Monday, June 26, 2017

One Pole Exercises

Tristan is both a) lazy and b) weak in his hind end action, both the hock and the stifle. He would happily drag toes all day long, and it's not at all uncommon for him to stumble even in the midst of going beautifully. In the space of one breath, he decides it's just toooooooo much work to pick his feet up, and he almost bites it.

Like many a horse with a less than ideal hind end, he really benefits from good work over poles. What's more, he likes it. Poles are a nice, straightforward challenge for him. He can figure them out, and get a sense of accomplishment from them.

How much would I love to set up full grids regularly, ride complicated zigzag patterns, jump off repeatedly and adjust striding to get exactly what I want? So much. How tired am I at the end of the long work day, before I've even looked at a pole, much less picked one up to set up a grid? SO TIRED.

Over the years, I've worked out a number of exercises to do with just a handful of poles at a time, and I thought I'd start sharing them here.

Today: what can you do with just one pole?

So many things!

Use it as a target
- Put it in the middle of the ring, perpendicular to either the center line or a quarter line, and count strides to it. Add more strides. Add fewer strides. Imagine it's a jump and nail down the exact feel and timing of coming up to it. Visualize where each hoof will land for an ideal bouncy step over the pole. Do this at the walk, trot, and canter.
- Put it in a corner, diagonal to the corner of the ring itself. Aim for different parts of the pole depending on how deep or shallow you want to make your corner. Use the pole as the target for bending, and if you're like me and have a constant death grip on the inside rein, use the poll as your target for your release.
- Put it on the quarter line, running right along the quarter line, at E or B. There's your target for leg yields off the rail, right up to the side of the pole, then straight down the quarter line or back to the wall.

Use it as an imaginary wall
- If you have a horse that rushes fences, pretend it's a brick wall. Trot up to it and then walk the last stride. Or trot up to it and HALT, right before it.
- How's your turn on the forehand? And haunches? Try setting the poll perpendicular to the wall and asking for just a quarter turn, instead, then go back. Or put it by itself in the middle of the room and take away the mental crutch of the wall, just using the poll as your starting point.
- Now imagine it's a half wall, and put your horse's front feet on one side and back feet on the other. Sidepass down it, keeping it in the middle. Try some shoulders-in. Try some haunches-in. The pole will keep you honest and not squirting out forward or rocking back.

Use it for precision
- Walk up to it. Put one foot over. Now the next. Now the next. Do this in hand for a horse that needs to learn patience in taking one step forward at the time. ("Step up" is one of the most useful things I've ever taught Tristan, who is a reluctant trailer loader at the best of times.) Do this under saddle for a horse who fumbles his way into and out of square halts.
- Put it on a circle, wherever you want. Ride a circle that hits the inside of the pole; then the middle; then the edge. That's roughly 10m, 15m, and 20m. (If you want to be extra precise, you can measure this out.)
- Ride circles around the pole: make two edges of the circle touch the ends of the pole. Do tiny, tight, figure 8s over the pole. Do longer but steeper figure 8s.

Use it as a quick tune up
- Put it anywhere in the ring, and use it as a diagnostic. How's your rhythm? How's your seat? Does your horse need to be pushed, or kept steady? Did you almost get bounced out of the saddle? Did nothing change?
- Not for everyone, but: is your horse refusing to listen? Send him over the pole. If he's more focused on resisting you than his own feet, he'll have something to pay attention to pretty quick. (Note: don't try this one with a horse that's truly acting up or truly oblivious; horses can still fall from just one pole.) But a horse that just needs an outside reminder real quick? It can be a great teaching moment.
- Put the pole back while leading your horse, OR ground tie your horse while putting the pole away. Both are important skills to learn and can and should be reinforced at every possible opportunity.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

House Post: Spring Cleaning

Now that it's officially summer, I thought I'd review my spring cleaning list. I still have some items to clear up, but I've done pretty well so far.

- empty garage of all trash
- cut up shelving unit
- get garden bed ready for planting
- clean gutters
- organize linen closet
- clean dryer vent
- wash all window sills
- put together 1 bag of cloths to donate
- swap out winter clothes for spring/summer clothes
- polish bedroom floor
- clean out pantry
- tidy laundry area
- clean all ceiling fans
- switch over ceiling fan directions
- clean kitchen cabinets
- wash & pack away winter coats
- wash & iron all curtains

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

Blog Links

Meet Arya from The Feral Red Horse
Obviously I'm biased in favor of the name, but this is a lovely mare and I'm excited to see where she goes.

OTTBS for Science from 'Fraidy Cat Eventing
I can't be the only one who always wants to put an exclamation point after science!, right?

Um, anyway. This is a super cool project and I can't wait to hear results.

Barn Dogs from The Owls Approve
I have more or less given up on making my own dog a barn dog but I live in hope, and in the meantime avidly read posts like this one, about the process of making barn dogs.

Into the land of shiny big belt buckles: PONY'TUDE goes Western from PONY'TUDE
This is a foreign country to me and I am baffled and fascinated.

Four from Pony Express
This post makes me think simultaneously "this is so cool! it's so much fun to see horses grow up to be awesome" and also "fuck, I'm old."

Resistol RideSafe Helmet Review & Giveaway from Saddle Seeks Horse
It's about time the Western disciplines started getting helmet-savvy. I hope this takes off.

Big Star Offspring @ Bolesworth from Equestrian at Hart
I always enjoy breeding tracking posts like this because it's a world I know nothing about. I've known some very fancily-bred horses but my own is obviously a bargain basement mutt.

2017 Show Gear from The $900 Facebook Pony
The subtitle of this weekly blog roundup might as well be "no gear post left unlinked."

5 Things I've Learned Owning a Small Farm from Hand Gallop
I know the work is neverending, but this is still the dream.

Reconsidering Pentosan from Zen and the Art of Baby Horse Management
I've had Tristan on Pentosan for a few years with good results, and this is a good research roundup & review of the thought process of starting Pentosan.

Costs of keeping horses at home vs. boarding horses from Hand Gallop
I love this kind of granular detail. It really makes me want horses at home now.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Book Review: Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Velma Johnston

Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Velma Johnston
by David Cruise & Alison Griffiths

If you've read Marguerite Henry's Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West, then you have some passing familiarity with the story of the American mustangs and with Velma Johnston, the Nevadan housewife who made it her personal crusade to save them.

If that's all you've read about the preservation battle behind the mustang, then you've only got a quarter of the story. This book is a superb way to get the rest of it.

Velma Johnston was born in small-town Reno, Nevada. Stricken with polio at an early age, she grew up solitary, smart, and driven. She spent her entire life in pain from post-polio syndrome and facing a world that judged her harshly for the hunched back and misshapen face that polio left behind.

One of the biggest strengths of this book is its unflinching, compassionate look into Velma's life, achieved through a deep dive into her personal papers - tens of thousands of pages of letters, primarily. The Velma you get to know through this book would have initially said she was happiest as a successful executive secretary to the owner of a real estate business and a ranch wife.

The trajectory of her life changed when she followed a truck dripping blood to discover that it was full of badly injured and dying mustangs. She and her husband Charlie were gradually drawn into a life of activism as they started finding and releasing mustangs that had been rounded up for dog food, then networking to stop roundups before they started. Soon, Velma was the central figure in a widening campaign to ban mustang roundups by airplane.

The book doesn't shy away from the cruelties inflicted on mustangs, and it does a good job of dispassionately presenting the various arguments for and against the mustang. It's perhaps a bit light on the history of the mustangs (a little more time spent on parsing the difference between "wild" and "feral," and the different emotional weights to each, would have given context to one of the main points of disagreement between mustang activists and cattle men), but gives a pretty decent overview of the ecological challenges of the Western ranges.

As someone who knew the broad outlines of the story, I found this telling of it to be superb. It was tightly and engagingly written, well-researched, and had a strong narrative and tight focus on Velma herself. Nor did it shy away from Velma's failings and character flaws, particularly in her dealings with photographer Gus Bundy and then in her relationship with Marguerite Henry (which began warmly but grew overly emotional and difficult). The section dealing with Henry was actually one of the best in the book, since it allowed both for a grounding of the broader story and for a reflection on Velma's life and character.

While it presents both sides fairly, the book can probably be said to have a point of view that is pro-mustang. The Bureau of Land Management doesn't come off terribly well, though all of the most damning material is simple statements of fact and quotes from BLM officials. (The authors acknowledge this in a note at the end.)

University of Reno - Nevada, Special Collections
Ultimately, the last chapter after Velma's death is the most unsatisfying; she passed away just in the midst of the architecture of wild horse management as we know it today, with its inherent contradictions and fatal flaws. It's especially depressing because she fought for a comprehensive scientific range management from the start, and never saw that urgently needed piece of the puzzle realized. Without thoughtful, objective study, it was inevitable that we get to the place we are now, where no one can even agree on the number of mustangs in the West, much less how they actually use the range and how to effectively balance the needs of the flora and fauna.

In that last chapter, Cruise & Griffiths bring the fight quickly up to date and touch on the process of adoption and the regular Congressional attempts to round up mustangs for slaughter again. They also point out how deeply unsatisfying Velma herself would've found the holding pen system, in which thousands of mustangs are rounded up and simply transferred from the range and pastured on private land, paid for by tax dollars.

Despite its muddy ending, this is a really terrific book. I'm very picky about my narrative nonfiction: the writing has to be good, the interpretation deft, and the research solid. This ticks all of those boxes. I generally have even less patients for topics I already have a background in, but this holds up to that test as well. I genuinely couldn't put it down.

If you're looking for a thoughtful read about horses and history, I strongly recommend this. If you want to understand more about mustangs and how we've reached this point in our national discourse about them, it's essential reading.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

House Post: Basement Insulation!

This is a project that has been looming pretty much since the day we bought the house. It's also a HUGE step forward in building out our garage. I'm super excited it finally is done, though it is far from the sexiest or most exciting project we've done.

Essentially, we got 6" of spray foam insulation in one garage & underneath the future man cave, and 1" of air-sealing insulation in one garage & the root cellar.

The 6" of insulation will serve as both an air barrier and as proper insulation. The 1" will be our vapor & air barrier to prevent moisture from migrating up to the sealed off house above as well as providing an extra level of air sealing to keep nasty things like carbon monoxide from the cars from getting into our living room.

I've agonized for months, maybe even years, over just how to structure this so that it meets our needs, gets us the best results for keeping the house warm in the winter, and doesn't bankrupt us. The original attic insulation project was $12,000, done with money leftover from the purchase. For this project, we got an extremely low-interest loan designed specifically for energy efficiency projects and our projected cost is $4,000.

I'm thrilled so far. We're one huge step closer to completing the garage, and we've made a huge dent in the overall comfort level of the house in winter.



The downside: remember all that basement organization I was so proud of? Well...we had to move everything out of the other rooms so they didn't get foam dripped on them, and...


I'm not too upset: a big part of the reorganization was making sure everything had its right place, and now the work will just be in putting things back. Time-consuming, but not nearly as onerous as organizing in the first place.