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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What's Inside the Horse

Yes, I have another video for you! Now, this time when I say "what's inside the horse," I'm not referring to anything touchy-feely: I mean guts, bones, ligaments, muscles, etc. - what's literally inside. We are talking extremely scholarly dissection here. I found it absolutely riveting. However, if you are the squeamish type (and were never an An Sci/Pre-Vet major like yours truly) you might want to skip it. I am putting the link down lower on purpose as even the frozen image could be disturbing. Nonetheless, I wanted to share this, in case anyone else will find it just as fascinating and educational as I do.

To give you an outline to help you decide if you want to watch or not, basically, these folks set out to explain just what enables a Thoroughbred race horse to run so fast. They investigate the role of the forearm musculature, the tendon/ligament support in the legs, the role of the hoof and take a look at the lungs - I had NO IDEA they were this big, honestly! The voluminous amount of intestines is briefly shown being removed. We are shown the larynx and trachea and find out exactly why and where some horses need "tie-back" surgery (although the surgery itself is not mentioned for some reason). We briefly see the hind-end musculature and the spleen. Almost last but not least, the heart is removed and compared to a cow heart. Again, I had no freaking idea they were THAT big! Can you name another extremely famous race horse, besides this one, who was found to have a very over-sized heart? I didn't know!
*Gratuitous Photo of Big Red* Isn't this gorgeous??!? I have it as my screen saver. Galloping at Belmont, I believe. Whatta horse.
The reason the video has the long and unwieldy title (which really doesn't do such a hot job of explaining what it's about) is the sequence when the horse's leg is put on a mechanical "stressor" machine and the exact load on the tendons is aptly illustrated, if in rather grisly fashion. Believe me, it will make you appreciate the job your horse's front boots are doing protecting the back of those forelegs - especially if he's prone to overreaching. YIKES.

So here is the video. I'm very glad I stumbled across it (filmed and shown in the UK, originally) as I learned a lot of useful information. Probably nothing new to a certain reader who's getting ready to graduate from vet school - yay, Jess! :-) - but to the layperson, it's a revelation. I hope you find it the same!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Horse Reunion - DO They Have Emotions?

I dare you to watch this video and not cry:

Of COURSE they remembered each other. I knew they would. How perfectly wonderful to see this, though. As far as horses having emotions, I don't think there's ever been any doubt in my mind... ;-)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

War Horse On Stage

I had the privilege of seeing War Horse on stage last night. I have already written about my obsession with the story and a review of the movie in this post, so you know I was excited. When the show closed in New York I was absolutely heartbroken - I'd desperately wanted to go see it, but just did not have time when I was home in NJ. So when I learned the play was going to travel and would be coming right here to St. Louis, I was overjoyed!

The tickets were my Christmas present from my mom and I bought them back in December, so I've been looking forward to the production for three months. It did NOT disappoint. What an incredible, amazing, fantastic show!
Of course I was most anxious to see the horse puppets and how life-like they really are. The answer is, so real you can almost totally suspend disbelief. Every little nuance of "horseness" is replicated: the tiny shudders, the breathing, the manner of eating and grazing, swishing of manes and tails, the subtle movements of ears - these puppeteers have got it DOWN. Their ears are a bit oversized (although we know there are horses, like dear Zenyatta, who have some pretty big ones, LOL) but I think that is the better to communicate with to the audience.

The only thing that was not accurately represented was the whinnies, which were much too high-pitched. I don't know about you but I can make a pretty darn good neigh come out of my human throat - it just hurts to do it so I don't try it often. (My friends in elementary school used to beg me to do this on the playground... is it any wonder other kids thought I was strange? :-)
Joey and equine buddy Topthorn 
If you didn't know the story ahead of time, and/or are not a horse person, it might be hard to determine that Joey and Topthorn became best friends after a bit of a rocky start. There is a scene when they are turned out together and just like real horses, "come to an agreement:"
I just loved Topthorn's puppet. He's a little bigger than Joey and just has a different presence. I also loved these other puppets (especially the grey one), even though they really weren't onstage all that much:
This neat wheeled goose puppet provided some comic relief (there actually are some good laughs in the dialogue, too):
For me - and I'm sure everyone else - the most heartrending part of the show comes when Joey and Topthorn are put to work pulling the heavy gun carriage. The two horses who first come onstage hitched to the carriage are a completely different kind of puppet, clearly indicating they are thin and sad and horribly overworked. It was painful seeing them. And of course, the worst is yet to come... but on the off-chance you don't know the story, I won't give away the entire plot. Incidentally, I discovered that the movie follows the play's plot more closely, not that of the book. I'd been curious about that.

This is my favorite image that I found online of Joey and Albert:
The human on the left is Joey's "head operator." Before seeing the show, I had been told that the humans "blend in" after a while. I did find this to be true. You'd think they would be intrusive but no, you become so caught up in the story that you barely notice them. I was able to talk to one of the actors in the theatre lobby after the show, and I asked him if they ever bring the puppets out for the public to see. He said only on media occasions as they prefer to preserve the mystique by not letting people see them close up. I guess that makes sense, but I'd love to be able to touch one!

I highly, highly encourage you to go see War Horse if comes to your hometown or somewhere close by. The tickets were fairly expensive here (my sweet mom encouraged me to get awesome seats so last night's were very pricey, like $75, for third row in the balcony) but believe me, they are absolutely worth it. I might even go back and sit in a cheap seat just to experience it again. NOT TO BE MISSED by any horse-lover, that's for sure!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ode to the Fugly Blog

A little over six years ago, I started a new job. It was my first foray back into corporate America in thirteen years. What had I been doing in the interim? Raising a couple of terrific kids, volunteering at school, and volunteering for a bunch of groups with and for the kids. I was also able to get back into horses, taking lessons for about 3 1/2 years and doing a few little shows.

Unsurprisingly, the time came when the family income needed a boost, not a drain. "Hmm, do I take a lesson or buy Son that new pair of sneakers he badly needs?" So back to the workforce I headed, if only for 25 hours a week as a part-time Receptionist at an IT company. The best part of this job was it came with full family health insurance (Hubby is self-employed and DIY insurance was a huge and increasingly expensive drag). I chose to overlook the fact that I was massively overqualified (I have a B.S. in Communications and worked in Corporate Communications/Marketing previously) and would be almost literally chained to a desk.

Sure enough, here is how I felt on about Day 2:
The intellectual capacity needed to operate a switchboard is about nil, 90% of the time. I love to read, but get aggravated by interruptions; you know, like, the phone ringing. I am not sufficiently stimulated watching  reruns of "Hoarders" or "48 Hours" (activities others resort to while sitting in the same chair). I desperately needed Something. To. Do. I really hadn't spent all that much time on the Internet up until then, thanks to the one computer/three users situation at home, but now, here I was with the whole world available online and a PC to myself.

I headed to the one place where I had spent some time before, Guinea Lynx. This is the ultimate resource for guinea pig-loving people and I especially enjoyed keeping up with the forums. One day I wandered into a forum for "anything goes" topics. What's this? A thread about a blog discussing bad horse conformation? (Turns out, I have lots of company in the Horse 'n Pig Fan Club) I was intrigued... and thus, I found myself on Fugly Horse of the Day.
WOW. Here was someone who could write well, was hilarious, shared useful information on conformation and horse sports, reported on happenings in the horse world and wasn't afraid to call out hoarders/abusers/general idiots as she saw fit, which was often. I dove in and spent many happy hours and days and weeks reading old posts until I was completely caught up.

I also registered to comment, because I definitely had things I wanted to say. I had quickly discovered that FHOTD Comments were worth many more hours of entertainment and education, with an extremely lively group of regular posters, and a few troll-types who seemed to enjoy stirring the pot no matter what the topic.  People came and went and but some of us turned up almost every day. Comment streams, back when things really ramped up at FHOTD, would run into the 300s. I was there for all of this. If anyone reading here is curious, on Fugly I've always been "Lost My Marbles."

My family grew accustomed to me coming home and saying, "You'll never believe what I read on Fugly today..." or, being dragged over to the computer to be shown a picture. I learned all kinds of stuff, ranging from the realities of horse slaughter in the USA (I'd had no clue previously how the industry worked/where the horses came from) to recognizing a good from a bad horse rescue, to some new words ("asshat" and "upgrade," referring to rehoming equines), to hoof mechanics and shoeing and the debate about no shoes at all. Almost every day there would be something new, something interesting, something for me to think about regarding equines - my favorite topic. I didn't always agree with Cathy but I sure enjoyed reading what she had to say!

Here's a picture that Cathy claimed is the all-time "Fugliest of the Fugly Horses" featured on her blog:
 I'll certainly never never forget her. Ye gads. Goataloosa, perhaps? These two are a couple of other shining examples of "what not to breed, EVER," that I stored away:

Epic parental failures were also always popular. This type of thing was guaranteed to have our friend Fugs seeing red, particularly since this poor pony seems to be elderly and has a foreleg that looks like it can barely carry his own weight, let alone that of a rider:
Photo courtesy of, by way of Craig's List - of course
The day I opened the Fugly Blog, always my first destination on the Internet, and read that Cathy had had enough and was selling, I bawled like a baby. What?? How could she do this to me? I had to have my daily dose of Fugly or I was going to crack up... Well, I guess the situation wasn't quite that desperate. Thanks to meandering around the horsey Internet, I had discovered other worthwhile blogs and places to visit. I also decided to start my very own place to hang out, which of course you're reading now. But I really did cry, and not just for one day. This was crappy news.

I have stuck with FHOTD through all the subsequent writers and permutations, some of whom I liked more than others, but all of whom I was happy to listen to and learn from. Guest bloggers with some different viewpoints turned up, too. There were Mugly, Snugly and Snarkly, Charm and most recently Ontario (I may be leaving someone out, for which I apologize). Ontario seemed really excited to be taking over the blog and had lots of energy and enthusiasm. She, more than anyone else since Cathy left, seemed determined to try and help horses in a desperate situation. Most recently it was by rattling some cages and asking readers to contact authorities in the case of severely neglected TBs in Louisiana.

The extremely sad result, I can only surmise at this point, has been the complete demise of the blog. There have been no new posts since February 20 (the day after the appeal to contact people in LA) and although the site has experienced numerous technical difficulties since Ontario started, the website is now completely down and has been for a week. Ontario has not been heard from in any regard, including the Fugly Facebook page, where one might think she could throw in a little blurb by way of explanation. I just hope she is not physically harmed or had something tragic happen in her family.

I know not everyone appreciated Cathy's sense of humor, or agreed with her (the creation of a couple other blogs directly critiquing her are certainly evidence of that!) but I am very depressed, indeed, if this is the ignominious end of something that truly means a lot to me. Fugly Horse of the Day has sustained me through many a very long day, given me food for thought, hugely increased my horsey knowledge and brought me much laughter and tears. I refuse to say R.I.P. just yet... here's hoping.

One more, for posterity. Holy crap.
Courtesy of the Fugly Horse of the Day Facebook page. No details available  on this unfortunate creature!
P.S. A regular fellow FHOTD reader, who goes by "Mercedes," has started the aforementioned and picked up the gauntlet to some extent. She is extremely knowledgeable on conformation, for one thing, and has dished up the sarcasm as well (something I, with my sharp tongue, do appreciate). We'll see if she keeps things going but I hope she does! 

Friday, March 1, 2013

My Other Favorite Blue

It's time to tell another story I've alluded in previous posts. Here is a better look at my profile picture:

As you can tell by the ribbon I am holding, this was taken at a horse show. But not just any horse show: this was the very first one I'd participated in since I was sixteen. Twenty-one years had passed in between. So the mere act of riding in this show was a pretty big deal!

Once again, like the opportunity to go foxhunting, this event was courtesy of my second-to-last lesson barn. I had been riding there for about nine months, I think, when I was told about the Academy show they had coming up. I wasn't sure what "Academy" meant but turns out that means strictly for lesson students. I double-checked to make sure but yes, I was eligible! I instantly knew I wanted to participate, even though the thought made my stomach churn.

Time to drag out and dust off my tall boots. These had been languishing since after my first couple of lessons at this barn (I had quickly learned that everyone lessoned nowadays in half chaps and paddocks, which suited me fine). I also purchased a new pair of breeches and black gloves. Other than that, no fancy attire was required so I was all set. I actually could have showed in the half chaps and paddocks but since I had the boots I wanted to wear them, dorky as they are.

I signed up for the Age 18 & Up division (hah), which consisted of two OF classes and one flat class, all Hunters (I don't think there were any Eq classes at this show, or maybe I wanted to skip them). I didn't know what horse I'd be riding but I figured it would be the famous red-headed mare Polly, since I'd been put on her quite a bit in lessons. This was okay; she was a pain in the neck but when properly motivated - and I had hopes the show atmosphere would help - she was a lovely jumper and mover.

The big day arrived and I arrived early at the barn in a state of high anticipation, excitement and nerves. My family tagged along for moral support as did my friend C, who had recently become LiRoi's mom and didn't want to ride in the show. I went to pay my fees and get my number and was told that sure enough, I was supposed to ride Ms. Polly. However, when I went to her stall, guess what?? Someone else was there. The person who was grooming her who told me, "I don't know what the deal is because *I* am supposed to be riding Polly," and she didn't seem inclined to budge. Uh-oh...

Along came my trainer, who looked at me standing in the barn aisle holding my saddle and grooming bag and appearing somewhat stupefied. She laughed, jerked her thumb in the direction of another stall and said, "What about Marbles? Have you ever ridden him?" I was a bit taken aback because no, in fact, I had NOT ever ridden Marbles and I didn't necessarily think the day of a horse show was the best day to "break in" a new mount! However, if I wanted to show, and I really did, it looked like this would be the case. My trainer told me I should do fine with him and that I wasn't too tall to ride the pony, for that is what he was (about 14.1 and a half, but definitely a pony).

I went in the stall and introduced myself to Marbles. He had a bit of a sour expression but he seemed to appreciate my grooming efforts, especially the Grooma being used on his neck. That elicited a nice stretch and a flappy lip. I laughed because the top of his rump was filthy, something I've often found to be the case with school ponies who are often groomed by little kids who can't reach there. I tacked him up and climbed aboard, with only about ten minutes to go before the first class which was OF. The pony felt absolutely wonderful; I've always liked the small ones and he had smooth and pleasant gaits. I felt an instant connection with him. We did a little W/T/C and hopped once or twice over the jump set up in the warm-up area. I found out he had auto-changes and was given the world's fastest lesson in how to ask for them. Auto-changes were something only one other horse I'd ever ridden (American Mare) had as an option and to be honest, I really didn't know what I was doing! All this hurrying-up was actually a good thing because I literally did not have time to be nervous.

Into the ring we went, for eight fences. It wasn't a large (2') or long course but in my mind it might as well have been the Grand National. Somehow we got around, in halfway decent form, and I heaved a huge sigh of relief when we exited. Wow! I'd done it! Actually completed a jumping course at a show (keep in mind, at this point I could barely make it around five jumps in lessons).

When the other adults were done (there were five of us altogether) we awaited the results. To my utter and complete shock, my number was called first. FIRST!! What? I didn't even know the horse I was riding, for pete's sake! As I was handed my blue ribbon and cute green picture frame trophy, I told the judge, "You've made an old lady very happy today," and she responded, "Well, you earned it!" While Marbles still wore his grumpy expression (which I soon learned was typical for him) I was grinning from ear to ear, as you can see in that photo.

I wish I could tell you I went to further glory in the show but I left too long for a fence in the next jumping class, causing me to lose a stirrup and some control, and finished fourth. Then Marbles tried to bite everybody that came near him in the flat class, causing us to be yelled at several times by my fellow riders and us to finish dead last in fifth place. I was a bit disgusted with Mr. Crabby Pony following the latter excursion but still floating on a cloud after that first big win.

Here we are with all our loot:
It truly was one of the proudest days of my life.   

 * * *

I'm sorry I have been absent from the blogging scene. I have something going on physically (still in the pending diagnosis stage) that makes typing (and would make riding) a bit painful, and also some other "life happenings" that have left me in not much of a mood for writing. However, recalling happy events and thinking about horses helps me to stay positive, so I'm going to try and put some stuff up here. I have more to say about Marbles, for one thing. The little curmudgeon became extremely dear to me!

In the meantime, here's one last photo from a much earlier horse show of mine, when I was about seven. I assume I was in mid-clap, given the ring-side location, but it looks a bit like I was praying (that I would be assigned Grey in my next class, maybe?). At any rate, I think this appropriate because I'm definitely appealing to The Man Upstairs right now for help and guidance in dealing with things. Here's hoping He is listening. Thank you for reading!