Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lies, damn lies, and weather forecasts: 25 at Red Rocks

Yesterday, C and I touched base and agreed to meet at Red Rocks (Rides of March ridecamp) at 10 am today. When I woke up it was a very inauspicious 11 degrees out, but by the time I hitched the trailer it was a balmy 27.

Yesterday, the weather forecast had promised "Partly sunny, with a high near 45. East wind between 5 and 10 mph." I convinced myself that "partly sunny" == "mostly sunny," and that 45 is just a bit cooler than 50. This morning, they'd hedged it down to a high of 42. I am not real sure it ever got above freezing, I saw the sun maybe twice, and the wind was bitter! 27* at 10 am at Red Rocks. 30* at 5 pm. Brrrr!

C and I were so unhappy about being there that we didn't even say hi, we just set to work on our horses and didn't say a word til we were headed out to the trail. But once we got moving and talking, the day just flew by. We didn't push the horses too hard; the trail was plenty long and hard on its own.

25 miles in 6:30 total time, 5:49 moving. 4000 feet of elevation gain - we climbed a big mountain! It's Nevada in February, so there was nothing much for the horses to snack on, which I think was their biggest problem in the last half of the ride. There was plenty of water, and as usual, Dixie drank great once she finally started to drink.

Here are some pictures! According to the very small sign, this is a wildlife habitat area. Under the big horizontal thing I could see two concrete pipes, mostly buried but sticking out of the ground. The pipes had openings at the top/end, and the openings were filled with rocks.

What the hell kind of wildlife a) needs that habitat and b) cannot find it in the tens of square miles of uninhabited rocky hills?

Gratuitous Dixie shot.

We rode across the valley and up to the top of that there mountain.

Immense cottonwood. It was easily 6' across at the base. I got distracted and forgot to take more pictures.

Res ispa loquitur.

Merri! Do you see what we saw? There's a HUGE NEST, made of sticks, in that boulder. Looks fairly old, but I think the golden eagles raised at least one batch of babies there.

We climbed the north side of the mountain, and the trail was pretty snowy. Just patches at first, but the drifts were over a foot deep near the peak.

In this cloudy blurry camera-phone photograph, you can (not) see many major landmarks! Peavine ("my" mountain) is in the center-back, Mt. Rose is the tallest peak in the back line, and Slide Mountain is the one with visible ski slopes toward the left. The trailers are behind the dark juniper hills on the right in the middle. My house is behind some hills, off camera to the left.

Anyway, horse stuff: we went slow, but the horses didn't have any problems. I am quite sure that if there'd been a vet check in the middle of the ride, they'd have chowed down and perked right up. As it was, they were pretty hungry and a little tired when we made it back to the trailers - they both dove right into their hay, but neither one had that "tired eye."

Baby needs new shoes! Dixie's starting to wear out the toes of her front Renegades. The holes are pretty teeny right now, so I think they've got at least another 100 miles in them, but I might get replacements at convention.

If she handles the NEDA Washoe ride at least this well, I think I will bump up to the 50 at ROM. I mean, we just did an LD, with no vet check/food break, without the high-energy hoopla of all those other horses, and we pretty much made time.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Yea, get negative on that horse!

The previous post has some fantastic comments that have influenced what I'm going to say here - if you're finding this topic interesting, make sure you read the comments on the last post!

Shannon said something that really piqued my interest:
I don't really like the article on positive reinforcement that you linked. It relies far too heavily on B.F. Skinners original 1950 work. We have made great progress in the study of behavior since then, particularly in identifying the neurologic pathways involved in operant conditioning. There is little evidence that negative and positive reinforcement are any different from a neurologic perspective. Many behaviorists are actually pushing to drop the words "negative" and "positive" completely and simply go with "reinforcement". Both negative and positive reinforcement are reward based. The only difference in the two is the application of the stimulus: Negative = stimulus removed to gain desired behavior, positive = stimulus applied to gain desired behavior. Realistically, arguing negative vs. positive reinforcement is arguing semantics.

Both negative and positive reinforcement are part of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a method by which a behavior is "shaped" (trained) to a stimulus which is irrelevant to the behavior. So, a rat running on a wheel when he hears a bell and a horse knowing to stop when he hears the word "whoa" are both examples of operant conditioning and have been trained by reinforcement, either positive or negative.
Clicker training is the use of a "click" as a stimulus. Whether or not it is positive or negative reinforcement is a matter of semantics. In the end, the "click" is no different from the "aids" that conventional trainers use. We are all using a stimulus and a reward to shape a desired behavior.

So - I acknowledge that it may be outmoded for me to differentiate between positive and negative reinforcement. I definitely see the point, that biochemically there might not be a difference between a click followed by a reward versus a release of pressure, but I don't think that totally invalidates what I wanted to talk about today.

Negative reinforcement definitely has an image problem, that's for sure. It just sounds mean, and many horse owners don't want to be mean. I mean, hell, I don't want to be mean! As firm as necessary, and fair, yes, but I don't want to be the mean hateful human. So let's call it -R (as opposed to +R, usually but not exclusively clicker training).

Still, I think -R is the most natural way to train horses. (Oh man I'm gonna get some hate mail for saying that!) Hear me out, though - we touch our horses more than we touch any other being aside from human family members. How often do you touch a stranger? Almost never. How often do you touch your dog or cat - and you can't count "the cat climbs on my lap every night" in this instance? You pet them, yes, and pick them up as necessary, but I bet you hardly ever lay hands on your house pets like you do your horse. Horses are one of the few creatures that we manipulate with our hands every single time we interact with them. The most intuitive, even "natural" way we have to communicate with horses is through direct contact.

Direct contact is -R. It can also be +R: scratching an itchy spot or massaging a tight muscle feels immediately good to a horse. And it can even be a form of clicker training - if your horse has learned to associate a pat on the neck with positive feelings, that's +R in my book (but just like the clicker noise, it's a learned association). But most of the time, when we touch our horses, it falls in two camps: "don't move, let me do this to you" or "move away from my pressure." Almost everybody indicates "move from pressure" with, well, pressure, repeated as necessary.

Here's where I think -R training diverges from clicker training. All the c/t stuff I've read says "don't nag." Ask (verbally or physically) and wait, and eventually, when the behavior happens, reward. -R behavior teaches your horse new behaviors (or reinforces old ones) by, in essence, nagging. If I want my horse to back up from the ground, I give her the verbal cue ("shhhhh"), the body language, and the physical cue (jiggling her halter backwards) - and I keep that up, escalating the physical cue, til I get the response I want. I start with a cue that's as subtle as I can manage, because I want to train her to respond to the lightest touch, but I ramp it up geometrically if she's balky or not paying attention. For some behaviors (i.e. moving the hindquarters at a tap), I don't ramp up the intensity of my request, but I keep asking over and over til I get what I want.

Clicker people: Is there a way to ramp up the request? Because if there is, I'll buy the "C/T is equivalent to -R training" argument.

So, back to my main point: the easiest way for me to ask my horse to do something is physically. I reach out and literally touch her and indicate "please move away from this pressure." She'll try different things to get a release from that pressure, and when she tries the right thing, I release to reward her. Sometimes, she doesn't get it and gets frustrated, so I go to my #1 Plan B: clicker training.

(I might write yet another long post about why I like clicker training, which will no doubt piss off both the hardcore c/t'ers and the traditional horsepeople. We'll see how tired I am tomorrow night!)

+R behavior modification - clicker training - is the only way to work with animals that you cannot regularly touch, like captive elephants or dolphins or even chickens (god bless all four brain cells). It's fabulous for working with animals that you do not want to touch all the time, like dogs doing liberty work (agility, off-leash training, etc.) It even works for horses - but why start there? We touch horses more than we touch any other creatures, so why not start with the intuitive -R pressure and release method? Sometimes it's ok to be negative.

All right, smart readers: rip it apart!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

We're all clicker trainers?

A committed clicker trainer friend posted this (not her content, just a link she liked) on Facebook this morning.
An Open Letter to Buck Brannaman

I really encourage yall to go read it if you have time. It's long, but it's really good - I especially like the point she makes about using clicker-type training to teach riders how to ride. In her open letter to Buck, she suggests that he break down the rider's movements and mark when they're doing it right.

For example (I'm making this one up): tell the rider that to steer the horse to the left, she should turn her head left, pick up contact on the left rein, support the horse with the right rein, and use her legs to ask the horse to walk. Then have the rider just concentrate on the head movement, and say "there" whenever she remembers to turn her head. Then add in the inside rein, then the outside rein, etc. "There" is the marker sound to reinforce the behavior, and by breaking it down into component body movements it should be easier for the rider to piece it together.

Sounds familiar, yes? It's similar to how we teach horses. We ask for some component and keep asking til we get it, then we ask for more. Trot in a circle. Ok, good, now trot in a circle with a little actual bend. Good! Now slow that trot down (or extend it, or collect it - whatever you're looking for in your discipline).

Now, the two points I think Gretchen, the blog author, got totally wrong:

The practice [of clicker training] is relatively simple in broad outline, but in detail as complex as the teacher’s knowledge and creativity can make it. Mark and reward what you want, block/ignore/wait out what you don’t. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat again. If you’ve ever shaped another creature’s behavior using those simple steps, you’re a clicker trainer, whether or not you’ve ever touched a clicker. Whether or not you’ve ever given an animal a food treat. Guess what, Buck. You’re a clicker trainer, insulting as that might be for you to hear.

When you artfully channel your green filly’s longing for peace, when you dole it out to her in tiny sips with every well-timed release, would you call that exploitive? I wouldn’t.

Clicker training, by every definition I've ever read, uses positive reinforcement. (Click that link - I go back to it several times.) Positive reinforcement means that the trainer gives something to the subject in order to increase the frequency of a behavior. You give the dog a bit of kibble when she sits. You give your husband a kiss when he loads the dishwasher. You give the horse a treat when she walks calmly past the scary trash can. That's a great tool, and it's extremely effective in all kinds of situations if you use it right, but it's not what most horse owners do most of the time when we interact with our animals.

I might get this wrong - and if so, I hope the clicker nerds who read this will correct me - but I think most human/horse interaction is negative reinforcement ("the taking away of an aversive stimulus to increase certain behavior or response.") An aversive stimulus doesn't have to be harsh to be effective - it just means pressure and release. We all know to release the pressure as soon as the horse does what we want, right? I think that's pretty fundamental to every effective non-clicker form of horsemanship. If you're tapping your horse's butt with a lunge whip to encourage her to load in a trailer, you stop tapping as soon as she starts moving toward the trailer. By taking away that aversive whip stimulus, you've showed her that yes, that's what I want.

Now, look back up at that quote. "When you artfully channel your green filly’s longing for peace, when you dole it out to her in tiny sips with every well-timed release..." Release is not a reward. Rewards are positive reinforcement; releases are negative reinforcement. I'm a big fan of negative reinforcement - but it's not clicker training.

Two. (Emphasis in original.)
The moment in your brief anti-clicker tirade when your ignorance was most glaringly exposed was when you scoffed that a clicker trainer “couldn’t click fast enough” if you put her in a dangerous situation. It would make as little sense to say of one of your students that she couldn’t yank on the bit often or hard enough to survive such a test. The problem wouldn’t lie with the bit, it would lie with the unprepared rider and horse. A clicker trainer uses the clicker to nurture a feel and to establish, refine, and then occasionally maintain specific cued behaviors. If a trainer hadn’t worked hard and long (possibly with the help of a clicker) to get the feel of her horse and to get the behaviors she would need in such a situation solidly on cue, if she hadn’t already established that she could bet her life on her horse responding as he needed to in order to keep them both safe, she would be a suicidal idiot to get the two of them willingly into such a fix. As would any student using your methods.

Um, I actually can't ask for a behavior that's incompatible with the horse trompling me (such as "head down" or "feet still") and click to reward it faster than the horse can run over me (or buck me off, or spin and bolt). Especially if I've only used clicker training - meaning, I've only used positive reinforcement of the behaviors I want to see. I haven't yet met a horse that was exclusively trained using positive reinforcement - and to be honest, I don't ever want to be on the same side of a fence as that horse.

You know what I can do? Scream and wave my fists, for trompling on the ground. Yank the horse's nose to my knee with my instruments of oppression reins. It might not save me - horses are dangerous! - but it's more likely to save me than asking for a behavior that's incompatible with splattering me.

Let's go back to operant conditioning terms for a second. My panic reactions to my horse trying, inadvertently, to kill me are all positive punishment methods: the adding of an aversive stimulus to decrease a certain behavior or response. If my horse walks right into my bubble like she's forgotten I exist, I will absolutely add an aversive stimulus (yelling, thrashing about with the lead rope, flailing with my arms) to decrease that behavior.

In contrast, if I'm trying to train her to stand in a slightly different spot, I might use pressure/release negative reinforcement: jiggle the lead rope til she backs up with her head at my shoulder. Or I might use clicker training positive reinforcement: when she's standing exactly where I want, make a marker sound that she associates with something pleasant, to indicate that that's where I want her to stand. Both of those methods take repetition, and they'll both get you a horse that's interested in leading and standing in exactly the way you've trained - but I just don't know if that horse wouldn't leap into you to get away from a plastic bag blowing across the yard. That's what positive punishment is for.

Additionally: you only become prepared for your horse by doing shit with your horse. I do not know how to get behaviors on cue 100% of the time without exposure to different scenarios, and no one else does either. That's why endurance riders are prepared to eat dirt at the first start line. It's why your barrel horse runs differently away from home. It's why dressage people start out at lower levels than what they train at home. It's why eventers practice jumping so many types of jump - it takes exposure to get the cues right, whether you're using positive or negative reinforcement. Yes, I'm sure a committed and gifted clicker trainer could get the cues right to perform well in any of those scenarios - but positive punishment is there to save you from a world of hurt if it all goes sideways.

What do you think, clicker and traditional people?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I am the worst endurance rider ever

I didn't ride again. And it was in the low 60s! My uterus declared today to be a non-riding day, and lobbied hard for it to be a couch-day, but I did manage to strip the den floor at least. Getting the carpet up was pretty easy, and then I just alternated sitting on the couch feeling sorry for myself with crawling on the floor prying up staples.

Tomorrow. I ride. Swear to god, no matter what, I ride that horse.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Word verification PSA

Hey, do you hate the new two-word word verification like I do? GOOD. Let's turn it off. Blogger has made it very hard to turn off WV, but I have used the awesome powers of my new favorite search engine to figure out how to turn off the two impossible to read words.

I mean, assuming you're willing to turn on comment moderation - you will probably get Russian spammers if you turn off WV and don't have comment moderation on. It's not that big a deal to approve comments once a day (or every couple of days) - let me be your low-standards leader. Sometimes I approve them immediately, sometimes I forget for days at a time. Ain't no thang. Don't fear the comment moderation.

So! My persuasive skills have swayed you and you want to turn off the horrible word verification. Here's a blog post explaining how.

If that post gets deleted:
Go to your new blogger dashboard thing. Look for your name in the top right. Click the little gear under it. Go to Old Blogger Interface. Click on your blog name, then Settings, then Comments. Scroll down to Show Word Verification for Comments, and click No.

I am this close to migrating four years' worth of posts to Wordpress. I do not like the new interface; I am not real fond of Google right now, and now the stupid impossible to solve captcha? fffffffffffffddd

No, I'm not going to miss it!

I was going to talk about books (Temeraire! Cutter!) but I gotta get this off my chest first. People keep saying "oh your house looks so nice now, you won't even want to sell it anymore!" I'm sort of confused and annoyed whenever I get that comment. I'm going to try to articulate why.

We didn't buy this place to retire at. It's not our perfect dream house - the plan was to live in it for 10 years or so and then get something different, depending on what life looked like then. And remember, I only thought it was our decade house for three months. As soon as G interviewed in SF, I started emotionally detaching myself from it. I love Reno far more than I love this particular house, and ehh, hopefully one day we'll get to move back to the mountains or the high desert.

Anyway, for more than a year now, I've been looking at the house as an investment that needs to be divested sooner rather than later. I am having a lot of fun (in the same sense that endurance riding is fun*) fixing the house and making style/budget/skill choices to make it look its best, but it's not like it's an extension of my self.

I started painting houses when I was 14 - a trailer for rent as a business was the first thing I ever worked on, actually. In between college and "real" jobs and more college and more horrible "real" jobs, I kept coming back to remodeling, learning more skills over time. When I worked for S, the last four years before I left Memphis, we did mostly huge high-end home renovations. He had a very small crew, so it was rarely a whole house, but we'd do a whole kitchen, or paint the entire downstairs, or build a new room off the back of a house. Long term stuff, where you'd show up to the same job site for weeks or months, end up with a truly beautiful finished product, then pack up and move the hell on. I (and everybody else in the trades I've ever talked to) get bored after a while. Even if the pay is really good and Home Depot is only a half mile away and there's a ton of cheap places to get lunch, you just get sick of driving to the same job site for weeks on end, and you start to look forward to the next project.

I think about my house the same way. I'm kind of in the weeds today, feeling like I'm never going to get the kitchen 100% done, much less finish the whole punchlist of stuff I need to do, but still - it's almost done. Almost time to move on. It was fun, and if we were going to stay here I'm sure I'd be plotting out a new chicken coop and maybe finishing part of the inside of the barn and I wonder how much new windows cost... but I'm not staying. I'll take lots of pics. I learned a lot prettying up this dump, and I can't wait to buy another ugly heap and do it all over again, but I'm about done here. So, yeah, I'm totally looking forward to selling it, even after (or because of) all this time and labor.

*One often thinks "why the fuck did I pay money to do this to myself?! while in the middle of renovations or endurance rides, but as soon as you finish either one you're like "hell yeah that was awesome, when's the next one!"

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Reining for non-reiners, or, she TRIED!

Today I bestirred myself from the couch (and my renovation projects) to do a reining for non-reiners clinic by a local trainer, K. It was excellent, and my horse was excellent, and I even acted like a grownup and enjoyed myself!

My friends ~C (on Diego!) and R on Quick were there, and a bunch of people I'd never met before whose names I promptly forgot. (Sorry, yall, if you read this later.) There were three Arabs (Diego, a grey, and a chestnut reiner), a Haflinger, and a TWH (your favorite Dixie) - all the rest were stock types. I'd say three people were Reiners, two were Very Green, and the rest of us were somewhere in between.

We all assembled in a huge round arena. To start, we all introduced ourselves (which clearly did me no good at all), then did trot/canter circles in the center to show where we were at. The reining horses were beautiful, the green horses were green, and everybody else was somewhere in between. I was the last to go, and Dixie did not want to canter to the left - she did a high-headed fast trot/pace/rack - but cantered nicely to the right. Then she did not want to woah and sort of petered out to a halt in about 7 strides. K was like "... And woah means WOAH" and I was like "nah dude we do not WOAH, I used to run her into immovable obstacles to get her to stop so we don't have a snappy woah but I'd love to learn one." So that became a Thing for us to work on.

The format was individual one-on-ones with everybody else watching - we each got two or three individual sessions. I really enjoyed watching everybody else go - I think everybody, especially the less-advanced people (me included!), visibly learned a lot. For instance, the greenest person there (clearly a boyfriend/husband lured into horses) was on a horse who wouldn't stop jigging and he couldn't stay out of her mouth. K walked him through "keep her moving, pull back and tell her to walk, good, RELEASE, ok, let her trot" basic rider stuff really well.

When it was our turn, K had Dixie and me work on counter-bending. There's a dressage word for it, and probably all disciplines have something like this: have the horse trot in a circle to the left, with its head bent to the right (or vice versa). It's supposed to give you, the rider, control over the legs / ribcage / hips / shoulders, to keep the horse from falling in or outside the circle. We tried it and immediately got into a fight, and I pushed through for maybe a minute, and right when I was starting to think "maybe this isn't going to work" K interrupted us. She said "This isn't working, let's try it in a straight line." She had us trot in a straight line, with me bending Dixie's head to the left and bumping her forward with my right leg. Dixie got a stride of it a couple times, just enough for me to start to feel it, then we were done.

We watched all the rest of the riders go. One of the reiners really made his human look great, and one of the reiners really didn't look like he was having a good day / career, and I learned something watching everybody. Then we took a break - I hopped off and gave Dixie an apple and got a drink, then headed back in and worked on the counter bending thing some more on the rail. It took a lot less leg for me to get her going right on the rail, after the earlier practice and some time for it to settle in.

Everybody trickled back in, and we stood against the rail and watched again. When it was our turn, Dixie and I cantered big circles ON BOTH LEADS like pros. Ok, like Ammy Owners. Ok, fine, like amateurs at an unrated show - but still! She promptly picked up the canter on both leads, and I don't think I flopped like a fish too badly - I was so very proud of us. Then we took another little rail break, then worked on STOPPING. I did a very bad stop while K watched, then she explained the right sequence / body movements - sit deep, exhale, feet forward, "WOAH," haul on the reins as necessary. We did trot/halt transitions maybe five times and got better each time. I think our big issue there is going to be my exhale-woah thing - I've used a big sigh as a pre-cue to halt/slow for years now. (It started off as sigh/"woah"/one rein to a halt within 50 yards of the panicked bolt.) She definitely checks herself as soon as I sigh, before I actually ask for the woah. I don't know if we'll ever get to the point where that truly matters for us, and I don't think it'll be too hard to train around if it does.

When I first watched the Reiners go, I didn't like the amount of spur they used. They weren't spurring their horses bloody by any means, but it was bump-bump-bump with the spurs on every stride. I still don't think I want to desensitize my horse to being poked with spurs to that extent - but I do wish I had spurs now. I think I will pick up some cheapie shoe-spurs (so I don't have to put on boots with my real spurs). I don't want to ride with my toes out and spurs in on every stride - but it'd be really nice to have something to POKE her with when she sandbags me. And woah yall, I have been consciously riding dressage-y with my toes FORWARD instead of OUT for a couple years now, but I didn't realize how effectively I'd trained myself to do that until I needed to give her some heel today.

I am already sore in muscles I didn't know I had. All that leg requires hip flexors! And even my shoulders are sore, wtf! Dixie was barely damp under the girth, but I'm going to assume she's a little sore too for as long as I am - maybe we'll go do The Hill on Tuesday or Wednesday.

And you know what's really amazing? We stood. We stood rock-still for several hours. Most of the other horses were also standing like rocks, which helped a lot, but it did take some conscious work on my part. I took a zero-tolerance stance: if she shifted her weight, I'd raise the reins vertically and say "no." If she moved a foot, I'd back her up two steps. If she ended up turned to where I couldn't see what I wanted, I'd back her in a circle til I could see what I wanted, then drop the reins and watch. It was cold (for a Southerner - 40s!) so I spent most of the day with my hands in my pockets. I balanced "she has a stay apparatus" with "she needs to stretch her muscles" by turning and walking around when it wouldn't interrupt things - over to my friends, over to the water tank, over to an open space, etc.

Dixie was not like "Oh man cantering in circles is my ~true calling in life!~" but she was alert, tuned in, responsive to me. I asked her to do lots of somewhat-weird things, and she tried to figure out what I was asking. She didn't buck me off or tune me out, and I think our relationship might have even gotten better. She tried.

It was really excellent. I hope I can do a semi-private thing with C and R again, maybe next weekend - we're all at a similar level (not polished at what we do, not rank beginners, not afraid to TRY at any speed) and I think we learned a lot together. I just looked at the calendar and oh god running out of time - next weekend is free, the weekend after that is the AERC Convention, then the NEDA 20 miler, then RIDES OF MARCH OH GOD. Someone hold my hand while I breathe into a paper bag.

Next: book reviews! I read so many books since the last one, but most of them were in a series and that just counts as one review IMHO.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I managed to chill out and do nothing until after noon, but then I got antsy and put up a little trim. This side of the doorway was never trimmed out. Why yes, yes it did bug me, every single day.


If you're wondering, the blue bits of tape are numbered, so I can match the old quarter round up to the correct walls without thinking too hard about it.

I'm not 100% sure what to do here.

It's a finished sheetrock doorway. Maybe I should've hacksaw'd out the sheetrock corner pieces and run the flooring under the sheetrock? Well, I didn't, so now I need to trim over it. The threshold is just thin metal so no big deal there. I guess I'll lay some quarter round in there and see how it looks, and if I don't like it I'll try baseboard and just ease the angle where it meets the other side of the doorway.

This is what I'm really puzzling over. Any advice would be appreciated!

You can see from the old glue that there used to be that crappy vinyl cove molding up against the cabinets. Before we bought the house, they'd ripped that down (but didn't sand off all the glue, just painted over it) and put quarter round down against the carpet. I think I'd like baseboard on the end of both cabinets - but I really don't want to run baseboard under the toe kicks of ALL the cabinets. Is it going to look funny if I cut the baseboard flush with the toe kick? Or maybe cut it back at a 45?

There's one spot, under the oven, where the toe kick is like 1" off the floor with some ragged shims sticking out, and I am planning on putting a 1x4 under there with the quarter round tacked to the bottom of it. Hopefully unless you lay down and really stare at it, you'll never know it's not the bottom of the cabinet.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Floorday

Engineered hardwood in the kitchen. Glued the seams in the food prep area (dishwasher back to window). I won't point out the two fuckups if you don't either!

Took me three long days. Next week I'll do the den. Happy Friday, yall!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I hate you, Charter, or, "Do you have internet now? Please say yes or no."

So today I ripped out the kitchen carpet, took it to the dump, prepped the floor, and laid three rows of the engineered hardwood, then decided I shouldn't be sawing outside past 8 pm or the neighbors might object. I hadn't gotten any email in like FOREVER so I went to check and the internet was down. I called my fabulous husband (my personal computer janitor) and he did advanced troubleshooting and determined it's Charter's fault... and I had to call them.

Yall. I only panic for about 15 minutes when the water stops working. I am blase about any home repair issue short of an earthquake or fire. But I cannot call tech support.

A bazillion years ago, I was a Tier 1 tech support CSR for Roadrunner, and I have been on the other end of far too many calls. (The nice older gentleman who drank whiskey and sang to me as he walked through inserting all 5 Windows 95 floppy disks to reinstall his TCP/IP stack was my personal low point.) I know that the fastest way to get things done is to run through the stupid troubleshooting script the agent can't deviate from - or preferably, just jump in and ask them up front if there's an issue (there are no problems, only issues, as our trainers said) in my area. I hate it. I hate calling, listening to the verbal spam, trying to figure out whose name / SSN / phone number got used on the account... I hate it all.

But I am nothing if not resourceful, so I looked up the number for Charter - yes, Charter Communications, CHTR, I'm talking to you and called them. And they have an IVR (interactive voice recognition, the recorded thing you have to talk to) doing tier 1 tech support now.

So here's the abbreviated version of our conversation.

IVR: What's your phone number?
Me: I punch in one of G's phone numbers, and angels sing - it's the one he used to set up the account.
IVR: I found you! What's wrong?
Me: My internet is broken.
IVR: I'm sorry, I didn't understand you. (Henceforth abbreviated as "ISIDUY.")
IVR: So you're having trouble connecting to the Internet? Let me walk you through some troubleshooting. You can say "agent" any time if you want to speak to an agent. First...

The IVR then did a quite competent job of walking me through power cycling the modem. I was annoyed at how slow it was, but at least it spoke perfectly understandable American English (even though it thought I was speaking English as a third language if I did not yell, slowly and clearly, every word).

IVR: Try to browse the internet! Did that fix your problem?
Me: No.
Me: NO!
IVR: Ok, let's reboot your computer. When you've finished rebooting, say "continue."
Me, lying: Continue.
IVR: ISIDUY? Do you know how to reboot your computer? Say help if you need help rebooting your computer, or say continue when you rebooted your computer!
IVR: Ok, try to connect to the internet now. Can you connect to the internet now?
Me: NO!
IVR: ISIDUY? You can say yes or no!
Me: NO!!
IVR: ISIDUY? Are you stupid? Can you connect to the internet? Do you know how to turn your computer on and connect to a web page?
Me: Yes.
Me, screaming: NO! AGENT! YES! BURN IN HELL!
IVR, continuing implacably: Can you connect to a web page on the world wide web now?
Me: presses end call

So I poured another drink (RIP expensive rum, I really enjoyed you) and called back. After I put in my phone number and got shunted back to Halle 9000, I immediately started yelling agent and she immediately began acting like she didn't understand me. But the magical 0 button worked... to drop me into a queue that never got answered. At 9 pm PACIFIC time.

After 12 minutes on hold, listening to the virtues and fantastic deals of a Charter cable/internet/phone package, I mashed refresh one more time on Facebook and lo and behold, it worked.

Having typed this out, I feel better, and I do hope that one day some social media intern for Charter Communications (CHTR on the NASDAQ) shall stumble upon this post and understand the depths of my fury for the stupid IVR tech support. Just hire some more college kids, ok? They're basically slave labor anyway and you're just contributing to the destruction of our economy by outsourcing everything to shitty IVRs. If I could pay an extra $20 a month for a phone number that connected me directly to a human, located in the United States, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Monday, February 13, 2012

NEDA Valentines: I love it, she's not feeling it

Sunday we went out to Silver Springs for the fourth time since Halloween and rode. The day was lovely - high near 55, no clouds, no massive wind. I got to ride with my friend R, which was a treat. We've been meaning to ride together all winter and it just hasn't happened enough. But something didn't feel quite right.

Here's the Strava:

And here's the New Years ride for comparison.

I was talking it out on IM with a friend Sunday night, and I just discovered that yall can't see the Performance info that I can see! If you're logged in to your own Strava account, you can see it, but not if you're a non-user - and I certainly don't expect yall to join just to see a graph :) I emailed Strava and politely complained, and I really hope they'll consider adding that option, even if it's just for pro users. But for now - here's what I see.

Click to embiggen. New Years:

The blue line is our MPH. New Years was pretty much perfect. Dixie started out rocking hard, we came into the hold hot and sweaty and stayed there for 20 minutes (where the blue line bottoms out in the middle), then she went out on the second loop feeling pretty good. She wasn't nearly as fresh as the first loop, but she still picked up a trot (or something) and held it a decent amount of time, then recovered fast at a walk and went back to work again.


Valentines was just worse. The first loop went well at first, but then she got pokey a couple miles from camp. When we really slowed down right before the hold was when I got off and (gasp!) jogged, and she didn't even want to trot behind me. She wasn't very hot, she didn't have that tired eye, I gave the usual amount of electrolytes and she ate the usual nibble of food at the hold. Since she wasn't tired, we headed back out pretty promptly, and she continued to be BLAH.

See how the second loop gets really sawtoothed? My friend's horse would slowly outpace us, and I'd urge her up to a trot. She'd trot out strong then start slowing down and eventually drop to a walk. Again, the last little bit at the end was my pitiful jogging. I ended up unclipping the lead and jogging off without her, and she just kinda half-ass followed me.

So of course by the time I got home I was sure Dixie was probably dying, or starving, or overtrained, or something equally horrible. I wailed to my friends online for most of the night, and by the time I went to bed I tentatively thought she was possibly bored - but I wasn't entirely ruling out tired from overtraining.

Today I've decided Dixie's definitely bored. I slept in til the shocking hour of 7:30 and Miss Thing was raging when I went out to feed - trotting around tossing her head at me and flinging herself on the ground to roll then leaping up to toss her head again. (Do I have the only horse who passive-aggressively rolls, or do other horses do it too??)

After I had some coffee, I backed the truck up near the paddock and started loading scrap metal. Another huge display - lots of cantering around snorting and trotting up to the gate then back to the far corner where she likes to hang out then back up front, over and over again. And when I got home late this afternoon, I decided I was hungrier than she was and I ate dinner first. I'm a terrible horse owner, I know. She behaved herself when I finally went out and fed, but she was just a crackling ball of energy walking beside me on the lead. It's just not the behavior of a horse who's actually tired from doing 20 miles at 7 mph.

So! I'm going to stick with my current training schedule, but try to work in some new stuff. There aren't any more NEDA rides at Silver Springs for a while - the next one is in Washoe Valley, which isn't totally new but isn't old and passé to her either. We're going to a reining clinic on Sunday, and I'm on the lookout for not-too-expensive fun things to do.

You may be wondering how I could've loaded scrap metal in the morning and stayed out til after Dixie's dinnertime - I sold the scrap, bought 19 boxes of engineered hardwood, some crap from Home Depot, a tank of gas, and my usual random junk from Costco, then came home and unloaded it. We have commenced a new phase of destruction at Casa Dixie - I am ripping up the unspeakably gross carpet in the den and kitchen and putting in some (extremely affordable!) cinnamon colored hardwood. I'm so excited! And I only feel utterly overwhelmed about a third of the time! Yippie!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Barefoot shoes on the short hill ride

So I went out Thursday on the short version of the hill (up the hill and back down, 5.6 miles).

First, and most importantly! Normal shoes make your legs longer. I didn't really notice til we got out of the subdivision and started trotting, but my stirrups were suddenly too long. They weren't unbearably too long, but I definitely had to concentrate on streeetching my heels down to keep my feet in the stirrups. I ride pretty light in the stirrups normally, but I definitely learned that I'm crooked - the right stirrup was harder to keep in place. It was good for me but I'm moving those bad boys up where they need to be next time.

(My saddle has western cordura fenders and cordura/leather straps. I love the soft fenders, but the strap part flops all over the place, so years ago I ziptied the bottom of the fenders together. Easy enough to snap the zip ties and move the buckles, but not something I was ready to do on the trail that day.)

The shoes were very comfortable to run in. I've been trying to land toe-first anyway, so it wasn't a huge change in my running style (such as it is). I jogged on down the hill at a good clip. Somebody asked about rocks - my backyard trails are not challenging terrain. You could run them literally bare footed. They're sand with occasional jagged rocks here and there, but no gravel. I dunno how the shoes will perform on crappier footing.

I've been alternating wearing the bare shoes and normal shoes. It really is a big change on your tendons - I can feel it in my lower calves and Achilles tendons. I think I will ride in normal sneakers tomorrow and slip on the bare thingies for wandering around before and after the ride - Silver Springs is flat as a pancake with very few natural mounting blocks, and it's HARD for me to clamber back on Dixie without a tree stump or a rock or something. If I'm not going to get off and jog, I will do fine in sneakers.

Mel - yes, my feet got dirty, but my feet get horribly dirty in everything except muck boots. I hate it but I have learned to live with it. :(

On the horse front: I had been pushing Dixie to trot up the hill without paying much attention to her form, but I decided that's just teaching her bad habits and building up the wrong muscles. Thursday I made her push from behind and trot properly up the hills, instead of getting a little tired and dragging her way up. It was a lot of half-halt, "ok try this again," trot. Somehow, even though it felt really slow, it was our best time on the climb.

Tomorrow: a flat NEDA ride with a clipped, fit horse in cool weather! Hopefully it'll be 20 miles of holding her back! :D

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New shoes, obscure guilt

So I've been wanting to try the "barefoot" shoes for a while now. The stereotype is probably Vibram Five Fingers, those goofy looking toe shoes, but there are a lot of other minimalist shoes out there now.

I've tried to run/jog before, many times. No matter how carefully and slowly I start, no matter how modest my goals, no matter what surface I slap my poor tired dogs down upon, I always get shin splints. I think the last time I tried was in 2009, with brand-new fitted-at-a-running-store-running-shoes, and I made it to Week 4 of Couch to 5k and all of a sudden I could hardly climb out of bed, so I decided then and there that I was through with running, forever.

But man, it's so nice to hop off and briskly lead my horse down steep hills, and it's even easier to jog down those steep hills and let her running walk after me, and I've actually been running down hills for about two weeks now and nothing is sore. My calves and my core muscles feel like I did something, but not in a debilitating way. So maybe that means it's time for my bidecennial jogging experiment! And it's 2012, so that means I should try the "barefoot" running thing!

But I woke up to an inch of totally unexpected snow, so I wasn't quite ready to go with crazy no-socks-allowed toe shoes. I headed to my STP Outlet Store to see what I could find with a minimal sole and room for socks. I ended up with some shockingly ugly Vivo Barefoots for only $70. We'll see how they do!

(PS I know I need to run differently and not heel-strike)

* * *

So Aarene's got a(nother) article in Endurance News. I should really encourage yall to join AERC and receive Endurance News for free as part of your membership, but since it's too late for you to get the January issue I'll just say the article is based on this post.

I'd like to direct your attention to #2: Loyalty to a person or an ideal (barefoot? bitless? treeless?) is important, but there's no need to be stupidly loyal. I'm pretty devoted to ~science~ and evidence-based endurance riding and "n=1 is useful if you are the 1", but even I have trouble letting go of my core beliefs sometimes. When I first got a horse (RIP Champ) I decided that Natural Horsekeeping was the only possible ethically correct course of action. One should leave all hair in place, because Evolution/God put it there for a reason, and Natural Wild Horses wouldn't be blanketed or locked in stalls or fed grain (especially ground heat-treated pelleted feed!) or shod or anything else!

I pretty quickly decided that riding horses with bits and saddles, while unnatural, was just the price they had to pay to receive an endless buffet of species-appropriate grass hay and regular barefoot hoof care from me. I also decided that a little pelleted hard feed was ok, as a ration balancer, and whacking off a couple inches of mane to make it easier to put my Instrument of Oppression bridle on her head wouldn't negatively affect my horse's ability to survive the cruel Mississippi winters.

Things went on a predictable slippery downhill slide from there. I "met" people in really wet climates who quite rationally rain-sheet their horses. I met people who have made reasonable accommodations to attempt to transition their horses to barefoot yet ended up going with good steel shoes. I met people who, given the choice between leaving their horses in a small paddock and riding 5x a week or pasture boarding and only riding once a week, chose to stall the horse and actually enjoy ownership. It's not black and white, and anybody who's owned a horse for very long must realize that, even if you're just realizing it subconsciously.

But for some reason, last fall I took my stand against Cruelly Stripping Dixie's Natural Protections from her and I didn't clip her. I think I even said "nah I'll pass" when ~C asked if I wanted her to clip Dixie's neck. (In my defense, she was only a couple months into her layoff/rehab at that point.) In December, Dixie came off official layup and I started to bring her back. Even though she's a wooly mammoth, even though we had an exceptionally mild winter, she tried for me.

Eventually, for whatever reason I decided that she was hot, ordered clippers, and clipped her. Her relief was so obvious and so immediate that it just totally threw me for a tizzy. I am in the middle of a huge existential crisis (again) about ideals versus reality, principles versus results, belief versus evidence, etc.

Anyway, this could probably pass unnoticed by most of you ("hey I thought Funder didn't ~do~ clips") except that I'm pointing it out, over and over again. Don't come pat me on the shoulder, please - think about what you're doing because it's Something you Believe, and think about what the evidence is really telling you. Should you keep doing that? Should you try something else? I'm not gonna lie, it's hard, and it's like three times as hard if you're wrong... but better to keep evaluating things than to do it "like we've always done it."

Two more rides, plus jogging!

On Saturday I did a long ride. 16 miles, flatter than I thought.

And then yesterday I got out again and did almost 8 miles, as hilly as I can do.

I've started running the steep downhills on foot. I can jog down the steep bits at 4.5-5 mph, which is an easy running walk for Dixie. I'm off her back, so she's much more stable and balanced. It feels nice to get off and move, and most importantly, there are well placed stumps and rocks where I'd like to get back on.

I need shoes though. My usual riding shoes are trail runners, but they're a half size too big - they were on clearance for $20, and perfectly fitting shoes aren't necessary when you're riding. But for running downhill, they suuuck. Yesterday I ran in my cute zip up fuzzy winter boots, which were awesome until they rubbed a hole in my Achilles tendon, at which point they started to suuuuuuck even harder than the other shoes.

I am surprisingly un-sore (aside from my heel).

I got some hoof pics immediately after yesterday's ride:
Left front
Right front
Left rear
Right rear

I trimmed the rear bars about a week ago and the front bars just a few days ago. The walls all need rolling and the rear bars, especially, need trimming. I'm real happy with those front frogs though! Just Pete's goo every 2-3 days so far.

We got an unexpected inch of snow last night. At least it'll make her feet easier to trim this afternoon. :)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Don't go, no jobs, die alone

Most people who know me to a moderate degree - either through email or IRL conversations - know that I'm a failed not-a-lawyer, and that I avoid talking about it. If you're newer to the blog, you might not even know that much.

In 2007, when I was busily trying to get admitted to law school, an internet forum that I've been a part of for years had a lawyers & law school thread titled "Don't go, no jobs, die alone." Ha ha, I thought, somewhat nervously. They think they're funny, don't they. I read the thread and decided that Big Law was not for me, but hell, I just wanted to live on a modest hobby farm in Mississippi and be a small-town jack of all trades lawyer. So I went to law school. I graduated completely without distinction from a third-tier school in 2009, passed the bar in MS, moved away before getting sworn in there, moved again, failed the NV bar, and am about to move yet again.

Many people I've talked to are super excited for me, and they're some variation of puzzled or annoyed that I am not equally excited about the thought of moving to California and spending thousands of dollars on prep classes, paperwork, and exam fees. Yall, my prospects of actually getting a remotely tolerable (much less fulfilling) job are extremely bleak. If you've wondered about the lawyer thing (or god forbid considered attending law school yourself), please read this long piece. It's worth a look, I promise.

I hate to just quote chunks of someone else's work when it's just a click away. The author (a tier one professor) talks about the huge disconnect between what you (and I, when I decided to attend) think of the lawyer's career versus the actual 2012 reality of it. Many of the lawyers lucky (or unlucky) enough to have jobs are pretty unhappy, but they're not culturally allowed to let down the facade. And those of us who haven't even managed to break in have it even worse.

The stigma of a spoiled identity haunts legal practice, but it is found most powerfully outside it, where it appears in its most unforgettable form among the rapidly increasing number of law school graduates working in low-status, low-paid, non-legal jobs, or who are completely unemployed, while trying to manage enormous amounts of non-dischargeable high interest educational debt. Every year, tens of thousands of recent and not-so-recent law graduates come to realize at long last that, despite dedicating many years of their lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars to attempting to enter our profession, they will never get real jobs as attorneys.

Pretty much.

I'm bitter that I owe $76,945.67 in loans. I'm bitter that I had the misfortune to graduate right as the economy tanked, and that law schools all across the country have punched out three more years' worth of better-looking job candidates than me. But mainly I'm furious at myself for not doing better due diligence before I took out those loans. I didn't check to see what the quality of life for big-city lawyers is like, because I figured I'd stay in Mississippi forever. I bought the post-grad employment statistics hook, line, and sinker. I feel like I made such a colossal series of screw ups that I second, third, fourth-guess myself all the time.

Anyway. Now maybe you'll understand why I change the subject when you ask if I'm excited to be getting ready for the California bar exam, or why I smile politely when you tell me your inspirational story about your friend/relative who took the bar X number of times but is now a happy partner/senior attorney at a firm/government agency!

Don't go. No jobs. Die alone*.

*Not necessarily alone, if you have a truly wonderful spouse who fully supports all your mistakes.

The Great Kitchen Post

Long. Picture-heavy. Forewarned.

I have almost no pictures of the "before" kitchen. It was so awful I took one shot of it the day we moved in and tried to pretend it wasn't that bad.

Hangover-green cabinets, greeny-blue carpet, greeny-blue countertops, Kountry Kitchen wallpaper border broken up by brown/blue tile backsplashes.

Here's the pass-through window, so you can kinda sense the creeping greenness of the cabinets.
What to doooooo??

My goal was to somehow make the countertop work, preferably the tiles too, and spend as little as possible. After months of thinking about it, I decided to go with a sandy tan for the walls and lightest off-white tan for the cabinets. The tan walls would pick up on the tan in the backsplash tiles, the blue in the backsplash tiles brings out the blue in the countertops (I seriously thought the countertops were green and BLACK for ages), and if the two open walls at the table end of the kitchen weren't DARK GREEN it wouldn't look so cavernous.

Seriously. They were DARK GREEN.

So on January 7 I set out to fix up the kitchen. Today, February 3, I am calling the project 95% done.

Everybody loves the Weird One - he crept into the kitchen one day and somehow got a blue microfiber cleaning cloth balanced on his forehead.

That pleased him so much that he made a very strange sighing purring growling noise and laid down against the fridge for a nap with his blankey.

This bugged me. It bugged me like you wouldn't believe. Yellow "brass" fluorescent light fixture with paint slopped all over it.

So I fixed it. I masked the fixture off, inside and out, made an enormous spray tent with brown paper, and sprayed the whole thing with that hammered nickel Rustoleum. It looks pretty nice now, and I only spent $8 on a can of paint. Yes, it would look way better with a completely new fixture, but that defeats the budget part of the remodel.

I think the tile actually ties the walls and the countertops together now.

Let me torture you with one more before pic. DARK GREEN checkered wallpaper, no molding around the doorway (because the jamb is too wide), and a DARK GREEN shelf to really bring out the "moldy fenceboards" look of the wallpaper.

With the overwhelming DARK GREEN gone, the wallpaper is pretty inoffensive.

I discovered a super cool new toy, too. You're either gonna be all pfft who didn't know about that? or all OMG THAT'S AMAZING! You know how some of your outlets and switches are set too far back into the wall? Maybe when you go to plug something in, the whole outlet feels squishy. What you need is spacers. They fit on the outlet screws, between the (often blue plastic) work box and the electrical device itself. I will take pics if you're interested. All my kitchen plugs line up perfectly with the switch plates now!

I'm waiting on a giant pull to use as a towel rack under the range. Despite buying exactly the right number of door pulls, I somehow managed to lose two of them in the four days between buying them and installing them, so I need to go buy two more and finish putting the handles up. We might rip out the carpet, and I don't want to put baseboard and door trim down today if I'm going to pull the flooring in a month, so I'm waiting on that. I need to touch up the pass-through window at some point and get the cabinet-to-trim line crisp. But other than that, I am done.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

New Hope

Yesterday I snuck off from the kitchen (har har, women's work!) to do our weekly hill ride. Dixie was way less sweaty and way more perky. She was breathing hard and clearly working, but she wasn't at all maxed out. We made great time up the 8% one-mile section - 10:30 - but even better we got a good walk/trot rhythm.

If you click over to the Strava and click on "performance" (a tab directly under the map), I'm really happy with that steady w/t/w/t going up the steep part of the hill. Before we get to the steeper bit, she's not really focused on what she's doing and there's a lot of slamming on the brakes for no reason / a tree / a car in the distance.

Coming back down the hill, I worked on keeping her at a RW on the steeper bit (she kept wanting to just keep accelerating into a rack or something, and I kept asking her to slow back to a walk), then when the grade eased off we just racked on home. I kept asking for slow, slow, slow, because if I let her take off she starts to hollow out. I don't know if you can get true rounded collection at a gait, but I know for sure you can have strung out or neutral-collected, and I'm going to work those muscles.

Anyway, I've spent most of a year thinking that our first 50 at High Desert was a fluke, a one-time performance we'd never manage to do again. For most of that time, remember, Dixie was on the injured list and I couldn't do any conditioning to set my mind at ease. Then she came back as strong as you'd ever hope on the flats, but she was almost unable to climb a 3 mile hill, and where does that leave me? Turtle the FEI races? Ugh, no.

But the clip seemed to do the trick. She's able to WORK without totally overheating now. I thought from the beginning that cooling would be my biggest challenge with Dixie - at least she's not black and not truly built like a tank. But she's definitely got a medium (TWH) build and a ton of bone and of course all that glorious hair.

Kitchen: yesterday I finished sanding the sheetrock, which means today I can run the dishwasher like 10 times and clean everything as I put it back up! Lots of little things to do today and tomorrow, but it's almost done. And it looks awesome - so much better than hangover-green.