Archive | October, 2013

Good Bye to a Genius

28 Oct



“I’ll lend you for a little while

My grandest foal, He said,

For you to love while he’s alive

And mourn for when he’s dead.

It may be one or twenty years,

Or days or months, you see.

But will you, till I take him back

Take care of him for me?

He’ll bring his charms to gladden you,

And should his stay be brief

You’ll have treasured memories

As solace for your grief.

I cannot promise he will stay,

Since all from earth return.

But there are lessons taught on earth

I want this foal to learn.

I’ve looked the wide world over

In my search for teachers true.

And from the throngs that crowd life’s lanes

With trust, I have selected you.

Now will you give him your total love?

Nor think the labor vain,

Nor hate me when I come

To take him back again?

I know you’ll give him tenderness

And love will bloom each day.

And for the happiness you’ve known

Forever grateful stay.

But should I come and call for him

Much sooner then you’d planned

You’ll brave the bitter grief that comes

And someday you’ll understand.”   



        Vale,  Bonfire.

May your meadow over the Bridge always be sunny and green.



21 Oct


Porn: no one can truly define it but everyone knows it when they see it.

Great dressage is much the same.

Watching Edward Gal and Totilas  has remained the gold standard: a great rider, a great horse, a great partnership.  They raised the bar and very few (very very few) have come anywhere near it, despite the judge scores creeping up.

 Only Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro have surpassed the record scores, and so far, not yet in freestyle.

   char and valegro


With the new freestyle judging plans, the day looms ever closer when the freestyle score record will fall as well. I can only hope there is the decency to add an * after the score—meaning  the score was awarded using a very different playing field.

Freestyle is meant to use music to move the spectator; to add some of the catharsis of Theatre to the repertoire of technical gymnastic movements.

Of course, 9s and 10s in any performance/test are reserved for ‘hearing the angels’ or ‘ringing all the bells’ or whatever other non-specific and yet totally comprehensible opinion/ score is given.

Figure skating has lost much of its audience precisely because the artistic element has become so overshadowed by the technical: it has proven possible to win even major international championships while falling on the ice—just so long as the skater can get up and somehow cram another triple or quad into the routine, music and flow be damned.

Gymnastics has begun to lose a bit of its luster as well, as the ‘women’ get younger and yet more caricaturish, thigh- bulging yet  breastless bodies caught in a short-cycle of hormonal imbalance. The lack of artistry in floor routine is so common as to be unworthy of mention.

And now dressage wants to give absolute coefficients to various moves and combinations of moves, as though each horse/rider combination is the same as the next and a specific combination has the same significance for all pairs.

Somehow, this is supposed to make it ‘easier’ and ‘clearer’ for spectators.

The reality is—people who love horses and enjoy watching them perform do so because there is a bond formed with the horse, over millennia. It sings in the blood, it rumbles in the unconscious.  Great freestyle performances provide a bridge to that secret fantasy, where human and horse are in perfect communication.

It has nothing to do with computers.


            London International Horse Show - Olympia , 15-21 December 2009

Be careful what you wish for–part two

14 Oct




Be careful what you wish for—

Only a few years ago, the intense wish was for dressage to have a more public face, in order to attract more sponsors, more audience, more people interested in the sport.

Reality: the horse-athlete can only do so much.

Yes, in the US, breed shows such as the regionals and nationals put on by Quarter Horse and Arabian fans attract comparatively huge sponsor money, thousands of competitors—not hundreds if they are lucky— and their vendor list is the stuff top sport dreams are made of.

But the horse part of the equation at these breed shows is NOT being asked for extreme athleticism. Beauty pageants  and  top sport athletic contests have different requirements for preparation and performance.

These days look numbered for some competitions–I just do not see how World Dressage Masters will stand up to the FEI’s dressage Nation’s Cup Series which is gaining ‘traction’ as the expression goes, in Florida. In the U.S.,the two coasts have increased their CDI calendars, and now it will be interesting to see if the West Coast can keep their circuit successful. Most of the CDI shows in California have relied upon entries from Canada to fill the entries–but that country seems to have joined with Florida for the upcoming season.The obvious solution–to combine dressage with, say, show jumping or some indoor eventing or roller derby (just kidding)–does not seem to have gained any support.

In any case, on any coast, what will stay true is that the equine athlete half of the various partnerships/combinations/call them whatever you like, the horses can only perform at their best so many times in a given season. And each of these seasons,whatever the coast, exist for the very serious purpose of ranking the athletes for various international team competitions.

2014 World Equestrian Games has never looked closer than when planning how to get from Here to There and still have enough horse athlete to peak while There.

Good luck to every equestrian starting the sobering side of that dream.


It was the best of times, the worst of times…

7 Oct


Every day ,every week, photos and images rain in a deluge: abuse in all its forms. Emaciated dogs, confusion shining out of their eyes; children, their anguish jumping off the page white-hot, grabbing emotions by the throat and not letting go; horses with arrows sticking out of their heads, or holding up, shaking, missing part of their hoof, or   bloodied ,infected welts, so thin that they look like cadavers with skin, or  chins on chests.

For whatever reason, chin on chest seems to  get the most vociferous, never-ending outcry.


Maybe because the fantasy of the horse is that it is our willing partner—unlike stolid oxen, or the clever stubborn donkey, or the camel which has not really been painted in literature as friend of man. (In the million dollars to the winner camel race victor of Saudi Arabia, NO ONE rides, the camels are controlled by tiny robots wielding whips and broadcasting the screamed instructions of the “trainers” lurching alongside the track in their cars. Here is a link:


 sorry for the digression:

No. It is the horse that humans assign nobility, fantasy, the equivalent of a modern spaceship patrolling the stars, going where no one has gone before.

All the rollkur hysteria did not spark this diatribe. Reading that one of dressage sport’s top breeding stallions, the renowned Bellissimo M, is about to be auctioned off—that is the start.


This wonderful stallion, whose offspring are everywhere in the sport as well as himself, is in the end, only another piece of property to be auctioned off like any goods and chattel.

Humans are always capable of parallax view: extolling the nobility of something and at the same time exploiting it.  The scientific term for this is “cheap thrills”.

And nowhere do thrills come more cheaply than on the endless anti-rollkur debate forums.  On these forums, a rider held up as the shining example of harmony and expression and lightness can easily be pilloried for what is seen as a moment of less-than-perfection. On these forums, the great enemy is seen as exactly that: less-than-perfection. Riders everywhere now look over their shoulders, hoping for the impossible: never to make a mistake, never to have a bad moment let alone a bad day.

Cue music:

” Every move you make,

   Every breath you take,

   I’ll be watching you.”

On these forums

The FEI: At the crossroads?

1 Oct


These past few months, the governing body of horse sport has been rocked by very serious yet rather ironic problems.

The head of  horse sport’s international federation (FEI),  Princess Haya, campaigned on  the platform to make ‘clean sport’ one of her priorities and so far, seems to have erred mainly on the side of over-zealous removal of  horses even or especially at Olympic level ,using the incredibly bizarre FEI -mandated condition of ‘hypersensitivity’: ie, a natural occurrence whereby a horse is found to be sensitive on its legs due to absolutely nothing more than its own skin (no drugs/treatments/preparation) BUT is removed from competition because it jumps too well and does not touch the  fences.

(Note: this condition, which is natural and unpreventable, is NOT the same as the FEI category, ‘hypersensitization’, in which drugs/treatment/preparation  DO  contribute to the horse having an unfair advantage over competitors because it jumps too well and does not touch the fences). Hypersensitization was used as a means to disqualify several Olympic competitors in 2008.

Hypersensitivity was used as a reason to disqualify US Olympic mainstay  McLain Ward and his great partner Sapphire from the World Cup Finals a few years ago,  just as they were poised for their historic win. (Much later, the FEI apologized and said it was ‘wrong’ to have disqualified them… just another day at the office.) More recently, hypersensitivity was used at London Olympics  to DQ one of the Canadian show jumpers. The intense reaction from  the Canadian team, their federation—not to mention public ridicule—seems to have made this quasi-legitimate FEI tool go dormant.

Now, it is Princess Haya’s  highly visible husband,  Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum,  in the middle of not one but several widely publicized drugging incidents in not one but two horse sports: endurance over several years and more recently, Thoroughbred racing.  

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has been making  drug test visits to race horse yards since 1998 and in 2002, after years of results and data, made the “testing in training” policy into UN-announced visits.  Some eleven years later, in April, 2013, Sheik Mohammed’s head trainer at one of his British Godolphin  racing yards  was found to have positive steroid tests in 22 of the 45 horses tested.

 The sheikh  responded swiftly:  steroid use in horses is now a criminal offense in his country of Dubai and  all his British race horses were examined thoroughly and moved to another Maktoum training yard which has already  been  examined by the BHA and found drug-free.

The fallout to not only British racing but racing worldwide is still to be seen should the Sheikh  (let alone any of the other  sheikhs) close down any  of their  global racing operations that basically keep the industry afloat—everywhere.  Sheikh Mohammed is arguably the single most powerful figure in current worldwide flat racing.

In Great Britain, the racing authority realized it had to pursue a drug-free sport in order to keep the public’s interest and money flowing. In the U.S., there is growing sentiment that the racehorses deserve better protection from the manipulations of trainers and the desire for win records before the horses are cast aside at age 4 and 5. The court of public opinion turns out to have significance after all.

It is public opinion that  has caused racing’s international  governing body, The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, or IFHA,  to  possibly recommend a total, worldwide ban on administering steroids to racehorses at all times. The IFHA will meet in October,  and the ban could be in place by January, 2014. Here’s hoping.

Endurance  as a sport has basically been transformed by the enthusiastic participation of the sheikhs, from a competition that measures rider and horse’s ability over all kinds of terrain and conditions, with the emphasis on the concept of endurance itself, to what it is now—endurance racing, with horses travelling at speeds that have resulted in unprecedented fractures and other breakdowns.

Endurance used to elicit images of super-conditioned horses, serious, lean riders, negotiating difficult terrain. Best-conditioned horse was an award sought after nearly as much as first place overall.

Much great nutrition and conditioning info came from the endurance ranks, where riders tried to find ways to better manage caloric needs ,shoeing, feet, electrolyte  balance, sweating, fatigue, hydration/etc.

 The emphasis these days is on all-out flat racing  that demands  speed, more speed, and close to heart-stopping speed. Which sometimes  goes  over the limit, resulting in dead horses. Horses  with multiple fractures.  Horses  in grave distress.  Because steroid use exacerbates  bone fractures and breaks as well as joint problems..

Since 2005,more than 20 endurance horses trained in Dubai at stables owned  by Sheikh Mohammed and other members of the Maktoum family have been involved in doping cases that reached  the International Equestrian Federation’s (FEI) disciplinary tribunal . Both the Sheikh and his son have served suspensions.

Sheikh Mohammed married Princess Haya in 2004, two years before she won the presidency of the FEI. In addition to campaigning on the ‘clean sport’ platform, Haya also spoke out for  term limits, and once elected, made sure an amendment was passed limiting a presidency to two consecutive terms. Under her own edict, the Princess is due to step down when the FEI’s General Assembly meets in Montreux, Switzerland in early November, 2013.

Maybe.  And then again, maybe not.


The timeline looks something like this:

April 25, 2013

   The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) bans Mahmood al Zarooni, head trainer,  for 8 years after 22 of 45 Maktoum racehorses test positive for anabolic steroids

May 3, 2013

  At Stansted airport (the local airport for Britain’s racing hub, Newmarket) a huge, illegal shipment of unlicensed veterinary goods (but so far not steroids)  labeled ‘horse tack’  was seized from a Dubai government private jet by UK authorities.


June 2013

  Princess Haya  convenes  crisis talks about endurance and a five-member strategic group is appointed

July 2013

  Various European  federations critique the ‘strategic group’ as not possibly being neutral, as  it includes Saeed Al Tayer, a senior employee of Sheikh Mohammed.


July   2013

  Official press release from FEI informs that “by unanimous decision,” ALL the Regional Chairs of ALL the National Federations  have voted for Haya to seek a 3rd term and have asked for her own amendment to be so changed.

August 7,2013

   124 bottles of unlicensed, illegal drugs  seized during unannounced visit to Moorley Farm, one of the Sheikh’s endurance horse bases in Great Britain.

The BHA insists there is no link between the seizure at either Stansted or Moorley Farm and the racing industry. Putting the ball squarely into the corner of the Sheikh’s endurance interests and trainers.

September 12, 2013

   Princess Haya sends directive to the major components of Sheikh Mohammed’s equine operation, including Darley and Godolphin, to establish a centralised auditing system in order to maintain control over the purchase and movement of veterinary goods.

September 24, 2013

 Princess Haya announces she will NOT seek third term.

Sept.30, 2013

 Sheikh Mohammed directs Princess Haya to open investigation into the drug problems that have cast a heavy cloud of suspicion over  the Sheikh’s farms and horses.


So here we are, about 5 weeks before the FEI General Assembly meets.  The unfolding reality just continues to amaze .