Thursday, February 26, 2009

Four in Hand

At the feed store on Saturday I met Chester Weber, the winner of the 2008 silver medal at the World Four-in-Hand Driving Championships. He's also the six-time National Champion for the United States.

Competing with Chester the weekend of Februrary 27 in Ocala, Florida will be my own driving instructor, Bill Long of Southern Pines, NC. Bill is a five-time National Champion and the first American driver to win the Windsor Grand Prix, which offered him the chance to have dinner with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip of England. He attended the World Championships five times, as well.

The sport these men pursue with their four large horses is more than just a trot through the park. Similar to the ridden sport of Three Day Eventing, Combined Driving Events include a dressage performance, a marathon drive across country, and a cones phase. In the dresssage test, the driver and horses complete a series of patterns within a measured rectangular arena, with emphasis on the precision of their figures and the demeanor of the horses. In the marathon, driver and team not only cover a prescribed course of seven-plus miles, but they must negotiate a series of obstacles, or hazards--I liken them to mazes--which include water and slopes and offer numerous chances for accidents. Finally, the team drives the cones course, a series of "gates" marked by pairs of cones, where each pair must be taken in the correct order and direction. Sound easy? Not!

TBone and I have done some combined driving and hope to again, once he's fit after his foot surgery. TBone's a pony and my carriage isn't big, but I can tell you that getting through those obstacles and the cones course is a real challenge. I watched Bill at a local event recently, and was amazed at the delicate adjustments he could make to the positions of those four great horses, allowing him to whisk through a gate with only air to spare. Talk about driving to an inch! (That's a phrase from Georgette Heyer's Regency novels, some of my favorite books in the world.)

In 2010, the World Championships will be held in Lexington, Kentucky. So exciting! There will be dressage, jumping, vaulting, reining, endurance and, of course, driving. It's going to be the most wonderful event, and available for America to enjoy! We're hoping both Bill and Chester will be there, along with many other fantastic horses and riders and drivers from the U.S. Look it up here and figure out how you can spend a few days in Fall 2010 enjoying the world of horses!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

George Stubbs

I saw my first Stubbs paintings at the Yale Museum of Art in New Haven, CT. I could've sat in that huge room for hours, staring at the magnificent renderings of horses and other animals created by this amazing artist. This one is positively frightening--you feel the lion's teeth ripping into your shoulder just as the horse would.

Stubbs was an 18th century artist who did for horses what Leonardo da Vinci did for the human body--he analyzed equine anatomy through dissection. He had a gruesome reputation for studying cadavers, including the bodies of dead children. But his 1766 book The Anatomy of the Horse is as realistic and useful as a set of xrays. John Lienhard at the University of Houston has a nice write-up on Stubbs and his methods here.

Many of the classic animal paintings we're familiar with these days are by Stubbs, like the zebra print I bought for my daughter's room without realizing who'd painted it. Gift boxes, coasters, and place mats with beautiful horses on them often turn out to be Stubbs' work. You're probably familiar with this talented artist without knowing who he is.

At least, you were. Now you know!


Monday, February 23, 2009

My Herd

An introduction to my hooved friends...

We purchased TBone in the fall of 2000. He's a Spotted Saddlehorse, meaning he's got Tennesse Walker genes plus the "spots" that come from Quarterhorses. His official name is "Major Markings," which is true because he's a brown, white and black pony. TBone and my younger daughter learned dressage and eventing together. Now 14 years old, he's too small for her to compete, but we've trained him as a driving horse and hope to do some Combined Driving Events next fall, once he completely recovers from a surgery to deal with his navicular disease.

Abby is 3/4 Thoroughbred, 1/4 Quarterhorse, a combination called an Appendix. She's bay colored and our grande dame at 19. Abby has done eventing and second level dressage, which makes her rather impressive. She's been ours since June of 2003, our school mistress for teaching most of us how to ride and the younger horses how to behave.

Suzette is half Arabian, half Warmblood and all "Princess." She's our dressage prospect, a beautiful mover who loves to perform. She was born the night we had to euthanize my beloved Quarterhorse, Cruiser, so I always figured his spirit had decided to stick around in the new baby, so she's been mine since her birth, 7 years ago on March 14th.

4 year-old Lucy is the first of our American Cream Draft horse herd. We bought her and her younger sister Joy from Iowa--Cream Drafts are the only Draft breed developed in the U.S. With only about 400 in the world, they are an endangered group and our plan is to breed more of them and to publicize the American Cream Draft breed throughout the country. They're great horses--not as big as Shires, Percherons and Clydesdales but strong, beautiful and with lovely temperament. I'm hoping to have Lucy and Joy trained to drive as a pair in the next few months, then use them in parades and maybe as carriage horses for weddings. They look so much like unicorns, I think they would add beauty and romance to anyone's wedding!

I've also got five dogs, but I'll save them for another day.


Hoping For the Best

Hello, there. Welcome to HIWTHI. I got the title off of a barn sign a friend gave me. I think it's the absolute truth.

My purpose for this blog is to talk about life with horses. I'll be posting photos of horses, horse art, horse events and horse information. I intend to bring in guest bloggers to give us their angle on the horse universe. And I look forward to comments from horse people everywhere. Please feel free to drop in and tell me what's happening in your horse world!

I conceived a brilliant plan yesterday. I would take TBone and Abby to the back pasture to spend some time together, and bring Lucy up to the front to keep Merlin company. TBone and Abby have been close friends since 2000, and I wanted to make them happy. I thought Lucy could pacify Merlin without making him so reluctant to leave his paddock. He's been quite a bit of trouble recently, refusing to leave TBone if he could possibly get away with it. Since Merlin is a 17 hand Thoroughbred, he's pretty good at getting his way.

But if you want to make a horse laugh, tell it your plans. (I know, they say that about God, too. I see a very intimate connection between them.)

First off, yesterday afternoon was blustery and cold. The wind got up the horses' tails, as they say, and made them silly. Then the neighbor across the street hosted target practice for her grandsons in her side yard. Horses don't like gun shots. (Me, neither.)

Still, TBone and Abby gave little trouble on the walk back, maybe because they were moving away from the guns. Lucy was terrifically glad to see TBone, which is when I realized she's in season. (Something about the huge stream of urine she sprayed as she nuzzled him gave it away.)

Lucy did not like walking toward the gun shots--picture an American Cream Draft Horse dancing on two legs. Once she got to her new paddock, she charged around for a couple of hours, getting sweaty. Since she's busted through that fence in the past and gone trotting down the road, I was nervous, to say the least. Draft horses only stay inside the fence because they don't have a reason to leave. Give them a reason and your big strong fence might as well be paper.

Merlin had been to Aiken, SC to hunt for the weekend and returned about 9:30 pm. He was feeling sulky, though, and didn't give Lucy much attention--a good thing, because if he'd pestered her, there might have been broken boards, if not bones.

As we all settled down for the night, though, I realized the down side of what I'd done. Abby, a 1000 lb Appendix, eats about 18 lbs of hay a day. TBone, the Spotted Saddle Pony, should weigh around 800 lbs and eat 12 lbs of hay. But out in the field with Abby, there's no way to monitor his food. He'd end up eating all of his share and half of hers, getting fat fast. All the hard work I've done in the last three months slimming him down would have gone to waist. (Pun intended.)

So I got up this morning, when it was colder and blusterier, and reversed yesterday's trade with Lucy and TBone. There were no gun shots, at least. Now Lucy's back with the girls, eating as much hay as Abby, if not more. And TBone and Merlin are side by side again, the bachelor buddy geldings. All fence boards remained intact.

And that's the most I can hope for on a day like today.