Scandal Andreas Helgstrand under fire after public training photos.

Hmmmm. . .



I’d question the Boucher bit used as a snaffle, because that looks rather like a 2X curb in action rather than one of both.

The action of the snaffle is rather nice.

Why get rid of it?

Don’t know, but I am sure they had their reasons–or that is what they had in the tack chest.  Its not a sin to try to problem-solve training by trying different equipment–and sometimes it is unusual. ( Talk with the western crowd in our area about this.)

Here’s the fluff.

Okay, its an ugly photo.  But that’s it, without further evidence, an ugly shot.

And I’m out of the loop, so take it for what it is worth–almost nothing–but I had a horse once that with the thinnest bits you could imagine whose tongue would turn blue the moment one was put in his mouth.  He had a fat tongue.  We tried and tried to get bits that would not do this.  Get a horse that pulls even a little with a tongue like that and well, you get a blue tongue.

Dressage rules state that you cannot ride in a bosal.


Bits do happen.

Animal cruelty also happens.

Lets get it in perspective:

Look for a photo of the companion animal meat trade in China.

(Actually, don’t do this, it will make you cry.)

Google dog fighting.

(Don’t do this either.)

Look at the life of the average turkey.

Most upper level horse love their work and have superb riders.

Not all.

Having a good rider is key to being happy.

If a horse is not happy to some basic and real level they will not work for you. Dressage riders know that–and good ones are in the business of making their horses both happy and working.

Idling is not happy.

The horses to worry about are generally with people who know nothing and think they do:

Example: This is Wilson, my most recent purchase:

IMG_0306 IMG_0306

I went to look at him because he had interesting breeding and was advertized at 16 hands–a nice size for a young dressage horse.

In the end I had to send a student to buy him because the obese and frightened teenagers showing him resented my adjustment of his halter and pointing out his real size.

(It was not my most tactful moment, but reality is reality.  Get a tape measure, remember a hand is four inches and the measurement is done at the withers, not the poll.  And loosen the darned halter or take it off because it should not grow into his face.)

They told my student who rescued him–and is a perfect whiz at loading a horse–“I’m so glad you got him, we had a really stupid woman out here last week.”


(I notice this every day and was grateful that the teenagers were so adept.)

(One inevitably makes mistakes when training a horse.  Humility is a good thing.)

By the way, Wilson is safe now–got on a worming program, can be caught at will, no tight halter and now has a chance to make something of himself.

We’ll keep you updated.

Lots of things can look bad with enough spin.

We figured out why horses don’t like their girths

In a related post I have told you we solved the girth problem.  I know that sounds weird, but really, we did.


And now in 2018 have a workshop to prove it.

I heard a story a while ago at a clinic, while showing some girths to an interested crowd.

It goes like this: A friend who also rides for pleasure, was walking through CDI stabling at Dressage World Cup, witnessed a bunch of ears back, tails swishing behavior at tack up.

She asked, “How come all the nasty faces?”

Companion’s answer, “They are ALL like that–dressage horses.”


(And please, now that we know how to fix it–FIX IT!)

Here I am also going to tell you quite simply how we finally managed to make the horses more comfortable.  So it will perhaps make more sense.

The solution came about by trying things we suspected would work.  Most of them did not.  If you do this as a job and watch carefully without investment, the so called perfect answers really don’t work as much as you’d hope.

Our prejudices at the start:

  1. We liked our cord “mohair” girths–and on investigation found they were no longer made of corded mohair, but nylon with no give whatsoever.  Their only virtues were they typically do not rub and they are inexpensive.


Would anyone like a pile of them?

2. Real fiber with spring actually is good–but you can’t buy it for $24.99.  Ever feed a goat?  We have. You shear them once a year and it takes them a whole year to “grow” a fiber girth.  Then some human has to spin it and cord it and ply it.)


These things are gorgeous!  Darin Alexander, ArtCords did these.  They are much much better than nylon but at the tension we keep them they were not a solution unto themselves. I gave mine away because I could not bear to have the moths get them.

3. We thought unlimited stretch fabric girths would be nice.  Our horses don’t like them.  We asked, they made faces.

4. We didn’t like elastic ends.  Now we don’t care–the horses don’t care. But if you have them, please have them on both sides

5. We didn’t like short girths–too much hardware in moving places.

We still don’t like short girths and the horses have gotten over the bruising from trying the standard models.  Eventually we came up with one fitted with carefully measured–buckles as high as you can get them that actually works.  A tiny bit of elastic, a girth shield added–see lump like full snake in middle–and a girth cozy–no more ugly faces.  We will show you one at the end of the post.

6. We thought anatomic girths would be nice.  The horses walked off with peg legs.


Same of the “shoulder relief” girths.  The might work with a hunter saddle designed to be ridden up over the withers.   They cause a huge amount of elbow infringement in a “normally” placed saddle.  (Try one on and stick your fingers in the front side of it and walk the horse.  OUCH!)

7. We thought contoured girths with “humane” ends (which we still like–the humane ends) would be great.


The horses would not walk at all.

8. We thought the Balding was old fashioned.


The horses liked them pretty well.

Then we got frustrated that older and older was better and better and bought ourselves one of these very new things:


It is meant to check your saddle fit, but it worked very well on the bottom side of the horse too.

We strapped it to the beast and rode with it.  (Beast did not mind).


And then looked at it carefully.  The middle section is the pectorals–still some gel.  The spots that bottomed out–you can see light through them–are just behind the elbows at the base of the ribs.  And it bottomed out every single time we tried–a lot of pressure was being exerted there at the base of the rib cage.

So then off to the Internet and much study of anatomy and other people’s tests on race horses and girth tightening pressures and many many hours into it we came up with something that worked. The Girth Shield concept allows the horses to breath naturally while securely holding your saddle in place.  And that is what the horses are grumping about when you tack them up–when a normal girth is tightened it is hard for them to breath, and it hurts.

The horses are now all very happy.  No more ugly faces

Melynnda got her Silver Medal, I dusted off my Gold and then stuck it back in the car’s ash tray.

We found a way to give room for normal rib expansion by creating what is in effect a second tree for the base of the horse. 6,7,8 or 9 inches wide.  One size does NOT fit all.  But it’s not so complicated. a length that puts the buckles where you want them and a measurement across the pectorals.


The design evolves.


IMG_6169 6.46.07 AM


There are lots of ways to get around problems.

The X Girth is above, and it is about as simple as you can think of–other than it is hard to make because of the continuous loop.  It is easy to use.  Inexpensive.  We call it the dry martini of the girth world.

If you want one, make contact.

What’s to lose?  (Strong hint–the nasty faces and peg legs for a start.)

Below a modified girth  and how it looked before we modified it.



The heavily padded shield at the base of the girth creates a place for the horse’s ribs to expand when the girth is fully tightened.  Problem solved.

An attack of stupidity. Off to the vet?

Let me preface this post by telling you I have been going through a phase of seeming to guard against stupidity.  My own and others!

A stupid person or act is well-defined by this classic:

by Carlo M. Cipolla
illustrations by James Donnelly


This short treatise, (though I think inaccurate on the ratio of males to females born), asserts that stupid individuals are placed at an even rate through society and their very random, unthoughtful and irrational behavior makes them unpredictable and very dangerous.  They can cost you a lot if not guarded against vigilantly.

(Example, touring with a young couple interested in a short-term stay at the Odell House (my other line of work) when showing them a month-long place to stage a house hunt, they suggested that in this room:riverOne

We tear out the hundred year old built-in book-case at the foot of the twin bed


so their five-year old child could have his clothes stored more conveniently near to him.

This obviously did not happen, but it works well into the idea that people are either:

Intelligent.  Dealing with intelligent people is a win-win–both parties benefit.

Helpless.  These people lose by allowing others to take advantage of them.

Bandits. People who gain from others misfortune or loss.

Stupid. Stupid people cause themselves loss while also causing others to lose.

So how does this relate to horses and vets?  (Or in this case, horses, cats and vets)

An example of Intelligent behavior:

X client has been having difficulty with the bitting of her horse.  She rides very well and is conscientious about properly fitting tack.  The horse has had his teeth worked on, but still seems uncomfortable sometimes with his bitting.  We were talking yesterday and I said to her:

“Every day before you ride check his mouth for soreness in the bars, particularly on the right–and I really think you should make an appointment and have an x-ray of that lower jaw on the right.  I can feel something there, and we need to know if there is a spur or a leftover wolf tooth.  Better to know what we are dealing with than to guess.”

She has appeared hesitant to spend the money, yet later in the day I got a text:  “Appointment on Monday–soonest they could fit it in.”

This is an example of an intelligent well-reasoned choice to use medical help.  The benefit of knowing will almost surely outweigh the cost.

Here is an example of a not so well thought out moment.

This is Pasha, who you have met in other places in the blog.


Here he is shown admiring the new bike just come in from a winter ride.  He likes to go out, and does so on a leash, accompanying me to the grocery store in the car on occasion.


He’s obviously an indoor cat, but he does get to go and play in the chicken house looking for mice–his hobby.

But most of the time he just hangs out.


Last night Rick brought him in from the chicken house, and all seemed well.

But around two in the morning I noticed a large wet spot at the base of the bed, where he often sleeps.  I got up to see what was going on.  On picking him up I found he was rather helplessly attempting to lick himself on his chest–he was soaked!

Realizing in my semi-asleep state that there was a cat and a lot of wetness involved, I thought to myself, “This is an emergency!”

(I am not an expert in cats.  I do horses.)

But my cat vet has frequently pushed home the point that cats live on the verge of dehydration.

Disturbances to fluids are very serious.

I asked Rick to help me, and shined a flashlight on Pasha’s face and chest.  Pasha looked unhappy and unwell!  Continually licking himself, yet I could not find an injury.

I told Rick, “I think we might have to take him to the emergency clinic!” And went off to get dressed.

Rick appeared in a moment, saying, “Are you sure?”

Long stubborn female pause.

Rick again.  “He jumped off the bed just fine.”

As a primary diagnostic I went and got Pasha’s bag of treats–told him to sit, which he did, and daintily accepted the offering. (As you may see from his figure, Pasha typically has a good appetite.)

Pasha had not in fact gotten a stick (or mouse) lodged in his throat.

He was not stricken with the dreaded drooling disease.

He had, in fact, missed his jump to the bathroom counter and landed chest side down in the open toilet.

And, as there is a lot of fur involved in Pasha, there was indeed a lot of water involved–as well as some measure of feline distress and a great deal of licking.

This would have not been helped by a trip to the ER–though they might possibly have found it as funny as Rick does. . .

My favorite poem

(My favorite poem, by Borges)
Neither the intimacy of your look, your brow fair as a feast day,
nor the favor of your body, still mysterious, reserved, and childlike,
nor what comes to me of your life, settling in words or silence,
will be so mysterious a gift
as the sight of your sleep, enfolded
in the vigil of my arms.
Virgin again, miraculously, by the absolving power of sleep,
quiet and luminous like some happy thing recovered by memory,
you will give me that shore of your life that you yourself do not own.
Cast up into silence
I shall discern that ultimate beach of your being
and see you for the first time, perhaps,
as God must see you —
the fiction of Time destroyed,
free from love, from me.

When Deviants Do Good NYT

A very interesting article.  Take away message: find someone locally who appears to be doing it right and ask them how they are managing that success.

When Deviants Do Good


Fixes looks at solutions to social problems and why they work.

Jerry and Monique Sternin and their son were among the very first Americans to move to Hanoi when they arrived in Vietnam in 1990. They had come from the Philippines, where Jerry had been director of Save the Children’s program there.

At the time, Vietnam was losing its imports of subsidized rice from ideological backers and shifting from collectivized to private agriculture. The dislocation was deadly — “a near-famine situation,” Monique Sternin said in an interview from Addis Ababa this weekend. About two-thirds of children were malnourished. International feeding programs had helped, but when the programs ended, villages fell back into hunger. The government had asked Save the Children to try to find a lasting solution. Some officials didn’t like having Westerners brought in. You have six months to show results, the government warned. If you don’t, you’re out.

The Sternins had seen in their previous work how big programs run by outsiders created dependency. “The essence of development is to help people build capacity to do things themselves,” said Monique (Jerry died in 2008). “We were struggling to find something.”

They had just read a book, however, by Marian Zeitlin, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University, called “Positive Deviance in Nutrition.” The word deviant usually has negative connotations, but Zeitlin wrote about children who thrived even as those around them were poorly nourished. Zeitlin suggested that nutrition could be improved if a village looked at what these children’s families were doing right.

The Sternins were not experts in fighting malnutrition. But they thought they knew where to find some.They went into villages and asked for volunteers to weigh all children under 3, and to characterize each family’s level of income. The volunteers concluded the obvious: the poorer the family, the more likely the children would be malnourished. Then the Sternins asked if any of the families characterized as “very, very poor” had well-nourished children.

The volunteers checked the list and excitedly reported that there were some.

“So it’s possible for a very, very poor child in the village to be well nourished?” asked the Sternins.

“Let’s go see what their families are doing differently,” the volunteers said.

The volunteers fanned out to interview these “positive deviant” families — in each village there were a few, perhaps 5 or 6. They found several practices in common. Children in the village were fed twice a day, mostly rice. Local custom held that an adult diet was harmful for young children. But the positive deviant parents were collecting tiny crabs or shrimps from rice paddies and giving them to the children along with the greens from sweet potatoes. While village wisdom held that you don’t feed a child who has diarrhea, the positive deviant families did. They also fed their children often throughout the day, and washed their children’s hands before they ate.

The Sternins knew that helping villagers to learn about these deviant behaviors would not be enough. “Knowledge doesn’t change behavior,” said Monique. “Practice changes behavior.” They convened meetings of villagers to discuss how best to spread the behaviors. The villagers decided that parents of malnourished children would gather with their children daily at a neighbor’s house for two weeks. Each family had to collect a handful of shrimps, crabs or greens and bring it to the gathering. With a trained health volunteer, the families cooked meals using the nutritious foods and tried out the new practices. If they didn’t become habit and the children were still malnourished, the families could do another two-week cycle the next month. “Trying something new always makes you a little scared. People got confidence through their peers,” said Monique.

Five and a half months after the Sternins had arrived in Vietnam, authorities weighed the children in the district who had participated in the program. More than 40 percent were now well nourished, and another 20 percent had moved from severe to moderate malnutrition. The Sternins got their visa extended. Vietnam eventually replicated the program in 250 communities.

Poor-country development usually works like this: Outsiders come into a community where there is a problem. They bring in “best practice” ideas that have worked elsewhere, and design ways to teach the community to change its culture and adopt these new ideas.

And then they leave.

If they come back later, however, they might find that not much has changed: a few people adopted the new idea, but not many. And since that was not the way the community did things, even those adventurous few might abandon their new practices.

Here’s how the positive deviance approach is different:

* Outsiders don’t bring in ideas to change a community’s culture. Instead, they ask the community to look for its own members who are having success. Those local ideas, by definition, are affordable and locally acceptable — at least to some people in the community. Since they spring from a community’s DNA, the community is less likely to feel threatened by these ideas and more likely to adopt them.

* The focus is not a community’s problems, but its strengths.

* Outsiders don’t design a communication or training strategy to teach the idea. Outsiders can bring people in the community into one room, but local people design a way to spread the new behaviors.

* Local leaders are not the ones who come up with solutions. That is the job of everyone on the front line dealing with the problem. The leaders’ job is to facilitate the process of finding and spreading these solutions.

* Outsiders don’t monitor success. They show people in the community how to do that. “If they see that things are getting better, that’s further incentive to continue the new behavior,” said Monique.

Positive deviance has now been used in dozens of countries to attack a wide variety of problems. The nutrition program has been replicated all over the world — in each place using different, local solutions. Positive deviance has helped to reduce rates of female genital mutilation in Egypt, improved prisons in Denmark, helped the mentally ill in Pittsburgh strengthen social connections and cut infections at Veterans Affairs hospitals across the United States. Tufts University is host to the Positive Deviance Initiative, which has a staff of four and several consultants who teach the process around the world (Monique is a senior consultant), and the Sternins wrote a book, “The Power of Positive Deviance.”

In 1997, the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative was formed to try to improve hospital care. One of its goals was to reduce the infection rate of MRSA, a deadly resistant form of staph, in local hospitals. The city’s V.A. Pittsburgh Healthcare System agreed to run a pilot program beginning in 2001, adopting the Toyota Production System. (Paul O’Neill, the former treasury secretary, was one founder of the Initiative; he had used Toyota’s manufacturing and logistics strategies when he ran Alcoa.) “This went a long way in solving some of the technical problems — providing soap, gowns and gloves where they were needed in quantities they were needed,“ said Jon Lloyd, a prominent Pittsburgh surgeon. “But the so-called behavioral problems were untouched. Once resources were withdrawn from the Toyota model it fell apart. The frontline staff didn’t own it. Physicians, especially, were not washing their hands — nurses were at 70 percent for hand hygiene, but physicians were at 15 percent.”

Lloyd read an article in Fast Company about positive deviance, and invited Jerry Sternin to come speak. He agreed, with the condition that Lloyd produce everyone in the hospital who touched patients in any way. In July 2005, Jerry asked those 150 people who they felt was responsible for preventing infection; they pointed to nurses and the hospital’s infection control officers.

“Six months later Jerry asked the same question, and every hand went up,” said Lloyd, who became the hospital’s positive deviance adviser and coach, and now does the same with other Pittsburgh organizations. “The housekeepers at the VA turned out to be world authorities on infection prevention — people who are never asked for their opinions.”

More From Fixes

Read previous contributions to this series.

Ideas came from all over. Edward Yates, on the housekeeping staff, was a wellspring of anti-infection ideas; his unit chose him to brief the staff (including high-ranking doctors) on the unit’s progress. One hospital pastor told his colleagues that he kept his Bible from spreading germs by gowning it with paper hats. He changed the hat with each new patient.

Lloyd said that the other pastors began to do the same. “No one had to tell the others to do this,” he said. “There was just a quiet understanding of a solution that came from somebody who shared their professional DNA.”

Six months later, the infection rate had fallen by more than half, and the gains did not go away. (Since this was not a randomized control trial, there’s no way to know how much of the gains came from the use of positive deviance.) The V.A. then adopted these changes in virtually all its hospitals, recommending that hospitals use the positive deviance approach and offering training in it. From October 2007 to June 2010, MRSA infections in intensive care units at the 153 V.A. hospitals in the program dropped by 65 percent; in nonintensive care units they dropped by 45 percent. (Again, we don’t know if the intervention can take credit, although it is significant that there had been no change in MRSA infection rates during the two years before the intervention.)

Pittsburgh’s experience, ultimately successful, also shows why positive deviance can fail. “It’s particularly difficult for donors who want to have a clear sense of what outcomes will be,” said Roger Swartz, the executive director of the Positive Deviance Initiative. Donors have solutions they like, and they will finance programs that use those solutions. But with positive deviance, you don’t know what the solution will be; it has to emerge as part of the process.

The approach can also be threatening to people at the top. They are used to being the experts, but with positive deviance, it’s the people in the field who are the experts. In hierarchical institutions like hospitals, housekeeping staff members do not usually brief physicians. But where managers can accept revolutionary new ways of doing business, positive deviance can succeed. “I don’t know how this is going to work,” the Pittsburgh V.A. chief Rajiv Jain told his workers when they began the program. “But I have total confidence that you as the front line staff will know.”

The Wine Glass Story

Dale Forbes

In a previous post

I cite Deborah Tannen’s books on linguistics–which I like a lot.  Very informative.

And several of my colleagues want my version of a female/female  female/male transaction.

Here it is:

You are a woman talking to your best friend who is also a woman–very coordinated and chic.

You say to her: “I don’t know what’s the matter, I’ve broken two wine glasses this week–I’m all butterfingers!”

She replies:  “I know!  I took out two on Saturday.  Good thing they were cheap.”

Of course in fact she has not broken a wine glass in years. But what she has just done is put the two of you back on equal footing again–you both make mistakes.  Women value parity

Here is the version when you talk with a normal guy–he may even care about you.

You say to him: “I don’t know what’s the matter, I’ve broken two wine glasses this week–I’m all butterfingers!”

He replies:  “Think you should get checked?”

Men couldn’t generally care less about parity, they rather like being one up–though fortunately they also like to problem solve. . .

First ride with Wili Schultheis

Dale Forbes:

I knew the late Wili Schultheis from about 1989 to when he died in 1995.


(This is a photo of Schultheis taken from the wonderful series Kathleen Haddad wrote for the Chronicle of the Horse.  That is well worth a read.)  Schultheis was a student of Otto Loerke in the forties when he was a young man. He was the Olympic coach for many years and a host of great dressage riders (Klimke and Balkenhol are two) have him in their instructor list.  Rudolf rode for him not just the several years typical, but an astonishing eleven years, from a teenager to young professional

I rode with sometimes and watched Herr Schultheis avidly in the summer of 1990 when I was working for Christine Doan as a groom prior to her successful bid for the Barcelona Olympics–bless her!  But the first ride in front of him was in October of 1989 when Herr Schultheis offered me a ride on a wonderful brown gelding, that Rudolf (who was still riding half days for Schultheis  at the time) was schooling in their indoor.  On the outside track he was surrounded by the race horses of Frau Schultheis who were schooling their morning gallop on the exterior track of the small arena.

(! Four race horses galloping the outer edge of a small arena–think about that next time you complain of a crowded warm up!)

Shultheis curtly called him over, “Rudi!”

Rudolf rode over, making eye contact with his employer and long time teacher, but saying nothing.

In German, Schultheis asked, “Can she ride?”

(I was dressed to ride but so far had no opportunity to do so. I was there traveling with a far-richer woman who was off up north looking at horses at a sales barn.  Too impressed by what I was seeing there in Warendorf, I had opted to stay behind and watch the work, each day humbly asking if I could come back the next morning to “see the ride.”  Schultheis had been very generous.)

Rudolf gravely said, also in German, “Yes, she can ride–she rides a stallion.”

This was true.  A stallion that I had taken to Rudolf in a clinic in Kansas City the summer before.  The green French stallion that bucked and ran and stopped while everybody else rode, tight-lipped in the heat, on their dressage horses, practicing half pass and flying changes–things I longed to do.

Schultheis indicated I should get on, and Rudolf dismounted and quietly helped me adjust the stirrups.  Later that became much more rote–seven holes up, but at the time with shaking hands it was difficult.  I was terrified.

Schultheis asked me to canter, and the delightful brown gelding trooped around with me, the rider too shy to do anything.

“A flying change!” was barked out from the corner–Rudolf translating for Schultheis, whom he stood beside.

A brief thought ran through my mind that I should just stop and get off.  I had  of course done several flying changes in the past–all by mistake.  You are not allowed to do flying changes in the US unless you are perfect, after all.  And I was far from perfect. That I was sure of!

But dismounting would have been shameful, and besides we were going too fast.  So I asked for a change.  And it happened.

After a few moments Schultheis stopped me, Rudolf smiled a little, as Wili announced, “And now, The Piaffe!”

The thought ran through my mind, I don’t know how, I don’t know how!

Then another thought followed it.  I may be an idiot, but I’m here because I have ridden with Rudolf: I am here as his student, and I will not shame him.

So, I imagined what it would be like to know how to ask for piaffe, remembered what it looked like when Rudolf had done piaffe in the last week, as I sat watching. And so I began to do piaffe, Rudolf clucking quietly in the corner and the horse springing to the movement with enough confidence for both of us.

“And now the Passage!” Came the call in English from Schultheis.

And so it went.

That was my one ride in Germany for that first trip with the wealthy friend.  And the smile on Rudolf’s face when I dismounted, and the quiet, “You did well, But don’t stand in front of Schultheis, he hates that.” sealed the deal.

I was going to figure out how to train in Germany.  Not an exactly simple solution, with a training barn of mediocre horses, a husband, and a then three year old child at home in the US.

But it happened.

Here is a tape of Schultheis riding Cindy Ishoy’s Dynasty, (who he trained) in the Equitana exhibition.  The picture at the end of the ride that he salutes is a projection of his teacher Otto Loerke.

I saw this footage for the first time sitting in Shultheis’ library–he had called us in to look at it.  For years I saved a copy, taken on a VHS  camera, set up in front of his TV–it was not easy to transfer material then from the German to American system.   It is easier now.

And here is one of Rudolf Zeilinger riding some thirty years later.