result of improper engagement of her hindquarters.

In order to correct this, I asked the whip to use good posture by sitting up straight, lighten her hands by supporting her arms with her shoulders and strengthen her contact.  Strengthened contact is not a steady pull but rather like a firmer handshake.  By lifting the hands slightly, the whip encourages the horse to rock back on the hindquarters and transfer the balance from the forehand to properly engage the hindquarters.


Missy's hindquarters are better engaged here, she is stepping under herself and her top line is more level, but her length of stride is still not balanced and her cadence is off.  [Her inside hind will hit the ground before her outside fore.]
The whip has lost a little contact and Missy appears to be lengthening her front end to catch up with it.


Same corner of the arena as the last photo, contact is more supportive, producing a marked improvement in cadence and stride.  


This is a great photo to show how hard Missy is trying to get it.  You can even see her thinking about the whole process.  She is trying to be engaged, but wants to go back to her habit of hanging on her forehand.  The whip is using a half halt to ask Missy to drop her hindquarters, and a voice command to encourage her to take a longer stride behind to lift her off her forehand.   Cadence is slightly off, but engagement is improved.


This is a wonderful photo showing how far Missy has come from the first photo.  She is rocked back on her hindquarters, light on her forehand and her top line is more level: she doesn't look like she is going perpetually down hill.  This is not a working trot, and I think it might be mid transition to the walk, since we will not even think about the collected trot until we get a consistent working trot.  Missy's flashy knee action is still there, but enhanced by a balanced hock action.  As she gets stronger and better conditioned she will seem to float above the ground, not dig herself into it.

Missy has lost cadence here, but her balanced frame is blossoming.  The whip needs to encourage her to be  more forward with a cheerful voice command and consistent aids from the reins, whip and voice.  If you congratulate the young horse on improvement before you correct on another aspect, they come along very quickly and will work to get the congratulation diligently.


At the end of her lesson, Missy demonstrates better balance, correct frame and lovely cadence...

..and there is a pretty picture.

Once the horse is correct in balance, engagement and cadence consistently, conditioning will produce action that is heightened, elastic, flowing and above all natural.  I think it was Charles de Kunffy who said, and I paraphrase, you know your training curriculum is working if your horse becomes more beautiful each time you work him.

As I discussed in the Reinsmanship Tutorial, the whip needs to be attentive to the horse's way of going to be supportive with the reins, whip and voice aides.  The whip also needs basic skills in determining what is correct way of going and what is not.  Look again at the first photo of Missy and then the last photo.  Time elapsed was less than an hour.

Many thanks to Laurie Renda for her photos of Missy and for allowing me to publicly comment on them.  I look forward to witnessing Missy achieve her potential as a driving horse, which is considerable, as the above photos attest.

If you would like to have your photos evaluated for working pleasure, reinsmanship or to arrange a seminar or clinic to help you understand how to help your horse achieve his potential, please contact me.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation Company.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fixing A Broken Trace


This is a neat video from ponyandcarrige.co.uk about carriage driving spares kit basics to get you home safely.  Great tutorial!

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Friday, April 1, 2011

From the Morgan Horse Annuls

When I was a teenager, I would wait anxiously each month for the arrival of The Morgan Horse magazine, which I would read cover to cover and back again and again.  Recently, a friend sent me a link to some archival material, some of which I remember reading from my youth, most probably in The Morgan Horse.



The article was written by the Chief of Animal Husbandry Division for the Department of Ag on the Regeneration of The Morgan Horse in 1910, with references to D C Linsley, Morgan Horses, [published in 1857].  It's merit is threefold: for the history of the breed, as a harbinger to indiscriminate breeders of any horse, and for the beautiful prose that no doubt is entirely extinct from government reports nowadays.

Enjoy: http://www.archive.org/stream/regenerationofmo00rommiala/regenerationofmo00rommiala_djvu.txt

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

For Inspiration: Tom Bass on Horse Connection

This is a fabulous article on one of my heroes: Tom Bass, whose biography made me weep for the joy, love, life, fate, and impossibility in it.  Horse Connection gives a very good synopsis:

http://www.horseconnection.com/site/story-nov08.html

Whenever I need a leg up, I look to Tom Bass.

   "Before Jackie Robinson ever donned a Dodger uniform - there was Tom Bass. Before Rosa Parks ever demanded a seat in the front of the bus - there was Tom Bass. Before Martin Luther King ever had a dream - there was Tom Bass. Before Barack Obama ever ran for President - there was the legend of Tom Bass – the black horse whisperer."


If you need some inspiration, you'll find it.


Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reinsmanship: A Photo Tutorial

As an exercise towards enhancing my curriculum for teaching reinsmanship, I decided to post a few photos on what is admirable and what is far less than correct to illustrate my philosophy.  I always try to find a clear way to communicate to each whip on the cause and effect of their own bodies on their horse's ability, so this might be another way of defining it.

These photos were shot on a numbered cones course, by my dear friend and professional photographer, Tobin Bennett.  I think they give a very unique reference for judging my reinsmanship and I thank Tobin for his skill in capturing them.  I am driving The Major General, a Morgan and Caddy That Zigs.

Approaching Start/Finish: Good collection, contact, shoulder to hands angle is open and allowing.  Major is soft and alert.

This course was mostly short and tight, on the side of a hill.  I knew I needed to let Major go long and low as much as I could.  I open the angle of my shoulder to hands, and he opens the angle of his nose.  He seeks contact, so he lengthens his top line and stride to find it.  His cadence is lovely.
I have driven the outside line on the turn through this set of cones very nicely.  We are on the side of a hill turning down fairly sharply.  Notice we are starting the bend without the wheel completely clear of the cone.  It is tight.  The gig is high.  To keep the wheel on the ground, I am leaning.  When the whip drops the shoulder, so doth the horse.  You can see this in the photo: horse mirrors whip.  One saving grace for me as whip: my hands are still fairly level.  In the gig, you must drive the horse and ride the vehicle, or you will end Up. Side. Down.
BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD.  When I first saw this photo, I screamed, "NO!" And almost deleted it from record.  But then I decided to keep it to remind me NEVER to do this again.  This is an epic fail.  I misjudged our speed and the distance for the turn.  See how far under himself Major is with his inside hind leg.  Fail.    My shoulders are telling his body to go straight.  Fail.  My inside hand is bending his head around the shaft. Fail.  My outside hand is not supporting him through the bend.  Fail.  I am bending him front front to back.  Fail.  Cadence is completely lost.  Fail.  What I should have done was check his speed two strides before the cones, raise my hands slightly to rock him back on his hindquarters, support him through the turn with the outside rein, while bringing his shoulder back to his properly supported inside hind leg.  He then would have pivoted through the turn [two strides sooner] at an angle to get straight through the cones on the left.  Only Major's supreme athletic ability got us through this.  I beg his forgiveness.
This is more like it.  We serpentine right to go left.  Notice Major's properly supported right hind leg.  He is rocked back on his hindquarters, bending from behind.  His cadence is still somewhat compromised: look at how uncertain he appears.  My shoulders are somewhat [could be better] open to the direction I want him to bend- right, but I am looking left to judge the change of rein...
..which he does beautifully.  Bless him, he has forgiven me already.  Again, his inside hind leg is near vertical to support his weight through the turn, he is light on his forehand as a result.  If you have been paying attention you will see I have again dropped my weight over the wheel to balance the gig, but my reins are level to balance Major.  Cadence is restored.
Asking him to go long and low to the Finish, but gave the contact away too quickly and lost a little cadence in the process.  He is more than ready to stretch out, though, after a grisly drive...
And we're done.  Asking Major to transition to the walk, I have dropped my center of gravity by my hands are a little too low and I'm applying too much front brake: using too much bit, ergo, throwing him slightly on his forehand [that common front to back problem].  He is trying hard to get his hindquarters under him to transition correctly and if I had lifted my hands to allow him to finish getting underneath himself, he wouldn't be slightly behind the straight pull of my hands on the bit and the transition would have been great.  Instead, what probably happened was as his stopping leg [left hind] hit the ground, he hollowed out his back for relief of the bit and popped his nose up.  If I realized my mistake, I may have lightened my contact to give him the relief he needed as he stepped on his left leg.  I am focused quite intently on his frame, but there is sadly no photo proof of what happened next.

So, there you go, the dynamics of reinsmanship on an obstacle course, where it matters most.  Ultimate communication through the reins is achieved by understanding how to use them to support and balance the horse to allow him to be brilliant, instead of solely as a means to control him.  If you have photos that you would like me to evaluate for you, let me know.  I am also available, in person, for carriage driving lessons, and carriage driving clinics on this very subject.  The best way to improve your horse's performance is by improving your own.

Again thanks to Tobin for these great reference photos and to Major for his greatness.

Please leave a comment or contact me with your questions/suggestions.  I greatly appreciate everyone who stops by to read this blog and Google Analytics tells me how many of you do and approximately where you come from, but I am old fashioned and still like know faces or names.  So, thanks for stopping to read Accidental Sagacity and please don't be anonymous!

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.









Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Do You Speak Carriage?"




High Country Driving Club has several pages of linguistic history regarding terminology derived from all things carriage.  There are some very interesting historical allegories and I congratulate them for their research.

http://www.highcountrycarriagedriving.org/index.html

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Equine Electrics or Muzzle Tok

The equine nose knows electricity.
Don Pecos, Kitten and Ace were out in a new, larger paddock the other day.  I noticed them standing around the automatic waterer; staring at it.  I was pretty sure they weren't gossiping, so I wandered out and asked them what was up.

Don Pecos looked at me.  Then at the waterer.  Then at me, "Watch."  He carefully stepped up to the waterer, slowly stretched out his neck, until his nose was just over the rim of the waterer and then he jumped back like he had been shocked.

"No way.  That waterer is Not. Hot," I said to him.

"Really?"  He looked at me, sighed and stepped up to the machine again.  Same result.  Ace and Kitten looked at him, looked at me, looked at the waterer, looked back at me.

I climbed over the fence.  "I do not believe this thing is shocking you."  I touched the waterer.  No shock.  "See?"

He raised his eyelids, looked at me with that incredible sweetness of his and tried again.  Same result.  He blew at it and walked away.  Kitten decided a female needed to check this.  It shocked her, too.  She so affronted by the audacity of the waterer that she immediately tried again.  Shocked twice, she moved back and joined Don Pecos.

Ace was watching the whole situation unfold intently and bravely took his turn.  It shocked him, too and he only needed the once, so he reformed the line with the other two.

"DDDDDAAAAAAAAAADDDDDDD!"  I called my father.

"Well, those metal waterers always gave me trouble," he said. "That's why I switched to the plastic ones."  He then gave me a very short course in electricity and automatic waterers.

"But why couldn't I feel anything?"  I asked.

"Were you wearing boots?"

"Ah.  Yes.  I was insulated..."

"And the horses were grounded.  Is it wet around the base of the waterer?"

"It is March in Iowa, Dad, of course it is wet."

"Well," he said glibly, "if you went back out and took off your boots and stood in that wet mud while you grabbed on to the waterer, you might just feel something..."  He paused for about half a second and I could hear the thought that was running around in his head "Why don't you try it.  Might knock some sense into you." He continued to explain that the horses could sense within seconds of the electric fence grounding out to let themselves out of it, so they could undoubtedly feel stray current, reverse polarity or the heating element shorting out inside the waterer.  Or whatever the problem was.

Now I know enough about electricity to be really dangerous.  I apologized to The Ponies.  And took out buckets of water that I held for them while they drank.  They do like being served their drinks.

Around the waterer later, I could guess about the conversation...

Don Pecos: Why does she alway doubt me?  She doesn't love me.
Kitten:  She doubts you because you are so reactionary.  But she is a little daft sometimes.
Ace: Shut up you two!  She tries really hard.
Major [Enters, singing]: I'm coming up, So you better get this party started!

[Don Pecos wheels to kick him, Ace lunges towards him, teeth barred, ears flat, Kitten squeals and strikes.]

And. Scene.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Turning Sibling Rivalry Into Harmony?

The Major General, Don Pecos du Cheval and Chevals Topp Mentor are half brothers.  I have wanted to put together a show pair for almost a decade and just can't find a fit with these three.  This is my dilemma:

Major
Confirmation: Round
Way of Going: More Hock than Knee Action
Height: 14.2HH
Color: Black

Ace
Confirmation: Angular
Way of Going: More Float than Bounce
Height: 14.3HH
Color: Brown
Don Pecos
Confirmation: Very Round
Way of Going: Supercharged on all Four
Height: 14 & 1/2HH [the half is important!]
Color: Applevale Orange


















Maybe I'm splitting hairs.  They all look pretty round in the above photos.  But I know them.  They don't look, move or match each other.  But, this is what I have and I want a pair.

Major and Ace match the best in size and color.  Major is a stud.  Ace hates him.  Ace kicks and bites and generally beats the snot out of Major.  Major just wants to be friends.  Ace does not.  Oh, well, color is the last determination for a pair.

Major and Don Pecos grew up in adjoining paddocks.  They sort of get along.  Don Pecos tolerates Major. Just.  Pecos clocks Major with both hind feet when Major pushes his buttons too far.  They match in conformation.  Sort of.  Pecos is just so bloody short.  But we don't tell him that.  Ever.  Major has a longer stride because of his extreme hock action.  Pecos can keep up, though.  They just don't match.

I've been working Major and Don Pecos together, free lounging in the indoor arena.  This works out well about three quarters of the time.  Until Major's AD/HD clicks in and he leaves the tandem formation they have assumed and runs off to the far corner of the arena to sniff some sweet smelling something.  I run after him and Don Pecos stops, rolls his eyes and waits for me to herd Major back behind him.  

We get the whole thing going again and I study them.  I watch them move.  I do a lot of observing horses movement to determine how I can adjust the conditioning regime to get the best performance from the horse's potential.  After about 20 minutes, I see their cadence beginning to match.  After some sprinting, I can see their strides balancing.

Maybe.  Just maybe...

When we finished today, they decided to groom each other.  Major got a little too enthusiastic and Don Pecos wheeled and plowed him in the gut.

Brothers.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Yorkshire (Carriage) Driving Club 2


Again, many thanks to Mr & Mrs F C Greenwood of Halifax for this wonderful archive of the Yorkshire Carriage Driving Club.  Ditto to whomever copied it to disk and put it on youtube!  If anyone knows anything about Mr & Mrs. F C Greenwood of Halifax, please let me know!

And how many people are in that Governess Cart!?!

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Yorkshire (Carriage) Driving Club



I am so happy that  Mr & Mrs F C Greenwood of Halifax took the responsibility of getting out the moving picture camera and preserving this super footage for us.  There is so much to love about this. Especially because there is more: Part 2 tomorrow.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Eras Ago: Equestrian Haberdashery

In my insatiable quest to find purveyors of all things over the top, I find an article about Swaine, Adeney, Briggs & Son of London and just take a gander at what they sold circa 1982.  Why, oh why can't we bring some of those equestrian accessories back into fashion?

http://www.nytimes.com/1982/05/02/travel/outdoor-gear-for-milord-and-lady.html

Alas!  Where am I ever going to find a child's christening hunting whip now?  If only I had an elegant silver box designed for cucumber sandwiches, surely the picnic class would be mine!?!  Woe is me.  Swaine, Adeney, Briggs & Son: We still need holly driving whips and glove shampoo. After 250 years, why do you only stock unisex hunt shirts and stocks?  Unisex?  Seriously?

To visit what they sell nowadays without the trip to Piccadilly:  http://www.swaineadeney.co.uk/  It is still worth a look.  The umbrella I chose online- the Ladies' London Tan with hand stitched saddle leather handle runs a mere $860. If I added up all the money I spent on umbrellas that I consequently left on the Tube, a back of a chair in a bistro or in a dumpster because the wind caught and shredded them, I could maybe have bought 1/2 of this umbrella.  The Swaine, Adeney, Briggs & Sons umbrellas keep the rain off Kate Middleton's silly little clip on hats, after all.  And, I suppose, if you can spend $860 on an umbrella, you probably won't have to worry about leaving it on the Tube as much as forgetting it in the Roller. In which case you send Carson or Branson to fetch it.

Take some time for a day dream today.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity
www.hossbiz.com
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.