Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Whole Horse Weekend

Whole Horse
I learned a lot at the Whole Horse Weekend, and hope everyone else did. I already knew Nick Sanders was a great guy. Forget the ability to do things with horses and ponies, Nick got a group of Alternative/Natural/Positive/Operant/ Horse trainers and got them all demonstrating over a weekend, and there was no bloodshed.
Some trainers use treats incessantly, (the correct approach because it is what I do) some never use them, some use them under certain conditions and others under different conditions. Some work close up to the animal, some from a distance, some use equipment, some don't.
Some shout, some whisper, some wave their arms while others radiate calm. Some use long words and quote scientific textbooks, some have had a personal moment of inspitation, some follow a teacher and some agree with every word I say and are therefore right. But the crunch factor is the lack of blood.
Nobody hit anybody. Given this bunch of opinionated prima donnas, (and this is a list at which I put myself right at the top)  that it didn't descend into violence is impressive. The real surprise with a group of people and horses, is that nobody hit a horse. No whips, no violence.
We argue about carrots, and clicks, pressure and release, lick and chew but we all avoid hit and hope. Lets promote the fact that there are hundreds ways of NOT hitting horses.
And finally, lets make a resolution that at next year's Whole Horse event, we stick Nick Sanders in the ring with a horse and make him do a demo. He's a great organiser, he's got a really good team together, but let's not forget, he is a great horseman, and next year he is going to show us.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Chariot Archery

As i am mucking about with some mad toxophilists from Exeter University, teaching them and Obama the joys of shooting bow and arrow from chariots, I thought I would put back up my original article on chariot history. This was written back in 2005 or 6 but the basic facts haven't changed much. The Fellrazor referred to was brilliant fun, but mildy unstable, and mutated into Bigfoot but the bigger wheels never impressed any of the animals I drove, so I switched them onto the various threewheelers whcih mutated gradually into 3Mobile.
3Mobile is insanely stable as long as you are going fast, but at low speeds it handles like a, I was going to say pig, but Phillip would take offence, so I will just say that low speed manoeverability is not its strong point, but I am rebuilding it next week to sort that out.
 So enoough of modern history, here is chariot history.

Before we look at chariots, let's look at man's relationship with horses. For the first 50,000 years of man's enduring relationship with horses, he ate them.  For this reason, traditional dress for equestrian activities ought to be dinner jackets. From 3,000BC to 600BC the horse pulled chariots and held the land speed record. From 600BC to approx 1830 AD the horse and rider held the land speed record. The horse is about speed or food, ie the original fast food.
The chariot exists because the horse as we know it, didn't. The horse of the early charioteers, approx 3,000BC was the onager or wild ass. When Equus caballus appeared is still debated, but it is clear that either the horse used by Sumerian charioteers was small and weedy by modern standards or, 4,500 years of man selectively breeding horses has failed to improve the breed at all. Take your pick.
I quote the "historian's approach" according to the International Museum of the Horse website.
"The fact that the early horse was a relatively small animal, probably not exceeding 12 hands in height, has long been put forth as a reason for the late development of horseback riding in the Near East. Even today, however, horses of this size are used as effective mounts, leading one to question the logic of this assumption. The reason for man's preference for driving over horseback riding in the Near East still remains somewhat of a mystery. In one early letter to King Zimri-Lim (1782-1759 BC) of the city of Mari, it was advised that the preservation of his dignity required that he should ride in a chariot, or even on a mule, but not on horseback. Could it have been, as suggested by noted horse historian Mary Littauer, that horse sweat was considered so repugnant that horseback riding was shunned by the elite?"
This nonsense is considered to be history. He "should ride in a chariot or even ON a mule" If horse sweat is so repugnant, how did they cope with the sweat of an animal that was known to be half horse. One dubious letter and a fatuous theory to explain why chariots were used in preference to riding. It is simple. Chariots, not carriages, chariots, allow small ponies that can't carry a man at speed to pull a man at speed.
So what is a chariot. A world land speed record holding, one man, pony drawn vehicle with no suspension which allows easy mounting and dismounting.
Back to speed. Until the chariot, man could only travel as fast as he could run. The available animals were too small to carry a man any distance at speed. But as I have proved, careering cross country behind a 10.1hh Shetland X, Henry may not be able to carry 17 stone at speed but he can really motor with me behind him. So we have proved the chariot was fast, it was one man because who would carry pointless dead weight when trying to go as fast as possible. It didn't have suspension because it didn't need it if the charioteer is on the point of balance and uses his body as intelligent suspension.
This also reduces the loads on the animal by a massive factor. I have built a two man Saddlechariot and Henry hates it. I estimate the additional load of pulling a two man version of the same all up weight as a factor of 5, ie five times as much work. This is all about polar moment of force. Standing on the point of balance, I pivot, bend back and forth, side to side and take upward shocks through foot, ankle and knee. This work by me takes all that load off my pony. If I am not at the centre of action, the pony takes it and Henry hates it. It also puts damaging loads on the harness and fittings. I can get away with traces that no carriage driver would touch because the chariot is a soft vehicle, ie it is easy for the pony.
Why do I say it has to be easy to get on and off. Go back to Ancient Sumeria and count the number of Landrovers and Rice trailers. Now work out how you get your chariot from one bit of nice smooth galloping ground to the next. You do it the way I do. Get off and your animal can pull an empty vehicle over pretty tough terrain. This is also saving your ponies and your vehicle. For the really bad bits, unhitch, get the ponies through, tie them up, come back and lift the chariot over, rehitch and start again.
Yes it is complicated, but it works and there was no alternative. Chariots and pack animals work where there are no roads. Carriages rely on roads.
Yes all the evidence is against me. There are hundreds of representations of two people in a chariot.
Most of them of show kings and emperors being driven in their chariots, but then there are plenty of photographs of Queen Elizabeth the Second in coaches with a full complement of coachmen, grooms, postilions and outriders. This doesn't mean that the standard means of transport in the 21st century is a four horse carriage staffed by a small herd of servants. Having a driver in your chariot has two effects. It confers status and converts a brilliant one man vehicle into a bad unsprung cart.
Military use also brings a whole lot of nonsense to the fore. The chariot predated road building so any discussion of the chariot's use in battle, has to include how it gets there in the first place.
The chariot with two small ponies and a man weighs at least a third of a ton and can move at twenty plus miles an hour. If it hits you it will hurt. It is therefore by definition a weapon. It provides high speed battlefield communications. Assuming the charioteer can fire a bow, the chariot is highly mobile artillery, galloping to vantage points to shoot into the flank of columns. I assume the charioteer at least stops the chariot, and very probably gets out to fire. The significance is that you can move a bowman at 15 miles and hour and he will arrive not even out of breath. Make him run that distance at 4 minute mile speed carrying 100 arrows and see how soon he can fire accurately.
This rather assumes that chariots are used intelligently in warfare, but Royalty and the nobility will always gravitate to the fun flashy end of warfare so a contingent of Hooray Hammurabis would have been inevitable. But even if the chariot's function was in that famous phrase "to add tone to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl", it would survive on the battlefield for one simple reason. Buying a single seat sportscar always causes friction at home, but for at least 4,500 years domestic disputes can be settled by the "but it's for war, darling" defence. Actually the chariot is the best fun you can have. My advantage over classical historians is that while they peruse dusty texts, I fool around testdriving my latest version the Fellrazor. I know that anything that is this much fun is bound to last, but history books tend to ignore fun as a historical factor. In chariots I believe it was the predominant one.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Rewards should be many and various.

Rewards should be many and various.
Just using a reward based system isn't enough. Modern life over emphasises  money as a measure of success. You hear endlessly how rich, how over paid the the elite is.  Art is priced, endlessly. Even Banksy's success is emphasised by what his works sell for.
By describing my rewards based system as carrot carrot, I risk the same over emphasis on one minor facet. To qoute Temple Grandin, and yes there is a risk of over emphasising Temple Grandin, but since a much greater risk for animal handlers is to ignore one of the greats, I will continue to quote her till you go out and get her books and re read them endlessly, the SEEKING circuits in the brain are the crunch.
The SEEKING circuits get us out there looking for food, money, sex, water, company or whatever floats your boat. But it is the SEEKING that triggers the pleasure. SEEKING is the search for something new. The extra lush bit of grass, the mate that isn't the one you are with, the million for those who only have hundreds of thousands, it is the search for novelty.
I take Obama out.
Yesterday he taught two new charioteers, and we introduced him to bows and arrows. The day before he went to the Heavitree Picnic in the Park and talked to endless people,  went for a blast down between Ludwell Valley and Burnthouse lane, met loads more people, some of whom fed me burgers and Obama salad.
The day before we just stooged around town, went to the pub and stood right under the railway line as express trains roared over. Then down to the river for a good canter and home again.
Today we will be doing row crop work on Exeter Community Agriculture's plot.
Obama gets variety, and that in itself is a reward. He goes faster and keener away from home, looking for new experiences, than coming back to the field he knows.
I let him graze the verges wherever we go, so he has an incredible variety of plant life as food, but that doesn't stop him tipping over bins to get at MacDonalds chips, which he adores, possibly in recognition of Temple Grandin's really impressive work with MacDonalds. He will scrape chewing gum off the roads with his teeth and anyone who says "Isn't he sweet" is expected to provide at least five minutes of scratching.
Variety is a reward. Leading your animal out is a reward, but it is also education, from the Latin Ex ducere, to lead out. So eductaion becomes a reward, not the reptitive learning of limited and stylised moves in a "school", but new experiences.
Archery is Obama's latest lesson. If you want to pick an animal to teach chariot borne archery to, Obama is a lot less than ideal. Bows are long stick like things. Obama, at some stage in his life, has been shown what a whip can do. The damn things terrify him. So I want to take a long whip like object and use it while driving him.
The obvious answer is blinkers, but I tend to agree with Black Beauty that they are dangerous fashion accessories. So i am going to have to teach him to accept the bow and arrows. I won't teach him to accept whips. I expect him to kick anyone who approaches him with a whip, and I will give him a carrot for doing so, or even some chips.
Yesterday with Charlotte and Danielle, he started really scared as the bow was assembled, but by the end, he was nuzzling the bow because he had learned that that got him turnip. Later on when I want to hit targets, I am going to have a major problem with him nuzzling the bow at the critical moment. But if I can get a novice to drive him cross country, solo, shooting a bow, I will be pleased.
And yes I will get all smug and tell you all on Facebook, but I deserve a reward. Obama will get a lot of turnip, carrots, radish, banana or whatever, but most importantly it will add another variation into his already varied life.
The reward is the variety. Just carrots works, but variety really gets Obama motivated. As a nomadic species, they rarely wake up to the same view.  New things are scary, but if you don't investigate and welcome the new, you couldn't be nomadic. Ponies are programmed to explore new places, new food, new sights and smells. They are always on the lookout for danger, but that is true wherever they are.
Thee simplest reward is taking them out somewhere new, leading them out, ex ducere, educating them.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Horsemanship is simple.

Horsemanship is simple, easy and open to anyone. Workers have worked alongside horses and ponies for 5,000 years. There is no reason we shouldn't do so for another 5, 000 years. The parrallel elitist horsemanship has ridden over the workers for 5,000 years, and there is no reason it should continue to do so for another week.
Dorian Williams, MFH and Sir George Head have provided definitive descriptions of working class horsemanship.
"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."

Look what is being described. This is skill and courage and true horsemanship. A small boy working a cob is shifting fifteen tons of coal on each trip, in the Drops, huge buildings on stilts over the Middlesborough mudflats to load coal on keels at all states of the tide. The coal industry is notoriously dangerous, from 1873 to 1953 there were only 4 years when hauling coal didn't kill over 100 people. Some years it killed 300 and never less than 88. The boy and cob are working as a team, trusting each other for their survival.
In an era when cruelty was normal and bear baiting had only just been banned, this kid is working without a whip, without a bit and without reins, yet the perfect working bond is clear to an observer, and that observer is prepared to acknowledge his skill.
Here is Dorian Williams, MFH, doyenne of the BBC equestrian output.
"The reaction of the horse to the tempo and personality of the rider was very vividly demonstrated to me some years ago in Johannesburg. I was going to the races one day, and as I drove through the city I saw to my amazement some of the horses that were going to run in the races being ridden through the streets- through all the busy, noisy traffic- by their grooms, who were native boys. The horses were thoroughbreds, bred on exactly the same lines as our own racehorses, and yet whereas our horses would have been all over the place, demanding the most skilled handling, these were just jogging disinterestedly along on a loose rein! Now those African boys are very lazy and lethargic by temperament. It would never occur to them to hurry or to get excited, and they just drift along, their complete lack of understanding communicating itself to their horses."

Sir George Head is prepared to acknowledge in print, the skills of the boy and his horse. Dorian Williams wrote this piece in 1964, but as a sports commentator,he  must have noticed the incredible performances of Wilma Rudolph in the 1960 Rome Olympics. As the first American woman to win three Golds, as the first Polio victim to do so, as an incredible sprinter winning the 100m, the 200m and 400m relay, he would probably have noticed her, even if the fact that she was black hadn't registered. Lazy and lethargic by temperament, I don't think so.

What stands out is this is a different type of horsemanship, working horsemanship, where people and horses are united, probably against a common enemy, the bosses. They know all about domination, from the receiving end, and they know how to get the best out of people and ponies.
That is what I want to rescue from the Dorian Williams of this world and their blinkered view.
Talking of which, an engineering acquaintance claims that horse people put blinkers on their horses so they have the same narrow viewpoint as their owners.