Saturday, October 2, 2010

In which we celebrate Saturday Stories: my best "pledge drive" story

Fiddle and I had a great ride in the October sunshine today...
and I'll write more about it soon. I got some awesome photos and had a wonderful day in sunshine--the kind of day you can remember in the middle of February, when the rain has been falling for 4 months, and will fall for an additional 4 months.

For now, I want to share one of my favorite stories. It comes from the Jewish tradition, and was told to me originally by storyteller Eric Kimmel more than 15 years ago. I have used my Storyteller's License to change the story to suit my own somewhat nefarious purposes.

I hope that you enjoy this little story...and who knows? Perhaps it will inspire someone to action at the end.

The Storyteller's Blessing

Once upon a time there were two brothers. One was poor, and kind, and generous.

The other was....not.

The poor brother lived with his wife and children in a tiny house surrounded by their friends and neighbors. This man loved music and stories. He could never pass by a street musician without putting money in the instrument case. He could never pass by a storyteller without stopping to hear the end of the story, and to clap and cheer and invite the teller to join his family for dinner. He could never hear a public radio membership drive without calling to pledge his support.

His wife knew about the generosity of her husband, and, in order to keep him from driving the family into bankruptcy, she would sometimes mislead him about the state of their finances. Still, it wasn't unusual for them to come to the last of their resources before they came to the last day of the week.

One afternoon the man came home from work and his wife met him at the door. She handed him a dollar, and asked him to walk down to the corner market to buy milk for dinner.

"The corner store, mind you," she said, "and not downtown where the musicians and storytellers will charm the money from your pocket. It's the last dollar we have until payday, so please, just buy the milk and come straight home."

He walked towards the corner store with the best of intentions...and he almost made it. But then he heard the sound of clapping, and laughing, and the cadence of a storyteller's voice.

Forgetting all about the milk, and dinner, and his wife's warning, he followed the sound...up the street, past the corner store, further and further until finally he found the crowd gathered around a storyteller.

She told an astonishing tale, of love and adventure, of betrayal and redemption. The man was transfixed, and when the story was ended and the crowd began to disperse, he approached the storyteller, shook her hand, and praised the story. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the only money he had: the dollar that his wife had given him.

"It isn't much," he said, "but I must give it to you, for the wonderful story you have given to me."

She looked at him carefully, and then smiled. "Is this the last money you have?" she asked.

The man looked embarrassed. "Well, yes. My wife told me to get milk for dinner...but really, it's more important that you take it, for your story."

She took the dollar from him, and put it into her pocket. "A gift such as yours must be repaid with another gift. Let me give you a blessing." She took his hand and said, "Here is a blessing from me to you: the first thing that you do when you return home, may that thing go on forever."

And then she picked up her bag and walked away. And the man never saw her again.

He returned home, not really thinking about the blessing she had given. His wife saw him coming up the sidewalk. She could see that he was not carrying milk. She met him at the door.

"I don't want to hear anything," she told him. "Please, just go to the bedroom. Under the bed is a box, and in the box is the very last dollar we have until payday. No fooling around this time. Please just take the money to the store and get milk and come home."

The man went into the bedroom, and reached under the bed for the box. Inside it, he found four quarters, which he removed and put into his pocket. Then, he closed up the box and pushed it back under the bed.

But when he pushed the box, he felt something inside rattle.

That seemed odd. Hadn't he just taken out the four quarters?

He pulled the box back out and opened it up. Inside the box were four quarters. That seemed very odd. He removed the quarters and put them into his pocket.

Then he closed up the box and pushed it back under the bed. And when he pushed the box, he felt it rattle again.

He pulled the box back out, opened it up, and saw that inside there were four more quarters.

It was then that the man remembered the storyteller's blessing.

Excitedly, he called to his wife, and showed her the box, the quarters. Together they spent the entire night pushing the box back and forth, retrieving quarters.

In the morning, they called all their friends and neighbors and invited them to a party. They bought food, and drinks, they hired musicians and storytellers, and they even invited the local public radio station to broadcast their membership pledge drive from the party. Everyone in town was there, and everyone ate and drank and danced and talked late into the night.

Including the generous man's brother. Remember him?

He came to the party, and couldn't believe what he saw. His poor but generous brother never had enough money for groceries at the end of the month, let alone a party. What had happened?

He asked, and his brother told him everything: about the storyteller, the gift of money, the blessing, the quarters.

"Humph," said the brother, who was neither generous nor poor. "My brother wasted a perfectly good blessing with mere quarters. I will get a blessing for myself and show him how it ought to be done."

The next day, that man set off through the town, looking for storytellers. Wherever he found one, he waited impatiently for the end of a story, and then stuffed money into the tip jar. When no blessing came from a storyteller, he moved onto the next.

At the end of the day, he found the very last storyteller in the town. As before, he waited for the end of the story and then put money into the tip jar. The storyteller looked at the money, and then looked at the man. "Is this the last money you have?" she asked.

Well, it was the last cash he had in his pocket. He certainly wasn't going to tell her about the money at home, or in the banks, or invested in blue chip stocks.

"Why, yes, it is."

"A gift such as this deserves a blessing," she told him, and she took his hand.

"Wait!" he said. "I want exactly the same blessing that you gave to my brother. He wasted his, but I won't waste mine."

"I cannot give you your brother's blessing," she told him, "for every person is unique and so each blessing much be unique."

The man insisted that he wanted exactly the same blessing that she had given his brother, and finally she agreed. "For all the good it will do you," she said, "When you return home, the first thing that you do, may that thing go on forever."

He practically ran home. He would not waste his time with mere quarters.

He got out a box of gold coins.

And then he thought: I will be here for quite a while. I should use the toilet before I get started.

And if the good lord has not yet taken pity on his soul, he is still there.

I'll be on the air Sunday morning, October 3rd, from 9 to 11 Pacific Swampland Time.

If you want to pledge online or call the station while I'm there, I'll dedicate a story to you or to somebody you love.

And who knows?

Maybe I'll toss in a blessing as well.

Friday, October 1, 2010

In which Saturday Story lovers pause to support the ones they love

Greetings, Saturday Story Lovers!

I don't do this very often, but the radio station that broadcasts the storytelling program that Jim and I host on Sunday mornings is having a pledge drive.

The station is so dang close to reinstating our Corporation for Public Broadcast status. We need pledge money, but more than that we need more people to join, even at the $1 per week level. That's just $4 a month--you need more than that to buy a decent coffee in my town! It's a bargain!

If you've got a buck and you like stories, here's your chance: call the station at (425) 303-9070 and make a pledge. You can also pledge online by clicking here. We'd love to hear from you while the show is on the air, Sunday morning from 9 to 11, but if that isn't convenient, you can call anytime on Saturday, too. Be sure to tell them that you love storytelling!

And here's the deal: I will dedicate a story on the air to you or to somebody you love when you pledge. Leave a note in the comments so I'll know to whom I should dedicate stories during the program.

If you live far from the Swampland, you can listen online to the storytelling on the website:

Remember: we broadcast live from the Swamp on Sunday mornings, 9am to 11am. And we want to hear from you!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In which I muse a bit about "submission", and how Fiddle gets some

I must start by apologizing for the dearth of good photos in this post. Jim is away from home on business this week, and the kids are staying with their grandpa, so I'm alone at the Farm--and taking photos of a big horse doing stuff really requires an extra person.

I did try to take pictures to illustrate my points. Most of them turned out like this:

Not very helpful. Sorry.


Laughing Orca Ranch asked why Fiddle's behavior backslid so rapidly when Jim's daughter Lisa started handling her.

Let me clarify a point: Lisa never actually handled Fiddle. I would never in a million years hand the leadrope of my gigantic, pushy mare to an inexperienced handler.

Lisa merely interacted with Fiddle, mostly when I wasn't looking, and inadvertently chose some inappropriate ways to do so.

LISA THINKS: Fiddle is so pretty. I want to pet her, even though Aarene and Dad and Willy told me not to touch her. So I will pet her very quickly, when nobody is watching. I will stick out my hand and touch her really fast over the fence and then pull back my hand and it will be okay.

FIDDLE THINKS: Here comes that girl, watching out of the corners of her eyes for predators. I should be alert for predators too.

Now what is she doing? She is sticking out her hand really fast! Is she poking me? Is she hitting me? I wasn't doing anything wrong! I need to tell her not to poke me! I will raise up my foot to tell her not to poke me when I wasn't doing anything wrong!

She is not paying attention to my foot raised up. I will kick my foot out so she will pay attention. Hey! She didn't make the "bad buzzer noise" and crowd into my space. She let me raise up my foot at her! I must outrank this girl! If I outrank this girl, maybe I outrank other people! I must test this, to see which other people I outrank.

LISA THINKS: Fiddle is so pretty. Hana lets me kiss her on the nose because Hana is so pretty. I want to kiss Fiddle too, but I must do it quickly.

FIDDLE THINKS: That girl is coming close to me again. She is walking very fast and jerky. Does she want to fight with me? Maybe she wants to outrank me. I thought I outranked her?

Now she is biting at me! I must bite back at her! Hey, look: I can bite at her and she will jerk back and run away. I do outrank her. I must try biting at other people. If they make the bad buzzer noise or crowd my space, I will know they outrank me, but if they don't do that I will be able to bite them. I will have to try biting all new people. Maybe I can find other people to boss around.

When I got Fiddle, more than three years ago, she was a biter and a kicker because some people in her past allowed her to do it. Probably some people insisted that she keep her mouth and feet to herself, but some people didn't insist, and that's important: Fiddle learned that she could physically "outrank" some people, and so she tested her dangerous behavior on everybody to find out what they would (or wouldn't) do about it.

The solution was to only allow people around my horse who could be trusted not to allow the bad behavior. We knew she would "test" new people, and so we selected people who knew how to insist that she behave. If she stood quietly, with her head off to one side, she would be praised or at least left alone. If she crowded anybody at any time, the people we had allowed near her knew to crowd her backwards and make her work to keep out of the human's space because we wanted her to know that all humans outrank all horses.

For more than a year, I was able to keep timid humans away, and her behavior improved dramatically. When we moved her away from the boarding barn (where handling could be a little haphazard) and brought her home (where Jim and I were the only handlers), it improved even more.

There were setbacks: at Renegade Rendezvous every year, one of the ham radio operators was just like Lisa. He just didn't understand that Fiddle didn't want him near her, and he kept trying to pet her with those quick, jerky motions. She would respond by pinning her ears, snapping her teeth, and shooting her feet around until I could finally successfully shoo the guy away and then make my horse work in circles to bring her back into control.

That brings up the second part of Laughing Orca Ranch's question: what do you do to enforce submission?

This varies with each horse. I was originally taught that you needed to holler and whomp on a horse with a crop to get them to submit. Eventually I learned that hollering and whomping is appropriate for some horses in some circumstances, but it's not for everyone. Mugwump has a great article about respect HERE.

Many of the techniques that I use with Fiddle to reinforce submission and remind her of her place in the herd are things I learned when training dogs. I used to train a lot of rescue dogs, many of whom had weird, neurotic behaviors. I would start every dog with a few basic commands--things that they could do even when they were very scared, nervous, or angry. "Sit" is a good dog trick, because it's hard for a dog to misbehave when he's sitting.

But you don't want to teach a horse to "sit" (at least, not for this purpose!). So I started with an easy one: "Look away." This is easy to teach through a stall door with a window, or over a fence. You've got a cookie. The horse knows you have a cookie. The horse wants the cookie. The horse reaches over to you with lips outstretched to grab the cookie, and you fwap the lip with your finger and say "look away." The horse pulls back because that lip thwap was a surprise, and when the head is pointing away from you, you say "good!" and hand over the cookie.

Do it again: Pull out another cookie. Horse reaches towards it, a little more carefully this time. You say "look away" and fwap the lip (sometimes you just raise your hand as if you're going to fwap it--horses learn this trick really fast!) and the horse's head moves away fast. "GOOD!" you say, and hand over the cookie.


Pull out another cookie. Horse wants the cookie but is wary. You say "look away." When the horse moves that head even slightly away from you, hand over the cookie and say "GOOD!" If the head comes forward before you say "good", then fwap. When it turns away, "GOOD!" and hand over the cookie.

Do this a lot. Several times a day is good.

Fiddle doesn't get her meals until her feet are holding still (no pawing, no banging doors) and her head is turned away. If I'm feeding in the field, she must walk beside or in back of me as I carry the bucket to the place in the field where I will drop it. If she trots ahead of me or wrings her neck or paws the ground, I stop in my tracks instead of proceeding forward to the feed bin. If she's in front, she's trying to boss me. I am the leader, and she will follow my instructions--and she doesn't get fed until she behaves, even if I'm going to be late for work!

She has learned to say "hurry up" to me by bending her head waaaaaay around to the far side. Fine. A horse who is standing still and looking away isn't doing anything naughty or dangerous.

Next, I taught carrot stretches. These are useful as stretches, but also as reinforcers of submission, because the horse is doing what you ask.

I can cue Fiddle to bend that big head around to almost any part of her body, just by touching it. If I've got a cookie, she will put her nose on the place I touched...and then, when I say "good!" she will bring her head back to the "look away" position so she can have the cookie. She can stretch her head almost all the way to the back of her butt, if there's a cookie involved.

Tricks are handy in new and stressful situations. If she's whacked out by stuff in her environment, I can pull out a cookie (or even just scratch her neck in the especially itchy spot) and she will offer to do a trick in order to get the cookie or more scratching. She will focus, not on the cookie, but rather on what I am asking her to do, because I don't always ask for the same trick. That gives her something to think about--a task that she knows she can do successfully.
If she's being agressive, my demands are more strenuous. If she's biting or kicking out when I've got her on a leadrope, I make her move backwards (which she hates). If she's loose, I don't have a roundpen, but it's okay: We have a big pasture. I make her move around it. She always wants to come back to me, but until she comes back and stands still with her head averted, I will chase her, hollering and waving her away from me.

If she's in that little corral panel in camp, I'll move her around inside that. She doesn't have to trot, but she does have to move away from me. Even in that little space, she never runs into the water bucket and she never crowds me when I'm moving into her space, because she isn't really scared. She also isn't really a bully, but sometimes she wants proof that humans outrank her. It used to take twenty minutes to convince her. Now it takes about 3 minutes (but I keep her going for 5, because I don't want to have to do it again tomorrow).

UPDATE: Fiddle hasn't interacted with anybody but me since Sunday afternoon, and she is back to being a calm, well-behaved mare. I'll take her out this weekend, and hopefully put her in a group of people and horses so we can push her envelope a bit and reward her when she behaves nicely.

Here are a couple of good articles:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

In which we go to an endurance ride, and weather cooperates

I was desperately afraid that the weekend would be soggy (like the last two weeks have been), especially when I realized that I'd left my best rain jacket at home.

I got lucky.
Actually, a lot of us got lucky at this ride. The weather behaved
and the scenery on the trail was fabulous!
(Mount Rainier, seen from the Snoey Memorial Trail).

Lisa took pictures while Fiddle vetted in. I had no idea how small I appear to be when I'm standing beside Gigantor. She's so big that her ears don't even fit in the picture! Gigantor in motion.

The trotting lanes are marked with trick-or-treat buckets! That made me laugh.

We went out for a "shakedown" ride on Friday afternoon. We did the 7.5 mile loop that would be the final loop for the 50 milers during the ride. When I got back, I checked the fine print on the map: 7.5 miles, 1100 feet of elevation gain (and loss).

That short loop was hard enough to get Fiddle's mind focussed on the task at hand, but I wouldn't want to do it after climbing (and descending) nearly 3,000 feet twice on prior loops. It's not often I'm happy to ride a short distance instead of a long one, but for this ride, 25 miles was plenty.

Fiddle definitely needed a "focus ride" before the actual event. Her behavior on Friday was just awful--she was snappy, and kept trying to kick people and horses. What?!?!!! She had suddenly backslid into bad behaviors I haven't seen for more than a year???

Jim helped me figure it out:

Lisa knows nothing about horses. She had very little experience with animals prior to coming here 3 weeks ago, and had no experience with anything larger than a lapdog. Despite our warnings (and the language barrier doesn't help), when Fee pinned her ears or picked up a back foot, Lisa thought that the mare needed to be soothed and comforted.

Fiddle is a "give her an inch and she'll take 10 miles" mare.

She pinned her ears at Lisa and Lisa didn't call her on the bad behavior, so Fee figured that maybe the entire social structure had changed and perhaps she had moved up the totem pole. Argh.

Go figure, the social structure hasn't changed. Fiddle still isn't allowed to pin the ears, or shoot those back feet around...but it took 25 miles of active practice to remind her that the rules are still in place. She was much better behaved (and much more relaxed!) by the first vetcheck, but I've gone back to practicing her "submission exercises" several times each day so that she gets the idea reinforced.

Oh, and I think I'll sign Lisa up for some horse-handling and riding lessons with Dory next month. Even if Lisa has no intentions of riding endurance, she is (obviously) going to need some basic instructions and safety stuff!
This bridge is part of the common trail about a mile from camp. The ride managers went out on their trail and spread gravel on all the bridges! That's a ton of work...but it makes a huge difference on wood bridges over the creeks and swamps.

Ride morning was bright and shiny, as only a freshly-washed autumn day in the Upper Swampland can be.As usual, Fiddle and I leapfrogged different groups of riders for the first leg of the ride.
On the stretch of trail returning to camp, though, we actually rode with a couple of people. Julie B has been riding endurance for 18 years, and she had lots of great stories from the "old days". She said that the old endurance rides were a lot like this one: tough, technical trails, and the challenge to all riders was to strategize the terrain to optimize the strength of the individual horse. She also said that they called those old rides "the full-meal deal" because you got your entry money's worth, and a lot of people took the entire allowed time to finish a ride.

This ride had a fair number of overtime riders, because it was so complex. Fiddle and I finished 11th (!!!!!) out of 38 starters, and we only had about 25 minutes left before the cutoff time.

I thought we were near the tail end, actually--and I was glad to be riding my Gigantor, because the Toad could never have done that kind of trail quickly enough. He "lost his brain" if he ever exceeded 7 mph, so on rides when we had to slow down for difficult terrain, it was hard to make up time when the footing was good. Since Fiddle doesn't lose her brain when she speeds up, we could fly along the logging roads and take our time in the mud.


She surely is a joy to ride.

Back in camp, we were happy that our friend Gail did her first ride in 7 years and finished with 10 minutes to spare. She rides all the time, because she manages the Renegade Rendezvous, but it's always hard for her to get away and compete. She was tired at the finish line, so her husband Mike and her horse Destry towed her from the vetcheck back to their rig.

Fiddle wasn't the only standardbred on the trail, either!!! (I get pretty happy to see other standies, obviously)Not only was Fee's (half-) brother Hector at the ride, Hector's (full-) sister Tahuya Ransom was also there, competing in her very first LD. There were two other standies in camp as well. Hooray!

When we got back to our rig, Fiddle was unconcerned by the intruder in her beetpulp pan.

This banana slug isn't very big by local Swampland standards. We only really worry about slugs when they block the road and high-center the small cars. Folks with 4 wheel drive trucks don't usually worry at all.

I was delighted to hang out after the ride with Jim and his Evil Twin, PNER Prez Paul Latiolais. We all did the Trailmaster class together back in 2006, along with Gail and a few other hardy souls, and we've been riding (and drinking) together ever since.

The kids (and dogs) hung out with us toobut they were drinking Mountain Dew. The caffeine got them through several hours of working around camp for us and for the ride managers. Don't you love adults who help make kids tired?

I do, I really do!

The kids weren't the only oneswho got tired out by a long day in ridecamp. Life. It's good. (snore!)