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April 6, 2012 / selinamj

Horses For Dummies….or maybe university graduates

I must admit I jumped on the chance to do this piece over all the others because I am a self confessed horse lover. I have owned horses and ridden for more than 15 years and still have seven horses in the paddock at home. The point is I can safely say that I have a comprehensive knowledge of the topic. This puts me in a perfect situation to judge this book chapter, entitled The Mechanics of Movement by Budiansky, because I am the intended target audience.

From the opening page of this chapter I realised that the content was not going to be as simplified as I thought. In all honesty I feel that even though Budiansky employed many of the key tools for simplifying complexity on the whole I do not feel that he did a very good job.

In saying this there were three techniques he used to help simplify the complex information.

Firstly he used a lot of analogies throughout the chapter that did help to describe what he was talking about. A good example was when he used the analogy of thick and thin rope when talking about muscle fibres. In some cases he also compared horse movement to certain human movements which is something we can obviously all relate to.

Secondly he did chunk information to an extent breaking the content down into a few key messages. These included leg design for speed, muscle use for efficiency and the importance of gait. Through all of these topics he was reinforcing the main message that horses had evolved in a way that allowed them to move faster than most other animals of their size.

Finally he used pictures to display exactly what he was talking about. This was probably the most useful tool as it allowed you to look at the image of while he was describing the complex characteristics of the horses bone and muscle structure. This was a case when a picture really did tell a thousand words.

So where did he go wrong?

Even with the use of those three tools I still found the information to be complex and highly detailed and I am someone with a strong science AND horse background. The language used was far too complex and he did not explain scientific terms or jargon very well. The other key downfall was the use of some very complicated analogies. These only work when they are simplifying a concept and to be honest some of the analogies actually made it more complicated and confusing than it was in the first place. A good example of this was when he was trying to use the distance between the door knob and the hinge to discuss the pros and cons of attaching muscles closer to the joints.

I think I have made it fairly clear that I did not see this as an overly successful attempt at simplifying complexity, but I am curious as to how people with a less intimate knowledge of horses find it.

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9 Comments

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  1. amber0699 / Apr 6 2012 5:36 am

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I liked Budiansky’s comparison of the baseball bat with pivot points in the horses joints and how concentrating the heavy stuff at the pivot point means the heavy stuff does not have to move as far. He compared this to swinging a baseball bat at the thick end rather than the thin end makes it swing faster. I never paused to realize how intricate the movement of a horse is until reading this. Nice picture of the horse at the top! Did you post the lumosity picture at the end of your post or did the website…?

  2. muza2009 / Apr 11 2012 5:46 am

    Well structured post in providing three techniques that the author used to simplify complexity and justifying where you think the author went wrong. I hesitated though when I read “I think I have made it fairly clear..” what about “Clearly I did not see this…”

  3. caitiedunlap / Apr 12 2012 10:35 am

    It’s always nice to write about something you are familiar with and actually interested in, so I can totally understand why you immediately were attracted to this one.

    I completely agree with you where you say that its not as simplified as you thought, as I found the same. I was constantly going back over bits and noticing myself reading it but not taking anything in or actually understanding it.

    I did however find the analogies to be a very useful tool, like you said with the example of the thick and thin rope. I also found that the car engine example was very good too, as I have no real knowledge about horses or their movement dynamics. Though I can understand that when a large engine is put into a car it needs more frame work and subsequently does not increase the speed at which the car travels due to the increased weight in the actual car itself.

    As you pointed out the tools he used to explain the concepts should have been sufficient to get the message across, but he was unsuccessful. To satisfy your curiosity I found it confusing, but I think that if I was to read over it very slowly and go over it a few times I could probably understand it, however I don’t think that is what is intended when someone publishes a piece of writing like this.

    Over all a confusing book but a very well done analysis of it.

    • selinamj / Apr 18 2012 6:29 am

      Yes, the car analogy was great and if there had been more like that one I feel that the text would be far less complicated.

      Having to go back over what you read is a sure sign the author has not done the best job possible in simplifying the concepts.

  4. fullclever / Apr 12 2012 9:46 pm

    Hi, Selina
    I really enjoyed you post mostly because you were honest and this is really what any academy requires. You were direct and concise. Unforunately, I do not know much about horses besides what I see in television or classes. However, I know a lot about science.
    In my opinion, you are being a bit severe. I have seen many difficult books to read and I can tell: this is not one of them. Maybe he could really be clearer but the language is still fairly good to read and understand.
    The comparisons are very good and this is a kind of knowledge that people need.
    You are right: the text is not for “Dummies”. But, in my opinion Budiansky did a very good job.

    • selinamj / Apr 18 2012 6:35 am

      Thank you.

      You bring up a very interesting point saying that you know a lot about scince and that undobtedly helped your understanding. I believe that most of the students in our class, and in fact most people with a science background would be able to work out what the author is talking about and consider it a simplified description of the mechanisms of horse movement. However I was trying to read the passage from the perspective of someone who does not have a science background and merely has an interest in horses. I think for this audience the text would still feel very complex.

      I think it all comes down to the audience reading to book as to whether or not you find the content simplified or not.

  5. chantellerichards / Apr 13 2012 1:15 am

    Good post! As muza2009 has also stated, I really like the fact that you have broken down Budiansky’s three techniques that were used throughout the chapter. In doing this, you have showed a technique in itself for ‘simplifying text’ – my guess is that you did this on purpose?

    Your title was intriguing to me. Straight away I presumed that the text that related to your post was something more of a challenging read! Very fitting, well done!

    I personally enjoyed the pictures throughout the chapter, they definitely gave me a clearer understanding of what was being talked about in the text, especially where there were comparisons to other animals, including us. Horses really are very strong creatures.

    Chantelle

    • selinamj / Apr 18 2012 6:37 am

      Yes I did do that on purpose.

      Dividing the chapter into different sections is also a technique that the author used as well. This helped to make sure that we wern’t given too much information on different aspects of horse movement all the same time.

  6. lodoubt / Apr 13 2012 7:27 am

    I really liked how clear your language was. I didn’t have to use much effort to visualise what you were talking about every step of the way. Writing that doesn’t need to be reread for clarification and understanding is underappreciated sometimes.

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