craniology, part 1.5: the force of a falling object

Thanks to Amanda’s super Sunday Blog Roundup, I found this really interesting article from Eventing Nation about what a helmet will and won’t do to protect you in a fall.  It was incredibly fascinating and well worth the read, but left me with a couple of questions:

First, what are the forces at which the helmets in question were tested at when they failed the impact tests?

Second, what are the forces that are frequently experienced by an equestrian falling off of their horse?

gravity can be a real bitch

I couldn’t find any answers to the first question, which is an important one to me.  If the authors were testing helmets at 10,000 gs (G-forces) and they fail to protect the head against two impacts at that force well… that’s unrealistic.  But if the authors were testing helmets at 350 gs (a force easily acquired by an object falling from 3.5 meters with a stopping distance of only 1 cm), then that’s a much more reasonable test.  Fear not, I’ve emailed the main author of the study to get a little more information about how they conducted their research.  I’ll update you when I find out.  (I did discover that they use a really funny machine to test these things!)

To the second question, the answer is: it turns out it depends.  The basic calculation of g-forces involves the rate of deceleration and the force of gravity.  Rate of deceleration can be calculated by using velocity and stopping distance.  And therein lies the rub: stopping distance is highly variable on difference surfaces.  For example, when you drop your phone on asphalt, the stopping distance is basically just the crunch factor of your phone — as little as 1-2 mm in some cases.

The other complication is that there are multiple force vectors at work when you fall off a horse.  Not only do you fall from some height to the ground, but you also stop your forward motion — motion that can vary from 300 mpm (slow canter) to 600 mpm (Rolex gallop) depending on the speed you’re moving.

lets not forget all the physics lessons Murray has given me

I took physics (twice), though, and was pretty confident that I could figure out the force vectors, so set about determining the g forces likely experienced by helmets and riders falling at different speeds.  G forces are a convenient unit to calculate this in, since they are the same no matter the mass of the falling object — and that’s the unit in which the “brain trauma” numbers were reported.

The set up

You can use this handy-dandy fall force calculator from VaultCanada if you’d like to calculate g-forces of objects falling straight down.  It doesn’t add it in horizontal movement, but it is a bit of fun to play around with.

Then there are the basic equations.  I didn’t actually consult a physics text book, but I did use the VaultCanada site (linked above), the physics classroom, and the engineering toolbox.  Pertinent equations are below.


Pythagoras will help me with that last one

There are a couple of other caveats here.  Because I was using physics equations, they aren’t taking into account any of those pesky real-life forces like friction (ground or air), the oddity of the human/horse shape, what part of the body hits the ground first, etc. etc.  We are also not taking into account the fact that different parts of the body are likely to encounter different amounts of force by landing at different times.  Just assume that the hypothetical human in these equations always lands directly on their head.  So we’re working with a frictionless, lawn-darting, spherical humanoid riding in a vacuum.  You know.  A really realistic one.

Also, I could be wrong. There aren’t any internet resources that confirmed my plan to add these forces using the Pythagorean theorem.  I bulled ahead regardless.

Also, force vectors for helmet calculation will be pointing in toward the object.  Because what we are interested in is the force the surface is exerting on the object (one’s head, for example) during the stop*, so the force vectors should be reversed from the above image.  It doesn’t affect the calculations.

*You know that old joke about cliff jumping.  It’s not the long drop that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the end.

With that information, let’s answer a few of my burning questions about forces and riding!

We’ll start with an easy one.  If you drop the helmet on the ground, are you really voiding the protective abilities of your helmet?

Let’s say you’re about my height (1.5 meters), and drop your helmet from your hands (about 1 meter high) on to arena sand, which compresses about 2cm when the helmet hits the ground.

100 cm / 2 cm = 50 gs of force

If the stopping distance decreases to 0.5 cm (5 mm)

100 cm / 0.5 cm = 200 gs of force

I don’t actually know how much force the outside of a helmet can withstand.  But 200 gs is well below what a helmet is supposed to protect you against (300 gs), and likely below what the helmets are tested at.  I’m not going to make any declarations about the safety of a helmet after being dropped on anything but arena sand — which I don’t think is the end of the world.  (When some butterfingers drops her helmet repeatedly on the barn aisle though….)

More pertinent to humans, if someone falls off of a horse onto arena sand, what are the forces experienced by their helmet?  And by their head?

First, what height are they falling from?  Let’s say we have a 16.2 hand horse, and the human’s head is 2.5 feet above that height — like a medium-height person sitting on a relatively tall horse.  That’s 241.2 centimeters high.  Let’s stick with that 2cm stopping distance again.  Without any horizontal motion (i.e. horse is standing still and our spherical rider just falls off the side):

241.2 cm / 2 cm = 120.6 gs of force — a not insubstantial amount of force, but not enough to for sure cause a serious brain injury

If the helmet foam compresses by 2mm during the impact, then the head in question experiences a slightly different amount of force

241.2 cm / 2.2cm = 109.6 gs of force — a pretty awesome decrease, thanks Charles Owen!

What if you fall off at the peak of a fence?  My head was about 292 cm in the air at the peak of that charming 2’6″ fence above (I used a really specific measuring system called PowerPoint), so if we go with our previously calculated stopping distances

292 cm / 2 cm = 146 gs
292 cm / 4 cm = 73 gs

Okay, let’s talk horses in motion.

In stadium, posted speeds vary between 300 and 400 mpm — I think? I’ve never really paid attention except when writing up programs — which is well within the range of a canter.  Let’s say that rider and pony have an unfortunate parting of ways at 350 mpm involving a dirty stop, and our lawn-darting, spherical rider goes flying over pony’s head and on to the ground, where she skids for 30 cm (1 foot) in arena sand that compresses to 4 cm (a little more cushy than the aforementioned arena sand).

vertical forces = 241.2 cm / 4 cm = 60.3 gs
horizontal forces = (5.8 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.3 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 5.7 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 60.57 gs

That’s really a fairly gentle fall, all things considered — barely more significant than falling off your stationary horse.

What if we jack up the speed to 520 mpm?

vertical forces = 60.3 gs (same as above)
horizontal forces = (8.76 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.3 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 38 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 71.44 gs

All in all, it seems like falling in soft, squishy footing in stadium (or dressage, I guess) isn’t all that awful.  4 cm isn’t even that deep of an impact crater.

Cross country is where things get sketchy.

Cross country footing is nowhere near as squishy as stadium footing, so I’m conservatively estimating a 1 cm vertical stopping distance.  This drastically increases the vertical forces right off the bat.

vertical forces = 241.2 cm / 1 cm = 241.2 gs

If our spherical rider falls off of her horse traveling at 400 mpm, and stops in a distance of 10cm (skidding), then

horizontal forces = (6.67 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.1 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 22 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 242.26 gs

If said rider is traveling at 600 mpm and has the same stopping distance (10 cm), it looks worse

vertical forces = 241.2 gs
horizontal forces = (10 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.1 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 51 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 247 gs

Let’s say that the helmet our hypothetical rider is wearing compresses by 2mm (0.2 cm) during the impact, as above.  Then we get

vertical forces = 241.2 / 1.2 = 201 gs
horizontal forces = (10 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.102 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 38 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 208 gs

Once again, that’s an appreciable decrease in force caused by only a 2mm compression within the helmet.  Helmets are cool, man.

I ran out of fall-adjacent media

Just for shits, here’s what happens if someone traveling at Rolex speeds falls and has a stopping distance of only 1cm (maybe they hit a fence, I dunno)

vertical forces = 214.2 gs
horizontal forces = (10 m/s)^2 / (2 * 0.01 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 510 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 563 gs

Helmet compression of 2mm decreases this impact force to 395 gs, which is a really appreciable decrease.  As if I needed more reason to wear a helmet — gotta protect that money maker.

These estimates are probably not all that realistic, given the many caveats I had to list above.  I’m also not taking into account multiple concussions, bouncing, being kicked by horses, hitting other objects… Really, there’s a lot more that could go in to this model to make it more accurate (though as we know, the more predictors you add to a model the less predictive it actually becomes — statistics is a cruel mistress).  But it was an interesting exercise in practicing physics and geometry again, and gave me some idea of the serious forces we put our heads under.  Thank you, helmet, for protecting my melon so often!

(Now I have other questions. What forces are needed to break certain bones, for example?!)


reconsidering pentosan

Since Twin, I’ve been thinking about what I might be able to do for Murray to make him more comfortable and extend our competition career.  A part of what inspired me to start thinking about it more seriously was his super-stardom at Twin, but I also have a lot more income than I ever have in the past. This makes entertaining the idea of spending/potentially wasting money on my horse’s well-being possible — I literally* did not have the money to pour money into joint maintenance before.

* The actual literally, not the millennial “literally” that really means “figuratively” or “maybe”

I first heard about Pentosan on Amanda’s blog (like, where I hear about most things apparently), and after following the trail of evidence she left, I wasn’t terribly convinced.  Use of the drug was based mostly on anecdotal reports of improved movement and comfort after IM/IV injections among Australian horse owners, and there wasn’t a ton of peer-reviewed evidence to back up using Pentosan IM/IV for joint maintenance.

murray is a skeptical walrus

Pentosan, if you’re unfamiliar, is a semi-synthetic polysulfyated xylan (don’t know what that really means? me neither!).  It is used for several purposes, including treatment and prevention of osteoarthritis.  The most interesting thing, to me, about pentosan is that it is used during open-joint surgery to help heal the joints after they are put back together.  Literally, surgeons squirt the stuff all over the open joint to help avoid cartilage break down and improve synovial fluid viscosity.  edit: Austen pointed out to me this important clarification: joint lavage (which is done both surgically or arthroscopically) works by helping to wash away debris that accumulates in the joint and may cause pain (at least in humans).  Therefore, the pentosan may not be having as much of an effect as might be reported — the lavage process itself is extremely helpful in this case.

I’m won’t rule out a treatment or medication as ineffective simply because it doesn’t have veterinarian or peer-reviewed evidence.  I know that it takes time to conduct studies and gather data, and that what is currently being studied may not be what is in vogue with horse owners at the time.  Joint pain and comfort is terribly hard to quantitatively evaluate, especially when you want to look at more than just the articulation of a specific joint (how far that joint can flex/bend), and supplements/drugs for joint pain in companion and production animals aren’t necessarily at the top of the research ladder.  Particularly in equines, the amount of scientific inquiry into the efficacy of drugs or supplements is quite sparse.

All that said, I’m not going to rush out and spend a lot of money on a product that is anecdotally reported by horse owners to make their horses “feel better”.  The placebo effect*, even among animal caregivers and owners, is a real thing.  (Also in 2014 my horse was five, not actually mine, and it wasn’t the time to think seriously about maintenance.)

* Have just realised this could make an incredible horse name!!

placebo effect is sooooo good at canter poles

When I started thinking about and exploring joint maintenance for Murray this year, pentosan popped up both on the interwebs and at the suggestion of a friend.  I took some time to look into the drug more seriously, and found that in the last three years, enough evidence about the efficacy of pentosan in prevention and treatment of OA has accumulated to convince me it’s worth a try.  If you’re interested in my research, just hit me up and I can share the details with you.  But here are some of my more general findings.  (Links here may be behind a paywall.)

First of all, pentosan appears to be safe to use in  horses both intra-articularly (i.e. joint injections), as well as IV and IM.  That’s great, because it means that you don’t have to pony up for expensive IA injections just to get the drug, an if you can’t do IV, you can safely go IM.

There is also good evidence that IM pentosan actually makes its way into both the plasma (blood) and intra-articular spaces (joints).  And in dogs, pentosan has been used to successfully treat chronic osteoarthritis.  If you want to dive a bit deeper into the cell-biology literature (exposing oneself to some serious jargon at the same time), there’s at least one proposed method for pentosan to treat osteoarthritis by acting as a chondroprotective agent (cartilage protective agent).

unrelated puppy throwbac pic

Pentosan was demonstrated to modify the healing of experimentally-induced OA in donkeys and horses.  In these studies, donkeys and horses with experimentally induced OA were given IV pentosan (treatment) or saline (control).  At the beginning of the treatment period, all animals were lame, and their levels of lameness, synovial fluid, cartilage damage, and the levels of certain elements (Mg, Ca) were tracked over time (among other factors associated with joint health).  All of the above mentioned factors improved significantly in treatment animals, i.e. synovial fluid was decreased compared to controls, cartilage damage was less.  Most importantly to me, lameness score in treatment animals decreased to baseline (which I believe was 0) after pentosan treatment, whereas in control animals lameness score decreased, but never achieved baseline levels.

Certainly, this is a pretty extreme way to check the utility of pentosan.  And it doesn’t necessarily speak to the maintenance side of the drug, or how pentosan interacts with joints that might have mild-moderate OA. Notably, a similar study using pentosan and hyaluronic acid was inconclusive and demonstrated no improvement with treatment.  So there is still plenty of room for skepticism.  However, if the proposed relationship between increased synovial fluid and cartilage degeneration in osteoarthritis is correct (an extremely reasonable and supported assumption), and pentosan really does decrease synovial fluid and help decrease cartilage damage, then it seems reasonable that pentosan may help prevent or mitigate osteoarthritis (by mitigating cartilage damage and preventing the forces that result in increased synovial fluid).

There are still lots of “ifs” here.  But I’ll definitely be talking to my vet about pentosan in the coming weeks.

shut up and take my money

lies, damn lies, and statistics

Murray and I recently had a development in our communication that makes me seem like a huge asshole.  Which I will readily admit that I am, sometimes.  But I’m not sure this is really one of those times.

Horse professionals have long been telling me things like “horses don’t lie”, or “listen to your horse, they’re trying to tell you something”, or “horses are inherently truthful creatures”, or even “horses don’t have the ability to be deceptive”.  And I don’t necessarily disagree with these things.  I don’t think that the vast majority of horses (going to go ahead an say 99% here) have the ability for premeditated deception.  Sure, some horses will learn that when they come out a little stiff and janky they get put right back, so it might behoove them to be stiff and janky because they keep getting rewarded for such behavior.  But no horse sits in his stall and thinks, “now, if I just make sure not to put any weight on that right front hoof today, my owner will definitely think something is wrong and give me the well deserved spa day that I actually deserve.”

Image result for malingering

But I have never totally bought it that a horse is always telling me the truth.  There are little lies, like “I’ve never seen a trot pole before in my life! How does one horse this contraption?!” which are some variation of “I can’t”/”I don’t wanna”.  And I even understand how “I can’t” and “I don’t wanna” can be really valuable and truthful indicators of something hinkey going on physically or mentally, and should be paid attention to.  And there are occasionally big misunderstandings, like “holy shit that patch of weird ground is the most horrifying thing I have EVER SEEN oh actually it’s fine, nevermind.”

And then there are the Chicken Littles of the world.

Image result for chicken little sky is falling

For a long time, trying to understand what Murray was telling me behaviorally was ridiculously difficult.  He could be so sensitive and reactive that absolutely anything that upset him turned into a huge deal.  Sometimes he seemed to respond really reasonably to the various stimuli of life — a leaf blowing across the barn aisle, a funny sound, a wheelbarrow going by — and sometimes the sky was absolutely falling for weeks on end, and anything more exciting than another horse casually walking past him was cause for IMMEDIATE ALARM.  Responses were scaled proportionately to the level of excitement elicited, just starting around a 7 on a 1-10 scale and going up from there.

This is not exactly what I would call reliable or honest communication.  At some point, when someone tells you that there’s a wolf in the pasture every single day and there is never a wolf there, you stop listening.  There is no wolf out there, the sky isn’t falling, yes that is a saddle, and there is an extension cord that wasn’t there yesterday, and this is just real life, and you have to get used to it.  (Part of me feels like this is something baby animals are supposed to learn.  It’s what I teach puppies — the world is a large and dynamic place, and we don’t get to live in a box that never changes.  Am I wrong in thinking that foals/yearlings/young horses with good handling probably get taught those things too?)

dummy foal?

This type of communication isn’t what I would call honest, but it isn’t distinctly dishonest either.  Sure, Murray was (probably) trying to tell me about one of the fifty six butterfly-sized things that might be bothering him at any one time — there’s a cat over there, that trash can is new, someone is putting a blanket on another horse!!!!  But those aren’t things that bother 95% of the equine population, and they certainly aren’t things that ought to bother him.  And they aren’t the kind of communication that is actually telling me something — it doesn’t necessarily mean he is sore, or has an abscess, or needs his hocks injected.  It just means a gnat farted somewhere in a mile radius and Murray took offense.

So maybe I’m an asshole for not listening.  But unless the horse was really, physically trying to kill himself (or at risk of doing so), it was so much easier to just tune it out.

A few weeks ago, Murray didn’t want to pick up his left hind foot for me to pick out.  It was strange and annoying, because I thought I’d solved the whole foot picking out situation years ago with a lot of treats and praise.  He would dance away from me all around the tying post (yeah, we still don’t cross tie), and finally for a few days I gave up on picking the foot out and settled with picking it up to look in it briefly and put it down again.  It was ridiculous but it resolved itself in four or five days.

Twin Peaks on Showtime season 1 episode 1 twin peaks showtime GIF

Then last week, I found two blown out abscess holes on his right hind.  One from the coronet band, an one in the heel bulb.  Probably from about the time of the not foot pick upsies issue.

Last week I also had a saddle on trial.  It was a great saddle, at a steal of a price, and everything about it said it would probably fit Murray (I ultimately returned it because it was a hair too long and didn’t fit me).  And when I tried it on Murray he had a pretty horrified, violent reaction.  But, I thought, that was because I stupidly put a bare leather saddle on his naked back.  Everybody knows you put the saddle pad down before the saddle, you silly human.

So we did the whole routine, I put a pad under it because it looked a little wide, we did a very loose girth, and then because Murray was especially touchy that morning I went outside to do the girth up the rest of the way.  And he just about ran me down when I finally did get it all the way done up.  Normally he runs away from you when he’s freaking out, but this time he ran to the end of the lead rope, turned around, and ran right at me.  I checked under the saddle and it was awfully tight under there, so I pulled the half pad out, and homeboy seemed a bit better.

murray: who’s the asshole now?!

The next day, though, saw the exact same reaction.  And Murray really, really does not usually try to run humans down.  He’s very respectful in his panicking and freaking out — he’d much rather stay far, far away from all bipeds, thanks all the same.  So I shoved my hands in under the saddle, and back just past his shoulders were two firm spots of flocking that were really quite tight.  And when I took the saddle off of him, you could tell that those spots were extra tight even without a girth done up.

So. What do you know.  The child has learned to communicate actual problems to me!  Or maybe…. I just learned how to listen.

So once again, my horse is proving to me that he’s not the asshole who isn’t listening, I’m the asshole who isn’t listening.  And it would be great if he could do it in a more succinct way, but the lessons probably wouldn’t stick quite as hard then.

twin recap: enough

Look at where you are,
look at where you started.
The fact that you’re alive is a miracle,
Just stay alive, that would be enough.

– Non-Stop, Hamilton

 I told you this entire week would be about Twin.  I needed to get it all down for myself, so I can remember everything.  There are a few more things to wrap up, a little more retrospective, and a little less gloat-worthy.  Though there will still be a bit of gloating — one can’t help oneself after such a weekend.

victory can-NOPE

Between cross country and stadium Murray dug up his entire stall, added a small water complex, and took full advantage of the terrain.  I tried to flatten it out when I checked and walked him on Friday night, but dirt that your horse has dug up and then peed on is HARD to move with a pitch fork.  And he completely dug it up again the next morning so… I gave up.

After stadium Murray was practically throwing himself on the ground, and I knew he’d been struggling with the fact that he’d been essentially unable to roll all “weekend”.  I quickly untacked him and in lieu of a rinse took him down to the lunging arena for a little roll in the soft sand there.  Murray was more than happy to comply, and somehow on his first roll managed to unlatch his halter and stood up happy as a clam… and totally loose.  Fortunately he was also too tired to go running off, and the other girl in the arena thought it was funny rather than annoying.  He had six or seven more good wallows in the sand before I put him back in his stall, which he flattened out over the course of the next day until it was hardly possible to see that he’d completely re-engineered the day before.

The tubigrip solution worked splendidly to ice Murray’s legs.  I cut a length of tubigrip twice that (and a bit) of Murray’s front canons and pulled it on over his shoes, folded over, with the fold at the bottom.  It was very easy to stuff ice cubes in the pocket that created, and then move the ice around with my hands to give coverage where I wanted it.  Since Murray’s extensor tendon swells on front of his left canon, I wanted ice over the front and back of his legs, so this was nice. I wrapped the ice pocket up tightly with a polo wrap, which helped keep the ice up as well as added some cold pressure to the whole shebang.  After that they stayed up nicely for 30 minutes, and I had a cold, wet piece of tubigrip to use over the poultice when I was done to boot!

The most wonderful thing about this entire weekend was feeling all of our hard work and training pay off.  We have both worked hard — Murray to improve me as a rider, me to teach him some fraction of what he ought to know.  And it has been a road full of terrain, water traps, and even a few U-turns and misdirections.  There are so many times when I wished I could have bought a horse who was braver, more reasonable, more compliant, a better mover, smarter — I didn’t want any of those things this weekend.

I bailed on our partnership ways only a human could, and Murray stepped up to fill the gap in the only way his pony self could.  He went forward when he needed to, woahed when I asked, and let me know in no uncertain terms that he had got this.

murray and I feel rather different about the ribbon ceremony

It feels so good to come through every phase of an event filled with pride at what we lay down, even if it wasn’t my vision of a perfect or winning dressage test, even if we didn’t perform as well as we can at home.  There wasn’t a single time this show when I wished I’d made better choices for my horse — though there were obviously several moments when I wished I’d made better choices for me!

Twin showed how far I have come as a rider and horsewoman too.  I didn’t expect Murray to make up for my deficiencies (though he did it anyway), and I didn’t try to bully him through to something that neither of us was entirely sure of.  I knew I’d biffed it getting ready for cross country, so I didn’t try to fight him over the fences, and I was ready to withdraw if he needed it.  But he didn’t, and I’m so, so grateful.

We have truly, finally, built a successful partnership.

this is the cutest we have ever looked


Murray and I have been doing some ground work in the rope halter before each dressage ride since we got our rope halter, so for about a month now.  It’s all been very easy stuff, an attempt to remind him of the rules of polite society.  You know, walk next to me here, stop when I stop, go when I go, back up a little.  Stand — and do just that, just stand — is a hard one for Murray.  He doesn’t relax easily and wants to anticipate whatever is coming next, especially if he thinks what is coming next is an attempt to tighten the girth a little.  He thinks that dancing away or small circles around me are exactly what he should be doing.

The ground work, other than helping with our warm up, has been very educational for both of us.  I tried to play with shoulder in when we first started, and Murray would get tense and scoot past me.  At first I got frustrated that he essentially ran me down, but it was easy to see that Murray wasn’t comfortable with what I was asking and couldn’t figure out how to slow himself down.  Figuring out exactly how to get Murray to slow down took a bit of trial and error.  The best solution for us was to drastically slow down my own pace, taking slow and precise steps, and letting Murray go back to a more comfortable speed after a few of these slow shoulder-fore steps.  It is hard for him — the hardest thing ever.  So no more shoulder in for now.

On the ground, and under saddle, Murray’s backing up has been getting so much better.  He was pretty reluctant to back up  unless you really got angry with him, and then he’d march back practically sitting down.  But if you asked him to just back up a little,  even if you pushed him, he’d kindof shuffle backwards with one foot at a time, making a four beat gait out of something supposed to be two beats.  And it would include lots of sideways motion as he tried to pivot around me instead of actually stepping backwards.  Now it’s very reliably a two beat gait, even if it does sometimes rather resemble an egg-shaped circle.  He doesn’t quite get it if I’m facing him, but if I step backwards myself he gamely travels back with me.

So one day, a few weeks ago, when there were some poles laid out on the ground I led Murray forward over them, and then asked him to back up over them as well, after reading that it’s a useful exercise for stifles.  Murray gamely took one step backwards, then one more tentative step wherein his hoof landed on the pole.  That was obviously not okay, and he skittered forward  and around me with a very, very suspicious eye.  I patted him and settled him down, then gave it another go.  Murray was very much not okay with this idea and danced his way forward, shook his head and nipped at me, and struck at the air.  The reaction wasn’t quite what I expected, and really not very polite, but it did give me a lot of information.

I tried one more time, and Murray wouldn’t even stop after walking through the poles this time.  He flung himself forward and away from the poles, trotted around me a little, then stopped and looked at me like “what are you going to do about it?”

If Murray were a monkey, I’d call his behavior redirecting.  The idea of going backward over the poles made him uncomfortable, so he tried to change the context of what we were doing. This is easy to identify with aggression: one monkey gets threatened by another, and turns around and threatens someone nearby (often an innocent human observer).

maybe this new knowledge will help me decipher… this?

I wish I’d written about this sooner, because there was something in particular about the whole incident that showed me this was more than just naughtiness.  But it was quite clear that he was actually very uncomfortable with what I was asking, so responded with silliness. Importantly, it’s changed how I react to Murray being silly with me, on the ground and under saddle.  Sometimes he is silly because he literally can’t control his body, and evidently he is sometimes silly because he’s actually very uncomfortable with what I’m asking him to do.

If he’s actually confused, and not just objecting for the sake of getting out of work, then I should probably reel in my annoyance and reconsider what I’m asking and how I’m asking. I have been consciously trying to be less of an asshole to Murray, but sometimes it’s hard when seemingly very basic things are curiously impossible to him.  But all new information is good information, so we’ll keep chugging forward, and I’ll try to keep this in mind the next time Murray responds with “silly” instead of “trying”.

jumping:dressage with obstacles as showing: ??

Remember when the SAT had that amazing analogies section that confused the fuck out of 96% of people, and the last 4% were major over achievers or just faking their understanding?  Yeah, those were awesome.  I finally understand how to do them, now.  Thirteen years too late.

this is my horse scratching his own sheath with his teeth because he’s just that flexible.
on the other hand, the mystery of how he bloodied his sheath is now solved.

We hear a lot of analogies in training; jumping is just dressage with obstacles, right? (Or, as I like to call it “dressage with shit in the way”).  And I’m going to try to push my own analogy for the forseeable future.  And please, chime in with your opinions on this because I am pretty sure I just made this up and it could be completely, completely invalid.

Showing: just schooling with field trips.

Part of this is a coping mechanism.  Murray and I aren’t anywhere near as “ready” for Twin as I hoped to be (though every ride we have as the show gets closer promises to prove me wrong), and if there’s anything I hate it’s being underprepared.  But my goal is to get him out and showing this year, and so even if we aren’t going out there totally prepared to finish on our dressage score or ready to take home all the prize moneyz, this will still be a valuable experience for us.  Every show that we get through without Murray being a) eaten by a pony-eating jump, b) murdered by his owner, or c) disqualified is another check mark in the “see, shows aren’t that bad Murray!” column.  And that’s what I want.

And really, should an impending show change the way I’m schooling and riding?  I’m trying to create a well-rounded and correct horse, not learn tricks to pick up points on a dressage test.  Sponging my hands or wiggling my ring finger or whatever other nonsense I could come up with to get Murray to look like he’s in a frame for a dressage test aren’t going to be long term solutions that teach him how to come on the bit and use his body better.  Sure, there are movements that need a little more practice and transitions that can be polished, but ideally, I’d be working those transitions in at home as well.  But those aren’t big things that I need be “preparing” for.

things i do need to prepare for: making my fabulous new stock ties!!

So for the rest of the year, I’m going to treat all of my upcoming shows as schooling field trips.  Or try to, at least.  Schooling field trips that I’ll get feedback from strangers on!  And where my tack is really clean and my breeches really white.

The goal is not to change my riding or training or stress out about the fact that shows mean things to people who like to win (I am also one of these people, so I’m trying to be less of one of these people).  Shows are just schooling away from home or schooling after a trailer ride.  We’ll see if this mentality works on Murray!

busy mind vs. thinking mind

I was riding a friend’s pony last week, I’ve mentioned him before.  He is a very fun and rather different ride from Murray.  They are both overthinkers, but it seems to express itself in different ways.  (Or perhaps I just think it comes out differently because I’m so close to Murray?)

logan01july jump 02
logan left, murray right – they are similar in some ways

Murray thinks so much that he’s always trying to anticipate my next move, and any movement of my leg or seat or hands can result in drastic direction changes. Logan is busy thinking about what we are doing that direction changes almost seem to sneak up on him, and if I surprise him with one he tenses and inverts.  When I put poles down for Murray he wants to look at them for as long as he can, and then flings his feet around in an attempt to get there on the stride he wants.  When I put poles down for Logan,  he sometimes seemed surprised that they suddenly appeared in front of him — he’s perfectly willing and happy to go over them, but I couldn’t really get it to feel good when I did it.

All of this really got me thinking about catering to the busy pony mind.  A lot of the crappy advice I see floating around the internet is to do lots of transitions and poles to “keep your OTTB’s mind busy”.  (Oh all right, you caught me, I’m mostly shit-talking OTTB connect. SprinklerBandit mentioned this in passing the other day and it made me lol absurdly.)  Which has always struck me as wildly TERRIBLE and FANTASTIC advice a the same time.  Of course, in my jaded little world, that means it falls squarely in the “terrible” camp, since I don’t trust the execution skills of people looking for training advice on OTTB connect (or other horse fora, honestly).

murray: holy shit a light saber!

The trick with Murray is keeping his mind engaged enough, such that exercises are actually doing something.  There’s nothing actually useful in Murray flying in a so-called leg yield from the centerline to the wall like the gravitational force of the sun is pulling him there — nothing gymnasticizing, and certainly nothing thoughtful.  Likewise I’m not doing anything by letting him flail his way up to a set of poles instead of waiting, thinking, and lifting his way to them.  Transitions on a circle are super when Murray can maintain a forward and powerful enough gait to respond to them quickly and when I ask him to — not when he bloody well feels like it because he knows it may or may not be coming.

Lots of transitions or poles quickly crosses the line from “a useful exercise” into “drilling incessantly”, which is where the problem arises with Murray.  Inaccurate leg yields build bad habits, and all of it misses the point: learning.  Busy minds aren’t learning, they are just responding.  And in my experience surprising your horse with a ton of transitions they aren’t ready for or throwing random poles in their path just to keep them “paying attention” just makes them stiff and anticipatory (hmm, and how might I know that….?).  Plus it all ties in with a lesson it took me a long time to learn, which is to do things well when you do them, instead of just because you can.

It was more of a challenge to find the same balance on Logan, who I don’t know as well.  So I stuck with the base of the dressage pyramid – keeping things slow so he could just relax, relax, relax through direction changes, small circles, and transitions.  When in doubt, more relaxation will never hurt things.  I think.

not for us, anyway