Reading History

Learning about history doesn’t require classroom time or tedious study. Knowledge and enthusiasm for history can be gained through fun, readable books–both fiction and non-fiction–that shine an interesting light into the past … it is only a matter of finding ones that ignite your curiosity.

Whether you’d like to know more about a particular era from Eclipsed by Shadow (Book #1 of The Legend of the Great Horse trilogy) or simply wish to explore ancient history, the above books rank among the very best for sparking new interest in readers.

» For further reading, see the Eclipsed by Shadow bibliography.

Why Show Jumping?

By John Royce – My new project Clean-Round.com and many of my online shares are about Show Jumping rather than other horse sports I also love … I’d like to explain.

What some might call an unreasonable passion in my life has been to help connect people with horses in the modern era. My first love was Western and I believe there is no greater spectacle in sport than international Eventing’s cross-country. I respect Dressage’s empathetic quest for unity as both art and a hallowed touchstone of human progress. I enjoy watching Polo and see Driving as a moving homage to history and tradition. I love the races. It’s all good…

Gerco Schröder riding LONDON in the Gucci Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi - Photo: Sportfot/GCTThe reason I focus on show jumping is that it has three basic qualities that, in my view, give it the potential to connect an ‘un-horsed’ populace with its ancient legacy of horsemanship.

(1) As a necessary first condition, show jumping is humane and promotes higher standards in horse care, training and riding. Though not without issues, the official sport is zero-tolerance for drugs, abuse, or horse endangerment, including lameness or other pain. Beyond the rules, the challenge of jumping itself mitigates against bad treatment: horses do not jump well when afraid or uncomfortable. Bad behavior happens in any human endeavor, but in show jumping abuse is a path to injury and wasted investment—not success. The sport is beneficial to both horses and people, and inclines to the positive.

(2) The sport is amazingly adaptable to modern life. Though very young—the roots of horse jumping date only from the mid-18th Century—show jumping has now been contested all around the world on all kinds of surfaces, natural and artificial, from dirt lots to tanbark, snow, sand, and turf. The format is flexible and varied, with multiple levels of competition for all ages, both sexes and a wide accommodation of skill levels and economic backgrounds. It fits into spaces from small arenas to large stadiums, rural to urban, indoor and outdoor. The challenge of show jumping can be modified to meet a wide range of conditions and specifications.

(3)The third reason I share about show jumping is something rather unique in equestrian sport: it was conceived and created as a public spectator attraction. The sport was formed by accident, in response to spectator requests. Obstacles scattered across the countryside were brought in to include the audience—and something magical occurred. The spectacle became sport, and more than that, it became a game the horse understood and would play with us. People don’t watch sport so much as they watch games … and by being a game, when presented well, the sport can connect millions of people to the excitement and beauty of horses. Spectator interest has been integral to show jumping from its inception to its success today, and is a foundation which can be built upon.

Rich Fellers (USA) riding Flexible winner of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Final 2012. - Photo: Kit Houghton/FEIIt’s true the sport has had growing pains and problematic historical legacies and associations. Show jumping may not be quite ready for prime time in some ways: but it can be made ready, and along the way do a great deal of good for horses and (imo) greater humanity.

Humane benefits, flexibility to adapt to the modern era, and because spectator interest is intrinsically part of the sport–these are the reasons why I focus on sharing about Show Jumping!

Crossposted on Facebook

The Bright Side of the Dark Ages: Stirrups!

“It is surprising that horsemen took 1,500 years to think up something so simple. One is reluctantly driven to the distasteful conclusion that we are not really a very bright set of people.”–Charles Chenevix-Trench (1914-2003), A History of Horsemanship

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0579_haniwa-horse_c550AD_225pxOne positive thing about the Dark Ages was that horseback ‘barbarians’ invaded, pillaged, and burned using a new development that today we call stirrups–an innovation that revolutionized cavalry and greatly eased saddle-soreness.

Stirrups increased cavalry’s effectiveness against infantry and allowed for the creation of new heavy cavalry with lances. Horses could be ridden faster and for longer distances: the gallop is easier for the animal if its rider stands in stirrups, and stirrups make trotting much more pleasant.

People had ridden in saddles for over a thousand years without stirrups, and the intellectual tone of the era makes it likely people would have gone another thousand without the bracing illustration of an arrow-spewing nomad bearing down at a fast gallop. The device was quickly copied and by 600 AD were spreading throughout Europe.

More Horsing Around …

Eclipsed by Shadow - cover image coinChallenge #2 using terms from Eclipsed by Shadow.

Eclipsed by Shadow - cover image coinA little bit harder … Challenge #2 using terms from Eclipsed by Shadow. The starting screen shows words and their definitions … which disappear if you drag them on top of each other. The goal is to clear the screen as quickly as possible. (‘Piled up’ words can be moved to an empty space)

Or play directly (bigger screen) … Challenge #2 from ‘Eclipsed by Shadow’

Horses must be re-introduced to every new generation

Horse Blessing, Arlington Street Church (Boston 2011)If any sight creates instinctive excitement it is surely the horse. Children are naturally attracted to horses; people speak of ‘natural’ horsemen. Horses have been with mankind since our prehistoric ancestors enshrined equines in cave paintings.

Yet most people don’t have contact with horses in daily life anymore. Fortunately there are many opportunities to keep the positive tradition of horsemanship in our culture through recreation, sport and therapy. These spirited and beneficial activities are part of a unique world that must be reintroduced to every new human generation.

The new challenge for the equine industry is to share the excitement and value of horses, something never needed before our technological era. By reaching out to the general public the amazing experience of horsemanship can be honored and passed on to new generations.

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Image Credit

Photo of horse greeting during the ‘Blessing of the Animals‘ service at Arlington Street Church (Boston, 2011)

Horsing around …

Eclipsed by Shadow - cover image coinChallenge #1 from 'Eclipsed by Shadow' Play a game using terms from Eclipsed by Shadow. The starting screen shows words and their definitions … which disappear if you drag them on top of each other. The goal is to clear the screen as quickly as possible.

Eclipsed by Shadow - cover image coinPlay a game using terms from Eclipsed by Shadow. The starting screen shows words and their definitions … which disappear if you drag them on top of each other. The goal is to clear the screen as quickly as possible. (‘Piled up’ words can be moved to an empty space)

‘Passing’ score is 30 seconds … Login (free account) to save your scores … Challenge #1 from 'Eclipsed by Shadow'

History began with Horsemanship

Greek bronze statuette (late 2nd-1st Century BC)Though it may seem obvious that writing/reading is a basic skill of civilization, horsemanship has fewer advocates as a cultural practice …

Yet we live in a world of paradox, and our partnership with horses should not be dismissed too lightly by the world they helped to create.

Author’s note: Research for ‘The Legend of the Great Horse’ trilogy led me to greater appreciation for the role of horses in human history …

Civilization developed slowly … discovering, inventing, destroying, re-discovering, re-inventing. Always building from what has gone before.

Eclipsed by Shadow - cover image coin Today we stand on a ladder of human progress. We may retreat a step–or fall off completely. History shows mankind’s progress is not steady or certain. Basic ideas which create a society can be lost.

What should be retained and what should be let go?

A plea for tradition

As we discard old ways in favor of new, we should recognize the importance of keeping the foundational skills that developed civilized humanity. Mankind has tried countless ideas that have failed … yet some specialized human activities have brought success to a wide range of cultures throughout history.

The Test of Time

History is not a clear guide, so nothing can be claimed absolutely. Cycles are not uniform: time-spans differ; some cultures persist while others vanish.

Yet even as we move into a new era of powerful, immersive technology, our society retains many activities that have been shared across successful cultures, such as honoring the dead, music, dance, agriculture. Perhaps these are threads that create the conditions of social interaction; perhaps they continue to exist in our societies because human culture needs them to survive.

Horsemanship, though recently less common, is one complex thread of human activity, one as old as writing. There are strong echoes between horsemanship and literary endeavors, two foundational civilizing arts.

Both horsemanship and writing involve education that opens doors to new experience. They share a mindset. The horseman craves the order and efficiency of a book. Yes there is passion, and whimsy, but quiet concentration is a goal for both. Informed comment is respected in both fields.

Without making claims, and taking a generalized (therefore mostly useless) stance, and accounting for generalities or patterns, it is interesting to notice some things.

Both writing and horsemanship began almost simultaneously at the beginning of civilization … in their unique history, there are other connections:

  • Both developed slowly and flowered at the very beginning of the city-state societies that formed early civilization.
  • Both have been virtually universal across dominant cultures.
  • Both are highly adaptable and incorporate developing technology and materials.
  • Both flourish or decline with the rise and fall of human society.
  • Both have renewed themselves in society throughout history.
  • Both are a combination of art and science.
  • Both have many levels of expertise and support a lifetime of learning.
  • Both reach their highest expression in successful societies.

And what may be their most important aspect …

  • Through teaching empathy, both develop human consciousness.

Horse pulling Plow (1939) USAWriting & Horsemanship: Twin harbingers of civilized culture throughout history

Though it may seem obvious that writing/reading is a basic skill of civilization, horsemanship has fewer advocates as a cultural practice.

Of course a pen is nothing like a bridle. Yet even if the relationship between writing and horsemanship is not clear in a material sense, they share a profound place in human culture. We live in a world of paradox, and our partnership with horses is sometimes dismissed too lightly by a world made by ancestors who revered the animal.

A Crossroads in Human History?

Unfortunately another similarity between writing/reading and horsemanship is that both are under commercial pressure … and both face a certain detachment by the broader public.

It is unthinkable–but not impossible–that a preoccupation with market-based solutions could influence us to let go of the ancient arts and sciences that helped form human consciousness and modern society.

Commerce has led many cultures down a blind alley.

If modern society puts the cart before the horse and cuts the reins … are we sure of ourselves, making this decision, or are we simply reacting without understanding? Our horses have seen us lose ourselves before; writing has recorded it.

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Image Credits

Greek Bronze statuette (c. Late 2nd-1st Century BC), © User: niborean / Metropolitan Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons ‘Wikipedia Loves Art’ project / CC-BY-SA-2.5

German Grobe, “Farmer with Horse & Cart” / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain / PD-Art

The Greatest Revolution in Horsemanship … Just Happened!

Even devout horse-lovers may not appreciate how much horsemanship has transformed in the past century. After thousands of years, our relationship to horses and new-found concern for their welfare is a revolution from practices of only a few decades past.

Horse pulling Plow (1939) USAEven devout horse-lovers may not appreciate how much horsemanship has transformed in the past century. After thousands of years, our relationship to horses and new-found concern for their welfare is a revolution from practices of only a few decades past.

The 20th Century saw broad fundamental change to society … as it always has, horsemanship holds a mirror to cultural upheaval and growth.

The Horsemanship Century … a complete transformation

Over the past century, the world has undergone a massive change from using the horse in war, transportation and farm work … to sports, recreation and therapy.

A hundred years ago in 1912, early “High Wheeler” automobiles were being replaced by the Ford’s Model T, or the “Tin Lizzie.” In 1912 tractors were being introduced to American farms; and, though the horse and mule population continued to increase for another 6 years to reach some 26.4 million animals in 1918 … 30 years later horses had almost vanished from the farm.

This steep, rapid decline brought the idea that horses are ‘obsolete’ … the horse-and-buggy has become a metaphor of old-fashioned ways ‘dying out.’ Yet an amazing thing happened that changed the picture of the horsemanship’s anticipated decline: recreation and sport. In the 1800’s jumping was discovered to be an exciting and humane challenge: modern equestrian sports ignited ancient passions for riding and created a new world of horsemanship experience. Even now frontiers in healing horsemanship are opening, providing therapy and rehabilitation for a range of human disabilities.

There are an estimated 9,500,000 horses in the US today, but the horse population is no longer farm animals and cavalry: the demographic has been completely transformed. Our increased focus on equine welfare–almost unseen in earlier human society–is a hallmark of our new ways of horsemanship. The horse helped build civilization, and, amazingly, our modern partnership has risen to new levels with potential to continue into an even brighter future.

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Related Links:

Early American Automobile Industry 1894-1929) Pics of 1912 “High Wheeler” and other contemporary autos … vintage shots of vehicles from 1894 to 1929.

History of Horse-Powered Farming in America A look back at the history of farm horses from Colonial times to the modern horse-farming movement today.

The First Horse …

Every horse in the world can be traced to a single mare that trotted the earth about 130,000 to 160,000 years ago, according to findings reported by Bloomberg News as published by US National Academy of Sciences.

The Cave Mare from "Eclipsed by Shadow"Ancestral Mother of All Horses Galloped 160,000 Years Ago

Today’s horses are descended from one ancestral mare according to findings reported by Bloomberg News as published by US National Academy of Sciences.

Every horse in the world can be traced to a single mare that trotted the earth about 130,000 to 160,000 years ago, scientists discovered for the first time.

The research identified 18 different genetic clusters that arose from the ancestral mare, suggesting that domestication occurred in many places across Europe and Asia, according to work published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Academy’s proceedings did not immediately confirm whether the Ancestral Mare was the original Great Horse as detailed in the nearly-eponymous trilogy of same … or whether this discovery offers new proof of the story’s mysterious legend.
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Related Link:

» All modern horses trace back to single ancestor

10 Myths about Equestrian (horse) sports

Well yes, the horse does do all the work of transporting the human and itself … however that is only half the equation. Equestrian sport is an extreme sport on the human side, requiring skill, nerve, balance and timing that can be invisible to the observer.

A horse wearing glassesThe recent Olympics offered up excitement and inspiration … and revealed that much of the public does not understand one of the founding events: equestrian sports.

Horses challenge humans to look beyond surface appearances. Here are some examples of common misconceptions about horses and their sports:

1) The horse does all the work.

Well yes, the horse does do all the work of transporting the human and itself … however that is only half the equation. Equestrian sport is an extreme sport on the human side, requiring skill, nerve, balance and timing that can be invisible to the observer.

Most would never assume a pole vaulter was not an athlete because the pole did the actual lifting work. There are two athletes competing together in equestrian sport. The horse provides the living propulsion; the rider’s job is staying with the motion and directing: a different but not lesser challenge.

2) Horse riding is for rich people

Again we have a semi-truth that covers part of the picture. OWNERSHIP of top equine athletes is, yes, for rich people (or corporate sponsors). However ownership is separate from the actual competitive challenge. Top riders do not necessarily or even usually own the horses they ride in competition.

Riding is a professional sport requiring full time training and competition. Naturally the top riders are highly sought-after to pilot the top horses … in this way talented riders can come from any background if they have the ability. Many top riders are from very modest backgrounds and work their way into the higher levels, and that number is increasing.

3) Equestrian sports are cruel

Human history records much cruelty to horses in the past: war was cruel, ‘breaking’ horses and other mistreatment can be abusive … and these images stay with us. However, equestrian sport competitions are not won through cruelty–in fact the animals must be sound, attentive and willing, all of which abuse destroys.

The nature of horses is one of action and spirit, something quite different than other domestic animals we may be more familiar with. The feats of which horses are capable are superhuman–that is the point actually—but they are natural for the horse. Evidence that equestrian sport is not cruel or abusive can be found in the fact top competitive horses stay in the sport for many years. For example, a top horse in the London Games, Lenamore,  competed successfully at the age of 19.

Equestrian sports are also ‘no-tolerance’ for drug usage, and any sign of lameness is impermissible. The ‘scandals’ by media should be read more closely.

4) The horse is ‘forced’ to compete

It is a fallacy to assume you can ‘force’ a horse to do something he/she does not want to do. They are large prey animals, much bigger than humans, and are quite capable of saying ‘no’ … much of successful equestrian sport is determined by the horse’s mood and mental acceptance of the task to perform well. Forced performance is a failed performance.

It is true that the horses in equestrian sport have been asked to extend themselves athletically … part of the inspiring nature of horses is that they will respond and give of themselves if asked. This generous aspect of horses is honored in equestrian sport.

Also, people should understand that horses have always been a working animal. They are not pets, but very special partners of mankind. Their care and maintenance are expensive, but horses earn their keep and are worthy of respect and admiration.

5) Equestrian sports are unpopular

Actually though modern horse sports are quite popular and growing. Equestrian is one of the most well-attended attractions of the Olympic Games. Every Olympic equestrian event in London sold out immediately. The different sports attract millions of spectators across the globe.

The fact that horse sports are comparatively unknown is a function of the newness of the sports in the modern era, not because they are unpopular. Where horse sports are established and promoted to the public, competitions attract crowds similar to other major spectator sports.

6) Horse sports are ‘old-fashioned’ and declining

Actually horse sports are rapidly growing, and the ability to jump high is a very new discovery in horsemanship. Though some equestrian sports are ancient and obsolete, such as chariot racing and jousting (which is making a comeback though!), modern sports have taken their place and are bringing horses to new generations.

Perhaps the sense of decline comes from the recent ending of the horse’s role as mass transportation. The past century saw a huge change in horsemanship as the world’s cavalries were disbanded and actual horsepower was replaced by tractors and automobiles. Fortunately, intriguingly, at the same time new horse sports began to become popular and are still growing today.

7) Only a few nations compete

This claim was true in the first part of the 20th century when modern equestrian sports were being organized, but now the rest of the world has discovered them. Europe was the birthplace for many modern horse sports and is still its center, but virtually all nations have a historical tradition of horsemanship and the sports have spread worldwide.

The world equestrian body, the FEI, lists over 140 member nations … 49 countries competed in the London Olympic Games, from a competitive field in which many more did not qualify. Horse sports thrive in the Americas, Australia, Europe and South Africa, and recently the sport has taken hold in the Middle East and is gaining interest in India and Asia.

8) Horse sports are ‘easy’ … you just sit there.

Actually you ‘stand’ on the horse for most competitive sports; the form is similar to a skier’s position and has similar demands. The additional test is the unpredictability of the horse in motion.

In riding it is important to move with the horse and keep distracting motion to a minimum for the sake of the animal’s focus and balance: the appearance of sitting and doing nothing is actually indication of good riding, not ease.

9) The Olympics are for human athletes

The original Olympics were ½ horse show, ½ track meet (and poetry contest). The Games were never only about human excellence: instead they were about finding favor with Creation and celebrating man’s survival in nature through harmony. One could observe that, of all the forgotten events and athletic competitions in history, the Olympics thrive today and certainly benefit by equestrian inclusion.

10) Horse could do better w/out riders

It is the union of horse and human that produces the performances seen. Though obviously the human cannot win  a race or contest a big jumping course on foot–it is less obvious that the horse needs the human direction and assistance.

Using jumping as one example, equine vision is almost 360 degrees (a horse’s eyes are on side of its head) but the animal has limited depth perception: it is human guidance and balancing that allows the athletic performance over large obstacles. Other horse sports are a similar mix of human and horse cooperation: one of the amazing, symbolic aspects of horsemanship is that horses and riders together can do what neither can do alone.

Support humane equestrian sport and you support horses

Horses have chosen to be our partners, and have helped mankind build civilization. Today horses have the chance for a much better life and relationship with people through recreation and sport. This new day in horsemanship deserves support and acceptance, for it is helping fulfill the potential of our joy with horses, well cared for and honored.