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Archive for category horseback riding

Unbelievable Athletic Achievement

Been away for two weeks and just about caught up. But have to show you this astonishing achievement by a very avid horseback rider. Will wonders never cease? A fabulous Halloween week picture from Central Park, NY by Bill Cunningham:

headless

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Major Mongolian Sports

The Naadam festival is the biggest festival of the year for Mongolians. Usually occurring in July, it runs for three days in all parts of the country and highlights the greatest athletes in horse racing, archery, and wrestling: Mongolia’s most popular sports. Women participate in all but the wrestling category. The word Naadam means game or competition in Mongolian. Competitions take place on the first two days, and merry-making is reserved for the third.

This festival has been held for centuries as a form of memorial celebration, as an annual sacrificial ritual honoring various mountain gods or to celebrate a community endeavor.

soldiers participate in the opening ceremony in Ulaan Bataar

soldiers participate in the opening ceremony in Ulaan Bataar

The festivities kick off with a colorful parade of athletes, monks, soldiers marching in perfect uniformity, musicians performing powerful military tunes, and Mongolians dressed in Chinggis-style warrior uniforms.

HORSE RACING

Mongolians have a high regard for horses, which they have relied on for centuries for transport, sustenance, and companionship. During the races, up to 1,000 horses can be chosen to compete. The horse races are broken down into six categories based on the age of the horses. For example, two-year-old horses race for 10 miles and seven-year-olds for 17 miles. The race is conducted on the open grasslands with no set track or course. Children from the ages of 5 to 13 are chosen as jockeys, because this guarantees that the race tests the horses’ skill and not the riders.

18 mile race, no saddles, jockeys all under 13 years old

18 mile race, no saddles, jockeys all under 13 years old

The small size of the jockeys also increases the horses’ endurance. Even still, jockeys train for months before Naadam, and the horses are given a special diet. The winning jockey is praised with the title tumny ekh or “leader of ten thousand” and the five winning horses are talked about and revered in poetry and music. The losing two-year-old horse is also alloted special attention by being serenaded with a song. Music is very important before the race too, as the audience sings traditional songs and the the jockeys sing a pre-race song called a gingo.

Eating and drinking is the other “sport” during the Naadam festival. The horse races are held in the steppes, behind people who stop to drink tea and airag, fermented mares’ milk, cold meat pancakes, and other popular festival foods.

WRESTLING

The wrestling competitions begin around noon on the first day of the festival and end on the second day. They are quite unlike American wrestling matches in form, and they have two other important differences. First, there are no weight divisions. A small wrestler can be pitted against someone two times his weight. This can lead to some very interesting matches. Second, there are no time limits.

The loser of a match is the wrestler who falls first. A fall is when any part of a wrestler’s body, except his hands or feet, touches the ground.

colorful and traditional wrestling at Naadam

colorful and traditional wrestling at Naadam

Titles are given to winners of a number of rounds: Falcon to those winning five rounds, Elephant for seven rounds, and Lion to the one winning the whole tournament.

One elite wrestler was once given the title “Eye-Pleasing Nationally Famous Mighty and Invincible Giant.” Wrestlers honor the judges and their attendants with a dance called devekh, or eagle dance. The winner also performs the eagle dance after the loser of the bout takes off his jacket and walks under the winner’s arm. Wrestlers wear small, over-the-shoulder vests called zodog, and snug shorts called shuudag. The heavy, traditional Mongolian boots are called gutuls.

ARCHERY

The sport of archery originated around the 11th century. Contestants dress in traditional costumes and use a bent bow constructed of horn, bark, and wood. The arrows, made from willow branches and vulture feathers are shot at round, leather targets with grey, yellow or red rings. Men must stand 75 meters and women 60 meters from the target. Judges, standing near the targets, assess each shot with a cry, called a uukhai, and a raised hand. The winning archer, or mergen, is the one who hits the targets the most times. As close as the judges stand to the targets, none of them appears to ever be hit by an arrow.

mong_02

Incidentally one of the advantages the Mongols had during their conquests is that their double-curved bows were made of many components and different materials and could launch an arrow farther (500 yards), faster and more powerfully (can penetrate steel armor) than the famous single-curved, English longbow (350 yards) used by other cultures. This meant they could decimate their enemies without risking a response. The Mongol bow is harder to draw, so men had to develop upper-body strength from boyhood. They also learned how to shoot from a horse in any direction, even facing backwards.

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Goofy Prancercise May Be For You

Well I finally heard of Prancercise. I only went to France for a week, but one author said, “Wait, what’s prancercise? Have you been living in Pyongyang or something? It’s an exercise routine inspired by horses, featuring such moves as “the prancercise gallop” and “the prancercise box” as well as some incredible rhymes by its instructor and founder, Rohrback, decked out in a crisp salmon jacket and some very revealing white pants:

“We’re gonna really cut the noose and let it loose, with the prancercise gallop.” ”

Joanna Rohrback knows you are laughing at her, and she doesn’t care.

She’s aware that people think her exercise routine “Prancercise” is “goofy,” and that by extension its founder must be “spooky and goofy and weird and wacky. I say bring it on. I love it. Look at all the attention it’s getting me. If I wasn’t all those things, I wouldn’t be who I am.”

You can see the original routine below, and you can read more right here .

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Mother’s Day Roundup

think you can stop one of these horses when it wants to run away?  How about three of them without halters?

think you can stop one of these horses when it wants to run away? How about three of them without halters?

There are times in my life, when I feel no one else in the world—or very few people—are doing what I am doing at that exact moment. I once assured my lawyer that I was his only client that day—or ever—cleaning the inside of a horse’s sheath (the tubular skin that houses the penis). He agreed. I often told myself that no other CEO’s were mucking horse manure, when I had to do that chore.

I was reminded four days ago of those rare and special moments. Strange how many of them involve horses. We left the house just in time to head for my mother-in-law’s Mother’s Day lunch at her nursing home. Well into her 80’s, she is easily unsettled if we are late to the dining room. Just as we were about to drive off, I heard that a pair of sunglasses was missing. “Grandma is going to be upset,” I announced. And I waited for my passenger to make the trip back inside to search for the needed opticals. Thank goodness for this few seconds delay.

When we finally set off, I looked to the left and saw three Cleveland Bay horses staring at us from the driveway. It took me a few seconds to realize they had escaped from their fenced-in pasture. The last time this happened, two of them were in open fields and took almost an hour to round up. They looked great cantering through the tall summer grass. But it’s no joke if they make it to the road and are hit by a car.

this gives you an idea how big  a Cleveland Bay horse is

this gives you an idea how big a Cleveland Bay horse is

Now we had three mares wondering how they got there and what they should do. I quickly made a sharp turn to block one stone-wall opening, hopped out of the car, and tried unsuccessfully to prevent the lead mare from going though the other opening of our circular driveway and head down toward the road. Did you ever try to stop a 16-hand-high frolicking horse with your bare hands? Helluva trick. Impossible. “Grandma is really going to be pissed,” I thought.

“How did they get out?” my daughter asked innocently. “Doesn’t matter now,” I blurted, “We have to get them back inside.” You can really see the pragmatist side of me in moments like this one.I raced the car to the barn, picked out some neck ropes and threw grain into a bucket.”This is going to be quite a trick,” I thought, running through the fields after “wild” horses in my loafers and dress-up clothes.

But miraculously, shaking the grain bucket worked like a snake charmer. Those horses heard that food 200 yards away and came right back toward the barn. My daughter blocked one other passageway by standing in it with both arms spread out asking, “What do I do if they charge me?” “Get out of the way,” I told her, as I put a neck rope around one horse chomping grain and led her into the stable. The other two followed automatically. All three horses were soon in their stalls, and we were driving towards Grandma’s luncheon.

The whole incident lasted less than 10 minutes. We couldn’t believe what had just happened, and it all seemed surreal. Now who do you know who started their Mother’s Day like that? A small adventure in a somewhat special day made even more special and unforgettable, because someone left open a gate and someone else wanted her sunglasses. The difference a few seconds can make. If we had left an instant earlier, no one would have been there to stop those horses from running free all over the farm and maybe into the road. Lucky break.

I was proud that I knew what to do, was unafraid to do it, and saw that it worked. A non-event if you are a rancher or handling horses every day. But I am not and don’t, and was pleased how far I’d come from a small house on Miami Beach, where I grew up with frogs and pollywogs.

What did you do on Mother’s Day? Chase any horses? Wrestle some alligators?

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Uplifting Splendor Of Friesian Horses In Motion

My friend Carolyn wrote, “This video is for a horse lover like you. This was my fantasy horse when I was 9. Still is.” Even if you are not into horses, the magnificence and poetic, flowing motion of these Friesians will lift your spirits and bring you close to flowing tears. In the midst of bad news and a down couple of days, I am positively grateful for this gift from a friend in California.

Here is some background:

The Koninklijk Friesch Paarden-Stamboek (Dutch: Royal Friesian Horse Studbook (KFPS) is the oldest studbook in the Netherlands and promotes the interests of the Friesian horse. The KFPS has been realizing this by the meticulous registration of Friesian horses since the time it was founded in 1879. In addition, the KFPS has established a breeding program to maintain and further refine the unique characteristics of the Friesian horse.

The KFPS is an international studbook with 15,000 members of which almost half are located outside of the Netherlands. Friesian horses can be found on every continent and in more than fifty countries.

The interest in the Friesian horse has exploded in recent decades. As a result, the breed now has a population of 60,000 registered horses. More and more horse lovers are impressed by their regal bearing, their suitability for both recreational and professional equestrian sports, and their friendly character.

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Hiroshi Hoketsu Is A Better Olympic Horseback Rider At 70 than At 40

Hiroshi Hoketsu, age 71, is this Olympics' oldest competitor


The female gymnasts are often children, just 15 or 16 years old. But here is a story by Martin Rogers about the oldest competitor in this year’s Olympics, a Japanese equestrian who is 71. Most impressive is that he says “I am a better rider at 70 than I was at 40.”

The oldest competitor at the 2012 Olympic Games has revealed the extraordinary sacrifices he has made in order to remain a medal contender well past retirement age.

Hiroshi Hoketsu, who will represent Japan in the equestrian discipline of dressage at the age of 71, told Yahoo! Sports how chasing a slice of history and becoming the oldest Olympian in the last 92 years is the result of a fanatical commitment to the sport.

“I have not seen my wife, Motoko, for more than a year,” said Hoketsu, who lives and trains in the German town of Aachen in order to team up with his horse, Whisper, and his Dutch coach. “It is difficult to be away from home for this long as an old man and I owe everything to her patience and understanding.”

Hoketsu will take part in his third Olympics, 48 years after making his debut and finishing 40th as a show jumper on home soil at the 1964 Tokyo Games. Despite continuing to rise at 5 a.m. every day to ride horses, he quit competing and became a successful international businessman for pharmaceutical companies.

After hanging up his business suit and briefcase, Hoketsu still had the itch to compete and entered the world of competitive dressage at his wife’s insistence. At the time, neither predicted his comeback would result in qualification for the Beijing Games four years ago and now the London Games.

Hoketsu credits his performances to dedication and a bond with his mount that he describes as “magical.” He has become a star in his homeland and a poster boy for the elderly.

Although Hoketsu rises early every morning and attacks practice sessions with as much zeal as riders young enough to be his grandchildren, he confesses he does not adhere to the dietary regimen you might expect from an Olympic athlete.

“I eat what I want to eat and drink as much as I want to drink,” said Hoketsu through an interpreter. “People might expect that I am able to participate for so long because I have special habits. But my secret is to have a good life, enjoy yourself and do the things that make you happy.

“Having said that, I am out there riding horses every day for several hours. Then I come back in and do many exercises, to help with my strength, coordination, and, most importantly, my balance.”

Hoketsu is the oldest Olympian since Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn won bronze at the age of 72 at the 1920 Antwerp Games and would ride into the record books if he was able to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.

Such an outcome is unlikely, but don’t rule it out just yet.

“My wife would like for this to be my last year of competition and that will probably be the case,” Hoketsu said. “But I still feel my riding is improving, little by little. That is my motivation. I am a better rider at 70 than I was at 40. Most people can’t tell but my body is getting a little weaker. My horse knows it and she helps me.”

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Three Encounters With Animal Synchronizations And Freedom

Murmuration from Islands & Rivers on Vimeo.

Three animal encounters all happened last week that merge in my mind and involve coordinated movement of birds, fish and horses. You decide if my capture of “wild” horses qualifies as an “athletic achievement.”

The video above (start at 30 seconds) of a murmuration (flock of starlings) was sent to me by my cousin Alan. Of course I thought how much the birds looked like a school of fish, which also move together with millisecond feedback responses.

Then I reread the short story Mar Nueva by Mark Helprin in his collection The Pacific about an 11-year-old boy who fishes off a Mediterranean dock. Helprin writes:

“In the deep and luminous world of the sea, fleets of huge fish circle the globe, neither breaking the surface nor touching bottom but suspended in silent layers of shadowy green and blue, rising a mile or falling two, fighting noiseless battles in great societies of which we have never even dreamed.

school of bluefins

…a vast school of bluefin passed by…the waves were broken by their churning, and they crowded the entire bay, seething underwater for as far as I could see. For all I knew, the school was as wide as five days’ sailing and as long as ten…”

The boy catches 30 bluefin that he tethers to the pier. “They weighed as much as I did (up to 110 pounds)…I was afraid to fall among them. I even wondered if they might destroy the pier…I had a strong urge to let them go. Because freedom can be understood only as the absence of restraint…I valued freedom insufficiently…their movements were so sad and aimless that I knew I had to cut them loose…they had become as patient as dogs on a hot afternoon.” When freed, “they would circle in confusion among the pilings until they found an opening to the sea and sped away.”

Then two days ago I looked out my second floor window to the hayfield and saw two horses roaming freely in the five-foot high grass, giddy escapees from their customary paddock. Needing to corral them before they ran down the road to passing cars or into the forest to be lost for hours, I entered the field, while a friend with grain in flip flops at the edge told me where they were in the uneven terrain. With both arms out wide like a living cross, I attempted to aim them back towards the barn, but they kept turning in perfect synchronization, left, right, back, left, right. In the undulating terrain, they would disappear for long periods, and my higher-perched friend would yell me their location. A stranger appeared who though concerned was also delighted like the horses: “Free and wild, free and wild,” she sang out melodiously while smiling. She turned out to be a substitute vet.

imagine chasing two of these giants (5.5 feet tall to the back) in an open field

Though I did hear crashing in the forest, it must have been deer, because I eventually found the horses, who had exited one end of the field through a barway in the stone wall and were eating grass on the lawn near the vegetable garden. With grain in hand, I was able to seduce these giant Cleveland Bays to let me close enough to rope their necks and return them to their stalls. On the way, I could see the break in the fence, where they had pushed past a rotten post while leaning over the wood for fresh grass. The whole adventure lasted under an hour, filled with tension, beauty, and the sensation of being in a dream, a hair commercial, and an outtake for the movie, Horse Whisperer. Wish these magical moments of poetry and challenge had been filmed. Above is a generic photo of what these rare, endangered horses look like.

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Killing Ourselves For The Fun Of It

I have been jarred this week by two stories (see below) about people killed during sports activities they chose for the challenge and exhilaration. The first was someone who went to my high school, though I never met him: Steve Posner was in a powered catamaran racing a friend in similar boat. They collided, and two people died. Then two balloonists crossing the Adriatic Sea (east of Italy) disappeared on September 29th, and the wreckage of their gondola was just located yesterday.

In November I read about NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter being in yet another horse riding accident and fracturing her spine. I had seen her riding in Florida this year near Palm Beach. She has previously broken her back, her collarbone, two wrists and an ankle, and suffered at least three concussions. Yet she keeps on riding. Amazing.

We all take sports injuries in stride. We all know or have heard about athletes who have been scarred or paralyzed or brain damaged for life. This summer I saw a woman fall on her face on a hard surface tennis court and break her nose. Yet the highs of athletics compel most of us to keep on taking the risks. Is it the endorphins in the brain that drive us to take chances that can maim or kill us? Is it the thrill of the contest or the chase that propels us? The high of victory or personal achievement? Professionals may be doing it for the money, but that doesn’t explain why amateurs like myself keep pushing.

I played 4 1/2 hours of tennis Friday, then 2 hours of squash Sunday, then 3 1/2 hours of tennis today, Monday. After the first hour today, I was exhausted, couldn’t think clearly, knew I should stop. But we were in the middle of a set. I had served about 13 deuces. I was hurting. But I had to keep going. The perfect time to trip, tear a muscle, maybe even fall. But stopping was out of the question. I never felt that I was at risk of dying, though I know people who have seen their buddies drop dead on the court. And this is only tennis.

So imagine how much greater the danger is if you are base jumping or horse jumping, trampolining, climbing mountains, rock climbing, ski racing, etc. Yet there are millions of us who do it without a thought. Knowing the risks doesn’t stop us. When I jumped out of planes, I thought it would be fun. When another student jumped two feet during practice and broke his shoulder, I thought it was bad luck. When other students died jumping, I thought it was still safer than driving a car. I was only 21 then, and I am more cautious now. But taking physical risks is part of the excitement. Unfortunately, some of us die…

Now here are those stories:

MIAMI – Real estate tycoon Steven Posner has died in a high-speed boat crash near Miami that killed another man and left two other men injured, authorities said Tuesday. Posner’s 44-foot race boat and a similar 46-foot vessel crashed into each other about 1 p.m. Monday in clear weather. The Fish and Wildlife Commission said the two boats—each capable of speeds approaching 100 mph—appeared to be racing before colliding, according to witnesses.

Friends and family members said Posner loved fast boats and entertaining guests. Read more here .

ROME – The bodies of two American balloonists and their gondola were discovered in the net of an Italian fishing boat on Monday, two months after the champions disappeared while competing in a race over the Adriatic Sea during a fierce storm. Read more here .

SYRACUSE – Georgina Bloomberg, the horse-riding daughter of Mayor Bloomberg, was seriously hurt this weekend after falling during an equestrian jumping event in Syracuse. The 27-year-old suffered a concussion and fractured her spine when her saddle slipped and she fell off the horse she was riding, Radio City, on Friday night (November 5, 2010). “Despite the injury, she is resting comfortably. She’s going to have a full medical evaluation (Monday.) We’ll know more then,” her equestrian spokesman Kenneth Kraus told reporters.

Georgina, who was reportedly dressed in a witch outfit for the costumed ride at the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournamen, initially got up after the accident, and initially refused medical attention. But she woke up in pain on Saturday, and was taken to the hospital. She has previously broken her back, her collarbone, two wrists and an ankle, and suffered at least three concussions. “The mayor, of course, is very concerned, like any father would be,” said mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser.

And of course this accident reminds me of the actor Christopher Reeves whose most famous role was Superman. Almost a decade after removing the cape once and for all, Reeve suffered a near-fatal horse riding accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Read more here .

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Marta Sweeney’s Passion For Horses

My passion for horses began on my first carousel ride. From that point on, the seed was planted: “I could be riding a real, live pony.” The dream never ended, there were stuffed horses on my bedside, life evolved and other priorities stepped in.

Marta Sweeney and Libby


Finally at the age of 42, I decided to take riding lessons on a horse called Max. He was a typical schooling horse who knew every trick in the book to get you off his back. I am continually fascinated by these massive creatures who allow us to ride on their backs. They deserve a great deal of respect.

The challenge continued for three more years, until I finally purchased Libby, a four-year-old, thoroughbred mare with papers that titled her Crowned Loyally. How appropriate for her personality.

After many years with this out-of-control youngster, the connection starts evolving. Everything becomes so comfortable and complete. I become incorporated with all the muscle and power beneath; she is communicating with the navigation above. It has turned into a perfect partnership.

Libby truly is my queen. She is 15 now. Quieter. Though she was never as spirited as many other thoroughbreds. She was never on the track. A relationship with a horse gives you the faith you need to be a competent rider. It makes the challenge of your journey together so worth the commitment.

We ride together four days a week. First we do a rigorous 30-minute workout in an indoor or outdoor arena, depending on the weather. They might be 100-150’ wide by 250-300’ long. We walk, trot, canter. Maybe do a little jumping. Libby has a stifle (knee) problem that is common in older age for horses. The worst thing is not to exercise a horse. It’s all a labor of love. Then Libby and I head out to the fields, occasionally the trails through the 400-acres available to us there. On Mondays I take a lesson to keep things in check. Sharyn, the manager of the barn where Libby boards, watches me as I ride, tweaking me, telling me not to lean too far forward and to make my turn and open my shoulder.

Marta riding Tristan

All three of my daughters ride, and so does my husband who had a lot of horse experiences as a kid. Our barn has many people in their 80’s still riding, all women, except for one guy. They are very physically fit, and this gives me a good goal to aim for.

Horseback riding takes a lot of lower body strength, your legs squeezing to create pressure that gets the horse to move forward. You work your abdominal muscles, and it’s good for cardio. You have to tuck in your stomach. You can’t have your stomach loose. It has to be tightened up. Your ankles are in an awkward angle, but you get used to it. When you are in bed at night, exhausted, it’s a good feeling of tiredness that relieves a ton of stress. It’s great for mental balance, and you sleep so much better.

It’s a real workout. When my daughter Amanda rides—she is 20, in college, and only gets on a horse occasionally now—after just half an hour she says, “My legs are killing me.”

For me it’s an addiction. All very good. It’s a great way to fill your day. I play golf too, but after 4-5 holes, I am yawning with restlessness. Not when I ride. There Libby and I are a team.

Some days she wants to work and follows my commands without a problem. She stands quietly near the mounting block, so I can rise into the saddle easily. When the weather is cool, there are no bugs, and she has had a good turnout, she is happy to be with me.

Other days she “says” “No, no, no, I don’t want to work,” and steps away from the mounting block. She drags me to the center of the arena instead of staying near the sides. She pins back her ears. Horses have so many ways of telling you when they don’t want to work, beginning with just getting them out of the paddock and saddled.

Horses are pretty easy to read if you are an animal person. Read the rest of this entry »

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Olympian Courtney King-Dye’s Scull Fracture Emphasizes The Dangers Of Horseback Riding Without A Helmet

Millions of people ride horses, a sport that has its exciting and dangerous moments. Kids start when they’re less than five, and I have a friend who sees riders in her barn in their late 80’s. I have another friend who at age 56 took up hunter-jumping, did endurance riding (25 miles in a day) in Arizona, then fell jumping back East, broke her back, healed, studied dressage, then reining, and is now learning western. She is a Greenwich suburbanite who is on a horse almost every day of the last 10 years. Now that is enthusiasm.

helmet on ira on Moose—2004

But I think in this sport, it is common. Horse riders—whether world class or simply local barn level— are often so committed to their sport that almost nothing will stop them from daily or frequent practice. They seem obsessed, blessed and are to be admired for their devotion and envied for their passion. I think more of them are women than men, but no matter how quiet and timid some of these ladies seem at a dinner table, they are determined to ride. I met such a female some years ago who rode every day for 17 years, driving to her horse’s barn a half hour or so away even in rainstorms and winter blizzards. She had to ride, even if it was indoors. Not mounting her horse daily was not an option. It was her life.

My first and only horse, Moose, an Arab-Percheron cross, died last year at age 27. But we had many great years of riding in the woods, pastures, jumping, and just being buddies. He only threw me a couple times, and could have often, when he was startled by a flushed grouse or a static tractor that he noticed. I was pretty good at shifting weight, squeezing legs and hanging on in a fraction of a frightening milli-second.

I always wore a helmet, as silly as it looked for me to be adorned in black velvet head gear on the road or plain dirt trail. But I was cautious, being brand new at the game, having only bought Moose when I was 50. I made myself learn to ride English, so I couldn’t hold on to a Western saddle horn when my horse cantered or galloped. At one point I was taking two-foot jumps bareback. Not bad for an old geezer in his mid-50’s.

With this simple background, I was very saddened to read that an Olympic rider, Courtney King-Dye, was injured last March and suffered a serious head injury, because she wasn’t wearing a helmet. Shocking. She was in a coma for about three weeks, and is now slightly recovered.

Courtney King-Dye and her late Olympic mount, Mythilus © 2008 by Nancy Jaffer


Here are excerpts from one news story:
Courtney often wears a helmet, but she was not in this instance. Lendon Gray, her mentor, said that for the last 15 years of her riding career, she wore a helmet and hoped she could encourage others to do the same, but helmets are rarely seen at a dressage show.

Another Grand Prix rider Heather Blitz has started a campaign that urges dressage riders to wear helmets, as she requires her students to do.

Citing the need for dressage riders to acknowledge the inherent risks of being on a horse, she said, “Courtney’s accident reminds us all how vulnerable we are around horses.

Recounting the accident, Lendon said of the horse, “We think one hind foot stepped on the other and he sort of semi sat down and tipped over sideways. Courtney was basically under him; she stayed in the tack and obviously her head hit the ground.”

Paramedics were on the scene quickly and Courtney, who had suffered a skull fracture, was taken by helicopter to the hospital. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fiona L’Estrange’s Life-Long Love Of Horses And Dressage

Horses have been part of my life most of my life. My father rode, my mother rode. My grandfather was absolutely passionate about horses. He was the British ambassador in Honduras and was able to get heavily into polo ponies…civil service allowed you to live the grand life. He had nothing—no money, an old car. Broke his hip riding a polo pony in his 80’s. That was chips for his riding. The end.

Fiona L'Estrange and Digger before their dressage demonstration at the 2002 Belmont Stakes

Fiona L'Estrange and Digger before their dressage demonstration at the 2002 Belmont Stakes

So I came by my love of horses honestly. In the genes. Always ridden since under age 10. Rode at boarding school. We had a house in London, where I grew up, lots of friends who rode and took lessons, and I went with them. I borrowed a pony when I was 11 and then graduated to horses.

I still take lessons—you have to, even those at the Olympic level have trainers. You always need eyes on the goal, especially with a horse you’re piloting. That’s what makes riding such a difficult sport.

“Horses are extraordinary and unique. No other animal could be so misjudged, mishandled, mistreated and abused and still try to serve willingly and to the best of it’s ability.”

People are always trying to make the horse submit. They shouldn’t do that. They try to make the horse think like a human. It doesn’t work out so well. You have to learn to read the horse and have a working partnership. The best riders know how to ask a horse to be his best. It’s the only way to have a great partnership. It’s a great feeling, I think for both horse and rider, when a session goes really well.

When I was growing up and through my teens, mostly riding in woods and fields, we played hunting games, like egg and spoon, balancing while galloping, sack races (hopping alongside the horse). It took lots of skill, practice and training. We had bending poles races (you weave left and right around them), relay races, teams. It teaches you to work together. I participated in Pony Club……it was all huge fun.

When I was 19, I came to America. There was a bit of hiatus while I was getting adjusted. I lived with a race car driver who traveled to various tracks around the country, so I decided to get back into riding during these race weekends–then suddenly I was riding around the New York area during the week too.

I also hunted both in the UK and here. The staff wear pink coats so that you can clearly see them in the field. They keep the hunt together. The Master leads the entire field. The Whippers-in are responsible for the hounds. The rest of us are in black jackets and tan britches.

In my early 20’s, I did a little bit of hunting in Rhinebeck, NY and took lessons at Claremont Stables in Central Park (in Manhattan at 89th street) for about a year and a half—sadly it has since closed.

I had a full-time job then as a Production Executive. I was up at 5-6 am and rode in Central Park on a thoroughbred I’d leased from an illustrator’s representative. Then I’d be at my office job by 9 or 9:30. Did that 5-6 days a week. When that horse developed arthritis, he was retired to a place that had a horse named Melly who was headed for the slaughterhouse. I bought him. My first horse.

Fiona and Digger cantering

Fiona and Digger cantering

Even though I was traveling for consulting business then to Japan and Italy, I started competing in dressage and eventing. Eventing is a real discipline—it is dressage, cross country, then show jumping all with the same horse and rider, all in one day—a true challenge for all.

I still like to gallop and jump, but not in competition. When you jump in eventing, the heights go from about 2’6” to nearly 4’. To be competitive, you also have to be concerned with speed. In the cross country phase, you go from light to dark and dark to light. You go up and down hills, all at the same speed. There are penalties for going over the allotted time.

In my late 20’s, I evolved into just doing dressage. I am mostly teaching just dressage now. For the most part, I won’t take people’s money to teach them to jump at a higher level—other trainers do it better.

After Melly died, I bought my second horse, Julian, who was largely unbroken, but turned into a really good eventer. Then two years later I sold him to a friend and bought Digger.

Digger and I have had 21 years of loving time together. I bought him as an unbroken two year old and did all the work with him myself. We entered major competitions and won major awards. In June 2002, we were invited by an Olympic judge to demonstrate dressage at the Belmont Park track in Long Island, NY, between races and just before the Belmont Stakes. A friend of mine created an audio using Shrek music, “I’m a Believer, sung by Eddie Murphy—did you realize there is a Princess Fiona in the Shrek movies? It was fabulous and fabulous fun to ride on that track in front of apparently 6 million people, both spectating and watching on tv! Actually I’ll bet most of the tv watchers were either in the loo or at the fridge!

on the track at Belmont Park

on the track at Belmont Park

There were so many friends, travel, fun and incidences. And it was a ton of work. We did well at the Devon horse show, the biggest dressage and breeding show in the country. Four exhausting days of competition in Devon, Pennsylvania. Amateurs can compete against professionals. Once I began teaching, I couldn’t be considered an amateur. So I am competing against many Olympic riders most of which are riding horses that cost a small fortune! You can pick your classes, but not who’s in them.

In dressage classes, you compete for a score, not just 1st, 2nd, 3rd through 6th. There is no money for winning. You are competing against yourself. 100% is perfect, but no one in the history of dressage has ever reached that. The highest so far is 82%, and my best was a 71%. There are from 7-28 movements in each test, and each one is graded 1 to 10. Then it’s all totaled and converted to a percentage.

What I love about dressage is that it’s very intellectual, a thinking person’s sport. Read the rest of this entry »

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Women Have Abs Too…Of Course

Here is a magazine cover of Gina Carano, the top female mixed martial arts fighter. Look at those muscles! And on the right is Fiona L’Estrange, who developed her abs and biceps on her horse farm by riding, dressage training, daily chores and yoga. Very impressive…

mixed martial arts top female fighter, gina carano—10/09

mixed martial arts top female fighter, gina carano—10/09


fiona's abs came from horseriding and farm chores—2007

fiona's abs came from horseriding and farm chores—2007

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Vladimir Putin Needs To Work On His Abs Too!

vladimir putin needs work on his abs—8/09

vladimir putin needs work on his abs—8/09

The Russian Prime Minister is an incredible athlete, so it may be nervy to comment on his physique. Nevertheless, now that I am aware of a good ab from a not-so-great ab, I would like to suggest that he work on his stomach area a bit as well. And you can look at my post of June 17th to compare President Obama’s mid-section with that of the Russian leader: The Battle of the Stomachs…much better than the Battle of the Bulge(s).

Vladimir Putin has buffed up his action-man image and raised the pin-up stakes among world leaders by posing barechested for another set of holiday pictures.
Photographs were published yesterday showing the Russian Prime Minister stripped to the waist riding a horse through rugged terrain during a brief holiday in the Siberian region of Tuva. Wearing only green fatigues, his eyes hidden behind reflective sunglasses, Mr Putin also showed his gentler side as he fed the horse from his hand after the ride.

The former KGB officer, a mountain skier and judo black belt, is a fitness fanatic who regularly starts his day with weight training in the gym and swimming in his country residence outside Moscow.

putin butterflying—great arms

putin butterflying—great arms

Mr Putin, who will be 57 in October, showed off a set of rippling arm muscles as he demonstrated his butterfly swimming stroke. The photos will inevitably trigger mass swooning by women all over Russia — as well as unfavourable comparisons of their husbands to Mr Putin’s manly physique. They will also confirm the Russian Prime Minister’s status as a gay icon.

Mr Putin camped overnight and went whitewater rafting down the region’s fast-flowing rivers, according to Russian news agencies. Other pictures show him walking through fields with a hat similar to that worn by Indiana Jones, the Hollywood adventurer. Read the rest of this entry »

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18 Reasons Why Riding A Horse IS Better Than Sex

A horse-farm owner named Fiona L”Estrange, who is also an FEI dressage rider and also teaches and trains sent me this explanation of why she has spent much of her life riding horses. She has also promised to send some pictures of her abs if enough readers urge her on!

18- You don’t have to sneak your riding magazines into
the house.

17- If you are having trouble with riding, it’s
perfectly acceptable to pay a professional to show you
how to improve your technique.

16- The Ten Commandments don’t say anything about
riding.

15- If your trainer takes pictures or videotapes of
you riding, you don’t have to worry about them showing
up on the Internet when you become famous.

14- Your horse won’t keep asking questions about other
horses you’ve ridden.

13- It’s perfectly respectable to ride a horse you’ve
never met before, just once, or, ride many horses in
the same day, whether you know them or not. Read the rest of this entry »

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