Travel blog: Turkmenistan experiences

10 September 2017 and I had just arrived in Ashgabat to work at the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. Because of internet restrictions and local laws, I will post my experiences when I return to South Africa. However I will write a short bit every day to ensure I don’t forget, so I can share them later with those interested.

Turkmenistan, the home of the ‘most beautiful  horse in the world, the Akhal-Teke, has been cited to be the second most unfriendly country in the world for tourists, beaten only by North Korea… With reading a lot of negatives online about this country, you can’t help going with some preconceived ideas. But, I’m going to take each day as it comes, it will surely be an adventure!

Traveling is one of my absolute favourite things to do. I feel like I change a little bit, each time I experience a new culture or part of the world. I certainly learn each time what to really appreciate from my own!

Herewith, the experiences of a South African in Turkmenistan in September 2017.

(Later edit: I will post each day’s posts as I get a chance. It won’t all be at once, since I still  have to edit, add pictures and also have to write a final chapter on the experience as a whole!)

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Slippery slopes

I just came across this article of a disgruntled ‘animal welfare activist’ who lost the team competition after a team mate was DQ as a result of the blood rule.

In my profession, there can be no ambiguity, no possible alternative interpretation of the words on the paper, and absolutely no gaps. So, I’m quite good at finding them. This open letter has many.

But besides that – if we start allowing the little things , how long before the big things are allowed?

http://www.noellefloyd.com/an-open-letter-by-georgina-bloomberg/

Being Grateful for Things You Don’t Like.

Love this.

Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog

WMDodgerRideMy favorite training mentor had a habit that drove me nuts. She would be working with a horse who spooked or flipped his head or had some other issue that made him a disaster and when she climbed on, if you were close, you could hear her say in a low and quiet voice, “Goody, goody.” She would have a small smile and be cheerful.

The woman was nuts. It was like she couldn’t tell right from wrong. She loved a bad ride. It wasn’t that she wanted the adrenaline thrill of trying to stay on, and she didn’t pick fights. She just thought a conversation with a horse got more interesting once some resistance showed up.

I was a novice rider just beginning to compete a young horse and neither of us was very confident. One of us was trying way too hard. And it was so important that…

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My take on the Olympics (because everyone has one!)

Since everyone who knows what dressage means, have had an opinion about the recent Olympics, I thought I want to have my say on it too.

I have been consistently disgusted with what has been ‘dressage’, over the last few years. After WEG last year (or was it 2014?) I thought that dressage couldn’t possibly sink any lower. My personal experience at grassroots level, trying to find a show that will allow me to participate in a bitless bridle didn’t help my overall opinion either. And then the comments I got when I finally did participate, which was more focused on my choice of tack than my or my horse’s ability. All in all – negative. Very negative.

And then came the Olympics…

I know there are comments to be made about what was bad or horrible, but I want to comment on what stood out for me, that stood out more than the bad/horrible. Also, I only ever managed to watch the performance of the top 10/15. And of those, I want to talk about my favourites.

What I saw in those rides, was noses that were consistently on or in front of the vertical. I saw open throatlatches. I noticed normal looking extended trots with hind ends that matched the front, rather than excessive front leg movements with hindlegs that were left at the previous letter. I saw superb, goosebumpy piaffes and passages. One horse had a passage that was probably the most lovely to watch of every horse that I had every seen.

I saw uphill, and horses sitting rather than those bouncy piaffes that  seems like little bucks disguised as advanced dressage movements, that dressage had been littered with before

And you know what I picked up the most? The fact that several riders, had absolutely zero contact on the curb.

I saw horses that were relaxed and seemed to be enjoying what they were doing. And FINALLY, I saw that this was rewarded, rather than those that I am not referring to here.

Dressage has a long way to go to where all of us would like to see it. But for the first time, I actually think that Dressage have moved in the right direction.

This was what I picked up in my favorites at the Games. Of course there are others, but I thought it necessary to, for a change, focus on the good 🙂

Show post mortems (Human version)

I am not a show jumper. At all. And because I don’t jump, Bitou doesn’t get exposed to jumping either. However, since we realised that Bitou absolutely LOVES going to shows, I’ve tried to take him to as many shows as possible. (just look at that face…)

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Now since I ride bitless, we’re not allowed to enter dressage shows so we really don’t have that many options. Therefore, Bitou and I started doing the pole on the ground class as training jumping shows. i) Bitou is in his element, being at a show ii) we are exposed to bright coloured, scary looking jumps – a good exercise in desensitization (even more so if it’s in howling winds!) iii) I don’t have to jump, we can just go over poles on the ground (well – i guess that’s debatable if you look at the second pic here…)! So it’s a win-win.
So we started getting a little bored with pole on the ground (like one does) and upgraded (very fancily) to the 30cm classes. I’ve done 2 or 3 of these now. Pole on the ground normally goes very well and we will trot the entire course. But with the 30cm, I tend to tense right before the jumpie which is an indication for Bitou to stop (Bitou: “She tensed, it can’t be safe, best I take her over this enormous pole carefully!”) So our modus operandi is to trot up to the jumpie, stop, and then carefully climb over (exhibit A – the pics below).
Bitou has developed quite a reputation for this, so everyone claps and cheers every time we climb over so carefully!
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Now this past week we had another little training jumping show, so I entered Bitou in POTG (twice) and 30cm (once). Bitou was, as usual, most relaxed when in the warmup (where I, in turn, think that we might die – with pony riders whizzing past at top speed in every possible direction with no sense of order). (Check out the  pic, no stirrups, no reins and he’s just casually checking out what’s going on behind…).
We did our first round of POTG and it was great. Bt didn’t even look at the jumps! We went for our second round and I hear my coach yell ‘be adventurous! canter!’ and so I asked Bitou for a canter. So we cantered the entire course, him taking the correct leads and everything! Very chuffed (so much for a horse that couldn’t canter on the right rein at all, just more than a year ago!)
After that we had quite a while to wait. So Bitou had a bite to eat and I stretched my legs a bit.
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(Photo credit to my friends at NC Photography – Thanks for this pic Natalie!)
Then came the time to have a little hop over the 30cm warmup jumpies. Surprisingly, Bitou didn’t hesitate once and actually hopped over them without stopping. (I say surprisingly, he probably said “Surprisingly, she didn’t tense, so I could actually do my job properly and jump rather than walk over!”)
Since it was going so well, I asked my sister (and groom for the day 😉 ) to quickly enter me for the 30cm a second time as well. Thinking being that we’ll have a look the first round, and then the second time can do it properly. So we went off on our first round at a trot, and Bitou either jumped or trotted all the jumpies! I felt adventurous and asked for a canter, but as we came close to the next jump (#6) , I must have tensed, worrying about the striding (yeah, I do that), and he stopped! Just like before. I tried the same up to #7 and the same happened, so at the last jumpie, I just asked for a trot and he hopped over nicely. (Please excuse the forward seat – I know it’s unnecessary at 30cm, but the dressage saddle cantle keeps hitting me in the bum if I don’t!)
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(Photo credit to my friends at NC Photography – Thanks for this pic Natalie!)
So, we should definitely work on getting over these from a canter next. We went into our last round at a canter, cantering between the jumps, but I asked him for a downward transition right before each one so that we ended up jumping them rather than trying to jump from canter and hence walking over.
Lesson of the day: my horse is amazing 🙂
I walked him back in hand with lots of grazing stops and he got a whole lot of carrots later that day!
Interestingly, my experience at these little fun jumping shows have been way more positive than ever before at any dressage shows. But that’s a topic for another day!
(Apologies for the lack of paragraphs – WordPress seems to remove my paragraph/spacing every time 😦 )

That man who listens to horses

In Science, we publish our research as we go along. But every once in a while you get a landmark study: the study where the investigator finds something groundbreaking, where his work (be it a new discovery, understanding or a method) changes things forever.

A lot of work is then built on that. Sometimes the method or the discovery is improved upon as it evolves, sometimes it gets a different shape or package, but that original paper and author is always cited, even if it is 100 years later.

Today (3 June 2016) I got to meet that person in the horse world, the one who brought about the change, whose methods are still widely used, and a lot of people have used that basis to build on and from.

He was the one who said that violence has no place in horsemanship.

My absolute horse hero.MR2

Snakes and seats

Very recently, I’ve started riding on outrides trying to ride on the neckstrap rather than the reins. The reins are there, but I don’t touch them – they hang on Bitou’s neck while I hold the neckstrap with one hand and then the other hand is loose. (Edit: Don’t tell my coach, I’m supposed to be working on my hand position!)

Yesterday, we went on our usual Wednesday outride. We were happily trotting along the bridlepath and went up a little incline. I was riding on the neckstrap only, and neither Bitou nor I was really paying attention as we were still warming up.
The next moment I saw a massive mole snake on the other side of the little incline we just trotted up. I didn’t have my reins, I had only one hand on the neckstrap and was trotting along on a horse who was looking in the distance at a pretty grey mare that was grazing nearby (he is quite the ladies man). I didn’t know what to do to avoid treading on the sunbathing snake, so I launched my body to the left hand side. Bitou instantly moved in underneath me to ‘catch’ me and we managed to pass the snake, missing by about 20cm. What an amazing reaction!
I’ve noticed before, that we he spooks, Bitou will always ‘take me with him’ when he shies. He doesn’t normally shy, but when he does, he does it almost in a controlled fashion (for lack of a better word). We’ve always known that he is an extremely sensitive horse (as in, he will immediately say if his saddle is a smidgeon too tight, if you put too much rein pressure on his nose, he will pull back and you will lose etc) but this was such a good illustration in how sensitive he is to weight changes.
Why do we need reins again? 😉

Adventures of a South African in Azerbaijan

ADVENTURES OF A CAPE TOWNIAN IN BAKU (this was posted on my Facebook account on 18 June 2015, but I love the story so much that I decided to post it here too):

So.. I went to the shop to buy washing powder. Only washing powder. I was a bit worried that I will end up buying some random other product because all the labels are in Russian. But I found some that is actually English!  Well, I walked out with 3 bags full of goodies to take home!

On my way to the shop, I ran into a little kitty who was dozing off next to a lamp post. I’ve posted about the Baku cats before. They don’t seem to belong to anyone and they are everywhere. They are mostly quite slim (not starving, but certainly not fat) and quite dirty. So I start petting the kitty, who wakes up and immediately starts soaking up the attention. He actually jumped onto my leg and grabbed my hand every time I stopped petting him or stopped rubbing his belly! Now, this was around 6pm. And it seems to be common that the men in the area come out around that time and sit on the pavement in little groups to chat.

So keep in mind, that I am already stared at wherever I go. Now, this white chick is sitting on the pavement, playing with a stray cat and talking to him in Afrikaans for about 15 minutes! A guy approached me and welcomes me to Azerbaijan, and then told me the cat’s name is Vaska (don’t know the spelling). Vaska absolutely loved the attention. And the men on the pavement probably wondered what the hell is wrong with me!

Anyway, so off I went to the shop. When I came back I stopped to quickly pet all the cats along the way, as I always do (which almost made me late for my bus once!) and when I looked for Vasko, he was gone! Then, a couple of steps further, I saw the little kitty, on his back with his little paws in the air. Happy as a cat in Egypt, belly being scratched and head being stroked by all the men who sat watching me earlier!!