EN Today: Science! And eventing! And science!

Brianna McHorse (yes, that’s really her name) is a student and equestrian nerd who has combined her two passions into one amazing thesis project. The topic: How does conformation affect performance in event horses?

From EN:

A few months ago, we published an introduction to Brianna McHorse, who is studying equine conformation in the event horse.  She is conducting this study as part of her thesis research, seeking to quantify “good conformation” within each level of competition in real numbers, and see just how much conformation really affects performance.  Brianna went to Aspen Farms Horse Trials this past weekend to get some hands-on data, and kindly sent us an update on her research.  Thanks for writing Brianna, and we can’t wait to hear the results when it’s all done! -Visionaire


From Brianna:

Science! And eventing! And science!

Hello all! You may remember me from my post awhile back about the conformation research study I’m doing for my thesis. If you missed it, go on and check it out – this update will be here when you get back. (If anyone still feels like sending me pictures, please do so! More data = more better.)

This past Thursday and Friday I spent two hectic days painting dots on and photographing horses at the Aspen Farms Horse Trials, run by Jonathan and Suzy Elliott in Yelm, Washington. Congrats to them, by the way, for hosting Washington’s first Advanced division this year! Very exciting, and that meant I got to collect some data on Advanced horses too. Accompanied by my capable and dedicated assistant Meagan, I collected 20 horse’s worth of data on this trip. This was our first trip into the field, so I focused on working out the kinks in my protocol. (Duct tape good. Wet wipes good. Having someone other than me take the pictures good. Not enough coffee bad.)

So what do two days of Eventing Science look like?

Begin by loading food, tent, laptop, camera, waterproof notebook, research assistant, and coffee into the car. Drive up I5 for five hours, with coffee! Arrive at Aspen and set up camp. The view wasn’t too terrible.

Go talk to the show office, post fliers in all the porta-potties (people need something to read, you know!), stare at all the beautiful horses. Work up courage to approach first person with horse who looks like they’re not too busy. Receive positive response. Huzzah! Square up horse. Take picture. Paint dots. Square up horse again. No, square. No, don’t move that foot, move the other one…take picture. Wipe off dots. Pro tip: the wet wipes are great for getting bright yellow paint off not-white fur…but not so much on white socks. Water does the trick, as it turns out. I’ll definitely bring some rags and a bucket next time. Approach next person.

So for most of the time, we were doing this:

And this:

In between, we stared at more beautiful horses, drank delicious strawberry Italian sodas, reapplied our sunscreen, and texted with riders to organize times to meet and measure their horses. The most difficult part of the weekend was getting the poor event horses to stand square on the left, a concept not all of them were familiar with! Once we got them there, they usually stayed put…unless they had an itch.

We finished up on Friday evening after getting one more Italian soda from the wonderful ladies at the coffee cart. My one regret is that we didn’t get to stay to watch XC on Saturday, especially the Advanced division, but alas – a family reunion called, and even Eventing Science doesn’t get you out of that one.

The most consistent thing about the whole trip was the open, friendly atmosphere. Not a single person turned us down for the study (unless they were about to go ride). Everyone was interested in the project and was happy to talk to us about it, let us take pictures of their horses, and send us off to other friends with horses at the event. This is why I love eventers! Never have I had such a positive response to a research project. I pointed everyone to my article here at EN and told them to keep an eye out for updates, so if you came here after running into me at Aspen, you rock. I owe a huge thank-you to everyone who graciously took time out of their competition weekend to let me poke at their horses. I truly appreciate it and this project wouldn’t be possible without you.

I will be at the Northwest Equestrian Center HT in Rainier in two weeks, and I’ll actually stay for the whole weekend this time. Following that, it looks like I’ll be heading down to California here and there through the fall – right now I’m planning on going to Woodside, and possibly Galway.  If you see someone running around painting yellow dots on horses and writing in a (waterproof, thank goodness) notebook, come say hi! Either that, or look for the fliers in the porta potties…

Until next time, ride safe, and go eventing!


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