Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Stumble It!


It never fails to amaze me how many people actually wade through all the stuff I write, and don't get me wrong, I am deeply complimented, so in honour of all you lot, here's a total rewrite so you can read it all again without getting bored.

Some of the more perceptive may have picked up a hint of frustation with the British Horse Establishment. My opinion hasn't changed. If they were horses, I would say they must have been cruelly mistreated as youngsters, because no horse is naturally devious, vicious or deceitful. And no horse is naturally snobbish, racist or in favour of incest, all characteristics that appear throughout the British Horse establishment. The section on "horsey people" has a number of my rants on this subject.

Over 8 years I have become, accidentally, and by very strange degrees, a pony trainer, and I have decided to apply what I have learned about ponies, to people, specifically, you, my audience. The first thing I do with a strange pony, is stick my thumb in its mouth, and this just isn't possible over the internet, not even on Broadband. But the principle is interestingly the same. You are getting a flavour of the way I write, which gives clues as to my thought processes and attitudes. In the same way a pony gets a taste of me, when I stick my thumb in its mouth, and within seconds it is licking and chewing and trying to get to grips with this weirdo who has just turned up, unloaded heaps of gear, and clearly wants to do something threatening.

Threatening is the relevant word. What I do with the Saddlechariot clearly threatens the British Horse Establishment, and their defense mode is, conveniently for me, demonstrated on video by Zara Phillips in the LandRover advert apparently "supporting British Eventing". I say "apparently" because the advert is very simple, and you can watch it here; I just don't see how it supports British Eventing.

Zara Phillips turns up, ready to unload her horse, and a group of young men are having a kickabout with a football. One, a fit, agile, jack the lad, definitely fancying himself as a ladies man, and with good reason, decides to chat up Zara Phillips. His comment that there isn't much skill in riding, Zara just has to sit on top and look pretty, is hardly earth shattering. Lets face it, how many riders come in sides heaving, lathered up and foaming at the mouth. Any way, Zara Phillips, says nothing, looks down her nose at him and then her horse showers his face in snot.

What has this guy has done to deserve such humiliation? Would it be funny if it was done to a person of colour, or who was disabled? In what way does this support British Eventing? But I am not here to discuss the thought processes of the great and the good, I just thank Landrover for a graphic example of the way I, and many other equestrian businesses are treated by the British Horse Establishment. Simple, they look down their nose, refuse to talk to us and let their minions shower us in snot. Been there, had it done to me for 8 years.

The British Horse Establishment is threatened because I have produced a vehicle and harness system that is safe. You see, if I am right, they are wrong, and that threatens their whole dominance of "equestrian affairs". Not only that, my Saddlechariot is easy for complete novices to drive in safety, which rather stuffs the whole concept of "horsey people". The Saddlechariot provides a real purpose to animals that have been relegated to companion status for years and brings back the idea of ponies actually being useful, which of course threatens those for whom riding and equestrian activities are all about asserting status. I never meant to, but this is the equivalent of walking up and kicking them in the gelding area. Their only viable option is to destroy me.

With a pony that feels threatened, (and putting a vehicle on them is, for most animals, a threat) it is vital to teach them to get past the feeling of being threatened. Patience and gentleness are the only options. I use pressure release but I have seen some stunning work with positive reinforcement, aka clicker, bridge and target etc. But before I get to the specific training, I work on straight leadership. This is probably the easiest thing in the world to train, and involves walking away from the animal and leading it.

The concept is simple, the leader does what it says on the box, leads. The follower follows. How difficult is that? With ponies, the vast majority just follow me, but that is mostly practice. I have done it so often, I behave like someone who expects to be followed. And this is easy to learn. Think of all those upper class twit officers who could step out of a trench into a hail of machine gun bullets and their men would follow them from a nice safe trench to death. You don't need anything like the same confidence and courage to get a pony to walk across a yard, just use the posture and the walk. (I am full of respect for those officers. They knew what they were walking into, and their casualty rate was appalling. I have less respect for those who sent them, and their men, to die.) I go further into this whole concept in TRAINING.

Establishing leadership is not about domination, it is about trust. You are saying, trust me and nothing will hurt you. Remember this. It means YOU can't hurt the pony. And you can't do something that might hurt the pony. This is where the Saddlechariot scores. I can put almost any animal in a Saddlechariot in under two hours because at any stage I have an exit strategy. Even when I have hitched up the Saddlechariot, traces, breeching, false belly band all done up, at the first sign of fear, or even worry, I can pull the release and let the pony go, unhurt, unscared, undamaged. Then we start again.

But the horse training analogy has one problem. I can show things to ponies and horses, and they look. They may not understand what I say, but they can understand my actions and will let me put a vehicle on them and for choice I do it ground hitched. I will not have an animal held firm while I put a Saddlechariot on, it has to be allowed to walk away, so I know it has CHOSEN to be in the vehicle. But how do I stop the British Horse Establishment being terrified? They won't answer my letters, they won't let me demonstrate what I can do, they have blinkered themselves and are thrashing around in the dark, hurting everyone. I don't think going up to them and sticking my thumb in their mouth is going to work either.

Any suggestions gratefully received, and for anyone who wants to see the Saddlechariot and what it can do, try stopping me demonstrating it.

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The Saddlechariot is safe because I am a coward and proud of it. I don't need to care if you hurt yourself, I think about me. I drive the Saddlechariot, and I really matter. Cowardice gets a consistently bad press, yet as a design tool it is unparalelled. "A coward dies a thousand deaths." Yes, but only in our imagination. I can live through imagining my death. The real thing is less fun.

The British Equestrain Establishment preserve all the courage based traditions which reached full flower in the pointless slaughter in the North Valley at Balaclava. I will from quote the opening chapter of Cecil Woodham Smith's "The Reason Why", an investigation into why two enormously brave but fundamentally incompetent upper class twits, both considered unfit to lead a regiment, were allowed to waste the best horsemen and the best horses in the world.
"Military glory! It was a dream that century after century has seized on men's imaginations and set their blood on fire. Trumpets, plumes, chargers............to ride victorious through flower-strewn streets.... It was not a dream for the common man. War was an aristocratic trade, and military glory reserved for nobles and princes. Glittering squadrons of cavalry, long lines of of infantrywheeling obediently non the parade ground, ministered to the lust for power and for display. Courage was esteemed the essential military quality and held to be a virtue exclusive to aristocrats. Were they not educated to courage, trained as no common man was trained, by years of practice in dangerous sports? They glorified courage, called it valour and worshipped it, believed battles were won by valour, saw war in terms of valour as the supreme adventure."

The 7 Earl Of Cardigan and the 3rd Earl of Lucan survived.
Of the 700 men who went into the North Valley, 195 came back and about the same number of horses. Cecil Woodham-Smith again. "The wreckage of men and horses was piteous. "What a scene of havoc was this last mile -- stewn with the dead and dying and all friends!" wrote Lord George Paget. Men recognised their comrades, "some running, some limping, some crawling", saw horses in the trappings of their regiments "in every position of agony struggling to get up, then floundering back again on their mutilated riders". So, painfully, step by step, under heavy fire, the exhausted bleeding remnants of the Light Brigade dragged themselves back to safety."
"Dragged themselves back to safety" When I talk about safety I mean safety, not survival from total horror, and the risk that the same idiots with the same philosophy will take you straight back in again.

I am a coward and I want to offer equestrian activities to those who aren't insanely brave, or stupid. The Crimean War didn't see the end of upper class courage being seen as a virtue. Here is the 1911 Encyclopaedia Brittanica 11th Edition on the subject of Carriage Driving.
"Under all these different conditions driving is a work of utility, of economic value to civilised society. But from very early times driving, especially of horses, has also been regarded as a sport or pastime. This probably arose in the first instance from its association with battle."
195 survivors from 700. A sport or pastime. I think I will stick with utility which has its own heroes.

Working class horsemanship has left few records because working class horsemen were paid to do a job, and not paid enough to pay afford literary self glorification, but a few examples are preserved. "Half a dozen laden waggons" says Sir George Head "are dragged along the railroad to the particular drop then at work, by a stout cob, which is then ridden carelessly back again, barebacked by a small boy, at a shambling trot; notwithstanding that the interstices between the planks below admit, here and there, full two inches of daylight. However the pony proceeeds, clattering on unconcernedly, otherwise than by holding his snout close to the floor, the better and more cautiously to observe where to place his feet at every step.
.............The beast when I witnessed his performance, had only a halter on his head, without winkers, or any harness except collar and light rope traces. As soon as the boy had fastened the lock of the trace to the foremost waggon, the pony invariably turned round his head, as if to enquire whether all was ready,and then, exactly at the proper moment, commenced his march, the load, meanwhile, rumbling after him: arrived at the drop, the carriages being detached, he here stood jammed close to the wall; shewing perfect cognizance as the carriages passed him, of the degree of attention due to the various noises and manoevres going forward, and not only being aware when it was proper to step out of the way, but how long precisely it was safe to stand still."
This was at the Drops at Middlesborough, huge elvated buildings extending over the mud into the Tees where coal from the Stockton and Darlington line could be loaded on ships before the docks were built. So a boy is handling one horse pulling half a dozen waggons, each carrying two and a half tons, in light coming up from the gaps in the floor boards, doing precision work in a cramped and unbelievably noisy environment, with just a halter and the permanent threat of maiming or death.
This is horsemanship at an incredible level to us today, yet in 1839, when T.H. Hair's Sketches of the Coal Mines in Northumberland and Durham was written, such natural horsemanship was obviously commonplace, but only among common people. Hair notes that the boy is only using a halter, no bit, no blinkers, no whip and relying on subtle communication cues and perfect trust between the pony and the boy. Yet only a few years later Anne Sewell would write Black Beauty in an attempt to wean the upper classes from their enthusaiam for bits, whips, bearing reins, blinkers, cruppers and the other devices the upper classes needed to drive an animal in fresh air and safe surroundings, while some underpaid boy could produce brilliant horsemanship in the dark and dust and noise and danger without all that nonsense.
I don't want to put ponies or children back is such appalling working conditions, but I can honour the skills, and most importantly, the bond built up between ponies and people. The boy and pony survived because they could trust each other, and that trust and friendship was all that made an otherwise hellish life bearable for both. If the boy survived long enough to have children, would you say they came from a "horsey" background? I would. Would they fit into the Pony Club? Only by denying their father's skills.

For example, here is a piece from William Fawcett extolling the virtues of the "horsey" set. "Above all, see that your instruction is given to you by instructors certificated by that excellent body the Institute of Horse, and not by grooms, whose ideas are hidebound by conservative traditions and who, more important still, cannot impart knowledge, and are, as a class, bad horsemen."
The British Horse Society is the result of amalgamating the Institute of Horse and Pony Clubs with the National Association of the Horse, and presumably full of people who are "as a class, good horseman".
It is with this schizophrenic British horse world that I have so many problems. Cardigan is remembered for his courage, which was enormous, but a boy working for a pittance, every day, in the dark, with his common cob, facing massive risks; where are his memorials? Who is preserving his skills and traditions? But then as a class, he and his mates were "bad horsemen."
To discuss Safety you need to get rid of the snobbish, stupid nonsense that has masked true horsemanship in Britain for the last few hundred years and look at all horsemanship, not the lethal attitudes of a few upper class twits.

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The Saddlechariot is safe, and so it is reasonable to ask what the British Equestrian Establishment think about it. Unfortunately they don't. I'm not saying they don't think, though I have my suspicions, they don't think about the Saddlechariot, they don't look at it, talk to me, answer recorded delivery letters or let me show it to them.
In any other industry, lawyers would be leaping around, queueing up to fight the simplest restrictive trade practice going. But then getting a Queens Counsel to look at organisations whose patrons are The Queen, Prince Philip and Princess Anne is a touch optimistic.
One organisation, the Country Landowners Association have had the moral courage to look and indeed to publish their opinion. I am enormously grateful to them for having the courage to look at and assess the Saddlechariot. I apologise for the grief I am sure it has brought them, for breaking ranks with the Establishment.
It is rather depressing as a UK citizen to realise that I am not allowed to show my invention to the Societies that claim to represent my industry. It is also depressing to realise that any loyalty to "my" country is rapidly evaporating. So if you wonder where the seals of approval, and test certificates are, sorry. To get those you have to persuade the organisations who claim to be in charge to actually look at the product.

The Saddlechariot is a pony/horse/donkey/mule drawn vehicle. As such it is only dangerous when it is attached to an animal. So to make it safe, you need to be able to detach it. With the Saddlechariot, step off, pull ripcord. You aren't on the vehicle, the vehicle isn't on the pony.
A very simple, two stage , safety policy. Get off the vehicle, which involves stepping back 8 inches and down 8 inches. Pull rope. So the training manual says, "If you are worried, step off, pulling ripcord." 8 words. I am not even going into why you are worried, it could be the credit crunch or Amy Winehouse's hair style. If you are worried, you aren't concentrating on your driving and would be a lot safer off the vehicle and with the vehicle off the pony. Traditional two wheeled horse drawn vehicles are called traps. The Saddlechariots isn't a trap because you can get out, and so can the pony.
The British Horse Establishment are absolutely convinced you need a servant, and they are so right. Cleaning the house, mucking out the pony, doing the shopping, sorting out the washing........the list is endless. But actually driving a pony, why do you need a servant for that? They claim it is for safety. I saw a driving accident with a BDS approved vehicle, with a young girl acting as groom. When the horse, for whatever reason panicked and started kicking the vehicle to pieces, a rapid process, the poor girl fell out and got kicked in the face.
If I am driving, I am quite capable of worrying about myself. I don't need any extra responsibility. And what can a passenger do when things go wrong. Not a lot.
Obviously highly trained professional grooms are a different matter. Have a look at a professional driving with two grooms. Now look at me deciding that I don't, for whatever reason (and I agree about Amy Winehouse's hair), want to be on a pony drawn vehicle any longer.
The other safety factors are less relevant. Stainless steel TIG welded construction, assessed by Lancaster University Engineering Department. The vehicle doesn't break, deform, bend or corrode under any normal load and was assessed at three times predicted load before any structural deformation. This means probably 40 stone man, 40mph cross country before it starts to bend. You will have to be heavier and faster to break it.
I don't use spoked wheels or solid tyres, at least partly because I have noticed the start of the 20th Century. Spoked wheels are big blunt scissors for removing children's and animal's limbs. Solid tyres are........I can't think of a polite way of putting this......stupid.
The Saddlechariot is designed to brush past people, and is designed with the traces outside the shaft tips so obstacles including people are brushed out of the way. Protruding shafts are lethal weapons.
The Saddlechariot is light weight. Getting hit by light objects is less painful. Surfaces are curved, and the latest version has foam bodywork because if you get hit, soft doesn't hurt as much as hard.
The harness breaks almost everywhere at about 40lbs pressure. I can make an unbreakable harness, but if the harness doesn't break, your pony will. If that is what you want, I don't want you as a customer. The Breeching strap is the only part made strong. If the saddlechariot is hit from behind by a car, I want my pony pushed by a webbing strap, not lumps of metal. The breeching strap is around half a ton breaking strain.
But my whole philosophy is safe not brave, safe not impressive, safe not traditional. Safe is all I care about, but suprisingly, with safety, comes fun. There is a classic saddlechariot grin, the first time a complete novice canters on a saddlechariot, normally within ten minutes of getting on the vehicle, or to be honest within two minutes.
Becuase the Saddlechariot is safe, learning is easy.
I sell safety, becuase it is a simple commodity, in very short supply in the traditional horse world. The fun is free. I can't make you have fun. All I can do is worry and think and plan and redesign to make you safe, because that is a goal I can achieve.


There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” – Herbert Spencer

2 comments:

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Sir
Through James Marchington's recommendation I've just started reading your blog, and i'm lovin' it.

i've recommended you to the readers of my blog

Cheers
SBW

Killi said...

Spoked wheels ~ that's why I stopped spinning after my now 12 year old was born! I must take it up again & train the dogs & cats to leave it alone.

I put "my" pet shop onto your blog because I'm sure Steve would love your comments, especially about breeding. I refused to agree to letting somebody that bought a dog pup from me know when Tashka had her next litter as he wanted 1 of my girlies to breed from. as it happened, Tig, Tashka & the 3 pups we kept were stolen before she could have a second litter for me. Tig was a 9 year old greyhound x Staff Lurcher & Tashka a 2 yr old Whippet x Staff, so not related at all unless the Staffy had been running around all over Somerset for 7 years!