Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rewarding Bad Behavior

After I cooled My Boy out on Sunday, we stood in the shade and worked on some muzzle desensitizing.

You see, My Boy has a tendency to panic when you apply even the slightest pressure to his upper lip. We had a bit of a come-to-Jesus moment of head tossing and avoidance at first, then I had him settled down and we went to work. I would touch the upper lip with the flat of my palm. If he stood calmly for a few seconds, I removed my hand (and therefore the 'pressure.') After a minute, I'd try it again, only removing my hand when he wasn't moving his head.

Eventually, I got to where I could even apply a slight squeeze to the upper lip without him worrying something awful was about to happen. I didn't expect him to tolerate this for long periods of time at first. I was just pickin' battles if I did that. Instead, I rewarded small efforts. I think this was more successful.

Yes, a few times a year, that pressure on the upper lip might mean a twitch is a-comin'. But I really need for him to not anticipate and fear that every touch to the lip means it's twitch time! I think if I work with him on this consistently, our future vet appointments might go a little easier.

I think my horse is great at anticipating the worst, at least in situations involving veterinarian care. A vet once commented to me, "Man, he has had it all done in his life, hasn't he?" She meant a shoulder twitch, an ear twitch, the chain over nose, the lip chain....you name it, someone has done it on him. Yep Dr. Equine, he sees you and your bag of tricks coming a mile away. It's unfortunate that these methods of restraint have to be used with him at all, but that is another issue altogether.

I am the absolute furthest thing from an expert on horse training, but I do know that it is very easy to send the wrong signals to my horse and actually reward negative behavior. For example: I want to let my horse hand-graze and we're walking towards a lawn which hasn't been mowed in three weeks and it's looking juicy and green. And the minute we start walking onto that lawn he starts pulling on the lead rope or jerking his head or nudging me in anticipation of getting to that grass, and I let him get his head down to eat.....well then, I am actually reinforcing those bad behaviors. After all, they worked for him, right? They got him what he wanted.

Rather, I make him stand quiet, no head tossing, and wait- for at least one to five minutes (it feels like forever to us both.) Once he is standing still and not "begging" with bad behavior, I lower my hand to the ground. He knows that is the "release" signal that he can begin grazing. In other words, it's my decision when he eats, not his. Otherwise, he'd be pulling me across the yard in pursuit of the green stuff the minute he could. Now, what I really need to add to this once in a while is to just walk him past that green grass and put him away, without any grazing at all. In the end, these small things might prevent the creation of a monster.

It is common sense really, but sometimes difficult to remember in every moment with my horse. I don't think a good horse will be ruined by letting these little things slip once in a while, but I know that as a potential horse-spoiler, I personally have to make a conscious effort to think about all of my actions and reactions and how I might inadvertently be modifying my horse's behavior- in a bad way. I think what makes a really good trainer or horseman is that they are very in tune to a horse's behavior and how their reactions are rewarding the horse, for good or bad. It's second nature for them. I'm still in the stage of having to break it down into steps and thinking about it, but I'll get there.

My First Dog

Do you remember having that one-of-a-kind childhood dog? Other than my ponies, I remember one animal in particular that stood out in my childhood. One that I remember we called the "best dog ever."

My father brought him home from work one day. The woman whose house he'd been working at had a puppy she wanted to give away. He was young, fun-loving, and active. A mutt. Maybe a German shepherd, lab, or collie mix from what we could tell of his marking and features.

I had heard of the name "Chinook" from a book about a malamute. My dad, being a fan of salmon fishing, thought "Chinook" seemed fitting.

That dog was so tolerant. He let us dress him up and jump him over obstacle courses. He was smart and picked up tricks and training quickly. He learned all the basic dog commands, including rolling over.

When Paint Girl and I spent summers sleeping under the stars in the front yard, he'd lay by our lawn chairs or sleeping bags, guarding us.

This one time, as we lay tucked into our sleeping bags at dusk, we heard strange crashes and rattling sounds in the bushes that lined the driveway. Chinook never raised a hackle. Paint Girl and I waited it out until the sounds got closer....and closer. Then we panicked and ran to the house as fast as lightning, shutting the front door and calling upstairs for our parents. Our parents were not upstairs. You see, of course Chinook didn't get scared because he knew who those the scary monsters in the woods were. My parents had stealthily snuck behind us through the yard, then walked back up the driveway towards our little outdoor fort, making all the scary racket (probably concealing their snickers and giggles, I'm sure.) Seriously, I think we might still be traumatized.

Chinook always barked when strangers or visitors knocked on the door of the house. And he did growl at someone once. A neighbor boy was poking fun and trying to spit at us at the end of the driveway. I know, the neighbor boys were actually pretty good kids, but boys will be boys. I remember Chinook lunging and barking at this boy. Paint Girl had to hold Penny back, too. It was good to know our dogs would have protected us if we needed it!

Chinook was friendly with all of our other animals. The little black dog, Penny, was a gift for my sister one Christmas. The Collie, Cassie, only lived with our family for a short time as she started chasing cars and needed a different property to live on. She was our first purebred dog and quite frankly, we were just better with mutts, grades, and strays. They seemed to be more well-rounded for our family lifestyle. You know, the lifestyle where you sleep outside for weeks, use mom's sheets to make blankets for your ponies, and dress up your pets.

Here is Chinook curled up near the wood stove with the Bogart the cat and Penny the dog. One random memory I have of Chinook was his dew claw. I guess as a ten year old, I thought dew claws were interesting and bizarre. I still can't pick my horse's chestnuts off, Paint Girl has to do it for me.

Chinook was terrified of fireworks. One July when he was a few years old, the neighbors let off a variety of bottle rockets during the day and he got really scared. He ran off the property, which he never wandered from. Even though we lived nearly a mile from the main road (speed limit at least 50 mph, I believe) he somehow ended up down there, running along the shoulder and in and out of the road in a frenzy. We called his name and he would stop look at us, then run in blind terror the other way. He was completely disoriented. I think God must have been watching that day, because two young children in fearful tears did not have to witness their dog getting ran over. In fact, a passerby actually stopped and help my mom catch him. After that, we were careful to keep him inside and monitor him during the month of July.

Here is Chinook being a couch potato with my mom, Dusty Devoe. You can see he is starting to show his age here.

I remember coming home from college and always looking forward to seeing Chinook. As he aged, he became a lot less active and mostly slept. His muzzle grew gray, his eyes growing glassy, his hips weak. Until his last moment, at age 13, he loved to be outside in the yard with his family, including the cats. At the time, my parents lived near a beautiful mountain river. This is one of my favorite pictures of him, running along the riverbank. It's how I like to remember him.

Yes, Chinook was a once-in-a-lifetime childhood dog. He left his time on earth with our family having lived a long, healthy, and happy doggie life. I remember getting the phone call one early evening. My mom told me that his body had started failing him that morning, and she had to take him in to the vet to be put down. I remember crying sad tears for Chinook. He had seen me through my childhood and the beginning of my independence as I went to college and began living on my own.

Sometimes after losing a good dog, it's hard to imagine ever having another one like them. But after healing from the loss of Chinook, my parents were ready to welcome a new dog into the family. And so then, Riley the beagle came into their lives. You can see pictures and read more about him in this post.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My Boy Monday

Where did all this water come from? It hasn't rained in days!

When I got to the Painted Creek on Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised. Paint Girl's other half had cleaned out the horse troughs! This is a big spring task for us and it was nice that the tanks were gleaming silver again. I guess I'll be baking him batches of thank-you brownies.......for the next two years.

Last weekend I bought My Boy a toy. A "busy ball." It is supposed to keep him, well-busy. You can see how well it is working:

Actually, I got a call on Saturday that he was spotted playing with it for the first time! It was evident by the dried goo on his muzzle today that he had indeed been attempting to get a taste of the corn, oats, and molasses treat. I was hoping to catch him playing with it yesterday and get some video or pictures. No such luck. My Boy was too busy nibbling on the green grass blades poking up in his pasture. He keeps the fence line nicely mowed.

I am recovering from a cold virus and didn't have the energy to ride. I decided to just turn My Boy out in the arena and free longe him. I took off his halter so we could work on "catching" in the arena. Different scenario than in his pasture, but catching and haltering still the same.

It was warm out and he was not feeling very energetic. I wanted to snap some pictures, but found that photographing my horse and motivating him at the same time was nothing short of hilarious. Picture me running around with a carrot stick in one hand, my Nikon in the other, making clucking sounds like a chicken. Let's just say it didn't help my runny nose nor my attempt at a mellow day with my horse. And every time I stopped to frame a picture, he stopped moving and faced up, too. It's kind of how he's trained when free longing.

My horse is always willing to stop. It's his favorite thing to do. Maybe that is why he was a reining horse?

As feeding time approaches, the horses are famous for their stare-downs. Paint Girl's mares give me the look.

There is nothing but hope in those eyes, I tell ya. If their thoughts could be verbalized, they'd be saying something like is it time, is it time, is it TIME???

Other than the fact the angle of this shot makes my horse's hiney and belly look incredibly huge, I had to laugh at his perked, expectant ears. I know exactly who he's watching! I drew a little arrow in to point out "the feed man" (Paint Girl's OH) coming out of the garage.

After we feed, Paint Girl, her OH, and I always watch the horses settle in and eat for a bit. I observed that the pasture mud had really dried out since last week. That flies were crawling across my horse's forehead (hatch fly predators, hatch!) That the late afternoon air still had a tint of warmth. That the neighborhood was filled with the sound of humming lawn mower engines.

I think that spring is finally here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Pink Pony Saturday

My cousin Sares over at Loveleigh Treasures participates in "Pink Saturday" which is hosted by Beverly over at her fabulous How Sweet the Sound blog. It looks like a lot of fun and while cleaning out my photo files recently, I realized I could participate with a pink pony blog post of my own!

My Boy and his pink pony girl princess.

On a recent ride around the neighborhood, we found ourselves heading towards this pink blooming tree.

The free pink muck bucket I got at work came in handy as a pseudo barrel when practicing for the family rodeo and obstacle course.

And on our guest ranch trip later that summer, my gelding was completely comfortable drinking out that hot pink water bucket. He kind of had to be, it was 102 degrees out.

My family of Pony Cousins all had pink tank tops made for this trip and wore them for our trail horse challenge competition, in honor of family members who had passed away from cancer. {Click photo to enlarge.}

Here is my cousin M, decked out in pink finery, on the lovely mare Zoe (R.I.P. Zoe!) Notice that Zoe is doing her best to contribute to the theme by sticking out her little pink tongue!

Be sure to stop by Beverley's blog to check out the other Pink Saturday participants!

I don't know if your Saturday will be pink. Regardless, I hope that you have a super one!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pack Rat Mentality

When I was looking for old photos for my dad's birthday post last weekend, I came across my old scrapbook.

It was started for me by my Nana when I was around 7 years old. I couldn't resist wiping the dust off and flipping through the thick, yellowed pages.

I can' t believe I still have this ad! It is nearly 30 years old. Holy cow, that makes me sound old. It is the actual "for sale" ad for my very first pony. We found it hanging on the bulletin board of the grocery store my family shopped at when I was a kid. I've always thought the ad was cool because the owner had hand-drawn the pony instead of attaching a photo. I don't know what made my parents say "maybe" to that pony, but we took the ad home and called the number.

About a week later, I was the exuberant owner of this black Shetland pony. He was one of the most beautiful ponies I've seen. He was like a Friesian..... on the legs of a basset hound.

After I outgrew Black Jack and passed him on to my sister Paint Girl, we purchased Shannon, a young gelding, from the same woman. This was the Welsh/Appaloosa pony that I was jumping in this picture. Yes, I know that outfit I wore probably had you laughing for days.

That pony turned out to be a bit much for this greenie in the end, so I was on the hunt for another pony. I saw a pony listed in the classified section of the local newspaper. I called the phone number and wrote down this information on a piece of yellow legal pad paper. My dad took over the call at one point, writing down directions to the owner's home on the right.

I ended up getting that pony, Saberdance, an Arabian/Appaloosa who was well-trained and one of my favorites.

Here is my homemade, self-decorated exhibitor's number and second place ribbons (I think Paint Girl got the blues on her Appy mare) that Saberdance and I won at the neighbor's play day. You can see the picture in the middle, we are high-tailing it for home after running the poles or barrels.

I love strolling down memory lane. I wonder, is it weird that I still have all of these mementos after all of these years? I guess my mom always called me a "pack-rat" for good reason.

Anyway, I'm off to pack away more things I plan on keepin' for the next 30 years......

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


{Fritzy, April 18th, 2009}

It figures that my favorite photo that I have taken so far on my new camera is not even of my own horse!

I love that this picture is offset. I don't even mind the lines of the panels on the left. Or that her ears are missing (more on that later.) I love the imperfection of it. But most of all, it just grabbed me the moment I saw it. As I said yesterday, I like candids. I like random pictures that were not necessarily posed, but just an animal being an animal. If I can, I prefer to capture personality, character, and an animal being natural.

That is what is so amazing about photography to me. I see a picture and I know instantly whether or not I like it. This "draw" to a photo is probably different for everyone, based on our own experiences, interests, and internal creative eye. Obviously, there are some photos out there that are just amazing technically. But not everyone might like that picture of Fritzy, and that is okay.

I am not a "technical" picture taker. Notice I did not call myself a photographer. I am a hobbyist, at best. I don't even qualify for amateur status yet! As I said, I'm just a girl who likes to take pictures. By not being technical, I mean, I'm not big on editing. I prefer things a little imperfect, a little edgy, a little raw. I might boost the color saturation (sometimes too much.) Or I sharpen or soften a picture up (sometimes too much.) Or add a border. Other than that, I don't do much. I don't even have an fancy editing programs or "actions" yet. I just use free programs (like Picasa) with basic effects.

I like taking close-ups, and weird crops. By that, I mean I like details and interesting things. Even if the ears are cut off, as in the top photo of Fritzy. I mean, I didn't even realize I'd cut her ears off when I took the shot. They weren't the focus of the picture. I liked her eye- her expression. To me, it was more artistic without the ears. For fun, I've tried cropping my pictures in unique and different ways. Try it! Enlarge it if you can, without losing distortion, and play around with cropping out pieces, of your horse's eye, ears, tail, whiskers, etc.

For example, here is a decent profile picture of Morgan the cat.

Here is a cropped version. I like them both. But the second one....interesting detail. Did your eye goes to the cat's eye much quicker? And I love the whiskers in this shot!

Oh, and then I got crazy and did this for fun. (In Picasa, under effects, I chose 'focal black and white' then moved the color where I wanted it to be.)

Another one, of a magnolia blossom. I am still trying to figure out how get a good macro (up close) shot with my camera. Does anyone know if I need a macro lens to do really amazing macro shots? Anyway, here is another uncropped shot.

Then, I just clicked "crop" on Picasa and chose the first crop option they pre-selected for me. Look how interesting this photo became! I like the movement of the petals going off to the left.

Lately I've loved velvety horsey muzzles. Especially this particular one. Yes, I'm biased!

Actually, I think I shot them this way, rather than cropping them later. This second one is better in that the background is more blurred (shallow depth of field/focus) which allows it to fade away behind the muzzle, rather than be distraction like the panels in the above one of My Boy.

Let's talk about that "blur." In the comments of yesterday's post Linda at the 7smn Ranch mentioned bokeh. Some of you might have been wondering what in tarnation is bokeh?! It's okay, I just learned what it was a few months ago myself!

Here is Wikipedia's definition: a photographic term referring to the appearance of point of light sources in an out-of-focus area of an image produced by a camera lens using a shallow depth of field. Different lens bokeh produces different aesthetic qualities in out-of-focus backgrounds, which are often used to reduce distractions and emphasize the primary subject.

For example, here is a picture of some lotion and a jeweled perfume atomizer. The first one shows the atomizer in the front, and in focus.

Now, the atomizer is in the back. See the little light "bubbles" or spots? (Click to enlarge.) That is a little bit of bokeh. It's so cool!

There are two things I'd like to work on, aside from just continuing to learn all of my camera's options! One, action shots. This was a fun capture, because all four of Fritzy's hooves were off the ground simultaneously, which I thought was neat. But learning to hold steady and focus on a moving target is a challenge!

Second, would be people portraits. Now this takes some willing subjects. Paint Girl?! You ready to let me snap some photos of you? Hey, I even let her try my new camera! I wanted her to see what it felt like to look through the viewfinder. She snapped a few pictures of me and Fritzy. She said wow, it takes pictures fast!

Now, about yesterday's color vs. black and white photo of My Boy. You know what's funny? I really liked it in black and white. But after reading your comments and looking at it again, I'm liking the color more now, too. I loved the time of the day, the sun was behind my horse and it really added a neat glow even though it was partially shady where I shot it. I think the black and white contrast would have been better if I'd shot it in black and white, which I can do on my camera. I actually shot it in color though, then edited after I downloaded it. I played with the shadows, etc., but I never think it switches over well after-the-fact. Thank you for your insight! I played around a little bit more with the color picture...one is never done playing, right? Either that, or I've got a problem!

I want to thank all of you, who inspire me with your own photos! And for those of you that have graciously let me email you with my silly questions (umm, sorry, I'm probably not done yet!)

As you can see, I am having a lot of fun with my Nikon D40! Thanks for taking this little journey with me. I promise I won't be blogging constantly about taking pictures. It's just that with a new toy....well, I'm sure you know how it is!

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