Sunday, March 27, 2011

Linnea Adjusts My Suspenders and Going One Step Too Far

Linnea Seaman's Suspenders Are Working Again!

Linnea patiently explains to me that I have two legs
It's been several years since dressage judge and instructor, Linnea Seaman, in her perky, almost psychic way, laid her suspenders on me and changed my riding for the better and forever.  On Saturday, March 26, I went for a much-needed tune-up.  What a joy to be connected once again, both with  my body and with Linnea.

In this photo Linnea the Wise is assessing my hip action, which was a bit left-dominant, in advance of reapplying the suspenders.   For those who missed my first post on the subject, "Gooey Horses and the Suspenders of Linnea Seaman" (10/08), the "suspenders" thing lurks along the Centered Riding spectrum in that it is a concrete, conscious way of promoting the abstract, unconscious connection between your shoulders and your feet so that you, the Actualized Riding Being, can sit balanced in the saddle with full use of all of your body parts instead of hanging crablike to one side and wondering why your horse seems crooked.  No, I didn't think they were connected either.  Quelle suprise!

Cruising in joyful abandon and three layers of fleece looks like this.

Anyway, lessons learned from Linnea are hard to forget, and with a bit of a touch-up, I was, happily, able to reconnect with my body and my daughter's lovely mare after whom I've lusted for years if only for her lack of Drama Queen tendencies which my boys have in spades.  By the end of the lesson we were cruising in joyful abandon and growing pain in every part of my body, which has lain fallow since mid-December.  Aging sucks. 

All this happiness, by the way, was at Covered Bridge Equestrian Center in Lancaster County, PA, where our friend Cindy Stum takes great care of "our" horse and lets us play with Linnea to our hearts' content. 

One Step Over the Line
Good stopping point...before anyone gets angry

t twas one of those days from the get-go.  The ones that start with something broken that you didn’t expect to have to fix, mosey on to some vague physical issue with one of the farm residents, equine, feline,  human, or poultry; and lead to the conclusion that you’d have been better off staying in bed.  So, naturally, you decide it’s a great day for someone to have a training session.  Yow-zah!  

The only thing this day actually had going for it was the sun.  Everything else was a wash.  But despite my best intentions I felt overwhelmed by a case of the “Shoulds”.  In this case, the “I Really Shoulds” overtook common sense, and the next thing I knew I had a belt bag full of Frosted Mini-wheats and a clicker strapped to my wrist and off I went to track down my favorite test subject, Zip Or Not.  

There are times when an impromptu training session is logical.  “Teachable Moments” we call that in the Public Ed trade.  You know it when you see it.  The kid asks just the right question, the horse makes just the right gesture, the chicken…okay, so maybe the chickens are a bad example.  So there I was with a halter in one hand and a happy face on, and it was apparent from the view of his tail as it receded into the distance that Zip wasn’t really up for a learning experience right then.  Using his habitual jealousy against him, I called to Dakota, which brought Zip high-tailing (literally) to my side.  

From the start he wasn’t really “with” me.  He was doing everything I asked and then some.  It’s the “and then some” that’s worrisome.  A focused horse doesn’t “and then some”.  Still, not willing to pass up the sunny afternoon and dead set on moving forward with my planned training schedule for my recalcitrant, sour, attitudinal gelding, I pushed.  I pushed and pushed some more, and finally, despite mediocre results and still grinning to show him how much fun we were having, I had to go that one extra step.  We had to do the Mounting Block Polka.  
Zip was home-schooled

Someone shoot me before I hurt myself.

It only took one eye-corner peek at the block for Zip to tip to the plan and advise that this was not his plan and we would not be standing quietly at this particular juncture.  Committed, I had to give it a shot.  I couldn’t let him just spin around and walk away as is his wont.  Eventually, with patience and invisibly gritted teeth, I got the split-second thumbs up from Zipper, and called it a day.

Almost…  I almost called it a day.

Not to be mistaken for someone with common sense, I turned Zip out and concluded that since Dakota had already answered my call and had watched the whole clicker-cookie festival with great interest, it was time to work through his quirky Appy reaction to trick-training.  Dakota is a gelding’s gelding and sees no point in pointless endeavor, so tricks have not been his fave way to spend ten minutes, but he’s a calm and malice-free boy, so off we went.

We’ve been working, from time to time, on a cue for picking up his front feet.  It’s an easy trick, one that serves a purpose, and he seemed to get the whole concept.  Except for yesterday, when he indicated that he “no speak-a da English” and asked if I wouldn’t rather go for a ride.  

No riding ensued as we’ve both had a tad of a lameness problem and I really, really, really wanted to pick up some fitness effort slack with ground work instead.  He sighed, and off we went to the mounting block so Zipper could see what a good “stand here quietly” looked like.  Zip’s big head was hanging over the fence absorbing every move, so I obliged with a move I hope never to use again.  

Dakota has no problem standing at the block, or anywhere else for that matter.  He was well-trained as a mounted orienteering horse and would stand all day in one spot if so instructed.  So this looked like an ace in the hole.  Mounting block….clicker….shredded wheat….Dakota…and a perfect example for Zip!  All went well until, proud of my boy standing stock still, and trying to make the point for Zip, I stood on the block, rubbing Dakota’s furry back and cooing to him about his infinite goodness.   Then I reached to hand him a treat.

There’s this about rubbing a furry horse on a dry day: static electricity.  The spark that shot from my fingers to his nose was visible and the crack audible, and it launched Dakota halfway across the ring, snorting and tap-dancing.  Great.  I retrieved him, but he was having none of the mounting block or the clicker or the treats or me.  He was giving me the stink-eye like never before.  I worked patiently until at least I got him to stand still without the Salsa moves, gave him a shock-free treat, and turned him loose in the pasture to commiserate with Zip.

Thanks to my poor judgment, I made exactly no strides toward fixing Zip’s sourness and now I’ve got another horse who thinks the mounting block is shooting lightning through my fingers.  Does it get any better?

I’ll say it one more time so maybe this time I’ll get it.  If you and the horses are not in the mood, don’t have sufficient time, the phase of the moon (this was during the ultra-full Super Moon, to boot) is wrong, or you just have that niggling feeling that another day  might be better for your plan, stop!  The chaos you create in the short term because you got your “Should” on will take more time to fix than the original problem would have if you’d waited.  

Can I hear me now? 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Funding, Fund-raising, and the Business of Charity

First a quick Cisplantin implant update

Today's photo unfortunately reflects a negative report.   The red dot on the lower left is both the site of one of the implant incisions and a bit of the underlying tumor beginning to peek through the skin.  The photo was taken a week ago.  The spot is larger now, roughly the size of a dime.  The charming Dr. Fazio checked her two weeks ago on Spring Shots Phase I Day and pronounced her possibly slightly less tumoric than previously and we were both content that the growth appeared static.  But the difference, if any at the "static" level was minimal, and the obvious lesion that's apparent in the earlier photos had not been reduced.  Today, on Spring Shots Phase II and Other Veterinary Exercises Day, it was apparent that one of the internal lesions has externalized.  In other words, she has another pop-out.  This is not good news.  The summary at this point of the treatment program is that it was ineffective.  Since this is only one case, there's no real conclusion to be drawn.  But for this case, implanting cisplatin beads without removing the (inoperable) tumors has no notable effect.  

On to the Subject of Money

$200 per month will support
my craving for more gray tree frogs.

 like this frog.  He's a polite visitor to my deck railing.  He's handsome, quiet, and kind.  I could easily have a whole flock (flock?) of them if I could build a massive terrarium with trees, dirt, flat-screen TV... all the cool stuff gray tree frogs love.  In fact, I could probably coax one or two of these cuties to breed, and I could sell the kids for money to dump back into the project.  

So, what's to stop me from asking my friends, family, and other people who would soon hate my guts to give me money for this project?  

Simple answer:  Nothing

Anyone who wants to risk destroying relationships can ask anyone for money.  There is no law forbidding it.  Never has been.  Loans and gifts among friends and family are common.  Not always a good idea, but certainly common practice.  Making that call to Aunt Louise to ask for that last thousand you need to pay Little Maryjane's private school tuition for this year may be embarrassing, but it's something that happens every day.  That is fund-raising in its most elemental incarnation.

A step up from cadging cash from kith and kin is the art of arranging funding for a cash-producing business.   This, too, is fund-raising, but on a much higher level with fewer contributors (not "donors") involved, and the end result a cash flow that is positive for the person raising the funds and for the  check-writers doing the funding.  This is the category that includes investment bankers, "Angels" who step in and save the shirts of folks whose business ideas they believe in, and even includes silent partners and others who have a nominal involvement in the birthing of a business venture.  Venture Capital is the name of the game.  In fact, should you be so inclined, there is a new bevy of websites where entrepreneurs with The Next Big Idea can be connected with Angels willing to throw money at them to fund the projects. Though mixing with the wrong Angels can result in death and other problems, the money can basically be used for whatever purpose the venturer chooses.

Logo of the Society for the Prevention
of Garden Zebra Harassment

 Charity is the next level on the pyramid. The previously-named income streams are in no way to be confused with charity donations.  A charity is an organization that, while it may pay its director or CFO a salary, uses the majority of the funds raised for the purposes outlined in the Charter, Business Plan, and Mission Statement that were developed and in some parts submitted to the IRS for approval so that the organization can be held above the tax law and every penny that comes in can be directed at the target, whatever that might be.  

Within the Charity group, there are a few questionable subsets that change depending on the state within which the organization (I use that term loosely) operates.  We have your basic full-fledged Charitable Foundation or Charitable Organization, which, fully approved and sanctioned, receive their tax-exempt label courtesy of Section 501, Paragraph c, Item 3 (or whatever) of the IRS tax code.  Though there's not much oversight, there is paperwork, and donations to such groups are tax-deductible for the donor.  In New Jersey (and probably other states beyond the borders where I never go) there are also Non-Profit Organizations (like the Boy Scouts, the 2011 Senior Class at Erstwhile High School, etc) which raise funds for specific goals within the organization and to support the organization itself.  And there are Not-for-profit Corporations, whose workings are a little mysterious.  These are actual incorporated businesses that raise funds which are used for projects and from which no individual  within the organization benefits.  The paperwork here gives a good indication of what is required of such a corporate entity. 

The recent insanity surrounding the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) which is funded by the Endowment set up by the Estate of Paul Mellon, racehorse owner and breeder, is a great example of how far-flung the accountability for the actions of a charity can be.  The people overseeing the endowment (most likely family lawyers or possibly family members) probably only kept notes on the amount of cash released from the estate and the amount the principle rose or fell with the stock markets.  The TRF probably only kept notes on how much money was passing through their hands.  No one took notes on where it went.  So the caretakers of the retired horses that are spread across several farms in several states apparently caught the shot end of the audit trail and the horses didn't get fed.  Of course, the case is pending an investigation by the Attorney General of the State of NY, so the above is "hypothetical" (as in "that horse is hypothetically dead because it's hypothetically not breathing or moving").  But the picture is still a good illustration of the point that you can never be too sure where your money is going , and if you're the one diverting it, you can be pretty sure you'll get caught no matter how big your britches are.  

If someone asks you for money to support a pet project (or a pet, for that matter) and they are not a registered charity of any sort, you are not making a "donation".  This is not a "private charity".  This is somebody who wants you to pay for something they can't afford.  If you are willing to do that, great.  But don't expect anything in return, including thanks. 

If someone asks you to contribute money to help fund a project that may eventually be profitable, then you are not making a "donation", you are providing funding a la Venture Capital.  Expect (and demand) a payback.  Sign something.  Make sure you have a lawyer handy.  Expect to lose the money if the venture fails and gain something if it succeeds.  This is the sort of thing that goes on on TV reality shows with Donald Trump in attendance.  It also happens quietly behind closed dining room doors among friends with far better hair and less money than the Trumpster.

If you are asked to donate money to a charity, then you should at least qualify to deduct that amount from your income on your tax return, and don't let anyone make you feel guilty for asking about that.  For the top tax brackets, you only actually save up to about 34% of the donated amount, but it's better than nothing.  It's Uncle Sam's little gracias for not having to send the money himself out of the straining tax coffers. 

If you donate to a group that is using the cash for purposes not quite clear to you, then you really need to think hard about why you're so anxious to toss your paycheck in their direction.  Are you supporting a mutual goal?  Are you invested emotionally in the process?  Does this all have some ethical meaning to you?  Or are you simply poorly informed?  

Finally, if you are on the asking side of the equation, what are you doing?  Do you really have all your financial ducks (and marbles) in a row?  Do you realize that simply asking for money for what you consider a good cause does not make you a charity?  Do you get that a bad business plan isn't better just because it's not profitable?  Do you know that you can't send your minions out to collect money on your behalf without registering them with the state as Official Fund-Raisers?  That you cannot allow someone to use your tax ID number to skate out of paying their fair share?  Do you get the whole picture, or are you just having fun gathering money and friends and playing at the Name That Charity game?  Think hard.  The authorities spend all their time doing just that, and you do not want to be what they're thinking about. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Synchronicity and the Thinking Horseman

Why Does He DO That?

Dakota:  "Look!  Horse-eating weeds!  Aaaaaargh!"
Me:  "WHY must you spook right there every time?!"
Dakota:  "Why are you such an idiot?"
[Better question:  Why did I do that?  This training tip seems pertinent during the mud season lull and in the light of so many horses being labeled "inappropriate" by their owners. ]


“Ms. Friedman?  This is Jim Stanley with the Internal Revenue Service . . .”

“Well, I’ll be darned!  You know, Jim, it seems like every time I get ready to cheat on my taxes, the phone rings, and it’s you!  What a coincidence!”

“Whatever.”  [Horses in the Yard]


Let's talk coincidence for a minute.  That's coincide-ence, in case you weren't up to dissecting it yourself.  When two events coincide--happen at the same time--it's sometimes difficult to sort out cause from effect from total happenstance.  That's what makes training horses, humans, and other animals such an intriguing game.  Did he do that because you asked him to, or did you ask him because you knew he would do that?  And what's all that with your SO leaving socks on the floor?  Coincidence?  I think not.
Anyway, Synchronicity theory is the rule of thumb that says that two things happening synchronously (cool word!) are not necessarily related. 

That's easily applied to training if you look at it through the fringes of your pillow.  You and Buzzcutt have been working long and hard on the "Get OFF my FOOT!" cue.  He just doesn't seem to be getting it no matter how hard you push, poke, and prod or how loudly you scream.  He just leans harder on that foot.  Why?  Well, he may just be  a fun kind of guy.  Could it be that all your fussing is making him giggle in that silent horsey way?  And after the yelling and other fun is over, when he finally gets bored and moves that foot or leans away from you just a smidge because his attention was drawn to the bird overhead tossing babies out of the nest so the circulation returns to your toes, do you sigh?  Pat him?  Tell him he's good?  Give him a cookie or his own cell phone?

Bet you do.  

Take that event apart and you'll see synchronicity written all over it.  It all began one day when, mid-bridle-path-clipping, Buzzcutt took a step to the right so he could get a better view of the filly across the street.  He landed on your foot.  Maybe he noticed, but maybe not.  If his attention was diverted, your soft little foot probably felt a lot like the lump in the rubber mat in his stall or the dog he walked over just yesterday.  

But...what ho!  In a moment a party happened! There was yelling and physical contact of a type not usually associated with clipping episodes.  If he's the laconic sort, he probably turned and looked at you then went back to long-distance wooing.  If he's the hysterical sort, he probably looked away from you to see why you were raising an alarm.  Squirrel at 11 o'clock?  Feed wagon coming?  What?  He may at that point have put even more pressure on your foot as he attempted to jump into your lap or climb on you for a better look-see.

Eventually he moved off and you praised him for following your instructions, such as they were.  He got happy, you got movement in your toes, and both of you got synchronous.  He thought he was being praised for looking to his left or ducking the fledgling or calling to the filly...or maybe stepping away from you.  Hard to tell.  What was easy to connect was the fun and excitement of your LOLHuman moment and his standing very, very close to you.  

If you're not totally in tune with the variables involved in this scene, you may assume you just taught him to move off.  You're all proud as Punch and ready to go forth and train other people in your newly-minted method.  But imagine your surprise when the next time you pick up the clippers, he immediately moves toward you and stomps on your boot!  For him, that's the beginning of the Buzzcutt and Human Comedy Show, and it's going to end with praise and treats.  He can hardly wait!

Ten seconds later, the detector beeped... Monster in the Pasture!
Obviously, you did train him.  You just didn't train him to do what you thought you'd trained him to do.  The same applies to the horse who learns to avoid getting caught because having you chase him around the pasture is bunches more fun than going to work.  It certainly makes sense in the case of the horse who develops what seems to be an irrational fear of something strange, like rootbeer cans or old ladies wearing mittens.  There's no way of knowing what synchronous activities have connected in his mind into something that, to him, is the purest of logical stimulus-response experiences.  

My personal fave was in the "running through the lead" category.  Zips Moneypit was young and I was foolishly arthritic, and he quickly learned that if he just bolted, he could pull the longe line out of my hands and prance around the arena yelling, "Look at me!  I'm free!"  This went on for a couple of weeks until in pain, I let go and synchronicity stepped in.  Off he went with the longe trailing, and there I stood at the opposite end of the arena.  He pranced and danced until...uh-oh!  Guess who danced right onto the end of the longe line.  The look on his face as he pulled himself up short was priceless.  From 150 feet away I had somehow managed to spoil his fun, and there he was, stuck, and me nowhere near to set him free.  We did that a few more times before he quit the game entirely.  Since I was there, I'd pulled him up before, and I'd been at the end of the line when we started, I had to be the cause of the sudden halt.  Even when he dallied the lead around the fence post while I was on the other side of the barn, I still had the magic.  That was many years ago, and I've opted not to disabuse him of his faulty belief system.  Works for me! 

Synchronicity can be your friend if you learn to analyze the situation in detail.  Use it and don't let it use you, and you'll be smarter than the average horse in no time. 

Friday, March 04, 2011

Criminals and Crazies: Crumb Takes a Plea

If you thought the Horse Angels charity fraud case was over, you were wrong.  Though most folks lost interest after the initial filing by the State of New Jersey Attorney General against Sharon Crumb (witness the fact that 1400 people read my blog post of the original filing and only 8 bothered to read the follow-up that detailed her punishment) there was another wrinkle yet to appear. The wrinkle is here. 

While everyone was moving on with their lives, the State wasn't done with Sharon.  Once her effort to defraud the public was confirmed and the extent of her ill-gotten gains was determined, the fraud case--which is a civil matter, as you might recall--was concluded and Criminal Justice stepped in.  Sharon was prosecuted for her crimes. 

The following is the public record of the upshot of that prosecution, which was filed yesterday:


PROSECUTION #2011-03-00068 A
SHARON CATALANO-CRUMB having  in writing waived  indictment  and  trial  by  jury
on  the  charge  of  third  degree  theft  by  deception,  in violation  of N.J.S.A. 2c:20-4  and  having
requested  to be  tried  upon  Accusation  before  this  court, and  said  request  having  been  granted;
Deputy  Attorney  General  Michael  J.  Rappa  of the  Division of Criminal Justice for the
State  of New Jersey,  alleges  that:

(Theft by Deception - Third Degree) 

S HARON CATALANO-CRUMB Between  on or about  September  l,  2009 and  on or about  September  30,  2010 at  the Town of Phillipsburg,  in  the county of Warren, elsewhere,  and  within the  jurisdiction
of this court, did purposely  obtain  property  of another  in an  amount  of $500  or more  by deception.  That  the  said SHARON  CATALANO-CRUMB did purposely  obtain approximately $57,129  in  charitable
contributions from individuals who are known to the state of New Jersey, by creating or reinforcing
the  false  impression  that  the  charitable  contributions  would  be  used  for  the rescue  of horses  and  for the transportation, feeding, boarding and care of rescued horses;

then and  there  well  knew,  the  charitable  contributions would  not  be  used,  for  the  rescue  of horses,  and used  said  money  for her  own  purposes,  ail contrary  to  the  provisions  of N.J.S.A. 2c:20-4 and
N.J.S.A. 2c: 20-4 and  against  the  peace  of  this  state,  the  government  and  dignity  of the


There has been endless discussion online and elsewhere regarding the regulations surrounding charitable organizations and fund-raising in general.  Some folks are still holding out hope that if they collect money under someone's (theirs or someone else's) charitable umbrella, it can be applied to goodies that will benefit them personally.  "But if I don't pay my mortgage, I won't be around to run the rescue operation" does not constitute an acceptable stretch of the mission statement under which you operate.  "I really wanted to travel to ________ to check out their rescue and the travel expenses should be considered business-related" is another totally awesome attempt to illegally siphon cash out of a charitable pot.  You can fill in the rest from what you've seen and heard. 

If you are running a charitable organization of any type or raising funds for one, a squeaky-clean and clear audit trail is the name of the game.  When you applied for your tax-exempt status, you were asked to construct a mission statement that had to receive approval for the IRS to decide you deserved to avoid paying taxes on the income.  If you included personal expenses, it is likely that you did not pass muster.  If you can talk a donor into giving you money specifically for that new whatever that you think will somehow help you function even though it's not directly applicable to the work the charity is assumed to be doing, and if you're willing to pay income tax on the amount because it's truly just that--personal income--more power to you, but make sure you have lots of documentation signed by everyone in triplicate to prove that's what you've done.  Witnesses come out of the woodwork at the least opportune moment. 

Above all, know that criminal prosecution is not a joke.  Sharon Crumb will eventually have to pay to the State all the money she stole in order to avoid incarceration.  If she fails, she will wind up in prison.  Her future is forever stained by this criminal judgment.  If you want yours to fall under the same shadow, that's your choice.  Greed is a hairy, multi-talented monster that tends to fall short as an excuse in court and everywhere else.  Check with Bernie Madoff if you're not clear on that. 

Donors, heed the warning.  It's been offered repeatedly, so if you aren't listening, you are foolish and deserve whatever comes your way.  Know to whom you donate, and keep it local so you can follow up.  Ask for paperwork, receipts, documentation of tax-exempt status...whatever you need to make you happy with your donation.  Don't be shy.  It's your money, and there are a lot of hands reaching for it.

Charities, licit and illicit, if there's more that needs to be said, I can't imagine what that might be.  Go Forth and Clean Thy Books!