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May 2011
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Horse Math

I will admit it: I do not enjoy math. I do not use much math in my daily life, and when I do, I try to use a calculator or a spreadsheet to do the sums for me. The day I learned that for some people (the person in question being Robert, the stereotypical “nerd” at my high school who was part of my group of friends), math was like language, like words on a page, was a whole revelation to me. I had never before realized that for some people math wasn’t about memorizing equations for the test but never actually understanding them. That math just made sense to some people.

Just not me.

My favorite math was geometry because that involved proofs and proofs were a form of argument. Arguing I like. Geometry involved more language, more words than most of the rest of the math I studied. Geometry had real applications I could see. Same with basic Algebra. You know, solving for X? That made sense too.

The day I figured out that there was math involved in horses was another revelation. At first I admit, I was a little disappointed that I had not been able to exorcise math completely from my life. But later, as an instructor, I have come to kind of enjoy finding practical applications for math in the context of horses. Because not everyone I teach is a bookworm like me. And I also learned that any kind of brain stretching is good.

So, here’s a list of my favorite uses of Horse Math (is it any surprise that it’s a lot of geometry?):

1. Figures in Dressage: riding accurate circles, serpentines, squares, corners. These are all great exercises, and understanding their Geometry actually earns you points on your dressage test.

2. Angles in Jumping: keeping your stirrup leathers Perpendicular to the ground (or vertical, as Jimmy Wofford suggests Eventers think about it, since Perpendicular only works in a flat arena), keeping a 120 degree angle behind your knee, sticking your toes out a maximum of 45 degrees to keep your ankle flexed….

3. Related distances for poles and jumps:  I can’t tell you how long it took me to actually get distances memorized (3.5-5 feet for trot poles, 9-10 feet for canter poles, 10-12 feet for a bounce, multiples of 12 for canter strides between fences remembering to allow 6′ for landing and take-off…. oh it gets complicated!). And then don’t even remind me about the argument (I wish I could say it was a friendly conversation, but alas, I cannot) I once had with a hunter/jumper trainer about distances through which I learned that Eventers often use slightly tighter distances than Hunter/Jumpers (say, 21′ for a one stride instead of 24′). Oh dear! But still, here’s where solving for X comes in: If I want 2 canter strides between two jumps, and the average canter stride is 12′, then I need X number of feet… (see answer below)

My least favorite horse math? The one where I add up all my expenses and discover just how expensive it is keeping three horses. Actually, no. Scratch that. My least favorite horse math is subtraction.

Answer: 36 feet (24 feet for the two canter strides, 6 feet for landing, 6 feet for take-off… unless you’re in a very small arena or the jumps are set low and then you might want to try 33 feet… see? it gets complicated!)

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