Saturday, 8 August 2015

Horses for courses

On reflection, Fantasy Bob does acknowledge it was a bit of a half tracker.  And Mrs FB is not one to miss out on those.

FB has long accepted that he takes second place in Mrs FB's affections. Despite the fact that her equine companion has done little to contribute to her jewelry collection, it retains its supreme position.

So he might have thought a bit harder when he turned the page of his newspaper and found a report of recent research into horsey type behaviour.  But before he could stop himself his unengaged brain had done the damage.

'Horses have a rich repertoire of facial expressions compared to other animals,' he read out to his life partner.

She was on the front foot immediately.

'Of course they do,' she drove through the covers on the up.  'And compared to you in particular.'  The ball slammed into the boundary boards.

For Mrs FB has observed before that FB's unmoving facial expression can make social interaction difficult. 'Nobody knows what you're thinking.'

FB defended himself by saying that he was rarely thinking anything, but this did not convince. He had to venture into further explanation.  'Facial expressions give away to the bowler what you're feeling,' he said.

'Pah,' came the whirlwind pull to midwicket, 'every bowler knows that you feel sheer blind terror at every ball.'

'Not so,' said FB, 'only at 11 year old leg spinners. Otherwise it's just mild panic.'

FB did not feel that he had defended himself successfully.  He noted that the article reported that close scrutiny of changes in facial anatomy and muscles pinpointed no less than 17 individual movements in horses, compared to the 13 expressions used by chimps. Humans, other than FB, are capable of 27 such movements.

Apparently horses have a higher rating than their genetic place in the evolutionary tree would suggest, which is taken as evidence of the impacts from social and ecological factors.  FB suspects that were the researchers to investigate Mrs FB's horse they might identify an even higher rating given the extensive social interaction with Mrs FB.

FB has done his fair share of riding and enjoyed it greatly.  But he never found social engagement with his horse particularly satisfying.  Perhaps he was unlucky with the horses he was given, their facial repertoire was limited, they were buttoned up, uncommunicative.  But more significantly he found the horses unable to offer much by way of an opinion on such important matters as how to play leg spin bowling or the iniquities of the ICC's craven approach to associate and affiliate nations.   He rather gave up on attempts at conversation.

Nevertheless, he should acknowledge horses have played an important role in cricket. For it was horses who first pulled the heavy roller, hooves clad in delicate velveteen booties, requiring of early doughty groundsmen skills in animal husbandry which have long since vanished.

Evolutionary traces still remain, however.  Research shows that under such stimuli as junior members running over the square, the repertoire of facial expression employed by the contemporary doughty groundsman exceeds that of normal humans.

Doughty Groundsman, horses and sheep.  Riley Oval, Perth Aus


  1. The facial expressions of Test cricketers also seem to exceed those of normal humans these days. From brief observations of the current Ashes series, the polite handshakes and satisfied grins of yesteryear have been replaced by high fives, hugs and extravagant gestures suggesting gladiatorial combat rather than a cricketing encounter. No horse could possibly compete with that.

    1. Long Aussie faces may have equine overtones?

  2. Reminding me of the joke about the horse, the barman and the long face...............

  3. The WFDG tells me that he does not find it surprising that contemporary doughty groundsmen retain a wide range of facial, and indeed other, expressions when faced with various potentially deleterious actions by players, not always of the junior variety. He points out that, as any doughty groundsman will tell you, the tendency for otherwise sensible people to lose any semblance of common sense on donning cricket gear remains undiminished.

    He further observes that contemporary doughty groundsman have to endure the modern practice of players trailing large quantities of largely unnecessary equipment across the ground, and even the square, in trolley bags with narrow wheels.

    1. Yes, the environmental blight of the modern cricket bag deserves a facial expression all to itself.