Friday, May. 24, 2024

Voice Text And Owning Horses Don’t Mix

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“Dress size was good today!”

I love voice text.

And I hate it. When I’m tacking up or prepping my horses’ feed I don’t really want to talk on the phone—I need my hands free for girths and buckles and scoops—and if I try to use earphones I inevitably catch them on something and tear them off my head sending them plummeting into the nearest pile of manure while my mare Cairo glares at me with her look that translates to “Get off the phone and pay attention to me.”

If I ever get a new phone and progress to Air Buds I can only imagine that won’t end well for the technology in the barn environment.

Like my gelding Flash, Cairo knows my phone means I am not paying complete attention to her. If I pull out my phone to use it, even just to check the time, while I longe Flash, he will stop whatever he is going, turn and face me and just stand there until I put it away.

Horses are a hands-free activity, but also one that needs my full attention, so voice text it is. I pull it out, speak into the mic, hit send and put the phone away.

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Voice text makes life easier. Except when it doesn’t. All photos courtesy of Camilla Mortensen.

But together with its evil best friend autocorrect, voice text inevitably makes me sound like I spend my nights drinking with politicians instead of “at the barn with my mare” (or, as voice text prefers, “at the bar with my mayor”). Given I work at a newspaper, it is not that unlikely I might end up at a bar with the mayor, but on most nights of the week, it’s a little bay mare and not the city council I’m hanging out with.

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So on that mayor/mare note let’s start with homonyms. Or voice text homonym, which might only kind of sound alike. An ordinary homonym is there/their/they’re: words that sound alike but mean different things. My phone generally knows that I mean horse most of the time and rarely ever hoarse. But my phone never figures out that I rarely say “Hey!” but I talk about “hay” a lot. I don’t feed my horses “green,” but I do go to the feed (not feet) store to buy them “grain” fairly often.

Homonyms bring me to the question of exactly who or what is a Ferrier? That’s not the name of the guy who comes to shoe my horse — we just call him “Jim the horse shoer” — but my phone thinks I’m talking about a “Ferrier.” Google says Kathleen Ferrier was a famous contralto. I’m going to hazard a guess there are more people out there voice texting about their farriers than about an opera singer who died in 1953. And it doesn’t work to substitute farrier with horse shoer. Instead I get things like “course sure.”

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Speech recognition software relies on phonemes, bits of words, to figure out what you are saying and also on predictive text for words that logically follow other words. I do TRY to correct the voice text errors before I set send in hopes my phone might learn what words I use the most, but more often than not I talk, then hit send.

“Beat” pulp. Is that a homonym or my iPhone’s predictive text thinking I beat things to a pulp? I buy a lot of beat pulp, despite my intentions to get beet pulp instead.

I am an eventer (my phone calls us “inventors,” and there’s no doubt we are often creative), but in voice text world, eventers are not a thing nor is eventing.

So I would like my iPhone to come with an equestrian dictionary. Is there an app for that?  My phone clearly doesn’t understand the word “dressage” and thinks I spend a lot of time worrying about my “dress size” tests instead of the exact 10- and 20-meter circles I intend to trot.

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If you know my horse Cairo then you know that among voice text’s many technological wonders, is that it is somehow capable of sarcasm. Since Cairo is a real place, I’d say about 75 percent of the time I send texts about my “mare, Cairo.” The rest of the time I’m texting about my “mayor, pirate.”

Given Cairo is rather sassy, the fact that my phone prefers to refer to her as “pirate” and “Pyro” (capitalized, I don’t know why) seems appropriate.

And on the capitalization note, why does my iPhone think that “trail ride” should be one word, capitalized? Trailride. Is there a place or person by that name, or does my iPhone just know that Cairo prefers a good gallop through a field rather than the arena and tries to make the activity sound more important? The closest answer I could find is that there’s a Trailride Way somewhere in California. Between equestrians and mountain bikers I feel like trail ride should be the default, if any techies at Apple are taking notes on this blog.

Despite its flaws, there are all kinds of neat tricks I have learned to implement while voice texting—like I can add a space by saying “space bar” and put things in quotations by saying “quote” and “close quote.” But some of the innovations and shortcuts cause me problems. I felt kind of weird when I realized I was about to hit send on a message to my event trainer Meika Decher that read, “Should I sign pirate up the Eric [smiley icon] clinic?”

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Voice text does not understand that a smiley can be a person in addition to an emoji.

I guess Eric Smiley, Olympian and frequent clinician, can just do what Prince did and refer to himself by a symbol? I should have asked him last time he was here in Oregon for a clinic.

At least back when I did the Eric Smiley clinic and Cairo was doing novice and training level, it helped that my phone knew those words. Now that we are at prelim, I tend to send texts to Meika about “pre-limb” instead. You know, move up a level, ponder growing another appendage. The question of why all eventing levels until you hit intermediate and advanced sound like you are barely into the sport as opposed to flying over larger immobile objects at speed is a topic for another blog.


Camilla Mortensen is an amateur eventer from Eugene, Oregon, who started blogging for the Chronicle when she made the trek to compete in the novice three-day at Rebecca Farm in Montana. Camilla works as a newspaper reporter by day and fits training and competing Cairo around her job.

Read all of Camilla’s adventures with Cairo.

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