Thursday, November 16, 2006

Comment Spam

Earlier this month, I opened the blog to comments. I didn't do it lightly. I've had problems with comment spam in the past. Eventually it got so prevalent that moderating the comments and getting rid of the crap took up far too much of my day, and I stopped allowing outside comments on posts.

But I wanted to hear what people thought about the topic o' the day, and figured I'd try opening things up. Astute readers have noticed that several recent posts have been open for comments. Yesterday, Tuesday's insurance post received this incredibly relevant gem:

WOW, this is FANTASTIC...!!! Blog your AD to Millions. Post your AD for FREE and get MASSIVE traffic to your site. FREE to join. To get started fast, Click Here: multi level methods site. It pretty much covers multi level methods related stuff and it's FREE to join.


I'm in the process of changing to the new Blogger (or getting my own, non-Google-controlled one). Perhaps the new one will be more adept at comment-screening. In the meantime, let's go back to the old way, shall we? I love to hear from people who read Muse Inks regularly. If you want to comment, agree, disagree, rant, or otherwise contribute, feel free. Just e-mail me, and I'll probably feature it in future posts -- unless you start talking about ADS posted for FREE for MASSIVE traffic, and sending me links to MLM sites. Yeesh!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Parasite Prevention

The other day a friend who is a relatively new horse owner called to ask a few questions about basic equine management. He had questions on things like hoof trimming, feeding, and ground manners. Then he asked, What about worming? I've heard about that. How often do I need to do it?

Ask that question in any group of horse owners, and you're guaranteed to open a can of worms -- if you'll pardon the terrible pun.

I've heard some vets say that if the horses aren't pastured in overcrowded conditions, you only need to worm quarterly. Others swear by a strict adherence to an 8 week schedule, with clockwork-like product rotation. Still others say the daily wormer is the only way to go...

I told my friend that I generally worm every 8 to 10 weeks, though sometimes I may skip a dose in the wintertime.

Hmm...., he said. So you're saying it should be more than just once a year?


I can't fault him too much, however. Many well-meaning owners aren't that knowledgeable about parasite prevention or very well-versed in what different worming products do.

When talking about an equine worming program, the short answer is: have one.

* Rotate the product you use on occasion, to prevent your horse from developing an immunity to the wormer.

* Quarantine all new horses and worm them with something like ivermectin before introducing them into an established herd.

* Avoid overcrowded pasture conditions.

* Develop a regular worming schedule, write it on the calendar, and stick with it.

* Oh -- and don't go a year between doses...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Insurance Verbage

I'm shopping for insurance. Our current policy costs significantly more per month than I bring in. Literally. It would be financial suicide to continue it. So I'm looking for something -- anything -- that will make it possible for us to have some sort of coverage.

No one in our family smokes, is overweight, has high blood pressure, is infested with a communicable disease, or flies jets. For some odd reason, however, the insurance companies are a bit balky about insuring my husband. The whole seizure thing really makes them nervous.

I fail to understand how the insurance industry gets around the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the official ADA website:

the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs and services provided by state and local governments, goods and services ...

It's the "goods and services" clause that gets me. Anyone who has ever shopped for insurance knows that the industry is BUILT on discriminating on the basis of disability... and gender... and age... and weight... and Acts of God...

I especially love the small print in insurance policies that tell you what your premium WON'T get you. Here's an actual, verbatim excerpt from a company that assured me it did, indeed, want my business, and that it could provide me with the best possible policy for me and my family:

There are no benefits for pregnancy, mental and emotional disorders, or chiropractic care. Organ transplants performed in a designated transplant facility have a $1,000,000 lifetime maximum; in a non-designated transplant facility, there is a $150,000 lifetime maximum. The plan also includes utilization review, which requires notification of hospitalization.


What creative writing skills went into that bit of text, eh? (I know: sarcasm doesn't translate well into print. Can't help myself...)

I especially love the phrase There are no benefits for pregnancy. I look at my three year old daughter and beg to differ with whoever penned that gem.

I also love how pregnancy, mental illness, and a bad back are grouped together as if one had anything in common with the others.

Finally, you gotta love an industry who tells you not only where on the planet you can have your heart transplant, but that also requires you to notify them of when you intend to be in the hospital for said procedure.

To my knowledge, recipients of organ transplants are not generally in a condition that allows them to fly about the country to "designated facilities." They also rarely get the opportunity to schedule their procedure.

Image the realities of the policy:

"Oh -- my lungs are ready! ::wheeze:: Great! When? No, no... That's not good for me.

Besides, I can't have the transplant done there. I mean -- $150,000 won't even cover the surgeon walking through the front door, now, will it? I need you to put the lungs on a plane and send them ::gasp:: to... I've got the address somewhere.

Ooo, but before you do that, I need to notify my insurance of my intention to be hospitalized. they need to ::aaahhhh::: do a utilization review of my case. Just stick them on ice, I suppose. I'll get back to you.

On a final note, I also received this inspired bit of business:

For your husband, we recommend the XYZ health plan through ABC Company. There is a lifetime benefit of $5,000,000 per insured. Maternity is covered with this plan.

I can't tell you how comforting it is to know that an insurance company exists that will cover Robert in the event he becomes pregnant. And here I was, thinking that the insurance industry was going out of its way to be obtuse, murky, and difficult. Who knew?

Monday, November 13, 2006

No Dogs Allowed

There is an absolutely captivating, Must-Read Story online in the New Yorker about Epagogix and their neural network that can foretell with amazing accuracy the domestic box office of any movie based upon the script alone.

From a writer's point of view, knowing that an electronic Neural Net / Crystal Ball existed that could analyze my script and tell a studio what the movie would make is somehow deflating. A release that would get $50 million in box office receipts is referred to as "a dog."

You gotta read it.

Of the many excellent points the article makes -- creating more than enough fodder for several dinnertime conversations -- two things stand out:

1.) Script reigns. Stars, directors, budgets, F/X... You name it. It doesn't matter. Everything rests on the story. Hollywood pays lip service to this concept, but I don't think for a moment that anyone in the industry actually believes it. Still -- facts don't lie. At some fundamental level, audiences agree. It's all about the story.

2.) It can't just be about the numbers. If it is, many good films wouldn't get made. (See what one of the main characters within the article has to say about how the film Dear Frankie affected him. I happen to share his love of the movie. It'd would be a shame if studios only paid attention to the numbers and stopped thinking that small films like that were worth producing.)

It would appear that though we can create machines to operate with ruthless impartiality, there is still a need for the human element. The machines can analyze scripts until the cows come home. That doesn't mean they like the words they're processing.

I'd rather watch a compelling small film than the current blockbuster ANY DAY. That's why I, for one, consider it a huge blessing that, so far, most studios are skeptical of Epagogix' uncanny accuracy and are not using the technology to analyze everything they option.

I happen to be a dog lover. I'm just glad that the occasional "dog film" can still make it through the studios' crystal ball mine fields and find its way to the screen...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Clearance Sales

It's not every day that you see a clearance sale for a hands-on, service-oriented business. Imagine the ads: All house-cleaning must go! or This month only, we'll train your horse for half price! At first glance, it doesn't make much sense for business owners to do such a thing. After all, time is money. Clearing out stock to make room for more is one thing. Clearing out a service is... odd.

Well -- welcome to Oddville.

I'm in the middle of redesigning and reworking the services I offer to writers and others. One of the things I do is proofread and edit things like book manuscripts, articles, and websites. I've been spending a lot of time lately on my own projects. Right now, I've got 6 e-books in various stages of completion. I'm also working on 3 educational products for writers and experts who need to get their words out. I'm pretty busy, so I'm thinking of discontinuing some of the services I've offered in the past.

I don't want to let down any of my regular clients, however, or have them stop referring me.

So I decided to do a Website Proofing Clearance Sale. It will only be for existing clients and for referrals who come through them. But from now through the end of the year -- and while time slots last -- I'm cutting regular charges for a complete website proofing (up to 25 individual pages). I'm also throwing in a free Home Page edit of text and tone, and a Home Page Intended Audience Analysis. All told, clients will save between $500 and $600. And referring clients will get a little something extra for sending their friends and associates my way.

This may provide the butt-boost some people need to get their website text in order. And it will give me ample time to rethink whether or not to continue to provide the service next year.

I'll let you know how the Website Proofing Clearance Sale goes...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sore Winners

I just spoke with a journalist friend who had what I thought was a very interesting tidbit of information. U.S. Representative Fred Upton (think "Whirlpool Royalty," who is instrumental in pushing for some rather concerning internet legislation) was the winner on Tuesday's election. He defeated Kim Clark, who everyone knew was a "dark horse" candidate (Whirlpool carries lots of weight around here). That's not exactly news -- and not exactly unexpected.

Here's the kicker. When Clark called Upton in a sportsman-like gesture to congratulate him on his victory, Upton refused the call.

I doubt that the AP will ever run with the story, but I find it interesting. It says a lot for the current political "us vs. them" mentality across the nation when our elected officials can't even keep up a front of common good manners and social graces, and instead act like petulant, spoiled, rich brats. Hmmmm....

Benefits of Being Herdbound

Remember asking for parental permission to do something you knew was iffy, explaining in impassioned tones that all your friends were doing it -- which was the sole reason you wanted to too?

Remember the answer: "If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?"

(Remember wanting to say, "Yup! Especially if a bungee cord were attached to both the bridge and me...")

Peer pressure, group-think, and following the crowd often get blamed for everything from lemming suicides to the Downfall of Civilization.

It's true -- though we pay lip service to individualism, and say that we value being able to think for ourselves, the truth is that we are often uncomfortable standing up by ourselves for much of anything, from clothing styles to ideologies. There is safety in numbers, the natural world tells us. And we take this to heart.

Last month, I wrote a little bit about social proof. Social proof is in evidence every time a sports star's face appears on TV or in a magazine in an effort to sell you something that has absolutely no bearing on his or her sport. Social proof also shows up whenever you hear, "We're the best! But don't take our word for it! Listen to what our satisfied customers have to say..." And it works. It works because -- deep down, we really don't want to be all alone.

While it's true that this need for social acceptance can be detrimental to our health (What would you do if all your friends jumped off a bridge?), it can also act in beneficial ways.

Social proof has helped dramatically cut the number of smokers in this country. It has contributed to our awareness of things like childhood obesity, the dangers of hydrogenated fats, and environmental issues.

Horses, even more than humans, are creatures of the herd. They form a tightly-knit group that moves as one, and that relies on the "wisdom of we."

I love this video. It illustrates both the dangers and the benefits of being herdbound. A herd of over 100 horses were stranded on a small island after a storm. Several drowned in the bad weather. The island barely provided enough room for them all to stand on. People were bringing hay to them in boats, but the situation was clearly out of hand.

The water receded enough for them to reach dry land but they didn't know it. So they stood on their little patch of land. Open, grassy meadows were in sight, but not one was willing to go it alone.

Then, a group of women decided to show them what was possible. They rode their horses over to the little island and the entire herd followed them to safety. All it took was seeing what was possible. Still -- when one horse decided to vacate the island, every other horse backed him up and followed along.

Social proof in action. Sometimes all it takes to break out of a self-imposed, self-limiting space is realizing that someone else has done it and can show you the way.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Shoulder-In, Shoulder-Fore...

...And Other Areas of Confusion

A friend of mine is studying for her upcoming certification test for the American Riding Instructor's Association. One of the areas of the test deals with the fine line between shoulder-fore and shoulder-in.

She's been having a bit of difficulty -- due, in large part, to the fact that the information out there is extremely confusing.

Some trainers say that "shoulder-fore is identical in movement to the shoulder-in -- only a less pronounced maneuver."

Some say that "shoulder-fore is a two-track maneuver (the horse's inside legs fall on one track, and the outside legs fall on another), while shoulder-in is a three-track maneuver (meaning that the horse's inside legs fall on one track, and the outside legs fall on another)."

Still others say that the "shoulder-fore is a two- or three-track maneuver, and the shoulder-in is a three- or four-track maneuver."

No wonder she's confused!

In an effort to clear some of the confusion (as opposed to contributing to it), here are some of the common threads that most reputable trainers agree on when discussing these maneuvers:

* Shoulder-fore is a pre-cursor to shoulder-in. Shoulder-in, in turn, is a pre-cursor to more advanced movements such as travers and renvers.

* When performing either a shoulder in or a shoulder-fore, the horse's head should be tipped in the direction in which he is traveling.

* Just tipping the horse's head does not constitute the movement. A correct shoulder-fore involves the horse's front end coming away slightly (no more than 5 degrees) from the outside rail.

* To perform either movement, the horse's front end must move toward the center of the ring. Moving his hindquarters toward the outside of the ring instead is not a correct execution of the maneuver.

After much online searching, it appears that the shoulder-fore is a relatively new term in classical riding. Some of my favorite, tried-and-true resources, such as Alois Podhajsky's Complete Training of Horse and Rider don't mention it.

Some of the best resources I found that described the maneuvers, explained how to differentiate one from another, and told how to best cue for them were the Shoulder-In lesson on the Classical Dressage site and an article by Shannon Dueck on

Happy riding!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

List Building Webcast

Yesterday I mentioned list building and list management as important parts of an online business. I promised to talk more about the subject today, but -- as luck would have it -- I can let a true expert do it instead.

One of the marketing mailing lists that I'm on alerted me to a webcast that's online later today. Subject: List building. It's taught by someone who has impeccable real-world experience in the subject. It's also offered free of charge as a way to stress-test their software and format before an upcoming fee-based seminar starts.

It happens at 1:00 p.m. EST (10 a.m. PST). So, if you're interested in hearing all aboout building a useable list and knowing what to do with one once you've got it, tune in later today...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Looking Forward

For the first time in years, I am deadline free. I took last week to finish up every single project I had on the books that was for someone else. I'm free! The upside of that is that I can finally work on my own things without feeling that I am slighting my clients or my projects in some way. The downside of course, is that no one is writing the checks...

I have also finished my final obligation with my last "low paying" client. This frees up even more time. But also creates a "monthly money I can count on" hole.

The next two weeks will be spent on a Carol of the Horse campaign that will continue through the first week in December, and on finishing up the product development of the new educational offerings. We're also looking at a complete re-design of the Muse Ink website, coordinating affiliates who want to participate in the "Carol" campaign, and researching the best way to continue to develop and manage our list.

(If Geoff's book campaign taught me anything, it brought home the importance of targeted lists. We're still wrestling with how to best compartmentalize our list into something useful, manageable, and easy to work with...) More on this subject tomorrow.

A portion of Thanksgiving vacation is earmarked for cleaning up my computer desktop and for renovating the blog. I've got a year and a half of stuff on here right now. Over 300,000 words! Yeesh! I'm going to streamline it, change the format a bit, and switch over to Blogger's Beta version that allows Tags.

Much to be done. But first -- I've got to run into town and buy horse feed. I may have no deadlines, but the animals still gotta eat!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Three Hour Training Revisited

I received the following e-mail from Steve Smith, the very talented clinician and trainer I wrote about on Wednesday. He pointed out that though I had opened up that post for comments, I hadn't turned off the password requirement. (Oooops!) Though that has since been remedied, I thought his comments on the Colt Starting Demos, and on training and education in general, deserved their own post:

Hi Ami,

I would like to comment a little about three hour colt starting demonstrations and competitions. First, I would like to thank you for your comments about my abilities as a horse trainer. It means a lot to me, and I thank you. Secondly, I feel the three hour colt starting competitions are primarily for demonstrating trainer’s techniques and styles of training and their ability to read a horse. Colt starting demonstrations are purely for entertainment. I believe some people hope to see a wreck while others, such as me, look at it as a learning opportunity. As I watch, I learn, and therefore my training ability increases.

I do agree with you on the amount a horse can learn in a single training session. The Road to the Horse has the training broken into two day sessions, which I think is really better for each horse. It allows the horse to absorb the training a little at a time. This reduces the risk of mental and physical stress on the horse. At our training facility in Kaufman, Texas, we start many colts each year. We break the lessons down for the colts, making sure they understand what we are asking them to do before we add additional lessons.

Colt starting demonstrations can be misleading to those who don’t understand horses well. There are those who have the misconception that a colt is broke and can be ridden the next day as though it is well trained, but to say a colt is broke after three hours of training is crazy. It takes time to train a horse well.

When I start a colt at a demonstration, I always tell the owner of the horse at the end of the day to realize the horse is not broke and should not be ridden the next day as though he is. I make sure the owner understands that although the horse has done well and come a long way in the training session, he can’t be considered well-trained. I encourage the owner to go back and break the training down for the horse with plenty of repetition to get the horse really solid at each exercise as his training progresses.

The most important thing to remember is to always put the horse first ahead of the competition. I really haven’t found evidence that a three hour colt starting hinders in any way the future training of a horse as long as you go back later and break the training down incrementally with a good step by step lesson plan. I recently did a three hour colt starting demo using a two year old quarter horse stallion in Missouri. Three weeks later, I was told by the person who coordinated the demo that the horse was doing very well. The owner had received several compliments from the stallion’s handlers mentioning how much better behaved and well- mannered the horse was.

In summation, three hour colt starting demos are fun, entertaining, and educational. I have learned a lot from the demos and trainers I have studied and apprenticed under. I pray that I am blessed with the opportunity to some day be a clinician at Road to the Horse.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this topic. If you have any questions or would like further information about our training, demos, or products, please call us at (903)498-4724, or email us at: You can also learn more about our business and facility at

Steve Smith

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Short and Sweet

Yesterday, I committed what I initially thought was a faux pas only to learn a valuable lesson...

In one of my writing and marketing newsletters, I'd read about an online live forum that wanted speakers from the publishing world to talk about various topics. I'd begun composing an e-mail in which I suggested topics I thought might be worth discussing. After each topical suggestion, I provided a few short sentences explaining my qualifications to talk about it.

I had two topics written: "Successful Ghostwriting, Co-Authoring, and Collaborating," and "How to Be Your Book's Best Friend" (easy ways for authors to promote their titles without relying on the publisher to do it for them). I figured I had the e-mail half done. I wanted to re-read it, polish up a few things, come up with a suitable close, sign it and send it.

I thought I hit "Save Draft." When I heard the tell-tale whooosshh! of my mail program, I realized I'd inadvertently hit "Send."

"Oh well," the fatalist in me thought. "So much for that."

Thoroughly disgusted with myself (It wasn't even signed, for crying out loud! How unprofessional do you think THAT looks?), I turned back to work on another project.

Not even 15 minutes later, I received an answer from my Ooops! e-mail. They like the idea of having someone talk about ghostwriting and co-authoring. To the best of their knowledge, no one else has volunteered to speak on either topic. They're currently planning the line-up for the next year. I'll be hearing from them in the next few weeks.


I couldn't help myself. I wrote back to thank them for their prompt reply. I also explained what had happened earlier and apologized for sending an e-mail that ended so abruptly and that contained no signature.

Only a few moments later, I had the epiphany when they replied:

I didn't notice!! lol I'm a busy person and appreciate short, concise, e-mails that are to the point.

I've just got to remember this for future reference. For one thing, there is no need for lengthy e-mail queries. For another -- just look at the time I saved by NOT slaving over constructing the "perfect ending."

I'm not suggesting that sloppy work is somehow to be encouraged. I'm just saying I know I can benefit from taking the "short and sweet," get-in-and-get-out advice to heart! Perhaps I'm not the only one...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Three Hour Training

A friend of mine is hoping to be accepted as a participant in the Road to the Horse competition. This is a more-or-less annual event in which three contestants each have three hours to do as much training as possible on an unbroken young horse. At the end of the contest, each takes his or her horse through a pre-determined series of maneuvers (walk, trot, canter on both leads, stop, turn left and right, back up, jump a low jump, drag an object...). They also get a short amount of time for "freestyle" -- their opportunity to show off any additional things they've accomplished with the horse.

Clinton has won the event two times in a row, and will defend his title this year against Chris Cox and Stacy Westfall. In the past, his freestyles have included standing on the horse's back while cracking a stock whip, shooting a gun, running a chainsaw, and firing up a leaf blower.

My friend who hopes to compete is very good. He's studied Clinton and other colt starters. He's competed in similarly structured colt starting competitions, and can do the chainsaw / leaf blower / firearm thing. He really wants to compete, and I hope he gets the opportunity...

But I can't help but wonder about the validity of this kind of event. When it comes to training anything -- a horse, a dog, my child, or me -- I'm a "slow and steady wins the race" kind of person.

When I start to learn something new, I get the most out of the process with a measured, methodical approach. Too much information dumped on me too soon just causes Full Brain Syndrome. After a certain point, I can't absorb any more information -- even if the instruction is coming from a world-class expert. I need time to process what I've learned, to assimilate it, and to "own" it.

When I teach writers of any age, I find that they learn best in smaller instructional doses. If I do a "Brain Dump" and deluge them with information, I end up wasting my time and theirs because they can't possibly take everything in at once. Throwing more information at them just to be able to say "I covered it" would do them a huge disservice. It would probably also result in demoralizing or overwhelming my students, rather than inspiring them to move to the next level in their writing.

I always wonder what happens to the horses used in these colt starting competitions after the event is over. In three hours, they have gone from "you can't put a halter on me" to horses that have been bridled and saddled -- then they've walked, trotted, cantered, jumped, backed, and stood quietly while small bombs were detonated around them. What happens next? Surely no one in his right mind would consider these colts trained.

I wonder how these colts respond the next time someone approached them with training tack. How to they react when saddled and bridled the next time? What sorts of mounts do they make a year or two down the road? Does their experience with Three Hour Training give them a jump on other horses of their age? Or does it actually cause a training road-bump further along in the process?

I usually don't allow comments posted on my blogs because I've had terrible problems with Comment Spam in the past. But I'd like to hear what other people have to say on this topic. I'll enable the Comments here as long as the spammers stay away.

Note: You'll notice the comments have been disabled. Some people never learn. See the post from November 15 for details...

I would especially like to hear from anyone who's had any experience with young horses that were a part of a colt breaking challenge. What do you think about them? If you're a fan, please explain why. If not -- why not, and what could be done to make a better demonstration of colt starting skills?