wildfillysama: Horses of Middle Earth

To celebrate watching “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” for the second time, I thought I’d do a small post on some of the featured horses in The Hobbit. They’re some interesting characters…

 

First up is Gandalf’s horse in The Hobbit:

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Draysill, also known as “Big Nick”, is an 18hh Clydesdale gelding whose claims to fame include being excessively hairy and carting around a series of stuntriders (and also doing a few stationary green-screen close-ups with Sir Ian McKellan sitting on his back). At only 10 years old, he shows the placid and patient nature that the breed is famed for, as well as great willingness to charge over large grassy plains.

Sadly he is no longer available for sale, otherwise I’d be seriously considering my options. His advert got over 21,000 hits when it was put up. Somewhere out there is the world’s most accurate Gandalf cosplayer right now.

 

Secondly, Bilbo’s “pony” in The Hobbit, also demonstrating the “I’m not sure I want to do this as a hobby” face:

8pony-copyBilbo’s pony, along with the dwarves’ ponies in this scene, is not actually a pony. All of the ponies here are in fact horses wearing fluffy jackets. I kid you not. If you look closely, you can see where Bilbo’s pony’s suit stops at the neck/jowl area. The dwarven pony behind Bilbo’s mount also has more of a Quarter Horse look to his face as well. There was no way to make full-sized actors look like they were dwarves without giving the horses a bit of a makeover, so director Peter Jackson had fluffy body suits made for each horse so that from a distance (and more or less in close-up shots as well) the horses would look more pony-like.

 

 

wildfillysama: Eventing in the Park

I spent a fair portion of yesterday sitting in a surprisingly low fold-out chair, eating ice cream, nursing a hangover, and watching horses creatively tell their riders that they really weren’t keen on water jumps.

Eventing at the Park is an annual event that features grand prix showjumping and cross-country jumps, all in the same event. Riders also have the option to attempt the challenge fence, in hopes of removing some of their accumulated penalty points. Clear rounds were few and far between. A few observations:

1. The announcer was a moron. I would have happily paid for him to shut up. Highlights included consistently announcing the wrong competitor, calling warmbloods “warm-breds” as though they were a bakery product, being unable to pronounce famous stud names or breeds of horse, and nearly causing an accident by calling one of the riders as ‘eliminated’ and getting the next competitor to come galloping in, nearly colliding with the original competitor who was not eliminated and still jumping the course.

2. The horses with the least shank to their bits did best. Just sayin’…

3. The horses who were never touched with the whip did best. See above…

4. Cross country jumps still look terrifying.

I managed to get a few photos. Here is one of the more entertaining ones.

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(The horse bolted upon landing – funnily enough, the horse with the heaviest and least forgiving bit/hackamore combination in the whole event had the worst respect for the bridle… sigh)

 

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Gorgeous little horse this one – pretty sure he won overall.

The rest are the least-awful photos I took all day. Clearly I am not meant to be a photographer.

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IMG_1696Overall it was a very fun day and the seats were brilliant 😀

wildfillysama: Essential (Cheap) Horse Gear

Saddle shops see you coming. I swear they do. If it has the word ‘horse’ in it, expect another zero at the end of the price tag. The funny thing is that you don’t actually need that much gear to work with a horse safely. In addition, you can source a lot of things from online retailers (cheaper, more competitive pricing), online outlets (again, cheaper), and even local grocery shops (especially for basic medical supplies).

For example, a lot of my gear has been purchased on sale from local tack shops (keep an eye out for special deals) and http://horsegearoutlet.com/

Whenever I go up to the stables to work with a horse (not mine), I always bring the following grooming items:

1. Body Brush: Your basic, go-to cleaning brush. If the filth won’t come off with a body brush, then your first stop should be a bath, not to ride.

2. Hoof Pick: Essential equine maintenance before and after riding is to clean out and check the feet.

3. Sweat Scraper: Why does everyone seem to only have a broken or wonky scraper? I bring my own in the name of my sanity.

4. Comb: If used gently, can be a valuable tool for cleaning as well as detangling and checking for bot eggs/lice etc.

I have noticed that I seem to clean my gear more frequently than the average person. As a result, I much prefer to bring my own brushes (washed between use on different horses, in case of skin complaints and cross-contamination). All of these fit into a canvas shopping bag along with my immediate-use/really cheap medical kit. This contains:

1. 2 rolls of Vetwrap sticky gauze: Immediate band-aid required? Stick on horse and call for back-up! (vet)

2. One bottle of Betadine antiseptic: Don’t mess around with antiseptic. Buy the proper stuff.

3. One tub of Epsom Salts: Also known as magnesium sulphate, this is a good, cheap all-rounder product to keep with you. Can be added to wet feed for relief of gut pain, added to water and used to soak feet to draw out heat/help rupture abscesses, among many other uses. Worth having a google to find out more.

4. One packet of make-up pads: Cleaning out wounds should be done with disposable products, and these pads are also easy to use, store and dispose of, don’t disintegrate under hot water, and can be used to apply creams/ointments.

5. One bottle of Aloe Vera gel: Good for soothing skin irritations and burns, as well as promoting healing.

6. One tub of Pawpaw ointment: Works like Aloe Vera gel, but stickier and may work better on different areas of the horse as a result.

7. One pair of scissors: Maybe two. These always seem to get pinched.

8. One box of camomile tea (seriously): Make tea for a horse with a sore throat or cough. Add honey for extra effect. I’m not joking. It works really well.

9. Kitchen sponges: Smaller and easier to use than the massive sponges usually sold at horse shops. Scouring sides can be used for cleaning out hooves, softer sponges can be used for nose, eyes, dock and wounds. Sold in bulk packs and easily disposed after intensive use. Also colour-coded for where they can be used!

There’s a story behind this particular medical kit. Firstly, I don’t currently own a horse, and the horses with whom I work have a range of medical requirements, varying from owner to owner. The items I carry are therefore very neutral, inexpensive products that are 1) Unlikely to cause controversy if I give them to the horse and tell the owner, (2) Unlikely to provoke an allergic reaction, (3) Cheap and easy to acquire, replace, and store, (4) Don’t expire quickly. 7 out of 9 of these items all come from the local grocery store.

 

Horses are not cheap, but these are a few things that I’ve found which don’t have to cost a fortune, but still keep you out of trouble…

 

wildfillysama: Cosplay with horses

There be demons out there, and they’re all dressed up and showing off just how inept they are at horses.

Attack on Titan has some of the worst offenders out there at the moment. Here are just a few pictures taken from google image search.

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First up, this horse is in English tack, including a definitely non-canon bridle. The horse is also chestnut, which is a colour that never appears in the anime. The rider is sitting well, and her cosplay is pretty good, but she’s been completely let down by the lack of costume for her horse. Dedication, people!

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Same cosplayer, now holding the reins badly and making her horse go “WTF IS YOUR PROBLEM”. Sort of canon, but mostly not. 0/10

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This one just makes me cringe. This horse is in disgraceful condition and the rider/cosplayer hasn’t a damn clue what they’re doing in the saddle. The gear is inaccurate, the cosplayer’s hands are all over the place, and the horse’s disastrous ewe-neck and rubbish overall body health is seriously distracting.

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The photoshop is strong with this one, but even that doesn’t hide the horse’s overall stress and shameful condition. Yuck. -100/10

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For the record, this is what the horses should look like. Cosplayers wanting to do an accurate Attack on Titan horse cosplay should look for a Thoroughbred in either bay, grey, or liver chestnut. Saddle cloths should be red and western cut, with either a basic western saddle or stock saddle with a high pommel, but the headgear is a simple snaffle bit fitted to an English hanoverian-style bridle (cavesson noseband or sometimes a dropped noseband, depending on the animation shot). Saddle bags and breast plates are occasionally worn, but since the saddle bags appear to be worn on the shoulder in the anime I wouldn’t recommend doing that part of the costume, especially if you’re riding at speed. You’re just asking for rub marks otherwise…

Some tips for cosplaying with horses:

1. ONLY USE HEALTHY HORSES. Photographic evidence is a damning thing.

2. There is a LOT of cool horse gear out there and it’s pretty easy to mod your own stuff to be costume-accurate. Be conscious of fit and comfort for the horse.

3. Get some lessons or some tips on how to sit on a horse confidently before taking your photos. There’s nothing funnier looking than a supposedly confident character sitting on a horse like they’re about to slide off and die.

Here is an epic Brave cosplay for inspiration. Enjoy!

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wildfillysama: Friesian Horses, and how people have ruined my plans

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about one of my absolute favourite breeds of horses, and how dodgy breeders have managed to almost completely cancel them off my list of equines I’d like to one day own. Or at least, make my looking for a Friesian substantially more complicated.

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Just look at that glorious beast. Friesians are stunning. Centuries of inbreeding have generated a horse that is nearly always black, with thick feathering and luxurious mane and tail, hawklike heads, and high-stepping front ends. However, as with all inbreeding stories, this causes problems. The front end of the Friesian is so heavily engineered, it almost looks as though the back end has been completely ignored in some individuals. However, this is the least of potential problems.

 

Kendall Park Friesian Stud openly acknowledges potential risks on their website, including dwarfism.

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“Dwarfism is relatively rare in Friesians, but is still a real possibility of happening, and there are known cases.  There are 2 types of Dwarfism – A chondrodystrophic, basically causes shorter legs, and Brachiocephalic, which results in more extreme disfigurements of bones, legs, face etc.  Both types are debilitating to the horse.

It is thought that the Preferent Stallion Ritske 202 has most likely had a large impact on Dwarfism, but also Wessel 237 and Oege 267 are thought to have been carriers of the gene as well.  At present it is estimated that there are 12 Studbook Stallions that are carriers of the Dwarfism gene.”(http://www.kendhallparkfriesians.com.au/Friesian%20Health%20History.html)

The fact that these stallions are still in the studbook at all is a huge worry. The fact that this stud is openly acknowledging the risk shows a good level of responsibility on their part, but the same transparency and name-dropping is not widespread. Kendall Park lists several other potential genetic issues with Friesians on their website, including water on the brain, which is well worth a look if you are interested in potentially purchasing a Friesian horse in the future.

In addition, there is also the risk that the Friesian’s iconic, massive crest can be subject to weakness, the causes of which have not yet been fully researched.

Friesian Health History_clip_image002That looks practical, doesn’t it? Frustratingly, the Friesian Studbook’s response has been to “grade” levels of crest degradation in its elite breeding horses, rather than remove affected horses from the gene pool. These crests will be noted, but are not grounds for elimination from Premium, Star, Crown, and Model ranks. Let the sagging continue! Here’s what it looks like in its more pronounced form.

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Kendall Park Friesians cites Waling Haytema, a veterinarian and associate of the ‘Dierenkliniek Wolvega’ (Animal clinic) and member of the KFPS Breeding Council, in their acknowledgement of this issue: “With the advance of age some horses develop an unstable, sometimes fallen or broken crest. Up to now this problem has not been researched, therefore we cannot define the obvious causes. It is generally believed that there are two possible factors that seem to be involved in the development of a fallen crest.

The first cause for a fallen crest may be the occurrence of inflammation of fat tissues, steatitis, in young horses. The crest has a fair amount of fat deposits. Inflammation in these fat deposits produces connective tissues. The tendency for a weak crest thereby is formed at a young age but will start to show at a later age when the connective tissues lose their elasticity. Fat disease is considered to be an expression of deficiencies in antioxidants, especially vitamin E and selenium deficiency. In this light it is crucial that young horses have a sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals.

Another contributing factor could be obesity in horses when too much fat tissue is stored in the crest. If the horse is subsequently put on a diet and the fat tissue is reduced, what remains is weak connective tissue.”

Equinews also lists several other conditions, including skin, heart, esophagus and immune system issues, that are overrepresented in Friesian horses. Even more excitingly, we don’t yet know why these issues keep occurring. For example,

“Many Friesians suffer from chronic dermatitis that causes thickened and ulcerated skin on the pasterns. The lesions are often unresponsive to treatment. Though other draft breeds also have this problem, Friesians are overrepresented, and a genetic cause is suspected but has not been proven.” (http://www.equinews.com/article/health-problems-friesian-horses)

Yay! Insufficiently researched painful conditions that don’t respond to treatment! Just what everyone wants for their horse.

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All in all, this is a pretty poor turnout for such a treasured breed. Breeding Friesians has been a highly focused process for years. It seems ridiculous that so little research has gone in to understanding what causes these problems and limiting their spread. Plenty of equine breeds have their share of genetic quirks and predispositions, for better or worse, but Friesians seem to have collected a pretty nasty set, all in the name of long hair and a black coat. All that I can say is that if I end up looking at a Friesian horse in the future, I will be doing a much more thorough genetic history research than I had initially planned. Or looking at an out-cross.

 

 

wildfillysama: Spooky Horses

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Also known as “fear and loathing in the arena”, “certain death on four legs”, “how I ended up in hospital”, and “why am I even doing this bloody sport”.

What is spooking?

“Spooking” is the name for horses’ sudden, often dramatic attempts, to teleport. Since horses are essentially designed to be lunchboxes on legs, a brave horse tends to also be a dead horse. They rely on very sharp hearing, a wide scale of vision, sensitive sense of smell, and very quick bursts of speed to get themselves out of dangerous situations. A spook is the precursor to a bolt, which is full flight mode. Not all spooks turn into bolts. An extremely nervy horse won’t spook before bolting. This is great fun for all involved.

 

What does a spook look like?

Your life flashing before your eyes, usually. To the outside viewer, a spook can vary depending on the horse’s athleticism and temperament. However, there are some key similarities.

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Ears will suddenly flick in the direction of what is concerning the horse. This is the first warning. If the horse is travelling with their ears forward, then the rider may notice them prick up a little more intently. Otherwise, the ears will “lock on” to an object/situation. The head will tilt in the direction of the frightening item, and will telescope so that the eyes can get a better look – the head may rise or the neck may arch to do this. The legs will lose speed and the horse may slam on the brakes entirely. The shoulders will then lighten, lowering the centre of gravity and preparing to swivel the hindquarters in a safer direction for a quick getaway. The horse may duck a shoulder and sprint off in the other direction. Alternatively, if blocked by a rider, handler, or other obstacle, the horse will leap sideways, keeping parallel to the frightening item but putting substantial distance between them. The rider will feel a sudden elevation in the horse’s heart rate. The horse may also empty their lungs in a dramatic snort.

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What do you do when the horse is spooking?

Repent and pray. Hang on for dear life. Keep yourself safe in whatever way seems possible at the time.

Beyond that, it is important to understand several things:

1. The horse is not spooking to spite you.

2. Getting angry at the horse will only convince them that the item in question is terrifying or unpleasant, because you are now also being terrifying or unpleasant.

3. Horses are not clever. That’s your job.

When riding a spooky horse, or unfamiliar horse that may be spooky, this is what I do:

1. Identify potential sites of spooks before riding. Avoid these initially. There’s no point in starting with an argument.

2. Establish the brakes, accelerator, turning, and yielding (ability to move the back or front end sideways, and to move them independently from the rest of the body). Remind the horse that you have control of all of these faculties. If any of these are not working, do not progress in the ride until they are fixed. Get off if you need to and fix them on the ground.

3. Start exercises on a small circle, and slowly increase its size as well as your speeds. This builds up a comfort zone that the horse knows is safe and familiar. By circling, the horse’s shifts in flexion also alert me to areas that are catching his attention. Slowly increase your “territory” to enclose all of the arena.

 

If the horse does spook, do not shout at him. Do what you can to stay on board and bring him back under control, but try to hold the following things in mind:

1. Breathe out and relax your body as much as possible. Do not be a source of tension and do not feed the horse’s fear. They are herd animals that rely in the reactions of other herd members to dictate their behaviour. Be a source of complete zen (as much as is physically possible).

2. Speak calmly and kindly. Do not get angry. Do not convince the horse that they made the right call.

3. Do not saw on the horse’s mouth. Take up an even, normal contact and lower your hands and widen their position on the horse’s neck.

4. Sink your weight deep into the saddle and wrap your legs around the horse’s barrel. All of your body must think slow thoughts, while also regaining control of direction.

5. Do not let the horse look away from the frightening item. Keep them looking at it and keep them moving forward, make a small circle that skirts as close to the offending item as possible while changing direction. This is not “letting the horse win”. That’s not how horses think. They’re not that bright. You need to restart the brain and get it out of the “fear” sequence.

6. Return to an established safety zone in the arena, and re-establish the brakes, accelerator, and yielding. Give the horse another job to do and get their mind off the frightening situation. Their short term memory should be restarted with positive work and praise for getting it right.

7. Now, confront the frightening situation slowly. Increase the circle size until you are getting closer, but this time ask the horse to do something tricky as you approach: flex to the inside, ask for some shoulder-in or quarters-in, etc. Remind them that they’re still on the clock. Speak calmly and firmly. Keep constant contact and insist on a steady rhythm.

8. Rinse and repeat as often as is necessary.

 

The method outlined above is what I do, and it’s not necessarily what everyone else out there will advise or promote. My reasoning for why I do it this way is quite simple:

1. I prefer to build confidence, rather than fear, in the horse.

2. I am morally and logically opposed to shouting at a horse, kicking and sawing at them when they are frightened by something.

3. This method ensures that the horse is still getting a decent work-out for their brain and body, even when they’re not 100% on the job.

4. I have sat a lot of spooks, and been chucked off as a result plenty of times, and know my limits when it comes to hanging on and re-establishing control of a horse. If the horse is very green or very experienced, I will shift my approach accordingly. No one likes to have a horse fall over under them, after all. (Once is enough)

 

Spooking happens at every level. Even the most impeccably trained dressage horses can and do spook. Here’s a video of Juan Manuael Munoz Diaz at the World Equestrian Games, riding a fantastic test and then sitting a great spook at the end when Fuego de Cardenas got a fright from all the cheering.