Farmer’s Market

I had to run an errand this morning in downtown Colorado Springs, and just happened to pass by the Farmers Market held in Monument Park on Thursday mornings. Once my errand was complete, I stopped by and picked up tomatoes, green beans, and corn. Since I bought too much for me and Jack to eat in a few days, I gave some of each to my trainer. I have to restrain myself at Farmers’ Markets, because I can end up with more produce than we can eat, even with my trainer’s assistance. It all looks so good.

I won’t eat tomatoes most of the year, but in season I like them when they are home grown or from a farmers market. I had one tonight with a quick quesadilla, and it was a B plus. (Non seasonal ones from the supermarket are usually a D minus.) I am looking forward to the green beans. I don’t like frozen green beans very much, but I have discovered that fresh ones cooked in the steamer are quite acceptable.

It was too hot to ride this afternoon: I already felt drained by running errands in the heat. Even with the air conditioning in the car I was tired. Instead, I brought Lily and Hap into the barn, groomed them, did a little ground based clicker training with them, and applied fresh fly spray. It was 88F in the barn, which means it was much hotter outside in the sun.

Bareback riding

I rode Lily yesterday morning, but it seemed too hot to ride by the afternoon, so I decided to ride Hap with his bareback pad. As always, he was wonderful.

When I bought the bareback pad several years ago, before I bought Lily, I didn’t plan on using it for Hap. I thought it would be a nice thing to have here at home, so when nieces and nephews came out I could put the pad on Smoke and let them ride him in the round pen.
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A storm moved through about 4:30 and the temperatures dropped about twenty degrees Fahrenheit as it did so. It feels heavenly. There was a little hail mixed with the rain, but not large enough to cause damage. I hope I can get the house cooled down before bedtime. Last night, when Jack got home past mid-night, it was still 78F inside, despite the floor fan and open windows. We are starting to discuss getting a whole house fan before next summer, though the low pitch of the roof might make it tricky. Fortunately, Jack’s sister is a mechanical engineer who specializes in environmental systems for buildings, so we ought to be able to pump her for information.

Jack is spending most of his time this weekend at XIV-Khan, a local Science Fiction / Gaming Convention. He is promoting and trying to sell memberships to Cosine, a new science fiction convention to be held January 16, 2004 in Colorado Springs. This con is being sponsored by the science club to which we belong, and we feel honored that Barbara Hambly has consented to be our guest of honor.

Enlivened by the moderate temperatures, the dogs are fence-fighting with Smoke. Smoke is a 26 year old Quarter Horse gelding. You would think he would have more sense than to tease large predators. However, he seems to delight in driving the dogs into a screaming frenzy. He trots up and down the fence line, egging them on, and will sometimes gallop, buck and rear as well. For the sake of our peace, and that of the neighbors, we had to block off one end of the dog run, so there is a buffer zone most of the time between Smoke and the dogs. However, the new field shares one long stretch of fence with the dog run, and I have been letting the horses out most of the day the past few days. The grass is no longer so rich that I worry about Rags foundering. (Smoke no longer eats enough grass for me to worry.)
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Not a good day

Update at bottom of post 15:19 MDT

In Horse Heaven, Jane Smiley wrote a chapter about a horse suffering colic. When the owner discovered the horse, he reflected that everyone ought to decide whether to pay for colic surgery before calling the vet. I’ve gone one better: I’ve decided in advance for our four horses. My husband knows the decisions, and so does my trainer. It’s a grim little list: who to try to save and who to let go. Colic surgery outcomes have gradually improved over the years, but it is still a costly procedure with a guarded prognosis for a full recovery.
Continue reading Not a good day

The Foundling

Occasionally, I get audiotaped novels at the library. I don’t really have a great time to listen to them. Even when I was working, my commute was short enough that it didn’t seem to be worth the hastle of putting in the tape. However, I do like to listen to them when I take my daily walks.

Right now, I am listening to Georgette Heyer’s The Foundling, read by Phyllida Nash for Chivers. I’ve read all of her commonly available books: most of them several times. I find that I actually prefer to listen to a story that I have read before. I am something of a speed reader, and the pace of the audioapes seems too slow if I don’t already know what is going to happen.

Phyllida Nash is a great reader. The best readers develop “voices” for each of the characters. Although a voice will occasionally not agree with my own interpretation, I usually can get used to it after a few chapters. I don’t think I have disagreed so far with any of Nash’s voices.

The Foundling has never been one of my top favorites, but I have found in listening to the Heyer books that sometimes even my less favorite of her books gain a new attraction when read out loud. Listening to The Foundling, I realize that my lack of enthusiasm for it is due to the initial chapters. The protagonist, a young man with a diffident personality who dislikes quarreling, is a doormat for his uncle and the other members of his household. Heyer’s skill is such that I feel sympathy for his plight rather than disdain for his lack of assertiveness. However, the bullying in the first chapters is too well drawn to be comfortably comic. Later, the novel turns into a picaresque comedy as the young man escapes his household and travels about on his own. I am looking forward to that part.

Based on trackback from Anita I corrected the publisher to Chivers from Chilton (also a publishing house, but not the right one.) 07-17-2003 06:29 am


The past week and a half, I have been preoccupied with upgrading and redesigning my website at, including my weblog there. Once I set my weblog to be standards compliant using HTML 4.01 and Cascading Style Sheets, I decided to go back and redo my website as well. This was a tedious job, because I had bits and pieces of non-compliant HTML written over the course of eight or nine years. To find all of it, I wrote a Perl script that validated each page using the W3C validator. Then I had to interpret the error messages and warnings from the validator. I also had to fix various scripts that I use to maintain and generate various files from templates, and that took a while as well.

In the process, I broke a few things, like my RSS feed and my comments system, and had to fix them. And, I continually had to struggle against the temptation to just play with my Cascading Style Sheets, since they were so much more entertaining than retagging old html files.

However, it is done now, and everything validates. I even wrote a script that I can run each day against recent files to make sure that no errors can creep back in. I feel a warm little glow as the program reports each updated file as valid.

I’ve learned a lot from what started as an intellectual exercise. This is something I had been wanting to do for a long time, but had been putting off because I knew it would take a lot of time.

Clicker Training

Corinna, of SeaShe, asked me about clicker training, which I use for both my dogs and my horses.

Clicker training is a form of operant conditioning, the same sort of training that is used for marine mammals. The trainers of these mammals were faced with a problem: how do you train something that can just leave? Traditional methods based on force or pressure wouldn’t work. The trainers began rewarding the animals for their actions, increasing the likelihood of the behavior.

However, it can be awkward to reward a porpoise with a fish in the middle of a jump. Therefore, the trainers conditioned the animals to expect a reward when they heard a signal like a whistle. Porpoise jumps, hears whistle, and expects a fish. The whistle is called a bridge, since it acts as a bridge between the behavior and the reward.

In clicker training the bridge is a clicker, a little noise maker that can be held in the hand. The bridge solves a problem in using food rewards with enthusiastic animals that can weigh over one thousand pounds. While training the first behaviors with a horse, I continually reinforce the concept “under no circumstances will you get a reward unless you hear the click first.” Clicker trained horses become very polite about taking treats without mugging people for food. Not only does the click train the animal to expect a treat, but it indicates exactly what behavior is being rewarded.

After the initial introduction, I rarely use a mechanical clicker, because I condition my animals to work off a tongue click as a marker. Trying to ride, use a mechanical clicker, and treat can be a logistical challenge. I’ve ridden in howling windstorms and the horse can still hear my tongue click. I’ve also ridden clicker trained horses around other clicker trained horses, and they quickly figure out who is getting clicked.

After years of Hap spooking and bolting, which could be very wearing, I started clicker training in an effort to see if I could train calmness. You can’t train a negative, “don’t spook,” but you can train a positive, “pay attention to my requests.” It worked. I can’t recall the last time he spooked badly enough to shift his rider in the saddle. Right before I began clicker training him, he was good for at least one spook per session.

Clicker training also gave me the confidence to ride Hap with a bareback pad. Since he stops when he hears the click, I know that I can always stop him if I feel myself become unbalanced. Now I call my 16.2 hand horse the “best little bareback pony in Colorado.”

My most recent application was training my Collie to sleep on a protected area in my office. She has been having spay incontinence, and while we got her medication figured out, I still wanted to be able to allow her in the house. Since Lody was already clicker trained, it took no more than an hour or so for her to figure out where I wanted her to stay.


Dudley had a dream day this morning. Not only did he get to go for a car ride, when I picked up Jack who had dropped off the truck at Sears, but he went for a long walk in the Garden of the Gods. Then get got to visit his good friend Brody while I rode Lily. Then he got to go on another car ride to pick up Jack so we could transfer the truck from Sears to the dealer. They allowed him in the waiting room, which was very exciting. One of the mechanics thought he was a very cool dog, and was pointing him out to others. I tried to prevent Dudley from doing things which are very rude in human culture, but quite polite in canine culture. Dudley was still as keen to jump in the car the last ride as he was the first when we brought Jack home to pick up his car. I have never had such an enthusiastic dog for riding in the car.

Despite the heat, Lily and I had a good session. I kept things deliberately low key since it was so hot, and tried to figure out why she is consistently picking up the left lead over a pole on the ground. I don’t want her to do this when we are preparing to turn to the right after the jump, even if she will give me a beautiful flying change afterward to “fix” the lead. Since Lily is clicker-trained, I tried rewarding her for taking the right lead, but that approach only works if the horse is taking their leads randomly, so you can reward what you want. I tried asking her over the pole for the canter lead the way I would on the flat, and she still took the left. Finally, I left her alone, except for exageratedly weighting my outside stirrup, and she easily took the right lead. Allthough I could have sworn I was not off my center and influencing her, Lily obviously disagreed.

Afterward, we worked a small gymnastic with my trainer watching. Lily was turning too abruptly after the jump. I finally stopped looking myself for the turn until we were one stride from the turn, and Lily went into the corner and made the correct turn.

Putting the two problems and their solutions together, I think I discovered something key about Lily today. Hap, my eighteen year old Thoroughbred, was a bit of a locomotive, and required a lot of warning to stop and to turn. As soon as we came off a jump, I was already looking around for the next one and hoping we could get turned in time. Lily, though she isn’t much smaller than Hap, has a lot more finesse, much like my trainer’s old show hunter, Havoc. When I jumped Havoc, I learned that I couldn’t really look at the jump until I was ready for him to turn, or he would turn too abruptly and not make the nice square turns required in a show hunter. I became used to using my peripheral vision to locate the next jump. It looks like a skill I will have to relearn.