Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Blessi and The Doughnut Effect

My instructor Dannelle rode Blessi in his first dressage show of this year.  Some friends and I attended with our non-traditional “dressage” horses—two Paints and an Icelandic.  Since this was an all-day event, we brought items to share for lunch.  I supplied iced tea, bottled water, and doughnuts.
The first class--Training Level 1--was won by a very talented Hungarian warm blood mare whose dressage trainer/owner is working the mare up the levels to compete at regional or higher Prix St. George level.  It was a joy to watch this talented pair go through the dressage movements.   Blessi and Dannelle and the other dressage trainer and his warmblood both scored 63.333, which was a tie for second place.  Actual ranking during a tie is decided by some quirky dressage rule and Blessi and Dannelle ended up with third place—not bad at all. 
What the box looked like
Reconstruction the next day
We left to check for scores.  The horses were tied at the trailer and somebody was supposed to keep an eye on them.  We returned to find that an animal had gotten into the doughnuts and eaten the ten that remained.  No harm done.  Except just a few minutes later we found out that the “animal” was Blessi.  He had untied himself from the trailer and eaten the doughnuts and the three apples that my friend had brought as post show treats for the horses.  My friend’s husband found Blessi cleaning up the icing in the box and re-tied him to the trailer. 

Blessi ate the bear claws, the pink iced doughnuts with sprinkles, the cream filled doughnuts, the chocolate iced doughnuts, and the plain cake doughnuts.  Blessi has never met a doughnut—or cookie, carrot, or peppermint-- that he doesn’t like.

Blessi looked a little uncomfortable but did not seem to be suffering otherwise so Dannelle rode him in his second test.  Well overall the scores were not good.  It must have been like trying to run a marathon right after eating Thanksgiving dinner.  I did notice some distinctive differences in the scores between test 1 and test 2—something I am labeling the Doughnut Effect.
A sugar high does create animation.  During the second test, Blessi managed to achieve an 8 on his free walk.  Normally he scores a 6 on this movement.  Judges usually note that he is relaxed but “lacks impulsion.”  He also upped his final movement “Down centerline, halt, salute” to a 7, which goes to prove that it takes impulsion to get a good halt.  However, any movement involving a canter dropped from a 6 to a 4 or 5.  Dannelle has been working to develop more of a 3-beat canter with Blessi but Blessi’s sugar high turned his canter back into a 4-beat, rushed affair. 
So my challenge is to determine how many doughnuts we need to feed Blessi to animate his free walk yet not impact his canter.  Obviously this is less than ten but more than one (Note: this is a joke—I don’t advocate more that a small bite of a doughnut for a horse).  By the way both Paints and their riders also did well at this event.  Luckily the sandwiches and fruit were stored at another trailer so the humans were able to have lunch.  Oh, and Blessi seems to have a cast iron stomach because he has suffered no ill effects from his doughnut binge.
I wasn’t able to capture any video of Blessi’s escape and self-indulgence.  However, somebody threw the doughnut box in my truck when we packed up and I was able to re-stage the event (with box but no doughnuts) back at the home stable.  

And here is a picture of Blessi sleeping off his doughnut binge on the day after the show.

Before I created the Blessi Blog, I shared this story with Stacey Kimmel, who writes the highly recommended blog Behind the Bit.  Stacey was kind enough to put this story on her blog but did some edits that made the story even better--she introduced the idea of the doughnut effect as a scientific study.  Please check out Stacey's blog!