Midas has this annoying little habit of yanking on the reins when he’s standing. He’s done it as long as I’ve known him, and it’s pretty much never been a priority for me to deal with.

First lesson was don’t move your feet without permission. There were days when it was 10-15 minutes before I asked him to walk from the mounting block because he would not wait for permission to leave.

Those days are past (not without occasional reminders) and we’re not working well enough under saddle that I feel I can spare some time to work on the yanking habit.

My seat has improved to the point that when he yanks he’s mostly just yanking on himself, he does not succeed in pulling me out of the saddle or the reins out of my hands. (Yay for tucking your seat under!)

But it’s a habit, and he still does it.

Monty Roberts once recommended in his “Ask Monty” column that you back a horse each time he yanks, eventually he’ll figure out that if he yanks he has to work more. I originally intended to pursue this method, but I may have stumbled on something simpler for Midas.

Yesterday I took the time to throw halt transitions in with our regular work. Not just halt, but halt and wait. It only takes a couple seconds for Midas to yank on the reins. Then we would wait more. When he passed the couple seconds mark wihout yanking (often replaced with a sigh) then I give him a loose rein.

Then I gather up the reins again and wait (this is often accompanied by feet shuffling, which I wait out, since I didn’t ask him to move his feet and he’ll get no reward for it.) Once he is standing, and accepts the contact–passing that couple second mark without yanking (again, usually accompanied by a sign) I give him a loose rein. After repeating this a couple times, I ask him to move forward. Sometimes with contact, sometimes without.

He responded really well. Each time we did this there was less yanking and more waiting quietly. The last time I don’t remember him yanking at all.

I’m sure it will take more than one ride to break a habit he’s had for at least 10 years, but I think he’s starting to realize what he’s doing and that there is a better way.





The Dark Knight


Note: This post originally appeared August 1, 2012 on my other blog. 

Four years ago, when they were promoting The Dark Knight, I decided that I probably didn’t want to see it because I didn’t want to see the Joker.

The Joker is one of the best Batman villains, and my favorite Joker of all time is the one from the Batman/Superman Adventures voiced by Mark Hamil (you might remember him better as Luke Skywalker). Having seen Tim Burton’s Joker, I knew that the mad clown wasn’t nearly as fun when translated to the live action world–he was probably one of the scariest villians possible, and the Joker of Nolan’s gritty Gotham was undoubtedly the most terrifying villain ever. The Joker of the animated series was after two things; money, and besting “Bats”–the Joker of TDK was after one thing; pushing Batman over the edge. After the untimely death of Heath Ledger I was even less interested in plumbing the depths of evil with the Dark Knight.

in line for the Dark Knight Rises

Every now and then Zorro would tell me that TDK was one of the best done films he had ever seen, but it was a hard film to watch. I would agree with him (having known all the major plot points and twists since it was released) and that was that. As everything built up to the release of The Dark Knight Rises my curiousity got the better of me and on TDKR’s opening day I finally watched The Dark Knight. I’m glad I did. I’m also glad that it was 4 years before my morbid curiousity got the better of me! At least I could watch TDKR shortly after seeing TDK.

Why? Because I didn’t like the end of TDK.

It’s a rough film that explores themes of good, evil, and how far good should go to stop evil. Batman is faced with a villain with no backstory, no identity, and no motivation except to destroy Batman from the inside. Why? Sounded like fun. That’s all. Just wants to see the world burn. The Joker is not mad–not at all–he’s just evil. The Joker believes that deep down, each person is just like him. The frightening thing is that he’s right. The Christianese for it is “sin nature”–the translation is “nobody’s perfect.” Harvey Dent, the White Knight, Gotham’s hope–Bruce Wayne’s hope–proved Joker’s point with resounding consequences. Dent–representing “the best of us”–gave in to the temptation of the power of evil, the power of no checks and no rules. He hung onto his two headed coin as a sort of blankie, a way to say it was’t not his fault–life is all pure chance so why shouldn’t he do what he likes? He set out to punish the world for what he lost–but only if the coin dictated their death. He sought to relieve his own pain by inflicting it on others. He gave himself to the evil inside him and became Two-Face.

Joker won the battle for Harvey Dent, however, the people of Gotham and Batman prove that even if evil is tempting, we do have a choice. We can choose not to be like the Joker or like Two-Face. Joker tries to goad Batman into breaking his rules and killing him, he tries to goad the refugees and inmates on two ferries into blowing each other up to save themselves. But they don’t. They almost do. They want to. But when it comes down to doing the deed they don’t.

After the people of Gotham prove themselves, and Batman finally succeeds in capturing the Joker, there is still the problem of Two-Face Dent on his revenge-driven killing spree. Batman and Commissioner Gordon have been struggling to keep Harvey Dent’s nose clean since Joker upped the anti in Gotham (a fact that probably should have tipped them off that maybe he’s not the White Knight they thought). They desperately want him to be what they believe they can’t–a shining example of good for the people of Gotham to aspire to. Consequently, they do everything possible to save Harvey Dent’s image from the mire he plunged it into. Batman heroically takes the blame for Harvey’s sins. A lot of people really loved the symbolism of Batman’s sacrifice–but I didn’t. Yes, taking Harvey’s place was noble, but it required a pretty dang huge lie. Noble lies have a way of going wrong. The effects of this noble lie nearly cost Bruce Wayne his life.

Batman Begins

Note: This post originally appeared 7/27/12 on my other blog.

I’ve been trying to organize all my thoughts about the Batman trilogy into a post. Once I got thinking about it, there got to be a lot of thoughts. I originally thought that I’d just put it up in one massive post and you could read or not read. The trouble is that it’s taken me days and days to write and at the moment I’m just getting to The Dark Knight Rises. So I decided to post my thoughts on the Batman Trilogy in portions…if you don’t like Batman you might be a little bored here for a couple days, but maybe you should read the posts anyway because it’s a good story, even if superheroes aren’t your thing.


Every iteration of a superhero is different, the comic books, animated series, and live action versions always take different spins on the same icon and often the same story arcs. Then, of course there are the re-boots of this, that, and the other. The fundamentals stay the same–superheroes and their remakes will probably never go away because they are the modern myth. They provide a vehicle for exporing all sorts of themes, philosophies, and moral connundrums in compelling ways. Every society needs heroes, needs myths, needs someone to tell stories about. Once upon a time they told stories about gods and goddesses or rediculously mighty warriors like Beowulf. Today we have a lot of mutants, a bunch of aliens, and a few geniuses with suits.

Batman has always been one of my absolute favorite superheroes. He has no superpowers. In the words of the Justice League of America Batman, “I’m just a rich kid with emotional problems,” but he’s the one all the other superheroes look to when they’re in trouble. Dry wit, cool gadgets, heartbreaking past, devoted butler…what’s not to like? Batman is a hero so commited to protecting and caring for Gotham that he’s left the Justice League a couple times. (They just need his help all the time so he’s back a lot :-P)

Batman Begins

I thoroughly enjoyed Batman Begins when it came out–what, 7 years ago?–I thought the exploration of how Bruce Wayne might become Batman in a realistic world was fabulous. (I also haven’t watched the movie in a long time because my tastes shifted away from dark blurry action flicks). This excellent review of the trilogy as a whole points out how Batman, rather than battling aliens or mutants, is battling the “good guys” to save his bad city–this is both gripping and frustrating. Frustrating because it is hard to watch someone so good give up so much for something that doesn’t deserve him. Gripping because it resonates with something deep down inside–it hearkens back to the redeeming love in the greatest story ever told. I commented after seeing TDKR that I was glad that Gotham got more…save-worthy…as the movies went on. Then I thought about later and realized that while, yes, Gotham’s progression toward good was right, proper, and praiseworthy, the fact that Batman would have kept fighting for Gotham regardless was also right, proper, and praiseworthy. More so, in fact, because it was unconditional love.

Science and the horse

Scientists are studying equine social behavior, now. No horse person is surprised, but they keep finding out that horses are insanely smart, learn body language, words, and problem solving skills. Some horses definitely have more problem solving skills than others. I can’t wait  for them to do a study comparing horses, ponies, donkeys and mules.

NBC recently reported that horses remember people and how they were treated for long periods of time. And the entire equestrian community said “Um, yeah…this is why training works and abused horses have a lot of emotional baggage forever.” All the same, I enjoyed reading the article.

It confirmed my own experimentation. Don’t worry, I didn’t go around mistreating one horse and pampering another. A couple years ago I watched a Tommie Turvey clinic and in the Q&A afterwards a little girl asked him how he got horses to like him. He paused, then said he tries to do something nice for the horse that it cannot do for itself–such as scratching a hard to get spot. Simple enough. Not unlike making friends with a human, doing something nice goes a long way.

For the past couple years I’ve been really focused on Midas and haven’t really paid much attention to the other horses at the barn. So, I decided I would make it a point to greet the other horses because they notice when you don’t. There were four others at the time, one has since passed on of old age, so now there are only three others to greet. In summertime it’s easier because they are in during the day, so I go around and pat everyone before fetching Midas.

At first they were slightly suspicious when they discovered I was coming to see them–and also not bearing treats. But I told them I wasn’t bearing treats, asked them if they wanted pats, and tried to give them a nice scratch in an itchy place before moving on. Eventually they caught on and they usually come to their gates to say hello and get their scratches.

It helps, I think, that I use a lot of the same phrases–things like, “No treats today, just pats” or “hey, do you want a treat?” so they know what I’m asking and decide for themselves if they feel like moving their feet to get their whorl rubbed or the spot under their manes scratched.

Most of the time they do. It’s always gratifying when someone is glad to see you.

The NBC article also talked about horses hearing humans even better than dogs do, suggesting that verbal commands will be met with great success–which confirms what I’ve observed (especially working with Midas): Horses definitely learn words, and tone is huge.

Barking orders at a horse–particularly commands like “whoa” or “stay” is entirely counterproductive because your tone is saying “jump!” “run!” “I eat you!” so obviously the horse is not going to respond with the desired slowness and relaxation.

Even barking “trot” will result in a much uglier up transition to a much more tense trot than crooning out as gentle a command as you can manage with a “t” at the front and back of the word. I witnessed my youngest brother-in-law growling out commands the way most kids are taught to address ponies. You know, that “do it now or face the consequences” tone that ponies always seem to invite, and then ignore. It was freaking Midas out. When I convinced my brother-in-law to breathe out his commands in a soothing tone, Midas responded just as quickly as before and much more quietly. Suddenly they could go around transitioning up and down in a relaxed fashion.

It made me re-evaluate how we’re taught to address ponies–but at the moment I don’t have access to any so I can’t experiment.

When I was a teen exercising horses in winter, I accidentally taught my mount a verbal half halt. Before asking him to canter–or gallop, we had a lot of fun out on the trails together–I always asked him “Are you ready?” I don’t know why, I just did. Of course, he figured out really quickly what I was going to ask for next, so even without half halting he would shift his weight back, ready to launch.

I’ve started asking Midas “Are you ready?” before most transitions, up or down. It’s a verbal reminder, which I think he appreciates, something that doesn’t require nagging at him with my hands or legs. I try not to nag in general, but this is another “nice gesture” I can offer to this particular horse.

I’ve already mostly taught him “right and left” so I can give him a heads up when leading him–with or without a rope–but I haven’t yet figured out how to control that when he’s at liberty. Another goal that I don’t know how to reach is refining “stay” and “come” so that I can ask him to come a few steps and stop–before reaching me–like sheep dogs do.

Anyway, all that to say: Science is catching on!


How dabbling in movie making changed how I watch movies.

This post originally appeared on 8/22/2015 on my other blog.

I worked on an independent film once. I even got paid. Before that I’d volunteered on some productions and also been very involved in my college’s film club. I still miss the acting and writing–even the costume design–and think about ways to get back into it.

However, this post isn’t about that.

The summer between my Junior and Senior year I worked as a Script Supervisor on an indi production. (I even have a page on IMDB. It’s basically nothing but my name…but hey, it’s there.) Between that and some experiences writing and working on student films, I don’t watch movies the way other people do.

I’m the person hunched over a pile of papers

I learned a lot that summer. I can’t say I’m running to L.A. to be a script supervisor, but it was a good experience. There is usually one “scripty” per film–sometimes two if there is a second unit. The scripty is the right side of the director’s brain. I was responsible for keeping track of each and every shot the director wanted, and making sure he got each shot he wanted. I was responsible for recording the technical details for each shot (like, the lens, the zoom, the height of the camera, its distance from the object, etc) and also the time stamp of each take (we didn’t have a real digital clapper). I was also responsible for continuity photos (pictures taken of the set before and after a take). Was the glass half full, or three quarters full at that particular spot on the actor’s line?

Yeah. Mind boggling details. You have all caught mistakes in movies. Forgive the scripty, please.

The nice thing was that I was the only person who got to tell the director what to do. The bad thing was that there was only one of me so I had to be on set the entire time. I could only take a break if everyone was.

running through my camera logs

Let’s just say chocolate covered espresso beans were essential to my lucidity. Buckets of vitamins and supplements are probably the only reason I didn’t die of the plague halfway through production.

In the film club I wrote, directed, produced, and acted. (I like the writing and acting best). My senior year I also tried my hand at writing an adaptation (book to radio drama). My entire view of movie-making and the book-to-movie process changed.

-As an art, movie making is collaborative. One person can wear many hats, but most of the time you need a lot of people from just about every skill-set you can imagine; attorney, accountant, business manager, mastermind, artist, writer, carpenter, make up artist, talent scout, actor, camera man, lighting specialist, event planner, caterer…the list only goes on. Artists often dream of the silver screen, but I wonder how many business managers set out to navigate the massively risky and varied waters of movie production?

low budget teleprompter

Movies are stressful. There is a lot on the line, and there are a lot of artsy people trying to share a vision. This is why chains of command are wildly important.

Movies fail for thousands of reasons. Movies succeed for thousands of reasons. Most movies don’t pay for themselves and studios are kept afloat by the blockbusters than knock it out of the park.

Every film shoots a lot of scenes that will not make it into the movie. The extras on the DVD? Just a sampling. Most of them are cut for a good reason. Some are cut just for time constraints. You wouldn’t believe what we do for time constraints.

Timing is everything. The Wizard of Oz and The Princess Bride bombed in the box office. They became cult classics after they were released on home video. The TV show Firefly is another example of late blooming success.

Adaptations are freaking hard to do. When I watch a movie that came from a book, I judge it as a two hour summary of a 300 page book. I do not judge the movie by the book, nor the book by the movie. The only exception to this is The Princess Bride. Having seen the movie and read the book, I can say I love both for basically the same reasons.

Medium matters, pacing and suspense techniques that work in the book will necessarily look different when translated to a visual production.

Part of what makes adaptations so hard is the perspective of the book–IE, the first person limited knowledge of The Hunger Games posed an extreme challenge to the film makers. They probably could have made a better movie (or one that conveyed more of the facts of the story) if they had treated it more like a third person omniscient. I think they figured that out and the rest of the films in the series were much better. I think I may even prefer them to the books. Most stories are written in limited omniscient or first person, and most movies are told in omniscient or limited omniscient. However, you can get a heck of a lot more detail and character development in a book than you can in a movie. Witness the 6 hour BBC Pride and Prejudice vs. the 2 hour Focus Features Pride and Prejudice. I think both films are excellent adaptations given the time restraints.

Yes, movie making is a ton of fun. Most people do it because they like it. Despite the crazy-go-nuts hours and conditions. Believe me, the crew doesn’t do it for the money.

Basically, having an understanding of how it’s done, how much money things cost, and how much effort goes into a production, I have a lot more grace for the movies I watch. That doesn’t mean that I think they should get away with laziness or sloppiness or weak stories…it just means that I get it.