Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Ponderable Thought

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems”
- Mahatma Gandhi

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Friday, March 27, 2009

a beautiful e.e.cummings poem

when god lets my body be

by e.e. cummings (1894-1962)


From each brave eye shall sprout a tree
fruit that dangles therefrom

the purpled world will dance upon
Between my lips which did sing

a rose shall beget the spring
that maidens whom passion wastes

will lay between their little breasts
My strong fingers beneath the snow

Into strenuous birds shall go
my love walking in the grass

their wings will touch with her face
and all the while shall my heart be

With the bulge and nuzzle of the sea

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We've Lost Another Great One


America's Horse, March 12, 2009 -- Editor’s Note: The name Ray Hunt is legendary. He took the mantle of natural horsemanship from the Dorrance brothers and spread it to a larger audience. He, in fact, was the first traveling clinician, taking his teaching methods on the road more than 30 years ago and continuing to teach through 2009 when he had a spring workshop scheduled at his Texas ranch. Today, however, we mourn the loss of a legend. Ray Hunt, in his late 70s, passed away March 12.

The best way to describe Hunt is to let his words speak for themselves. What follows is an excerpt of a story published in the May 2002 American Quarter Horse Racing Journal:

Ray Hunt has shared his equine philosophy and techniques around the world. In 2002, he presented a two-day clinic at New Mexico’s Sunland Park Racetrack and Frontera Training Center, focusing on gate-training young horses and correcting problem behavior in older runners. But whether it deals with racehorses or ranch horses, the advice was vintage Hunt.

“We’ve got to look at things a little more from the horse’s point of view,” Hunt said. “We’ve got to try to help him to learn to reach our goals.”

Hunt worked with – instead of against – the horse’s natural sensitivities to pressure. He often pointed out that a horse can feel a single fly land on its body - so whips and chains aren’t necessary. He urged people to combine their knowledge and understanding of horses to create situations that increase the likelihood of the desired results.

“Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy,” Hunt said.

Before a horse is even asked to enter the starting gate, Hunt established boundaries with the animal. While facing the horse, he applied slight pressure with the lead rope (enough to take out the slack) to encourage the horse to step forward. Hunt wasn’t talking about walking off – he was looking for the slightest clue that the horse was willing to move its foot. As soon as the horse shifted its body weight, Hunt released the pressure.

“Think about controlling the feet and shifting the weight,” he said. “If you get the horse to move his weight, he has got to shift his feet, but I bet he doesn’t move his feet first. He shifts his weight, then moves his feet. He prepares his position, and then there’s a transition. Don’t try to get the horse to go without getting it ready.”

If the horse stepped as Hunt wanted, he was rewarded with a rub on the forehead. If the horse didn’t step forward, the pressure was applied again, but never in a tug-of-war fashion. This wasn’t a contest.

“The horse doesn’t know what a contest is – what win or lose is – but the human does,” Hunt explained. “The first thing you know, you’ve got the horse contesting you – and don’t be surprised if he’s the winner. The horse doesn’t have any pride or ego – the two things that really get in a human’s way.”

If the horse stepped back, Hunt stepped back also, keeping the pressure steady but not increasing it. Hunt wanted to make the wrong thing difficult, not necessarily impossible. He stressed that the horse had a choice – he could do the right thing the easy way or do the wrong thing and face difficult consequences. In this case, the easy option was for the horse to simply take a step forward. But if he stepped back, Hunt went with him – if Hunt had stood his ground, when the horse hit the end of the line, the man would probably have had a fight on his hands.

To get a horse in a starting gate – or to do anything else – he has to be prepared, to be ready to do it. The horse’s body gives all the clues to his readiness. Hunt compared the unprepared horse to a steel rod. Tense muscles, wide eyes and planted feet are signs of excitement that show the horse needs more time to relax.

Most horses that are not ready to accept the gate will walk up to the open stall, stop and shift their hindquarters out of line, making a smooth entrance into the gate impossible.

Hunt suggested supporting the horse by twirling the end of the lead rope near or even tapping the horse’s hip to get the horse to line up. Then back the horse and approach the gate again to gauge the horse’s willingness. Don’t be surprised if you have to do this several times. As Hunt said, “It’ll probably take more than once but less than a million times.”

Other pearls of wisdom from Hunt:

“Notice the smallest changes and the slightest tries.”
“You direct the life in the horse’s body through the legs to the feet to the mind.”
“Slow down so you can hurry up. In the end, it’s a good way. Speed ahead of accuracy is no good.”
“You think you’ve got to hold the horse, but you don’t have to,” Hunt said. “You’ve got to have a feel – a feel following a feel, not pressure against pressure. That’s what happens in the starting gate, pressure against pressure. We don’t really think about it in that manner, but the horse does because he learns what he lives. He learned it the way he lived it.”
“There has to be firmness and discipline. I’m responsible for running the show, and the horse is going to work for me. He’s going to go where I want him, but he’s not a slave. You make him want to do it. First thing you know, he’s your partner.”
Hunt compared the human-equine relationship to a dance between a man and a woman: “If I was going to dance with a lady, I wouldn’t just grab her and say ‘We’re going.’ I’d get slapped,” Hunt said. “A lot of people don’t understand that you are trying to get the horse to turn loose in the same way. There’s a place in there where he turns loose and then you give. I feel of him, I feel for him, and we both feel together.”
“I’m trying to get my idea to become the horse’s idea. It’s not like turning a dial that is going to work today. It’s what led up to today that you need to change. It’s the little things that make the difference.”
"Keep in mind what you are working toward,” Hunt said. “You might not get him in (the starting gate) today, but when you feel he tries – which is a plus toward that – you can put him away. Quit on pluses, don’t quit on minuses. That’s negative; always quit on positives. He will never forget it. Build on positive things. When he finally wants to do things for you, that’s building confidence in him. By doing too much, you can take that confidence out. You’ve got to work from the horse’s point of view.”
-- Excerpted from “Hunting for Help” by Jennifer K. Hancock in the May and June 2002 issues of The American Quarter Horse Racing Journal.

A Day To Honor Our Forebears

May you all have a wonderful Saint Patrick's Day!
May you also take a moment to reflect upon the lives of your ancestors, who most likely came to these shores without the proverbial two cents to rub together, and who perserved through hardships unlike anything we have ever known. Whether they were Irish or not does not matter. Just hold them in your hearts for a time, and send out a little prayer of thanks for all that they did to help themselves, and ultimately you, to have a better life.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Earliest domesticated horses dated 5,500 years ago!

WASHINGTON – People and horses have trekked together through at least 5,500 years of history, according to an international team of researchers reporting in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

New evidence, corralled in Kazakhstan, indicates the Botai culture used horses as beasts of burden — and as a source of meat and milk — about 1,000 years earlier than had been widely believed, according to the team led by Alan Outram of England's University of Exeter.

"This is significant because it changes our understanding of how these early societies developed," Outram said.

Domestication of the horse was an immense breakthrough — bringing advancements in communications, transportation, farming and warfare.

The research also shows the development of animal domestication and a fully pastoral economy may well be independent of famous centers of domestication, such as the Near East and China, Outram added.

Compared to dogs, domesticated as much as 15,000 years ago, and such food animals as sheep, goats and pigs, horses are relatively late arrivals in the human relationship.

"It is not so much the domestication of the horse that is important, but the invention of horseback riding," commented anthropologist David W. Anthony of Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. "When people began to ride, it revolutionized human transport."

"For the first time the Eurasian steppes, formerly a hostile ecological barrier to humans, became a corridor of communication across Eurasia linking China to Europe and the Near East. Riding also forever changed warfare. Boundaries were changed, new trading partners were acquired, new alliances became possible, and resources that had been beyond reach became reachable," observed Anthony, who was not part of Outram's research team.

Some researchers believe this new mobility may have led to the spread of Indo-European languages and many other common aspects of human culture, Outram said.

In addition to carrying people and their goods, horses provided meat and even milk, which some cultures still ferment into a mildly alcoholic beverage.

The date and place of horse domestication has long been subject to research, and the steppes of Central Asia and the Botai Culture have previously been suggested as possibilities.

But the new report adds extensive detail to the tale.

Outram's team developed a troika of evidence for horses being domesticated by the Botai.

• Studies of the jaws of horses from the site show tooth wear similar to that caused by bits in modern horses, an indication of riding. A 1998 paper by Anthony raised the possibility of such findings, but the new report is much more extensive and detailed.

• The leg bones of the Botai horses are more slender than those of wild horses, indicating breeding for different qualities.

The new way of measuring and analyzing horse leg bones "shows here for the first time that the Botai culture horses were closer in leg conformation to domestic horses than to wild horses. That is another first," Anthony said.

• And complex studies of ancient ceramic pots from the location showed evidence they once contained mare's milk.

"This is, apart from being fascinating, something of a smoking gun for domestication — would you milk a wild horse?" said Outram.

Anthony agreed: "If you're milking horses, they are not wild!"

"The invention of a method to identify the fat residues left by horse milk in ceramic pots is a spectacular and brilliant advance," he said of Outram's paper. "It is really important to be able to identify the fats in the clay pots as not just from horse tissue, but precisely from horse milk."

Still today mares are milked in Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

"The Kazakhs ferment it into a sour tasting and slightly alcoholic drink called Koumiss. It is clear that dated back at least hundreds of years, but beyond that no one knew. Who would have thought it was a practice that went back 5,500 years, at least," Outram said.

The new research was funded by Britain's Natural Environment Research Council, the British Academy and the U.S. National Science Foundation.


On the Net:


And now for something completely different...

Here's a link to a very interesting article about a key difference between female and male brains and their response to stressors, such as starvation.
{I'm a science nerd and I make no apologies, hee hee!}

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ancient Horse of the Vikings

Today, I wanted to share with you a bit about a breed that is very close to my heart-the Norwegian Fjord Horse, naturally!
In my upcoming blog posts, I hope to share more pictures and stories of my own personal Fjord adventures as my husband and I continue working with and training our young Fjord gelding.

{Fjord photo montage from NFHR website, featuring the lovely horses of members}

But for now, I would like to reprint this as per the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry's gorgeous website:

"The Norwegian Fjord Horse is one of the world's oldest and purest breeds. It is believed that the original Fjord Horse migrated to Norway and was domesticated over 4,000 years ago. Herds of wild Fjord Horses existed in Norway after the last ice age. Archaeological excavations at Viking burial sites indicate that the Fjord Horse has been selectively bred for at least 2,000 years.

The charming, gentle disposition of the Fjord Horse is its most outstanding quality. They are hardy, long lived, agile, sure-footed, and willing. They love attention, are "people oriented", and are happiest when they are working. They learn fast and have an amazing ability to retain what they have learned even after long periods of inactivity. Their cool temperament and graceful, balanced gaits both under saddle and in harness, make them the ideal family horse. They are used for schooling horses for the young or inexperienced rider, yet are large and powerful enough for adults to ride and enjoy.

One of their unique characteristics is that approximately 90% of all Fjord Horses are brown dun in color. The other 10% are either red dun, gray, white or "uls" dun, or yellow dun. The Fjord Horse retains the "wild" dun color of the original horse as well as the primitive markings which include zebra stripes on the legs and a dorsal stripe that runs from the forelock down the neck and back and into the tail. Dark stripes may also be seen over the withers. Red duns have reddish-brown stripes and body markings. Gray duns have black or very dark gray stripes and markings. The white or "uls" dun is a very light body color with black or gray stripe and markings. The yellow dun have a darker yellow stripe and markings, they may have a completely white forelock, mane and tail. The yellow dun is a very rare color in the breed.

Another unique characteristic of the Fjord Horse is the mane. The center hair of the mane is dark (usually black) while the outer hair is white. The mane is cut short so it will stand erect. It is trimmed in a characteristic crescent shape to emphasize the graceful curve of the neck The white outer hair is then trimmed slightly shorter than the dark inner hair to display the dramatic dark stripe.

The head and neck should present an appearance of elegance without coarseness. The head is medium sized and well defined with a broad, flat forehead and a straight or slightly dished face. The eyes are large. Ears are small and alert. The neck of the Fjord is well muscled and crested. The body is short coupled with good depth, large heart girth, and well developed muscles. The legs are powerful, with substantial bone and excellent feet which are black in color. Fjords generally range in size from 13.2 to 14.2 Hands and weigh between 900 and 1200 pounds at maturity, with a few individuals ranging outside these measurements."

Please visit the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry website at:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tea and Inspiration

As I sit here enjoying my favorite cuppa, Devonshire English Breakfast Tea, I've noticed a snippet of inspiration to be found on the side of the box.
It reads:
"Far away there, in the sunshine, are my highest aspirations. I cannot reach them; but I can look up, and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead...."
-Louisa May Alcott

Thank you, Celestial Seasonings!