Sunday, December 30, 2007

Disappearing up Uranus - Part 34

OK, this is a promise. I will not write a new post until I get ten comments - so work it out everyone - if you want me to shut up and go away, then it's very easy, don't comment. To help this process along I will continue with my more recent theme of making my posts devoid of any interest or humour whatsoever - well, I might have to make perhaps just one knob or arse joke - it's my nature, I can't help it, but as most of you don't consider that humour anyway, that should be ok.

I was recently having this discussion with a friend about the major differences between men and woman - not talking physical here, more psychological and behavioural. Many years ago I realised that men were basically some kind of living organism being dragged around the universe by a huge cock (ok, not all of you have a huge one). I just love the image of that analogy - it would obviously be easier to envisage with the help of hallucinagenic drugs, but give it a try without - it's pretty easy.

But the woman thing is not so easy for me to work out. To say it's almost a complete mystery is very near the truth for me. What makes them tick? What drives them on? How come just food and telly satisfies them? I just don't get it.

Answers on a postcard please to, Mystified of Newton Abbot.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Rocky Mountain Horse

Today I did a second session with Erica's Rocky Mountain horse. The horse is a five year old in foal mare that Erica has imported from the USA. When the mare arrived in England, she proved to be a bit more of a handful than Erica had expected.

I've kind of stopped going out to help people with their horses, mainly because it's not the horses that need help, it's the people. It is an absolute prerequisite to me working with someone that they have to know and accept that it is them that needs to change. Somehow, over the years we have managed to successfully shift the responsibility of the deal between us and the horse, right back onto the horse. I never want to hear ever again that you have a 'bad horse', or a 'naughty horse', or it's trying to evade you, or it's 'cheeky', or some other such nonsense.

So working with Erica's horse, firstly last week, when it seemed like the mare had no idea of the concept of work, to this week when within a minute ot two she was showing me that she was more than happy to work - well, for me it was a joy. But what I want to say is this. That horse is from a working breed, and there is another horse in the same yard from Argentina that is also from a working horse background, and boy does it show. Somehow in this country, over the years we have managed to lose so much of that sweet work ethic in our horses. And perhaps even more of a concern, we have managed to lose it in our horsemanship too.

It's simple stuff, this horsemanship, and do you know what - there are a few too many people out there making it far too complicated. Sounds familiar doesn't it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My 2008 prediction

I've just been studying the planetary situation, and from my extensive knowledge of astrology, I feel it is only fair to share my findings. It may be that this information will make the difference between a successful or otherwise 2008 for you.

You probably already know of course, that right now Pluto is rising adjacent to Uranus. This strongly indicates that during the coming months you should expect a big surprise from behind.

OK, I know, but I only make one joke a year, and time's running out. And I have never come to terms with the fact that they named a planet after my arse. And I love Uranus jokes - how fucking childish is that!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

So, as in my first life....


So three posts running I went into double figures with my comments, so I'm gonna risk throwing in a post about Second Life. I've been playing the game for well over a year now, and I just wanted to update you on the latest developments.

As some of you may know, last year my avi got engaged to a very nice girl called Rosie. Well one way and another, things didn't work out for us and a few weeks ago we broke up. It wasn't very nice for either of us and as in my first life, I didn't really deal with the break-up too well. Needless to say, I bounced back and moved on to a whole new social scene. I started hanging out with a bunch of writers and before long I met Leni.
Leni's path in SL has been very different to mine - when I first met her she was heavily involved in a role play game called Gor. The game of Gor is derived from the novels of a guy called John Norman, and it is all based around the theme of male domination. So obviously, once I heard about it, off I went to check it out. Sorry to disappoint you everyone, I didn't go and check it out at all. But I might go later OK, for research purposes only and for reasons that I will now explain.

Leni and I are now very busy setting up an alternative newspaper in SL in the style of the alternative papers of the late 60s. I have no idea if it is going to work out or not. But right now we have an office and we are advertising for staff. And all this is happening in a virtual world where none of it actually exists.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Love and Peace

I'm reading a really great book at the moment called 'Scrapbook of a Taos Hippy'. When we were travelling back from Phoenix to Denver we drove through New Mexico and stopped off for the night in Taos. The next day we walked up into town for our morning coffee and visited this really nice little bookshop. Sarah found this book and said to me, 'You're going to love reading this'. She was so right!

The book is as it says, a scrapbook. Loads of articles and stories about the Taos hippy scene in the late 60s and early 70s. God almighty, it touches my heart when I read it. All the emotions come flooding back. Remembering the time when I realised no way can I embrace the values of western society, and wondering where the hell there was for me to exist in this world. And then it happened - Love and Peace - my get out of jail free card, coming along at just the right time. I didn't need asking twice - I signed up on the spot.

The remnants of the hippy scene in the UK are not as visible as in the States, or at least the parts of the States we visited. Here there are just a few old druggies around the place, but most of the more productive of us have drifted into business, green issues or the media. To be truthful, if I didn't keep banging on about it, you wouldn't know that to this day, I am still utterly committed to the very same ideals I lived by over 40 years ago. In the States things are much more visible - I get the feeling it was a more powerful culture over there.

People take the piss out of old hippies - well fuck them I say, we were so far ahead of the game most people are only just beginning to catch up.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Iris's book.

'We've been learning all we can about conservation, organic farming, natural foods, herbal medicine, handcrafts, building - all that it takes to live simply and in harmony with our beautiful land, our animals, our bodies and our spirits.'

'We don't want to exploit this land, these animals, these brothers and sisters. We don't want to go into business and make money. We want to live and grow, and treat all things with love and respect.'

Saturday, November 24, 2007

My heroes - or is it just cos they died?

I can't get the video thing to load - so you are meant to listen to this track as you read this OK.

I know we have to die - I actually practice dying. I think I am kind of OK with the actual 'not existing anymore' bit of it. I guess the tough bit is not so much your own death as other peoples. That can be a bit of a bastard for sure.

Anyway, I was just thinking about a few of my heroes that have died. Before I list them, I just want to say, I don't have heroes OK, but these are a few people who I would have liked to see what they would have done if they'd stayed alive a bit longer.

John Lennon - I guess he's top of my list. I loved that guy. I know he was flawed, but who the fuck isn't.

Frank Zappa - Just so brilliant and so cool. Go on youtube and watch him being interviewed. One of the cleverest guys ever. And who could play the guitar so well and be such a cool dude at the same time.

Can't think of any others right now, can you?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bad acid trips No 23 (circa 1971)

Travelling through Turkey and Iran was quite an intimidating experience for me. Most of the time I could see that the people didn't really want us to be there, and the whole place somehow felt like it was above the law. The arab guys just couldn't quite cope with the way our girls were, and I think they found the whole of the 'hippy' culture very threatening. There was this awful vibe that anything could happen, and no-one would really care. So when we pulled into the 'western' campsite in Tehran, it was like finding a cultural oasis in the desert. No offence guys, if you're Iranian or Turkish, we just had different values I guess.

God alone knows why, but when John, the Canadian whose VW van we were travelling in, suggested we all take some acid, for some unbelievable reason we all agreed. Now as far as I can remember, he just stayed in the van with his girl, I can't remember her name, and spent the whole night shagging. But for me it was another story. I had the full works that night - probably the most scary trip I ever experienced - utter uncontrollable fear! I kid you not, for about six hours I thought I was a goner, with no hope ever of getting back to my sane mind. At one point I sat with Jan, my travelling companion and girlfriend, in a small glade, and all I could see everywhere were snakes. We were sitting in a sea of snakes. They were in her hair, they were all over us. It was truly horrendous.

To make matters worse I had this real big thing about having sex while I was tripping, and it was really pissing me off that John was there doing it, while I was stuck in hell.

OK OK OK, do you know I was chatting to a girl in Second Life the other day, and she said, 'Christ, I'm not used to this, most people I meet in here are so cool and easy-going, and you are so bloody serious'.
'Bloody hell', I thought, 'I'm supposed to be the cool one, what's going on?'
And now I'm looking back and thinking, 'God, I'll take serious babe, I'm just lucky to be here'.

As the sun came up over the Iranian hills, I could feel the warmth on my back. The acid started to wear off, and I began to feel good again. I went for a swim in the pool and felt the water moving over my skin. I ate some bread - it tasted really good. 'Phew, I'm still alive'. I thought.

You know I've always said, let anyone who wants to, take as many drugs as they want. But I'll just say this, I saw a lot of guys wandering around India with not much brains left. And recently in the States, I saw a load of drugged up old guys too. It's a waste of an opportunity, that's all.

So my advice now would be, just go steady OK.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Does size matter?

Did you see that programme on BBC3 last night where men were talking about the size of their dicks. My wife wouldn't let me watch it, she said she didn't want me getting all depressed. I guess from her vast knowledge of the subject she should know. But secretly I know it was because she wanted to watch 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here'.

Anyway, if you have it on DVD send me a copy. Don't get me wrong, I'm not obsessed by this. Purely for research purposes only you understand.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Harry Whitney and Mark Rashid - part 2

I didn’t really do Harry Whitney justice in my last post about him.
Putting together the two weeks of clinic that we did, and seeing it in terms of where we were at with our horsemanship just before we left for the States, it has actually been near perfect for us.

So where were we at when we left. Well, I’ll try to explain. For some time now I have been uncertain about just how far I should go to get what I want from my horses. You know that old chestnut, ‘use as little as possible, but as much as it takes’. Well, on the ground I’m pretty ok with that, and that shows in the success I have there. I now realise that I have been seriously losing out on my riding simply because I have imposed all sorts of limitations on what I can and can’t do while I ride my horse.

I never ever want to forget that moment when Mark said to me, ‘Do what you have to do – it’s not about what it looks like, you have to get the job done’. Even after he’d said it about four times it still took me three days to get it done – boy was that horse glad when I did get round to it. Suddenly the horse was free and off we went.
So then it was off to Harry’s.

I was quite nervous waiting to meet him, and so relieved when I realised what a nice bloke he is. I can tell you now 100%, anyone, just anyone, could talk to Harry – he is one of the most approachable, humble, kind and knowledgeable about horses people I have ever met. Another worry I took to Harry’s was, I have been very careful about watching trainers – since I realised that I liked the way Mark works I have not seriously looked at other trainers. Sarah has looked at loads and she often comes back worrying because she doesn’t like what they are doing, or she thinks we should be doing more. She often comes back and says ‘I think we should be doing such and such’, which we try for a while and then we just go back to what we do best. Actually I do admit that we add in stuff from here and there, and of course we work out our own stuff as we go too.

It didn’t take me long of watching Harry to see that his horsemanship is very much along the lines of Mark’s (or the other way round!). As Harry said to me, the horse is the common factor, and if you come at it from a certain direction you will end up at a similar place. So that’s interesting isn’t it – which direction are you coming from. To put it bluntly, what is your purpose? Is it to win, to look good, to make money, to be better than anyone else, to prove to yourself you can do it, to improve your life, or is it…..nah, it's not for me to say.

No, that’s a cop out there by me isn’t it – so is your purpose to be the best you can be for your horse all the time, and anything else that happens is a bonus or not. That is the purpose I am aiming to find in all my work.

I am not going to get into summing up Mark and Harry’s work, or as someone asked me when I got home, ‘so who is best then?’ It was just so good to have what we are doing here kind of confirmed and pushed on by watching these two guys work. Would I recommend a trip out there to work with either of them? For sure I would. When Sarah and I were discussing the utter irresponsibility of what we had just done to our finances by going on this trip, I asked her would she be happy to not know what we have just learned. ‘No way’, she replied, and neither would I be either. Of course I know there is more and more still to learn, but that’s horses isn’t it. It’s fun!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Hey, hey, hey, who's running this deal!

Our stallion Fergus, with his son and apprentice, James.

After having been in the US for a month and watched how they keep their horses, being concerned in the way we are about the environment we keep them in and so on, does make me wonder if we maybe sometimes go a bit over the top. A horse property in the mid-west is any house with enough room in the garden for a small pen to keep horses in. It is a common sight to see several horses penned together in 30' to 40' corals. Feeding is bunging them cakes of hay twice a day. It is quite rare to actually see horses out in fields.

The whole attitude towards the horses is quite different here in the UK. In the US the working culture is still very present in the way the horses are looked after, even though nowadays there isn't so much real horsework being done. Get your horse, go do your work, put him back; and when the horse can no longer do the job, move him on. This really shows up in the horsemanship too. So there's a problem with your horse, well sort it out. Your horse won't stand still, well, don't go around the houses, don't have loads of theories, just tell the horse to stand still. One of the best things I heard said was when a horse just walked off with his rider, the rider just said, 'hey hey hey, who's running this deal'. He pulled the horse up and it was absolutely clear, absolutely no doubt what was wanted, the thought in the horse was changed, the timing was perfect, and the horse just got on with it. It was exactly what a kid would have done, or what happens in most yards, except in this case the timing and understanding from the rider was perfect and so the horse understood.

So when I got home and went around the stock, I was really conscious of all the things we do to make things as natural as we can for our horses. I was really questioning how important it all is. We keep our stallion with his herd, and we keep our herds mixed age. We are obsessed with grass and space, and to be honest all our horses are too fat. If we have to keep a horse on box rest it is a huge stressful event, but in the US that's just how it is for loads of horses. Quite a lot of horses are left penned up all day in the blazing sun, they go hours with nothing to eat. I heard one girl from the UK say 'My God, if I kept my horse like this she would go mad' - some of mine too, I thought.

So what am I saying - well as usual, nothing much. Just that I am fascinated by the different attitudes. If you watch the rodeo you can see that the attitude there is 'these animals are here for us to use'. In the UK it's swung around to 'these animals have rights, they are equal to us', or even 'oh horse, let me be your servant'. I am not making any judgements here OK, just writing.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Back to a Dartmoor Autumn

November sky on Dartmoor

I read a really good article about blogging this weekend taken from The New York Times. It was about these guys who have become famous through commenting on other peoples blogs. The theory is that no matter how good a writer you are, on your own blog you are probably writing for yourself and maybe two or three other people, whereas if you comment on a popular blog you get read by thousands.

There are so many good writers writing really good stuff on their blogs - I have a list of maybe a dozen or so recommendations on my blog and quite honestly they are pretty much all very readable, and easily as good as a lot of the stuff the columnists in the newspapers get away with. In the end it comes down to having the time to read it all - the times when my blog did best was when I was spending an hour or so a day reading all my blog friends blogs.

Oh shit, am I a blogger in crisis? It was easy when I was away because I was writing it for myself, but can I go on like that - does anyone really want to read about my aunts 53rd birthday party. I don't even want to write about it so I know you don't want to read it (apart from Vicus of course, who has always wanted to get across her).

Freddie in his Arizona waistcoat

Hang in there, tomorrow's post will include some exciting photos of our stallion with his apprentice, our ram with some of his ewes, and some pretty Dartmoor autumnal scenes.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Getting the news back to the homecountry.

So here we are on a RV site in Denver. Tomorrow we leave for England. It has been a fantastic holiday and to finish up I am going to put up a few photos of our best times. Apologies for no special pics for my sons, Paul and Jake. I did have one for you Paul but I bottled it cos someone was there. I may get another chance yet.

This is a pic of me filing my dispatches back to the homecountry

This second pic is for my daughter Kate. We took this one in Lyons just to show you it goes on all over.

This is us with Mark. I have to say for the record, I have never rode as well as I rode that friday afternoon. Wonder what my horses are gonna make of me when I get back.

This next picture was taken for my sons Henry and Josh. We were in Sedona, a sort of US version of Glastonbury, and I took the opportunity to record Sarah wearing the Argyle Tshirt commemorating the winning of the Division 3 play off final 1 - 0 against Darlington at Wembley in 1996.

This photo was taken by Sarah. There is an artistic side of Sarah that I don't know about- it's an amazing picture isn't it, and guess what I was thinking, 'huh, that'll never work'! It is a picture of the mud on a dried up river in Wickenberg.

A picture of Wickenberg - what a sweet little town. We liked it because it had a middle and a car park, kind of like English towns do.

These next two pictures are for my daughter Frances who has a cafe in Newquay, Cornwall. This is a kind of 'hippy' ish cafe we found in Wickenberg. As usual with us, once we have found somewhere we like we went every day for coffee while we were there.

This next cafe is in Taos. It was just lovely. Run by the sweetest people. Even smaller than your cafe F.

And here I am with Kelly - my SL partner for the last year. It was so good to meet her for real. I know I have already used a similar photo - it's the only one I have.

Here is a photo of us with Harry. I am so glad we got down to meet him - what a guy!

And to round off the show, the best photo I have taken on this entire tour - Sarah and Harry

The End

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

From Taos to Colorado City

To me this photo says so much about America. Something almost beautiful that has turned into an unsustainable nightmare. Something so romantic, that now only lives on in the American mind. Once there was such excitement as the huge spaces and opportunities opened up before the people. But the American Dream is over folks. You can feel and see the evidence of that dream but it has gone. Now the people are living in huge soul-less estates, or in trailer parks, or vast barren reservations. They are a million miles from their ancestors who must have felt so close to life as they fought to survive in this whole new world.

We left our RV park early and had coffee in a little 'peace' cafe. Then we popped out and checked out a few gift shops - we've had it with gift shops. We just get overwhelmed by the endless bits of junk that make it all so meaningless. What's that saying - something along the lines of 'the more you have the less it is worth'. In the 60s Taos was a huge centre for the 'hippy scene', and there is still evidence in the form of old hippies round the place.
Sarah bought me a book about the Taos hippy commune scene in the 60s. The forward is written by Ed Sanders who used to be a hero of mine when he was in The Fugs. Pretty much since I arrived in the US I have been singing (out of tune of course) my favourite Fugs song, 'Belle of Avenue A'. It is about a 'Big Mack' truck driver who picks up a hippy chic only to get his mind blown when she reads in the cards that they are destined to fuck each other. So when I found the forward in the book I got very excited indeed - Ed Sanders is a cool dude, as were many of the people around at that time.
So here are two pics of Taos, famous for its Adobe buildings. The whole place is done in this stuff - it is really pretty special. I just love the care and the artistic approach that has gone into these buildings, and it's not just one or two, it's 100s - they are everywhere and getting Sarah to stop photographing them was quite a job.

We left Taos and headed out to the bridge over the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande is the third longest river in the USA, rising in the Rockies in Colorado and in its latter stages forming the border between the US and Mexico.
We arrive at the bridge just as a few old hippies set up their stalls selling touristy stuff - makes a change from Native Americans I guess - same old stuff though.
Neither of us had really thought this through, but as soon as we saw the bridge we both realised at the same time that we were in trouble - vertigo big time was on us before we even stepped out there. We got to the middle, God knows how, and I took a couple of 'poor' photos, from about a metre away from the rail, and we scooted back as fast as we could go. But then a truck came along and as soon as it hit the bridge it sent this huge shock wave that I swear rocked the whole thing like an electronic wave. Before we got back a couple more vehicles, including the obligatory 'Big Mack' stormed over, and to be honest all I could think about was that awful bit of film where that bridge goes into major vibration and collapses.
When we got back to 'safety' one of the old hippies assured me that the bridge is designed to withstand 6" of vibration - phew, that made me feel so much better I'm sure!
That's me on the bridge, and below that, is my 'poor' photo of the river. I'd say it was considerably deeper than Cliften suspension bridge, but I'm not sure - I didn't stay long enough to find out.

And so on and on towards our goal. We drove along yet another scenic route through Cimarron Canyon state park. After lunch we dropped down into Cimarron and there I found the one thing I needed to complete my set - a great big scrap yard.

I told Sarah to pull over pronto and off I went to get the shots I needed. After I had taken a few pics this guy drove up and jumped out of his car. Uhoh, I thought as I gave him my friendliest greeting. I saw the smile come on his face and I knew I was on a good one.
'Nice collection of trucks you've got here' I said.
'Now if you're into trucks you'd better come down the yard and look at my best ones' he said.
So that's how we ended up in this shed taking this photo of his 1957 Big Mack truck, all restored down to the last detail - it was a beaut!

While I was in the yard I sneaked a couple more shots. Below is a 1947 Chevvy Rescue truck, still in use.

and a 1963 Big Mack awaiting restoration.

And then we drove on and there was this herd of bison. For God's sake will we ever get to Denver.

Monday, October 29, 2007

From Phoenix to Taos

For the last two days we have driven 600 miles across Arizona and into New Mexico. We have spent our time talking about horses, philosophy, life, USA, home, our business, being in the moment, the people we have met in the USA, horse trainers, knowledge, teachers, kindness, and other topics of equal worth. We have one CD that works - Beggars Banquet, which we enjoyed yesterday. We have a copy of the White Album that the CD player is telling us is faulty - Grrrrrr. We have one CD of Prem Rawat which we enjoyed listening to this afternoon.
I promise that this is the last picture of me looking out at rock formations. I guess some of you from Devon are thinking why has he put this pic of Kingsteignton quarry up - well guess what, it's actually the Petrified Forest national park.
And here is Sarah getting her kicks on the legendary East/West route across America.

And here she is checking out an abandoned car on that very same route.

We stayed the night in Gallup - another of those unbelievably characterless US towns spread out for 4 miles along a road, with about two hundred 'Trading Posts' all offering varying discounts on all sorts of touristy goods. To be fair we never gave it a chance. We are suffering from tourist overload right now. I am pissed off about Gallup - there was a great picture and the camera batteries failed me. When I went back there was someone there and I lost my nerve - thought I might get beat up or arrested so I nonchalantly walked on by.
We set off this morning to cover miles. Stopped at mid-day and cracked open two cans of organic black bean soup for lunch. We've still got a bit of the 100% loaf we bought from Wholefood Market so out came the peanut butter and jam for pudding, mmmmmmmmmmmm.
Then we set off for Taos. Wow what a place, but first the journey.
We have driven through some amazing country, amazing canyons, you name any rock formation and I guess we have probably seen it. But the road from Santa Fe to Taos was I reckon, the nicest so far. A beautiful full river in a narrow grey rock valley, with mellow yellow trees and grasses. It was so soothing after all the red.
I stopped to take a picture of this bridge. The whole valley is full of small settlements. It was colonised in the 60s by the hippies and the vibe is still there. Below is the house that this bridge accesses. It is a tiny two story wooden shack. Notice the garden - quite a rare sight so far on our travels.

And here is Sarah in Taos. One of the most historic and beautiful places in the whole country.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

An American Weekend

The last few days have been full on American - it's been fun.

We left Harry's and drove to Kelly and Brian's. Kelly is the girl in charge of my avi's second life partner, Rosie. We met up face to face a week ago and kind of got to know each other a bit, but actually we knew each other quite well already - we have been partners in Secondlife for over a year. I don't know if I mentioned it before, but for some reason I assumed Kelly would weigh at least 20 stone - see a lot of secondlifers have these really hot avis to make up for themselves not being so hot in Real Life (not me, of course). In fact Kelly turned out to be one of the smallest Americans we have seen. Not only is she a normal size, she is a normal person (I get the feeling sometimes that that is unusual for second lifers). We, that is me and Sarah, and Kelly and her husband Brian, all had a great weekend.

Me and Kelly - see, we're normal

So much happened this weekend, so I'll just cover the highlights for now - the in depth psychological stuff between me and K and our avis will be appearing shortly in the book I am currently writing about my year in Secondlife.

My favourite bit of the weekend was watching an American football game on telly from beginning to end - it lasted four hours. It took me about half an hour to suss the rules but once I got into it, it was really quite exciting. We all trooped round to Brian's son's house to watch the game and it was doubly good because their team, the Arizona Devils won.

Me and Brian watching the game

The previous night we had attended a full on American halloween party at the same house. This included me and Sarah both wearing fancy dress (no photos available as yet, but see artists impression below) and for me, consuming vast quantities of beer and jelly shots (some form of alcohol in lumps of jelly - really easy to eat but quite intoxicating).

I have got quite fond of the American people on this trip. They have made us very welcome and actually, even though their culture is obviously completely and ridiculously consumerist and totally unsustainable, I think the wealth and the vast spaces they live in does give them a bit of a feeling of lightness and freedom. We have mainly mixed with the wealthier middle classes and we haven't been near the cities, guess there we would see a different story. The party was unbelievable - about 100 guests all in over the top fancy dress, and the house was decorated beyond anything I have ever seen. There was an artist to do our portraits, a DJ, a free bar, stacks of food, and as far as I could tell, absolutely no dope at all (when I have a few drinks I always revert to my old ways and crave a smoke or two later in the evening).

I spent quite a lot of time talking, or maybe listening to a 'nail technician', the most fast talking person I have ever heard. In the end I had to get her to practise her english accent to slow her down enough for me to understand her. We also had a nice chat with Brian's daughter Jenny and her husband Mathew. Mathew is a philosopher, or should I say that is what he qualified as, and he is in the process realising that there aren't so many vacancies for philosophers right now. Anyway what I am getting to is that the conversation gave Sarah the chance to throw in her only philosophical quote, 'life is nasty, brutish and short', correctly spotted by Mathew, as having been an observation of the seventeenth century philosopher Thomas Hobbs.

And yes, we also went to Walmart. And now I am going to tell you why we are coming home from America in three days time - cos I don't want my sweet wife to end up looking like this.....

Thursday, October 25, 2007

An Englishman’s guide to Rodeo (from a sample of two)

Bareback Riding

This is some event – I never realised about the bucking strap – it is quite tight around behind the horse’s belly. As soon as either the rider gets bucked off or the eight seconds is up, these other two guys ride in and get the strap off as fast as they can. It’s impressive riding. Their job is also to go in alongside the bucker and allow the rider to grab them and pull himself to safety.
So how do you stay on these fearsome buckers – well it seems to me that these guys hold on real tight to the girth strap and somehow, god knows how, keep their centres of gravity right with the horses. They lie back along the length of the horse and hang in there. They get extra points for raking their legs along the horse to try and get extra bucks out of him.

Calf Roping

Well, if I got a shock with the bucking strap I got even more of a shock with this event. This little calf runs out of the pen and the rider chases it, lassoes it, it kind of gets mightily jerked over backwards. The horse just stands holding the rope taut while the rider gets off, grabs the calf and ties three of its feet together so it can’t move. The whole event is timed and the winner is the quickest to get it done.

Breakaway Calf Roping

Pretty much the same event except it’s for the cowgirls. The calf runs out of the chute, gets chased and roped and then the rider stops and a string breaks to release the rope from the saddle horn. Again quickest time is the winner.

Saddle Bronc Riding

I really enjoyed this event because generally speaking, the guys managed to stay on and give a bit of a show. It’s the same as the first event but with a saddle. And yes, the bucking straps were there too. For any over-sensitive limeys in the crowd, the MC did explain hat these horse’s do eight seconds work a week, and I am going to add to that, some of them are damn good at their jobs. There is a real feeling of respect for the really good buckers. To win the competition it really helps to get a good draw. A horse that helps you give a good performance is the one to ride – It’s more about performance than staying on.

Calf Scramble

All the kids under twelve get in the ring and they release five calves with yellow ribbons on their tails. Any kid who gets a ribbon wins $5 – They’re keen!

Steer Wrestling (Bulldogging)

They say this is one of the most dangerous sports. There are two guys working together – one is a hazer who keeps the calf in line and the other is the catcher. The catcher has to ride alongside the calf, grab the horns before he dismounts, and then get off the horse and turn the calf over. One thing is for sure, it ain’t easy. Only about three guys out of the entry succeeded, and it was damn difficult to get a photo of too.

Barrel Racing

Another event for the cow girls and hell couldn’t they ride. Timed with an electronic timer they rode round three barrels in a clover leaf formation. Amazingly out of a dozen riders they all timed in with a couple of seconds of each other – I think the winner’s time was 17.1 seconds.

Team Roping

The calf comes out of the chute and one guy ropes the head and the other guy ropes the back legs. I was stunned by the first one I watched (have to say subsequent ones weren’t quite so dramatic). This calf was just running along and suddenly it was suspended mid air between these two ropers. God alone knows how it survived – if that had happened to me it would have broke my back.

Bull Riding

Yes, what we have all been waiting all evening to watch, and boy, this is exciting stuff. Basically mad people getting on mad bulls and trying to stay on for eight seconds. Success rate – very low. The bulls are fondly described as each rider prepares to go. ‘No-one has stayed on this guy ever’, or ‘champion bull at the National Rodeo’ etc etc. One pair was described as the pairing we have all been waiting for, the champion bull with the champion rider.
The one that no-one has ever managed to ride took about two seconds to get rid of his rider – it is fearsome stuff. One bull ran right across the ring and chucked the rider into the fence right by us. He did his eight seconds but got up and looked like he had no idea what was going on.
Absolutely riveting stuff – I loved it.

And by the end of it I have to say, Yes, I am a bit of a fan of Rodeo.

Day three at Harry's

This is a picture of Harry riding a young mustang. It settled down almost immediately when Harry got on – he makes it very simple for the horse.

Day three at Harry’s and what can I say. I am actually quite confronted by how much he can get done with so little physical effort. Harry is quite willing to get in there and work with the students’ horses. Sometimes he volunteers and sometimes they just ask him to and he does. It is great watching him work – like something out of the old days, a bit how I imagine it must have been watching the Tom Dorrance or Ray Hunt (obviously I’ve not seen either so this is definitely in my imagination only). When he rides he talks what he is doing – it is just incredible. The horses love his clarity – he makes them feel so good.
When students ask questions the answer is so often, ‘well maybe, or maybe not’ - not those words but the sentiment of ‘well it depends on so many things’, prevails. It’s funny because I can see some of the students desperately looking for technique and formula, but boy it’s not really there. Not to say Harry isn’t effective, because he is very effective indeed. A lot of the actual horsemanship is almost identical to Mark’s, but it is presented to the students in a different way. Mark is way more workmanlike and ‘get the job done’, which I really like, but Harry really emphasises the importance of the way it looks to the horse too.
The clearest thing to come across, and the thing I really want to take home with me, is that the horse’s feet follow his thoughts. Direct the thought and away you go. Watching Harry set this up on the ground and seeing the horse begin to work in this way, you can really see how this could start to come through in the ridden too. The horse starts to look for the thought you want instead of the threat of what might happen if he doesn’t move – I can see that it could be very cool indeed once it becomes established.
So that’s all the good stuff, well obviously not all of it. But the most confronting thing for me has been all the round pen work that Harry does. I guess because we became so disillusioned with ‘Join Up’ and all the marketing and hype etc that goes with it, we maybe threw the baby out with the bathwater. Not totally convinced by this actually, but it is obvious Harry thinks you can set up changes in the pen that are useful for you and the horse. What Harry does is nothing like Join Up, but he does get the horse following the owner, and actually today he sorted out a ‘draggy’ leadrope problem in this way. It took a long time but I can see that it was quite effective – there was no doubt the horse changed its mind about things and kept up with the handler no problem after the session.
I must say I am not so sure about doing loads of groundwork, which all the students seem to take as read that has to happen, but some things I’ve seen this week have been really good. Watching Harry get the horse to do small circles on the leadrope was excellent, and as I have already said, the ‘following the thought’ stuff was brilliant too.
Loads of good stuff really, could go on and on. If any non-horsey readers are still with me, well here is something for you. Me and Sarah are still together and still love each other Awwwwwwwwwwwwww. Yuk how sick-making!!!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

God Bless America

One thing I have learnt about working with horses is that it works better if you don’t worry about what might happen. If you really want to see this philosophy in action then take a trip to a rodeo – these guys have balls. When they lower themselves down onto the bulls in the bucking shoots they know they are going to be chucked off. They know even if they last the eight seconds they’ve still got to get out of there somehow – it’s a high stakes sport.

So the guys riding in the rodeo, probably more than anything I’ve seen so far, represent America for me. We’re not going to ‘talk this through’, we’re not going to consider the consequences, we’re just going to go for it. On our journey from Colorado through Arizona I have spent a lot of time thinking about how all these people ended up in this country. Over the last 300 years all the white guys streaming over the Atlantic to the east coast and spreading out over this vast area looking for opportunities to make a living. Little homesteads everywhere, mining towns, mountain passes, railways, settlements in the middle of nowhere – it’s a fantastically rich history all crammed in to a very short time.

And when the white man got here he only found out that someone was already here. The native Americans had this place working pretty well up till then – they must have got quite a shock seeing these desperate whiteys pitching up on their patch.

All my ideas of the history of the USA have come from the movies, so they’re probably pretty wide of the mark. But just meeting the people you get a picture of a fairly unsettled past. Pretty much everyone you meet is only too ready to tell you their history – half Irish, half Scottish, Scandinavian, Italian. Then there are the Black guys who I have hardly come across on this trip through the mid-west. And then there are the Indians – I only talked to one so far and he was trying to blag me for $8 to help get his wife and kids back to Albuquerque – I just bullshitted back to him as hard as he was bullshitting to me, but I watched his next client shell out what I guess was a $10 bill. And now there are the Indian Indians who have moved in on the motels and the convenience stores. For sure it is a multi-cultural society and I love that part about it.

One girl from the deep south was telling me about a phone call she had from her mother last weekend. ‘Well honey, do you know on Sunday a black came into our church. I got up and left, of course’. But generally speaking, at least around where we’ve been, they’re all getting along not too bad.

One thing that draws a lot of these people together is the horses. A lot of the rodeo riders are Indians, and a lot of the spectators are too. And at the second rodeo we went to in Salome there was a long line of Mexicans up against the rail, all the same size, about 5’ 6”, and all wearing base ball caps, and all with moustaches. I missed that photo, don’t know why.

And through it all is woven this really crackpot idea that somehow this is God’s country, and Jesus is looking after us all and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with god – I actually believe in god myself, not the god most of these guys are envisaging, that’s for sure. This absolutely bizarre idea that America, the nation, is some special thing on this planet – where the f*** did that come from? When you listen to the prayers at the beginning of the rodeos its almost pathetic some of the stuff they are saying. Praying for ‘our boys out there in the middle east, fighting for freedom, so that they can come home and enjoy the rodeo, like we are privileged to be doing right now’. Were they always this bonkers or was it the twin towers that sparked off this crazy jingoistic crap?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not everyone, and even those that are caught up in it are nice enough people. I hope I’m never going to let stuff like that stop me from enjoying someone’s company. Funnily enough the only two times I really had to walk away from anyone in my whole life were when I ended up talking to religious fanatics. One was a fundamental christian in a tiny town in Wales, and the other was a fundamental muslim on a pavement in Manchester – I couldn’t find the heart in either of those guys.