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The Horse (And Human) Touch

Olivia Arbogast will be a junior this coming fall at St. Joseph Catholic High School in Ogden, Utah.

She lives about twenty miles from her high school, in the mountain valley town of Eden. Her commute to school takes her through farm country past the beautiful Pineview Reservoir and then the road cuts through the Wasatch Range, which is dotted with ski resorts up and down the state.

Olivia was six months old when she got her first pony. “There’s pictures of me from a very, very, very young age doing stuff on horses,” she says.

She started competing at six years old. At age eight, she started “eventing” – that’s horse talk for the triathlon. Dressage, cross-country, and showjumping competitions held over three days.

Horses are in Olivia’s blood. “I’ve kind of always been the crazy horse girl at school, especially at my school, which is pretty much all city kids,” she says. “I’m that one weird farm girl with the horses.”

In her local Pony Club in Eden, there are requirements to study anatomy so a couple of years ago she started focusing on horse anatomy “as it relates to people, because that really helps me compare and think about how the (horse) motion works,” she says.

One time on a tour of the Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City, an exhibit covered the same human-horse anatomical similarities. Olivia’s friends were shocked to learn what she already knew, that horses are standing on their middle finger—or the equivalent of the tip of their middle finger in human anatomical comparisons.

“It helps me a lot to think about it,” says Olivia, “because when you look at the back leg and you’re like, ‘well, what’s that big thing called?’ The hock. Well, if you look at it, it looks exactly like your ankle joint. It’s just a different size.”

In June, Olivia spent six days of her summer vacation in Denver studying horse anatomy in great detail at the EQUIKEN® CoreData™ Comparative Anatomy Workshop.

Olivia’s six days of learning, which attracted fellow horse enthusiasts from New York City and California, was held at the non-profit Anatomy in Clay® Centers in Denver.

For six days, the students built horse anatomy—some 80 percent of all the muscles—with clay. They were led by Jon Zahourek, the founder of the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System, and Debranne Pattillo, an instructor with California-based Equinology® Inc. Debranne is both an artist and an equine massage therapist.

Olivia said learning anatomy in this way was a whole new experience.

“You can get a lot more from seeing all the deep and superficial muscles and actually putting them in and seeing how they interlock and work together,” she says. “You get to see where they bend and how they attach and actually make sure that they’re going on the right spots instead of just looking at a picture … It’s more intricate, but also it makes a lot of sense, just because it all works together so fluidly, and so while it’s intricate, you can see where all the connections work.”

For instance?

“I would say one of the things that was a little bit like that was the deep muscles of the neck and back. I didn’t realize exactly how ropelike they were and how many layers there were that were working together. I didn’t realize there were that many different pieces of the same (muscle) just all going together.”

When asked why she thinks building muscles with clay works so well, Olivia is quick to respond. It’s touch that makes a difference.

“I’m a tactile person,” she says. “And that’s what I’ve been working on recently, just working with my horses, thinking about it. I can compare it to my own body, and then that helps me understand what I’m asking the horse to do.”



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