Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New Camera and Some Wild Stuff

Believe it or not, it was six years ago when I got my Canon PowerShot SX10 IS point-and-shoot, which is the camera I used to take the majority of my blog photos with.  It now has a small crack in the lens and has difficulty focusing with close-up macro shots, so I felt it was time to replace it.  I had been using it as my back up camera for my professional Nikon D300s.

I narrowed down my choices to the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS and the Nikon Coolpix P600.  Both had excellent reviews, but the Canon had 12.1 MP while the Nikon had 16.1 MP, and the Canon had 50x zoom while the Nikon has 60x zoom.  I decided to take my chances on the Nikon, despite having a nightmare that I couldn't get it to focus on the macro settings, which is essentially the problem I'm having with my old Canon.

One thing I love about Amazon.com is that because we have an Amazon fulfillment center so close to us, I can order the free shipping and still get it in 2 to 3 days.  My first impression of the camera was amazement over how light it is.  It's like holding a can of soda.  I had picked the Nikon in part because it had a good thumb grip on the back, and I figured I would need it with that long telephoto lens, but with how light the entire camera is, shaking from fatigue will probably never be a problem.

Yes, I ordered it in the red color.

One of my first test subjects was a Gila Monster that P.S. found crawling around my hay barn.

Later I tried taking pictures of flowers on some cactus in my front yard, and much to my surprise a family of quail ran out from their hiding spot.

You may have to click on the photo to blow it up to see the babies.  They are tiny.  I snapped this shot of in a hurry as they were running past me, so the vibration reduction works well.  All of these photos were straight out of the camera on the default settings.

Unfortunately, I did find that there was some truth to my nightmare, which stemmed from a negative review I read about the camera.  I did have to work at it to get the lens to focus on the macro shots.  It can be done, but you need a little time to adjust the lens length and your proximity to the object, which is okay with flower shots, but not okay with wildlife shots.  The camera just doesn't seem to know where to focus if there isn't much contrast, so filling up the frame with the inside of a flower is a job I will have to leave for my professional DSLR.  I also had the camera lock up on me once.  I couldn't turn it on or off, but the light was indicating that it was on, so I removed the battery and stuck it back in to reset it, and that did the trick.

I've only had it one day, and will need more time to play with it to come to a decision on whether I like it better than my old Canon.  I got something in my viewfinder eye while practicing on it, and the scratch left behind on my eye will need to heal before I head out for another photo shoot.  The camera has a really large LCD screen that swivels and swings, but it is hard to see in the sun's glare, so I just use the viewfinder to frame my shots.

In other news, the horse trainer did it again and made magic happen with Gabbrielle this time.  He rode her at the lope, and it actually looked like a lope as opposed to her crazy, spastic gallop.  She was way more relaxed and seemed to understand what he was asking of her this time.  I expected him to get her to that level after several weeks, but he did it in two sessions.

P.S. and I were watching him when he suddenly announced, "Well, I think it's time I stand up on her," and proceeded to climb up onto his knees on her back.  P.S. and I were like, "Whaaaaaaat?" and we both started laughing.  Here we were hiring this horse trainer to just help our horse get into a collected lope, and he was already trying to do tricks on her, like this was the Wild Mustang Challenge or something.  I noted that the trainer was not wearing a helmet and Gabbrielle looked very worried and nervous.  P.S. had the same visceral reaction as I did, and we both basically pleaded with the horse trainer not to do it.  We didn't want him to get hurt.  My horse has already dumped two people, and I didn't want her to be the cause of him not being able to do his job and support his family because he's laid up from an injury.

I'm sure that our nervousness just added to Gabbrielle's anxiousness, so he did back down.  But I was impressed that he got up on his knees in the saddle and she didn't move.  I think of all the years I've been super cautious around the horses, surveying their moods and whatnot before riding them, and then I meet this guy who is doing tricks with horses he barely knows within a matter of minutes after mounting them.  It seems so absurd.  All I can figure out is that either he is so in tune with the body language and minds of horses that he knows when it is safe to push the envelope, or he knows how to land softly on his feet.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Weekend Ride

We've had some awesome weather this weekend with lots of clouds and cool breezes.  I almost tacked Bombay up for a solo ride on Friday, but then heard a bunch of children running around screaming on the trails in front of my house, and thought better of it.  I always regret taking Bombay out on holidays, because more people than usual are out and something ridiculous almost always happens that convinces Bombay that his life is in peril, which in turn puts my life in peril.  I really would like his next nervous breakdown to happen when the trainer is here, so that I can make sure that I am handling it properly and helping my horse build self-confidence rather than making the situation worse.

I had resigned myself to not riding until the holiday blows over, but P.S. wanted to ride on Saturday, and I figured Rock would be okay with whatever challenges were thrown at us along the trails as long as he was with his buddy horse Gabbrielle.  The mares are always braver around Rock, Rock is always better behaved when he has the mares with him, and Bombay can pretty much ruin any good ride by causing a ripple of spooks.  No horse influences Bombay in a positive way, nor does Bombay influence other horses in a positive way.  So, he stayed at the barn.

Both Rock and Gabbrielle were very well behaved with the exception of a lot of bush snatching.  I had my helmet cam set to take a snapshot every 60 seconds, and in quite a few pictures I caught him eating.

Amazingly, we didn't meet a single soul on the trails, save for a small rattlesnake that the horses apparently almost stepped on.  P.S. saw it move and heard it rattle right by Gabbrielle's feet.  I turned Rock around to get a closer look, and just as it was slithering further under the bush, I did see the rattle behind the black bands on the tail.  I've got to pay closer attention to what's on the trail, apparently, because I was in front and I didn't see a thing.  I was too busy yakking.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the ride:

This last landscape shot is pretty good when you consider that I didn't even know when the camera was taking pictures.  Ha ha.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Experimenting with a New Camera Setting

For today's trail ride, I set my GoPro helmet mounted camera to take a picture every 60 seconds.  Normally, I reach up and press the shutter release when I see something I want to photograph.  This time I rolled the dice and hoped something interesting would get caught on camera along the way.  These were my favorite shots:

At the end of our ride I stopped Rock to let the mail carrier pass before crossing the street.  He was being a wiggle wort, refusing to hold still, so I decided to make him wait until the mail carrier came back the other way too.
Wouldn't you know it, the mail carrier decided to pull off the road and park in front of us by the gate we needed to pass through.  I thought she was going to deliver a package across the street, but apparently she was giving herself a shot of medication.  I figured she'd drive off when she was done with that, but instead she started eating her lunch.  By then Rock had held still long enough that I rewarded him by letting him walk the rest of the way home.  The horses were eyeing the mail truck as we passed in front of it, and I refused to look at it.  I focused on getting across the street and down the driveway.

I don't think either horse spooked, so that was encouraging.  We had one funny part to the ride in which P.S. was riding behind me telling me a story while we were descending into a wash.  As soon as we hit the bottom of the wash, Rock decided he was going to run up the other side.  I let him do so because it was nice to have him feeling his oats instead of dragging his feet, but then he didn't stop running.  He just kept going, and I could no longer hear what P.S. was saying.  How rude.

So, I stopped him and turned him around to remind him that we should stay with our friends and not ditch them.  Rock was quite spunky.  When I smacked him with the riding crop for burying his head in the bush he bucked in protest.  But he learned to not stop moving his feet while trying to snatch snacks along the side of the trail.  I decided that was a good compromise.  I wanted to ride and he wanted to eat, so we met in the middle.  If he had a metal bit in his mouth, I might have made the rule of no snacking whatsoever, but eating while staying at the pace I ask is pretty harmless in a bitless bridle.  Plus it helps clear overgrown brush from the trails.  It's a functional compromise.

When we got back, we did a little work with cavalletti poles.  I set them up in the shape of an "L" and we rode the horses forwards and backwards through them.  Gabbrielle made it in both directions, but Rock will need some work on backing up.  If I don't release the pressure as soon as he backs up, he thinks he is giving the wrong answer and so he moves forward.  I don't think he understands the concept of backing long distances.  I'll have to work on that.  I'll probably have to take two steps back, release, ask again, take two steps back, release, ask again... until we are all the way through the "L" alley.  Once he knows that is the goal, it should go smoother.  But I ran out of time and couldn't work on it anymore because I had an appointment at the hair salon.

Oh yeah, and while we were trying our maneuvers, Bombay and Lostine kept trying to eat the cavalletti poles, so we got some practice herding "cattle" off the "road."

Unfortunately, I turned the camera off when I thought I was turning it on for the arena work.  And then I turned it on when I thought I had turned it off before going into the house, so I ended up getting a ton of pictures of the inside of my house.  One of these days I'll get it all right.  I just can't see what the heck I'm doing with equipment that is on the top of my head.  Maybe I should try it with a chest strap next time.  Then people will probably be like, "Why does that lady keep looking down at her boobs?"

Some Farms Have Crop Circles...

...My ranch has mysterious crap circles...

Be Careful What You Wish For

I have a knack for having my wishes come true in the strangest forms.

I have always wished I could get one of these wild desert cottontail rabbits to hold still long enough to let me pet its fuzzy tail.  I wanted to see if it was as soft as I imagined it to be.  I had domestic rabbits as pets as a kid, but I don't recall that their tails were as fluffy and soft looking as the cottontails' tails.  This morning I walked outside and found this:

Yup.  It was mighty soft.  I just wish it could have been attached to a live rabbit.  I'll have to be more specific next time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ever Changing Goals

I've been struggling to come up with things for my horse trainer to do with my horses, because it seems that they always behave well for him.  He hasn't had the pleasure of experiencing their freak outs, perhaps because the novelty of having someone new on their backs distracts them from the things that usually spook them.  He does have a way with horses.  Every time he rides one of them, the next person who rides that horse always notices a huge improvement in the horse.  So, even though he hasn't seen what I've seen my horses do when they are scared, simply having him ride them for a few minutes a week is as good as sprinkling pixie dust all over them and having magical things happen.

In our last lesson, he rode Bombay while I rode my bike.  We began with me walking my bike beside Bombay.  I think because Bombay knows me, he wasn't concerned.  Then I rode in circles around Bombay while the trainer sat on him.  Then he followed me, and even squeezed Bombay up to a trot to chase me. Then I passed them from behind.  Still he had no trouble.  He suggested that I ride around in the distance, because sometimes it is unrecognizable movement that gets a horse excited.  I thought it was ridiculous that we were having to try all these different things just to get Bombay excited, because every time I ride him, if he sees anything moving out on the trails, he gets nutty nervous.  A lot of times I don't even see whatever he sees, but I know he sees something because he pumps himself up real tall and gets the jitters and snorts.

The trainer had me turn up the trail he was on and ride toward him.  Finally, Bombay pumped himself up tall and gave a little snort.  The trainer said he felt his nervousness that time.  I guess going away for a while and coming back made me a stranger in my horse's eyes, but once Bombay knew it was me, he relaxed again.  We talked about setting things up differently in the future so that we don't ride out together, but meet up in the desert from a distance.  I started thinking that maybe I should just ask the old, deaf, retired guy who normally scares that crap out of my horses when he rides his bike to just help out by riding when my trainer is here.  I mean, if this bicyclist has got time to spy on me in my back yard from behind bushes, he's got time to help.

The trainer then worked with P.S. and Gabbrielle on cross-firing.  Gabbrielle has always had this strange, hyper-speed gallop in which her legs just get spastic and out of control.  I constantly worry that she's going to break a leg when she gallops, and it is difficult to get her to slow down.  She also still carries her head like a giraffe, which isn't good for her back.  Of course, Gabbrielle didn't cross-fire much at all when P.S. lunged her in the round pen in front of the trainer.  No one has ridden Gabbrielle at anything faster than a trot since the dressage trainer worked with her back in 2011.  We weren't sure what to expect, and considering how fast she goes when lunged, neither P.S. nor I were inclined to experiment with the pace under saddle with this horse.

Of course, the trainer had no problem teaching her to lope under saddle.  He's fearless and up for anything.  He recognized that Gabbrielle was nervous having a new rider in a different saddle, so he kept her at the trot at first since she was experienced carrying a rider at that pace.  She had never been in a breast collar or back cinch before, but she was experiencing that now.  When he felt her start to relax, he pushed her up to the lope, but she spazzed out and kept going faster and faster like she does when we lunge her.

She spooked at something on the outside of the round pen and ran sideways across the pen.  I held my breath and prayed really hard that he would stay on.  I've seen Gabbrielle dump two riders already while spooking, and I didn't want anyone else getting hurt.  He rode it out with no problem, and once he got the direction of her legs under control and got his stirrup back, he just put her right back into the lope like nothing ever happened.  This time she sped up and gave a pretty good sized buck, which he called a little hop, but it looked like a rodeo bronc moment to me.  Her legs were stretched straight out and up in the air at a 45 degree angle.  Again, he just resumed riding and even made her go faster, so that she would learn that she can't get out of work by trying to dump her rider.

At some point she started limping.  Memories flooded back of the time the dressage trainer led Gabbrielle to the riding arena, mounted, and Gabbrielle suddenly began limping and falling all over the place like she had broken her leg.  I was shocked and scared.  The dressage trainer dismounted, examined her leg and hoof, didn't see anything, said, "She's faking it," got back on and put her through her paces.  That "broken leg" healed miraculously, and she moved just fine.  So, in this incident, I watched quietly to see if this was a true injury or another episode of faking it, and the limp cleared up real fast when the trainer didn't get off to give her sympathy, but moved her up to the lope.  What is it with mares faking injuries?  I've got two of them who do that.

At another point she leaned so far to the side like a motorcycle that the trainer said she almost dragged his knee on the ground.  I guess her speed was what kept her upright.

The trainer said that the turning point was when he decided to just give her a loose rein and let her go as fast as she wanted.  It had a reverse psychology effect, and she slowed down to a more controlled pace.  He felt that her biggest issue was a lack of confidence, and that the best way to get her down to a controlled lope from her crazy gallop would be to just keep riding her at the pace until it's not so scary for her.  Then move her out of the round pen and lope her on a straight of way.

After seeing how she behaved, I certainly didn't feel comfortable riding her repeatedly at the gallop and I really didn't want P.S. taking the risk, so I decided to shift focus and put all the other horses on the back burner while the trainer works this out with Gabbrielle.  We talked about getting her into a better, more collected frame.  He's going to teach her to lower her head on command.  I did teach her to lower her head when you place your hand on her poll, and she's happy to oblige and drop her nose all the way to the ground as long as you aren't trying to bridle her.  But I haven't taught her how to drop her head when someone is in the saddle.

Gabbrielle does really well on the trails with the exception of the occasional spook or refusal to pass garbage, a cactus, or a stranger.  We could just keep her in her comfort zone, but P.S. would like to ride her in endurance competitions some day.  So, it's imperative that the horse be confident and comfortable at all paces with all trail obstacles, and that she know how to carry herself in an optimal manner in order to avoid injuries.  But what's even more important is that she be a safe horse to ride at all paces.

It was good to see that even with her petite bone structure and size, she could carry a heavier person and saddle.  So, perhaps I shouldn't be so concerned about planting my fat butt on her.  I've just always been bothered by the way she sways and falls to the side, catching herself at the last second, when I mount her.  The last time it happened, I decided to just let her become P.S.'s project horse, because P.S. is light as a feather and she has a really good relationship with Gabbrielle.  With P.S. riding her regularly, I didn't think much about goals for Gabbrielle.  I put all my focus on the geldings.  Now it's time that I shift my focus back onto her training.  I feel like Gabbrielle got the short end of the stick, because her training has been interrupted so many times by unexpected events, and as a result, there are holes in her foundation that could come back to bite us if we don't address them.

I went outside today to take pictures of Gabbrielle, but Lostine photobombed the shoot...

Monday, April 14, 2014

My First Snake Sighting of the Season

Scrappy and I almost stepped on this little guy this afternoon.

I'm blind as a bat, so I took some pictures and blew them up on my screen to research what kind of snake it might be.  I didn't find many pictures of snakes with these markings and this coloring, but there were snakes of this size and length that matched, and people were calling them Western Coachwhips.  If anyone thinks it might be something different, let me know.  It was long and thin, and difficult to see.  They say not many people spot them because they are fast and can climb trees and cactus.  This is the first time I've seen one of these.  It didn't try to get away from me, but just posed while I took pictures.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

Equine Festival Wrap-Up
Okay, I think I am almost fully satiated with showing pictures and reporting on the equine festival.  Just one more picture...

This handler's hips don't even reach this horse's belly, and the top of her head barely reaches its back!  Even if she's a short lady, that Arabian horse is amazingly tall for the breed.

I was watching how well behaved all those Quarter Horses were once they accepted their schooling, and I was thinking about how every trainer I took my horses to had to wait at least a week for my Arabians to settle down and settle in at their stable before they would even work with them on a lunge line.  Yet here I was at this show where trainers were putting Quarter Horses under saddle within a matter of hours.

Then I saw this lady trying to lead this super tall, gorgeous Arab around the fairgrounds, and it reminded me of all the times I've taken my Arabian horses to rodeos and horse shows for the exposure.  They basically ran back and forth on the lead line or ran circles around me, huffing and puffing in both excitement and terror.  This lady had to keep putting her hand up to push the horse out of her space, and it was jigging along acting like it didn't even know she was there.  I thought, "Now, that I can relate to."

But, thankfully, my Arabs have calmed down quite a bit since we moved away from the creepers, and I think that Rock's solid, relaxed, confident nature has had a positive effect on them as well.  All the horses spend more time sleeping on their sides sprawled out without a care in the world, because they see Rock do it and realize that nothing tries to eat him while he sleeps.

I also think that being associated only with people in the horse show world didn't serve me well, because the majority of what I learned was equitation skills and horse show rules, which didn't do much to keep me safe when my horses were unruly.  Now I am learning more about the nature of horses and how to train them from cowboys and cowgirls who have a lifetime of experience working ranch horses.  I feel like the knowledge I am gaining goes back further in history and has a less specified purpose, and is therefore more useful to me.  There are many different cultures within the horse world, and I feel fortunate to have been able to access more than one.

Helpless Hossie
I don't know if I pick them silly or if I make them silly, but I've got some seriously silly horses.  This weekend I heard some banging around outside, which usually just means that some horse is kicking a water tough, but Stewie made me turn and look, because he was squealing like something was wrong.  Stewie, our Chihuahua mix, likes to sit on a pillow at the top of the bed and watch the horses through the window.  He was letting me know there was a problem.  Rock was standing with one front leg in a water trough, and despite getting it in there, he couldn't seem to get it out.

I went outside and tipped the trough, but couldn't tip it all the way over because of the angle of his leg.  Keeping the trough tipped on an angle with one hand, I tried guiding his leg out with the other hand, but didn't have any luck.  I was trying to lift it out from different angles and nothing was working.  Then I looked at Rock's expression and realized that he was laughing at me.  I flapped my arms and said, "Git outta dere!" and he promptly reared up a little and pulled his leg out himself.

Got Air?
One of the things I don't care for about my new neighborhood is that it is legal to build bonfires, and I've got some neighbors who have been doing that every Friday and Saturday night recently.  We like to open up the windows in the evenings to let in the cool breeze, and before we know it, we are choking on smoke and have to close up the house.  The smoke burns my eyes, nose, and throat, and pinches my lungs, making it hard to breathe.  The next day I have an endless headache.  The smoke makes me rub my eyes, and now I've got an eye infection.  I feel like we can't even have our air conditioner running because it blows in the smoke.  It's an awful feeling knowing that I can't even control the air that I breathe because of inconsiderate neighbors.

Because our property is lower than others in the neighborhood, the smoke gets packed in and we really suffer.  I took the dogs outside to do their business and was shocked to see this bonfire roaring so high that it was as tall as the roof of the house that it was next to.  I ran in and got my binoculars to make sure it wasn't out of control, and saw a bunch of people sitting around it in chairs drinking beers, completely unconcerned about the 20-foot flames in front of them.

Fright After Fright After Fright or My Heart Can't Take It Anymore
I'm glad I had the equine festival posts pre-written and queued up for my blog last week, because it was probably the toughest time I've had yet with the dogs.  We forgot to lock the kitchen trash can on a couple of occasions before leaving the dogs alone in the house, and Scrappy knocked it over.  He and Midge got into it and ate spoiled food and chicken bones.  I thought Scrappy was going to explode because his belly was so severely distended with gas.  Both dogs had projectile vomiting, projectile diarrhea, and uncontrollable bladders for the next few days.  The incident didn't do anything to help Midge's recovery from her Pancreatitis.  We couldn't feed her or give her any insulin for a couple of days.  Being diabetic, she's not supposed to eat anything other than her prescription dog food, so getting into the trash was life-threatening to her.

Fortunately, Stewie was locked in the kennel when we left the house, but I had to stay on top of cleaning up the accidents before he made himself sick by eating them, which was easier said than done, because Midge managed to vomit eight times in one ten minute period.  It was a nightmare.  I'm pretty sure I am never going to forget to lock that trash can again.  I hope no one else forgets either, because I'm going to need some serious sedatives to survive another episode like that.

First I thought Scrappy was going to die, then I thought Midge was going to die, and then I nearly killed Stewie in a freak accident.  I'm always careful not to lower the stool of my recliner without first checking to make sure a dog isn't under there.  But one night Stewie managed to crawl underneath my recliner from behind.  I thought he was in the bedroom, and when I pulled the lever to raise the stool and lean back, I heard Stewie screaming.  I pushed the stool back down and sat forward, and he raced out from underneath my recliner.  He's okay, but I came pretty close to having a heart attack when that happened.

I'm praying for a dull, predictable week ahead without anymore traumatic events.  Bombay got his bath and was doused in fly spray, so he better not add any more wounds to his current collection.  I just want everyone to be safe and healthy for a while.  That's not too much to ask for, is it?