Friday, February 27, 2009

"Doth any here know me?"

Lear's trainer took him down to the park field to run out some of his beans, and she got some pretty shots of him that she's been kind enough to let me post. Check out those lovely TB legs, the glossy haunches, the big head, and his neck, which is still a bit scraggly. Note also that in neither photo are any of his feet touching the ground; when he's balanced, he can catch quite a bit of air. His canter (above) is a big steady rocking gait, and his suspended trot (below), which costs me pains to establish without cavaletti, is so springy that I squeaked the first time I got it.

What appear to be dapples on his dark sides are actually patches of dirt, from where he rolled ecstatically around after his first round of leaping about and farting with gleeful freedom. Our barn doesn't have enough turnout space, so the horses make the most of the time they've got in the big open areas. The joggers and cyclists who use the paths past this field often pull up a bench to watch, and lots of children want to get close, but the horses are so taken with the chance to run around that they don't make a beeline for the fence to beg for treats.

I briefly tried working with Doc in this field, but he associated it so strongly with playtime and the full gallop (not something I was comfortable indulging without a saddle under me) that I made it into a reward after trail work: We'd walk through the park to it, doing various maneuvers around trees and rocks, then I would let him graze and play silly buggers for a while. Then I'd rebridle him and scramble onto his back, and we'd return to the barn, with a thrilling bareback canter up the one real slope between the two. On summer evenings with the moon rising early and the bats flickering overhead, you couldn't believe you were in a city.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Not even a desultory review

More a two-line comment: I found it hard to take The Pirate Queen: Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire seriously when I realized that the author and/or the copyeditor had decided that the singular of cimarrones was cimarrone, that the Spanish word for god is díos, and that proper antecedents and use of the comma are for the weak. If you can't get the basic spell-checking right, what does that imply about your fact-checking?

To give the book its due, however, it does quote Sir Francis Drake's description of his mariners: They "rejoiced in things stark naughty." That alone is almost worth the purchase price.

Friday, February 20, 2009

As promised: horsie updates

Lear continues to be sidelined, mostly so that his Grand Prix-bound trainer can get in some intensive work before she leaves him behind forever, sniff sniff. So I was back with Grayson and, for once, the only girl in the class, with El Bandito and Mr. Polo for company. El Bandito is an okay rider and fairly quiet; Mr. Polo is a better rider but is more vocal about his questions. Lately he's been trying to figure out the mysteries of what aids you have to combine—inside leg, inside rein, outside leg, outside rein, weight, hips, and shoulders—to get the various moves done. Part of me sympathizes, because croiky, guvnah, you've got to keep a lot of aids in mind, and all of them have to be independent of one another. The other part says, c'mon, do what you can and eventually you'll realize that you're an effective rider and that your body has figured out what the teacher kept repeating, and that oh, right, it does work if you keep the inside leg on, outside rein firm, shift weight on your sits bones but don't torque your upper body, and look between the horse's ears. And don't forget to relaaaaaax, maaaaan, you can't ride well if you're all tennnnnse.

Some tension, of course, is appropriate in certain circumstances. Pat announced that she wanted us to canter past one another, which is fun when your ring is small and one of your horses will go out of his way to be nasty to the others (*cough*Grayson*cough*). It's a measure of the trust she's earned that we did not back slowly away from her and make for the parking lot. I kept Grayson a healthy distance from the other two, which made for some excitingly banked turns, and I neither caused the harm of any rider or horse nor caused harm to come by my inaction. It was even sort of fun, in a clearing-out-the-adrenal-system way. Grayson has become more respectful; I, unlike his regular rider, don't bother trying to sweeten him with treats during class, but I use the whip mostly as a visual aid rather than hassling him with it. He's still got terrible ground manners, and you have to keep a weather eye out when you're in kicking range, but when he's on he's great.

After class, I stopped by Doc's stall with an apple, his favorite treat. We've got a set routine: If I come bearing one, he waits until I bite off a piece and offer it to him (if he gets the whole thing, he slobbers too much of it into his bedding). He stands politely, though he nickers when he hears the crunch, and he knows that if he steps into my space he'll hear a firm, "Baaaack. Back up," which he obeys...while, it must be said, keeping his eyes on the fruity prize. He doesn't much care about getting scratched on the withers, so this is the only way I can really show my appreciation for him. Some horse authorities point out that treats aren't the way to a horse's heart, that the horse just learns to view you as a walking larder, but since Doc never importunes, I'll ignore them on this one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Universally acknowledged

Boy bands are much the same, country of origin notwithstanding. But hit the mute button and watch this Nomin Talst vid of a family preparing for Naadam, the annual Mongolian festival of weaponry, sports, and horsemanship. Simple pleasures. The way I figure it, surely there's enough steppe that you can ride around the occasional passionately gesturing crooner crew without much fuss. Failing that, it looks like Pop is pretty good with the bow.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Handling stress

I am not having my best month ever, so pardon pardon pardon if things get a little spotty around here. I am going to limit my publicized whingeing, because it is borin' and contributeth but little to the general atmosphere of teh intarwebs. So linkspam it will be for a bit, with occasional breaks for horsies and/or particularly good news.

But first, excerpts from last night, when I went to see the 3-D version of "Coraline" with an audience full of kids. At one point, a particklarly bazoombaed character appeared wearing an industrial corset, and a small voice behind me murmured, in a tone of awe, "Look at her boobs!" Later in the film, when Coraline yelled defiantly, "I'M NOT SCARED!" the same voice from the next row said firmly, "Well, I am." It added much to the gaiety of nations.

And now: Foxes on a trampoline!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Long time gone

Before last night, it had been a month since I'd gotten into the saddle. I had a chance to ride in Arizona, when work dropped me at a resort with riding among its recreational options, but the horses were unimpressive and the ride would've been bland for the price (walking only, doubtless head-to-tail, one hour). I stopped by to check out the facilities, which consisted of a dusty trailer, a picnic table, a horseshoe pitch, and an open lot. If the definition of injustice doesn't include housing 30 horses on a bare dirt lot with run-in sheds and water tanks, while not one hundred feet away sits an emerald-green golf course watered to within an inch of its life, I want to know what it does include. Also, that kind of course in a desert feels like a particularly blatant misuse of a scarce resource, but then again I took a luxurious bath and looked longingly at the pool so I don't really get to soapbox.

ANYway. Horses. Week the first, I was hacking sick instead of hacking out, week two we got a super-slick coating of ice that would've made driving the twisty roads up to the stables a dance with skiddy death, week three class was canceled for sport (Pat has season tickets to something), and week four I called in panicked about packing for an early-morning flight the next day. Et voila, a month was gone. I hate missing riding; it's my mental reset, an hour or so when I know that I will be happy regardless of any frustrating things that might happen or any wild freaks by my partner.

Lear was off the roster last night, so I went for Grayson, the groundmannerless App who is much easier to ride as long as you know how to manage his homi- and equicidal impulses—very jealous of his personal space is Mister Grayson. We did fairly well together—perfection is beyond us—and even managed to get in a canter where he picked up his weaker lead, by dint of bending him almost in half before cuing him forward. If you can see past his flashy black-and-white leopard spots, he's very well configured, but as a schoolie he doesn't always get pushed to work correctly, so one side is weaker. He seems to enjoy dressage, although there's always a shaking-out process in the first few minutes when he decides whether he'll take you seriously. The fact that I get on carrying the whip goes a long way toward expediting his decision.

After class, I watched one of the barn staff work with Lear. She's phenomenally fit and a beautiful rider (she'll shortly be taking off to work as a student trainer at a Grand Prix barn, and while I don't know much about the dressage levels, I do know that that one's impressive), and she's brought Lear along a treat. Now that she's leaving, she worries that he won't be given enough training, so Pat and I floated the idea of having me work more often with the big galoot. I am not half the rider she is, and the work would be on my own rather than in class, but it could help keep his body and brain engaged enough to prevent him from getting spastic with the more feckless young hunter students. Any benefits to my riding would be purely coincidental.

I don't feel for Lear the affection I feel for Doc. Wary respect and willingness to be pleased when he tries are about as far as it goes. He's filled out and become quite handsome, but I still can't connect with him on a warmer level. If he goes for sale, I won't be eyeing the price-tag; in the meantime, get what you can. Pat says we work well together and that we even look good together, so that's as much as I can expect.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Further travel lessons

  • Do fly early in the morning, but make sure you get your coffee before the flight. Paying for airline coffee is an insult to humanity.
  • Do remember what pocket you put your boarding pass in as you juggle it, the bags, and your ID. It is ridiculously easy to forget and put the pass in your removed-for-X-raying jacket. Having forgotten that because of forgetting the previous point, yours truly got special screening in the Nude-o-Tron 3000. On a related note, Dear Mr. President Obama, I know you've got crazy helpings of stuff to get done, and you know I love you, but whenever you get around to reforming the TSA so that it makes the slightest wee ort of sense, the overall happiness level among your better-informed voters will (forgive the pun) skyrocket.
  • Do read all of the paper, or risk missing the best byline in the history of bylines, "The author is the president of the United States." And he has a kung-fu grip.
  • Don't fly to Fort Lauderdale if you need to go to Miami. Just don't.
  • Don't assume that any cab with a GPS and a credit card reader has a working GPS and credit card reader. Also don't assume that the cabbie understands addresses just because he works in a city with a simple grid system. Ask him about both things before you let him sling your bags trunkward. If you ignore this and the preceding point, boy will you need to have remembered the one about caffeine.
  • Don't assume that all hotels have HVAC. Those in warm states may wait until it's 40 degrees F and the guests are going blue about the jowls to bust out a sheepish, "Sorry, ma'am, this facility doesn't, um, have a heating system."
  • Do enjoy the local cuisine and hooch, especially if mojo sauce and dulce de leche are involved.
  • Don't fly out of Florida on a Sunday unless you want to share your world with a squintillion disembarked cruise passengers, an experience that, if you are me, will make you feel as though needles are growing out of your skin.
  • Do splurge and get the Sunday New York Times. The crossword puzzle enhances sanity maintenance, while the occasional articles about Joss Whedon are unexpected motes of joy.
  • Do be pathetically grateful to get home, dysfunctional Metro system and all. Express your gratitude with laundry and naps. Mebbe a little "BSG: Razor." Because, c'mon. You can't outfly your own geek self.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Traveler's advice

Learn the following phrases in the local lingo:

That is my companion. It is not intended as a tip.

I will call the manager.

This cannot be my room because I cannot breathe ammonia.

I will be most comfortable between the temperatures of 290 and 303 degrees Kelvin.

Madam, this bed/nest is alive.

Further useful phrases are available, of course, through the miracle of the intertubes.

Right now the most useful thing I've got going for me is rusty but decently accented Spanish. I don't think I've sold anyone my aunt's neighbor's goat, but you never know until an agitated would-be customer shows up in her yard.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

All over coffee

Contrary to the tone of my last entry, I am not abnormally filled with spleen and misanthropic tendencies (though granted the personal baseline is set high). But it's been a few weeks of nearly constant people-contact, a thing that is exhausting for the average introvert, and with a few more days of it to go I find my temper growing shorter and my energy sinking lower. Also, beloved family members' birthdays and anniversaries aside, February is a total energy suck. This is why tonight IE and I resorted to our favorite bar-type joint, wherein the bartendress has the magic mixing touch with martinis and remembers what we like. What was I saying? Oh right.

So as I haze off to another round of prepping for a few days spent convincing people that perky/helpful/kind/morning person is my natural ground state ("You are to lie. You are to tell a black lie," to quote Stephen Maturin), here's a recommendation: Go check out Paul Madonna's work in "All Over Coffee." Maybe it's just because I was in San Francisco recently, but his nearly unpeopled drawings of the city, complemented by shards of story, seem to strike a perfect balance between unbearable loneliness and affectionate exasperation with the human race. "You were starting to have second thoughts about all those friends who complimented you on being self-deprecating," he writes. So you were. Martini?

Monday, February 2, 2009

And the self-regulated horse you rode in on

Back in the days before avtomobili were available, people who had to ride long distances in the States started to realize that a horse with a softer gait might not be a bad idea. Arabians are princes of the desert and they can look like the best thing on hooves, but you ride one for an hour or so and your kidneys start to bounce out your shoulders. Icelandic horses and a few others, however, have a strange middle gait (or two) that at speed looks as though the horse's feet are trying frantically to keep up with one another; it reads a bit peculiar, but it's smooth and easy to ride, almost a gliding gait. Breeders started to work on crossing horses that showed those gaits naturally, and now we've got Missouri fox-trotters, Tennessee Walking Horses, and all manner of similar creatures. I rode an Ozark Mountain Horse once, and the three hours we spent floating through the New Mexican twilight were some of my favorite saddle times ever.

Unfortunately, with any human-animal partnership, people can fuck it up in epic style. The same species that came up with the bright idea of using ginger to wake up a tired older horse turned its attention to gaited horses and invented the Big Lick. Someone not content with a horse that rides like a Caddy decided it'd be good to also have the horse show off by having it take exaggeratedly large steps, flag its tail, and fling its head to the sky. If you've ever read Black Beauty, you may remember the section where the horse laments a harness that forces him to carry his head unnaturally high; it's a similar principle. And because it's not a natural pose, the fastest way to get that big flashy stride is to ensure that the horse's feet hurt too much for it to rest on them.

Do you see where this is going? Is it making you a little sick? Soring a horse can involve acids, stacked shoes, brutal paring of the hoof, God knows what. Combine bound feet with stiletto heels that can't be removed—"and she danced to her death in red-hot shoes"—and you've got the idea.

All of this is horrific, especially given that gaited horses are bred specifically to be sweet-tempered creatures you'd want to ride all day. Flying Lily brought this up in her discussion of how she should be working with her gaited palomino (who, never fear, ain't wearin' no big pads).

The point where I wanted to hurl the computer through the nearest wall was when I found out that Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) opposes outside inspection to forestall soring, to the point where he threatened to yank the USDA's funding entirely if they persisted in sending vets to do unannounced spot checks at shows. The kind of shows where 490 of 550 planned exhibitors pulled their horses from a show when they learned there were soring checks scheduled (hosted by the Kentucky Walking Horse Association, if you're keeping track of the perp list). "Let the industry regulate itself!" is the rallying cry. Because that's working really fucking well...unless you're a horse.