Friday, January 27, 2012

Porter the Mule Makes Strides in Dressage

Alright, I am not a dressage person by any stretch, but how can anyone not love this story?! 

Porter the mule (click to see great pictures!) has made it all the way up to third level dressage competition, thanks to some very diligent work on behalf of owner and professional hunter-jumper Audrey Goldsmith. The rangy half-Thoroughbred still raises eyebrows when he enters the dressage ring, but once he’s doing his thing, the judges can’t touch him! What started out as an intent to cross train him and help him balance during a mild spate of neurological symptoms as a yearling, turned into a full-fledged career as an elegant, dancing mule. As if that weren't enough, he also drives, jumps, does reining, and competes in trail classes.

Interestingly, Goldsmith explains in the article that mules aren’t really so different from horses – except that they have a stronger flight instinct and so you have to be prepared for them to bolt with a little more zest than a normal equine. She also explains that mules actually smell slightly different from horses (who knew?), and so sometimes fellow equines at dressage tests get noticeably unnerved when he enters the warm-up arena.

Regardless, I think he’s gorgeous, and love the adorable floppy ears. His owner likens him to a “rideable border collie,” which sounds like great fun to me. Good luck to both Porter and Audrey as they show those stuck-up horses who’s boss!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Saratoga War Horse Project Provides Healing Hooves

Thanks to the blog Off-Track for the heads up on a great program just recently implemented in Saratoga. The Saratoga War Horse Project brings retired racehorses and war veterans together for quality time that helps both adjust to life after their high stress careers. As the article points out, many veterans have psychological traumas that can be devastating to their quality of life upon returning home, and are no longer used to an environment where they do not have to be constantly hyper-vigilant. Retired racehorses often come off the track with few equine socialization skills, and can be uncertain about how to function in the less structured environment of a farm. Bringing the two together allows both to ease their transitions, and learn how not to be "'on point all the time.'"

I have worked for a therapeutic riding organization that had a division devoted to providing hippo-therapy to war vets, and have seen firsthand the mental and physical benefits that it can provide. Many of the vets in my program explained that being around the horses allowed them to put their stress aside and indulge in something purely pleasurable. It also allowed them to get back in touch with the more sensitive side of their personalities that they had often suppressed in order to survive in the life-threatening combat environment. 

Kudos to all involved with the Saratoga War Horse Project for putting the healing power of horses to such good use.