And now for something (really!) totally different

Charm and I don’t do so well on the trails, or in strange places such as horse shows not held at the home barn. I can manage her, but I’m not exactly comfortable or sure of myself while doing it. So when the opportunity came up at Willow Tree to take the 2-day “Confidence Course” I jumped–well, not exactly jumped–at the chance to expose both of us to all the things a horse might be likely to encounter on or off the property (wild animals excluded). But there was a fire-breathing dragon…

The course was taught by Sara Lowe, who professionally trains mounted police units all over the country, aside from being a law enforcement officer herself in her home state of Wyoming. She generously agreed to forego the fireworks part for our training 😋. However, she did have flares, smoke bombs, quite a supply of those “party poppers” which she would toss against the arena walls at random moments, and an air horn which she also chose to use randomly as we were trying to negotiate such things as a teeter-totter bridge. Here’s a link to Sara’s business page on Facebook:

And below is a bit of commotion from the second day, just to give an idea of how intense the environment was. We slowly built up to this level so that we could always be successful at each step. Wendy, our barn manager, is describing some of the stuff that’s going on. There were 12 of us all together, which by itself made for a lot of commotion. The dragon is off to the right behind the scary bubble machine. It had a glowing red fabric tongue that floated out from its mouth. Charm stood there and let it bump against her nose.

The dragon…photo courtesy of Sara Lowe

There were two very big things missing from this video: 1) the road flares which were lit and placed a few feet apart are hard to see behind some horses–look carefully to center left side about 10 seconds from the end; and 2) one of those huge air-powered “blow-up” men like you see at car dealers was set up a bit later. That thing went up into the rafters and down again, over and over, besides being really noisy. After I let her watch a while from a distance I parked Charm under it, it went up and down right over her head, and she completely ignored it. 🦄

In the video Charm and I are standing in the middle of the ring. She’s the chestnut with the crooked blaze. I am the only one wearing a helmet for ground work the second day. And glad I was–there were a lot of excited whirling horses out there, along with owners who were concentrating so hard on their horses they forgot they were not the only creatures out there!


This is Desi, not Charm of course. But the capture of the bubbles is perfect.

This bubble machine was the bane of almost every horse. Charm hated it, but eventually managed to walk through the bubbles if she could keep about 5 feet away from the actual machine. It was even worse when the bubbles began to stack up in a mound on the ground. You would think that Michigan horses who had been around snow all their lives would not be intimidated by a few bubbles blowing around and landing on the floor. But they all must have gotten together and agreed that these weird floating things didn’t belong in the indoor arena.

Leading Charm “from behind” through the pool noodles.

On the first day we started with the most preliminary of basics, learning to get control of the horse’s shoulders and hips on the ground. In order to be safe, we have to be able to quickly and easily move the front end and the back end of the horse where we want it to go. We also have to teach the horse that we humans have a personal “space bubble” that they are not allowed to enter unless invited; this will keep them from pushing into our space if they get anxious. Once these ideas were presented, we worked on them and then went on to the concept of “leading from behind”. The purpose is to make it the horse’s idea to negotiate the obstacles. We could lead them as most people do from the front, but if we do then they are following us and not building their own sense of courage. We open a generous loop of lead rope to the side, inviting them to go through the “door” we have created, while keeping our own bodies back at the saddle area with the other end of the rope over the saddle or behind the cantle, depending on how well we’re negotiating the route at any point. If we get stuck at an obstacle we can always give a little twirl with the end of the rope from behind to get the idea of “forward” across. We always encourage from behind, not pulling from the front. By presenting all the obstacles from the ground, the horse learns to negotiate them by himself and will be more willing to do the same when we ask from the saddle.

Charm heading down the teeter totter after it shifted sides.

Charm negotiated the teeter totter a lot better from the saddle than from the ground. It took a few passes on the ground to convince her to stay on the bridge–she seemed to think that she could just leave it at any moment. Which she could have, but that wasn’t the point! The downside to that was she threw a shoe coming off the edge. However, it didn’t mess up her hoof and the arena sand is quite soft so we carried on minus a right front shoe.

When we mounted up, the obstacles were in a path along the ring walls and up through the center line. Sara taught us the basics of mounted patrol drill team commands and had us ride in single file and sometimes pair formations. She also wanted us to keep a distance such that we could see only half of the tail of the horse ahead of us through our horse’s ears as we went over the obstacles. That got quite interesting as we passed over the teeter-totter because the horse ahead wasn’t always clear when the next horse stepped on. I think Wendy missed that part of the instruction, but here’s a clip of her making fun of us for “cheating” by stepping on the bridge too soon! I guess that’s the tradeoff for her services as an unpaid videographer. Final evaluation of the two-day course: Worth every last penny! Highly recommend!

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18 down, ? to go

Floating or cascading? Sky Pads 18

Finished this one a couple of days ago but let it sit just to “make sure”. Then photographed it last night. I had a lot of trouble getting rid of the shiny glare until I remembered that I neglected to put the soft umbrellas on my lights. Sometimes I can’t believe how many routine things that make your life easier, say in photography for instance, that I forget when it’s not something I do every day. Solution: up the pace of painting production. Likelihood of that happening. zero!

Exhibit update: I received an invitation (via a recommendation from a local artist friend) to exhibit Sky Pads at the Niles District Library in Niles, Michigan in September. One wouldn’t expect a library (think dark rows of bookshelves) to be a welcoming spot for an art exhibit, but this library is outstanding. It has tons of glass, beautiful light, large open spaces, and long open walls. Also lots of foot traffic. Perfect! Stay tuned for some lovely gallery photos of the latest Sky Pads pieces next month!

Posted in art, exhibit opportunity, gallery show, landscape, light, oil paintings, photography challenges, Sky Pads | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Meet me in St. Louis

10 minutes away

I was “gone” from WordPress last week because I accepted an invitation from my best friend in grade school to visit her in St. Louis where we had spent our childhood. I took Amtrak from Chicago, which was a lot more relaxing than driving all the way from Michigan. The Arch may not look too spectacular from across the Mississippi, but when you’re standing next to it (or under it!) you can appreciate the greatness of architect Eero Saarinen’s marvelous creation.

It’s as wide as it is tall.

And because this photo doesn’t do it justice, here’s a short video to blow you away–


View from the top, as the rain started and smeared our view. That’s the Old Courthouse at the end of the walkway.

Since the wait to take the tram up to the top of the arch is long, the city thoughtfully created a museum you can visit while you wait for your tram time after you pass through security. It covers the history of St. Louis from the 1050’s when local Indians created strange mounds that are still being studied, till the present day. Our scheduled tram time came before we had finished the museum, so when we returned to earth we went back and finished satisfying our curiosity.

In the evening we zipped over to the Missouri Botanical Garden, informally known as Shaw’s Garden for its founder Henry Shaw, back in 1859. The current star attraction, “Flora Borealis”,  is a 1 mile walk through a multimedia light experience emphasizing the role of people and plants as partners on the planet.

Neat way to present “Flora Borealis” on a dark path

But before you start your walk, you can’t help but gape at this gigantic glass sculpture at the entrance to the garden’s reception area.

Dale Chihuly…no words!

Our first stop was a laser light show, but no photos allowed at that particular place. It was a combination of lasers creating colors of light in layers of fog but that doesn’t sound nearly as cool as it was.

Next up was a set of drums which anyone could tap out a rhythm on (kids loved this) and the lights would respond to the drums. There was either narration or music accompanying each presentation, and I think I liked the music better but of course the garden wanted to make its point with the voice-overs.


I wasn’t in the right position when I shot the video, so here’s a nicely dramatic shot of the Climatron behind the drums and pillars. Those are giant lily pads shaped like cake pans which are floating in the water. They can grow to several feet across.


The next stop was this light-animated tree. I have absolutely no idea how they did that. There’s a little surprise at the end of this video. Look for butterflies.


It’s kind of a no-brainer in this day of electronic gadgets to assume that everything in this next video was projected…onto a house. The house was definitely there. I could see that it was the real thing (in a world of not-so-real-things)–but the mysterious way the projection was done made it look like parts of the house disappeared then reappeared. Just a taste in this video of what it looked and sounded like.


The next day we went to the history museum which is in Forest Park. Forest Park is kind of like Central Park in New York. In fact, at 1293 acres, it’s 450 acres larger than Central Park. It opened in 1876 and includes four museums, the Muny Opera, a zoo, athletic fields, golf courses, and a skating rink. The park hosted the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair (which was the subject of the musical “Meet Me in St. Louis”) and many structures in the park were built specifically for the fair. Some still exist today, among them the building that houses the Art Museum. Side note: I have a watercolor painting of the park that my grandfather did in 1915 showing silhouettes in the distance of the leftover World’s Fair buildings. I think he was a way better painter than I am!

Because the city is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Muny Opera, the history museum is holding a year-long exhibition of the Muny’s origin and development in the park. And because we were going to a performance that night it was only fitting that we get a bit educated to appreciate it even more. Here’s a bit of information to give you an idea of its mind-bending size.

Just to get an idea how big this place really is

Note the emphasis on the free seats! My friend and I were taken by my mother every week in the summer to sit in the free seats and watch musicals (the Muny is not an opera company; it is musical theater). What is incredible is that they could put together an astounding professional musical every week. Most productions take weeks to rehearse and prepare costumes and sets, but the Muny has been doing this since 1917. They used to do it without even taking a day off, in one day changing sets for rehearsal after the regular performance and then putting them back in the early hours of the morning for the current performance. But it got so hectic for staff that they finally gave in and now have one dark night per week to block and rehearse.

So here you go, a little “lazy-susan” style video of the night’s crowd, waiting to experience an absolutely professional top-notch riveting production of “Gypsy”!

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2018 Quadrille is here

This performance almost didn’t happen. On Saturday one of the horses slipped her stifle right before we went in the ring. Our Wonder Woman barn manager manipulated everything back in place and thankfully on Sunday the mare was ready to go. So, the long video wait is over! The music was the culprit. We didn’t have two cameras this time–too bad, because we synced up really well and closeups would have been icing on the cake. Anyhow, the issue was that the one camera we did have was not situated to pick up the music from the speaker very well. I didn’t have a copy of the track and the person who did was on a remote vacation on the other side of the country and returned yesterday.

The theme this year is Hawaii 5-0 and Magnum PI, with a short Dragnet introduction. Leis for horses and riders, Hawaiian shirts for riders and matching fabric browbands for horses.

So here it is, with a nice clean music track, shot from the judge’s point of view. Better to view it full screen so you can actually distinguish horses and riders at the far end of the ring😊

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Time flies

Sky Pads 18, about half done

Wow, look at the date on my last Sky Pads post! I can’t believe it’s been almost a month that this one has been sitting around waiting for me. The background color in this photo is way different from the previous one, but I haven’t touched it. Just different light (indoor vs outdoor). This is probably closer to the real thing.

I’ve been slowly working my way through this. One of the reasons for “slow” is that I had a really hard time deciding what color to make the pads. There’s a lot more green in this one than in #17. But then the green gets a layer of blue over it. It’s impossible to determine what the final product will look like at this point, since I’ve worked more into some areas than others. It will just have to reveal itself over time, which it is certainly occupying a lot of!

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Foolproof braids

Charm and her no-sew braids

We’re in costume for our Hawaii 5-0 music themed quadrille at last weekend’s horse show. Charm has enough mane for two horses plus part of a pony, so it’s been a challenge to find a faster yet indestructible method for show braids. I can now safely say that after a bit of practice the method I found a few weeks ago is indeed foolproof. The photo above was taken after two previous classes, one of which involved threading a feather boa through her mane and then pulling it out again. If you want to try it, here’s a link to the easy instructions.


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From Secret Agent to Pink Panther

A little notice: this embed from Facebook starts playing with sound muted. At this point I can’t change that, so you will have to turn on the sound by clicking on the little “speaker” icon in the lower right hand corner of the video. It’s no fun without the music, so just letting you know it’s there if you remember to turn it on.

Here’s the synopsis of our Pink Panther pas de deux, so you can follow along with the story. A “Mission Impossible” voiceover lets us know that the Pink Panther diamond was stolen from the Louvre in Paris and is believed to be hidden somewhere on the showgrounds. Our mission is to find it and bring it back to safety. If one of our team falls off the “judge shall deny all knowledge of our existence”. Anybody familiar with the old Mission Impossible show will pick up on all the references. We had an older judge, so we were hoping…Anyhow, we start off as secret agents looking for the diamond, then stop for a moment to discard our coats and sunglasses, pull out our panther tails, and transform ourselves into the Pink Panther. We have blinking pink lights on the front of our helmets that we don’t turn on until we become the Pink Panther. The blinking lights are the Pink Panther diamond which we have obviously located.

Our barn manager recorded our performance at Willow Tree on Saturday. She also gave a little running commentary because what we were doing wasn’t always clear on the video. At one point she moans “ohhhh Chaaaarmm….” when my lovely mare picks up a counter canter instead of the proper lead near the end of the performance. I didn’t try to correct it and wonder of wonders she kept it all the way through the two 15-meter circles. Since it was an “anything goes” freestyle musical, we weren’t required to do any particular movements and I think the judge decided it was done on purpose–one horse on correct lead, other on counter lead. At least, she didn’t ding us for a mistake!

It was Charm’s day to have her own ideas about canter. At the beginning she wanted to go early, and when I held her back she shook her head in disdain when I finally asked for canter–on the wrong lead of course. A bit later she broke from trot to canter just for fun in the middle of a 10-meter half circle. Quickly got her back on trot after that one. She stood for me to toss my jacket off but decided it was too much to ask to stay that way for our sunglasses toss. In any case. we still scored in the 80’s. I suspect if a judge really enjoys an “anything goes” freestyle they’re likely to score it on the high side just because it was so much fun!

If you don’t have Facebook or the link doesn’t work for some reason, I just got this video of the pas de deux from the Sunday show.

And if you’re really into the nitty-gritty of the movements, here’s a super neat bird’s-eye view from a drone of one of our practice sessions!

Posted in dressage, horses, pas de deux, Willow Tree | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments