Sunday, August 23, 2015

Success, Challenges and Yellow Paint

Some weeks are more surprising than others.  This one falls under the heading of "I can't believe someone said that to me!"

The short story, Lockie, has been doing well.  Thank you to those who purchased it and told me they enjoyed it.

The challenges-uck.  My computer needs a major overhaul--major--and I've been putting it off for months but the time has arrived.

And my office is being painted yellow.

Bittersweet Farm stable color bow by Ashley Dechant

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

BF Bookmarks

I spent far too many hours to do something as easy as a bookmark but I overcame the challenges and now at least have the image file.  Hopefully they will be printed perfectly.
Some of the books may be available soon at certain horseshows and having bookmarks to give away is said to be good advertising.

We shall see.

This is the front.  There is also a flip-side.

Thanks to Maggie Dana for the help!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Horsey Reads

There's certainly a growing number of equestrian related novels out there now and a few of us are going to create a central location to help readers find the books they want.  It's not live yet but it will be soon.

Lockie: A Bittersweet Farm Short Story

I wanted to know more about the year Lockie lived before arriving at the farm, so I went there. I met a couple surprising people, too, and guarantee we will see at least one of them in the near future.  LOCKIE

Live now at Amazon later today at iTunes.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

How Horses Are Like Dogs

I'm sorry for the people who own or lease a horse but don't keep them at home.  I know this is getting more difficult to do as property is at a premium and not everyone lives with enough room for a horse. You develop a special relationship with anyone you live with and horses are not an exception to that rule.

I've had quite a few horses in my life.  I got my first horse when I was eleven.  For 2 years of college, I was horseless.  Then I had a stable where I taught and kept my horse there.  After that I almost consistently had horses at home, including when I moved from the East Coast to the West, then to Kansas, then back home.  The horses went with me.

Now I live with Ziggy, a TB/Oldenburg mare.

Since she is very responsible, she is given a great deal of freedom on the property.  If I go to the mailbox, she hears the door open and leaves the barn to follow me and to see what I'm doing.  If  I hang up the laundry, there she is checking things out.

It's true she doesn't technically get underfoot the way the dogs do, I'm more under her feet, but she's naturally curious and wants to be with me.  Unless there's delicious hay and then I definitely am less interesting than that.

While horses are herd animals and they really enjoy being with their own kind, they've been domesticated and do bond with humans, like dogs.  The more time, not working, not training, not rushing to get done, you can invest in your relationship with your horse, the happier you will both be.  If you can't keep the horse at home, set aside time to simply be together.  You will be rewarded.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Bittersweet Farm Series Mailing List

Leave your email address in the comment section and I promise I will create a mailing list as soon as possible without taking writing time away from BF11.

You will not be spammed (like I have time for that).  You will not receive cute and amusing posts (like I have time for that). The mailing list will only be used to announce publication dates.

Update:  I started collecting addresses for the mailing list, very exciting for all of us.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Who's Who at Bittersweet Farm

Who’s Who at Bittersweet Farm

Talia Margolin—18 year old trainer at Bittersweet Farm, her horse is Freudigen Geist, stable name CB, Butch her junior horse and two ponies Garter and Foxy Loxy also live at the farm.
Greer Swope—Talia’s 18 year old sister.  Her horses are Counterpoint, Citabria whose stable name is Bria and Tea Biscuit her junior hunter.
Andrew Swope—their father
Sarah Margolin—Talia’s mother, now deceased, Andrew’s ex-wife
Victoria Rowe—Greer’s mother, Andrew’s ex-wife
Julietta “Jules” Finzi—private chef and confident to the girls.
Lockie Malone—head trainer at the farm, Talia’s love interest.  His horse is Wingspread.
Cameron Rafferty (Cooper)—show jumper, Greer’s potential love interest.  His horses are Whiskey Tango, Jetzt Oder Nie and his childhood pony, Remington.
Kate Rafferty Cooper—Cam’s mother
Fitch Cooper—Cam’s father
Kerwin Rafferty—Cam’s grandfather
Caprice “Cap” Rydell—barn manager, her horse is Bijou
Millais “Mill” Crocker—Cap’s boyfriend who is involved with the polo horses belonging to Teche Chartier.
Teche Chartier—owns Chartier Spices “Scorching the world one mouth at a time”.  From Louisiana originally, Teche has a large estate nearby, one in Florida, travels on business and he enjoys life and horses.
Poppy Beck—Talia’s riding student.  Her pony is Tango Pirate
Gincy Hamblett—Talia’s riding student.  Her pony is Beau Peep
Holliday “Day” Jamieson—local rider, her grandmother is the master of the Newbury Hunt.  A talented artist, her horse is named Poussiere de Lune, Moon Dust and his stable name is Moonie.
Buckaroo “Buck” Bouley—15 year old who wants to be an event rider
Peter Bouley—Buck’s father
Dr. Rue Tennyson—the psychiatrist Buck’s grandmother has tasked with controlling him
Nicole Boisvert—Greer’s junior division nemesis.  Her new hunter is named Obilot
Ellen Berlin—runs the business end of the Miry Brook Hunt Club
Mackay Berlin—Ellen’s son.  He’s a charming financial advisor and helping organize the Miry Brook show.
Fiori “Fifi” Finzi—Jules’s beautiful bad girl sister.
Ethan Monroe—the town police officer married to Sassy.  Jingles is their dog.
Jingles—a Mastiff who participates in the Ambassador of Good Cheer project, Greer’s charity.
Trish Meade—14 year old girl in the 4-H who trained Oliver to be the Ambassador of Good Cheer.
Oliver—rescue dog who is very cheerful
Joly—Greer’s rescued pit bull puppy, who adores her
Dr. Fortier—the veterinarian
Dr. Jarosz—Lockie’s medical specialist in New York City.
Amanda Hopkins—teacher who is also helping Greer with her charity work
Bertie Warner—Greer’s side saddle instructor
Sloane Radclyffe—wealthy socialite with a large farm in Pennsylvania
Ellis Ferrers—a rider at the farm briefly, and bought a horse through Cam
Jennifer Nicholson—Lockie’s ex-girlfriend
Freddi—working student
Sabine—Greer’s former best friend
Rui-their former train-wreck of a trainer
Gesine Hamm-Hartmann—Lockie’s dressage trainer in Germany.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bittersweet Farm 10: Whiskey Tango LIVE

I was definitely convinced it would take days but Amazon straightened up and flew right so it is live now.

Horses and riders come and go. Unfortunately, Greer's nemesis, Nicole Boisvert, who has a special affection for trainers, decides to stay and focus her attentions on Cam.

Talia and CB grow together as a team, Greer finds increasing confidence in some areas and complete insecurity in others. One pony becomes an unexpected rock star and Whiskey, finally sound after many months, competes at his first show and has a life-changing experience.

Victoria, and Andrew, both have surprises that impact everyone.

Kobo did a masterful job at taking 2 hours total to publish the book so if you need an epub, that's where you can get one.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bittersweet Farm 10 Cover Reveal

Everything is going slowly this winter but BF 10: Whiskey Tango will be available the early part of next month.  Here's the cover.

image by Sommer Wilson

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Biomechanics of Jumping Position

The Biomechanics of Jumping Position
Alexis Soutter, DVM

  There is much debate these days about the “best” jumping position.  For over thirty years now, it has been very common for riders in the hunters, equitation divisions, and even the jumpers to favor a position in which they lean their upper body well forward onto the horse’s neck.  The most common explanation for this position is that it in some way allows a better release of the horse’s mouth.  Very little attention has been paid in many circles as to what this does to the rest of the horse, however.
  A horse’s center of gravity is slightly variable depending on its build, but is typically a little behind and above the elbow.

  Horses carry 60% of their weight on their front legs, and only 40% on their hind legs. Most riders will weigh at least 10% of their horse’s body weight, so that is not an inconsiderable burden.  If we stay balanced over their center of gravity, the impact we make on their front legs is relatively minor.  However, if we bring that weight forward onto their neck, we are increasing the job the front limbs have to do considerably.  And that’s just on the flat!
   So, now let’s think about what a horse has to do, physically, to get over a jump.  As he approaches the jump, he needs to lighten his front end to allow the hind end to come underneath himself.  This means he shortens his neck, raises his head, and lifts his shoulders.  His weight shifts backwards, and his hind legs coil underneath the body to gather the energy needed to power up and across the jump.  (The next several photos came from a wide range of venues; not all of these rider positions should be emulated.)

  As you can see, as the horse lifts the front end, the front legs are tucked back towards his body, creating a more aerodynamic shape that requires less force for the hind end to propel upwards.

 When the horse pushes off, the hind legs extend fully.  The back also extends, but the horse tries to keep the neck relatively short.  Presumably, this allows the horse to keep its weight closer to the center of gravity. 

  Once the horse is in the air, he extends his neck out to act as a balance arm and help him to “reach” over the fence.  The knees bend and come up, and the shoulder rotates forward.  This is the “bascule” phase of the jump.  The best chance the horse has to get his whole body over a large jump is to arch his back, stretch his neck forward and slightly down with his nose pointing out, and bring all four legs up as close to the trunk as possible.  Horses with tighter legs can manage to jump flatter over larger jumps, but if the jump gets big enough, all horses need to be able to “crack their back” to maximize their clearing ability.

Daryl Kinney on Union

  Next comes the landing.  At this point, the horse needs to reduce his forward momentum.  He raises his head, often quite sharply, to aid in this.  The non-leading leg lands first, followed very quickly by the leading leg.  Both front legs then actually push upwards and backwards to counteract the force of the body coming over.  If they did not do this, the horse would somersault over the front end.  The hind legs rotate forward, and the front end needs to get out of the way as the hind feet touch down.

   Okay, so now we understand what horses’ bodies go through to get over jumps.  How does our position on their back affect them?  That depends a lot on what we do with our own bodies. 
   Let’s start with the takeoff phase.  I rode equitation and hunters as a kid, so I learned, like most still do, to put my body forward onto the horse’s neck in order to get off his back.  Sound familiar?  But think about it – the horse’s center of gravity is essentially right below the saddle.  Adding weight over that area is easy for him to handle.  Adding 100 or 150 or 200 lb up onto his neck – which, remember, he’s trying to shorten in order to get off the ground – makes the rotation of his shoulder more difficult, and reduces the ability of the hind legs to get underneath the body to develop the proper coil. 
   Once the horse gets off the ground, well, now if I’m your average equitation rider I’m going to be putting my knuckles on his neck and resting my body weight over my knuckles.  There is nothing at all wrong with a crest release – but the release needs to come from the shoulder and arm, not from the whole torso.  Remember, your hands weigh next to nothing; but your body from the hips forward?  Not as easy.  As a result, the horse has to stiffen his neck to brace against the added weight, rather than being able to stretch it out and down as a balance arm.  Now, the long muscles of the topline are stiffened and he can’t crack his back into a proper bascule.  So, he has to crank his forearms and his hind legs up higher in order to clear the jump.  This is do-able for most horses over smaller jumps, but you start getting to the 3'6" to 4' level, or higher, and it takes a truly special athlete to be able to do it.
   Now, what about landing?  It’s very difficult, when you are pivoting on your knee and dropping your upper body forward and your heels are swinging up, to then fully correct that when you are landing, as now you essentially need to throw yourself backward.  Some people manage this – but often punish the horse in the mouth or the back as they over compensate.  Other people stay on the horse’s forehand, leading to some ugly landings.  Remember, the horse has to both bring his head upwards and use his front legs to push upward and backward as he lands, in order to keep from somersaulting.  If you’re falling forward on his neck, it just makes his job that much harder.

  Another way to think about this is to imagine an airplane.  In order to take off, the airplane needs to be able to lift the nose in the air, and in order to land, it actually rocks back a little bit, to keep the nose from smashing into the ground.  If all the passengers, engine, and equipment were packed into the nose of the airplane, rather than distributed evenly over the body, how safely do you think that plane could take off, fly, and land?  Not very safely at all, and it likely would not even make it off the ground.

  To finish up, here is a photo of a winning hunter:

  This is a beautiful horse, but I want you to notice a couple of things.  First of all, look at where the bulk of the rider’s weight is.  Her entire body from the knee up is forward of the center of this horse’s balance.  See how the horse holds his neck.  While his nose is poking forward and his rider is not hitting him in the mouth, the neck is stiff and straight.  He is not lifted through the shoulders or the withers, and is clearing the jump primarily because his knees are up and he is tight below.  Notice that his back is a little bit hollow behind the withers (yes, the saddle obstructs this some, but you can tell because the bottom of his chest is dropped below his elbow).  He has just pushed off from the ground, so his hind legs are close to fully extended, as expected. Now, draw the arc his body is taking.  You will see he will have to really hike his stifles and hocks to clear this relatively low jump with his back end.  As a last point, note that her heel has slipped up and back and her spur is digging into his flank.  He must be a good-natured horse.

  Now, look at this picture of an event horse and rider:

Dom Schramm on Cold Harbor


  Notice where this rider’s body is.  He is balanced directly over his foot, which is essentially lined up with the horse’s center of gravity.  This horse is making a beautiful effort over this jump.  The neck is long, arched along the top, and stretched fully.  He is round from nose to tail – note that the underside of his trunk is slightly above his elbows, indicating an ability to engage his abs and crack his back.  And look at how easily he can flex and tuck his hind end!  Look at this rider’s release.  He is utilizing an automatic release, which means he is not dependent upon the horse’s neck to maintain his balance.  Rather than resting on the neck, the hands are maintaining a following contact with the horse’s mouth, which makes it easier to make adjustments on landing.  However, the issue is not crest release vs. automatic release – both can be appropriate in this situation; the goal is to have the rider’s body as easy for the horse to carry as possible. From there, riders can use whatever release they want.

  Think about how much harder to ride the bigger jump is, but note how balanced the rider is.  Who is likely to stay better balanced on landing?  Which of these riders would be more able to help their horse prepare for the next jump?  If the horse should stumble on landing, who would be better able physically to help prevent a fall?  Understanding biomechanics over fences can save your life, and that of your equine partner.

Thank you to Cindy Lawler, Dom Schramm, Denny Emerson, Daryl Kinney and Bob Haarmans for the use of their photos