The movie "Madagascar" – Fun in the Big Apple

I’m a sucker for animated movies (especially if they have animals) and we loved “Madagascar”.

Their animation of New York City is incredible and they even went to the trouble of getting the skyline down perfectly. You can clearly see the Plaza and the Essex House, just like you would at the real zoo.

In one scene the zebra stops to talk to a police horse in Times Square and Janet and I howled because we have proof that horses really do talk to police horses in Times Square:

Note how Scout is following proper horse etiquette for equine introductions, and they are blowing puffs of air up each others nostrils.

The photo above appeared on the front page of the New York Times when we were training Scout in Times Square and appearing with our friends at MonkeyDick with Susan and Mike Ault.

By the way, no visit to the Big Apple is complete without seeing a Monkey Dick Show. It’s high-energy Improv that makes Second City look like Jack Benny.

Janet and I spend a great-deal of time in Manhattan for my computer work, and we often take a Guide Horse in-training to practice navigating safely in the chaotic city traffic. We trained Dan Shaw and Cuddles in NYC. Below (left to right) is me, Dan Shaw, Susan Ault and Janet Burleson

It was funny because the reporter saw us from the 50th floor of the Times building, used a telescope to see the logo on Scouts blanket, called the Guide Horse Foundation, and then had his call relayed to Janet’s cell phone as we stood on 42nd street, all in just a few minutes!

Anyway, in another “Madagascar” scene they darted the zebra (voice by Chris Rock) with horse trank and then the movie cut to a scene ala “Lucy in the Shy with Diamonds”. The zebra love it so much that he took another dart! How true!

It makes me wonder if the animators owned equines! Several of our Arabs are too hot to handle, and our Farrier (Danny Harmon) required that they be sedated before he will work on them. Our worst is Fire, a real-handful, but with a hilarious conditioned response to the horse trank.

As soon as he sees Dr. Chris loading the needle, he heaves a huge sigh, his eyes glaze-over and his eyelids droop! Once I suggested that Chris palm he needle and just pinch his neck, and see if we would go-calm without the drugs, but Danny did not want to participate! This is Fire, one of our Vaalor sons. Fire is an appropriate name, since he is so hot-under-saddle that Janet is the only person who can ride him:

Anyway we are off to New York City tomorrow to attend the ABA BookExpo America Convention. We are still debating if we should take a guide horse trainee with us!

A finger in the Wendy's chili

Truth is stranger than fiction.

We are all familiar with the infamous Wendy’s chili case, where a woman took a finger and placed it into a bowl of chili:

By the way, they finally found the finger donor, and arrested the perp, all with national media attention.

Now, I’m not complaining, but the Wendy’s Chili jokes were all-over the networks, but the media ignored an even better story, right here in North Carolina. In this North Carolina case of not giving the finger, a man in a custard shop breached common courtesy by refusing to return a man’s finger because he was saving it for evidence in a lawsuit:

The piece of index finger was found earlier this month by Clarence Stowers in the dessert he purchased from Kohl’s Frozen Custard in the coastal town of Wilmington.

Stowers had refused to give it to the shop’s owner or a doctor who was treating 23-year-old Brandon Fizer, who accidentally stuck his hand in a mixing machine and had his finger lopped off at the first knuckle.

Stowers put the finger in his freezer, taking it out occasionally to show to television cameras.

Let’s imagine, step-by-step, exactly how this happened.

OK, Brandon is making frozen custard. He sticks his hand in the mixer and lops-off a whole finger joint. Now, at this point Brandon would be screaming bloody-murder as blood gushed from his finger, (which remains inside the bowels of the giant seven foot tall machine) while pints of blood pour into the vat.

If I’m reading the story right, while Brandon is screaming and his co-workers are calling 911, they decided to go-ahead and serve this batch to the customers (after all, it was chocolate).

Then, Clarence feels the finger in his mouth, and he thinks that it’s a Jack-in-the box prize. Despite pleas from Brandon, the ambulance crew and police, Clarence declares “Finders Keepers” and takes Brandon’s finger home with him, putting it in his freezer for safe-keeping. . .

Some folks say I being naïve’, that this story is too implausible to believed, but I can see it happening.

At the General Sto'

Most folks know that we don’t live in Kittrell proper, and our suburban Kittrell mailing address is really within Rock Ford Township. Heah’ in Rocky Ford, we have a great old-timey general sto’ (Rocky Ford Grocery) where the ancient oral tradition is alive and well.

They have the Franklin stove, the obligatory checkerboard and even a pickle barrel, and farmers hang-out all-day to chat and swap tall tales. Most folks don’t realize the profound impact that the oral tradition has had on literature and publishing.

From Joel Chandler Harris and his tales of “Brer Rabbit”, to Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage”, the oral tradition has always been more about how you tell the tale than the tale itself.

The lilt and cadence of your voice is critical and you must have pauses and inflections just right. I’ve been an ardent student of the oral tradition and me and my wife attended auctioneering school just to learn how to be more articulate (and to learn to yodel numbers). We were surprised to find-out that auctioneering school is a very valuable tool for success in business:

Why I recommend auctioneering school

Anyway, here is one story I found amusing:

A feller walks into the general store and sees Ole Blue the bloodhound, sittin by the pickle barrel, legs a-splayed wide-open, and he was lickin hiss’self with great pleasure, he was.

Impressed, the feller walks up to the counter and says to the storekeeper, says he:

“I wish I could do that”

Wall, the shopkeeper shot the feller a pensive glance, shrugged and replied:

“Well, it’s best to pet him first —- He bites”.

Speaking of dogs, I’m getting tired of animal treats that are made solely for the animals with on consideration for the owners:

Dumb animal treats

I’m planning to update this page as I think of more products. If you can think of any other, I’d love to add them to my list. Just e-mail me at

When the Sith hits the fan. . .

Last week a friend suggested that we go get a video of the latest Star Wars movie, “Revenge of the Sith”.

Now, I’m no great science-fiction fan, but I did know that the movie had not yet been released except for one of those “special screenings” where you wait in line for days.

“But it’s not in the theaters yet”, I replied, hoping to get off-the-hook.

“Don’t you computer guys know anything?” he said?

“You can get movies before they are released if you know where to find them. Let’s go”.

Sho Nuff, it was one of those Chinese knock-offs with really bad quality.

There was something very weird about this flick, and I’m not sure that it was even sure that it was the real movie.

You can read my whole review here:

Watch out for knock-off movies

Never trust experts who say "It's Impossible"

I was looking out the window yesterday watching our yearling mini horse “Nova” fighting across the fence with his father.

Nova is becoming mature and he was squealing at his Dad, doing the typical stallion posturing. Just like the big stallions, they would go nose-to-nose, squeal, poop in a large pile (to mark their territory) sniffing the steaming nuggets, and re-start the ritual, squealing at the other stallion. They went on like this for hours until they were both pooped-out (I wonder if that is where the term “pooped” came from)?

It’s time to get Nova gelded. . .

I’ll have to put-up with the squealing until this fall when it is safe to have him gelded. (You cannot geld horses in the summertime because the flies lay their eggs in the incision and you wind-up with a scrotum full of fly maggots).

Anyway, I recalled that Nova would not be here today if Janet and I had believed experts who told us “It can’t be done”. Let me explain. All our lives Janet and I have been skeptical of “experts” who say that something is impossible:

Horses cannot be housebroken

Janet and I were the first in the world to prove that horses could be reliably housebroken. When we started experimenting with own tiny ponies we were not sure that it could be done. The biggest problem is the “nervous reflex”. When a horse gets nervous it gets projectile diarrhea. Now, by projectile, we are talking blast-from-a-cannon projectile, and this is always an issue when we first get un-trained ponies. A few years back we went to New England to rescue two dwarf appaloosa’s, and we piled them into the mini-van with four people for the 14-hour drive home. They filled the cup-holders . . . .

After many months is messy experimentation and operant condition we were finally able to perfect the housebreaking technique, and we can now take guide horses into fancy restaurants. Dan Shaw took Cuddles into the fancy Palm Court at the Plaza in New York for high-tea, and the look on the waiters faces was priceless, knowing that a horse was going to come into their Ritzy eatery . . .

Horses cannot be trained to guide the blind

As a direct result of our research there are four full-time working guide horse teams in the USA. Some of the world’s top animal research experts told us that it could not be done, but we knew-better. For more details, see The Guide Horse Foundation.

You have to put-down a horse with a broken leg

The conventional wisdom has always been that you cannot save a horse with a broken leg, and we challenged some top medical experts and proved them wrong. Here is the story. . .

On Nova’s first birthday we went out with a carrot cake and we were shocked at what we saw. Nova had been roughhousing with the other mini yearlings and he was not putting any weight on his left-rear leg. Frantic, we got our equine vet (the noted horse emergency Veterinary expert Dr. Christian O’Malley) over immediately, and the prognosis was not good:

“I’m sure his leg bone is broken”, Chris said. “I can hear the bones cracking when I move his leg”. At this point Janet started crying inconsolably. You see, Janet had planned Nova life, and this was not in the plan. Janet bought a national-champion stallion (Egyptian King Too, who is only 26 inches tall), and she decided to breed him to Cassie, her stunning miniature buckskin mare who was twice his size. I’ve seen Janet life-up mini’s onto the backs of the mares before (Gee, I wish I’d taken a photo of that), but King weighs 140 pounds and our backs are bad. I had to dig a 3-foot deep trench for Cassie to back-into so that King could mount, and we were able to conceive Nova on our first try.

When Cassie went into labor, Janet brought her into the house and she foaled in the kitchen (Thank God for easy-clean flooring). Janet was a great midwife, reaching into Cassie to assure that there was no dystocia and that the umbilical cord was properly positioned. The birth went smoothly, and Nova imprinted on both Janet and Cassie. Janet and I have filmed several deliveries and we are planning a video-series on foaling for 2006.

Anyway, Nova was Janet’s baby, and we were beyond distraught at this horrible news.

“Sorry, we don’t accept your answer”, we told the Chris. Chris shrugged and gave us this you’re-a-fool look (A look that I’m used-to seeing when I question the opinions of experts). Chris gave Nova painkillers and wished-us-well as we loaded Nova into the mini-van for the long ride to the N.C. State University horsepital. During the ride we mobilized folks doing Google searches, learning everything about attempts to save a precious horse with a broken leg. We learned how Raffles, the legendary Arabian stallion was carefully nursed back-to-health by keeping him in a sling after he broke his leg.

When we arrived we got full x-rays and confirmed the bad news. “His femur is fractured in multiple places”, the vet on-call said. “The only thing to do is put him down.”

“Everybody knows that you can fix a horse with a broken leg”.

Click here to read Nova’s story.

“I want the Ortho vet to have a look”, we insisted. An hour later the orthopedic vet came to the same conclusion “It can’t be fixed”. The medical expert explained that the bone fracture could take 6 to 8 hours to repair and because of their organs, horses cannot stay “under” for more than 4 hours. He also explained that there are no metal plates made for horses, and he noted that the surgery would cost a small fortune with a very-small chance of success.

By now, I was convinced that the vet was playing-it-safe and giving a standard answer. “How about the plates they use for hip dysplasia for large dogs?” I suggested.

The surgeon gave me a pensive look and said “Well yes, there is no reason that we could not use dog hardware”.

“And why can’t we four surgeons working on him at the same time to keep the surgery under 4 hours?”

At this point the surgeon was visibly peeved that an ignorant bumpkin like me had the nerve to question his expert judgment, and he repeated:

“You don’t understand. Nobody has even done this before. It can’t be done”.

“We’ll need a $10k cash deposit”, the Vet said, expecting to shut us down with sticker-shock. After all, why would anyone pay $10,000 to fix a $500 pony. . . They did not know Janet. . . .

The phrase “It’s impossible” has always been a hot-button for Janet, who has had to put-up with neigh-sayers for three decades. “No problem”, Janet snapped at the shocked surgeon as she wrote-out a check for the full amount and said:

“I don’t care that it can’t be done. Please tr
y to fix my pony”.

The surgeon conceded (money talks), and he became excited at the prospect of geting a chance to try something new. He called-in a dog specialist and we planned the experimental surgery. The next day, four surgeons worked all-morning repairing Nova’s leg, with remarkable results. The surgery was smashing success, and the N.C. State Vet School said that it was the first time they had documented such a remarkable case.

Janet and I apply this same principle of questioning experts in our work with computers and I’m always leery of experts who tell us “It can’t be done”.

Today Nova is spoiled-rotten (Janet still refuses to let him play with the other ponies) and he follows you around like a puppy dog.

The moral of my story is simple. Three equine Veterinary experts had told us that Nova could not be fixed. After all, everyone knows that you have to shoot a horse with a broken leg. . . .

Rottweiler’s are the best!

Janet and I have always had a Rottweiler for protection, and I’ve got to say that I have never seen such a unique dog breed. An exceptionally old breed dating from Roman times (where they were used as guard dogs), Janet and I traveled to Rottweil Germany to learn more about how this ancient breed was saved from near-extinction.

Unlike “yappy” attack dogs, Rottweiler’s are exceptionally intelligent and they will often “lie-in-waiting” until they can get a firm-hold on evil-doers. (Yappie dogs are often shot by intruders).

Many years ago, Janet had a burglar enter her home. Her Rottie waited silently until the burglar had completely entered through her window and then attacked him savagely, ripping hunks of flesh from his body.

Janet called 911 immediately and grabbed her .38 revolver and went to investigate. There was blood everywhere but the burglar got away, never to be seen again. The police estimated that he had severe blood loss (she said blood was splattered everywhere), and they checked the local hospitals but they were unable to locate him. They suspected that he may have died in the woods, but a body was never found. Worse yet, the blood ruined Janet drapes.

Our current Rottie (Bear) is an exceptionally sweet dog, but watch-out if you have evil on your mind! She has exceptionally good judgment, as we found out when we were hiring a contractor to expand our house. Bear snarled at several contractors, and when we did background checks, both had lied about being licensed and one was a convicted felon! We hired the one that Bear “liked” and I use her to screen my employees now. . . .

From now on, we always use the “Bear test” to see if a person has personal integrity. She has not failed us yet. If Bear does not like you, there is always a good reason. . .

Another thing most folks don’t know about Rottie’s is there huge maternal instinct, especially for cats. When Tiger dumped a litter of kittens in one of the hay barns, Bear told us exactly where Tiger had hidden them and she could not wait to start grooming them! Once the cats understand that she likes them, they enjoy being groomed.

She LOVES to groom kitties and ponies, and the ponies line-up at the fence for a “face wash” every evening. True symbiosis. Living in my petting zoo has taught me a great-deal about animal behavior, and I’m always amazed when animals adopt other babies. Here is a case where a Rottie adopted kittens and even nursed them! We have this same experience with our Arabian horses, and mini’s.

In addition to the Guide Horse Foundation we also run a charity for deformed dwarf horses, and one of our special ponies is Bluebell” a 20 inch-tall dwarf with severely deformed legs.

She has never sexually matured, but when we put an orphan dwarf in with her, she love him as-if he was her own baby, and bagged-up and nursed him. Janet has written a couple of pages about this in her book “Helping Hooves”, our story of training “seeing eye” ponies for the blind:

BTW, some readers have been confused because there are “computer-related” items in this blog, and many of you are not aware that Janet and I work with computers.

While our primary love-of-living comes from the Arabian horse training center, we also do “database consulting” and create computer systems for people using a database called “Oracle”.

The things we do for our kids. . . .

Like most parents, I try to go the “extra mile” for my kids providing them with world-class educational and authentic gastronomic experiences:

Mo’ Possum Dad, Mo’ Possum

Even though I’ve done-my best to acclimate the kids to rural North Carolina, I’m still getting grief from my cousins, who have recently suggested that Janet and I were derelict in our parental duties:

Torn Between Two worlds

It’s tough sometimes, but nobody is ever going to accuse me and Janet of being bad parents. . . .

It’s breeding time again. . .

It’s springtime, and Janet and I are planning our yearly horse breeding. Each year we breed 3 or 4 of our best broodmares, and et again, our head mare (Liddy) did not make the cut. You see, Liddy LOVES babies, and I cannot bear to see her getting upset when the other mares have their foals next year.

Two years ago one of our mares gave-birth a month early, and Liddy took the baby. The grooms called in a panic, and Liddy had even “bagged-up” and was nursing the baby. The real Mom was extremely distraught, and we had two Mommies, each willing to fight for “their” baby. . . . This is Liddy, a daughter of National Champion Stallion “Litigator”:

Our biggest problem this year is using our own stallions. When we use a foreign stallion, the semen is shipped Fedex in this thing called an “Equitainer”: (“Hi, I’m here to pick-up some frozen horse cum”), and the vet does the insemination with an artificial penis.

With our own stallions we have used “natural cover” technique in the past and we were both injured.

Janet took a bad spill last week when a green-broke gelding tripped and sent her flying. Thank God nothing was broken, but she has this huge black eye, and I hate it when people see her face and then give me a nasty-look like I did it!.

You see, when a stallion comes out of the “breeding door” that know that they are going to get lucky, and the walk on their hind legs, striking-out and being very out-of-control. I had the joy of hobbling the mare (so she won’t kick him) and holding her still while he mounts.

Last year, one stallion (Ibn), grabbed Janet by the shoulder and tossed her like a rag doll. Her upper-arm was deep purple, and I sent Ibn to the horsepital to have him fixed (I don’t put-up with dangerous stallions). I had his gonads bottled in alcohol and wrapped them up for a Christmas present for our daughter. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she received a jar of horse nads. . .

Anyway, Janet has developed a really-cool new technique to collect a stallion “on the ground”, and we are making a 30-minute documentary on the technique for the “Horse TV” channel. This is an important technique as people can be seriously injured or killed when breeding aggressive stallions.

Janet backs-up a mare in heat to get the stallion excited and places a hot wet towel on his thingy. We bought an artificial vagina from a Vet and we collect him without danger.

After collection, Janet inseminates the mares with a turkey-baster. . .

The funniest part is that the stallion has come to view Janet as a lover! While horses communicate mostly by body language, they have about 20 vocalizations and they “talk” when they are courting with a “huh huh huh” sound that means “C’mon baby, let’s get it on”. When Janet enter the barn, one stallion starts making the come-hither noises at Janet, and the mare get quite upset that the studly stallion prefer Janet to them!

We hope to have he video finished later this year and I’ll post a note when it is scheduled to air on TV.

The importance of out-crossing bloodlines

As a horse breeder I’m very aware of the importance of out-crossing bloodlines and the role of genetic diversity.

Everyone will tell you that mongrels from the dog-pound are happier and healthier than pure-breed dogs, and my own experience with breeding purebred Arabian horses (with a limited gene pool) confirms this observation.

Too much inbreeding, and you can get a super-tiny (13-hand tall horse) with a bad temper, health issues or serious conformation faults.

Anyway, I often wondered if the principles of animal husbandry can apply to humans? Obviously the answer is “Yes”:

The Canine Diversity Project is an attempt to acquaint breeders of domesticated Canidae (dogs) with the dangers of inbreeding and the overuse of popular sires. Both lead to the indiscriminate loss of genetic diversity and increase the frequency of genetic problems in the population. These abuses have not been restricted to dogs, but have also occurred in horses, cattle and many other domestic animals

Americans talk of the “melting pot” in the sense of the multi-cultural aspects, but I sometimes wonder of the same principles of genetic out-crossing might explain, (at least in a small way), the success of the U.S.A. as a nation?

I have some firsthand observations from both sides of the spectrum:


You can reason that sharing of the gene pool (marrying cousins) was necessary to explain the over-lap in family trees. Everyone has 8 great grandparents, 16 great-great grandparents, and so on. If we go-back only 15 generations(about 400 years ago), each of us had 32,768 distinct ancestors. If we go back 30 generations more (about 1,000 years ago), we see an ancestor count that exceeds the entire world’s population!

For populations living in isolation (i.e. Madagascar circa 800 A.D., Colonial America) , this is even more pronounced, and everyone, by mathematical certainty, was sharing common ancestors. Before the great immigrations (China, Ireland) during the 1800’s, almost all multi-generation Americans were cousins by virtue of sharing a common great-great-great grandparent.


I also study genealogy and I’ve noted that in my family tree there is a correlation between longevity and genetic diversity.

For example, take my grandfather, James Vespasian “Pace” Burleson. Pace was born in 1869, (right after the Civil War), the child of a Gettysburg Veteran and a Cherokee squaw. Below is John Wesley Burleson, (my great-grandpa), seated, far left, front row, by the dog. Petting the dog is my great-great grandma, Sara Page, a Cherokee Indian:

Pace came from sturdy stock. He smoked, chewed tobacco, drank liberally, and he remained active and healthy until he was over 75 years old. Pace was also more intelligent that the average guy, and became the town schoolteacher.

(I was thrilled a few months ago when I was researching photocopies of the 1900 U.S. Census and discovered that the entire section was hand-written by GrandPa Pace (he was the census-taker). Gazing back over more than a century, I got to know GrandPa at a better-level. Even though he died in 1947, I felt a connection to GrandPa, a man that I’d been separated from by time, yet always wanted to know.)