By Joanne Verikios
Do you like folklore and fairytales?
I do too. In fact, once upon a very long time ago, the topic of my Bachelor of Arts Honours thesis was The Interplay of Realism and Expression in the Form and Technique of the Russian Folktale.
Anyway, given my lifelong love of (a) horses and (b) folklore, I was thrilled to discover a charming folktale while travelling in the northern Japanese prefecture of Iwate. The connection is no accident, because Iwate was the home of Japanese horse breeding back in the Samurai days and the quiet rural town of Tono is famous for stories and legends.
Tono has a very strong horse culture, as horses were vital to peoples livelihoods and - reminiscent of treasured Arabians who were brought into the tents of their Bedouin owners - slept inside with the family. Even the bus stops in Tono are shaped to remind us of the importance of horses!
Note the beautiful halter knotting and the detail in the horse shoes in the pictures below.
Tono also preserves some of the traditional L-shaped Magariya houses, where people lived once in the long side of the L and horses lived in the short side. The most famous of these, the Chiba / Chibaya House, was closed when we were there (in March 2019) but we found another example at the Densho-en cultural complex. This is the Kikuchi Family Magariya (pictured), which was built in the mid 1700s.
The horse accommodation is on the left (see the historic photo below).
It was at Densho-en that we encountered the story of #Oshirasama. According to legend, a poor farmer had no wife but he did have a beautiful daughter and one horse.
The daughter spent a great deal of time with the horse, even sleeping in his part of the house overnight. One thing led to another and horse and woman became husband and wife.
When the farmer found out, he killed the horse.
There are a number of gruesome versions of how he killed him and what happened next, including subsequent mutilation of the dead horse when the farmer saw his daughter grieving over the body, but they all end with the daughter flying into the sky, either clinging to her beloved horse's head or on his skin, whereupon she became Oshira-Sama a Kami (deity), patron of silk worms, agriculture and horses.
Oshira-sama also foretells both good and bad fortune for believers in dreams.
There is an amazing chamber in the Densho-en complex called Oshirado Hall, where you can write your wishes on a piece of cloth and spike it on one of the 1000 wooden figures carved to represent Oshirasama in both equine and human form. Thousands of visitors - not just from Japan but from all over the world - have taken the opportunity to have their heart's desires expedited by Oshirasama by adorning one of these statues.
Iwate Travel Notes
Where is Tono: Tono is located near the middle of the Iwate prefecture on the Pacific coast in the Tohoku Region of Honshu in north eastern Japan.
How we got there: Using Hyperdia to work out routes and timetables, we travelled from Sendai in the Miyagi prefecture by Shinkansen (bullet train) to Shin-Hanamaki, where we picked up a hire car from the Toyota Rent a Car depot just across the road from the station. We booked the car online before arrival. The roads are excellent, by the way, the drivers are competent and courteous and the countryside is very picturesque.
Navigating: The rental car came with a satnav system in English, but we preferred to use a combination of two phone apps: Waze (for the route) and Google Maps (for nearby cafes, restaurants and opening times). Yes, we bought a local SIM at the airport on arrival in Tokyo.
Accommodation: We stayed right on the coast of Ofunato Bay at the Ofunato Onsen, which is about 30kms from Tono. It was a great base for exploring the region, with excellent nearby restaurants and relaxing onsen (natural hotspring baths) overlooking the bay and out to the Pacific Ocean.
Refreshments: We really enjoyed our coffees and snacks in the On Cafe and the Noto General Store.
All photos by Joanne Verikios
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To Plait or Not to Plait - an excerpt from "Winning Horsemanship. A Judge's Secrets And Tips For Your Success" by Joanne Verikios
There are many ways to present your horse’s tail and mane at showtime, from au naturel to pulled, plaited, banded or braided; hogged and taped like a polo pony; or beribboned and decorated with flowers, ears of wheat and bells like a draught horse. Much depends on the event and the breed. After that, it’s down to your own skills, time available and personal preferences.
During the 2015 Australian Warmblood Horse Association Assessment Tour, Silvia Ahamer demonstrated how a plaited tail can constrict a horse’s movement – a revelation for the owners and a godsend for several horses when their tails were set free!
In their guidelines, the AWHA actually recommends that tails not be plaited and that plaits, if used, be loose. Nevertheless, some people did present their horses plaited up to the nines, which let us see quite a few before and afters because everybody accepted our suggestion to un-plait. I remember a ridden mare who held her tail clamped down and to one side with it plaited. Then you could see her centring her tail and relaxing her back when the plaits came out and suddenly she moved a whole lot better.
It made me uneasy to think of all the tails I have plaited in the past. I probably even wondered why the poor horse “didn’t go as well as he did at home”. These days, I would definitely opt for other methods of neatening the top of the tail if required, or simply accept that horses have tails and it is alright to present them in all their glory.
TIP: If you opt to plait, always ease the dock into its natural curve when you have finished. Taking thicker sections of tail may be more comfortable for the horse than the very fine strands that are often seen. Think basket weave rather than birdcage.
If the mane is to be plaited, it is customary to have an uneven number of plaits along the neck. The forelock is usually plaited but may be left loose for most events. Manes may not have such a big effect on movement because the spacing of the plaits allows for flexion of the neck, but I am sure that if some hairs were pulling badly it could impact on a horse’s attitude, so do not plait so tightly.
TIP: Experiment ahead of time with all your grooming enhancements, including how many and what kind of plaits you will have, then stick to your plan on show day.
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I'm sure you've heard inspirational messages, such as: "All you need is X seconds of insane bravery" or "You're just one deal away from financial freedom" or "You can be anything you want to be".
Then you look around and notice that it doesn't seem to be happening for the majority of people. But some people, yes, those people, they seem to have nailed it! So what's the big secret of those who ARE leading amazing lives?
First of all, the big secret is that it's not a secret. Nor is it about several seconds of terror, or finding one cracking deal or visualising yourself into the saddle of the next Charlotte Dujardin (insert the equestrian activity and role model of your choice). Here's more bad news - it's not about being "discovered". As the saying goes, it can take years to become an overnight success (and that's a huge clue, right there)!
So what IS it about? My theory has been extensively tested on humans! Doing the hard yards myself (including living through divorce, debt, devastation and destruction of various kinds), as well as working with literally thousands of people in many different roles, has given me certain insights into why so many of us remain stuck.
Sometimes we win, sometimes we learn, but the big breakthrough remains elusive for many. Have you ever noticed that most people live a repeating series of MYs (Mediocre Years)? Groundhog Day was bad enough, but Groundhog Year?! I'm going to share with you how you can break the cycle.
Okay, here's the answer. It's not in the Moment or the Deal or the Dream. It's in the Plan and the Habits and the Action. I know it works because I have been stuck myself and I have shaken loose and moved on by doing these three things:
It's simple as 1 2 3, but it's not easy. And maybe because it's so simple, most people simply don't do it! Instead, most people hope things will change as if by magic. It's like wishing you could win the lottery without even buying a ticket! Most people don't even analyse why things stay the same. As Margaret J. Wheatley said, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”
IF YOU DO IT, however, things WILL change. You will leave MYs behind and begin to have EYs (Exceptional Years). Put enough EYs in a row and one day you will notice that you have an EL (Extraordinary Life).
Just like the best time to plant a shade tree was 50 years ago and the second best time is now, you can start today.
Here's what to do, if you are motivated to move from MY to EY to EL. Are you ready? Grab a pen and paper! Begin by getting very clear on where you want to be in five years - I mean super clear.
Describe your desired future circumstances in great detail, including some hard data (where are you living, what are you doing, with whom, what is your passive/active income, how much is in your cash reserve etc.). Write it out in the present tense (eg, "It is December 2023. I am ... , I do ... , I have... , I am so glad that I planned this and took the steps required to make it happen!").
Now we reverse-engineer that precise description by creating goals for 2019 that are focussed on getting you to where you want to be in five years. Beside the goals, write down the actions that will progress you towards achieving your five-year outcome. Done that? Beginning with January 2019, take the goals for the year and break them into goals for each month, and, as you get closer to the time and can plan with greater granularity, include goals and action items for each week, each day. Repeat month by month. Around this time next year, review your progress, adjust and repeat the planning and goal setting process. And so on, every year.
Is this what most people do? Absolutely not, so don't be like most people.
Is it what successful people do? Yes it is. (They also maintain a degree of balance. Read this article on How To Get Horse-Life Balance for some tips.)
So I want you to take action. Do it, and let me know how you go. Get yourself a cheerleader if you lack confidence, or a coach if you need someone to help you to plan and keep you accountable.
Festive Blessings To You And Your Horses, And Best Wishes For An Outstanding New Year!
PS: Pop over to my "Hoof Picks" page to download a free 2019 Horse Calendar to help you make your dreams a reality!
By Joanne Verikios with Tom Melby
The wonderful folk at Clippers Ireland really care about the results their customers get when using the clippers they sell for dogs, horses, sheep and cattle. So much so that owner and director of online retailer Clippers Ireland, Tom Melby, has created an excellent easy-to-follow infographic on Horse Clipping 101.
For some horse owners, clipping is an essential activity, but one which takes a little time and practice to master. Of course, having the right tools for the job and knowing:
According to Tom, depending on the personality, experience and activity of your horse, clipping can be straightforward or tricky. A young, nervous horse is likely to be apprehensive about being clipped, so the procedure for them will differ from clipping a seasoned competition horse.
"Clipping benefits your horse for health reasons as well as visual embellishment", says Tom. "While the horse will look resplendent after clipping, this activity is even more relevant for removing fleas or dirt from the horse’s coat while also helping it to dry quicker. In winter months when the risk of colds or colic are heightened, a suitable coat or rug can be quite timely.".
Tom also notes that some areas of a horse will be more difficult to clip, even on horses that are relaxed. The inside, back and bottom of the ears tend to be the trickiest parts, and it’s important to hold the ear correctly for best results. If you’re clipping the horse’s elbows, try to have someone with you who can pull the front leg forward from behind the knee, and be very careful here as the skin is often at its thinnest around the elbows.
For further advice on how to give your horse a neat, comfortable clip, read the infographic below from Clippers Ireland.
EXPERT CLIPPING TIP 1: As it says in the infographic, a horse to be clipped must be very clean and his or her coat must be totally dry, so plan ahead and allow plenty of time. Have a suitable rug ready to compensate for the loss of the horse's natural insulation.
Further reading: Manes, Beards & Whiskers: To Trim Or Not To Trim
By Joanne Verikios
More than half a century ago, an eight year old girl had a date with destiny. Counting the seconds until school was over, she knew it would be one of the most important days of her life. If all went well, if she passed some kind of assessment, she knew her dreams would begin to come true. The girl was the sort who preferred jeans to dresses and would get into trouble for looking out the window in class, yearning to be outside. She loved animals and, more than anything else in the world, she loved horses.
This day was important - important enough for her father to take time off - because the man she was going to meet HAD HORSES! Not just any horses either. The man, Mr Les Watterson, was a distinguished ex-jockey and now a respected racehorse trainer. Every day at 4am, Mr Watterson would ride his steady skewbald lead pony to Clifford Park Racecourse in Toowoomba. On either side of the pony was a curvetting, prancing Thoroughbred, bursting out of its skin with energy and joie de vivre. The little girl would sometimes hear their hoofbeats as they passed her home en route to their track work and an electric thrill would run through her body at the sound. There was a chance that the little girl would be allowed the unimaginably joyful privilege of riding the lead pony after school.
That little girl was me. Much to my delight and eternal gratitude, Mr Watterson knew a real horsewoman when he saw one. "Joanne has a way with horses", he would tell my parents.
I spent as much time as possible at his stables over several years and learned the rhythm of horsemanship and of racing. I saw how the racehorses were housed, fed, groomed, exercised, monitored, doctored, spelled and turned out for their daily bout of freedom and green pick. They were treated like the kings and queens they were. Each was nurtured as an individual and there was an obvious bond between trainer and trainee. That was my introduction to the world of horseracing.
My parents were not punters but the Melbourne Cup, with its long and fascinating history, was special and they had a small bet each way every year. Dad would also place a bet for us kids. My younger brother chose his horse using an original system involving arcane indicators. For four years in a row he picked the winner: Light Fingers (1965), Galilee (1966), Red Handed (1967) and Rain Lover (1968). Rain Lover won The Cup again in 1969, but "the system" didn't anticipate lighting striking twice in the same place, thus ending the winning streak!
When we were kids and into my early adulthood, I don't recall anyone questioning the Melbourne Cup. The race that stops a nation was a revered and much anticipated annual event. Now, however, there is an increasing level of opposition to all horse racing by kind-hearted people who respond to the well-crafted media campaigns of anti-racing, anti-gambling activists.
From a very early age I have been able to tune in to what horses and ponies were thinking and what they were likely to do next.