Friday, February 14, 2020

Sometimes massive research projects start with a single Google image (the story of a 16th c. book on fighting from horseback)

Sometime in late summer 2019, I was looking at Google images of medieval horses, and came across a sketch that I hadn’t seen before.

16th c. guy on a horse? I'm intrigued.

A little digging led me to the source, Regole di molti cavagliereschi essercitii, by Frederico Ghislierio, published in 1587 (online facsimile available from BNF Gallica). Although primarily a manual on Bolognese fencing, there were three chapters in the back that had to do with horses - and while the text was in Italian, I could pick out enough words to know that I really wanted to read it.

Naturally, I couldn’t find an English translation of the book. However, I know a bit of Italian, and I’d recently spent some time translating a couple of medieval French texts, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’d “translate” a sentence, check it against Google translate, and look up anything weird on Wiktionary. Some sentences were pretty clear, but without a true understanding of Italian or fencing moves, some sentences were barely discernible. I also had a terrible problem with determining whether “he” referred to the rider, the horse, the rider’s weapon, the rider’s opponent, the opponent's weapon, or the opponent’s horse. Clearly, I needed help.

Enter Mattia C., a wonderful scholar - and native Italian - who I met in July 2019 at the International Medieval Congress. I reached out and asked him if he’d be willing to help with the translation, and he agreed. Over the course of the next several weeks, we met online and, line by line, refined the translation. Luckily, Mattia is an Historical Martial Arts practitioner and has a deep understanding of the fencing moves in the text, so he was able to fill in many gaps. We were also able to piece together the somewhat awkward descriptions of riding maneuvers such as turn-on-the-forehand and turn-on-the-haunches and how they were used in combat.

Notice what the horse on the left is doing with his hind feet, and note the circle inscribed on the ground by his front feet.

Several sections of the text included measurements for things like the length of the jousting lane and countertilt, the length of jousting lances, and the height of the ring for practicing targeting. Measurements were given in feet and inches, but exactly how big was a Bolognese “foot” in 1587?  Apparently, different city-states in Italy had different units of measurement into the 19th century when the metric system was adopted, and did you know there are medieval and renaissance measuring stones built into Bolognese buildings? All interesting, but not particularly useful for solving my measuring problem.

Somewhere along the way, I obtained a copy of a 1572 Bolognese fencing manual by Giovanni dall’Agocchie (original Italian version is available through the Internet Archive). Luckily, dall’Agocchie’s work has been translated to English by W.J. Swanger (you can purchase a copy here), which is how I learned that Ghisliero’s chapter on jousting is nearly an exact copy from dall'Agocchie's book... which means that the measurements in the two books should be the same. And, on page 66, dall'Agocchie includes a lovely a diagram of a “half foot,” complete with dividers for inches. All I needed to do was measure the diagram!

A beautiful diagram! Less helpful than one might imagine.

Alas, measuring the diagram was easier said than done. At first I thought I might be able to deduce the measurements based on the size of the original book, but none of the online facsimiles included the page size of the original, so that option was out. I tried to schedule a field trip to see the book in person, but the nearest copy is over five hours’ drive from me, and they wouldn’t allow me into the collection anyway. In desperation, I reached out to an equine scholar friend, who put me in touch with Kathryn R., whose university has a copy of the original 1572 dall’Agocchie print. She was able to make an appointment to see it and measure the diagram. It's a bit hard to know whether we are supposed to measure the distance between the lines for an "inch" or to include the lines, but overall the "six inches" is 188 mm, making an "inch" about 31 mm. Therefore a "foot" is 37.6 cm or 14.8 inches!

FINALLY! Photo and measuring expertise courtesy of Kathryn R.

Apply these newfound measurements to Ghisliero's text, we get:

Regarding where to locate the ring to practice tilting at the ring:
…you will put therefore put the Ring away from the line of the carriera three feet (1.13 m, 44.4 in) of measure, and to the left hand of the Knight that will run [the carriera]. Moreover, raise it [the ring] above the ground six feet (2.26 m, 88.8 in, 7ft 5in).
Regarding the length of the lance:
A lance will have to be long in all ten feet (3.76 m, or 12 ft 4 in), at the base up to the handle will be made one foot long (37.6 cm, 14.8 in), and a fourth (94 mm, 3.7 in): so that he is comfortable. Finally the base [of the lance] will be made so big, so that its circumference around the handle is six inches (18.8 cm or 7.4 in).
Regarding how to set up a tilt and counter-tilt for jousting:
For this exercise of quintain one will have to plant the list: which will be made two hundred feet long (75.2 m, 246 ft 6 in), and five high (1.88 m, 6 ft 2 in): you will also make the counterlist, which will be made one hundred and fifty feet long (56.4 m, 185 ft); and two [feet] high from the ground, and a half (for a total of 94 cm, 37 in); and it will turn in towards the list: so that one does not strike one’s self on it [the counterlist], when the legs spread out, to strike the horse; that is; it will be done, that the distance above is three feet, a half (1.32 m, 52 in); and below is four (1.5 m, 59 in).
Thus brings to a close my months-long (and rather long-winded) quest to figure out the modern measurements used for 16th century jousting. There is still lots of information to analyze on fighting technique and horse footwork, but that is for another day. As always, more research is needed!

Special thanks to Mattia and Kathryn for all their help. Without them, I could not have assembled all the pieces!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Suspensory injury: How not to start off 2020

When I picked up riding Griffy again in late October 2019, I noticed that he'd occasionally take a weird step here and there. Sometimes he wouldn't do it for several rides, sometimes he'd take a few funny steps in a row. Most often it occurred when tracking left.

I had the vet out, and she saw something very subtle in the RF. He was slightly positive to hoof testers (we've been struggling with thrush), but only came partially sound when we blocked the foot. Flexions didn't make him worse, but radiographs showed a very thin sole (5-8mm), so we decided to start with the easy stuff and throw sneakers on and start him on hoof supplements.

The sneakers improved his foot comfort and landing tremendously, and let him use his shoulder more - but there were still some funny steps.

Tracking left, apparently OK for the moment.

Fast forward to our clinic last weekend, and I could definitely feel it at times going left. My trainer agreed. I called the clinic Monday, and Griffy went in for diagnostics on Wednesday. Here's what my vet had to say:
His blocking pattern today, combined with ultrasound findings yesterday result in very high confidence that we are dealing with a primary suspensory issue.  It is hard to say whether the small lytic area in the 4th carpal bone is real or artifact and if it is directly associated with the proximal suspensory issue.  We would only know if this is playing a role by doing MRI and/or monitoring it radiographically during his rehab period.  If it is clinically causing an issue it should change radiographically.  If it is not it will stay static.  If it is an artifact, it won't be seen consistently on follow-up radiographs.
Basically, he has chronic damage to his RF suspensory, high up behind his knee. There aren't any lesions, but the suspensory is enlarged, and there's a lot of scar tissue. We suspect he got it either whilst playing with Leo (he likes to rear up and put his legs over Leo's back, often getting one leg stuck for several seconds), or in one of his patented rear-and-put-your-front-legs-over-the-stall-door moves. He's rarely stalled, but it happens occasionally when we travel, and he gets anxious if he can't see his traveling companion.

Right on right, left on left.

Unfortunately, chronic injuries are more challenging to treat than acute ones, and have a lesser chance of recovery. Treatment options include:
  • Shockwave therapy - The mainstay for treating PSL, but it works best in the acute phase of injury.
  • Laser therapy - Uses a high-powered Class 4 laser, better for chronic injuries. Some very promising research (you can read up on it here) and my clinic has had good success with it.
  • Stem cell therapy and PRP therapy - less useful for chronic injuries, and injecting the site can cause additional inflammation.
We opted to go with laser therapy since it seemed like the best options for his type of injury. We started today, and will be doing a month of treatments three times per week, and then reevaluate. 

Safety glasses are required during laser treatments.

Hopefully this is magic.

The prognosis is guarded, and we're looking at about a 6 month recovery period. Still, I've got everything crossed that this little guy will come back. He reminds me so much of Taran, and we've made so much progress in such a short time. 

Like this one tiny pretend step of canter pirouette.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Apparently I'm running a B&B for Leo

And by B&B, I mean "Breakfast in Bed."

The Haffies keep a strict schedule around here. Breakfast is served at 6:30, then everyone snacks on hay until about 8:30, when they pause for morning naptime. Bitey face is from 9:30-10:30, then the hay is polished off, and by 1 or so it's afternoon naptime. After naptime there's browsing for leftover snacks, then more bitey-face from 3-4:30 or so, then everyone waits in the barn for me to serve dinner between 5 and 5:30.

But Leo has added a special step during morning naptime, when eating hay whilst standing becomes too exhausting. So he lays down for a bit of breakfast in bed.

Eating or napping? Why do one when you could do both? 

Sometimes the neighbor's donkeys join him.

But sometimes you just gotta stay in your plaid jammies and have breakfast in bed.

 Anybody else have one that does the eating and napping thing?

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Why bending left is so hard

Strangely enough, Griffy and Leo both have the same problem: bending left is hard. If I’m completely honest, Taran had exactly the same issue.

It's almost like the problem isn't with them?

Spoiler alert, it's me

Of course, it’s not just a matter of pulling on the left rein and applying more left leg. No matter how tempting it is (or how many times I’ve tried to do it), pulling on the inside rein for more bend just shuts down the hind leg on that side. Applying more left leg SHOULD, in theory, move the horse into the outside rein, but guess what?

  • I have almost no contact in my right rein when going left. Applying more left leg gets them to move sideways, but not push into the right rein.
  • When I think I’m straight when tracking left, my horse’s shoulders are actually to the outside (stupid mirrors don’t lie and I hate them).
  • My left stirrup has more weight than my right, as does my left seat bone. Right seatbone is often MIA.

Compound that with the fact that Griffy’s right hind is his weaker one, and that his right long back muscle is also weaker, and our imbalances complement each other in exactly the wrong way. Leo is more even (ah, to be young!) so his strengths compensate some for my weaknesses, but that's not an excuse for me.

I’ve been focusing a lot on keeping Griffy’s shoulders about 10 degrees to the inside when tracking left, pushing them over with my outside thigh, and holding a tiny bit of counter-flexion. When I do that, he’s actually straight, even though from the saddle it looks like I’m doing shoulder fore. To the right, I’ve been riding a slight haunches in at all gaits, and then taking that shape towards the quarter line and back out again. In the canter especially, this is HARD for both of us, and Griffy would really prefer just to swap leads (he uh, has a clean accidental change from right to left). He’s trying though, and all this body contortion stuff is new to him, so I’ve been pleased with our progress.

You can see how far his shoulders are to the outside here - and I'm actively trying to ride them in!

I’ve also been very lucky to ride with a biomechanics instructor who has worked extensively with Mary Wanless. On Griffy, I can’t sit on my right seat bone in part because there’s no back muscle underneath me. We talked a little while about how to sort of “suck his back up” into my seat bone, and I have to say the words didn’t really resonate with me. But as we walked to the left, I played around, trying to find ANY increased contact between my seat bone and his back. I finally figured out that a combination of slight counter-flex, nudging inside (left) leg, and lengthening my right side muscles, plus pushing my right hip a bit forward (I naturally sit/stand/exist with it rolled a bit back, I don’t know why) got my seat bone in touch with his back. It was challenging and took a lot of focus to keep the contact, but we both got better over time.

When we switched to going right, it immediately became apparent that “bending” right actually caused his right back muscle to drop out from under me, and I collapsed my right side muscles as well. So much complementary fail there! Pushing my right hip a bit forward while being careful to keep Griffy’s body straight ensured that his back muscle and my seatbone stayed connected.

Pretty dang obvious why my right seatbone doesn't make any contact... sigh.

As ever, so much to work on. It’s hard to change habits and body positions, and I find it challenging to focus on one thing without letting all the other things fall apart. At least the boys are patient!

What are you struggling most with biomechanically (for either you or your horse) right now?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Fancy 'flinger fotos

I didn't do much showing in 2019, but I did manage to get both Leo and Griffy to a local schooling show mid-December.

Griffy is sort of a surprise on the dressage scene - I really hadn't ridden him for the last year, since hubby was busy jousting with him. Then Griffy decided he was done with jousting (he never really loved it, then decided he would just rather not) so after many discussions we decided to find him a nice dressage-only home. After all, Leo was my dressage pony and I really cannot campaign two horses (famous last words). We took Griffy to some lessons with the goal of making a sales video, and while riding for the video I did all of 1-3 and most of the second level movements... so I uh, now have two dressage Haffies?

For this show, I rode Griffy in 1-3 and 2-1. Griffy has an odd issue with drag stripes (it's almost like they make him dizzy?), so naturally we were slated to go first after the arena had been dragged. This made for some rather interesting movements, especially our drunk centerlines with our salsa halts. Otherwise the tests weren't too bad, considering I'd been riding him for less than 3 weeks, and he had not shown in 18 months. We certainly need a lot of refinement, and more of everything, but the bones are solid and he tried hard. We scored in the high 60s on both tests, which I felt was super generous, especially in light of quite a few mistakes.

Griffy 2-1

I rode Leo in Training 3 and 1-1, which was kind of a stretch for him as he's going through a growth spurt and his balance is kind of a hot mess. He was SUPER good in warmup - there was construction going on right outside the arena, which made Griffy really anxious, but Leo ignored it completely. The geometry in the tests was pretty questionable in places (losing the shoulders will do that), but overall they were much smoother than our previous attempt when we showed in September. Both tests also earned scores in the high 60s, which I again thought was overly generous.

Leo 1-1

All fancy 'flinger fotos courtesy of Wellman Photography, used with purchase.

So fancy! Much trot. WTF inside hand?

That hair tho...

I absolutely love pics taken after the final halt where riders are petting their ponies. 

Speaking of hair... Leo is giving his big brother Griffy a run for his shampoo commercial.

That hind end almost compensates for the escaped shoulder

Almost square-ish!

Massive shout-out to MC for being the #1Haflinger Holder for the entire day - the boys are unfortunately herd-bound enough that she had to stand in the warmup arena holding one whilst I rode and showed the other. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

A decade of Wyvern Oaks

I keep thinking about closing this blog down, because let's be real, I've been a terrible blogger for the last few years. But every time I try to write that final post, I just can't quite do it. So here we are...

November of this year marks a decade of Wyvern Oaks - both the blog and our little farmlet.

2009: We bought the place the weekend before Thanksgiving, hole in the roof and all. We knew we were up for remodels of just about everything on the property (and we were not wrong), but we couldn't pass up 2 acres just 6 miles from downtown Austin. 

The fabulous pink bathroom was the first thing to go in the remodel.

2010: We mostly focused on getting the place liveable and workable, for both us and the critters, so we didn't get much riding in. 

Basically the one riding post I did for all of 2010. That's me on Saga and hubby on Reddums.

2011: We built the barn and brought all the boys home, Taran put a nail through his foot, we went foxhunting, hubby did one of his first jousts ever, and we experienced the worst drought in 50 years. 

Lysts on the Lake 2011

Left to right: Taran, Reddums, Saga, and Cash

Foxhunting! I really miss this...

We bought a semi-load of hay from Canada and managed to cram it in our barn.

2012: Saga started off the year lame and ended the year even more lame, and Oberon came into our lives as Sean's new jousting horse. 

Oberon was such a hunk.

2013: This was a sucky year. We lost Saga in January (bone cysts), Oberon in June (colic), and Echo (who I'd gotten in February, but he had terrible headshaking) in September. I swore I wasn't getting another horse, but a certain enabler friend told me I needed a Haflinger and Paddington came to live with us, thus starting my obsession with Haffies.

Still in love with this face

2014: Paddy and I try our hand at dressage and do okay, but mostly we bowl for dressage letters. Brego comes to live with us.

Yes, that Brego!

2015: Paddy and I do some USDF rated shows and go to Regionals for the first time. We suck but I have a lot of fun getting back in the ring. Paddy makes his debut as a jousting horse because Brego blows out a massive abscess and can't joust, but then Paddy damages himself and I pull Taran out of the pasture because I'm desperate for something sound to ride. 

Padding looking fab at Regionals

Jousting Haffieeeeee!

The giantest abscess ever

Can you believe this horse eventually got a Bronze medal???

2016: Taran and I start showing, get our first Bronze score in March, and are schooling 2nd by the end of the year. Brego's recurring abscess turns out to be a deep P3 bone infection that runs up into his pastern, and there's nothing we can do but let him go. We lose both Brego and Cash in October.  

The bestest Brego

My first pony

2017: Taran and I got our 2nd level bronze scores. Despite Taran being diagnosed with Cushings in October, we qualified for USDF Nationals and came in 9th in the 1st level freestyle. Griffy came to live with us because one Haflinger just wasn't enough.

I only cried a little on our victory lap in the Alltech

2018: I rode Griffy in the spring (in between hubby jousting on him) and went to one rated show, where we did really well at Training. Taran and I focused hard on 3rd level, while struggling to manage his Cushings. We made one outing in November, and completed the USDF Bronze medal requirements with a 67+% and a 64+% on 3-3 (despite our "interesting" changes). 

I wish there had been pro pics at this show, but this extended trot got a 7.0!

Leo came to live with us in September, because hubby was jousting on Griffy and Paddy, and I was pretty sure I'd need someone new to ride.

2019: Taran stuggled with ongoing health and soundness issues related to Cushings, so we retired him in the spring. Sadly, we lost him colic in September. I didn't blog about it and I really still can't talk about it. I miss him terribly.

The bestest wonderpony ever.

Griffy decided he was no longer interested in being a jousting horse, so we were going to find him a nice sandbox home. However, while we were making the sales video we did most of 2-3 so we decided to keep him. I did 1-3 and 2-1 at a schooling show in December and walked away with a 68+% and a 67+%.

Apparently I had a fancy dressage horse in my backyard and didn't know it (PC: Erika Coleman Photography)

Little brother Leo is also fancy but is only five, and sometimes does not love adulting. He's a big fan of violence though (jousting and mounted combat, and also biting his brother's kneecaps), and hubby has been riding him regularly. 

Also Leo has fabulous hair (PC: Erika Coleman Photography)

And last but not least, a new face in town: Mago! He's a baby Lusitano, and we'll see where the future takes him.


To the future and beyond: Whew, it's been quite a rollercoaster with some pretty high highs and some very low lows. Oddly enough, we're just about to start another remodel (bathroom and kitchen) so... I guess the new decade will be starting in the same place as the old? I don't know that there will be another decade of this blog, but I've met so many wonderful people through blogging, and it's been a great way to keep track of memories. I wish everyone the best in the new year and new decade!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Aren't you supposed to be lame and retired???

So sassy. Much leaping.

Four off the floor.

Clearly practicing for his debut at the SRS

That trot doesn't look very lame, does it?

Good rounding and use of hindquarters

Practicing his reining moves maybe?

I believe the judge calls this "croup high"

Showing off the TB half

That talio tho...

Don't call it a comeback yet, but we've been doing some light riding - and by "light" I mean maybe 5-7 minutes of trot and canter (with LOTS of walk breaks) every other day. He feels really, really good, and really, really sassy. He's out of shape cardio-wise (and so am I jeez), but he feels strong and solid. I'll probably never know what caused the lameness over the winter, but time is, as always, a great healer. I still have no plans for him, other than keeping things light and fun, and we'll see where that takes us. 

So fancy! Also so not lame...