Monday, October 31, 2005

All Hallows Eve

No horsey lessons for Rusty for a couple days. The last batch wore me out.

I can't remember where I learned it, but there is a rule that if you're not up to an all-out fight with a 1200 pound animal, don't try to train a horse when you're tired. The last session was more than my recovering old body could handle. Well, maybe it was the shoveling of dung that pushed me past my limit. In any event, Rusty is on hold, and maybe that's a good thing.

Dink needed exercised, and so I went out to the ranch. Rusty was extremely jealous that Dink got to "do something" and he didn't. Perhaps he'll be more cooperative the next time. Dink, A.K.A. Duquesne, hasn't been actively "worked" for a long time, so we spent 30 minutes doing just that. Walk walk walk walk. Trot trot trot trot. Walk sideways to the right, walk sideways to the left. Argue over what position the horse's head should be in. Both of us were filthy with dust and disgustingly sweaty when we were done.

Thank goodness we had decided as a household not to mess with the Halloween thing tonight. I used to love decorating the front of the house with candles and pumpkins and fake spider webs, and dressing up to scare the tar out of little kids who came seeking candy gifts. Last year, the night was dominated by roaming gangs of high school kids who carried pillowcases to gather as much loot as possible. But they didn't even bother with costumes.

You know what? If an old woman can bother with costuming for an evening, so can a teenager. Of course, I tend to think that if I can speak clearly and politely and not breathe through my mouth constantly, then a teenager can also not show me his tonsils while he garbles, "Trick or treat." And he could pull his damn pants up, the freakin' moron. Which one was the freakin' moron? Pick one.

Of course, when they came to the porch, I could have asked them, "What are you dressed up as, tasteless slack-jawed shitheads?" But then I would have been asking for some kind of destructive retaliation on my car or my house.

The point of dressing up as witches or spirits for Halloween was to mock the spectre of Death, to laugh in the face of Evil. Looking into the soulless eyes of those older children of Excess Wealth and Utter Lack of Morality, unfortunately, I see the face of Evil laughing the last laugh.

Bah. Humbug.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Shoving Horses

Today Rusty demonstrated that he remembered yesterday's lessons, and then was humbled some more.

We put a full-cheek snaffle bit in his mouth. It's a very gentle bit, which Rusty needs because as big as he is, he has very sensitive skin on his muzzle. The advantage of the full-cheek bit is that as you pull on a rein to turn a horse, not only does it pull, but it pushes the horse's mouth along from the other side, as both sides, where the bit emerges from between the horse's lips, have a four-inch vertical bar that keeps the bit from slipping from side to side. (God, that sounds confusing. Maybe I'll add an illustration tomorrow.)

Anyway, we put the bit in his mouth and then let him stand around (no reins, no saddle) for about 20 minutes, so that he could see for himself that having a bit in his mouth would not kill him on the spot.

Then my friend exercised him in the round corral, making him think a little while still carrying the bit and the jingling stud chain hanging from his halter. This helped him understand he could still move forward and obey while having the bit in his mouth and things jingling around his head. No need to buck, no need to stubbornly stand still.

After exercise came Shoving. I can place both my hands on my horse's shoulder, neck, head, sides, rump, whatever, and gently push, and he will get out of my way. For that moment, I am bigger than he is, and that is a good thing. The time had come for Rusty to learn that he could be shoved around. Indeed, that he would be shoved around, and that being shoved around is a good thing for a horse. After a few minutes, my friend learned how to brace herself and make Rusty let himself be shoved around the corral.

We saddled our horses and moved to the arena, where Rusty did a very nice job of walking and turning. (My dear Duquesne was, of course, impeccable. Sometimes I think he behaves better when other horses act up, just to make them look really, really bad.) We began work with Rusty to get him to lower that great white head and let himself be turned in a tight circle. It was very hard work for my friend, because when Rusty throws his head in the air, he nearly yanks her out of the saddle. I don't know that she weighs as much as his head.

But we ended after 40 minutes on an up-note again, and then mucked out Dink's paddock. I'm exhausted, but tomorrow we'll be back at it. They only new thing will be a tie-down for Rusty's bridle so that he can't throw his head so far in the air. I don't like tie-downs, but Rusty has learned long ago that throwing his head around works to scare the shit out of the little monkeys who climb on his back.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Learning Manners with Mr. Stud Chain

My friend's horse behaved badly today.

He decided he didn't want to leave the ranch, and took her back to the arena twice. The third time we tried to go out, she dragged him along by the reins. His response was to rip the reins out of her hand and gallop off, leaving her to walk back.

Rusty was angry for two reasons. One, he'd been taken off his lush pasture and put in a new place. (Horses hate that.) Two, his owner had been told by a reputable trainer that he needed to have a bit in his mouth -- the semi-halter she used was not giving her any control over him. Today Rusty decided that he was not going to cooperate with anything. He braced his feet and refused to move.

I don't like to tell people what to do with their horses, because every horse is different, and what works with one may not work with another. However, watching Rusty winning every step of the way irked me enough to say that if he was my horse, I would make use of a stud chain to help him learn who was in charge.

A stud chain is a stout chain about a foot and a half long. You can see them used to keep horses under control when they're being led just before a race. For a really fractious horse, you can put the chain over the horse's nose (in worst cases they put it over the horse's upper gum) and the unpleasant pressure usually keeps the horse paying attention. Rusty had never had a stud chain on him, so we just looped it through the halter he was wearing, under his chin.

I took his lead rope, attached to the stud chain, pulled gently, and told him to come. He braced his feet and refused. I tugged again, told him to come, and again he refused. The third time, when he set his ears back and refused, I flipped the lead rope just enough to give him a little boink! of pressure from the stud chain. He threw his head up in great surprise!

We went through that sequence three times. After his third encounter with the stud chain, he came forward to me willingly, and got much petting for his troubles. Now he understood what the stud chain could do to him. It could jump up and bite him if he didn't do what he was told!

The only other thing we wanted to establish with that first encounter was that Mr. Stud Chain would assist a person leading him if he didn't follow willingly when led, or get out of the person's way if they asked him to move. "Move" means MOVE, every time, not just when Rusty is in a good mood. It's an easy exercise to do, by and large. The person leads the horse by stepping towards his hindquarters while holding the lead rope. The horse must turn his head, and move his big arse away from the person. Manners. "Get out of my way" is one of the most valuable lessons a horse has to learn.

When Rusty was reliably moving out of my friend's way, we ended the session on that upbeat note. Tomorrow morning we'll work with him some more. He's a good horse, and I've seen him do some fantastic work. When he gets over his snit and learns some better manners, he'll be excellent again.

I was a bit reluctant to step in and pick up that lead rope; I had just ridden the smooth and perfectly-behaved Duquesne for 40 minutes, and sure as hell didn't want to end up aggravating my left shoulder, which has finally started to heal. Fortunately Rusty was surprised enough that he wasn't interested in fighting, and then my friend took over. I'm dirty and a little tired, but I feel good. Finally.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A century of comfort

The rocking chair, in its earliest-known place, belonged to my father's best friend's mother.

My father was born in 1923. He remembered the rocker in his friend Layton Jury's house, where Dad spent a lot of his time, his mother being too young and busy to keep up with him. Dad rocked on Mrs. Jury's rocker until he fell over backwards on it.

Dad never said what color the rocker originally was. When Layton's mother died, my father went to the estate auction and bought the chair. He repainted and upholstered it, black with a green, gold, black, and white plaid, and presented it to me as a gift a few months before my daughter was born. He wanted me to have a comfortable chair in which to rock my baby.

Somewhere around 1997, I wirebrushed the whole chair, repainted it a dark blue, and reupholstered it in a floral fabric, and made a matching footstool for it.

A couple weeks ago, I was thinking that I needed to wirebrush, prime, and repaint the woven body of the rocker -- this dry air here makes things look shabby quickly. I hadn't decided on a color for it, though. Maybe a deep green, or a lighter blue?

The question was answered this morning ... I heard Alex cry out in horror, went running out to the kitchen to see Alex staring at the broken runner of the rocker. It just gave way, probably a crack that was there when Dad bought the thing.

Can it be fixed? I don't know. The other runner could be removed, and it could still be a chair. So many memories, so many years. If the chair can't be fixed, it will nevertheless, not be forgotten.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Howie, Before Dawn

As soon as the smoke alarm bleated, Howie leaped off my bed and went to find the source of the annoying sound.

He'd have made a great companion dog for someone with impaired hearing. He sounds an alert for people at the door, for cats fighting in our yard, for our housecat's indiscretions of climbing on tables or trying to go into my studio or bedroom. Howie lets me know if the phone is ringing, or if the washing machine load is unbalanced, or the stove timer goes off.

The smoke alarm had him stumped, though. Maybe a spider crawled through the sensor, or some dust triggered the sound, we don't know. It stopped after a couple seconds, and we knew there was no fire in the house. After racing through the house and not finding the source of the noise, Howie came barreling back to the bedroom, jumped up on the bed, and threw himself into my lap for a cuddling and reassurance. Well, if I had been sitting up, it would have been my lap. Instead it was my chest and belly that 65 pounds (30 kg) of insecure dog landed on. I was flattered (and dang near flattened) by his confidence in me. In his fearfulness, he could have just slunk off and hid under a table. To him, that loud and mysterious sound was like hearing a ghost in the house.

BTW, I like the idea of smoke detectors -- but I would strongly advise getting the ones that are just battery operated than the ones that are wired into the house. Ours are wired in, and half of them we had to unplug because they go off erratically, always in the middle of the night. Damn, maybe it is ghosts, after all.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Fevered Dreams of a Creation

Well, the calendar arrived, but didn't make it to my desk.

I opened that package from Lulu and had to grin. The covers looked great. Then, the moment of truth: wasted effort or glorious success? I opened the book at random, and "Stupid Squid" leaped from the pages, image perfect, accompanying graphics perfect. As soon as I showed it to Bernie, he lustfully took it to the patio and looked through it, page by page, chuckling.

His favorite page is the one with Jeb and Marv Buzzards with the dead (or is it?) possum. Mine is the one with the elephant toting a baseball bat.

I showed it to Alex, who giggled when she opened it, and then promptly tore her current planner from its leather case and fitted the Fever Dreams calendar in the pockets.
"Perfect!" she said. "How much do they cost?"

"Ten dollars."

"That's all??" she shouted. "This one's mine! Pay you next week!"

Well, it made it to someone's desk, anyway. I don't mind ordering mine along with the ones we'll be giving to relatives as gifts this year. Seeing how wonderfully this plan came together was worth all the sweat and swearing, the hair-pulling and acid indigestion, the worry and waiting.

And as I said in my last post, seeing a collection of my cartoons in print is one fine feeling.

Fever Dreams 2006 Weekly Planner has 115 pages with over 54 cartoons, space for taking notes, making priority lists, listing addresses and special dates.

Trust me. This one's a gooder.

Friday, October 14, 2005


Tomorrow, my copy of my calendar should arrive.

I've grown accustomed to seeing my books in print, though the feeling of accomplishment when I see them doesn't go away. Ah, but to see my cartoons in print -- that's a different story. I'm on edge about the calendar. I've been frothing at the mouth to see the "Order Shipped" notice in my email; I had hoped that they made the shipment before the cutoff hour on Wednesday, which would have had the package on my doorstep today. Tomorrow. Tomorrow should be that golden day of triumph -- or the thing will look like shit and I'll delete the project until I learn enough to do it right.

But shit or shining achievement, I'll have my weekly planner for 2006 on my desk. With my cartoons in it. That's one cool feeling.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

On Again, Off Again

Tonight I'm just Off.

There's nearly two weeks to go before National Novel Writing Month. I've signed up, chosen a title, taken a few notes. Visiting their forums, I see names I recognize from other years; hundreds and hundreds of people getting excited about writing a novel in a month.

I'm about as excited as three-day-old road kill.

Other years, I've had a story to tell. An ending. A point. This year, there's nothing there. Especially there's no joy in the prospect.

I thought about writing a loosely interlinked series of essays, and assembling it into some kind of coherent novel at a later date. I thought of writing a fake memoir of a crazy man. This evening I toyed with the idea of writing fanfic. Any of those would be useful, eventually becoming stories for the Piker Press to publish. Then it occurred to me that I've been writing and sketching under a deadline since April of 2002. That won't stop in November. Why the hell do I want to be adding another deadline to my life when I can't even keep up with the dishes in the sink?

Do I do it to prove that I can? Out of some sense of "loyalty" to Chris Baty, the founder of NaNo? Sure, Chris knows I exist, and hopes I'll participate, but only in the way he knows and hopes for lots and lots of other people. If I just slither off, he's not going to lose any sleep over it, even if he notices, which he won't. Do I do it to "keep company" people with whom I've been acquainted through NaNo over the years? People with whom I keep company outside of NaNo anyway?

Or here's a thought: I'm not excited about NaNoWriMo 2005 because there's a very good chance that I'll not be able to come up with 50k words of a story. The prospect of not excelling is repugnant to me. At the end of November, I might have to say, "No, this one is not for anyone else to read." Select All, Delete.

The latest thought is to write what I think ought to be written down somewhere, no matter how offensive it is to the general populace. I was talking to Josh Brown about it one night, about a story I'd like to write. It would not be "Press-able" and it would not be politically correct. But then Dreamer wasn't, either, now was it?

Most likely I'll make up my mind on November 1st, when I wake up.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


The horse I wished I could buy is gone.

Allegedly he has been sold, although the rumor is that the woman who "bought" him doesn't want him after all, and is just paying for his board at another facility until she can find an actual buyer. In the mean time, I heard an interesting comment about the horse: the young woman who was selling him was telling prospective buyers that the horse was 15 years old. That's not too old for a horse; horses get sensible between about 10 and 17. But someone heard his previous owner say that the horse was 19. That would have been last year. Now this lovely horse is 20, and that's getting to the end of a useful career for a horse. Granted, a horse can be sweet and functional to 30, but that's kind of unusual.

So now I understand why this young woman was so hot to get rid of him. He's an old horse, and she wants to do team cow penning, like in a rodeo, like you can't do on an old horse.

But she lied about his age, and may have gotten $3000 for him. That's ridiculous. A 20-year-old horse shouldn't sell for more than $1000, and you'd have a hard time finding a taker for that.

Horse trading is unbelievably shady. I bought my first horse for $400. He was 11 years old, and I was assured that he was just a big, fat, lazy, stupid horse. All I wanted was a plug to jog around the pasture on. But Crow was just big and fat, he wasn't lazy, and he wasn't stupid. He also wasn't quite sane, or quite broken to the saddle.

When I found a horse to replace him, I made an appointment to ride the horse. I showed up, and the new horse was lovely. The man who was selling him told me someone else had showed up but were unsure. So I jumped up on the horse, and was very pleased. Only one thing more: I needed to see how he felt under my own saddle. The owner was agreeable. The minute I rounded the corner of the building, the other people whipped out a check -- and bought him, having seen with their own eyes that he was a quality mount. Sold right out from under me.

The next horse was a genius on the trail, a big red quarterhorse with a pedigree a lot longer than mine. I bought him, and had several good rides on him. What the seller didn't say was that one ride in any location would be great; however, the second one would be a nightmare, as once Chet knew the way home, he was going to take you there in a split second. After a 40-minute battle along a busy road, I knew I hated him. I missed work that day because I was exhausted to the point of sickness. I sold him for next to nothing to a girl who had owned him nearly 10 years before and had missed him horribly all those years. Good luck to her.

I've tried once more to buy a second horse; after I shook hands on the deal, and made arrangements to get the horse hauled to my facility, the fellow called me up and told me he couldn't bring himself to go through with it, as the horse liked to be fed peanuts in the evening, and was like the man's best friend. (He didn't like to ride, but he did like to feed the horse peanuts. Go figure.)

Fortunately I've still got Duquesne, the Stinky Dink. Do you think I would sell him? Not for any price.

Maybe the only horses that get sold are crappy ones.