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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jingle Bells

This is a lovely rendition of the James Lord Pierpont's One Horse Open Sleigh, as the song was originally entitled when it was published in 1857.  Although not a hit from the start, it was renamed Jingle Bells two years later and lore has it that it was the first Christmas song recorded in 1889.  No evidence exists to support this theory and the more accepted date of recording was 1898 by the Edison Male Quartet.

The lyrics circa 1857 were slightly different than those we sing today:

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O'er the hills we go
Laughing all the way.
Bells on bobtail ring
Making spirits bright
Oh what sport to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way!
O what joy it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.
A day or two ago
I thought I'd take a ride
And soon Miss Fannie Bright
Was seated by my side.
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And we — we got upsot.
A day or two ago
The story I must tell
I went out on the snow
And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by
In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie,
But quickly drove away,
Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young,
Take the girls tonight
And sing this sleighing song:
Just get a bobtailed bay
Two forty is his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! You'll take the lead.

Kind Regards,

Michelle Blackler

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Black Brigade: Funeral Horses of Victorian London

The following are excepts from one of my favorite writings on Victorian London: The Horse World of London, by W. J. Gordon, 1893 about the funeral business which is charming and amusing...

"A GOOD many of the coal horses are blacks and dark bays, and by some people they are known as the 'black brigade'; but the real black brigade of London's trade are the horses used for funerals. This funeral business is a strange one in many respects, but, just as the job-master is in the background of the every-day working world, so the jobmaster is at the back of the burying world. The 'funeral furnisher' is equal to all emergencies on account of the facilities he possesses for hiring to an almost unlimited extent, so long as the death rate is normal. 

 Dottridge's are 'at the back' of all the big funerals in London. They buried Mr. Spurgeon; they buried Mrs. Booth; years ago they buried Cardinal Wiseman, the biggest 'black horse job' ever known, for the Roman Catholics will always have black horses if they can get them. 

Altogether there are about 700 of these black horses in London. They are all Flemish, and come to us from the flats of Holland and Belgium by way of Rotterdam and Harwich. They are the youngest horses we import, for they reach us when they are rising three years old, and take a year or so before they get into full swing in fact, they begin work as what we may call the 'half-timers' of the London horse-world. 

 Here, in the East Road, are about eighty genuine Flemings, housed in capital stables, well built, lofty, light, and well ventilated, all on the ground floor. Over every horse is his name, every horse being named from the celebrity, ancient or modern, most talked about at the time of his purchase, a system which has a somewhat comical side when the horses come to be worked together. Some curious traits of character are revealed among these celebrities as we pay our call at their several stalls. General Booth, for instance, is 'most amiable, and will work with any horse in the stud' ; all the Salvationists 'are doing well,' except Railton, 'who is showing too much blood and fire. Last week he had a plume put on his head for the first time, and that upset him.' Stead, according to his keeper, is 'a good horse, a capital horse - showy perhaps, but some people like the showy; he does a lot of work, and fancies he does more than he does. We are trying him with General Booth, but he will soon tire him out, as he has done others. He wouldn't work with Huxley at any price!' Curiously enough, Huxley 'will not work with Tyndall, but gets on capitally with Dr. Barnardo.' Tyndall, on the other hand, 'goes well with Dickens,' but has a decided aversion to Henry Ward Beecher. Morley works 'comfortably' with Balfour, but Harcourt and Davitt 'won't do as a pair anyhow.' An ideal team seems to consist of Bradlaugh, John Knox, Dr. Adler, and Cardinal Manning. But the practice of naming horses after church and chapel, dignitaries is being dropped owing to a superstition of the stable. 'All the horses,' the horsekeeper says, 'named after that kind of person go wrong somehow!' And so we leave Canon Farrar, and Canon Liddon, and Dr. Punshon, and John Wesley and other lesser lights, to glance at the empty stalls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now 'out on a job,' and meet in turn with Sequah and Pasteur, Mesmer and Mattei. Then we find ourselves amid a bewildering mixture of poets, politicians, artists, actors, and musicians.

'Why don't you sort them out into stables, and have a poet stable, an artist stable, and so on?'

'They never would stand quiet. The poets would never agree; and as to the politicians - well, you know what politicians are, and these namesakes of theirs are as like them as two peas!'

To read the article in its entirety:


Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Story Of My Life In A Photo

Timeless: Tyngwndwn Lovespoon of Here Be Dragons Welsh Ponies and me on the 2011 Metamora  Pleasure Driving Show Country Drive.  Photo by Peter Gilles
Every once in a while, something perfect happens.  

In 2011, I journeyed to Metamora, MI to show a pony for Martha Stover and Cynthia Laurence of Here Be Dragons Welsh Ponies www.herebeponies.com

Tyngwndwn Lovespoon, aka Lisa, and I had a very good show with several memorable moments.  I had only driven her a handful of times before the show, but she was a great partner.  On the cones course, there was a small failure of communication between us and instead of trampling the left hand cone on a right hand circle, Lisa saved the day, jumped over the cone for a clear round and much cheering from the spectators.  What a pony!  We very proudly presented Here Be Dragons with a reserve championship ribbon.

But that is just the beginning of the story.  Local photographer, Peter Gilles www.metamoraphoto.com was on hand at the show, snapping mementos.  After the show, he chose the above photo, his "very favorite", to put on show at the Merge Gallery in Oxford, MI.  This autumn, when asked to donate an auction item to the Metamora Driving Club's annual event, he chose the mounted photo again.

Long Story Short: Cynthia and Mack Laurence [co-owners of Lisa] were at the fundraiser and bought the photo, which they in turn sent to me as a gift.  I generally regard sentimentality as an affliction, but when I held the photo in my hands, I cried.  The combination of the memories of the show, my affection for Lisa and her owners, the Laurence's generosity, the virtuosity of Mr. Gilles' lens was a perfect storm of sentiment. 

If one photograph can tell an entire story, it is this one.  It is a sublime representation of why I drive and show horses: a beautiful summer day, a happy pony, moving gloriously through time.  One hundred years from now, I will not be surprised if people are cooing over it on whatever social forum exists for driving enthusiasts.  But it tells a still bigger story.  Lots of people do lots of really brilliant things for me, and I try to be worthy of all of them.  If you are one of those people, gaze upon this photo and see your own reflection in it.  Whether you have lent me a book, helped me unload a carriage, given me a kind word or saved me from certain death: you are in this photo.  This photo is for you.  This photo  is something perfect.

I wish you all enormous returns on the riches you have bestowed upon me.  [And... if you are looking for a present for a horse lover, you just might find something perfect from Peter Gilles' camera.]

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Late 20th Century Driving

David E Saunders and HRH Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh
Carriage Driving's friend, historian and former royal coachman, David E Saunders [http://www.davidesaunders.com] has shared this lovely video of Prince Phillip and Sandringham Horse Trials from 1983.  In it, the Duke of Edinburgh guides the viewer through the steps of driving with an excellent demo on rein handling of a four in hand.  The rest of the footage follows the Prince, Karen Bassett [http://www.karenbassett.co.uk], and Andy Mills through the driving trial.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

The moral of the story is to be found in how much has changed from last century to now: style of vehicles, design of driving events, speed through obstacles and what has remain unchanged: passion for the sport, the traditions of driving itself and the spirit of competition.

It is my ardent hope that 30 years hence, we will find the sport of carriage driving thriving in the 21st Century through innovation infused tradition with the propagation of fine deportment as evidenced by the modern sport's patron, Prince Phillip.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Life Gives You What You Need

Life is like training a horse: a general idea of what needs to be done to achieve the goal, whether it is teaching a horse to pick up it's feet or training for top level competition.  The art of life and horse training is developing skills to achieve the best possible result.  Some people are better at life and horse training than others, but we can all improve.

Today, I stumbled on a brilliant website and blog detailing just this theme.  It is a horse related life coaching dream fulfilling treasure and I can't wait to start spending it's riches, so I'll start by sharing:


I hope it resonates for you as it has for me.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Happy Mistakes

A View To A Thrill
photo by Robert Mischka

I started driving at the age of 14 under the watchful eye of my grandfather.  My family had just embarked on the World of Morgan Horse Ride: purchased a young show prospect, sent her to a very reputable trainer.  I learned to drive in a jog cart staring at said mare's behind.  I wasn't enthralled.

Twenty years later, I was introduced to carriage driving and EUREKA!  I was hooked.  Not having a carriage, I decided to start back in the aforementioned jog cart and work my way up to a better view.

The tangled mess of 20 year old harness got cleaned and oiled, jog cart's tires got pumped up, trained horse got harnessed, put to, and off I drove around the arena.   For a month or so.

So excited was my progress, I organized a driving fun day for the local Morgan club, set up some cones and various other obstacles, gathered refreshments.  Attendance was marvelous, including Bob Riley, life long mentor to a very long list of people, including my mother and trainer of the horse I was driving.  I was proud as a peacock as I drove towards the arena.

Bob sauntered over to me and asked me if I didn't think I needed traces.  "Traces?" I asked, completely oblivious.  He explained.  "Oh!  Those long pieces!  I couldn't work out where they went."  Bob suggested he'd hold the horse while I went to fetch those long pieces.

Mistakes are how we learn.  In this instance it was a happy one, no harm done, lesson learned.  Bob Riley spent many long a hours after that next to me in the jog cart, while I learned, safely, how to train a horse and how to drive.

If you are new to driving, find a mentor.  Or an instructor.  Make happy mistakes.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Carriage Driving Garden Party

The Major General: I Like Shows.  I Love Parties.
Last night Major and I hosted a carriage driving demonstration for 18 members of the Eastern Iowa Dressage and Eventing Association.  I set up a dressage/cones/section E obstacle/gambler's choice in my 30m x 60m grass arena.  I am nothing if not creative with small spaces.  I polished the marathon vehicle and the gig, dressed for turnout, printed course maps and designed a short dressage test for the participants to score.  I put folding chairs in the back of my ancient truck for the 'judges'.  I laid out my patio table with magazines and info from the ADS and CAA, picked a vase of nasturtiums, made some foccacia and lemonade to welcome our guests.

Following a brief social half hour, during which Don Pecos, Ace and Kitten bleated pathetically at the guests that they were weak with hunger since I was starving them, I brought Major out of the barn to hitch.  "That's a stallion!" One of the guests exclaimed.  "Why, yes," I answered.  "He is."  Many more compliments followed: he is so quiet, so black, so beautiful- all of which Major soaked up like spring sunshine.

We proceeded to the dressage test, after a three minute warm up, which anyone with a forward, V8 engine-d Morgan will shudder to think.  Of course there were flaws, that the crowd all but forgot when Major powered into an extended trot on the very short diagonal, and then purred right into a collected trot to the finale.  He came to a square halt and stood quietly in front of the guests for more cooing from them, while I explained there are usually not trees at the end of competition dressage fields and how we would attempt to drive my very tight cones/section e/gambler's choice course.

I had utilized A, B, C, and E from the dressage markers, added in a D and 1-9 for the gates.  I added three half full water bottles on fence posts as a nod to Mike Rider's gambler's choice obstacle. Everything went very well until the last gate, 9, when I eliminated myself on my own course by driving it backwards.  Well, you show the good and the bad.  We still got cheers and applause and that is really all that matters.

Then the real party started.  I unhooked Major, put the lead rope over his back and turned him loose.  He pulled up a big creeping weed, started shaking it up and down and presented it to one of the ladies.  Being a good sport, she held out her hands and he dropped the weed into them, ever so pleased with himself.  Then he wandered off to a little boy holding a half eaten cookie and started tickling him.  "He is after your cookie," I told the wee lad, which sent the little one running off to protect his treat.  Oh Good. Tag. I Love Little Humans.  Major jogged after him.  Suspecting there might be an altogether easier way to get a cookie, Major gave up pursuit and returned to the party to inspect the table, where he found the source of the cookies.  "MAJOR!"  I darted after him, abandoning what was probably a really important conversation about a potential training horse.

"If I give you a cookie, will you leave the table alone and go and behave like a normal horse?" I asked him.  He looked at me with those melt your heart eyes.  I gave him a chocolate chip cookie and he showed his gratitude by leaving the table alone, albeit not behaving like a normal horse.  Instead, he mingled about the group, snaking in between all the guests, listening to their conversations, generally enjoying the networking opportunity and delighting the company with his character. When a couple guests took their leave, he escorted them to their cars and thanked them much for coming.  He wrapped himself around the lady he presented the creeping weed to and tried to sit in her lap.  He even upstaged Lucy, which is a considerable feat of itself.

I think it not a stretch to say this 18 year old Morgan stallion won the hearts of many more fans and hopefully helped convert them to the idea of driving.  After all the guests had departed, I sat down at the table, quite exhausted, but pleased and he came up and blew in my ear: We Should Have More Parties, My Human.  Then he pulled up a creeping weed and put it in my lap.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mastering the Contact Game

The Major General and I escaping the Balrog on the cones course at Hickory Knoll CDE.
 Photo by Kim Kuhlman Photography  http://www.kimkuhlman.com/

Had the honorable distinction of many compliments on both my horse, The Major General and my driving this past weekend at Hickory Knoll CDE, accompanied by wistful I-Wish-I-Could-Do-That comments.  I guess they didn't see my abomination of a dressage test when my beautiful, forward horse punched off the time clock immediately on entering the arena.  But he came right back in cones.  I'm still trying to work that out, but it must have had something to do with my contact.

Most people, take a more authoritative contact in obstacle driving to get the horse through the course.  Quite often, they lessen the contact in the arena or dressage test because 'the obstacles' are not real. An egg shaped 40m circle doesn't knock a ball down, just your score.  The consequences are not instant, you can't see them.

I consider the arena an imaginary video game.  I think of the path around the rail as a high mountain pass, if I do not keep the horse on the pass, we will both fall off and die.  You need to make the stakes high- for me, that is death.  For you, perhaps it will be a monetary fine.  Crossing the diagonal: a 4' wide bridge over infinity with no rail- one foot wrong, we both fall off into forever.  You might need to envision a lake full of hungry crocodiles.  A 40m circle to the right: the thin line over the seventh circle of hell: don't want to go there, now do we?

If we fall off the cliff and die, I simply push the reset button and start over.  Next go, I try to hone my skill at staying on the path, if the horse deviates- it is my fault for not directing or supporting him.  It is my responsibility to keep him from being feasted upon by flesh eating harpies or drowning in a boiling river of blood.  It makes driving in circles much more fun.

So if my horse powers off the minute he enters the arena?  Still working on that.  I didn't want to push the reset button for fear Major would over react and I would have a fight on my hands for the whole of the test.  Did my contact change, or was it my attitude?  Reset.  Reset.  Reset.  Warning: this game is highly addictive.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Coffee, Croissants, CAI

This morning I spent in France at the Concours d'Attelage International [CAI] at Samurs, JOI [Joy of Internet] enjoying cafe au lait and omlette aux fine herbes [which is what I normally eat for breakfast *I know: pretentious*].  I am writing here to tell vous: it was incroyable!  The video & link will allow you to magically visit the show in France, too.  Be sure to click on both tabs: Samedi [that's Saturday to non-francophiles] and Dimanche [Sunday] to get the full flavor of the event.


For those who are unfamiliar with the CAI format, to host a show of this nature there are requirements to fulfill, which I will summarize.  You have to have at least three of the following:

1.] Monarchy on the payroll, OR a history involving deposing or beheading monarchy OR exhibitors with titles OR heirs to vast commercial fortunes

2.] A venue sporting castles, grand estates, vineyards or breath taking natural beauty and of rich historical significance- a place where people dream of visiting [IE: not Cedar Rapids, Iowa]

3.] International cuisine that features, but is not limited to, the following: croissants, chocolate, champagne

4.] Shiploads of money

5.] You must be able to pronounce and effectively use in a sentence the following: chef d'equipe, and be able to ascertain the difference between a CAI-A, CAI-B, CAI-A-2, CAI-P-B-1/2/4, and finally, you must be able to turn a dressage score in the low 80's into a score in the high 30's, without detracting from its awesomeness.

File:Chauteau Saumur 2.jpg
Chateau at Samur: see #2- grand estates
The event in Samur fits the description.  Home of Coco Chanel, for a brief time the Marquis de Sade [well, he was in jail there, but see #2 above- rich historical significance].  Despite the rain, there is a considerable number of spectators, no doubt there for the croissants and coffee: see #3 above, but perhaps also to see world class horses and drivers compete in a grand setting: see #2 above.  Note the sponsors: see #4 above.

Highlights for me: after watching the singles in cones, seeing the four in hands.  On. The. Same. Course.  Watching behind the scenes footage in the stable yard, where everyone is tranquil and relaxed, speaking softly the dulcet French language saying things like- and I will translate for those of you unfortunate not speak French  as badly as do I- "Mar-i-on, fetch a bucket of water for ze horse, if you very kindly will for to be most appreciated."  The S-A-M-U-R hazard on the marathon course.

C'est Magnifique! [Translation by Blackler: It is big, very fineness!]  With that, I'm off to find some pain du campagne, chevre and a glass of Cab Franc.  Enjoy the trip!

A Bientot and Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Old Wives Tale or Genius: Bug Eyed Flying Insect Repeller

Jack in Dreads
Jack Vermie is the kinda foster dad/grandpa every kid, regardless of age, should have in their lives: wickedly funny, irreverent, with a garden variety theatricality.  He is the children's movie that appeals equally to adults.  Jack weighed in on my fly control issues with his usual brand of common lunacy and told me to hang a baggie filled with water and several pennies above the door or in a window to deter flies.

I usually proceed with caution in Jack's advice because usually the joke is on me, which naturally leads to copious merriment of family and friends.  But this idea sounded crazy enough to work [even though Jack told me he would try it, but he didn't have enough money to spare to put in the bags].

I have ghettos of wasps under the eaves of my house and spraying chemicals into them is akin to being a soldier in Fallujha.  The proximity of the house to the barn is like a fly nightclub in Santorini.  Lucy hates it when I use the fly swatter and her seasonal Beagle allergies contraindicate the use of sprays to kill the pests.
Fly Away And Ye Shall Not Be Harmed
Michelle Blackler Really Is A Nutter, Isn't She?

So I go to the drawer, pull out a plastic zip baggie, fill with water, five pennies, and hang it above the door.  I wait.  I tell no one.  I test the device by eating lunch al fresco.  Not that many flies, but there is a lovely breeze.  I am not convinced.

This morning I enjoy my coffee out of doors; I count two wasps.  One of whom, flies up to the baggie and buzzes off immediately.  Gone. The other one also flies off in search of a home with a better school district?  Building activity on Wasp Condos seems to have halted.  Perhaps it is Wasp Memorial Day.  Normally I spill more coffee on myself swatting at these infernal flying devils than I drink.  There are no flies on the door awaiting it to open so they may rape and pillage the imagined treasure within.  HMMMMM.

The results are still preliminary, but I am going to hang some in the windows of the horse's stalls and see if it also works in the barn.  However, I think I will polish the pennies first.  And that is the carriage driving link for the blog.

Maybe it is just my imagination, a panacea, so if it doesn't work, you can all have a jolly good chuckle with Jack.  At my expense and with my pleasure.  Oh, and if everyone who reads this could send Jack a penny, he will make some and test them, too.  He promises.

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

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Full Body Fly Armor

Heeding dire predictions for a scourge of bugs this summer, I did my duty as an American and invested my tax return shopping online.  Did I buy new shoes?  No.  A new hat for my CDE debut?  No.  I bought full body fly armor for the boys and a natty fly sheet for Kitten.

Flies are the bane of summer.  They eat my horses alive.  Welts that itch turn into crusty bumps that itch more and turn into open sores.  I have several fly spray recipes of homemade hooch variety that I use, but treating the bites is next to impossible on my four steeds.  I have had fly sheets in the past and most of them are shredded in hours.  My horses are hard on clothes.

Testing Fly Armor In Reduced Calorie Pasture: the Weatherbeeta Dura Mesh Detach A Neck Fly Sheet and Roma Mesh Leg Wraps

Major, Don Pecos and Bijou [Ace] get the majority of bites on their noses, cheeks, jowls, necks and legs.  Kitten gets them on her body.  In the past, I have used Sleazy Sleepwear on the boys and a conventional sheet on the girlie, but they trash them in record time and any brand but Sleazy doesn't fit and invariably gets pulled over their eyes which causes no end of irritation.  As Sleazy-s are not intended as fly protection, although they do work, I wanted to find something that was made specifically for the task and would hold up to the rigors of the Morgans.

So, this year, armed with Uncle Sam's bequeath, after researching the reviews on Smart Pak, I purchased Weatherbeeta Dura Mesh Detach A Neck fly sheets, Roma Mesh Leg Wraps and a Baker Fly Sheet.  The reviews online were of great assistance in making a choice and I felt hopeful, if not entirely confident, of my purchase.

The Weatherbeeta DMDAN sheets were only available in what appeared to be a ridiculous lime green and grey plaid, which I was sure was going to appall Don Pecos.  The event of his probable protestations were over ruled by the industrial grade fly sheet material.  I couldn't resist the lovely brown plaid Baker Fly Sheet for Kitten because she could take no offense at the color nor the quality.

As it would happen, I bought the last two WDMDAN fly sheets in existence, but Smart Pak assured me they would find me another and ship it as soon as was humanly possible.  Meanwhile, I received the two full body fly sheets, the Baker and the leg wraps and set to fitting them, which, on my compact Morgans, is always a trial usually involving my sewing machine, testing my sewing skills.

The reviews told me to order small, which I usually do, the Morgans are small, albeit round.  I was very pleasantly surprised that the Weatherbeeta sheets were not nearly as offensive in color as I had feared AND they fit quite nicely.  The hardware was of good quality and very, very well designed.  They have belly coverage with the closure instead of the usual, rather useless nylon strap, serving the dual purpose of keeping the sheet in place as well as deflecting flies.  A great deal of thought and engineering have gone into these sheets and they are well worth the price.  There are some negative points: attaching the neck piece to the mask requires addition fasteners not included and because the neck piece is approximately 6" too short, attaching it would probably mean they would rip off the mask when they graze and the sheets have a nasty, new plastic odor.

Kitten Models The Baker Fly Sheet: Lovely

The Baker fly sheet is lovely, lovely, lovely.  Why, oh why Baker do you not make the neck attachments, too?

The Roma Mesh Leg Wraps come in a set of four, so I divided them into two pair for Don Pecos and Bijou and affixed them to their front legs which bear the brunt of the fly assault.  They are a little long for my short cannon boned boys, but 24 hours later, they are still on, and more importantly up.  Stomping flies ceased immediately and after the initial comedy, "What is wrong with my legs, I can't possibly walk with these things on," the boys seem content in their armor.

Bijou tested the products vigorously by rolling immediately.  They stayed on.  Then he decided to try to rid it of the Made In China Smell and rolled some more.  It stayed put and I must admit it is smelling more like Bijou, it still looks pretty good and I think it will stay looking better than the all white sheets, which look hideous after the first roll.  Twenty four hours later, the Baker sheet looks like it just came out of the box, naturally.

I will have to wait to fully endorse the Weatherbeetas to see if the unattached neck panel to fly mask keeps the flies off the horses necks and from biting their throatlatch area.  The masks are a little short, too,  I would prefer them to come further down on the horses' noses.  However, my initial, overall response is quite pleasantly favorable.

The Emperor Awaits His New Clothes With An Admiring Glance At The Full Body Fly Armor On His Brothers

Major is still waiting for his armor, wearing last year's useless excuse for fly protection: stained, stretched, shredded.  But, Smart Pak emailed me yesterday to say the last sheet had been located and shipped.  All in all, I must commend Smart Pak for their service.  This is my first order with them and it will the first of many.

Although, I hope not to be ordering more fly armor for a while.

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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Frey Carriage Co's Sprint Carts: Smart, Sexy, Slimming and On Sale

Breed Groups!  Here is a nifty idea from our friends at Frey Carriage Co: Sprint Bucks.  If you buy a Sprint Cart before May 31st, 2012, you get $100 off.  If you and a friend both buy Sprints before May 31st, 2012, you both save $200.  If you and a friend and another friend buy Sprints before May 31st, 2012, you each save $300.

 VSE Sprints Now Available
Sparky modelling the Frey Carriage Co's VSE Sprint Cart: comfort for the wee ones and their full sized whips.
As opposed to what we are all used to...while the lovely and delightful 70lb Jillian Lawrence looks as if she's only just about outgrown this vehicle [her knees almost interfere with her hands], I am 5'7".  Where are my legs?  Sometimes those yoga asanas really come in useful.

Very Small Equines!  Finally!  A serious vehicle for your horses!  Not made of re-purposed folding chairs!  Not a toy Meadowbrook!  A Real Vehicle!  Engineered and scaled to fit both horse and human!

If you are just joining this bandwagon, get the full story at: http://hossbiz.blogspot.com/2011/01/frey-carriage-companys-sssc-smart-sexy.html  or contact Frey Carriage Company:

If you tell them I sent you, you might get the special 5 week production rate so you can be hooked and on the road yet this spring, enjoying driving in style.

Oh, joy!

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Part 3: Vintage Irish Telly

The final snippet in the series of coach and carriage building from Irish Television's Hands series, first aired in 1978 [although you can buy the entire broadcast on DVD.]  And a bittersweet end it is.  Breem Carriages Ltd in Enniscothy, Co Wexford is no more.  The moral of the story: buy from artisans currently producing carriages.  In America, we are lucky to have Frey Carriage Company.  If you are in the market for a vehicle that can stand the test of time, be a part of our own chapter in history and support our very own craftsmen: www.colonial carriage.com

Kind regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Part 2 Vintage Irish Telly: Carriage Building

Coachbuilding- five trades in one: wheelwright, blacksmith, body-builder, coach painter, and upholsterer.  Kinda makes you think about the amount of expertise that goes into producing a vehicle.  Then and Now.  The dilemma is there are few craftsmen left to employ in these positions and fewer jobs in which for them to find employment.  Honor tradition and support your local craftsmen.

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

Monday, March 19, 2012

Vintage Irish Telly: Carriage Building

Hands was an Irish television show that aired in the late 70's and early 80's.  It showcased craftsmen and artisans from around Ireland and is remembered fondly by those who had the fortune to tune into the series.  There are many videos that exist still of the show's featured topics- lacing making, bee keeping, sign writing and the following series on coach and carriage builders: the Breen family in County Wexford.  It is a pilgrimage back in time that shows carriage building is timeless.  Every time we put to and climb aboard a carriage for a drive, we relive the past in the present.  We are a part of living history...here is part one...

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

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Further Confusion Of Cadence In Gaits

Good Cadence: Diagonal pair of legs moving in rhythm, at the same rate.  Mostly. 
The nature of cadence is applied to music, dance, marching, voice, poetry, and cranksets.  In almost all definitions there are common elements: flow, rhythm, sequence, beat, rate.  Synonyms of cadence are tempo and rhythm.  So, when I was asked to define what I was referring to as cadence in my last post, I decided more work on the subject was necessary.  Ergo, it is my solemn duty to further confuse the subject completely.

I spoke to a retired judge who directed me to the USDF Glossary of Judging Terms 2011.  She warned me that often a judge will incorrectly use the terms cadence, tempo and rhythm in evaluating a test.  So, here is the Law According to USDF:

The marked accentuation of the rhythm and (musical) beat that is a result of a steady and suitable tempo harmonizing with a springy impulsion.

The recurring characteristic sequence and timing of footfalls and phases of a given gait. For purposes of dressage, the only correct rhythms are those of the pure walk, trot, and canter, and rein back and piaffe (not those of amble, pace, rack, etc). In music, the repeated pattern or grouping of musical beats.
(Note 1: “Rhythm” is sometimes used mistakenly to mean “tempo” [rate of repetition of the rhythm]. This usage is not consistent with the correct English definition of “rhythm” [per Webster], nor with its normal usage in music.
Note 2: In English, there is no one term that covers both the rhythm [as defined above] and the tempo, as does the term “Takt” in German. This has caused
confusion because “Takt” has commonly been translated as Rhythm. For purposes of the Training Pyramid, the German term “Takt” is translated as “Rhythm” and is used as shorthand for both the rhythm itself [as defined above] and the suitable rate of repetition of the rhythm [tempo]. See Foreign Terms and Pyramid of Training sections.)

Rate of repetition of the rhythm, the strides, or of the emphasized musical beats—beats per minute, as may be measured by a metronome (in walk and trot, the
footfalls of both forelegs are typically counted [two beats per stride], and in canter the footfall of the leading foreleg is typically counted[one beat per stride]).
(Note: Often confused with Rhythm, Cadence, and MPM/stride length.)

PHEW!  I'm so glad we've got that cleared up! To break it down, I came up with the following definitions:

Cadence is the measure of movement.  Rhythm is the pattern of movement.  Tempo is the rate of movement.  Therefore, cadence = rhythm + tempo.  [I made math.  Someone please tell Ms. Beck, my old algebra teacher, she will be astonished.]  Now, I'll put that into a practical application [oops, someone call a medic, Ms. Beck has now fainted.]  At the trot, the horse moves the diagonal pair of legs in unison [rhythm].  Duh, everybody knows that, welllllllll...sometimes the horse is a little out of tune/step and picks up one of the diagonal pair of feet before the other and sets it down before the other [tempo]. This breaks the USDF Law of Sequence and Timing of Footfalls, producing a trot that is uneven or irregular, which the USDF defines for us:

An irregularity in walk or trot in which the front or hind pair of legs does not move symmetrically, the right leg making a different length of step than the left leg.

Uneven trot-hind legs taking a shorter stride than the front legs and in the cornfield where I live it also means that the horse is moving its front legs [above] slower than its hind legs as evidenced by the near hind striking the ground before the off fore which would be a tempo as well as a rhythm issue therefore the fault of incorrect cadence.  But I could be wrong...

Impure, unlevel, or uneven. Can be momentary or pervasive, and may or may not be due to unsoundness. Should not be used to mean unsteadiness of tempo.

Momentarily Irregular?  Off hind put up before near fore/ near hind put down before off fore.  This looks like a two beat gait, but the diagonal pair are not creating it.

So uneven is irregular and irregular is uneven, very clear.  If the diagonal pair is moving unevenly or irregularly, as the case may be, the trot ceases to be a two beat gait of 1,2,1,2 and becomes 1&2&1&2&, which leads us from algebra to music and beat vs tempo.  "BUT," I hear you say, "The beat is the tempo!"  Nope, sorry to say, not.  [Mr. Menning, my high school band teacher has also fainted at the thought of me trying to speak intelligently about music].  Back to the USDF:

A footfall within a gait. A hoof, or pair of hooves virtually simultaneously, striking the ground.

Virtually simultaneously?  Seriously?  Wellllll, let's put it this way.  A horse performing a correct two beat working trot can increase or decrease the rate at which it moves it's diagonal pair of legs without deviating from a correct two beat working trot.  The tempo [rate] has altered, but the rhythm [pattern] has not.  As to a horse that is trotting uneven or irregular in a working trot the tempo and rhythm are both altered.  I think.

Still confused?  OK, lets talk German. [I didn't study German in school, so I am uniquely unqualified to speak on this subject, too.]   Takt is defined as rhythm and tempo, although usually used in shorthand as simply rhythm.  ["Isn't that Cadence?" I hear you ask.  Maybe.  I think so.  But then again.  Maybe not.]  The horse picking up and/or setting down a foot of the diagonal pair virtually unsimultaneously is exhibiting irregular beat.  Or is that uneven tempo?  Oh, bloody helk, lets call it impure takt, that sounds much more interesting.

[Big, heavy sigh]  After all that, I still say, "That horse's cadence is off."  Guess that is why I'm a blogger and not a dressage judge.  That is accidental sagacity for today.  I know... You Are Most Welcome.

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

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reinsmanship In Photos: Cadence and Extension

I've been spending a lot of time recently focused on cadence and reinsmanship.  Never did I expect it would be so hard to find a horse with superlative cadence.  This led me to many, many pictures of false extension as well.  I get really quite upset by these photos of top trainers in international competitions with world class horses exhibiting incorrect cadence and extension in the horses and poor posture and support in the whip.

"Isn't anyone else concerned with this?!?" I plead.  Maybe I'm wrong.  Or just nit picking.  Then along comes a barely 21 year old girl driving her lovely pony in the Welsh countryside.  And my hope is restored.

Meet Emily Ham and Jack [Crossfield Glory], a Section C Welsh stud. I know Ms. Ham and Jack only through the wonders of the internet, so it seems fair that I make full disclosure that I am operating on two possible theories of truth.  The first being that Ms. Ham has studied very astutely in her brief career on the box seat to be the best whip she can possibly be and that the Crossfield Stud has spent years developing a breeding program that has produced more than one superfly pony.  The other theory is that both Ms. Ham and Jack are freaks of nature, bestowed, by the Gods, with talent and ability found in less than 3% of the population, to thwart the rest of us.  Make your own assumptions...

Reinsmanship: Cadence And Extension by Emily Ham and Crossfield Glory
The only thing wrong with this photo is the lack of sunshine. [ Unless you live or have lived on the British Isles, and if so, you find nothing wrong because the more desirable 'not raining' is in effect.]  Pony: superlative frame, round, soft, cadence near enough perfect, hind end engagement beautiful.  Whip: posture impeccable, contact as soft as a breeze from heaven.  Ms. Ham is employing the altogether more effective style of one handed driving.  I'm old school and am glad this young woman is, too. One handed driving means more consistent contact for the horse, less over-steer and interference from the whip.
Ah...the sun!  Here Jack displays wonderful cadence in rhythm and length of stride, despite being a tad short of working trot.  I am going to guess that Ms. Ham is asking for a little less forward and a little more engagement.  But what is important to note is how she is doing that.  Her hands are not buried in her lap, her elbows aren't behind her tipped forward shoulder blades.  She is rocking back on her seat bones and lifting her hands.  The effect of this is to check the speed, lift the pony off the forehand and engage the hind quarters for more impulsion.  This is what I mean when I say the transition must be made from back to front.  If Ms. Ham lengthened the reins, Jack's forehand would extend and not his hind quarters.
Here is another remarkable example of back to front driving: Bend To The Left.  Jack is stepping into the bend with his near hind leg.  You can see his bend as his near hip has come closer to his near shoulder [also reflected in the wheels of the carriage: near wheels closer, off wheels farther apart.  Even the carriage is bending. So. Exciting.]  Wait, there's more!  He also has perfect support from his whip.  Ms. Ham's shoulders indicate the path of the bend: her left shoulder points to the center of the circle, her outside shoulder follows the circumference of the arc.  Sublime.  If I have ever told you to "use your shoulders", "bend the horse by turning the corner with him" This. Is. What. I. Mean.  Thank you, Ms. Ham.
This is extension.  Notice the symmetry of hind quarters: Jack's and Ms. Ham's- they are both rocked back on their bums.  This is a perfect photo to show how the horse's movement is mirrored in the whip. If Ms. Ham was tipped forward, off her seat bones, Jack's movement would be all front end and he would loose hind end engagement. [I know, I do it all the time with my horses, it is a battle I must fight to correct.]   Luckily for Jack, he has Ms. Ham and we have a standard of perfection: correct movement from behind creating breath taking movement on the front.  Balanced extension. [The red ribbons are first place in the UK.]

When I complimented Ms. Ham on her driving, she answered by saying she was lucky to have such an amazing pony.  Grace and humility.  Freak of Nature?  I think: Not. There is nothing not to love about this gifted young woman and her pony.  This is the standard we should all endeavor to achieve.

Lastly, thank you to Ann Ham for the photos, and for her continued belief and support of her daughter and Jack's career as an example to us all.

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

Get Yer Back Up

Here is an excellent 2 minute video on developing roundness through the top line of the horse.  Succinct and easy to understand, this should be considered essential in the training curriculum of every horse- ridden or driven, regardless of the discipline.

Thanks to the Bay Area Equestrian Network and Will Faerber for this amuse bouche!

For more information on Will Faerber's training techniques: www.art2ride.com

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Conditioning and Training the Whip: Body Awareness and Driving Part Two: Hands

What a pretty picture?  After reading Article One on Posture and Article Two on Hands, it will be apparent where improvement can be made.  [Lovely] Photo by Robert Mischka

The exploration of body awareness provides the whip with a different dimension for improving the relationship with the driving horse.  As we discovered in part one, the effects of tension and poor posture are translated directly down the reins to the horse.  Improving posture not only alleviates discomfort for the whip and the horse, but redistributes muscle control where it is most effective- in maintaining proper alignment.  Correcting posture is the first step to opening communication with the horse.  The second step is refining the communication with the use of the hands.

The idea of ‘good hands’ is familiar to all equestrians.  It means that the equestrian uses subtle shifts in pressure of the hands holding the reins to cue the horse of his or her intentions in direction and speed.

Still, our hands can be only as good as the arms, shoulders and trunk that support them.  It is an integrated system.  Take, for instance the movement of raising your arms to use the keyboard or mouse on your computer, something many of us do all day long.  However, if this movement is poorly coordinated, tremendous strain is placed on the neck, shoulders and back, consequently interfering with the proper functioning of the hands.

Similarly, placing too much importance on the role of hands for driving, can and strain other areas of the body, and interfere with effective use of hands for communication with the horse.  Consider the following exercise, based on the Feldenkrais Method of Awareness Through Movement, to aid in body awareness for driving and everyday activities.

Sit in a chair, with your back away from the backrest, both feet on the floor, hands in your lap.  Raise your hands to assume the position you use for driving or working at the computer.  Lower your hands.  Think about how your hands feel.  Are they light or heavy?  Raise and lower your hands several times, taking notice of how the movement feels.  Inhale deeply, raise your ribcage, as you learned in the posture exercise, as you raise your hands.  Exhale and lower them.  Repeat and note the feeling of raising the hands.  As you raise your hands, draw your attention to your shoulders lift your hands using your shoulders and arms.  How do your hands feel now?  Lighter? 

This exercise is one of the most illustrative uses of body awareness for whips that I have found.  How many times have you even considered how you hold your hands?  Or how your hands hold the reins?  When I redirect my student’s attention from using just their hands and arms for transitions, they are awed at the transformation of their horses from being heavy on the bit or sluggish through a turn to the very epitome of lightness and willingness.

Half Halts
The most overused and often abused term in riding or driving must be the use of half halts.  Using the hands only in cueing the horse for transitions can result in confusing the horse and becoming a counterproductive use of an aid.  Consider employing a different set of signals for a downward transition involving body awareness.  Instead of pulling on the reins or rein with the hands, signal the half halt with a release of breath while squeezing the shoulder blades together and releasing the tension when the horse has complied with the downward transition.  If you use a verbal aid for the transition, add it during your exhalation. 

Turning the Horse
The use of the hands for turning the horse is also often misinterpreted.  Using one element of the integrated system leads to poor functioning of the total system.  Consider turning the horse to the right using the right hand.  The natural response of a tense body will be to rock forward or tip the pelvis and drop the right shoulder in front of the hip to accommodate the arm movement backwards.  Hence your posture is compromised as is your stable position in the carriage.  If you were a horse, you would be criticized for being heavy on the forehand!

Try the following exercise to encourage body awareness and integration for turning the horse and carriage.  Sit on a chair, away from the backrest, both feet on the floor, hands in front of you, simulating driving.  Turn to the right and then turn back to center.  Think about how your body feels as you turn to the right and turn back to center.  Is there any stiffness in the turn through your shoulders, neck, back or arms?  Turn to the right and turn back to center.  Inhale deeply as you turn to the right, exhale as you turn back to center.  How did your breath affect the turn?  Inhale and begin the turn with your eyes, exhale and turn back to center.  Inhale, turn your eyes, head, neck and bring your left shoulder and left knee slightly forward, exhale and turn back to center.  Notice how as your left shoulder comes forward, you right shoulder and hence your hand naturally move back.

Transfer this natural engagement of your own body to your driving and feel the ease and comfort it brings to your turns.  When you are mindful that your whole body should be employed in the turn and the hands are not the only half halt tools to the horse, your performance as a team will solidify. 

You ask your horse for collection, flexion and impulsion at the same time, why shouldn’t you return the favor? 

One Step Further
When you notice a particularly good transition or turn, take inventory of how you were able to accomplish the maneuver.  What did you do differently?  How did you use your hands?  How did you engage your torso?  Was your posture more balanced, weight distributed more evenly?   Once you begin to identify the correct use of your body, the processes you involve in driving will become as natural and involuntary as breathing.

Learning to drive with minimal effort and maximum freedom of movement by maximizing body awareness will transform not only how you drive, but will add to your enjoyment of it and many of your day to day activities.  It makes sense; a more responsive whip will turn out a more responsive horse.  A more responsive horse greatly improves the satisfaction of driving.  Beware, Moshe Feldenkrais told us, it just might alter your life forever…for the better.

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

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sleigh Bells Ring: Columbus Sleigh Rally

A Beautiful Sight: Martha Stover of Here Be Dragons Welsh Ponies of Incomparable Wonderfulness, Mattawan, MI gives us a preview of what's in store for the Columbus Sleigh Rally
Columbus, Wisconsin will host a Sleigh Rally on February 11, 2012 beginning at noon with a Currier & Ives class, cones course and cross country course.  Fireman's Park is the locale which also hosts Columbus Horse & Carriage Festival over Father's Day weekend.

What is deliciously exciting to me is that the cross country course will run both at the park and on the Golf Course.  I have always wanted golf courses to be multi-use, it is such a shame to waste all that open grass and landscaping on just golfers.  Golf carts are mulit-use: carriage drivers use them, too, why not the fairways as well?  My hat is off [I am full of puns this morning] to the organizing committee for introducing this excellent dual purpose idea to the golfing fraternity.

Columbus always puts on a good show for exhibitors and the Sleigh Rally should prove no exception.  It is an ADS sanctioned event with the colorful Mary Ruth Marks officiating.  Entry fees are $45 for ADS members, $65 for non members.  There will be plenty of cold weather warming comfort food: chili, pies, hot cocoa available through the Columbus Equestrian Club.  Need to know more?  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Columbus-Wisconsin-Sleigh-Rally-Weekend/227415907585?sk=info

Other activities include a Model Horse Show, live music, photo ops for kiddies in a mini sleigh with a Very Small Equine, bob sled rides for the public, cookie decorating contest, and more.  The event is sponsored in part by the Wisconsin Horse Council Equine Foundation, whose HQ is in Columbus and some of the proceeds will go to the Wisconsin Equine Hay Bank Program which assists private individuals facing financial difficulties to feed their horses.  Need to know more? http://www.wshcef.org/

Columbus is a rocking little town and everyone should visit it.  It is full of wonderful people trying to keep Small Town USA viable.  Notable Columbutonians [yep, I made that up] Todd and Cheryl Fry have made a big impression on Main Street, not only with their business Frey Carriage Co, but also with groovy renovations of a number of properties.

Visit Hydro Street Brewing company, located in Frey Carriage's former showroom, for a Bitter Woman with some Loaded Pots.  Seriously, where else can you get that?  Need to know more?  http://hydrostreetbrew.com/our-menu/

No sleigh, you say?  No problem.  Todd Frey can fix you right up in style.  Frey Carriage Co currently has, among others, a  Kimball Bros [Boston] Portland Cutter, Two Park Bob Sleighs one by Kimball Bros [Boston], the other by Edward McGraw [NY],  an a-dor-a-ble Hooded Cutter, and a Frey Portland Cutter for sale.  Need to know more?  http://www.colonialcarriage.com/category.cfm?id=4&start=1

Kimball Bros [Boston] Portland Cutter:  buy this!
[Whatever you do, though, Do Not buy the Albany Cutter.  That is all I'm saying: Don't do it.]
Albany Cutter:
Do Not Buy
No snow?  Still no problem: just bring the carriage instead.  Carriage all packed away for the winter?  You guessed it: no problem there either!  Stop in at Frey Carriage Co and get yourself a new one: order a Frey Sprint Cart for a spring delivery.  The Frey Carriage Co's Dos A Dos will look lovely put to your horse, you know it will.  Or how about a new old one: nothing says Arriving In Style like a Skeleton Boot Victoria.  No coachman?  Removable seat turns this beauty into a George IV.  [That C P Kimball  & Co Tandem Gig?  Forget it.  Walk away.  Or I will never speak to you again.  OK?]  Need to know more?  http://www.colonialcarriage.com/category.cfm?id=3&title=Antique%20Carriages
JB Brewster Skeleton Boot Victoria: with bloodlines like that, you  barely need a horse.  Buy This!
What did I tell you? Walk away. Do not buy.  Nuff said.
Go to Columbus, WI on February 11, drive your horse on the GOLF COURSE, have a Bitter Woman and Loaded Pots at Hydro Street and buy a vehicle from Freys.  [Just not the Albany Cutter or the Tandem gig, or you'll have to deal with a Bitter Blogger.]  I will be here in spirit, [just to make sure] with bells on, wishing you a marvelous rally hosted by even more marvelous folk, in an equally marvelous town.

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Page in Brewster & Co History

The old Brewster warehouse on Broome Street in New York City has been bought by real estate developers who have transitioned the building into luxury residences.  The history of the building is a large part of the marketing plan and many clever references have been included.

The website says:

"When Cole Porter sang about a ‘Brewster body’ he meant the beautiful carriages – the best in the country – built at the old Brewster Carriage House at 374 Broome St. 

An antique landmark, the Brewster Carriage House bore witness to the birth of Little Italy and stands at the intersection of three of New York’s oldest and most dynamic neighborhoods. 

Now, the painstaking restoration of this historical landmark honors its long lineage as a home of fine American craftsmanship. In the preservation of many beautiful original details, we endeavor to pay homage to those great craftsmen and to 160 years of New York heritage. 
Beautifully-constructed elements of luxurious modern living elegantly complement the building’s original historic features. Superior amenities, low maintenance charges and superlative eco-friendly attributes make this a unique opportunity to live luxuriously inside a genuine piece of American history."

The website is a little challenging to navigate, but we ARE carriage drivers, it is quite interesting as a piece of nostalgia for carriage driving enthusiasts:


There is also a facebook page with excellent historical photos of top hatted Brewster employees posing with a park drag, an interior shot of a brougham, and some lovely illustrations of carriages and the workshops at Broome Street:


or search for Brewster Carriage House.

It is nice to see the historical value of this property appreciated by developers.

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