Sunday, December 22, 2013

I'm Not Dead Yet!

Sorry for the radio silence on my part. It's been a crazy month for me, mostly due to the fact that I got a New Grown-Up Job, which means I have been very busy and haven't a lot of time to do stuff with Royal. Plus I've sick the past couple of days, so my motivation to do anything is fairly low. But, I have some posts brewing about helmets, and the latest Tropes Vs. Women video, but they'll have to wait until I'm no longer under the influence of cough medicine.

Until then, here's one of my favorite Christmas tunes:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gaming While Feminist, Part 3

"Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it." - Bertolt Brecht

Tropes Vs. Women, Part 3!

Part 4 came out earlier this week, which reminded me that I hadn't done Part 3 yet. D'oh! Well, better late than never I suppose. Subtitles are on the video in multiple languages.

This video touches on one of my major pet peeves in common defenses of clueless mass culture: It's all a joke/satire/parody! Don't be so sensitive! Gosh! Except that it's not "just a joke." Popular culture defines us as a whole, even when we think it doesn't. And popular culture frequently reflects the uglier side of sexism and racism in a way that inflames it.

But slowly it appears to be changing. The wild popularity of The Hunger Games series is a step in the right direction. Katniss does get manipulated quite a bit by Haymitch and the rebels in the later two books, but she never waits around for someone to rescue her. She's a badass who can shoot, fight, survive in horrible conditions, and even rescue Peeta and the others. And the fact that the series is so popular puts a dent in the belief that "everybody knows" stories driven by women don't do well, money-wise. If there's a modicum of effort put into it, they do just fine. I know this may be a surprise to some people, but ladies have money in addition to lady-parts, and we do spend it on entertainment on occasion. Call the Midwife is one of the most popular shows on BBC, and its cast is almost entirely made of women. It's well-written, well-directed, and well-acted, and the characters are actual people, not fem/sex-bots.

I hope this trend continues, and gets more traction. Even stories with "strong women" still often relegate them to Damsel Mode (Jane in Thor and Thor 2, sigh), and it gets annoying to constantly see women who ostensibly could be awesome and drive their own stories having to be rescued by their heroes all the time. Why not let them be their own heroes?

Catching Fire comes out this weekend, and it looks like it'll do well. I hope so, because hopefully a blockbuster series with a female person (not a fembot) who is not a damsel will pave the way for future female heroes. Moar plz.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

10 Years

On November 8th, I'd officially had Royal for 10 years. An entire high school and college career have passed, with one failing and limping year-and-a-half of failure-as-adulthood (which appears to be coming to a close with some very good news yesterday) on the tail end. And Royal has been there every step of the way.

I suppose I should really subtitle these anniversary post as "How Royal Makes Renee's Tenuous Grasp On Sanity Possible" since that's really what it is. Royal keeps me sane and grounded, mostly. Especially when my Jerkbrain goes on overdrive. I wrote briefly about Jerkbrain back in August when Royal and I won our first real blue ribbon. It basically makes me think I deserve nothing good and everything bad. But Royal counters Jerkbrain like nothing else. I can't brush off his genuine good nature as an act, and it helps me realize good things can happen to me. Royal happened.

Allie Brosh at Hyperbole And A Half has a two part post about depression that summarized it pretty well for me. Especially where she talks about simply wanting to stop existing. Not so much suicide, but just turning life off like a switch. That's what the bad place is like for me, just wanting to flip a light switch on life. I recently heard an interview with Brosh on NPR where she said something that helps her is the fact that she's gone from the whole wanting-to-turn-life-off place to normal is what gives her strength. And the same is true for me. Royal helps me cover up the switch.

This year held a lot of firsts for us. Our first real blue ribbon, the first time I camped in the trailer at an event (and still did it like a diva), sort-of conquering our fear of ditches, and our first ribbon at Carriage House. And Royal is usually pretty happy to see me, which is the most important part. And I'm always happy to see him.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Sunshine Award

Not much to report on with Royal lately. It's been cloudy and gloomy and raining for a while now, and I haven't had much motivation to do a lot with the Fuzz. We keep working at the Basic Alignment Exercise, which I've ramped up by asking him for after a canter-trot transition. He tends to get very frazzled after downward transitions, so I'm trying to help him keep calm. But, since we have no shows or anything to go to for a few months, I'm happy to let him get fat and fuzzy and let his mane grow like a bunch of weeds.

He's still adorable, though.

So, in lieu of any excitement, I've been nominated for the Sunshine Award by reading The Reeling, so let's try that.
  1. Mares or Geldings? Either. Both can have their strengths and weaknesses, so whichever is the right horse at the right time.
  2. English or Western? English. I don't mind hopping of western and messing around, but you will pry my tall boots and breeches from my cold dead hands.
  3. Do you prefer “younger” or “older” horses? Younger, I guess. I like horses with lots of life left in them, and the ability to train them how I want. Royal was fairly young when I got him (6 turning 7), and that has allowed us to have many adventures together.
  4. Have you trained a horse from ground zero? Yep, actually in Royal's case, I would say I started in the negatives. I think I'd much prefer ground zero next time.
  5. Do you prefer riding or groundwork? Both. Both is good.
  6. Do you board your horse or keep it at home? Board. 
  7. Do you do all natural things or just commercial stuff?(in sense of products) Both, I guess. All of my grooming lotions and potions are all natural, but that's about it. I like science, and will always try to use the best stuff I can get.
  8. All tacked up or bareback? Both! I haven't really ridden bareback in a while, but it is so fun.
  9. Equestrian role model?  The Parellis, Karen Rohlf, Walter Zettl, Uta Graf, anyone who puts the horse first.
  10. What’s your one, main goal, while being in the horses world? To have fun and learn as much as I can and be the best horse woman I can be.
So, now I tag anyone reading this. Yes, you! Write your own if you want, I'd love to read it. :)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

F**king Helmets, How Do They Work?

So, this blog post has come across my Facebook feed a couple of times and at first I didn't bother to read it, thinking it would be the same inane blather that usually occurs. Anecdotes, not forcing people to wear helmets at knife-point = telling people not to wear helmets, THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, the Parellis are money-grubbers, blah blah blah.

Then I read it and came across this passage (no emphasis added):
I’m writing this calmly but inside I am screaming: If Linda Parelli had been wearing a helmet [when she fell off Remmer] she may not have been knocked out (read- concussion) and under her horse’s feet when he got up.  A helmet may have saved her from a concussion and it may also have saved her from bruises and 4 broken ribs. I wonder if that was extreme enough for Linda Parelli. I wonder what she considers a safe horse.
Oh, for crying out loud.

No. No, Ms. Fox, we can't say that at all. People get concussions while wearing helmets. People get knocked out while wearing helmets. People die while wearing helmets.

I come across this sort of thinking all the time, people seeming to think that helmets are magic, a force-field of protection against any and all head injuries, and, by proxy, any and all other injuries. Because people never break bones or anything like that unless they sustain head injuries. F**king magic. Like magnets or something.

Then, I got to thinking ("A dangerous idea" "I know"). Maybe I'm being too critical of Ms. Fox. Maybe she has never taken a physics course and has no idea how the basic principles of force work. Maybe she has about the same level of expertise regarding the principle of helmets as I do about how the internet works: absolutely no idea. For all I know, fairies bring websites from one computer to the other, and that's how websites get overloaded and shut down: not enough fairies. Perhaps Ms. Fox believes fairies reside in helmets and generate protective fields as the ground looms ever closer. So, in order to help Ms. Fox and anyone who didn't take (or failed) physics, I shall now destroy the magic and attempt to explain the basic principle behind helmets.

The main guiding principle behind helmets are among the most basic is physics: f = ma. Breaking down the equation, we have f as the force an object experiences, usually measured in Newtons. m is the mass of the objects. a is acceleration or the rate of change in the velocity of the object (usually we use acceleration to mean increasing the velocity, but in physics acceleration means either speeding up or slowing down). So, the force of the impact is directly related to both the mass of the object and the rate of change in the velocity of object. The saying "The bigger they are, the harder they fall" is actually true from a physics standpoint. But (and this is where helmets come in) it is also true that the faster they are, the harder they fall.

Your brain is a very soft and squishy thing that is surround by solid hard bone. A concussion is caused not by injuring to the skull bones, but by your brain bouncing around inside your skull cavity. Your brain starts bouncing around in your skull when you hit the ground, and that is where the equation f = ma comes in. In order to reduce the likelihood of head injury (and thereby brain injury), you have to reduce the force sustained by your head when you hit the ground. There are two ways to do that: reduce the mass, which is not possible, or reduce the rate of the change in velocity, which is where helmets come in. A helmet is composed of a hard shell enclosing lots of padding, usually some kind of foam. When a helmet contacts the ground, the inner foam starts to compress and crumble. This decreases the rate of deceleration and therefore the force of the impact, and hopefully bring the total force experience by your head below the threshold of injury. Or, watch what happens when the Mythbusters go to town with beer bottles.

So, there it is: slow the rate of change in velocity, reduce the force experience by the head and brain, hopefully reduce or eliminate injury to the head. Simple and elegant, but not magic. No fairies, no shields, no guarantees. Helmets have limits. Sometimes the force of the impact is still large enough to send the brain bouncing around the skull and cause a concussion, even a fairly severe one. Or loss of consciousness. In addition, helmets only have one shot, so to speak. Once that lining is crushed, it's done. It's already done its deed, thrown itself on the grenade, and it can do no more. So if, after a fall on your head, you hit your head on something else (like a fence or your horse's hoof), the protective properties are greatly reduced, and you may get a concussion or broken skull anyway. Also, helmets do not prevent general shock, and your reflexes may not be as sharp after a fall and not able to get out of the way of your horse's hooves.

Most helmets come with an ASTM/SEI certification, which entails hitting the helmet against an anvil designed to simulate a horse's hoof and measuring the forces experienced by various parts of the helmet. They do not, however, strap the helmet to a crash test dummy and torture it, a la Mythbusters, by dropping it from ridiculous heights to see if any other body parts get injured.

Pictured: not an approved method of testing helmets

There is not a helmet manufacturer in the world stupid enough to claim that their helmets will completely prevent any and all head injuries or injuries to any other body parts. Because they would get sued for false claims, and they would lose. There is absolutely NO DATA showing that helmets are magical panaceas, or that they even have a chance of preventing injury to any area of your body that is NOT your head.

Should Linda have been wearing a helmet? Probably. Would a helmet have prevented her concussion? Maybe. Would a helmet have left her faculties intact and/or thereby prevented the broken ribs and bruises? There's absolutely no reason to think that could have been the case.

You want more people to wear helmets, Ms. Fox? A good start would be if you stopped lying about them. Stop trying to pretend more than they are. Treating your audience like a bunch of idiots who can't read the news and see lots of cases where people are injured or killed while wearing helmets is not going to get you very far at all.

You want to know why people don't wear helmets? Maybe you could ask them why not. I would be very surprised if "Pat and Linda Parelli don't wear helmets" cracks the top ten reasons. So maybe get off your high unicorn and join the rest of us in the real world. It's surprisingly nice here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Professional Home Photos!

Not much to write about, session-wise, with Royal, but recently a friend came out to take pictures of us with her super fancy camera. Amber of Mystery Kitten Photography kindly took photos of Royal and me, and even got a little ride on the Fuzz! He was a good sport all around, but was nicely compensated by the apples we brought. The weather was absolutely perfect and we got some great pictures.

Thanks Amber!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Biomechanics, Naturally: Part III

With a side of mouth injury.

I didn't have a lot of time to play with Royal on Monday, but couldn't resist this cute face waiting for me at the gate.

D'aaaaaawwwwwwwwwww, how sweet. And look how far away the other horses are. So I had to play with Happy Face for a little bit, doing more Basic Alignment Exercise and helping him stretch out. It only took a few minutes for him to relax and let loose.

So the next day I tried to see if I could do the same thing under saddle. I (luckily) knew to make sure that Royal was 100% with me on the ground, and that ended up not being the case. At all. I don't know if it was the cows or the weather or what, but he was distracted and would not relax. Every time I sent him out on the 22-foot line, he would take off like a wild horse and leave me hanging on to the rope, desperately trying to stay in the same place. I tried doing the "you'd better run," sideways without a fence, moving massage, everything I could think off. And Royal was still head-in-the-clouds ignoring me. So I sent him out again, he started zipping around, and then he tripped. He popped right back up and kept going, but a few strides later, I saw blood dripping from his mouth.

I was even more panicked when I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. There was so much blood that I was honestly worried that he'd bitten off a part of his tongue. So we scurried back to tget a towel so I could at least mop up some of the blood and figure out what was going on. Luckily his tongue was intact and he'd taken a bit out of his upper lip. It looked fairly superficial, and he didn't seem too bother, judging by his appetite. So, not wanting to end on a bad note, we went back out to the pasture to finish our session on a calm and sane note. I managed to set up my phone to video it:

All in all, I was pleased with how it turned out, considering. I gave him a bit of bute, just to be safe and let him back out with his buddies.

Today I decided to try BAE riding, again. The wound had scabbed over (although it still looks kinda gnarly), and when we started our ground warm-up, I was extremely vigilant in not letting his attention get away from me. The moment I saw an eye or ear wander, I asked for something: sideways, back-up, change of gait or direction, anything to keep his focus on me. And it worked. Even though the cows were right at the fenceline and staring at us, he kept his cool and didn't start freaking out. The BAE on the ground went well, and I hopped on.

We started with just letting him wander where he felt like it. He wanted to trot and canter, but it was pretty warm, so he settled down quickly. I began playing with basic energy levels at the trot; trying to get him to go from just-above-walk to regular trot to just-shy-of-canter. He was a bit confused and broke gait a lot at first, but soon got the hang of it. Then we started walking on a 20-ish meter circle and doing some BAE. I've noticed that Royal frequently doesn't bend his body on the circle; he just makes a series of turns with his nose pointing out. So I started gently tapping his inside hindquarter until I could feel his hind legs cross over a little bit. He started stretching, but as first it was the "I know I'm supposed to stretch, so I'll just do it" but gradually became the "Everything's balanced and I want to stretch" stretch. It was only at the walk, but it feels like a good start.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Biomechanics, Naturally: Part II

Last week I briefly touched on how I've been starting to play with biomechanics with Royal, trying to get him to relax and unlock his body. I think the underlying tension in his body is what preventing us from having a really good connection with each other when riding. I've talked about how he can hold tension like nobody's business, probably because that's how he's lived his life. I recognize that tendency in myself as well, so I'm trying to work on that too.

The first step is helping him to be "let loose" in his body, completely free of tension. It looks something like this:

Obviously this is a tall order for the Fuzz, and we've had a few interesting sessions so far. Our ride on Tuesday was one big experiment, some of which went well, some didn't. I tried a few different exercise, mostly relating to the Basic Alignment Exercise and melting brace. The hypothesis behind the Basic Alignment Exercise is that somewhere between crooked and the opposite of crooked the the place of alignment. So if your horse is falling in with their shoulder on the circle, instead of trying to get their shoulder on the angle of the circle, yield the shoulder past the circle for a bit and see what happens. By going to the opposite of crooked, you and your horse go through the place of alignment, which feels good. Eventually, after doing that enough, you find where you and your horse feel balanced and good.

Of course, I can't explain all of this to Royal and have to try to help him find it. So on Tuesday, I mightily confused him by asking him to yield his shoulders, barrel, and hindquarters this way and that, hoping to help him unlock and relax. The only problem of this was that a confused Royal is often a tense Royal, and he kept locking up and refusing to yield. At one point, he almost reared, which lead to an emphatic discussion of "forward means FORWARD." After both of us were tired and confused, so I tried to fix it by doing the brace dissolving exercise. It's kind of the opposite of the GoC, where you're constantly ready to take the contact. In brace dissolving, you establish a connection with the rein, and then send you energy forward through the reins to the horse. Instead of potentially creating a brace, you basically sent yourself up as a fence post, albeit a very giving one, that it uncomfortable for the horse to brace against. That seemed to work very well, and soon Royal was reaching into the contact and pushing well from behind. It was only for a few steps, but it was among the best he's ever felt. And when we stopped, he yawned and yawned and yawned for a couple minutes. Very good result.

Although I felt like an idiot because I set up my cell phone record it, and I accidentally turned it off before we even started. So no video. *headdesk*

We had a much better OnLine session a couple days later. After playing with attention and focus (be more interesting than the cows!), we did a bit more BAE. As before, he started off very confused and tense, but then something interesting happened: he started to relax. He put effort into the yields, instead of fighting them, and starting doing little bits of stretching. Then after a bit, fully stretched out for half a circle, completely let loose and relaxed. And more yawning. We're off to a good start.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Biomechanics, Naturally

Since Steepleview, I've been playing a lot with Royal and biomechanics. I've been wondering if our troubles with a consistent connection with the reins has to do less with tension and more with his body being out of sorts. He's been carrying himself like a llama the majority of the time for the past 10 years (and probably the 7 before that), so it hasn't been an overnight change.

I made an interesting discovery while doing some Moving Massage last week when I touched his flank right in front of the stifle: he moved slightly away and immediately stretched down and sighed. And it happened on both sides. Huh. His hips have always been something of a problem area, but apparently calling attention to them was a good first step. I also experimented with moving his shoulders around on the circle, and that seemed to make a difference too. He's already started moving with more correctness and engagement.

We also went for a little trail ride... in the rain. It wasn't raining too hard, so we did alright. The CalmWafers seem to be having a positive effect: instead of freaking out and trying to head to shelter at all costs, he simply stayed calm and moved over under the tree cover with little fuss. Much better than our dressage test at Roebke's Run, but then we were BOTH freaking out about the thunderstorm barreling towards us, so it was doomed from the start.

So, yeah. Not much. I'll actually be able to put some of this into play with riding soon, but so far we've just been getting the basics on the ground, slow and steady.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Steepleview 2013 Professional Pics!

Here they are! Once again, the wonderful team of D & G Photography took some fabulous pictures of Royal and me! As I mentioned before, I'd be really interested to see the dressage pictures, since the judge's comments seemed off the mark. I still think they were, but not in the way I'd thought. The word that should have come up a lot was "hollow", not "counterflexed". Unless she was using counterflexed in a way I'd never heard of to mean "hollow", but then "hollow" was in a few comments. So, I don't know. Obviously Royal since has a tendency to brace in his underneck, and while I can usually get him to relax and soften, I need to help him not go there in the first place. So this fall, winter, and spring will probably revolve a lot around relaxation and softness on both our parts.

You can see in the last x-c photo how much the saddle pad slipped, but overall I'm very please with how it went, apart from the heat and sweatiness. Also, my equitation went to the Place Where Dreams Die in SJ. Probably because the jumps came up so quickly. I've been so spoiled by mostly doing SJ in big open fields. Go get better at keeping myself in place when the jumps come up quickly.


The Fuzz is very photogenic.