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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rant Research

So yeah, that last post was ranty. It happens. I try to stay positive and all warm and fuzzy, but sometimes things p*** me off and my thoughts go pear-shaped. There are worse things to be than human, I suppose. Before I get much further, first let me apologize for any grammar/spelling/typos. I'm having a carpal tunnel episode from hell, and my wrist is all bound up and in pain. Truthfully, there will probably be my usual amount of grammar/spelling/typos, but at least now I can blame my wrist ;-)

So I did some research on the things I was ripping on so I don't have the excuse of pleading ignorance. Ignorance makes me angry, especially when it's willful and there's no real excuse for it. So, let's start with rope halters since I've ripped on them on more than one occasion. I found this quote: "Rope halters convey a "message" to the horse. A typical flat halter is very difficult to train with because a horse can lean on it - making training difficult. Rope halters work because the relatively thin rope causes the horse to yield to their own pressure -- teaching them not to lean." (Site here).

Ah HA! I get it now. They are essentially prong collars for horses. No more, no less. As such, leaving them on during turnout, trailering, etc. is not the norm, but abuse of the tool. In fact, they can be much easier on the horse than a nose-chain (which any of us who has worked with large or hot horses are very familiar with). It would appear that the whole "Natural Horsemanship" thing is loosely based on Vaquero traditions, or at least that seems to be where it finds its origins. Vaquero horsemanship is actually pretty interesting, and a system that seems to turn out very capable working horses suitable for all ranch-related duties. That's pretty darned respectable. As far as it relates to the classical system that I'm accustomed to, it's a completely different goal, but approached slowly and systematically in a way that sounds very familiar. Okay, cool.  I guess my problems with "Natural Horsemanship" is that I've encountered so many horses trained in this method that were behavioral nightmares, owners who were afraid to ride, techniques that I don't get at all (the whole "shaking the rope" thing makes me crazy. If an experienced horse person doesn't know what the horse is supposed to do, how is the horse supposed to guess? I'm still not sure it's a real 'thing' in NH, but I've seen so much of it) and the crazy notion that buying a few expensive CDs and special equipment is the key to understanding and working with your horse. That's not just wrong, it's dangerous. I also do NOT dig how every fellow with a system has a bunch of glib sayings and sounds suspiciously like a snake-oil salesman, selling the idea that their system is all you'll ever need. If you dig past all the nonsense (and cult-like following), use your common sense and work with an experienced horse-person who is in line with your goals, NH can be a nice enhancement and provide some direction. On it's own? not so much. If a person is into "Natural Horsemanship", they may want to go all the way and check out the real Vaquero system. Update 6/5/14: In my research, I found a cowboy that I really like. Seriously. You can find out more about him here: What you won't get: Slick patter, catch-phrases and a flashy website selling lots of outrageously-priced goods. What you will get: Compassion and common sense from a hard-working person who seems way too focused on "doing" to be spending a lot of energy on "selling". Respect.

I look forward to looking deeper into that system myself, as one of my personal equestrian goals is to trail ride like it's my job, see the country and maybe write about it (and make my sister go with me and take LOTS of pictures). Contrary to popular belief, a trail horse isn't simply a horse that isn't suited to a sport (and they can totally BE a sport horse, for that matter), but a fit, specialized animal trained to cope with all manner of shenanigans. Yeah, new, non-job-related research!

My opinion of a strictly behavioral approach to dog training hasn't changed though. I recently watched the documentary Blackfish, which did ZERO to change my mind on that score. I won't spoil (okay, a bit of a spoiler) for you, and in fact I think everyone should watch the movie. It's a commentary on what the twisted lifestyle of a wild animal in captivity can do to the psychology of that animal, and it's really tragic for all involved. Add to that a training system that focuses on training behaviors without any understanding of the animal they're actually working with (who needs to know anything about orcas when you know all about behavior modification, right? *Headdesk*), no management (precautions taken) because of the HUBRIS of thinking behavioral training is all you'll ever need (even though it's a system that relies entirely on the cooperation of the animal. But hey, animals are programmable robots who react the same to the same things all the time. Especially large, predatory wild animals. Everybody knows THAT). Add to that a lot of withholding info, complete denial, and the blaming OF TRAINERS for accident and deaths, and you pretty much have yourself a recipe for disaster. The trainer-blaming (even though filmed footage doesn't support trainer-error as a cause of ANYTHING) and complete denial are, unfortunately, familiar themes. In Blackfish, it was deadly to the trainers. In the world of dog training when things go wrong, it becomes deadly to the dogs. Okay, so strict adherence to a sliver of scientific theory as the end-all be-all is always going to be a rant for me. It's like "Hey, train these killer whales blind-folded and with one hand tied behind your back", and if you fail, OF COURSE it is your fault. Fortunately, OSHA stepped in and imposed some barriers and safety standards, but it took a court battle. Of course it did. In an ideal world, there would be no wild animals held captive and trained for our amusement. Hopefully, we evolve and develop a compassion-bone sooner rather than later on that score.

Re: my electronic issues? My computer updated itself again. I think it did it just to spite me. It was all "Neener neener" while it wasted my time, taking forever to make changes to itself that I didn't need or want. Uncle! In revenge, my font size has gone wacky for no apparent reason, and I can't fix it.See...I'm not imagining things!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Cult of Newer is Better


Some days I feel old. I know I'm not, really, but things can change rapidly. Some things that went away come back again. It feels like I'm constantly dealing with some update or another with my electronics. You know, the ever-shifting landscape of the average, first-world Joe's life. I'm not that old, but in many ways the world is a completely different place from the one I grew up in and was prepared for.

Okay, let me be clear; I am very much like Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory. I don't handle change well, I love my routines, I'm socially awkward and I have a 'spot'. While I look forward to happy changes, the unhappy ones (or even the neutral ones) are generally devastating and send me reeling for some time.  Hell, even happy changes that I've sought out and pursued can take a long time to assimilate and accept. Having said that, I think I do okay. I like new information, I love to learn new things and I love to study the hell out of the things that interest me. New information is brain-fodder; it keeps the flames of intellect extra flamey (which is sorely needed) and sometimes new IS better. Having said that, I know all too well how fads and trends come and go, so I try to apply common sense and a bit of objectivity to all new endeavors. I think the older you get, the more this approach makes sense. Unfortunately, you can't really apply this to electronics.

One example of things that have changed a lot for the better is dog training. There was the popularity of the Koehler method, then we had The Woodhouse Way, and of course, we cannot forget the Monks of New Skete. Each one of these systems had strong advocates (some still do), a closed-minded adherence to method over all and almost a cult following (sound familiar?). Each was based on experience and learning theory. Things changed for dogs when John Fisher came along. To this day, if I could be said to have a dog-training guru, it would be this fellow. He was the first one who said "Hey, wouldn't this work better if we tried to understand what motivates dogs and tried to understand them a little better?" The first dog-training book I ever bought was "Think Dog" and it was awesome :-) He introduced the reader to pack theory, the idea of positively-motivated behavior change, how food/nutrition can influence dog behavior (he advocated Eucanuba), and how a dog's behavior could be positively influenced by the right combination of Bach flower remedies. And he was the SHIZIT. I'm not saying that with sarcasm either (in spite of the fact that most of what's on the aforementioned list is largely irrelevant now), he really was the best. I even still have a set of Throwing disks. When Mech recanted everything we knew about pack theory, Mr. Fisher didn't just go away with his tail between his legs. He did what no well-known dog trainer has ever done before or since: He admitted he was wrong, dug into the research some more, and came away smarter and better for it (and WE benefited greatly for it too, as did our dogs). These days, the owner gets blamed, the dog gets blamed, EVERYTHING but the method gets blamed. 'Cause, science (and everybody knows we've never applied science to animal behavior until just now, of course). Speaking of, I think it would be interesting to do a study to determine how many systems involving living creatures of ANY kind are actually infallible. I'm guessing not many. It's a sad commentary on egotism, but highlights what a special sort of man John Fisher was. Mr. Fisher was more interested in the dog in front of him than in promoting a specific protocol, and for that he will always have my respect (even though he passed away some time ago). Most importantly, he changed the system for the better, and then he changed it again. I'm noticing a cultish sort of trend occurring around training theory again, but I've been around long enough to understand how this works.

Speaking of things coming around, rope halters for horses! Yup, they made the rounds in the 70's. I even remember seeing the ads in the old magazines. They were touted as being "the cool and lightweight alternative". They fell out of favor because they were kind of dangerous and irritating to the horse's face. Now they're back, and they have knots. We put them on, connect a heavy rope, and then SHAKE the rope to get the horse to...I'm not sure what. Then we call it natural.  This is one of those things that falls into the category of "things Kristel doesn't know enough about to speak from an educated viewpoint", so I can only opine based on observation. Is Natural Horsemanship a humane alternative to 'cowboy breaking'? To tying a horse to a sturdy post and flogging it until it gives in? Saddling it up and riding it until it stops fighting? Ah, yeah. I think that goes without saying. But as an alternative to a centuries-old system that always put the feelings of the horse first, always left the horse's temperament and personality intact and never put the horse at risk of physical or psychological damage? Not so much. There are hacks in all systems, and lots of different ways to get the job done. I guess my point here was "Hey, rope halters are back? Didn't we already decide we didn't like those? Maybe we forgot. Part of getting old is that we forget a lot of things, then somebody repackages it and markets it as something new and we get all excited again. C'est la vie.

What set off this mini-tantrum? You're going to laugh. Seriously. It's simple: My computer updated itself. It does it a lot, it does so without my permission, and every time it does it I just want it to go back to the way it was. Sometimes, new is better. I know this, as highlighted above. Sometimes, it's complicated as hell, and new for the sake of new is crazy-making. Sure, I took a computer course in college. It was MS Dos. How many of you even know what means? I don't know what that means. My I-pod is now obsolete and I can't play Dragonvale anymore. Do you know how upsetting that is? No, you probably don't. You probably have new ipods, or ipads, or you don't give a rat's furry bottom about dragons. I miss my dragons. The solution is to get a new device (which is totally what they intend!!!) but then I have to learn how to use it. It reminds me of the time I found my mother sitting on her couch in a quiet house, staring at a basket full of remote controls that was sitting in her lap. When i asked her what was wrong (she looked mildly distraught), her response was "I just want to watch channel 3, and I don't know how". I know how you feel, Mom. I'm right there with you. I know the demoralizing pain of having to ask my child to sort out my electronics. It shouldn't have to be that way. As fun, innovating and interesting as new information and new things can be, they are much easier to take when I seek them out. They are far less appreciated when they are thrust upon me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


What is this? Yet another blog post? Why, yes indeed it is! I've had a bit of time to myself, and yet have been too distracted to get any REAL work done, so the end result is, of course, a blog post. Today I thought I might address the touchy subject of book reviews. I Know nobody talks about them. It's kind of like fight-club that way. But I am GOING to! I wasn't really going to address it at all, but when things float around in my head unchanneled they tend to go a bit wonky. Ergo, blog post about book reviews.

Until I became a writer myself, I never really gave much thought to reviews. I am learning that they are nearly the equivalent of a tip for waitstaff. Every time I see a good one I'm all "Whoo hoo!" all over again. Fortunately, the vast majority my reviews have been very good. I knew when I published though, that there would inevitably be some bad ones, and there have been ( I got one bad review because somebody couldn't download a sample. Facepalm). I prepared myself by reading the most horrid reviews for my favorite books by my favorite authors, and there were a LOT of them. It's shocking, really, that someone would actually sit down and take that much time to spew that much venom (some people writing lengthy paragraphs!), almost always behind some mysterious user name, or even more often "Amazon customer". I understand the nature of the internet, and I know there is no shortage of people who can't wait to have the opportunity to criticize, but some of what I read was SO over the top. It made me realize that a writer can tell an amazing story, but if the reader has no empathy or imagination it won't matter. And of course, different people just like different things. Those guys certainly aren't losing any sleep over the minority of mysterious strangers who didn't like their work, nor should they. And the criticism certainly didn't stop them from becoming very successful (far more successful than the critics, I would wager!). So why should it bother me? Why is it that, after getting a ton of great reviews, it's the very few bad ones that get under my skin? It's not stopping my progress either, but it's human nature, I suppose. It certainly explains to me why you almost never see a successful writer ripping on another writer's work. There's support and understanding there, and it's very much appreciated.

So, let me start by saying that I'm grateful for how shocked I am by some of the hateful things people say. It means that I'm not assimilated to it, that I don't think it's okay, and my own "compass" is intact. I would never say the things that I've seen written, not in writing or in person. I'm also grateful for the insight; I will always make sure to review every book I read from now on because I know how important it can be to the writer. I love it when folks message me and tell me how much they love my book, but if they don't post a review, they give the haters all the say. I'm grateful also, that my good reviews far outweigh the bad and that I have so many exciting things to look forward to as a result. Hell, I'm grateful that I took an idea and had the stones (lol) to make it a reality. I am the MOST grateful, though, for all the folks who took the time to post all the wonderful reviews! You guys ROCK :-)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lost and Found

I've had more than a few conversations and circumstances this weekend that reminded me of the past. For the most part, I look back with fondness on my childhood. School was tough (though I did well academically and was treated well by other students) but everything else was pretty great. The older I get and the more familiar I am with the world and people in it, the more grateful I am for such a nurturing and grounded start in life.

One of the cool things about social media has been reconnecting with all those sweet and familiar faces that were such an important part of my youth. Best friends from childhood, people I went to school with and even folks I didn't know all that well but took for granted. I cherish what social media allows in terms of seeing how all these wonderful people have grown up; I love sharing their successes, seeing their children and being a part of their lives even if only in cyberspace. I know some people view it as some twisted sort of competition (I've seen countless memes alluding to that) but I don't. I think we all get to win, and that we are doing just that in our own unique ways. Sometimes I miss those times, the innocence and simplicity, so much it hurts. There have been some really tough days in the not-so-distant past (or more accurately, not-distant-enough past!) when I believed that all my best times were behind me. That all I had to look forward to was struggle, and that all that was good had been taken from me in one way or another. Pretty darned dismal way to think, I know. But when you're mired in what feels like an inescapable muck, it isn't hard to go there. There were days when I felt like somebody had pushed me down a hill and I just couldn't seem to stop falling.

Okay, before I go any further (and bum the hell out of everybody in dramatic fashion) let me first acknowledge that have boat-loads of hope for the future, I am an optimist, an idealist and an unrealistic-as-realist :-) Even so, I could never quite shake the feeling that something valuable had been lost; like some intrinsic piece of me was damaged and gone forever.

But here's the thing: No, it isn't. It's all still there. Just because it isn't happening now, doesn't mean it didn't happen. I know that's probably a big "DUH" but it hasn't felt like one. The truth is, nobody (not even time) has the power to rob me of all the beauty, wonder and joy I've experienced. It's all mine, and its mine forever. Even my scars are mine; they don't require permission, validation or approval to exist. I may have lost things, some of them very meaningful, but the experiences, the love and the connections are untouchable. undeniable, indelible. Knowing that (and I mean knowing) has shored me up and helped me to develop a sense of purpose and strength that I can use to create a future that I'll like very much. Everything that came before is a foundation that I can build the rest of my life upon. All this time I've been looking for solid ground, only to find that I'm standing on it already.

Cool beans :-)

I couldn't resist posting a video of a song that some of us remember fondly! Not my video, but very well done :-)