#JourneyToTheStart: The Yearling Year

I’ve been working with a pair of yearlings at Moon Dance Ranch. It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s also been an opportunity for me to think through, consider, and now articulate my training choices for getting horses ready to start under saddle. A lot of folks view ground work as something they need to do. For me, its often the best part! I’m very lucky that these yearlings’ people are thoughtful about their horse care, and are in no particular rush. This works out well for me, as I sometimes need to take time away for my research, and for the yearlings, who have a great team behind them.

Flynn (chestnut) and Willow (grulla) July 7, 2019

Stay tuned for biographies (and foal pics) of this dynamic duo!

Bit-less, not Pressure-less

This post was originally from December 26, 2016 on my old blog.

   I’ve mentioned before that some bit-less bridles, particularly the Dr. Cook’s and bridles based on it, can actually apply a huge amount of psychological and physical pressure to the horse. Those I’ve ridden with know that I am generally a fan of riding bit-less, but do not like rigs that directly apply unfettered poll pressure. I certainly do not agree that such rigs are kinder to most horses than a simple snaffle (or even, in some cases, a basic curb).
  

Dr. Cook's Bridle with poll studs
Figures from Patent for “Bitless bridle for governing horses and other animals”

   Today, while looking up something entirely different, I stumbled on the original patent for Dr. Cook’s bridle, which contained this terrifying addendum: “The centerpiece may include a plurality of holes for receiving studs for applying painless pressure on regions of special acuity at the poll and behind each ear of the animal, or may receive a separate sleeve which includes the studs in order to apply pressure over areas of special acuity. Studs of different sizes can be fitted in a range of locations, depending upon the amount of pressure required and the conformation of any particular horse or other animal.”

 

     Thankfully, I have never seen poll studs in use at any of my barns, nor even seen them for sale.

Four-beat Follow-up, Part II: Non-standard canters & gallops

This in an update on a prior series from Oct. ’16 on four beat gaits.

greyhound
This “second suspension” is usually missing from a horse’s gallop

    First, let’s talk about an anomalous form of the gallop whose existence is still, with todays slow motion video technology, debated. That is the double suspension gallop. In this, there are two moments of suspension, similar to a running greyhound. The hoof-falls would be hind, hind, suspension, opposite fore, fore, secretariatsuspension.  Secretariats immense stride is sometimes credited to his use of this gait. His winning photo from the Belmont Stakes shows him in a strange position, with all feet off the ground but legs outstretched. His outside fore hangs slightly, much like the dog in the photo above. It looks so strange that I, like many, wondered if it was a glitch. Then I realized that foreleg, and the opposite hind, could still be in the process of moving forward. He is on the left lead, with his left (inside) fore about to land. So I looked around to see if this glitch was repeated anywhere.

     I looked at some “most obvious suspects.” California Chrome. American Pharoah. Cigar. Zenyatta. All had huge closing strides– and acceleration within the gallop is where the double suspension seems to show– and none of them seem to exhibit this gait. And RedCadeauxthen I stumbled across this photo finish from the 2011 Melbourne Cup.  Red Cadeaux, the chestnut on the inside, is in almost the exact strange position that Secretariat was in at his Belmont finish. The photo IS distorted– the larger version shows one horse with a ridiculously large hock– but the distortion seems greatest the furthest from the finish line. And there are now a handful of interesting non-finish line photos floating around, like mrpremierthis Quarter Horse Mr Premier LVThis photo could be the moment after the phase shown above. The left fore has just touched the ground, but both hinds are already well in the air. The double suspension gallop’s effects on speed and soundness, as well as it’s possible heritability, are all conjecture at this point, as is its very existence. Finding evidence of horses galloping with out fulling weighting the diagonal at the same time is easy. Evidence of a second true suspension is inconclusive. Studies are ongoing.

     Now, back to the greyhound. The greyhound tends to employ a rotary gallop, with the hind-fore pair being lateral (usually the outside pair). The second non-standard hoofbeat pattern is what is often called the “gaited canter,” which is a rotary canter. The hoofbeats are hind, lateral pair, fore, which the pair occasionally exhibiting a slight break. It is often seen as just another crosscanter (i.e., disunited, with the fore and hind legs on opposite leads), but the tendency of gaited horses– especially those who exhibit lateral gaits– is strong, and the pairing of the lateral in the canter is not generally seen in other crosscanters. It is not a gait I would encourage, but for these horses it appears to be “natural.” I find that strengthening these horses diagonal gaits, if any, a great deal of working on circles, and is possible introducing haunches-in, helps to develop a standard canter, which is both more comfortable and better for long term soundness.

 

Read the rest of the series: 

Four-beat Follow-up, Part I: The Break

This in an update on a prior series from Oct. ’16 on four beat gaits.

  A while back I wrote a bit on four beat canters & lopes. In a footnote at the bottom, I mentioned the four-beat gallop as well as a non-standard gait that is sometimes four beat: the break. 

  We’ll take a quick tour of our understanding of this “gait,” seen most often out of the horserun starting gate, but first lets look at the related gallop. Prior to Muybridge’s 1870’s photographic study of equine locomotion, running horses were depicted stretch out, both hinds together behind the horse and both fore together in front of the horse, like this:

     And then, of course, came Muybridge’s stop motion photography study. This instantly “disproved” the common depiction, which quickly went out of fashion.

1024px-The_Horse_in_Motion
Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion, 1878

    And that was that. Right? Well…not quite. In the last decade or so, we’ve revisited this idea with new film technology. We need to add a few caveats. The frames above are of a mare galloping at the Palo Alto racetrack in California in 1878. The gallop exhibited by this mare is the most common way of going for horses in that gait, with the footfalls being hind, hind-opposite fore, fore, followed by a moment of suspension with all four legs curled in towards the center of the body. It is not, however, the only footfall pattern for the gallop, and the gallop is certainly not all we see from modern racehorses. The break is likely the root of the splay legged depictions of the gallop. Earlier versions include: 

ramses Mar14_stubbs1500x1053

This is something that was “disproven” by Muybridge, but it turns out actually happens. The gap between the hind pair and the front pair becomes much more pronounced, and the hinds occasionally push off together (though often still landing a half beat apart).

greatbreakfromstartinggategeneralcharleysraceatkeenelandracetrack070img_6510barrel

Next: different footfall patterns?

Four Beat Canters & Lopes

     There is a great deal of discussion among western riders & judges about what a lope should look (and sound) like. The primary split is between those who favor the four beat lope, which became common in the last half century, and those that consider it an abomination. I’m going to complicate that by looking at cases where the canter also becomes four beats, most commonly in dressage and in saddleseat. In all disciplines, the number of beats can be the easiest criteria to look at, but it does not denote quality or lack thereof on its own. A more detailed understanding of the mechanics can benefit both riders and judges, and help us articulate and achieve a variety of goals.

First, let’s take a look at some official definitions:

AQHA Rulebook:

   SHW330.3 The lope is an easy, rhythmical three-beat gait. Horses moving to the left should lope on the left lead. Horses moving to the right should lope on the right lead. Horses traveling at a four-beat gait are not considered to be performing at a proper lope. The horse should lope with a natural stride and appear relaxed and smooth. It should be ridden at a speed that is a natural way of going. The head should be carried at an angle which is natural and suitable to the horse’s conformation at all gaits. (pg. 114)

USEF Rulebook, Morgan Division:

  • Canter: Smooth, collected and straight on both leads.
  • Lope: Smooth, slow, straight and a three beat cadence. 
  • Extended Lope: A lengthening of stride while maintaining a smooth, straight, three beat cadence.
  • Extended Canter: The extended canter should be ground covering, free moving and smooth. The extended canter should show a definite lengthening of stride, while still being controlled and mannerly. Extreme speed SHALL be penalized. 
  • Hand Gallop: Long, free ground covering stride under control. Not a fast collected canter, but a true lengthening of stride, correct and straight on both leads. Extreme speed penalized. (pg. 943)

     Note: number of beats is only specified for lope. Within the chart for “major and minor” faults in the Morgan Western Pleasure division (pg. 951), number of beats is not listed. Thus, it is up to the discretion of the judge whether it should be considered a major or minor fault. The Arabian Western Pleasure division does specify “not performing a three beat lope” as a major fault (pg. 345). The Arabian division, in general, has stricter and more cut & dry rules. The Morgan Park Saddle section uses “proper cadence” as one of its criteria, but never mentions number of beats (pg. 944). 

USEF Rulebook, Dressage Division:

  1. The canter is a three-beat gait where, in canter to the right, for example, the footfall is as follows: left hind, left diagonal (simultaneously left fore and right hind), right fore, followed by a moment of suspension with all four feet in the air before the next stride begins.
  1. The following canters are recognized: Working canter, lengthening of strides, Collected canter, Medium canter and Extended canter. 
  2. Working canter. This is a pace between the collected and the medium canter, in which a horse’s training is not yet developed enough and ready for collected movements. The horse shows natural balance while remaining “on the bit”, and goes forward with even, light and active strides and good hock action. The expression “good hock action” underlines the importance of an impulsion originating from the activity of the hindquarters. 
  3. Lengthening of strides. In some tests, “lengthening of strides” is required. This is a variation between the working and medium canter in which a horse’s training is not developed enough for medium canter. 
  4. Collected canter. The horse, remaining “on the bit”, moves forward with the neck raised and arched. The hocks, being well-engaged, maintain an energetic impulsion, enabling the shoulders to move with greater mobility thus demonstrating self carriage and an uphill tendency. The horse’s strides are shorter than in the other canters, without losing elasticity and cadence. 
  5. Medium canter. This is a pace between the working and the extended canter. Without hurrying, the horse goes forward with clearly lengthened strides and impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to carry the head a little more in front of the vertical than in the collected and working canter, and at the same time allows the horse, to lower the head and neck slightly. The strides should be balanced and unconstrained. 
  6. Extended canter. The horse covers as much ground as possible. Without hurrying, the strides are lengthened to the utmost. The horse remains calm, light and straight as a result of great impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to lengthen the frame with a controlled poll and to gain ground. The whole movement should be well-balanced and the transition to collected canter should be smoothly executed by taking more weight on the hindquarters.

(pg 474-475)

     In all of these very different competitions, a four-beat canter or lope is considered a flaw. So what is the difference between them? Are good canters and lopes always three-beat? Problematically, no. 

     The most visible, and visibly problematic, of the four-beat canters and lopes are in Western divisions, especially among stock horse breeds. AQHA specified four-beat lopes as a flaw after USEF did, and there is still some disagreement among judges in all breeds about if it is a flaw and how severe a flaw it is. There are related discussions on headcarriage, as often an extreme four-beat lope also has a very down hill appearance, with the horse leaning on the forehand and the head carried below the chest. This sort of movement that is very recognizable, and while it does cause the horse to cover a minimum of ground (i.e., go slow), it is clearly detrimental to the horse. I won’t show examples here, but if you search youtube for “western pleasure” you will find a range of examples. While seeing the break of the footfalls can sometimes be difficult without slow-motion, horses that move in this way have a noticeable hitch in their stride as they move forward using their backs and forelegs rather than their hips and hindlegs.

     The second place where this type of gait is very noticeable and not uncommon is in saddleseat. It is not, however, talked about as a number of beats issue. It is most often talked about as a shoeing issue, as the heavy shoes and action devices can often cause the same hitching four-beat gait as western pleasure riders can achieve by backing the horse out of the bridle. In saddleseat, this gait is hugely animated, and when achieved more by equipment than by training and conditioning it can appear very strange and un-horselike. This is, of course, exemplified most by the “big lick” walking horses, but can be seen in varying degrees anywhere a collected, animated canter is desire: park classes, most other saddleseat classes, and yes, even in dressage.

     But wait, didn’t I say that a four-beat canter or lope isn’t always bad? I did. The reason lopes often devolve into four-beat eyesores is because we humans, as rider, trainers, and judges, get stuck on the idea of “slow.” We forget that the lope is actually a type of collection, and requires building up the horse’s strength, stamina, and coordination. The reason saddleseat and even dressage fall prone to a similar four-beat gait, with the horse laboring more from its front end than its hind, is the same. It is a lack of conditioning. That lack can be temporary, a moment in the horse’s progression, or it can become chronic if we are not aware of the issue. The problem, however, is not actually in the number of beats.

Ridinger
1770 representation.
Also this article is well worth reading.

valegro
This pirouette is lovely, balanced, strong– and four beat.

Poles1
Or how about this jumper over poles. Still four beat, but I would not call this a flaw.

saddleseat
Neither I nor the judge placed this leggy Morgan first, but she does show how the park canter can be four beat without causing an inversion of the back.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     These are all cases of four-beat canters that are ‘correct;’ meaning, they maintain the soundness of the horse and its balance to be able to move into a different gait or maneuver. They tend to go to four beats due the the degree of collection, with the hind of the diagonal pair landing before the fore, but the pair leaving the ground together. Now go back and look at those youtube videos. Look closely at the ones you didn’t like. Play with the pause button. Are any of those broken looking lopes three-beat? I’d bet a few of them are. Because of the focus on the number of beats, that issue is often fixed without addressing the underlying cause. Just as shoes aren’t necessarily the issue in saddleseat (plenty of keg-shod horses also move in a disunited fashion), not all three-beat lopes are good and not all four-beat lopes are bad: it is a question of carriage, not beats. The canter, or even the lope, moves fast. So we have to learn to see fast, or take advantage of the technology we have that lets us see it more slowly, in more detail, and play it over and over again. We need to look at the quality of the movement, rather than the quantifiable numbers of how they move. No matter the discipline, we need to look at the whole picture.

   I should also footnote this post with two other cases of (non-gaiting) fourbeat, being the true gallop (which is by definition four beats) and the break or jump, the little-discussed transition ‘gait’ see in racehorses, barrelhorses, ropers, and others who accelerate suddenly.

Horse Protection Act

   I was initially dismayed to hear about the widespread opposition to the ‘strengthening’ of the HPA. This includes the American Morgan Horse Association, which in the articles I have found issued a statement of blanket opposition. I can only hope that the actual letter was more nuanced (does anybody have a copy?). I do have some faith in the AMHA, and I thought I should read the proposed changes before making a judgement. I dug up the proposed changes with some trepidation. Within the last decade, the AMHA has severely relaxed their shoeing rules.* But, they have also made strides in enforcing their own rules (which are generally much stricter than the HPA) at shows.

   I can see many good reasons why the AMHA would oppose these changes. I still hope they do (or already have) lay out plainly why they oppose these regulations, because that is important for coming up with better alternatives. But here are some of the issues I see:

   First is the call for “Horse Protection Inspector (HPIs)” to inspect horses. For the AMHA, and even the ASHA (Saddlebred), these inspectors would mean an additional cost for a redundant office. Rated shows already have inspectors for USEF, which again has stricter regulations than the HPA. Tennessee Walking Horse shows are not regulated by USEF, which is why these outside inspectors have been deemed necessary. Currently the HPA specifies Walkers, Racking Horses, “and related breeds” as being required to give notice 30 days before the show, and supply records to APHIS within 72 hours. Who is considered a related breed? I expect there is also some concern as to the availability of these HPIs, considering other staff shortages within the USDA. This concern would be heightened by the proposal that these inspectors be required at all “Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse, or related breed class or event at any horse show or exhibition” of any size. In effect, any show of any size, rated or not, that wanted to have saddleseat classes could be required to have two licensed inspectors on site. This is regardless of whether or not they had other inspectors, because HPIs must be “outside the industry.” This is despite that fact that the proposed changes also state that only vets or vet techs can serve as HPIs- and vets are, assuredly, part of the industry.

   Other issues:

   Shippers (including commercial) would be required to have the address of the horse’s regular farrier. While I appreciate the desire to be able to be able to penalize farriers who perform illegal shoeings, most farriers don’t have a business address. You are asking them to make their home address public. And, not every horse that is being moved may have a regular shoer. What if they’ve been recently sold (the provision includes auctions)? These are minor issues, but it would be just as easy to require the information of the owner in the case that a horse be found in violation of the HPA.

   The use throughout of the phrase “or can reasonably be expected.” This grey area is, I think, meant to allow conscientious trainers some leeway, but it is in fact the root of how the previous inspection setup could fail. Inspectors didn’t need to lie to allow soreing to continue, because the inspections had a large element of subjectivity.

   The prohibition of pads (while still listing allowed hoof packing materials). I’ve had more than one horse who needed a pad or pads to remain sound, either to support a congenital abnormality (such as club foot) or protect a sensitive sole (not many Morgans for this, but I’m sure many Arabs).

   In all, the HPA is long, contradictory (prohibits all action devices in one area, but only those that might cause irritation in another, etc.), and puts a great deal of pressure on trainers and exhibitors who already follow stricter regulations while leaving loopholes that allow for abuse.

  There is no simple solution. I do think many breeds would benefit from being brought under USEF, though I understand the resistance to the cost involved. The prior iteration of the HPA lead to splintering of Walking Horse groups, as some folks took a stand and others tried to find ways around regulations. I’m not sure these proposed changes would be any more successful. I also think that education is a stronger, and more lasting, force than regulation. 

*I was discussing this with another exhibitor. I find the long feet and weighted shoes being allowed in hunter and western classes now to be problematic. But, AMHA has not changed the maximum hoof length or weight in total, but rather allowed their maximums in more divisions. As the other exhibitor pointed out, the same horses are just now allowed to cross enter. As I am a fan of Morgans “doing it all,” I can’t be upset with horses crossing divisions. With turnbuckles and stacks already illegal, as well as action devices on show grounds, the rule changes of the last decade don’t significantly impact the horse.  I do choose to support shows that pick judges who more strictly adhere to the criteria of each division, rather than picking the ‘flashiest’ horse regardless of the class. This, to me, also includes penalizing park horses who are out of control or have the lopsided, jerky action associated with shortcuts.

UPDATE: It looks like AMHAs official statement was sent via email (that’s what I get for letting my membership lapse). Their main issues with the amendments seem to be the APHIS inspectors and the banning of all pads.

UPDATE Jan 13, 2017: A much-modified (and, I believe, improved) version has passed.

Wee, Tack Shop!

     We were back in Maryland for the holidays, and hit the post-Christmas sale at Stablemates. We used to go every year, but now it’s a special treat. I desperately needed new breeches (my full-seat devon-aires had outlasted many a newer pair, but at nearly a decade the seams were dissolving), and being very short but not very tiny this requires a sad mountain of trying things on and often disappointment. No disappointment this time! I love my new Tredstep Nero breeches, and oddly Alyse– who is much taller and smaller– loves hers, too. But, hey, lots of folks love treadsteps. They’re pretty darn nice and don’t cost an arm and a leg.

We also needed new spurs (I’d given away my prince-of-wales a few years back, and my western rowels weren’t really the right tool). We found a lovely pair of rounded blunts, but they didn’t come with straps. And most of the english straps they had were overly narrow, overly blingy, and not very supple. They did have a strange pair of rubber straps, these:

 

     We stared at them awhile, came back and stared at them again after trying on the aforesaid mountain of breeches, and eventually ended up buying them. They didn’t look too different (we got the black), and seemed pretty sturdy. They’re advertised as cheap and easy to maintain, but no one mentioned how *awesomely effective* they are.

     The spurs Do Not Move. No Wiggle. No Flip. And No Pinch! They fit snuggly and comfortably. I don’t think I have ever experienced spur straps that reliably did both.

      10/10, will buy again. Like, tomorrow. These were really Alyse’s, and I can’t keep stealing them.