Archive for August, 2011

She got them all with that one !

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August 25, 2011. Last Saturday in Rotterdam, Adelinde Cornellisen (NED) and Jercich Parcival won the European Dressage Grand Prix Freestyle Championship with an 88+ score, a talling 4% closer to the ideal 100% than nearest contestants Carl Hester(GB) and Uthopia and Patric Kittel (SWE) and Watermill Scandic. Seven Judges, presided by Fourhage (NED), scrutinized each footfall  of 15 performers, awarding scores above eighty to eight of them, and scores above 70 to all of them!

How did Cornelissen and Parcival prevail?

Parvcival’s Freestyle test which was delightfully choreographed to accentuate  Parcival’s transitions between movements, as well as the movements themselves.  Having no errors to the last line, compared to her nearest competitors, but only somewhat inferior qualities of motion, Adelinde passaged the CenterLine to D where she piaffe pirouetted 360 degrees right, then reversed to piaffe 180 degrees left, and passaged the centerline to X, halted and saluted! Audio-visual recordings of the performance sound respectfully hushed gasps, gushes, sighs, and squeals from the gallery, 90 degrees into the left sweep. I, too, was thrilled, and so not surprised by the score.

Apparently Cornelissen and Parcival have been doing this freestyle for a while; they’ve got it down pat. I read that she is planning a new Kur for London 2012. I wonder what her choreographic collaborators could invent that will get higher scores for use of the arena, degree of difficulty of the movements, music and interpretation. But, of course, it is the exercise of imagination that makes freestyle so much fun.

But, good as Cornelissen/Parcival got, other tests deserve close scrutiny…

Carl Hester rode relatively young —ten-year-old —-stallion, Uthopia, to brand new bespoke music, and exhibited three excellent gaits, in the required GP variations. ALL of the best qualities of motion are intrinsic to, and, thus far, retained in this horse. Although the judges are not supposed  to consider the rider’s position and seat, correctness and effect of the aids, as in other FEI tests, Uthopia could not have danced this test so gracefully without a rider; Hester’s contact is exemplary!

But there were the three little glitches:  irregular step in the first passage/piaffe transition, one too large canter pirouette, and an over reaction from the horse to half-halt influences causing momentary loss of forward motion, each of which cost technical points. And the degree of difficulty of the movements was modest, as it should be for such a young horse. I am looking forward to seeing this horse get a little stronger, and this combination become a little more confident in each other. Uthopia is a star still rising!!!!!!

The judges were right about the bronze, too, from what I can see. Although I have not been following Patric Kittel and Watermill Scandic—I was put off by the blue tongue episode–I do like the way this man sits a horse, and I am pleased by the cadence of this horses motion. This is a more mature horse, 14 I think, and so stronger and more confident. The horse seems to be genuinely enjoying himself. The quality of the horses motion is, however, less than ideal, by the fact the horse’s back is down, by which I mean concave to the rider’s seat, rather than up, as would permit the more desirable flow of energy from the horse’s haunches, across his back, through to the poll. Still, the performance is foot perfect, no irregularities. So ‘Scandi Man,’ I heard Patric call him, deserved every point and the bronze medal he garnered.

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Surfing around the videos embedded above and watching other combinations’ tests at the European Champs can help all of us train our eyes. There is much to learn.

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Listening to the riding horse

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Yesterday, I was schooling a novice horse, on near perfect footing, in falling rain, when he snorted at me. We had each other’s attention…I continued to listen and heard his ‘oil can’ precursor of schwung, and soon, the softly emphatic rhythm 1-2-1-2-1-2-… of cadenced working trot. We made much of this ….

Then, cleaning tack, I thought to revisit d’Endrody, and to republish this essay of yore:

“Well, Some of Them DO Talk”

Several years ago, I began handling and then stabilizing a former flat racer for I knew not then what other sports.  I noticed the very first day I put my hands on The Saint that he reacted to many of my motions, and often to my voice, with a snort. These snorts were not the snorts of a horse startled from grazing by a child passing in the lane on a bicycle, or the defiant snorts of a herd leader to the newcomer, or the snort of a fit horse who, upon being turned out on a chipper morning, throws up his head and exclaims before moving off to inspect the far of the field. These were low, soft, kindly snorts.

At the time I thought that the horse was telling me of his curiosity, surprise, bemusement, or disdain. But then horses don’t talk to people, only to each other, right? As his new surroundings, my motions, his tack, and clothing became familiar and then routine, the snorts subsided, and I forgot them.

As he progressed to lungeing on voice commands in the indoor hall, and I realized that, as he would go to the limits of the line to loosen up before I attached long reins, he was snorting again.  These were not look over the shoulder, snort, buck up and snort sort of snorts that celebrated a modicum of freedom, or the kick out and snort sort of snorts of a prankster. This horse would walk calmly away from the chambriere, increase the diameter of his path, bend his neck inward, make eye contact with me, and snort a few or several times while remaining entirely calm at walk and trot.

With the indoor hall otherwise silent, I would hear him snorting while he watched me prepare a grid for free jumping.  Of course I thought he was just blowing dust out his nasal passages, or that he had a minor allergy to winter mold.  Or… was this horse saying “Ah, time to get on with playing our games, eh?”  It did seem so, but then horses only talk to each other, not to people, right?

Soon I noticed that upon my first carrying tack to his stall front racks, but before I opened his stall door, The Saint would leave his hay, turn about his hindquarters toward me, lower his head, and snort.  sometimes he did this before I said anything to him, and sometimes soon after I greeted him with, “Hi, Snort!”

So, I was in my library one evening, ruminating about all this snorting. I was fascinated. Knowing that they would at least not laugh (out loud) at me if this was beyond the cutting edge, I considered faxing Equus to ask whether they knew of research on horses trying to talk to people (without being prompted by a pin prick.)

But I became distracted by the need to complete an assignment. So I looked over drawings on the drafting table, and then reached for A.L. d’Endrody’s Give Your Horse A Chance to verify the formula for the distance between two elements with ditches in a combination on a cross-country course to be ridden at preliminary speed. Opening to the index to find that table, my eyes became riveted upon “Snorting…147”.   SNORTING!  What was  d’ Endrody’s concern with snorting? Could I resist?

Actually beginning on page 146. I read:

“Creating of suppleness in the horses behaviour

The secret or producing suppleness is to obtain the horse’s understanding and willingness to obey, since the state of its body depends mainly upon the quality of its mental apprehensions.  The more successfully the suppleness of the animal’s mentality is attained, the more readily does it offer the suppleness of its body.

There is an interesting and convincing proof offered by the horse itself of the validity of this statement.  Horses often give an audible sign when they are changing from opposition into submission by starting to snort kindly.  The rider can best recognize this phenomenon during loosening exercises or regulating procedures at the moment when the change in the horse’s general behaviour [sic] sets in.  It is evident that this ‘talking’ is the expression of a mental function, thus the relaxation of the body, which the rider can perceive simultaneously with the snorting, must also be a direct result of the animal’s mental function.”

Of course I read further and with heightened respect for this authority who wrote about horses ‘talking’ in 1959.

Next day, I arrived at The Saint’s stall as he was sipping his water bucket.  Without waiting for him to finish his drink, I greeted him with “Hi, Snort!”  Then before my very eyes, he raised his chin from the lip of the goblet, stepped (or maybe only leaned) back, flexed his poll, and snorted. Upon my saying softly to him “Well aren’t you somebody?” he resumed drinking.  He snorted to me a few more times while we prepared to go to the indoor to play our games.

I don’t know whether this horse was really talking to me, d’Endrody wrote that some of them do. But I’m sure going to keep talking to horses… and listening.

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