Friday, October 31, 2008

Barnoween, Ye Madnesf

Yes, these pics are terrible. I'm a wretched photographer at the best of times, but the lack of light, lack of flash, lack of tripod, and lack of subjects who would stand the hell still, dammit, I think that's a challenging combo for anyone to finesse. But the event was too fun for me to repine about the bad photos. Lots of the kids came in excellent costumes, there was a reeeediculous amount of candy, the barn decor must've taken hours to set up, and nobody called out my half-arsed costume (I wore barn-appropriate clothes, stuck a tiara on my head, and called myself a liberal elite). Good times!

Heza maintains a modicum of dignity in his rodeo-lookin' patriotic tack. He wouldn't leave his hay long enough for me to get a shot of his matching halter, though.

Queen's Colors got a red ermine-trimmed cooling sheet, a white veil, and a homemade velvet crown. Notice the ears sticking out above the brim. She was completely unbothered by the fuss and continued her usual habit of nuzzling everyone who came near.

Dakota put up with this, further proving that he's ridiculously sweet.

Princess the ballerina! I can't believe they let the kids name such a huge draft Princess.

He may look like a rabbit, but Sterling's a (God help me) horse hare. His owner also brought in a maribou boa, so that if he got fed up with the fly guard he could be horse feathers. The pain, the pain.

Leila is ignoring the hell out of us, because she's got this one tiiiiiny shred of dignity hidden in her hay.

You might not credit it, but this is Doc, whose costume was listed as "ghost." Looks more like "haunted billboard," but we'll let it pass.

Not shown: Scooby, the eye-rolling permanently spastic pony, who last year almost lost his fool mind spooking at falling leaves, dressed as a Starbucks barista. Roosevelt, decked out with a little green felt leaf in his forelock and both a Macintosh sticker and a gummy worm on his side. Outlaw, sporting a Robin Hood hat. Huge hunter Manhattan, draped as a knight's charger. Grayson, wearing only a bandanna (shocking!) after he refused, categorically, to wear his Hell's Angels outfit. Dylan, who himself was not dressed but whose stall was festooned with bones and a warning sign about his fearsome carnivorosity. Princess Lea [sic] the pinto, wearing warpaint, beads, and feathers. Summer, wearing a shimmering purple dragon outfit.

The barn ponies, with the obvious exceptions of Grayson and Scooby, put up with an awful lot for us without protesting. But since they too got treats (to be doled out at intervals, lest they climb the walls all night), I suppose it's not so bad.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Invisibul nitting needul

I woke up at some wee hour of Wednesday morning feeling as though someone had rammed a dowel rod straight through my left ocular ridge and out the back of my head. In such moments do we learn whether we've taught ourselves to open the child-proofed analgesics bottle without even turning on the light. I knocked back some naproxen sodium and went back to sleep, hoping that the merry elves who live in the pills would do the job while I snoozed. Alas, either the little buggers were on vacation or the Campaign for Equal Heights had declared a work stoppage.

A hot shower proved useless for pain relief, and I made it through all of two hours of work before deciding that what I really needed was to spend some quality time in a dark room, whining softly from beneath a cold washcloth (or...GENIUS! one of those chilled gel eyemasks, the invention of which should have earned someone a Nobel). Five hours of quality nappage later, I felt closer to human than to hemicranial shish kabob, but it was still painful enough that I canceled on my riding class. Call me a wimp, but I want all my brainy parts working when I'm around large animals. Instead I watched the Obama infomercial, swapped reactions with IE via text, and went to bed early. Life is mo' boring when there are no horses.

Ordinarily I would've written this off as a regular migraine, but in catching up on the webs today I learn otherwise; clearly it was my body's reaction to the BBC's horrible news. Nooooo, they be stealin mah Tennant!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I know you have all been on tenterhooks waiting to hear about Barnoween, and I have not yet uploaded my photos. I can, however, tell you that a dark barn plus a prohibition on flash plus horses that are a little het up about their costumes and the bizarrely dressed people parading past their stalls is not a photographer's friend. There are maaaaybe three photos that came out even slightly acceptably, in that you can tell that they're of horses and not strange blurry fungi.

One brief anecdote to whet the appetite (and because Stephin Merritt's basso "tell more anecdote" instruction to Claudia Gonson at Sunday's Magnetic Fields show was one of the funniest things I've ever heard deadpanned): The owners of the buckskin Fjord horse had wrapped his legs in yellow fur and teased a huge poof of brown wool out around his head, in a very good four-hooved approximation of the Cowardly Lion. But unfortunately, someone noticed that that's not who he really resembled: "You dressed your horse as Art Garfunkel?"

Thursday, October 23, 2008


If Horse A will not move for any price or any rider, and Horse B is acting even flakier than usual, and Horse A is a young mare and Horse B is a young and incompletely gelded gelding, and the air is snapping dry so you know it's not the humidity...

What are the chances it's the heat?

This Is Just to Say
I have petted
the cat
that was in
the inbox

And which
you were probably
was a mouser

Forgive me
it was adorable
so sweet
and so furry

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hurled with great force

The stranger tides that govern all our base the Web are aligning with the Aerial Squash Fandago ley lines this year. Friends, relations, and by now total strangers know of my love for the Yankee Siege trebuchet, which is to my mind the most elegant of the Chunkin engines. Now the RSS feed coughs up not one but two Got Medieval posts on trebuchet-related marginalia in the Maciejowski Bible ("A fmafhing blockbufter of a texte," and yes I stole that joke from Good Omens).

I also wanted to post a link to MightyGodKing's fantastic take on fantasy novel covers—seeing a Mercedes Lackey novel retitled My Little Pony Goes to War set me howling—but it done got slashdotted by the hordes and is unavailable until MGK finds another provider. BoingBoing uses a retitling of Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books (Asshole Leper Hero) as the teaser, setting off a fiery parry and riposte about the series dans les BB comments. I couldn't get past the first chapter of the first installment of that particular series, on account of it was hideously dull and badly written, so I'm indebted to the person who summed up the problems with Donaldson's work by quoting a single sentence: "The horses were almost prostrate upon their feet." I mean, that just ain't right.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang

We're not quite there yet; we're just beginning the glorious last hurrah, but it's in the wind. The days get short, the urge to hibernate under a pile of feather duvets gets large, and we find out what kind of year it's been for apples. Damn good, fortunately, so now my fridge is full of Jonagolds and Honeycrisps and some Asian apple-pears, as well as carrots and sorrel. Next week I'll get a double batch of sorrel and take it down to Il Padre, Soup Wizard sans peur et sans reproche, so that he can turn it into schavelni' sup, a soup that looks like pond weed and so good that you just don't care. Fall time is food time.

I took advantage of the glorious weather to get outside a lot, at least once the effects of a late Friday night drinking demon rum with the visiting Expat and her husband KD had worn off. Apparently they don't have pirate-themed bars in Deutschland, which I think we can agree is a terrible loss, and while KD was kind enough to serve as designated, the Expat and I went through the menu of silly cocktails with a vengeance. 13 Feet Under? Of course! A 666? Mais non! A Davy Jones Locker? What could possibly go wrong?

All of that being drunk said, I did get up in time to join Gee-Clef for a day at the Fest. He loaned me his enormous black Jedi cloak, because circulatory system have I none and it was chilly, and we strolled about to see shows by the slinky Mediaeval Baebes, Shakespeare's Skum, and the Rogues, a roughly Scottish group who still featured "the best bellydancer in Dundalk." Who was frankly wonderful: not only was she a lovely dancer, she skipped the sultry vamp look in favor of the smile of someone who is actually enjoying herself. The fact that small girl-moppets belonging to the band were engaged in pitched nerf-sword battles in front of the stage did not detract in the slightest. Between and sometimes during the shows, we played Treasure Hunt, spotting examples of the various Fest genuses and arguing about whether strictly Linnaean-style rules could possibly be applied in such a sartorial free-for-all, because we are tremendous geeks in our own right. Mostly it was an excuse to murmur, "Oh, hey," at the more astonishing costumes.

Lacking a horse of my own, I can't post photos of a perfect autumn ride, but perfect fall weather is good even when you're on your own feets.

You don't even need to Photoshop any pixels to improve on it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The bonny brown steed

We had a packed house last night: seven pairs in the ring, what with having El Bandito back from travel, a barn instructor signed up for a class, and a new student in for assessment. Our ring can comfortably hold about six pairs, so there was a certain bumper-cars element. One of my former teachers used to exhort us with cheering cries of, "Nobody crash and die!" We didn't, but what with different skill levels, horse speeds, and hearing abilities, there were some iffy moments. There's a real adrenaline zing when you find that the person who used to be behind you didn't hear the command to switch reins and that both of you are suddenly playing chicken.

For once I was glad not to be on Lear. Thing the first, he sometimes corners poorly, which is bad in any event but doubly so with the sort of lobster quadrille we dance in a crowded Grayson-having ring; thing the second, imagine how much fun it would've been to have him spook in a crowd. BIG FUN. But he was hors(e) de combat with a leg wound, having kicked out at the canter during an earlier class, stuck his foot through the fence, and tried to get free by thrashing around like a big eedjit. For some reason he was put on the horse list for our class anyway, and I all unknowing signed up for him. His zen attitude of last week was gone like the morning mist, forcing me to deal with a flurry of nips as we haltered and went to the ties, so not until he was secured to the port and starboard did I spy the vivid blue bandage on his near hind leg. After I got the full story, I chucked him back in his stall, then went and looked pitiful until the barn agreed that I was owed a horse and could use little Connemara Dylan.

We did decent work together, this time without bucking or other egregious misbehavior. He's still convinced that the gate end of the ring is haunted, although he walks through it cheerfully enough when it's time to go home. We did lots of bending, sailed through transitions between upward trot and the forward version, didn't pitch fits over Pat's sadistic 3/2 waltz-time post exercise, and handled the canter with aplomb. He's an easy lad to sit, though so small that I always have trouble finding his center of balance for the post (the effect, for anyone curious, is that if you tip forward at all as you rise, there is no horse in front of you—there you are, balancing on the edge of a cliff and about to fall).

After class I ran into Doc, who was standing on cross-ties as we were untacking, and he whickered at me to put him away. He has been taken out of all the adult classes and now spends his time carrying the little kids, who weigh less and don't ask much except not to fall off (Doc: "No probs"). The barn has had his hocks injected with steroids to reduce some of his arthritis, but there ain't no real cure for aging. I'm trying to get the barn to give me his schedule, so that I can hand-walk him in the park when he's not being used. I owe him that at least.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


For my continued mental health and perennial obsession, I will spend at least the first portion of tonight's debate at the barn, wrapping up from what I hope is a good session with His Long-Legged Skitteriness, and maybe taking a few photos of him if I remember how to use a camera.

So somebody else will have to play spot the buzzword and make a next-day YouTube response. (Not that I'm Mocean. But, you know. If I were.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reading Nation

I tore through both The Graveyard Book and Nation this weekend, a double dose of literary smack that is an excellent definition of being spoiled for choice. The former, ostensibly a book for the younglings, is a satisfyingly disturbing version of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, complete with adoptive family (ghosts not wolves), strange guardian (a [redacted] in place of a panther), and wonderfully creepy villains (both the monkeys and Sher Khan have analogs here). By the bye, anyone who has not read the original Kipling entire has missed out so bad I can't even say; it holds up for adults and you should look well, o wolves, to your local booketeria for a copy. As always, Gaiman's writing gives the sense that the inside of the man's head is something of a fantastic library, full of Victorian children's clothes and strange mythologies. The Graveyard Book is scary without being gross; it sends a fine elegant shiver down the back and is perfect autumn reading.

Nation, now, I'm not sure I can explain my reaction clearly. It's the first of Pratchett's books in a long time not to be set in Discworld, and based on things like Johnny and the Bomb I wasn't sure how it would be. The Johnny books are good, but they haven't had the fine edge that some of the Discworld books have had. The Post's review was glowing, though, and reading it was never in question. I thiefed the family copy and opened it up.

Honestly, I can't say whether it's up to spec, because I spent a goodly share of the book in tears, which is not the typical reaction to Pratchett's writing. The book is passionately angry and joyful and curious about the world and our role in it, especially about who we are when disasters like flu pandemics and tsunamis hit us where we hurt (which is in our people); the man who wrote it is facing a disease that will probably strip away his ability to ask those questions as he watches. All of the anger that you feel at that kind of news is channeled here, into the lives of the two protagonists, but so is the fierce joy in life that makes the diagnosis stand in such sharp relief. People have commented that some of the recent Discworld books, including Nightwatch and Thud!, have been stronger for their darkness and the intensity of the characters' convictions; Nation is all of that without the Vimes, so it's both kinder and a lot more painful. Nation is no-foolin' on the short list for Books of the Year, but I'd be surprised if I were the only one sniffling at the end.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Be with your nutcase

Weekly horse report ahoy! Lear again.

I had the tacked gloves that worked so well last time, but for most of the week I've been reading Be With Your Horse, which focuses on rewarding your horse with moments of zen. Ask for a thing, and if the horse does it, stop for a second. Stop doing, stop being, stop talking, stop trying. Just give the horse a moment where you're quiet and have released all pressure, physical or mental. It's tempting, especially with a hot feisty horse, to try to keep moving with successes and to try to push through failures. Instead, the author says, if you get the result you want, use a brief release to tell the horse, "Yes, that was right." He also advocates waiting a few seconds after a cue to see whether the horse figures it out; some of them need more time to process, and if you keep piling on the cues, they get confused and resentful and start trying to find a way out of being with you, because they think that there's no way to make sense of your demands.

Well, what harm could it do. I walked into Lear's stall and clicked to him, and he turned toward me. I swung the lead over his neck and asked him to turn further; he paused for a moment, then stepped around. Now well within nipping range (but also ready to deploy an elbow), I paused by his shoulder and tried to project calm: eyes soft, breathing slow, body relaxed. He stood still. I brought the halter up and fastened it on, then again with the mellow routine. No bites. Out of the stall and onto the crossties. Still no nipping.

And so it went, through grooming, saddling, and even bridling, when he usually tries to chew on the noseband. He tried to push into my space as we walked to the ring and once nipped at my sleeve while we waited for the gate, but both times just making a sharp gesture made him back off to a polite distance, and he stood quietly for a final girth check and the mounting block.

Honesty compels: I didn't do as well with this in the saddle, and our yield work especially was uneven. We did some beautiful trot work, though, going from a forward trot to a slower collected trot and back on cue. Lear is getting better about going onto the bit and seeking contact; he used to be very nervous of being popped in the mouth, but now he'll reach down into the long rein and seems to enjoy the chance to stretch his neck and back muscles (which, by the way, have gotten glossy and buff over the last six months, and now he looks jest darlin').

It's hard to tell whether Lear was having a calm night anyway or whether the "small still point" approach made the difference, or whether it was some combination of the two. What I do know is that I found myself paying a different sort of attention to what I was doing and how Lear was reacting and that I enjoyed the work more. It was surprising how subtle I could make the ground cues to stop or walk on and still have him respond, as long as I was willing to wait an extra half-second for him to see whether he would do what I'd asked. Willing myself calm is not one of my strong suits, but going through the physical effort to relax helped; so did approaching it as an experiment, rather than a technique I had to get right. With a school horse that I don't work with every day, our progress is bound to be uneven, but clarifying and gentling my cues and rewards is transferable, as is the effort to cultivate patience when I ask for something. One of these days I might even know what I'm doing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

All hail the expendable crew!

Abney Park, official soundtrack providers to the neo-Vicky steampunk generation movement wossname, are offering a Halloween zeppelin ride for the low low price of $785. I can't justify flying cross-country just to drop that kind of coin and miss the next day's Punkin Chunkin. But if you can, by all means, follow your bliss. Just please please please take pictures.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

To my Shadow and Claw co-obsessives

There is no category of human activity in which the dead do not outnumber the living many times over. Most beautiful children are dead. Most soldiers, most cowards. The fairest women and the most learned men—all are dead....Who can say how intently they listen as we speak, or for what word?
Allow me to greet you on the day of the martyr Thecla (steady reppin' Old Calendar style). Reports of her life bear little resemblance to that of the Chatelaine's, which is a bit of a surprise considering that Wolfe used a very recognizable Catherine as the Guild's patron, but then the conventional St. Severian was a bishop and never climbed the Andes either, so maybe I should quit while I'm ahead.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Thou shalt not question Stephen Fry

Hat tip to Seesterperson for this one.

And as to why one should not question Stephen Fry, if you have to ask, well, I simply despair.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hearts full of youth, hearts full of truth

I made a terrible mistake last night at the VP debate watch party: I ordered my first Negroni, figuring that I like Campari, gin is good, and how bad can sweet vermouth be? Oh merciful Lord. Apparently the drink is an aperitif, meant to stimulate the appetite. One can only assume that that's another way of saying that this decoction o' dismay will make you so desperate for anything to take the hidz medicinal taste out of your mouth that anything remotely edible is guaranteed to get a rave review. I shuddered but decided not to send it back; I'd just chalk it up to experience and move on.

G-Clef and I found a spot at the bar and busted out our Palin bingo cards, sharing an extra with a larger group (judging by the shouts later, everyone agreed that it was a pity that you could only check off "maverick" once). Our adorable bartender, between his sprints up and down the bar, peered at the cards and burst out laughing; a later arrival raised his eyebrows at us and sagely observed that this must not be a Republican stronghold. Well, no. We grow canvassers for export.

The crowd kept reasonably quiet for the debate, and the addition of the bingo cards kept people from heckling Palin quite as loudly as they might otherwise have done. G-Clef got well ahead in the early running, but for some reason Palin wouldn't say "Pakistan," despite his muttered beseeching, and I hit a streak of luck. Meanwhile, the acid in my drink was eating away at my tastebuds, reducing my ability to notice how vile it was, and I absentmindedly drank the entire thing as the show wore on. Off the bailout, through the tax breaks, into foreign policy...and then it happened. She said "National Guard."

I got bingo.

And the bartender, smiling, rewarded me with another Negroni.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dispatches from the front

So it was Lear again last night, and this time, mirabilis, I was ready. Before I headed out ze door, I pushed thumbtacks through two pieces of card and taped them in place, then slipped the cards into my gloves so that the points stuck out on either side of the middle knuckle of my hands. Lear gnawed on the lead rope as I haltered him, but once I got him on cross ties he went into his usual routine of trying to bite me instead. I followed Ms. Jahiel's advice, holding the lower part of his halter as I groomed his neck, and sure enough he swung his head to try to nip me. I couldn't manage the savoir fair she suggests, which involves humming steadily as the horse runs himself into the prosthetic stingers, the better to imply that you have nothing to do with the penalty, but he got the idea soon enough. After three or four abortive attempts—swing to bite, get stung, yank the head away in shock—he figured it out.

Lear remains convinced that the gate end of the ring is haunted; it took me two near-spooks to realize that a towel someone had left in a heap on the gate wall was the booger du jour. After that was vanquished, he settled a little. He went neatly onto the bit, doing most of the bending maneuvers (haunches-in remains fail, woe) and a stretch of pretty canter that was surprisingly easy to sit. Pat is under the mistaken impression that I am physically flexible (this is not false modesty; I wish it were) and thinks that I've gotten better at moving with the horse. It would be lovely to give her all the credit, but honestly I think that it's largely a matter of saddle time, since I see the biggest improvements in my seat after long riding trips, when what matters is not looking good but staying on and out of the horse's way.

In Halloweenly news, Pat has decided to dress her big mare as a queen: red cooling sheet trimmed with faux ermine, a crown, and maybe some clasply bling. The horse next door is being dressed as a knight's charger. Apart from the cognitive dissonance caused by the species involved, it sounds like it'll be very cute. Anybody wot'll be in the DC area the weekend before Halloween and who wants a giggle and a sugar fix, drop me a line. Costumes, need I point out, are mandatory.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Brought by the lee

So it turns out that my 95% certainty is worth very little. This is an object lesson: Don't expose yourself to ridicule by approaching possible celebrities in person. Do it on the internet; it allows a much larger group of people to enjoy your mistake.

Least I didn't lend the guy money.