Jan 042014

I had an amazingly fabulous lesson with Martha on Lila yesterday, just working on the flat in my new dressage saddle. Early on, Lila was resistant in the mouth — raising her head, crossing her jaw, and so on — as she is too often. Usually, I correct that my holding my hands and giving her some spur in the belly until she softens, on the assumption that she’s just saying “screw you!”

However, Martha didn’t let me do that yesterday. Instead, I wasn’t to do anything extraordinary with my hands or legs. Instead, we focused on my body position: shoulders back, sternum up, rotating the top of my hips back, sitting evenly on my seatbones, controlling her hind end movements with my seat, keeping my inside knee on the pad and my outside leg back and strong against her. When I would get that right, Lila wouldn’t just soften in the mouth: her movement became fluid and engaged from behind, just as it ought. With just a centimeter change on my part here or there, Lila would become a different horse. Basically, she’s willing to do her part, but I have to make that possible for her by obtaining and maintaining just the right position as she moves under me. (Holy hell, that’s hard!)

Most people think that horses are controlled via hands and feet. That’s true, in a gross way: I signal Lila to change gaits or directions that way, mostly. I’ve long known that seat matters too: that’s a point of contact felt by the horse that can be used to control movement. Now I’m seeing just how superficial a view that is. Martha has always emphasized body position with me, and I’ve seen the beneficial effects of that. After this lesson, however, I see that my body position is the key to everything that I want to extract from a horse. This feels like a great leap forward… HOORAY!

Alas, I won’t be riding today, as we’re in the middle of a snowstorm, as you can see from this picture that I took this morning. Lila was waiting for me by the fence, as she often does in the morning. When she saw that I was stopping on my way to the barn to take pictures rather than rushing down to feed her immediately, she got this delightfully exasperated look on her face.

I’ve learned so much from this fabulous horse of mine… and she has so much more to teach me!

Dog and Cheetah: Run, Chase, and Play Time

 Posted by on 19 December 2013 at 2:00 pm  Animals, Cats, Dogs
Dec 192013

These videos of a cheetah chasing and playing with its doggie companion are just awesome.

Cheetah Savanna and Dog Max Play in Snow – Cincinnati Zoo:

Savanna Cheetah Cub and Puppy Max Play – Cincinnati Zoo:

I wonder if the big cat ever accidentally injures its canine companion, as sometimes happens with humans who’ve raised big cats from birth. I suspect that dogs can read the body language of the cat better — and communicate better too. But I’d love to ask a zookeeper that!

Doggie-Powered Rube Goldberg Machine

 Posted by on 10 December 2013 at 2:00 pm  Animals, Cool, Dogs
Dec 102013

I wonder how long this video took to make… because wow!

Dog Steals the Show…. Er, the Soccer Game

 Posted by on 14 November 2013 at 2:00 pm  Animals, Dogs, Funny, Sports
Nov 142013

Dog interrupts soccer game, steals frisbee, interrupts soccer again… No one can catch him:

A dog got loose on the field during the second half of a women’s college soccer game recently, and nobody could catch it. It did leave the field once, but that was only to go steal some nearby people’s frisbee and then come back to continue happily interrupting soccer.

First, just one lady chases after it, presumably its owner. But by the end of the video, half the crowd is trying to get this pup under control. And, of course, throughout the whole thing, this wily, frolicking dog is having the time of its life…


In a recent lesson, my trainer Martha’s dog — also a white lab — suddenly ran into the ring and began running around like crazy, just like this dog. Martha and I just watched her, in wonder and laughter. The crowning moment was when the dog suddenly leaped off all four legs — exactly like a bounding deer. We’d never seen anything like it, and I’m pretty sure the dog was surprised too!

Naughty Kitty Merlin at the Vet

 Posted by on 12 November 2013 at 2:00 pm  Animals, Cats, Funny, Personal
Nov 122013

At the vet two weeks ago, naughty kitty Merlin was very enthused to be in a new place with much to explore. First, he opened the cabinet (overcoming the child-proof lock in seconds) and explored inside for a while.

Then, most unexpectedly, he climbed up into the drawer of medical supplies, refused to leave, and ultimately got stuck.

After I took this picture, we were able to free him, although that was harder than expected. He was much more subdued after that, until he went for the cabinet again.

My vet was very amused — and amazed too. Me, not so much! Naughty kitty Merlin is naughty!

The Best Kangaroo Ever

 Posted by on 4 November 2013 at 2:00 pm  Animals, Funny
Nov 042013

I’ve watched this about 15 times already, and I just can’t stop laughing.

Notice that he kicks with his hind feet, while balancing on his tail.

Cat Helps Dog Escape Kitchen

 Posted by on 21 October 2013 at 2:00 pm  Animals, Cats, Dogs, Funny
Oct 212013


Cat: I’m working on it, don’t rush me!

Conrad Loving on Merlin

 Posted by on 28 September 2013 at 2:00 pm  Animals, Cats, Dogs, Personal
Sep 282013

Our dog Conrad would have killed and eaten our cats when we adopted him at a year old. It took me a year of daily training to be able to leave him loose in the house with the cats. Now, about four years later, he’s routinely loving on and attempting to dominate kitty Merlin… and Merlin loves it! I don’t worry about Conrad hurting Merlin. He’s always been gentle. Plus, Merlin has sharp claws and very speedy reaction times!

See for yourself:

Oh, how I love the sappy music! :-)

No Cats on Tables

 Posted by on 9 September 2013 at 2:00 pm  Animals, Cats, Personal
Sep 092013

We have a strict “no cats on tables” policy Chez Hsieh, as Kitty Elliot demonstrates here:


I’m beyond pleased to have found a solution to the longstanding problem of my horse Elsie being deeply herd-bound — meaning that she freaks out, runs the fence, and works herself into a full-body sweat whenever I take Lila away from her. Such separation happens every day for one to three hours, so you’d think Elsie would settle down after a while, but that happens only rarely.

Alas, the problem is not a mere annoyance. She’s lost far too much weight this summer, despite my feeding her about double what Lila gets. Plus, she’s been wearing through her very expensive shoes — which she shouldn’t even need — in half the usual time.

Over the past few months, I’ve tried all kinds of solutions, without much success. However, I’ve never tried tying her because that’s so dangerous: she could really hurt herself if she freaked out, pulled back, struck out, etc. — as a panicking horse would do. However, after seeing Clinton Anderson deliberately spook a horse on a “blocker tie ring,” I realized that I could try to tie her using that. She’d be tied, but she’d be safe too.

Basically, blocker tie rings allow the horse to pull out the rope with a sufficient amount of force. The rope exerts friction, so pulling out the rope requires effort. Also, the rope can be looped in such a way as to require more or less force to extract.

Blocker tie rings work with a horse’s psychology in rather surprising ways. If the horse is tied fast, he might panic — and fight the tie like a mad beast. (Even lazy Lila does that on occasion.) But with the blocker tie ring, the horse will free himself just slightly by pulling. So if the horse panics and pulls back, he’ll get a bit more rope thereby, then calm down immediately and stop pulling. (It’s counterintuitive, but it works!)

I use blocker tie rings in the trailer already, as well as when tying a horse to the outside of the trailer. They’re awesome. If Elsie freaked out when tied using a blocker tie ring, the worst that she’d do is pull out the rope and then run the fence. However, she’d likely calm down before extracting the whole rope from the blocker tie ring.

I started the experiment by tying Elsie to my hitching post using the blocker tie ring, and then I took Lila out of sight to do groundwork. I was expecting Elsie to freak out, but she was pretty placid. She never attempted to pull out the rope, although she was a bit upset by Lila’s absence. That was promising!

Next, I tied her and then trailered Lila over to our community arena to ride. I worried that Elsie would decompose with time… but she was good! She was still quietly tied when I returned, and Paul reported that she wasn’t overly upset while I was gone. She ate a whole leaf of hay too.

After that, I left her tied for about three hours while I took Lila to Martha’s for my lesson. Paul was home to keep an eye on her again, thankfully. Once again, she was excellent. She’s pulled the rope out a few feet, but she was still tied.

Then, on Saturday, we had the real test: I tied up Elsie, then took Lila to the jumper show. Paul was with me, so Elsie was totally alone for over seven hours. Amazingly, she was still quietly tied well when we returned. Yes, she’d been standing out in the hot sun for many hours. But that’s better than her running out in the hot sun, as she would have done if loose! Plus, she had easy access to hay and water, and she can move around quite a bit.

Here she is, perfectly relaxed, even though she knows that Lila’s soon to leave her. If she were loose, she’d be running the fence already.

(As you can see in the picture, I’m running the rope around the post to give it a bit more friction. It’s a bit too easy to pull out as-is.)

Happily, every time I tie her and take Lila away, Elsie seems to become more accepting of our departure. The more that she ran the fence, I think, the greater her anxiety became — to the point that it seemed to take on a life of its own. Forcing her to stand still keeps her calm. Perhaps she’ll learn someday that Lila’s departure isn’t anything to fuss about, but at her age, I’m not holding my breath!

Really, I’m just amazed that this method works. Elsie is so reactive — she freaks out if she steps on her own leadrope, for example — that I never would have expected that typing her up would be safe or effective. Yet it is!

Hopefully, Elsie will regain some of the weight that she’s lost this summer over the next few weeks. Even better, I’d like to be able to remove her shoes, once her feet grow back. I want a cheap and easy companion horse again!

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