Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Okay, Pal, YOU Drive Awhile...

The true test of a leader is whether his followers will adhere to his cause from their own volition, enduring the most arduous hardships without being forced to do so, and remaining steadfast in the moments of greatest peril...

For what the horse does under compulsion…is done without understanding; and there is no beauty in it either, any more than if one should whip and spur a dancer.

-- Xenophon, circa. 350 b.c.

Medicine Wheel

We all love to play in the sun
But Winter comes.
Why should we cry that the snow has begun?
Winter comes when Winter comes.



I'll ply the fire with kindling now
I'll pull the blankets up to my chin
I'll lock the vagrant winter out and
I'll fold my wandering in

I'd like to call back summertime
Have her stay for just another month or so
But she's got the urge for going
So I guess she'll have to go.

She gets the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
All her empire's falling down
And winter's closing in.

- Joni Mitchell, Urge for Going

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Of course, of course....

" Yes, he's here. Who may I say is calling......?"

Alternative captions, anyone?


Two Ponies

The Heart is the Teacher.
The Mind is the Student.


Monday, December 29, 2008


He preaches well that lives well, quoth Sancho; that's all the divinity I understand.

- Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

Sunday, December 28, 2008


...and I whispered to the horse, "Trust no man in whose eye you do not see yourself reflected as an equal "

- Don Vincenzo Giobbe, circa 1700

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Some Wounds Never Heal

On December 29, 1890, 500 troops of the U.S. 7th Cavalry, supported by four Hotchkiss guns killed more than 250 unarmed Lakota Indians, including women, children and infants, at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota. More died of exposure, following the slaughter.

Either a state of war existed between the Lakotas and the United States at that time, or it didn’t. If a state of war did exist, then US soldiers murdered unarmed prisoners of war. If it did not exist, then US soldiers murdered innocent civilians.
Either way, it’s a crime.

For this “heroic” action, members of the 7th received 20 Medals of Honor, more medals than given for any other military action in US history…

The Wounded Knee massacre wasn’t a unique, isolated tragedy, any more than the massacre of innocents at My Lai was a unique, isolated tragedy.
Both were a matter of policy.
There were a thousand Wounded Knee’s; there were a thousand My Lai’s.
The adage about being doomed to repeat history if you fail to study it applies here.
From South Dakota to Vietnam to Iraq, the names and faces change but the story is the same, as we export “manifest destiny,” by other names, around the globe.

When I was a child, too ignorant to be anything but innocent, I mistook the American Mythology that I was taught in school and saw in the movies, for real American history. When I finally learned the truth, it was like getting hit in the stomach with a baseball bat. Not a pleasant thing to discover that everything you believe and believe in is a lie.
No words can express the anguish and outrage and shame I felt.
I suppose I feel it still.

This year American Indian horsemen and horsewomen, will make a ride 300 miles, from the site of Sitting Bull’s grave to the site of the Wounded Knee massacre, taking over two weeks to make the trek. It’s the 23rd year the ride has been made.
In part, it’s a ride to honor those who died on that winter day long ago. In part it’s a journey of renewal – of culture and connections, principles and dreams. The young people call it the ride “for the Future.”

If I could ride with them, I would.


Friday, December 26, 2008

True Grey

Go out to yonder hilltop – around about dawn
There’s a sight you might just like to see
That’s when the mustangs all come down to drink.
Mustang means wild and free.
The sorrel who leads them may cast you a glance
Cock one ear slightly your way
Then take them over the next hill to graze
As they have done for many a day.

Should the day come that you don’t find me here
Don’t you fret, darlin’ -- please don’t despair
Go out to yonder hilltop around about dawn
I believe you might just glimpse me there
I’ll raise up from drinking and cast you a glance
Cock one ear slightly your way
And you can rest easy that I’m finally free
And forever will be your True Grey



Got rope?

Wind and Fire

He is pure air and fire;
and the dull elements of earth and water
never appear in him,
but only in patient stillness
while his rider mounts him;
he is indeed a horse,
and all other jades you may call beasts.

~William Shakespeare, Henry V

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Gift

When God created the horse he said to the magnificent creature: I have made thee as no other. All the treasures of the earth lie between thine eyes. Thou shalt carry my friends upon thy back. Thy saddle shall be the seat of prayers to me. And thou flyest without wings, and conquerest without any sword.....

~The Koran


When I bestride him, I soar,
I am a hawk: he trots the air;
the earth sings when he touches it;
the basest horn of his hoof is more musical
than the pipe of Hermes.

~William Shakespeare, Henry V

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


With flowing tail, and flying mane,

Wide nostrils never stretched by pain,

Mouths bloodless to the bit or rein,

And feet that iron never shod,

And flanks unscarred by spur or rod,

A thousand horse, the wild, the free,

Like waves that follow o'er the sea,

Came thickly thundering on...

~Lord Byron, XVII, Mazeppa, 1818

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oh, Cisco........

My new friend, Cisco.
For some reason, he seems to have adopted me. Calls to me when I arrive. Approaches expectantly. Follows closely.
As if we've known each other a long time.
Maybe we were comrades in another life.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Many Ponies CD: Update

I want to thank everyone who's given their support by passing the word around. We're starting to sell a few of these CD's. Enough so we can chip in a small donation for the 20 or so ponies at the horse rescue where I've been spending some time.
It isn't a huge amount, and there's always more to be done, but sometimes it only takes a little bit to make a lot of difference.
On behalf of all of them, to each and every one of you: thank you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

If Anyone is above the Law, then there IS no Law.

The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched.

Robert H. Jackson

Chief of Counsel for the United States

Nuremberg, Germany

November 21, 1945

California Dreamin'

....on such a winter day.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter Sun

It’s one of those winter mornings when the sun sleeps late.

Gets up groggy and bleary-eyed, mouth tasting like an old sweat sock, shuffles out to the kitchen in ratty bathrobe and rattier slippers, gulps down hot coffee.
No cream, no sugar.

Feels like he must be fighting something. He lolls around on the couch, doesn’t bother to shower or shave. Gags down a piece of cold, left-over pizza – why the hell did he order anchovies? – and more java.

Huddles under an old afghan and tubes out.
Flicks the remote like watching a series of badly-edited random flashbacks from the late 6o’s. Tries re-runs of some cop show. Doesn’t hold his interest for long. Pops in some tried and true porn.
Vidi, vici, veni.
No dice.

Tries a book.
The words refuse to keep still, scurry around on the page. Reads the same sentence a dozen times...

By 3:30 in the afternoon, he’s dozing off.

People are looking up, with gritted teeth, clutching their clothes around them, saying, “Hey, Pal, how about a little heat, huh?”

But he ignores them, the way a career bureaucrat, ignores a guy bleeding to death right in from of him: not my job.

By 6pm it feels like midnight, and he hits the rack early without having done a damn thing all day to justify his existence.

Tomorrow, he tells himself. I’ll make a fresh start tomorrow.
Clean up my act.
Or maybe the next day.


A Little Lower and to the Right, Please...

When you have an itch you can't reach to scratch yourself, you find out who your friends really are. I enjoy finding a pony's "sweet spots," places they like to be touched. Chest, ears, under the chin. I like it because they like it. It's something I can do for them and I don't ask for anything in return. I think that's a good start for a friendship.


Friday, December 19, 2008

I gave you my word.....

....and I never break my word.


In the World of the Horse...

...there's only the present moment.

They have taught me something about seeing things in their proper perspective.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Do Blondes Have More Fun?

Nothing like a big sackful of sweet, juicy apples for picking up chicks!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Horse Magic

That's my partner getting well-deserved adoration from some little girls, while he's practically dozing off. Sometimes, it's good to be a horse.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Wild Horses

When all the Wild Horses are gone
What will remind us
To Dream
Of the Freedom we've lost?


Impossible Dreams

A friend asked me recently, what I believe in.
Everything and nothing, I told her, in about equal proportions.
A facile answer, but true only to a point. To be completely truthful I would have to say that there is something I believe in completely and without doubt: honor.

But “honor” is one of those words that can mean a lot of different things depending on who’s using it, misusing it, or abusing it.
So I’d better explain.

hon·or (ˈä-nər), noun. Middle English, from Anglo-French onur, honur, from Latin honos, honor 13th century: a keen sense of ethical conduct : integrity b: one's word given as a guarantee of performance

Good definition.
As far as it goes.
But who’s to say what’s “ethical?” Just what is “integrity,” anyway.
Fair questions.

Ethics is, as you probably know, a branch of philosophy that explores the meaning of “right” conduct and living a “good” life.

I’ll spare you my witty summary of Plato and Aristotle. You should read these cats for yourself, anyway, if you haven’t already. And I’ll skip normative ethics, meta-ethics, hedonism, stoicism and a bunch of other –ism’s, and fast-forward right to the things that make sense to me, that have the ring of self-validating truth about them, the way gravity has, because you can see it at work and observe what happens when a person or a Wile E. Coyote tries to play fast and loose with it.

Reputation is what other people know about you.
Honor is what you know about yourself.

- Lois McMaster Bujold

In The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, one of my favorite books, Eric Fromm coined the term biophilia (literally meaning “love of life”) and suggests that healthy human beings are attracted to all that is alive and vital.

Contrary to the Freudian notion that there are two separate-but-equal instincts (eros, the life instinct, and thanatos, the death instinct) at war for control of the human psyche and soul at any given moment, Fromm would say that constructive, creative, pleasure-seeking, life-enhancing behavior is the “natural” state of human beings, and that destructiveness, pain-seeking, life-diminishing behavior is psychopathology.

Unfortunately, not all human beings are healthy.
Some individual lack the ability to feel connectedness, in the same way that some individuals are born without the ability to see colors. Color-blind people can understand what colors are, intellectually. And they can learn to mimic the behavior of color-sighted people – for example, learning to stop when the top traffic light comes on and “go” when the bottom one lights up.
But they can never experience the colors the way color-sighted people do.
Those folks who are emotionally/spiritually “color-blind” are called “psychopaths.”
Some, like Ted Bundy (a classic example of an “essential psychopath) are criminal psychopaths. But many others are not. They may function within the bounds of the law but wreak havoc, hurt and harm on a social or interpersonal level.

Later on, others extended the term “biophilia” to include "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.”
This, I think may be the biological basis of “honor.”

Lawrence Kohlberg devised a six-stage model of moral development. At the highest stage – which few, according to Kohlberg, ever achieve -- there is what I would consider an excellent definition of honor.
Kohlberg says, "Right is defined by the decision of conscience in accord with self-chosen ethical principles appealing to logical comprehensiveness, universality and consistency. These principles are abstract and ethical (the golden rule, the categorical imperative) and are not concrete moral rules like the Ten Commandments. At heart, these are universal principles of justice, of the reciprocity and equality of human rights, and of respect for the dignity of human beings as individual persons."

This brings me to my particular flavor of honor, called “chivalry.”
The root of this word is “cheval” or “horse,” in French. Literally, then, it means “horsemanship.”
My Webster’s 10th edition says chivalry is “the system, spirit or customs of medieval knighthood.” That is to say, chivalry included the moral code, as well as the martial arts, of the Ideal Knight. That Ideal Knight, in my opinion, would be the Knight-Errant, more about whom, shortly.
For me the term is personally appropriate because I have learned as much about “right conduct” and living a “good life” from horses as from people.
More, come to think of it.
Maybe some knights did, too.

I consider there to be four foundational principles of chivalry: prowess, veracity, loyalty and benevolence.

Prowess, to the medieval knight, meant skill at armes, the sine qua non of success in that profession. The Ideal Knight engaged in a continuous, life-long quest to cultivate consummate skill in horsemanship, swordsmanship, tactics, strategy and courtesy, proper behavior off the battlefield as well as on it. Today we could say that prowess means the pursuit of excellence in all things, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. While the medieval knight needed skill at armes to vanquish foes, the modern knight practices chivalric skills to vanquish in himself/herself everything that is petty, selfish, fearful or in any way dishonorable.

Veracity, or truthfulness is as important today as it ever was -- and as rare. The medieval knight must never “be a party to any untruth.” 21st century chivalry requires not only that the modern knight does not lie, but that he/she does not tolerate lies in their presence. This includes lies of omission as well as commission and all manner of lying by obfuscation, and evasion. The knight has an obligation to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” but is also keenly aware of any possible bias, prejudice or limitations of perception. Ask the common person what color that house is and he or she will say “It’s white.” Ask a knight and the reply will be, “It’s white on the side that I can see.” (Thanks to Robert Heinlein’s “fair witness”)

Loyalty in the middle ages meant loyalty to the knight’s lord or monarch, to whom he gave his pledge. Today, our loyalty is to the code of chivalry itself and only secondly to any “lord” or superior. -- and then only as long as that superior’s conduct does not violate the essential principles of that code, or requires us to o so. Here we may make the distinction in “warriorship” between the common man-at-arms or soldier, and the Ideal Knight: a soldier follows orders; a warrior follows his conscience. You might say that one’s loyalty belongs to whatever one pledges loyalty to – so above all, to one’s own word, one’s own honor.

The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught.
- H.L. Mencken

Benevolence is the fourth of the foundational principles of chivalry. It comes from Latin and means “a disposition to do good.”
As previously noted, there are a few people (psychopaths) who will always choose to do wrong, to inflict pain, to harm, to destroy no matter what the circumstances, provided that it serves some whim of their own and they can do it with no risk or cost to themselves. They have no empathy and view others as “things” that exist only as toys for the immediate gratification of their every desire

Most people will do good when there is some material or social reward involved for doing it, or when it is, at least, not inconvenient or dangerous to do. Likewise the common person refrains from doing wrong because they fear the consequences, materially or socially, if they are caught.

There are a few people who will always choose the right thing, the fair, just, merciful, honest, true thing, the life- enhancing thing, with compassion, integrity and dignity, no matter what the circumstances, regardless of any risk or cost to themselves. These are the people I would call “good,” or benevolent. The biophiliacs, if you like. Or the “anti-psychopaths,” if I may be so bold.

The Ideal Knight comes from this number small number of benevolent persons. The knight does good because it is good. It has become his nature. She no longer has a “choice;” anymore than a person has a “choice” not to breath. She is compelled to do what is right and just, what preserves and enhances life under all circumstances, without exception, and does so fully understanding that one can never do right without risk or cost to oneself Likewise the knight refrains from doing wrong because it is wrong, because it is hurtful or harmful to innocent persons whom he must always protect, rather than from any fear of punishment or other unpleasant consequences to himself.

The Ideal Knight-errant goes further. Unlike the Ideal Knight for whom doing good is a constant, but a happenstance, the Ideal Knight-errant sallies forth into the world aggressively seeking out opportunities to do good.

Maybe you’re thinking, that’s a tall order, Pal.
I agree.
It’s an “Impossible Dream.”
That’s exactly what makes it a Dream worth striving for.


The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.

- Socrates

Monday, December 1, 2008


My never-ending restlessness
The searching for
The longing for
Something just out of sight
Indistinct in the shadows
Out of sight
Over the rainbow...
Some deep need
In my blood
Continual craving
Never satisfied
The storm in my soul
Becalmed only in the magic presence of horses.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fire is the Enemy

Fire is the enemy.
Fire doesn’t care that you’re just a volunteer.
Fire doesn’t care that you’re a member of a small town fire company.
Fire doesn’t care how long you’ve been a member of that company.
Fire doesn’t care that you don’t get many serious fires.
Fire doesn’t care that you have more important things to do than train.
Fire doesn’t care about your family or what they’ll do without you.
Fire doesn’t care about your hopes and dreams and plans.
Fire doesn’t care about you at all.
Fire only cares about what it needs, about what it wants.

Fire is the enemy.
Fire feels no empathy.
Fire has no compassion.
Fire shows no mercy.
Underestimate this enemy and it will kill you.

Fire is the enemy.
Fire may attack a home or a school, an office, or factory or hospital.
It will use that structure to create an ambush for you,
using innocent lives as bait.
Everything in it is a trap.

Fire is the enemy.
Fire is a living thing.
It breathes. It consumes.
And it wants to survive.
It will never act against its own survival.

Fire is the enemy.
Fire is stronger than you are.
Fire knows no fear.
But Fire can be defeated
If you have enough of two things: Water and Discipline.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

JFK Blown Away, What More Do I Have to Say?

It's a good bet that you remember where you were and what you were doing on November 22, 1963, if you were at least three years old and not in a vegetative state. That was the day John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States, was murdered.

Me, I remember.

My impressions of that day are probably a little different from most people's.
It was a Friday. I was 12 years old and at school when word came that classes were cancelled for the rest of the day because someone had shot the President. For a heartbeat, I was swept with elation – no math class today, and I hated math.
Then it sunk in.

By the time I got to the bar, where I knew my old man would be, the regulars had already assembled. No business as usual today. All bets were off. The watering hole was the logical place to gather. These guys were, like my dad, working class stiffs. Construction guys. Truck drivers. Carpenters. Plumbers. Regular guys. Most of them were WWII or Korean War veterans.

There was Big Johnny, the owner and bartender, naturally. Little Johnny, his eldest son, on leave from the Army. Big Johnny had a guilt-thing going on because he hadn’t served in the Big War with the rest of the boys. 4F, I heard. He certainly was a soft, tubby little man. Parted his thinning locks up the middle, like an old-time, wild-west bar-keep. To make up for missing the party, Big Johnny offered up his eldest son, identifiable as his offspring by the identical bulbous nose. Little Johnny was a sergeant and an M.P. stationed in Berlin.
The German one.

Randy Ross, a local cop, was there, too. At one time had been a notable “tough cop” with the Chicago P.D. rubber-hose brigade. Don’t know why he left the city to take up small-town policing. Ross had caught a bullet in the head making a routine traffic stop out on route 12 one lonely night, and hadn’t been quite right since. Some say it improved his manner considerably. He was still a cop, but “temporarily” assigned to the school cross-walks while the days ticked away until his retirement. He liked us kids to call him “Officer Randy.” We got along well with him because he seemed to be doing his thinking on a child-like level these days. No sense of subtlety or guile.
If you said, sarcastically, “Real good move, Officer Randy,” he’d blush a little and say “Gee, thanks.” Couldn’t understand the sarcasm, see?
He also sometimes got words confused. Once he mentioned that he was going to an optimist to get some reading glasses. That brought out some general mirth. “Don’t laugh,” Randy said. “You might need glasses yourself someday.”

Chuck, of Chuck’s Trucking fame, was there. He was a round, ruddy-complexioned guy with eyes, nose and mouth continually at war for control of his face. The family business included two sons, and a grandson about to graduate high school. They worked together, drank together, stuck together. I wondered what that was like.

Also on hand was Nora, who got both blonde hair and an inflated sense of
desirability from out of a bottle. She drank Jack Daniels, measured in fists, not fingers, chain-smoked camels and had the baritone voice to prove it. She would laugh at a dirty joke as easily as anyone else, and could generally top it with a dirtier one. I guess I always thought of her as “one of the guys.”

Stanley was another regular. An accountant of some kind. On the oily side, a smidge too polite, committed to a losing battle to look dapper. Combed his remaining strands of hair from just above his left ear, across the top of his head to the right ear, held it in place with a pound of brilliantine and some nails. He tried to have a dashing mustache, but he clipped it too short, making it look like a coal miner’s runny nose. Stanley was a “confirmed bachelor,” as gay men were called back then. He was mostly quiet.

Then there was my dad.
Everybody said hello to him when he sauntered in with me in tow. They were sometimes a little too cheerful, I thought. A little bit too “hail and well met” with smiles that looked like they were pumped up. It was the way you might say, “gooood boooy” to a dog you were afraid might bite you.
I guess they all knew my dad was nuts.

I perched on a stool next to him and sipped a coke from the bottle, as the men watched, in stoney silence, the live news reports of Kennedy’s death. Wasn’t the first time they’d seen it. They watched it over and over, as if hoping that a subsequent report would refute the earlier reports of the President’s demise.
Walter Cronkite went over the known details once more, top to bottom, no new news and then went to a station break. Hardly anyone stirred. What was there to say?

“Oh-oh,” said Officer Randy. “Somebody fucked up.” Spoken with the expression and tone of a man whose keen olfactory wit had detected a rude and silent fart.

“More like everybody fucked up,” coughed Nora. “Who was guarding him, the fucking Cub Scouts?” It was rhetorical.

“No….Secret service, I think,” said Randy.

“Well, all I know is, Oswald is one hell of a marksman,” said Sergeant Little Johnny. “They’re saying he hit a moving target with that shitty Manlicher-Carcanno from 6 floors up. What’d they say, two hits out of three shots in, six, seven seconds? Not sure I could do it?” Little Johnny held the highest award the Army gave out for marksmanship.

Several heads nodded sagely.

“You guys remember when the mob got Vincelli in that barbershop?” Chuck asked no one in particular. “Where was his bodyguard? Out taking a piss or something, am I right? It was a double-cross. The body-guard was the inside man, am I right? And this guy Oswalt. It’s like right away they knew it was him. How? How come the cops made him for it so fast? And found him so fast?”

“Yeah,” said Randy Ross. “Jeese, those Dallas cops must be REALLY good, huh?”

Chuck went on. “If he was some kind of lone nut fanatic, wouldn’t he be proud? Take the credit? Am I right? He says he’s just a patsy.”

“Or maybe Oswalt is a dead herring,” intoned Randy as if channelling Sherlock Holmes. “Maybe they just want the real killers to think they got away with a frame up so they’ll get careless and then, pow!”

The group stared at Randy as if he’d started to sing Ave Maria in Mandarin Chinese.
But a couple days later, Randy began to seem as much savant as idiot.
Because a couple days later, the Dallas cops were transporting the suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, and in waltzes mafia underling Jack Ruby, like he owns the place, and shoots Oswald dead, right in front of the cops, the TV cameras, God and everybody in Big Johnny’s bar.

It produced a moment of stunned silence from the collection of usual suspects gathered thereat.

“What the fuck?” said Chuck.

“What the fuck?” echoed the sons of Chuck like a Greek chorus.

“This is bullshit,” Said Sergeant Little Johnny. “BullSHIT!”

“Bullshit,” agreed the others, desperately looking to each other for a reasonable explanation.

“Oh-oh,” said Randy. “Somebody fucked up.”

My dad stared grimly into his beer.
“Mother-fuckers,” he said simply, as if reminding the group of the operant natural law which governed all such phenomena, the way “gravity,” would suffice to explain a man’s fall from a great height.

The Kennedy Murder – these guys never called it “assassination” – would be the leading topic of conversation for many days to come, if, indeed, mumbling, grumbling, head-shaking and muttered profanities can be considered conversation.
When the Warren Commision report came out the following year, the verdict was that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, shot JFK .
And Oswald was dead.
So, like, case closed, daddy-o.

The regulars at the bar didn’t buy the Warren Report.

For one thing, a lot of these guys, like my dad, were combat veterans, and Arlen Specter’s ridiculous fairy tale about a zig-zagging “magic bullet” held as much water as a leaky thimble. For another, as Sergeant Little Johnny so immediately pointed out, it was an impressive feat of marksmanship that Oswald had carried off. (A feat that, to this day, has not been replicated by any of the numerous expert shooters who have tried it. And Oswald himself, it turns out from his Marine Corps records, was only a mediocre shot at best.)

There’s an old African proverb that says, “Even a jackal will insult a dead lion,” which, in this case, roughly translates as, “Blame the dead guy.”
Oswald never made it to trial, never got his day in court. We never got to hear the evidence against him or hear his defense.
Some people still think he did the crime.
Of course, some people probably still believe the earth is flat…

Many years later, I happened to assist in an investigation (I was hardly more than a gofer for the detective on the case). A series of rapes had been committed against young women (all of a similar physical description) in a medium-sized mid-western city. The assaults were increasing in brutality -- characteristic of an assailant who would be killing his victims before long.
The local police were on the case.
They picked up a transient (nowadays called "homeless") man whom they liked for the crime. He attempted to escape and was shot dead by the cops. After that, the rapes stopped and everyone was happy that the law had got their Smackwater Jack.
Case closed, daddy-o.

Except that the family of one of the victims thought there was just something fishy about it.

Enter, my boss. He said the case gave him an itchy feeling in the back of his neck. What my mentor found out was that the rapes had not stopped. They were still happening, but they were happening near Phoenix, Arizona. The rapist, as it turned out, was a cousin of one of the local cops. The hapless homeless gentleman was just a patsy. He took the heat for the crime while the cop hustled his cousin out of town.
The homeless man never made it to trial, never got his day in court. We never heard the evidence against him or heard his defense. Some people still think he did the crimes...

Unfortunately, this is not a unique and isolated case. I personally know of two others:
A small town rape-murder suspect allegedly hangs himself in his cell "with his shoelaces." Case closed.

Another murder suspect dies in a hail of police gunfire. Case closed.
Even when it turns out later that the most incriminating evidence against him had been planted on the scene by one of the officers, that case is still closed.

What I learned from those events applies to the JFK murder.
Whenever a suspect, prime or otherwise, gets shot “resisting,” or "escaping," or hangs himself in his cell "by his shoelaces," or dies of "an overdose," or accidentally falls down and hits his head, or has a heart attack or gets struck by fucking lightning before he gets to trial, I, like my mentor, start getting an itchy feeling in the back of my neck.

It’s my bullshit detector going off.

JFK’s murder was a critical moment in our national history.
It proved you could kill the president and get away with it
It set the style for things to come.
Because if you can get away with THAT, then you can get away with ANYthing.
As subsequent and quite recent events clearly demonstrate.

To any mind not impermeable to reason, the evidence is overwhelming that the “official story” of the JFK murder --- like some other “official stories” -- is a scam.

But, hey, maybe you believe that Oswald, acting alone, did the deed.
That's cool.
Just be careful you don’t sail off the edge of the earth.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Horse Dance

When I was a kid, I learned some very valuable survival strategies.
One of them was, “Keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open.”
I learned never to reveal my thoughts or feelings until I thought I was pretty sure about what the thoughts and feelings of the “other” were. I learned to absorb every bit of information my opponent revealed while offering no information of my own, unless it was disinformation. I got very good at doing this, testimony to which is the fact that I’m still around.

When I first began spending time with horses, I thus “naturally” wanted to understand them, more than I wanted them to understand me. It was like going to a foreign country, and I needed to learn how to speak the native language, “horse.”
Only an arrogant ass goes abroad and expects everyone THERE to speak ENGLISH.
Yet a lot people seem to start out talking and talking, expecting to be understood, without first bothering to find out what language their audience speaks.

Green as a twig, one of the first things I did to understand my new companions was to try to feel what it was like to be a horse. My horse and I have quite a bit of anatomy in common, more or less, and so it was relatively easy for me to “equi-morph” myself, in my vivid, and admittedly bizarre, imagination, into having a horse body.

I got down on my hands and knees to try it on for size. I worked on the gaits. Felt what it was like to buck or rear, kick, or strike or even jump. The first thing I learned was that I needed to get a pair of knee pads.

After a time, it dawned on me that I didn’t really have to get down on all fours. I could do just as well feeling the gaits upright – plus it was easier on what’s left of my knees.
I noticed that, when I walk. the timing of my stride and arm-swing is really not very much different from the rhythm of the four beats of my partner’s walk, I could easily adjust to eliminate even that difference.
The trot was simple to understand, since I’ve run a lot of miles over the years. Diagonal arm/leg. Same-same.
For the canter I found a shuffling/skipping step matched exactly. On a left lead, my right foot shuffles under on the “rise”; my left foot and right arm work together in the middle; my left arm completes the “fall.” (Interesting to me is that the emphasis is on the last beat, the 3rd beat of the canter. This feels like a waltz to me, the 3rd beat of the canter being the first beat of the 3/4 measure and the 1st beat of the canter being the 3rd beat of the 3/4 measure.)

The few people who saw me doing this were quickly convinced that I was nuts.
And, of course, they were right.

Playing horsie led me to the next thing I tried: dancing with my horse.

Ever dance with anybody?
The dance I happen to like is the tango.
Argentine tango, not that bloodless ballroom thing.
It’s generally the case that one person leads, usually the Gentleman, and one person follows, usually the Lady. In the tango it seems to me that the Lady gets to do all the really flashy moves, while the Gentleman sets things up so she’ll be able to do them easily, effortlessly and, seemingly "naturally."

If the Lady doesn’t look brilliant, it’s largely the Gentleman’s fault.
Each person you dance with is unique – but similar, too.
Different people don’t do the exact same moves the exact same way.
But quite similar in principle.

The Gentleman has to communicate clearly using balance, pressure and release of pressure, so that his partner will intuitively choose to move in a certain way at a certain moment because it FEELS right.

That’s what I tried to do with my horse.
It wasn’t about teaching HIM how to respond to MY movements.
It was about ME figuring out how to ask for something in a way that he would understand.
He gets to do the flashy moves. My job is to set it up.
How could I get him to walk forward? To back up? To stop? Turn away from me, or toward me. How is it different if I’m facing him as opposed to facing the same direction beside him?

One of the things my tango teacher had the gentlemen do was to dance the lady’s part.
Understand what it is you’re asking your partner to do by doing it yourself.
Learn the best way to ask for a move, by learning what it’s like to be asked.
Sometime try it.
YOU be the horse. Without touching, follow a partner’s moves on the ground, mirroring their movements. This requires a relaxed alertness which is akin, I suspect, to the horse’s normal state of mind.

This is also pretty much what I do when I’m on my partner’s back. I feel his hind legs as if they were my own, and do with my legs and balance and etc, whatever I would do to walk or trot or canter, just as if I were using his legs to do it. If I do a good job, stay relaxed and “in touch” with my pony’s body, I always know exactly which foot is doing what. Really, you almost can’t help it.

I have no idea if this is the “right” thing to do.
But it seems to work for us quite well.

Very recently, I met another charming fellow by the name of Cisco, who seems to see virtues in me I’m not aware of, because he has rather adopted me as his own, greeting me in nearly the same way as my own long-time best friend does when I arrive at the barn.
I’ve done the Follow Me Dance with Cisco several times, now.
He did it so well almost immediately, that I suspect ONE of us must be brilliant.

And I believe I know which one.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Give Petes a Chance

I’m in the studio working on this tune, see?
A sensual, romantic ballad.
It’s all finished except for a nice guitar part to compliment the melody and the mood.
The song calls for something understated, vaguely melancholy of classical-Spanish heritage. Acoustic. Nylon strings..
Know what I mean?

I’m down to my last hundred bucks, but it’ll be worth it to weave the last subtle, but critical, thread into the sonic tapestry.
I just have to be sure I get the right player, a player who can hear what I need to hear, so people will feel what I need them to feel -- and who has the chops to do it with tasteful and modest, seamless effortlessness.

I’m in luck.
There are a bout 3.7 zillion good guitar players around.
But, wow. How am I going to choose the right player from among all those?
What would you advise me to do?

Should I pick one at random and hope for the best?
Should I choose the player who’s the youngest? The oldest? The best-looking?
Should I pick a player who’s gay? Straight?
Should I hire the player who owns the most guitars? Or the most expensive guitar?
Should I go with the guy who’s a friend of a friend? Or the teenager who’s the child of a long-ago paramour?
Should I give the gig to the chick who’s been flirting both with me and the guitar for about 3 months?
Should I select the player with the degree from the most prestigious school?

Help me out. What do you suggest?

How about if I listen to some tracks the candidates have laid down in the past?
See who’s done or IS doing music similar to what I’m looking for? Maybe go hear them live, if they’re gigging out?
Do you think that sounds like the way to go?

Or maybe I should pick Pete, the kid who’s been playing head-pounding, voice hoarsening grunge/metal/rock?
I know, when left to his own devices in the past, he’s never played anything like what I’m looking for. But he’s charismatic as hell (to some people, anyway). And maybe he’s just been, laying back, biding his time, PRETENDING to dig what he’s been playing while all the while he’s actually just been aching for a chance to do Bach.
Maybe he could play my tune.
Maybe, even if it’s NOT the music he hears in his soul, I could “push” him or “pressure” him into it and he could fake it just fine.
Should give him a chance?
Or should I go with the guy who’s been playing my kind of music for a long time and playing it damn well?
Help me out.
What do you think?

I’m talking about Obama, all right.
Or, more specifically about his firey-eyed, self-described “liberal” or “progressive” followers who are clamoring for critics to “give him a chance.”
I say, “He HAD his chance.; he showed you his chops in the Senate.”
Listen to what he’s played in the past. THAT’S what he played because that’s what he hears in his heart. You can’t push, pressure or force him to hear something else.

Maybe next time you ought to go with the player who already digs your music.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Only Time Will Tell

A lot of good and decent people are celebrating this morning, full of hope, full of optimism.
I wish I could join them.
I can’t.
Not yet...

I’m troubled by an inability of the Obama celebrants to offer specifics of just exactly WHY Mr. Obama has their adulation. Close inspection of Mr. Obama’s position on major issues clearly demonstrates that he and Mr. McCain were in substantial agreement: both want to occupy Iraq, more or less indefinitely, both want to increase the military budget and enlarge the military, and both want to escalate the war against Afghanistan, too.
Both gentlemen voted to continue funding the war, for the 700 billion dollar bailout, and to let telecommunications companies off the hook for spying on us. Neither man favors the single-payer national healthcare system. Neither would disavow the possibility of using nuclear weapons. Both are sword-rattlers when it comes to the so-called “war on terror,” with “terrorists” having replaced “communists” as the Official Bogey-man of the new & more hip generation.

I remember the celebratory mood of one of my young students (voting for the first time in 2006) when the Dem’s slid into a majority on the promise of “accountability.”
Having been on this unmerry-go-round a few times, I advised her to wait until we see what they actually DO. Before the dust of campaign promises had settled, impeachment of history’s Impeachment Poster-boy President was “off the table,” and the administration continued to run amok, not only unchallenged, but with the continued complicity of the laughable “opposition” party.
Wasn’t exactly a big shock for me, but it was for her, and I’ll forever hate those bastards for the eviscerated look in her eyes when she found out there was no Santa Claus.

Some folks are celebrating the election of the nation’s first black president as a turning point – and a good one – in our history.
Maybe that’s true.
I hope it is.
I confess that, in and of itself, this is the part I love. Waited a long time for it and it means a great deal to me personally. White people voting for a black guy for president. LOTS of white people. What’s not to like?

It certainly seems that Mr. Obama, of mixed racial heritage, is plenty black enough to be considered all black by those on the farthest right-hand fringe, the died-in-the-sheet bigots for whom only the purest, whitest white is white enough.
But at the same time, it seems to me that there’s black and there’s Black.

Mr. Obama isn’t exactly a wild-eyed radical. He’s not a Frederick Douglas, or a Dr. King, or a Muhammad Ali or a Malcolm X --- all very stand-up guys I would have voted for, by the way. Mr. Obama isn’t a black guy who fought his way out of the Chicago slums against all odds, overcoming a broken family, lousy schools, drugs, gangs, police brutality and general despair, with nothing but his own strength of character to keep him from going under. He’s a black guy raised by white grandparents in Hawaii who went to a private school and then to Harvard.
Good for him. I don’t begrudge him that. But it isn’t exactly representative of the experience of the typical African-American, is it?

Maybe I’m just sore about black guys I knew growing up.
Seems like none of them ever caught a single break and a lot of them didn’t make it.
(Or maybe this reminds me of the way the Great White Father always scrapes up some clown with just a tiny bit of “Indian Blood” to anoint as the recognized “chief” or “spokesman” for the tribe so this “representative” can sell off Indian Land Rights cheap to the Great White Father’s Friends. Chief Big Apple.)

And maybe Mr. Obama’s the best we can do right now. Maybe we have to ease into the hot water of this racial-equality thing one toe at a time. (Hell, it’s only BEEN a couple hundred years, be PATIENT!)

Self-described “progressives” claim that they are aware of Mr. Obama’s short-comings, but believe he is susceptible to changing if they “hold his feet to the fire.”
Maybe that’ll work.
It sure worked with Dubya, didn’t it?
Or didn’t anybody DO that?
Why not?
Why not, when we needed it most? If we didn't hold a known "bad" guy's feet to the fire to keep him in line, are we more likely hold a perceived "good" guy's feet to the fire, when we feel the imminent threat is actually LESS?
Somehow, I'm skeptical.

What I suspect, given my tragic character flaw of preferring evidence over emotion, is that Mr. McCain, and his ridiculous cartoon running mate, were decoys.
Straw opponents.
Patsy and vice-patsy.
Sacrificed pawns.
Nothing more.

I offer the following for your consideration:
1. If you can get people to respond emotionally to something first, it is unlikely that facts will change their minds later.
2. If people feel that they have participated in the process, they’ll tend to go along with the out-come because they “own” it.

With the disturbing similarity of their platforms, I cannot but wonder whether this is just a simple scam to get people to ACCEPT policies from Mr. Obama that they mightn’t have tolerated as easily, if at all, from Mr. McCain.

Maybe I’m wrong.
I’d be delighted if I were.
I would love it if Mr. Obama turned out to embody the best of his supporters’ hopes and dreams.

Only time will tell.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Tao of Spartacus Jones: Fine Cuisine

This piece is on my website. I'm putting it here to dedicate to Gayle, who just had a birthday.


Fine Cuisine

Seems a lot of men have a fascination for nubile young girls. It's almost the standard of the industry, so to speak, everything else being a second choice.

Now, this is just my personal opinion, from my own personal experience and I mean no disrespect. It's not like have anything against young girls.
But — with a few really brilliant exceptions — having sex with a young person is a lot like eating a bowl of Pablum.
The packaging is very pleasing to the eye, well-designed, colorful, nice logo.

And Pablum will keep you from starving to death. But there isn't much flavor to it. Certainly not the kind of flavor that will linger in your memory, haunt your taste buds ever after with a relentless craving.
When a woman gets to be in her 30's, 40's and 50's, she starts getting real interesting.
She knows what she wants, knows how to get it, and isn't one bit shy about going after it.
I like that.
Having sex with a mature woman is like having a good bowl of chili. So many seasonings and spices and textures, every mouthful is a new delight. Even when you've stuffed yourself, you still want more, just to have that taste in your mouth awhile longer.
I think the best thing about a girl who's 18 or 20, is that someday she'll be 40.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Row v Wade?

I’ve been having some very spirited discussions as a result of my two preceding analogies. A little like playing soccer with a beehive instead of a ball. But that’s all right. I’m tougher than I look. So I thought I’d try just one more…

You’re in a big boat, rowing across the lake.
You become aware that you're boat is taking on water.
You have two options: bail or row.

Your group – none of whom can swim very well-- quickly divides up into a pro-rowing faction and a pro-bailing faction.
Let’s call them the Rowpublicans and the Bailoutcrats.
They each present a pretty good case for their respective approaches, what with several engineering students in each group. Some of them, it turns out come from long lines of Bailers or Rowers, and can easily and proudly sing the praises of each of their family traditions.

But the trouble is this: the maximum amount of water you can bail out per minute, if everyone bails, is LESS than the amount you’re taking on.
If you bail, you’ll eventually just drown.

On the other hand, the minimum time it will take, at the maximum speed at which you can row, to get within wading distance of shore, if everyone rows, will be greater than the time it takes for you to take on enough water to sink you in deep water.
If you row, you’ll eventually just drown.

Now, the Rowpublicans and the Bailooutcrats realize that they’re going to have to either work together or go down to the bottom together. So they put their minds into overdrive to calculate just what combination of bailing and rowing might get them to shore safe and sound. What with gallons per minute, coefficient ratios, vectors, wind resistance, water tension, the current…….pencils were flashing like lightning and wearing down to the nub fast.

Hitherto unnoticed, sitting in the rear all alone with a stern look on his face, is a kid from my old neighborhood in Chicago. Let’s call him “Jack,” because that’s his name.
Muttering to himself, Jack takes off his leather jacket, wads it up and then ties the mooring line around his belt. He hands the end of it to you.
“Don’t let go of this, “ he says as he starts to clamber over the gunnels.
“Where are you going?” you ask, dumbfounded.
“Well obviously, Numb-nuts,” he says in his native tongue, ”Somebody’s got to patch the fucking hole in the fucking boat.”

The moral of the story is this:
Don't accept the limited choices presented in a false dilemma.
Think outside the boat.
And take action.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Worst Case Scenario II

It seems some of my friends really liked my fire-fighting analogy.
And it was pretty good, too, even if I do say so myself.
It’s one way to look at the situation.
Here’s another one:

You show up at a structure fire that, if not brought under control, threatens exposures on all sides. There’s a tell-tale gasoline can lying near the A-side entrance…
There are three attack lines already laid out. There’s one guy on line 1, and one guy on line 2. Line 3 is laying unattended on the ground.
The guy on line 1 calls for you to come over and help him.
So does the guy on line 2.

“Come on,” says the first guy. “This is a brand new 2 ½ inch hose, with the latest nozzle, in the most popular designer color. We’ve been waiting to use a hose like this one for a long time!”

“Come on,” says the second guy. “I’ve got 17 years of experience and 9 new certificates to prove I attended training sessions and stayed awake the WHOLE time!”

Meanwhile, there’s the fire…..

Decisions, decisions.
Which hose do you pick?

I’ll make it easy for you.
Hose 1 is connected to a hydrant that’s out of service.
Dead. Dry as James Bond's martini.
And so is hose 2.
Hose 3 is connected to a mini-pumper, and it’s charged.
Me, I’d pick the hose WITH THE WATER IN IT.

I don’t know if I have ENOUGH water to knock down the fire, but at least I have SOME. I might at least be able to slow it down.
You can only do what you can do.
But there’s no hope whatsoever of fighting the fire without any water in the hose…

The Democrats and the Republicans may appear to be manning different hoses, but both those hoses are hooked up to the same hydrant, and it isn’t delivering any water and won’t be delivering water any time soon.
Hasn’t delivered any for a long time, either.
The relative merits of the hoses or the personalities of the characters presently manning them is irrelevant; there is nothing in those hoses that will put out the fire.

That third hoseline, that’s Ralph Nader, or Ron Paul, or Cynthia McKinney.
There may not be enough water to put the fire out, but SOME is better than NONE.
What’s the point of lining up behind some idiot with an empty hoseline?

But the analogy is a little unjust.
Because hoselines 1 and 2 aren’t REALLY hooked up to a dead hydrant.
They’re hook up to a gasoline truck.
I’m pretty sure we’re not going to put out the fire using the same stuff that got it started in the first place.

Maybe it’s a losing battle.
Maybe we’ll lose the house, the exposures, everything…
We always say risk a little to save a little, risk a lot to save a lot, risk nothing to save nothing.
Is there anything in this country worth saving? Anything worth fighting for?
Anything in that dusty old Bill of Rights you’d like to hang on to, maybe pass on to your kids?
Or is it smarter to go along to get along, pick the lesser evil, add your straw to the camel’s load and pray like hell when the world explodes?

To me, hoseline 3 looks like the only sensible choice.
Even with nobody to back me up.
I may not put out the fire with it, but at least I won’t be feeding the fire, either.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Worst Case Scenario

You arrive on the scene of a structure fire.
Defying thousands of years of self-preservation instinct, you go inside, on your hands and knees, feeling along the wall on your right, visibility zero, searching for victims.
You find one.
The victim is inert, unresponsive.
It’s possible they have stopped breathing.
It’s possible they are in full arrest.
It’s possible they have all kinds of other injuries.
All these things desperately need attention.
But not right now.
Now is not the time to think about any of that, because you're in an environment that is immediately life-threatening, and the threat is about as imminent as imminent can get.
Right now, your job is to get that victim OUT of the burning house, because if you don’t do that, none of the rest of it will matter.
So you drag the victim out of there.
Then and ONLY then can you turn your attention to the victim’s injuries.

The 2008 Election is a lot like that.
I don’t have any illusions about Mr. Obama.
I don’t think there’s a substantial difference between his platform and the platform of Mr. McCain. There MIGHT be a SLIVER of a difference, that MIGHT mean a POSSIBILITY of improvement with Obama that does NOT exist with McCain.
And maybe not.

But it seems to me that the immediately life-threatening environment of a McCain-Palin administration makes it urgent to drag the country out of there as quickly as possible.
No doubt about it, the government is unresponsive.
Maybe our national heart has stopped beating.
Maybe our country cannot be revived.
All these things desperately need attention.
But not right now.
Right now, our job is to get the country OUT of that burning house, because if we don’t, none of the rest of it will matter.

So I’m going to go in and try to drag the victim out of there, by voting for Mr. Obama, because I think then and ONLY then can we turn our attention to our country’s injuries.

I won’t like it.
I’d rather vote for a good man, a man who’s demonstrably honest and the best man for the job, which, in my opinion, is Mr. Nader.

But then, I’d rather that house wasn’t on fire, too.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Tao of Spartacus Jones: Romancin' with Brandy

Next day, Brandy still had her halter on her – but she was wearing it like a necklace.

I didn’t think it feasible to try adjusting it was on her.
She literally wouldn’t stand for that.
So I decided the best thing was just to slip it off of her again.
Took some doing.
Every time she lowered her head down to the grain bucket, the halter slipped down her neck to her ears and she didn’t care much for that. After a few times, I was able to time it right, and caught the crownpiece for her so she could slip out of it.
I positioned the halter in the bucket again and let her eat most of her grain through it. Then I removed it and let her finish up the last nibbles while I touched her jaw and forehead….

Between meals, I keep bringing her apples.
Increasingly, I “hide” the apple so she has to do a lot of close-quarters nuzzling and touching to get it. I offer her touch on her jaw and neck.
Sometimes she accepts it easily.
Sometimes not…

After another time or so with the halter-in-the-bucket set-up, it appeared that we’d reached a plateau. I was beginning to feel quite tempted, at certain moments, to “achieve” getting her halter on her and I don’t want to get sucked into that.
As a change of pace, I backed off for a feeding.
No halter.
Just lots of touch. She seemed all right with that.

While I was trying to figure out what to do next, I happened to run into an old acquaintance of mine -- Don Warner, by name --who’s a damn good horseman and has worked with a lot of young ponies.
I’d been fortunate to have seen his manner with horses a few times and admired it, and we’d had some good talks about the connections between horses and everything else. He’d taught me some basic roping techniques, too and I’d had a chance to try “team roping” at his ranch, where he does quite a lot of it.
Then we’d just sort of lost touch. You know how that goes.

Anyway, it was good – as well as a pleasing piece of synchronicity --- to see him again.
I mentioned Brandy to him and he suggested an approach he’d actually told me about before. I’d even done once it to get a catch rope around a reticent gelding.

It’s a very ju jitsu sort of thing.
If, for example, you want to slam a guy’s face into the bar, you don’t just grab the back of his neck and push. He’ll resist, pushing back and now it’s a wrestling match. Instead,
you grab him by the back of his collar and PULL, as if to pull him backwards off the barstool. His natural reaction is to resist by pulling forward. As soon as he starts to do that, you reverse your pull, going along with his energy and direction, adding your push to it. In a sense, he slams his own face into the bar.
Using your opponent’s own reactive force against him.
Elementary, Watson.

Here’s how Don caught me it applies with horses.
In the case of the reticent gelding, he would tolerate some light touch on his neck. Instead of trying to get a rope around him --from which he’d bolt --- I gently pushed him away from me.
Naturally, he pushed back.
When he did, I yielded away from him.
I did this a couple times.
Then, when he pushed back, I yielded a little, but left my hand in position and when he pushed back, he put his neck right under my hand and toward me so I was almost hugging him around the neck. --- something he’d not have allowed me to do otherwise.
After doing this a few times, I repeated it with the end of the catch rope in my hand, and when he pushed himself under my hand, I just let the rope fall over his neck.
Once we got to that point, he was fine. He allowed me to loop his nose and away we went.

I’m a little chagrinned that I didn’t think of doing something like this with Brandy, because, as with all magic tricks, the solution is obvious, once someone explains it to you.
The next time she and I got together for dinner, I took this tack, capitalizing on her high motivation to eat her grain as an aid, the grain, itself, a huge reinforcement.
And I experimented a little.
If I just reached out, say, to touch her poll, she might shy away. But if I pushed her away first, when she pushed back to reach her grain, she was perfectly all right with that contact.
So we danced this danced through dinner and made appreciable progress, I think. She accepted substantial and sustained touch all around her head and neck and some even down toward her chest.

This feels like a good direction to go in right now.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Tao of Spartacus Jones: More Brandy

If you could see my pony on a night like last night – cloudless sky, a bright moon but plenty of stars --- the way he seems to glow, you’d swear he was made of moonbeams.
Restless, I stopped by the barn last night just to tuck him in. One more apple. One last kiss on the nose.
Let him get on with his moon dancing...

I decided to slice up a few apples and look in on my girl, Brandy, too.
She nickered to me as I approached, came right to me in the round pen, and pigged out on apple pieces while I easily stroked her jaw and forehead.
Almost like we were old friends.

Then today, when I approached, I didn’t have any apples.
I stayed outside the round pen. Talked to her. Let her nuzzle my apple-less hands.
Then I moved away.
And she followed.
More hand nuzzling.
I moved away.
She followed….

Very slowly, I reached in with the back of my hand and stroked lightly down the length of her nose.
And again.
And again….
I don’t know how many times. If I went too fast, she pulled away, as if wary of a left hook. But if I went slowly enough, she would allow it.
In a while, I moved on to her forehead and forelock. Brief contact first. Then longer. Then she not only allowed my rubbing her forehead, but she lowered her head a little and did some subtle chewing, letting stay in contact with her for almost 5 full seconds.
Then I moved away.
She followed...
I stayed with her a few more minutes then went on about my other business.
This was the first time she had accepted my invitation for contact WITHOUT the quid pro quo reinforcement of food. I had a feeling we’d just progressed to an important “base” in out romance.

At feeding time, I took her grain bucket in and again laid her halter inside of it to oblige her to poke her nose through it to get to her grain. This was the third time I’d done that with her and she did her part without hesitation.
While she ate, I offered her touch on the jaw, forehead and poll – some she accepted, some she declined. Then she began to eat putting her head VERY far into the halter.
I caressed her poll with the crownpiece.
Finally, I just let go of it and it fell into place behind her ears.
This did startle he a little, and she withdrew, trotted a lap around the pen with the unclipped halter jingling on her head. But she didn’t panic, didn’t seem upset. Just taken somewhat by surprise.
She decided it wasn’t important enough to forego the rest of her grain, and came back to her bucket. I offered her the bucket so I could reach under her chin and fasten the clip. I was afraid if she tossed her head the loose snap might hurt her. I fastened it while she ate and either she didn’t notice or didn’t care.

This halter is REAL loose on her. I’d made it as big as possible so she could slip her head into it easily. Probably could have put it on two horses at once. So I wouldn’t be surprised if she took it off during the night. But in the meantime, even if it feels a little awkward, like your first pair of Cuban-heeled boots, she has a chance to get comfortable with it. See that it won’t harm her.

But more important to me, I hung out with her afterward as she ate some hay. She even took some from my hand. So I think she’s ok with the way this happened.
I didn’t put a halter on her head.
SHE put her head into the halter.

Tomorrow I’ll have to see if we’re still ok, or if she thinks I owe her an apology.


Friday, October 10, 2008

The Tao of Spartacus Jones: The Courtship of Brandy

There’s a pony I’ve been “romancing.”

She’s one of a pair, neither very old –the smart money is guessing maybe 3-4 years old.
They were out loose and on their own for at LEAST several months.
Maybe longer.
Nobody really knows for sure.

A kind soul started offering them grain, eventually offering it in a round pen. They were then enclosed in the pen, herded into a trailer, and relocated.

It’s been very interesting making friends with her.
“Slow process” doesn’t begin to describe it.
It reminds me of descriptions of 19th century courtships, familiarity advancing by the tiniest increments, lest one be thought presumptuous. I like that idea a lot better than I like the idea of "breaking" a horse (as in breaking her spirit) or "starting" a horse (like starting an engine?) or even "breaking in" a horse (like she's a new pair of shoes?). The words you use to describe a thing determine how you conceive of that thing, how you feel about it. Like "collateral damage" is a different feeling from "mangled women and children."
You can test my theory for yourself.
Just think a thought for which you have no words.

Anyway, I've decided to call this process "courting" or "romancing." Both have connotation s for me that are very positive, gentle, sweet, tender and loving. Feels like the right stuff.

This all started out with me helping the trainer and the owner drive her into the round pen, separating her from her pal.
Now THAT was a bit of a rodeo.
If you’ve never had the experience of 700-800 pounds of horse hurtling directly at you at a full gallop, you’ve really missed something. I got a glimpse at the primal effectiveness of cavalry as a weapon. Watching how these two ponies avoided being driven was fascinating. Especially the part where they would veer away from an obstruction so much at the last possible instant, that my heart was in my throat, fearing they might suffer an injury. Very impressive command of distance as well as remarkable agility.

Upon reflection, I know that the horse isn’t intending to gallop over me – not if there’s another choice, anyway. Nevertheless, it’s like a mad game of “chicken” and the distance she can tolerate before she veers off is a lot closer than the distance I can tolerate before I get the hell out of her way!

This little pony is braver than I am. There’s something about that I just love...

I see how observant this pony is, how curious. The way she watches me when I’m near the round pen. The way she follows me – at a safe distance – when I go in.
I get the feeling she would like to be friends, but she’s not big on trust.
There’s something I can appreciate.

The initial approach the trainer took was a sort of “standard” round pen thing, but she didn’t respond well. Didn’t seem to de-sensiitize. Got worked into an increasingly greater lather instead. Stubborn. Maybe she's been out on her own so long she figures, hey, who needs YOU?
We broke off at that point, and there was a suggestion that maybe it would be best to drug her, just to get a halter on her. Put a little something in her feed…..

I didn’t care much for that idea, but it's not up to me. Sounds like date-rape.
I asked the owner if it was all right if I kept courting her in the meantime. Fortunately, the owner wasn’t that keen on the drug idea, either, so it hasn’t happened yet. So there’s a little pressure for me to get a halter on her sooner rather than later…

My approach is not to pursue her, but to let her come to me, to whatever extend she’s comfortable. I want to build a history of success and trustworthiness with her.
I figure ever time I put her in a situation that makes her step out of her comfort zone and nothing bad happens as a result, I’m building a trust with her.
I want her to think to herself, “OK, that’s scarey, but SJ says it’s all right and he’s always been reliable before, so it’ll probably be all right if I trust him this time, too.”

I don’t want to trick her, trap her or betray her.
Like pretend I’m going to give her a treat and then suddenly --WHAM! ---whip a halter on her head. If someone did that to me, I wouldn’t like it much. And I would never trust that person again. And I would advise that person never to turn his back on me.

So I’m going very slowly.
I let her dictate the pace, though I offer her a chance to go faster if she’s ready.
I lavish her with apple pieces, taking advantage of food as a prime motivator, and letting her associate me with food.
I began by offering her bits of apple. Just "come and get it." All she had to do was take it from my hand.
Then I started holding the apple in such a way as she had to touch my hand, nuzzle it around to get at the apple.
Next I added my other hand to the mix, offering the apple with two hands, then touch her chin, or jaw with one hand. Did this with her grain, too. Got to the point she would allow me to stroke her jaw, her neck, her forehead, even up around her ears some.

On our last "date," I put the noseband of a halter into her feed bucket so she had to put her nose into it to get at the goodies. Wanted no part of that at first. But she decided the grain was worth the risk, I guess. Toward the end of that meal, when she slipped her nose into the loop, I pulled up against her, like I was trying to keep her away from her remaining grain. Naturally, she pushed toward the grain and further into the halter. I was able to rub her forehead with the poll strap a little,
I think, little by little, she’ll allow me to put the halter on her. As much as possible, I’ll let her put it on herself.
It's all up to her. I'm not going to chase her, corner her, or coerce her.

Meanwhile, she's helping me cultivate my capacity for patience.
I have to resist the urge to rush, to skip a step, to try to go too far too soon.
If I do, I may destroy the trust we HAVE and I’ll have to start all over from less than zero. “Less” because I’ll have given her a good reason NOT to trust me.

This probably isn’t the fast, “easy” way to go about it.
But I’m in no great hurry.
I don't want to project any intention of a hidden agenda and the best way to do that is not to have one.
I want her to understand I love her, I won’t hurt her and she has nothing to fear from me.

I’ll let her take her time, and whatever time it takes, it takes.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Tao of Spartacus Jones: The Whole Bit

Here’s an easy way to turn a Sunday School picnic into a John Ford barroom brawl: start talking about bits.
In particular, question the USE of bits.
Then, quick, DUCK!

And I’m only about half kidding.

No doubt about it, pain, including the fear of pain and the desire to avoid pain, can be a dandy motivator. I've learned a lot of things that way, myself.
Certainly was instrumental for me in learning to slip a left hook, for example. But then I didn’t particularly regard my opponent as my “friend” or my “partner.”
He was just a guy trying to hurt me and I figured out how to avoid – or minimize -- him hurting me.

You know, if I want you to go someplace with me and I apply a wristlock to you, I bet you’re going to go wherever I want you to go.
Because to resist increases the pain.
It isn’t ME hurting you, you’re hurting yourself by resisting, see?
To avoid or minimize the pain, you go along.
But we’re not “friends” and we’re not “partners,” are we?

I can get you to “give” me your money if I pull gun on you.
That doesn’t make it a donation, doesn’t mean you gave it to me “willingly” and doesn’t make you my “friend,” does it?

Bits work on the pain principle.
It is inherent in the nature of a bit -- ANY bit.
A horse learns to avoid – or minimize –pain by responding to the bit.
It works, all right.
And it works pretty fast, too. And it works on MOST all horses.
You can absolutely make a horse do what you want him to do by putting a wristlock on his mouth. He’ll go along to avoid or minimize the pain.
But you’re not “friends” and you’re not “partners.”

Figure this one out for me:
Most people who use computers at all, aren’t using the same computer they used 20 years ago.
Or 10 years ago.
Or even 5 years ago.
But we’re still using the same equestrian technology we used a few THOUSAND years ago?
Is that because, in a moment of unparalleled epiphany, we were so enlightened, or so clever, or so lucky that we just happened to stumble upon utter perfection?
I’m skeptical.

Generally, when I ask someone why they use a bit, I get that deer-in-the-headlights disconnected look, as if I’d just started speaking in tongues. I rarely get an answer that has any intellectual integrity. It’s a lot like talking to a tumbleweed.

One answer is “Because that’s the way we’ve ALWAYS done it.” Closely akin to this is “That’s the way I was taught.”
Even if true, this isn’t exactly the kind of sharp reasoning that would make Sherlock Holmes drop his jaw in admiration.
There is an unspoken second half to each of these statements. It’s: “ -- and I’m incapable of critically examining the situation and thinking for myself.”

Some people say they NEED a bit for control.
That may be true.
But I’d say, if you don’t have sufficient “control” without a bit, you don’t have it with one, either.

You say your horse won’t do what you want without a bit?
And I say, I HAD to use handcuffs, Your Honor, or she wouldn’t have done what I wanted her to do… How’s THAT for a defense?
If your horse doesn’t do what you ask, it’s because he doesn’t UNDERSTAND what you want, physically CAN’T do what you want, or REFUSES to do what you want. I would submit that a bit isn’t going to help in either of the first two instances, and you might do well to determine WHY in the third case, before you over-rule your horse’s vote. Remember he’s probably smarter than you, and certainly better at being a horse than you are.

Some people will say bits are all right if you have good hands.
I’d say, yeah, like a blackjack is all right if you have good hands.

Some people say there are “gentle” bits.
I’d say, Uh-huh, like there are “gentle” firearms. A .22 is a lot more gentle than a .357 magnum, so that’s not so bad to get shot with, right?

Some say bits are for “communication.”
I say, yeah, so’s wrist-lock.
It communicates who’s going to get hurt if you don’t do what I want.

Guns are designed to put bullets into people, blackjacks are designed for cracking skulls and both wristlocks and bits are designed to inflict pain.
The horse learns to cooperate to avoid the pain.

I’ve had too many relationships in my life based on pain, fear and force.
Don’t care to have another one, thanks just the same.
And I sure as hell don’t want to have that kind of relationship with my horse.

Some people argue that it’s all just degree. That leg pressure or anything else is “pain” too.
Often a difference in degree makes a difference in kind.
If we go dancing and I lead you with my balance, shifting my weight, and the pressure of my hand on your back or waist and on your hand, is that the same thing as jabbing you with a cattle prod?
Any difference there?

Do we get away with using bits for so long because horses can’t express their resistance in a way we are willing to hear?
When a horse resists, it’s a problem horse.
And when a woman resists being treated like chattel, she’s being a castrating bitch, right?
When a slave resists he’s being “uppity.”
When a somebody fights back to defend his home against an invading army he’s a “terrorist.”
It seems to me that it’s all part of the same ball of wax.
Some people believe they have a right to force other beings to do their bidding – or ELSE.
I don’t believe in that, personally, sexually, nationally or equitationally.

If I can’t have a relationship based on mutual respect, trust and affection, I’d rather have none at all.
That includes my relationship with my horse.
He’s my friend.
He’s my partner.
He’s not my servant and he sure as hell isn’t my slave.

So I don’t use bits on my horses for pretty much the same reason I don’t use handcuffs on my dates.

That’s the way I look at it.

And now, I’ll duck.


Thanks to "Metal in the Mouth" by Dr, Robt. Cook. If you're a horseman and you haven't read it, I recommend you do.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Tao of Spartacus Jones: Sacking Out

I had a wonderful learning opportunity the other day I thought I’d mention.
Had a chance to “sack out” a couple of young ponies.
The only sacking out I’d ever done before involved rainy Saturday afternoons, old movies on TV and junk food.

THIS sacking out was a bit different.

We were going to put blankets (actually we used saddle pads) and saddles on a couple of frisky young ponies who’d never had blanket or saddle on their backs before.
I’d fed these lads many times and had scratched their ears and stroked their necks and such, so we weren’t strangers.
Still, this was a big step in our relationship.
Not sure which base.

I had the luxury of having someone to guide me in this adventure, who already knew what they were doing, a horsewoman with both extensive education and a wealth of experience. She’s training some of the horses at this barn and I fell into the lucky position of getting to tag along. She knows so much, just off the top of her head, taht for me it’s like sitting at the feet of Yoda and furiously taking notes. I’d mention her by name, but I don’t have her permission, and I wouldn’t want to make her blush.

We worked in the round pen.

The key to this whole process, it seems to me, is patience. To go slowly, gently & quietly, a little at a time, letting the pony take whatever time he needs to get used to this crazy blanket-and-saddle idea. We let them move around us on the lead rope if they needed to, so they didn’t feel trapped or panic.
Horses like it better if they can run away from danger.
Come to think of it, so do I.

We just kept repeating our presentation of the blanket until the ponies figured out it wasn’t a threat.
I let my charge sniff the saddle pad, "groomed" him with it, laid it against his side, then up toward his back. When he got to the end of his comfort zone with it, he moved away and that was fine with me. I started over, each time going a little farther until he moved away again.
Then we'd start over.....

Going from zero to blanket took a little bit of time.
But going from blanket to saddle took no time at all, which surprised me a little.
I guess, once he was all right with having something on his back -- certain it wasn't a predator -- then having something ELSE on top of that wasn't such a big deal.
When you think about it, the process of desensitization is pretty impressive, and that horses do it so quickly is somewhere near the border of amazing.

Once blanketed and saddled, with the stirrups secured so they wouldn't flop around, we tied off the lead rope into short reins and let the ponies be at liberty in the round pen awhile. We just kept them moving, and I got a chance to work on my positioning with that, too. They walked, trotted and cantered, getting the feel of this new situation.

Not sure how long we spent. I’m guessing about an hour.
Did a little bit of unsaddled groundwork afterward, just leading and halting.
Mostly that was for me, to work on my own technique.
The ponies already knew how to walk and stop.

Learning to communicate with a horse speaking in Horse, is both interesting and challenging. it being an extremely subtle, non-verbal language.
In the bad old days, they say, a duel would be fought over a raised eyebrow, or an insolent tone or inflection.
Horse is a much more subtle lingua franca than that, even.
A shift of weight, a raising or lowering of shoulders, a change in gaze, can alter the whole meaning of what you think you’re saying.

Right now, I believe I’ve mastered enough Horse vocabulary to elevate me, in their eyes, to the status of “drooling idiot.”
That’s a long way from “trusted leader.”

Fortunately for me, horses are tolerant teachers.


The Tao of Spartacus Jones: You and Me, Pard.

Once upon a time, I was “lunging” my pony in the indoor arena.
My way.
“My way” is where I trot right along with him in a slightly smaller circle, maybe an arm’s reach away. We pace each other. Walk a lap, trot a lap, walk a lap, trot a lap…
During one of our workouts, one of the resident DQ’s observed us and decided to enlighten me. “You know,” she said condescendingly, “if you use a whip and stand in the center of the arena, you don’t have to run around with him.”
“True,” I told her. “But if I use a whip and stand in the center of the arena, I don’t get to run around with him.”
I wish I could describe the look on her face at that point. It was as if a little alien had popped out of my chest and urinated in her martini.
She and I didn’t chat much after that.

When it comes to horsemanship, I think I have two things going for me.
First, I don’t know much, but I KNOW I don’t know much. That means I LISTEN to EVERYBODY. If I hear a good idea, I’ll steal it. I don’t care where it comes from.
The other thing, closely related to that, is that I came to horsemanship as an adult, with a fair amount of life experience under my belt, including some teaching study and experience, and I did NOT have years and years of indoctrination into any particular equestrian discipline, or the equestrian “culture” in general.

As a result, I ask, what to some may seem to be stupid questions. Sometimes it pisses them off, too. That’s ok with me. I don’t mind seeming “stupid” or pissing somebody off if it means I get the answer to the question.

On the other hand, my approach is unjaundiced by presumptions, assumptions and biases, too, and that allows me to look for answers in places other people may not think to look.
So there’s advantage as well as disadvantage to entering into horsemanship with a “fresh” mind, something I learned from long experience in “martial arts.” Sometimes I do envy people who have had the opportunity to spend years and years with horses from the time they were kids. Yet, for me, I think this is the best way.
“When the student is ready, the master appears.”

Here’s something I don’t understand: if my horse and I are supposed to be “partners,” as it has become quite fashionable to say, then how come one partner is doing all the work?
Oh, yes, it’s a brains/brawn partnership, right?
The human partner puts up the brains and the horse kicks in the brawn.
There are two problems with that theory. First, the horse has far more brawn to offer than humans have brains, so even if true, it’s a tremendously lop-sided arrangement. Second, it suggests that horses don’t have any brains of their own, and if you think that, I think you should stay, far, far away from them, for their safety and for yours.

I’m not comfortable with that kind of one-sided “partnership.”
True, partners may have disparate talents, the combination of which should exceed the sum of the parts. And a partnership isn’t 50/50 at every moment, but fluctuates from 80/20 to 20/80, the way a unicyclist stays in continual motion in order to maintain his balance.
Nevertheless, it seems that a real partnership would be a lot more egalitarian than that between many horses and humans. If one “partner” is making all the decisions and the other partner is doing all the work, that arrangement had ought to be voluntary for both parties.

I’m not big on “do as I say, not as I do.” Seen too much of that, I guess. When I work with humans, I don’t ask or expect anyone to do anything I can’t or won’t do, or haven’t done, myself. If I want respect, I have to earn it, and I earn it by showing that I live by the same rules I’m asking them to live by. Say what I mean, mean what I say, do what I say I’m going to do.

Same thing with my pony.
Since reading a friend’s account of her first 50-mile endurance ride, I’ve decided I’d like to take a crack at that. If nothing else, it’s a socially acceptable reason to spends lots more time with my horse and lots less time with people. No downside, there.

I mentioned to a fellow at the barn that I was starting to train for endurance riding and off he went on a catalogue of things my HORSE would have to do to get ready. To be fair, some of them were good ideas, too. But he’d missed something important. I’d said that “I” was starting to train for endurance riding, not “we” or “my horse.” But nowhere in his idea of training was there any training for ME.

Now, the first thing I’M doing to train is to drop at least 25 pounds, probably more, without, I hope, sacrificing any strength. Since muscle weighs more than fat, that means I’m going to have to be leaner than I’ve ever been before. and it’ll be tough to do, I know.

But how can I NOT do it?

If I’m asking my pony to carry my weight for 50 miles or more, how can I possibly justify making that harder for him by weighing more than I have to?
How can I ask him to put out all that effort to get into endurance shape for ME, if I’m not going to make the same commitment MYSELF, to get in shape for HIM?
How could I possibly ask for or deserve his respect, let alone trust in my leadership.
Hell, it’s not like this is HIS idea (although, being an arab, a long ride might very well be his idea of a good time).

Sure, there’s leadership “technique,” how to stand, how to move, and so on and you have to know that stuff and know it well. It takes time and practice. I'm working on that every chance I get.
But there’s more to being a good boxer than learning an assortment of boxing techniques, otherwise some of the boxing-aerobics bunnies would be champs by now -- and all 2nd Lieutenants still quoting the manual, would command respect and loyalty of Napoleanic proportions.

No, there’s more to leadership than a collection of cheap tricks. "Techniques" are just moves that mimic what a leader does; it doesn’t make you one.
That’s something in the heart.

And my pony has a heart big as a mountain.
If I can’t at least match it, it seems to me that I should shut up, get off and walk.

Just my opinion.