Thursday, July 31, 2008

Unexpected beauty

As I was leaving work yesterday by a new path (had to return some library books at the campus library), I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by these gorgeous planters filled with purple petunias and some little blue flowers...they were just singing out in the bright sun. Students with summer work-study jobs do most of the gardening on our campus and I wonder: Did some talented student choose this combination? Did some groundskeeping administrator sketch out this planter plan?

It's so terrific to be stunned by unexpected beauty. What ravishing sights this old world can give us, by surprise sometimes. I could hardly leave the terrace where these planters sat, out of the way of most pedestrians, just sitting there being mahvelous!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Doggie Reform School Continues!

Here you see my little Gabey contemplating his new best friend, which is whatever dog is closest to him at obedience class. The blur in the foreground, that's my dog. He is always twitching in reform school.

We worked on stay, stay down, random heeling. But the most fun was the ball roll. We had to line up our dogs side to side sitting, on opposite long walls of the room. Instructors then rolled a tennis ball straight down the line, right in front of the dogs' noses. It was hilarious to watch the bigger dogs do the wave as the ball passed in front of them -- oh did they yearn to chase that ball! Gabey has never had the slightest interest in 'fetch' games so sitting still was a breeze for him. But the other dogs now! He is most highly interested in them and in love with them all.

"Can we stay here forever with all these wonderful friends??" You can see my camera reflected in Gabey's eyeball; what an artistic effect.

Lie-down insurance: rest your foot on your dog:

Next week I fully expect to crash and burn as we are going to have our dogs sit, then walk across the room away them and call them to come. Who do you think Gabey is going to visit, 23 charming canine sweethearts, or me?!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Trails, Horses, and Contradictions

This morning very early we trailered out to rendezvous at a favorite nearby ski-trail system which we enjoy. I am so happy: Johnny self-loads!! I learned a new technique for this and he now marches on all by his lonesome without me having to lead him and clamber out the escape door praying I don't get my foot stepped on in the process.

I'll describe the technique in a later post and try to include video, but for now: I am developing the theory of Horse Contradictions. I will not win a Nobel prize for this but bear with me.

Theory of Horse Contradictions: for every strong opinion that X will kill your horse immediately, there is an equally passionate opinion that unless you give/do to your horse X you are practically an abuser. For every opinion that X is good and perfectly safe, there is an equally passionate opinion that X is almost certain to kill both you and your horse, if not the entire equine population of your state. For every opinion that if you train your horse with X technique you are doing him a favor, there's an equally passionate opinion that you will quickly drive your horse insane with X training.

I have developed this theory out of hard struggles with equine cognitive dissonance. I now listen to everything with an open mind, but I no longer believe everything I hear about horse training and horse care, even if the person saying it has huge credibility and is obviously a horse dude/dudette of great experience. I just listen and ponder.

Example: A horseperson who has my complete and total respect for his long years of retraining problem horses (who were headed for the meat auction) to be great trail partners, really chided me for riding in tennis shoes last week.

There was a reason! I had a post-surgical wrap on my foot and no safer riding shoes would fit over it; the tennies would unlace to a great degree and voila I could ride.

However! I got the lecture and he was so sincerely worried that I think I ruined the ride for him. He says tennis shoes are terrible if you get a fall/drag situation; they adhere to the stirrup and also don't come off your foot.

So who forgot his boots and had to ride in what foot gear this morning??!!

In fairness I have to say: he took out the laces and made sure he could step out of the tennies easily. So everybody check your riding shoes, or not! Long live the contradictory horse/human relationship.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cutest Video Ever!

I guarantee you will love this video of a Dutch couple singing "Evangeline". There are so many things to love about it: their pretty harmony, their restarts, and the way the woman laughs so beautifully at the end, and pats her cowboy on the head. Some things just make me happy to be a member of this species - we can be so adorable sometimes, we crazy humans...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Horse-Crazy Girls in Ancient History

I discovered this Amazon on Horseback at Indiana University's Art Museum, special exhibit on horses in classical antiquity. The terracotta statue has never been fully 'published' - which for works of ancient art means a full scholarly article written about it and official photos taken by people who know what they are doing and don't reflect themselves and their camera in the pictures! It is part of IU's permanent collection, and I fell in love it with it on sight. If you click on the picture it will enlarge so you can see details.

Amazons! Great topic for mythology professors like me: women warriors who loved their horses and had horse-related names like Hippodameia ("tamer of horses") and Hippolyte ("freer of horses"). Maybe they were based on some historical reality, maybe they were entirely mythical, but the image of a wild woman on horseback set the ancient imagination on fire.

This Amazon is from southern Italy, 3rd century B.C. and horse people: isn't she doing a levade? Notice the parallel forelegs, the rider's balanced posture and leg back as if to cue, this does not look like a rear but something more requested and controlled.

Here's levade rendered in a digital painting by Stacey Meyer:

What do you think? I fully believe that the classical moves of dressage had ancient roots. I'm working on an article on Xenophon's treatise "On Horsemanship", trying to fill out the view of equine psychology that it presents, and the deeper I get into it the more I believe that an ancient form of dressage was developed for Greek war horses and had a practical side as well as the beautiful goal: "Nothing beautiful can be forced", Xenophon wrote. So true. So that's a little about my 'day job' and you see I manage to work horses into that area too!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What camera do you use?

I am so enjoying the beautiful pictures on everyone's blogs. Just from looking at them, I have learned a lot about what makes an arresting image, how to compose a shot, how to emphasize a theme (like Cowboysandsunsets's recent post about her husband's hands). I can't put all this into practice yet but it is fun to explore the ideas.

All this looking has made me curious about other peoples' cameras. My new little Canon is pictured above, along with the nice girly pink case I bought for it. The main thing that drew me to this camera (apart from good reviews) was its small size and mighty features combined. I love to have the camera with me on rides, on walks, and so forth. This one is so little it can go in a jeans pocket, or even in the sugar-pocket of riding breeches.

So spill if you will: What camera do you use for those great photos, and what do you love about it?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Doggie Reform School: Round 2

Another fun session of dog obedience class last night for my little reprobate. Last night the disobedience of choice for many of the larger dogs was to just stop walking & lie down. It was a hoot to see these big canines sag to the floor as owners did the "quick snap" on the chain obedience collars, over and over. Well, it was very hot in the training barn and I guess the floor was cool.

We worked on sit and stay, distractions during sit, 'down', and heel. By the end of the night the hairballs are wafting across the floor and drool spots cover the mats, and every dog has improved at least somewhat.

There was a huge and very wild Malamute in a muzzle, who had been brought in just to experience other dogs. His handlers (it took 3 guys!) just stood with him the middle of the ring as all the obedience activity swirled around him. He hated that muzzle and he gave out these heartrending moans the whole time - a very good 'training opportunity' in avoiding distraction for the other dogs.

On the way home I tried out my new camera's capability for taking a picture of the moon:

We have a ways to go, my little mighty-mite Canon and me...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stand back ladies: New camera!

I am going to be so dangerous with this thing. It's a Canon SD1100 IS, smaller than a pack of cigarettes and does nice little movies, has panorama stitch, and can cook breakfast for you if you learn to do all the adjustments & read the manual forwards and backwards twice.

Poor Gabey has already been photographed into a stupor:

My former camera was a Kodak EasyShare Z730, very basic, but I loved it - my only complaint was that so many action shots were blurred. So far I have managed to produce some nice blurs with this new one too! But I am hopeful that "image stabilization" and such will come to my aid soon.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Equine dental care

My horses had their teeth floated recently. I got no pictures of Montana during the process, because he has a strong reaction to the mild sedative the vet uses and I had to hold him up -- he was leaning waaaay sideways with his rear end and it was nerve-wracking. Johnny plants his feet far apart and stands like a sailor on deck.

Our vet has invested in some power tools for dental work, so it now goes much faster than the old hand rasp method.

It was news to me years ago to learn that horses' teeth grow constantly throughout their lives. As ruminants, they are constantly grinding down and regenerating tooth material; if their grinding surfaces don't match, sharp points develop and can really tear their mouths up inside.

One horse at a former boarding barn had a lifetime of crazy behavior: bucking in the show ring for no apparent reason, taking off at a wild gallop. Someone finally decided to look carefully inside his mouth, and he had the worst case of points and sores the vet had ever seen. Three extensive dental jobs later, he was a different animal altogether.

Happy mouth, happier horse.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Doggie Reform School

Here we are practicing our first class homework assignment: sit on command for one minute. This class has already been so much fun - the dogs are all so very different and yet fast progress is made. The 1-year old chocolate lab who bounced like a basketball all through the first hour was quiet (tired?) in the second hour. The pit bull who tried to eat all the other dogs in the first 10 minutes was sweet for the rest of the time. My little Gabey experienced a short-circuit of his entire brain for the first half of class, so excited was he to see that many other dogs close up. But he too got a better focus as time went on.

This is my main reason for taking him to reform school: He shorts out around other dogs. By which I mean: wags his tail until he nearly falls over, rushes in to them to lick them, and generally behaves like an edible morsel which for at least some dogs triggers an aggressive response. So I am hoping he can learn to listen and contain himself a little, and we will both be safer & quieter on our walks. If he learns to sit & stay & heel, that will be gravy.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Better Than "Casablanca"

"Stranger Than Fiction" is my recent favorite little sleeper movie with Will Farrell playing a rare serious role (but he's no lover as you can see in this clip - notice his clumsy hands fwapping her on the back). What I really love about this scene is the amazing transition between Will Farrell's shy little version of the Wreckless Eric 2-chord song and Wreckless Eric himself. Maggie Gyllenhall is just the best in this film: a law-school dropout baker to whom the Farrell character in his IRS auditor capacity "brings flours".

Wow, if I could make movies, I'd want to make them like this. Every scene is worth a second look for beautiful composition. Notice the Maggie character in the mirror early goodness what richness.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Independence Day Ride: But Not on Horseback!

We took off up the north shore of the big lake yesterday for a picnic lunch at a secret spot. Well it isn't secret exactly but it is seldom that we encounter anyone else there, and the view is stupendous.

The strangest thing about this place is the elaborate and enormous outdoor fireplace that stands there on a gigantic sweep of rounded rock outcrop. Who built it? For what? Folklore has a romantic story about it but the story doesn't add up because it would not be possible to build a house on this curving rock; it would slide off into the lake.

I've been working on my naturally horrid photography skills, looking at the gorgeous photos on other people's blogs. My husband is also great at photography and I've been asking him "OK How to get the picture I see as opposed to what the camera sees?" So if I get a net reduction in trees sticking out of heads etc. i will be happy. Here's one of my favorites from yesterday, taken in one of the great tunnels they blasted through solid rock to bring Highway 61 in a little safer distance from the lake:

Friday, July 4, 2008

Take That, Big Oil!

I reached my personal tipping point with gas prices this summer. Plus I hate the oil barons and the devastation they are causing in our world, from pollution to war. So I got out my 15-year old bicycle and took it in for rehab at a local bike shop.

There I encountered young staff persons thin as whippets, dressed in spandex with Italian logos, guzzling espresso from the in-shop coffee bar, and talking about their latest 4000-mile ride or so it seemed. I enjoyed the ambience while also weirdly suspecting that I probably weigh as much as all of them put together soaking wet. I would love to be so physically fit that I could just jump on a bike and ride all day for fun. And never even think of the word "ordeal".

But my bike works well now and theoretically I am riding it to the barn and back. This formerly flat route has developed Alpine peaks and Stygian valleys, to my surprise. The horses think it is amusing to see me come puffing up the road, ringing my bell.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Working on our Tail-Gaiting

Sunday morning once again found us on the trail and Johnnie attempting to contact the backside of the horse in front or blow past her to take the lead...Here we see the tall grass that is so tempting to a traveling horse: must be like us walking through a deli hungry and not allowed to touch food...

Well, Annie broke the rules a couple of times:

And we got this incredibly pretty view, which required standing on the edge of a 200-foot drop that made me very nervous:

And this is a summer of glory for lupines:

Johnnie's tail-gaiting :) is slowly diminishing; I think there's no quick fix for this one, but it will require a thousand disappointments i.e. halts and half-halts and circles back, before he heaves that sigh and gives up on his crowding.

We had a good 3-hour ride in overcast weather which kept it from being too hot, and my friend and I had a good chat: horseback conversations are like nothing else! We cover the whole universe and all the barn gossip in one smooth talk that is like embroidery, topics all woven together to the sound of clopping hoofs. Heaven could not be better.