Monday 13 May 2013

Would you like to supersize your sweetfeed? How about a side of beetpulp with that hay...

Let's see, where to begin.

What was the first thing that was subpar about my horse.

I guess it would be - her body condition.  In the eyes of Dr. Lana, she was obviously much too thin. Which is, of course, why she felt the need to announce that she had the pelvis of a dairy cow.

Oh dear. This was not a good start. Little did Dr. Lana know that at the time, my entire life revolved around preaching the miraculous findings of something called "The Lifespan Study" to pet owners.  Nestle Purina had spent an insane amount of time and money proving that dogs fed 25% less food and maintained at a "lean body condition" lived longer than their pair matched littermates that were allowed to become chubby little labrador sausages, typical of what you might see in the neighbourhood dog park.

Summary - Lifespan Study

And so, as part of my glamorous career I went here, there, everywhere - to trade shows and vet tech colleges and pet store staff training events - showing people how to perform "the healthy hug", which was essentially a way of squeezing dogs to determine if they were at their "ideal body condition" and therefore likely to live "long, healthy lives".

Of course, over time the project was proven to be an abject failure.

The competition quickly twisted the results of Purina's findings into "Dogs live longer when they eat less Dog Chow", flushing any benefit of 14 years of careful data collection down the toilet. Yes, this was technically true based on the findings of the study, but totally irrelevant (since dogs live longer eating less of ANY food versus being allowed to become overweight).  However, the average pet owner doesn't get caught up in semantics, or the nuances of published research - they just want what is best for their dog.

Nice work, Purina - remember, no good deed goes unpunished.  Forget research. They would have been better off spending the gobs of money spent on this study on a lifetime supply of wild caught quail and fru-fru berries, because that is what really sells in the land of pet food.

"Surely this 18 year old at Pet Valu knows her shit, and yes, my chihuahua is very reminiscent of her timber wolf ancestors...sign me up for that $80 bag of elk and tapioca..." 

Anyway, forgetting all of that (and trust me, I really do try to forget)... the most intriguing finding of "The Lifespan Study" to me, as a horse owner, was the fact that dogs fed to a "lean body condition" had significantly reduced incidence of osteoarthritis at the age of 8 years old

Purina Lifespan Study - Osteoarthritis

"Food intake is an environmental factor that may have a profound effect on development of osteoarthritis in dogs"

Now I know dogs aren't horses, and we can't always extrapolate across species, but to me, it seemed like a no brainer to give this a whirl - how could it possibly hurt?  Anything that kept my horse sounder, longer, sounded like a good deal to me. Worst that could happen was nothing, I figured, and I made a commitment early on to keep Ms. V lean in hopes of staving off joint disease.

And so, instead of pumping her full of groceries until she had a jiggling, rippling, dimpled meatball of an ass as is expected with the average hunter or dressage horse, I had instructed the farmer at Lilliput to feed her to a "moderate" body condition score.  I showed him a chart with a little picture, explained how I wanted to be able to feel her ribs, and did not want to see spongy gobs of fat on either side of her tailhead - and voila. He did exactly what I asked.

Crazy, eh?

Actually, this is no easy feat when you are dealing with a horse in the process of growing a full hand between the ages of three and five, and thinking back, he did an exemplary job.

But Dr. Lana would have none of this.  Forget that study. She looks too thin. What would people think when they saw this bonerack in her stable?  This needed to be corrected, even if it meant she became a hobbling cripple somewhere down the road.

So which one of us was right?

Who knows. The research on the subject is really thin (pardon the pun), however the bottom line is that from a "literature review" point of view, when it comes to dressage horses as long as your horse isn't emaciated or exploding at the seams, anywhere from 4 - 7 on the Henneke body condition score chart is deemed to be "acceptable".

From a "catty dressage people whispering behind your back about what a lousy horse owner you are" point of view though, there is no doubt that thin takes the cake - a great number of horse owners are distressed by the notion that a horse has bones contained somewhere within its body - skeletons should apparently be hidden away in nice smooth layers of flab.

And so what if the flab erases half of a horse's athleticism - obesity has its benefits.  Freaking out and throwing your adult amateur rider to the ground is a lot of work when you have to haul a few extra hundred pounds around when you attempt to leap and buck. Why bother. For many riders, the sound of a plodding earthbound trot that causes the arena dirt to throb like a tuner car's subwoofer at a stoplight is the sound of safety.  As an added bonus, insulin resistance builds a nice cresty look so much faster than correct training alone.

So, I kind of see her point. Fat = happy in the mind of many riders, and since she was trying to drum up business for this new joint venture, housing skinny little horses was not in line with "good advertising"

But, as with many things relating to Dr. Lana over time, I actually don't think her intentions were all self motivated in a businesswoman kind of way. I really and truly do believe that she thought Ms. V looked too skinny - we just had different views on what constituted the look of "an athletic horse". Her heart was in the right place. It was just an entirely different place than mine. I think part of the problem was that I had been raised with thoroughbreds and loved the look of a tucked up lean horse, whereas Dr. Lana was more of a field hunter kind of woman herself - her eye had been trained to crave a horse with a meatier appearance.


Dr. Lana
Really, it is no different than with people - we all have our preferences when it comes to body type.  Apparently there are people out there in the world who think Gwyneth Paltrow actually looks good in a bikini. If I were a man, or switching teams, I would want to feed her a sandwich or two with a side of cupcakes so I wouldn't crush her if I rolled over in bed. But hey, she is apparently the "sexiest woman alive" so what do I know. And why does it matter. As long as she doesn't do anything stupid like feed her children bizarre elimination diets, who cares.

Annnyways, Ms. V was now residing in Dr. Lana's barn, and it made perfect sense to to her that we proceed to make Ms. V look exactly the way she wanted her to look, with no consideration whatsoever of my opinion on the matter. Logical, no?

And so began the ongoing battle of the bulge. Or lack thereof.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Damn you Scattails. Damn you.

Sorry, sorry, sorry... again.  I realize that I am one of the world's most delinquent bloggers.

But I have someone to blame it on this week.

It is all Scattail's fault.

Now, if you have ever rolled your eyes or stifled a yawn whilst a fellow boarder rants on about some aspect of their failure to accomplish (insert failure here) without taking any ounce of personal responsibility for (insert failure here), but instead blames (insert failure here) on their simple minded, hay munching, incapable of evil planning or forethought horse... get your eyes and jaw warmed up.

Because Scattails is an entirely inanimate boat. With even less ability to mess up my schedule or to take control of my life or to lead to my failure to do anything than any horse. But whatever.  I am still blaming this all on Scattails.

Although we are sometimes hard on ourselves when it comes to stupid choices we make with respect to our horses, we really should cut ourselves some slack. Whenever I feel down about my lack of success with horses, I pick myself up and think to myself "Curmudgeon, take heart. It is not all about horses.  You make stupid choices in other areas of your life as well". 

Which brings us to the story of the seats of Scattails.

Now, since this is a dressage blog, I am going to tell this story using comparisons we can all understand, as horse people.

If Scattails were a horse - he would be an aged quarterhorse (nee 1982) who had been living in a thistle filled paddock of a friend for approximately 20 years. A friend who desperately wanted to clean up the thistles but needed to get the horse's hairy ass out of there before they could accomplish the feat. In the case of Scattails, the field was a shed, but you get the picture. Motard was approached by said friends, and asked if he would like to pay a paltry sum for the honour of owning the beast (and getting him the hell out of their shed).

Well who wouldn't.  With all of the glee of a $500 horse shopper on Craigslist, Motard brought home his prize, shovelled out the copious amounts of racoon and rodent turds and gave the whole thing a good hosing down. He then proceeded to happily bash around the reedy shallows of Rondeau Bay in his new found toy, sending up rooster tails of silty mud behind him and stopping periodically to rip handfuls of green slime covered stuff off of his entirely fouled prop.

(The zoologists in the crowd are now nodding approvingly at my choice of name here)

The waters of Rondeau Bay inspire you to not fall while waterskiing

Over time, Scattails has proven himself to be the equivalent of the perfect trail horse. He is sound and happy enough to let you drive around like Relic on the beachcombers, outrunning freighters on the St. Clair river and whatnot. Were he a horse, you would ride him confidently over hill, dale, through rivers, down busy highways, and live that dream of going through the Tim Horton's drive through on horseback that we all secretly have...Yet at the same time, he so economical that if - in the course of being a maniac - you were to break his leg or run off a cliff or some other calamity befell you, oh well.  Not much is lost. RIP.

But, being the fussy dressage rider that I am, this was not enough for me. Not nearly enough.

"Motard - look a that thing.  The fibreglass hull is all dull and oxidized - and the glitter paint doesn't glitter anymore.  You tore out all of the carpet to get rid of the wet racoon turd smell and now the floor looks like hell.  And worst of all - the very worst by far - although I do appreciate that you removed all of the rodent nests from the foam within the ripped seats - you patched the rips with duct tape.  Now when the sun shines on them, my legs get scorched by the smoking hot black vinyl while being held firmly in place by the melted glue on the edges of the tape, like some sort of ass flypaper".  

This would not do.

"But Curmudgeon", said Motard. "Can't you just enjoy Scattails for what he is. A fun, cheap toy".


It was the equivalent of riding around on a shuffling quarterhorse.  I became obsessed with fixing Scattails, just as I become obsessed with improving the "way of going" of any horse that I sit on. When I was done with him, he would be moving freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit.  Or at the very least not grabbing my thigh fat with his sticky seats.

Motard kept me at bay for the summer, however once he was out of the water and safely tucked away in our garage for the winter, I began my makeover process.  I decided I would sew new seats for Scattails.

Curmudgeon, what the hell do you know about upholstering boat seats?

Well.. nothing. But that doesn't stop people from buying green horses now does it?  And it didn't stop me from beginning a project that I had no skill or knowledge whatsoever to execute either.  Pfft, piece of cake. I checked out a bulletin board or two on the subject, apparently other assholes manage to get this done. I make stuff using "Very Easy Vogue" patterns all of the time. Really, how hard can it be.

And so, with all of the blissful ignorance of a horse owner preparing their crusty old "just doesn't want to jump anymore" 16 year old hunter for their new career as a "dressage horse"  (hey, how hard can it be!), I tore the seats out of Scattails and began my re-schooling project.

And, just as you have read about 100x on equine bulletin boards, a strange thing happened.  I found out that trying to do a job that most people pay professionals to do is kind of tricky to execute all on your lonesome with nothing but a $100 Sears sewing machine and a youtube video. And about 47 packs of broken needles. And 8 spools of heavy duty thread tangled into giant fluffy black bundles of something resembling pubic hair bunched up on every seam (no, no, not all neatly trimmed into landing strips.  Think '70's porn, not what you see today).

No problem, Curmudgeon.  Stay calm. It is December - you have lots of time to figure this out.  Just go back to Len's Mill store and buy a few more bolts of vinyl fabric and start again... January...February...March...April... 

I am sure you see where this is all going.  My time was up. I could only hide the evidence of my failure under the canvas tarp like a Boston terrorist for so long.  At some point Motard would be taking the boat back to Lake Erie, and he would expect someplace to sit besides a metal post with a few bolts sticking out of it.

I suppose my next step could have been to convince Motard that the perching on the metal post and bolt thing is actually the "classical" way to ride around in your boat, and that cushy foam filled seats are like razorblades in the hand of monkeys.  And that the resistance shown to me by the seats is actually an indicator of the cruelty of the artificial aid of the sewing machine.  However, since he is not a total idiot, sweeping the problem under the carpet as many a dressage rider chooses to do was really not an option.

And so, to make a very long story short - I have spent pretty much every spare moment of my time in the month of May desperately trying to finish these fucking boat seats.  Which has left not much time for the blog.

Damn you Scattails - you see?  It is all his fault.  I told you so.

Back to your regularly scheduled program soon.. I promise!