Thursday, October 31, 2013

Noted: Legend

At least partially for my own purposes:

Tris got his botulism vaccine and his Legend shot today. He had yesterday off (scheduled, originally to accommodate the vaccine in case he was stiff) and today as well (unscheduled, after hearing the vaccine had been delayed).

Let the obsessive observation commence!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


We interrupt this blog's regularly scheduled posting to say WHOOOOOOO.

I have found my trailer registration!

*flop of relief*

Backstory: when I moved to Vermont, I parked my trailer and figured, I'll re-register it in the spring. And lo, it was promptly snowed in, and I have a rear wheel drive truck that does not go anywhere in the winter.

And then in the spring Tristan's surgery happened and nothing else entered my brain for many months.

And then in the late summer I thought, hm, I'll get that trailer registered and we can start to think about hauling out for all sorts of fun things.

The trailer in question, getting some tune up
work soon after I bought it.
But there was one problem: my trailer registration had completely vanished. It was not in any of the logical places. It was not in any of the borderline illogical places. Gone in thin air.

I don't know if you've gotten this sense, but: I am of the neurotically organized stripe. Those tendencies triple when related at all to Tristan. So I was simultaneously deeply confused and freaking out. I could put my hands on every single repair bill I'd ever had, every receipt for every US Rider subscription, you name it - I had documentation. Except for the registration. And I was dreading the process of ordering a copy of the registration, and then it was clear we weren't going anywhere this fall, so I held off and decided not to worry about it yet.

But tonight, I settled in to do some organizing in my study, filing some things that had piled up a bit and doing at least some cursory reading of professional journals, and I pulled out the folder behind my trailer's folder in my filing cabinet. And lo and behold, there was the trailer registration! It had been stuck in there accidentally. I was so good about filing it away when I took the trailer off the road - maybe a little too good.


Tomorrow: to the DMV, and then next week please God let the snow hold off just long enough for me to get it inspected. And while I'm wishing for things, after a $1k month of car repairs, I'd really appreciate a minimum of trailer expenses, so nothing major wrong, ok? Ok.

Winter Gear: Experimentation

As far as I'm concerned at least one or two pieces of my winter gear need tweaking each year. Here are a few things I'm experimenting with right now, or will be experimenting with soon.

Part 3: Experimentation

Quarter Sheet

I'm honestly not entirely sure why I am feeling like I want to experiment with a quarter sheet this year. Maybe because it's been almost five years since we've lived somewhere with true winter weather. Maybe it's that this winter will be about legging up. Maybe it's that I really want to commit to more hacking this year - which will mean more time in exposed weather.

Either way: I'll start the experimentation with some borrowed sheets from the barn, and if all goes well I'll be pondering something like this Amigo sheet from Smartpak, that I have my eye on. Ideally, I want something waterproof on the top, so he can have an extra layer if it's snowing.

Cashel Cozy Toes 

I'm not sure I would be experimenting with these if I hadn't bought some on a whim several years ago. After a long hack on Friday left my toes completely numb, I pulled these out of storage and for today's hack put them on my jumping saddle, which is my trail riding/hacking saddle. So far so good. It was quite windy today and my feet were fine on a longer ride than on Saturday. On the other hand - I was also wearing better socks and my winter boots, so any improvement might be due to them instead.
Here's what they look like on the saddle.

They were easy to put on, and I didn't even notice they were there once I was riding. I couldn't run my stirrups up like I usually do when I was done, but that's not the end of the world. I will leave them on and try to evaluate their effectiveness over the longterm.

Darn Tough Socks

I know, I know, I just got done writing a love letter to Smartwool. But these are a) local, b) reportedly just as warm and c) come with a lifetime guarantee. No matter how much I baby them, my Smartwool socks wear through in a far shorter time period than $20 socks ought to. So I'll be investing in a pair of these next month and testing them out.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Winter Gear: Barn Chores

In Part 1, I covered a few items that have worked well for me while actually riding my horse. Today, I've got a few tips for the rest of the time, ie barn chores and before getting on.

My biggest tip here is that in chore clothes and gear you can be much bulkier and hence much warmer than when riding. I therefore wait until the last possible minute to transition from barn clothes to riding clothes, and I do it in a warm space. Often, I bring down my helmet, riding gloves, and riding boots to the heated part of the tack room and leave them there, then leave him in the crossties to go change into my riding stuff, then get right on.

Part 2: Barn Chores

Women's Wildcat Boots from L.L. Bean: The first thing you should know about my love affair with L. L. Bean is that half my family is from Maine, and L. L. Bean has played a major part in every family Christmas as long as I can remember, even if it's just re-wrapping an old box and thus getting everyone all out of proportion excited before they actually open the box. I love, love, love L. L. Bean.

Ahem. Anyway. These boots, you guys. They are the very, very best. In fact, these are not actually my barn boots; I wear a lesser knock off of these boots every day. These are my shoveling the driveway, walking to work boots. These boots kept my feet warm in -18 on my walk to work. True story. As soon as they are no longer publicly acceptable they will be my new barn boots. They are warm, comfortable, sturdy, and they are backed up by that glorious L. L. Bean guarantee. Lose one in the mud? Pop off a rivet? Gash it open on a stall door? No worries. Send 'em back and they'll replace them with brand new ones.

Smartwool: Yep, here too. Usually wear regular socks, then Smartwool ski socks over them, and wear them for both barn chores and riding. The key for barn chores even more than riding is to have the long, knee-high, extra padded ski socks, because if there's a sensation worse than cold snow down inside your boot and against your bare leg, then I can't think of it right now.

Flannel and Fleece Lined Jeans from L. L. Bean: See above re L. L. Bean. Then go buy these jeans. I will warn you: they fit like your grandmother's jeans. They don't have a ton of give and they are not fashionable. But those factors are far, far outweighed by the fact that these are the warmest and most durable jeans you will ever own. I promise. I usually start off the season in the flannel lined and in the depths of January transition to the fleece lined. Sizing tip: they run small, and if you have any height to you at all I'd recommend getting the Medium Tall or Tall. (I'm 5'9" and not especially leggy for my height, and I need the Medium Tall.)

Gloves: again, this is a hole in my gear. I usually wear mittens over gloves if I'm actually doing chores, not tacking up, but I have no special brand, just some leftovers from skiing days.

Neck Warmer: Same as riding.

Hat: No special recommendation here. I usually wear one I like, which means I'm alternating between my Middlebury ski hat and my Old Sturbridge Village wool hat. The key here is to wear one, because a significant percentage of the body's heat escapes through the head, and to make sure it goes down over your ears. (Also, to remember to remove it and put your helmet on. Don't be like me and get halfway down the aisle every time before realizing that thing on your head is too warm to be a helmet.)

Part 3 next: Experimentation, with a few things I'm adding in to the mix this year but am not yet sold on.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Winter Gear: Riding

There are some great guides out there to winter riding and winter barn chores - see also Cob Jockey's excellent product reviews - but I thought I'd go over what works for me. All of my horse-owning years have been in New England, and half of them in Vermont, so I know from cold weather horsekeeping.

For reference: my rule of thumb is that I will school down to 15 degrees, and will sometimes go out and just walk around bareback from 10-15 degrees. Colder than that (and we had three straight days last year of below 0 temperatures) and I will go out to check on him if I'm feeling very motivated but mostly I am holed up at home under blankets.

Part 1: Riding

Devon-Aire Power Stretch Full Seat Breeches - Love, love, love. I've had other winter breeches, but too often they feel more like wearing diapers than wearing insulated breeches. (These Tuff Riders are a particularly bad offender.) These are warm, flexible, and relatively sturdy: they've held up pretty darn well for several years now. They are also the only full seat breeches I wear on a regular basis, for whatever reason.

Not my boots, but very similar to them - Ariat Brossards
Ariat Winter Tall Boots - My much-beloved winter tall boots are no longer made by Ariat; the year after I bought them, they updated the line. They are closest to the Ariat Brossards: somewhere between a "true" tall boot and an insulated barn boot. They are warm and comfy and not too thick and my only, only complaint is that they are pull-ons and the only way to pull them up is by the velcro tabs at the top and I am perpetually terrified that I will break the tab.

Smartwool - I don't leave the house in the winter without something from Smartwool. Most often it's socks - over the years I've invested a small fortune in work and casual and ski socks and I am fanatical about taking care of them. I have a few other things and this year I'm planning on some underlayer investment as well.

Turtle Fur Neck Warmer - Actually, I lost this a year ago but until then it was an absolutely required part of my winter gear. Makes a huge difference, especially when moving at speed while riding. This is on the top of my list of things to replace this year before it starts to get really cold.

Down Ski Jacket - Haven't the foggiest what brand it is, but I retired my ski jacket to be my barn/riding jacket when I retired from skiing. (I am really, really bad at skiing and after messing my my right knee in a fall a few years ago, I decided that if I was going to wreck my body I'd rather do it riding than skiing.) The key here is the down: it keeps the jacket light and comfortable and warm.

Here's where I admit the major hole in my winter riding gear: gloves. I have these SSG Winter Training Gloves but I'm just not wild about them. I need to re-examine and update this soon. For now, I'm getting by with those and some other fleece ones, but pretty soon they won't cut it anymore.

Part 2: Barn Chores coming tomorrow.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Super Ponies

I didn't take this picture, but I was standing at this exact spot.
It's funny how some famous horses work their way into your heart. Some, I've watched go live; some, I've only seen on video or from photos. I've met a few famous ones but never laid hands on them and certainly never ridden them.

I saw Karen O'Connor ride Theodore O'Connor around the Rolex cross-country course in 2007. I watched them leave the start box, I saw them fly around the course, and I saw them come home across the finish line. I'd always liked Teddy in the abstract, Karen O'Connor has long been one my favorite riders, but that day I fell completely utterly, head over heels in love with that pony.

I can still remember her jumping off him and into David O'Connor's arms, cheering and crying and oh, I cried like a baby watching. I tear up now just thinking about it.

I can also still remember where I was when I heard that he had been put down, and how utterly gutted I felt. I cried and cried again. I'd never even officially met him, and I was devastated.

That was five years ago, believe it or not, and even today, a passing reference to Theodore O'Connor in this Eventing Nation blog post has me fighting back tears.

Horses. How do they do that?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

State of the foot

As I mentioned, Tris is finally wearing normal shoes! Here's pictorial evidence:

For comparison, here's what that same foot looked like just about a year ago:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Winter is coming

First things first: I've often said that my barn, which is at a higher elevation than most of the other places in my life, has its own weather patterns. Last night that proved true: I left work and drove up and up and up...and at a certain point, the cold rain solidified and turned white, and I stared in disbelief for a few minutes before swearing.

Luckily, none of it stuck. But winter is well and truly on its way: all the trees are naked, it's below freezing every night even in the valley, and this weekend we're putting in storm windows and sealing everything off under plastic.

Tris is going well. We had a good intense ride on Wednesday, and when I got off he was sweaty through his fuzzy winter coat. Whoops. So, 45 minutes of cooling out and drying (walking, swapping coolers) for 35 minutes of riding. It's been a very long time since he's been sweaty like that through his winter coat. Hopefully he'll go back to his usual self soon, because I really do not want to play the clipping and blanketing game.

His most exciting news now is that also on Wednesday the farrier did his feet - and he's back in normal steel shoes! Hooray! The notch in his toe is small enough that it looks like a bad chip, and the farrier left the epoxy out entirely. By the end of the winter the foot will look practically normal - it'll still have some of the bulge from growing out but that will only be visible on close inspection.

Next week, he'll get his flu/rhino booster, and they're vaccinating the whole barn for botulism - which I did not know you could do! It's precautionary, since they're going to put a lot of the horses on round bales in pasture this winter, and apparently it has a million boosters but round 1 is next week. He'll get his Legend shot at the same time and we'll see where we are.

Last but not least, he's starting to add weight again. He dropped a fair bit in the summer to fall changeover, and he was looking downright ribby for a little while, so we upped his hay, switched him to senior grain, and upped his grain in general, all in slow stages. The idea was not to just fling calories at him but to do it in small increments and find a leveling off, since he's usually such an easy keeper. It was worrying quite a lot for a while but we are definitely on the right track now.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Still Swimming

As I predicted, Tris was 100% sound on Friday, both to my eyes and to a few more experienced people. I saddled up and we did about 20 minutes of forward and supple work, ending with some nice moments in the canter. Nothing like the sustained work we get during lessons, but I felt good about the way I planned out and then executed the work.

I did have some back-and-forth with the vet, and she'll do a Legend shot next time she's at the barn. We'll see what impact that makes, if any. (I hope for some, at least.)

Sunday, Tris met my brother & his fiancee's dog, a very large German Shepherd who doesn't always have the best social skills. Thankfully, Tris is wonderful with dogs, and grazed happily and calmly while the dog's brain caved in and he crawled forward on his belly several times to say hi and sniff Tristan's face or leg. Tris didn't budge or react one bit to the crawling and the sniffing, but the dog escalated a bit to trying to play bitey-face and Tris yanked his face out of the way for that, though didn't retaliate one bit. He's the best. We followed that up with a longer bareback hack.

Monday, I had an early staff meeting on my day off, followed by several hours of work at the barn doing stalls, fixing fence, and bringing horses in and out. The main field we fixed held mom & baby and if there's anything more uplifting or adorable than having a 5 month old filly cavorting around you and nosing your pockets and picking up your tools and buckets, I don't know what it is. (She is very clever and very brave, though also very appropriate and learned what she wasn't allowed to do very quickly.)

Unfortunately, I was so tired and had so much else to do after that that I went straight home without riding to get my afternoon chores accomplished - and was still so late in getting dinner ready that we didn't eat until 8pm. Domestic fail.

Friday, October 18, 2013


I've been feeling lately like I can't get any momentum with my riding or my horsemanship in general. Maybe this is just how my life will be right now. Maybe I need to scale back and accept that riding semi-competitively is not going to happen for me, with this horse, at this time in my life. My job is busy, stressful, and time-consuming. My horse is aging and not always eager.

Last night, after two days off due to working late, I pulled him out of the stall, tacked him up, and two minutes into our walk warmup he took a funny step and went immediately lame. I tried walking him out of it for a bit under saddle but he felt awful. I felt every single inch of both hind legs multiple times, palpated, walked and trotted him off in hand, and determined that he was off in his right hind: toe-dragging, swinging the leg to the outside, not wild about moving out, and resting it when standing.

Tried for a few minutes to walk him through it but he was uninterested, so I untacked and put him back. He was standing square-ish in his stall again and still no signs of heat or swelling or anything.

He did something like this once before, a few months ago. He worked out of it fine the next day. But after two days off, feeling the energy from my lessons with the trainer recently, I was ready to get some work done, to do a conditioning ride and build some topline and some fitness. Not to be.

I was borderline hysterical for a little while, actually, chasing my thoughts down into rabbit holes: was this something serious? is this the beginning of the end? should I retire him to be a trail horse? should I straight up retire him?

I got by with a little help from my friends, and a multigrain roll and wedge of sheep cheese from the coop, and today I am feeling resigned. Barn manager is aware and did not report that he was falling down lame out of his stall, so tonight I will go with the possibility of longeing, then hacking him out. We'll see.

But I still can't shake the thought that it might be time - if not to retire him, then to re-evaluate what I want to get out of riding him - and what would make and keep HIM happy and healthy.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Horses & People

While I've never quite bought into the "having a dog is like having a baby!" fallacy, I do often think that horses can be compared to toddlers. This recent blog post, listing the ways in which dogs are not babies, seems to underline that theory.

The author lists these reasons that dogs are easier than babies:

•    You can keep them in the car by themselves on a brisk fall day when running errands.
•    You don’t have to worry about them when you’re at work.
•    You don’t have to entertain them or worry whether they’re keeping up with their peer groups.
•    They produce practically zero laundry.
•    You don’t have to keep your phone on vibrate in case daycare calls with an emergency.

Yeah, all of those things are false for horses. Worrying, check. Keeping up, check. Laundry, check. Cell phone on vibrate, so very check. (Is there anything worse than a call from the barn in the middle of the day? Do any barn managers NOT start every conversation with "Your horse is okay! Here's another thing I needed to ask you about"?)

The major advantage to horses, of course, is that when you work late you don't have to check on them, or go pick them up from daycare. If you're me, you feel massively guilty and lazy, but 9 times out of 10 Tristan is much happier if I don't come out to ride.

Monday, October 14, 2013


We went hiking yesterday, and a few miles of up and down in the woods later realized that we were not going to reach the summit of the mountain as we had intended: the trails were poorly marked, confusing, and boot-suckingly muddy. So we picked a nice spot and had a snack and then hiked back down.

On the way down, I put a foot on a mossy log and whomp, flat out in the mud and on top of the log. Mostly fine - a bit banged up - except for the abrasion burn/impact point square on my ass that broke through the skin and turned lovely colors.

I was a bit stiff and sore for chores this morning, but mostly fine and warmed up out of it, until I sat on my horse. And discovered that ow, my seatbones are not ok after all. So we had a relatively short ride, most if it focused on FORWARD, DAMN IT, HORSE.

Not thrilled with our unsupervised canter, but some of the trot work ended up rather nice and we were certainly going forward by the end of it.

Now, to sit on soft things and crochet and wait for the crockpot potato soup to finish.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


After our hack last night, we galloped up the hayfield hill. I've been using the hill as a fitness measure, and last night he was still pulling hard at the top. Good boy!

He was excited and happy enough to jig all the way back to the barn, and as we were passing the outdoor there was one tiny cross rail set up, and, well, I gave in to temptation.

He jumped it neatly, out of a lovely bouncy canter stride.

Good. Boy.

Ahhhh Vermont

Scenes from a Friday night hack after a stressful work week.

Friday, October 11, 2013


Last night, Tris had a massage scheduled (or re-scheduled, I should say, as it was meant to happen on the day his hives blew up, but thankfully that is in the past). My friend was running a bit late so I groomed him and then took the opportunity to wander into the ring to watch a lesson.

I've always loved sitting and watching lessons when I have some downtime, whether it's friends, strangers, or the trainer him/herself. It's a good bonding experience with others who are watching and I always come away feeling inspired by something I've seen.

Last night was a doozy. R. was giving a local eventing trainer a lesson in flying changes on one of her schoolmasters, a beautiful gray Lusitano who has been there, done that, and whose specialty is the freestyle. He's a wonderful, kind soul that everyone adores.

Watching R. teach the trainer - who will be clinicing at the barn over the winter while she's in Florida, and is my pick to re-start Tris and I over fences - was absolutely amazing. He is already an extraordinary rider, and watching him adapt his talents to a much higher dressage level than he was used to was amazing. R. walked him through Otelo's gaits and had him collecting from his seat and then turned them loose to try a few single flying changes down the diagonal.

I'd never seen a lesson in flying changes before, not the dressage ones anyway, and watching her work him through the singles, then up to two tempis and critique the quality of each one and the way he rode them was breathtaking.

I don't know if Tris will ever have a flying change, not from the aids anyway (he pops them sometimes when jumping or galloping), but watching the preparation to get there - the collection, the rocking back, the lift in front of the withers, the core strength and stillness to create a space to communicate: all of that will stay with me for a long time.

(Tris's massage went well, he is feeling great all over save for some small tightness in his right shoulder but that has been slowly decreasing over the months and will hopefully disappear entirely when his foot finishes growing out.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lesson Notes

I had the last of my boot camp lessons tonight; three lessons in 7 days, and probably the most progress I've ever seen in myself and my horse over the course of three lessons. I'm trying not to be too sad that the trainer is leaving for Florida because that gives me a whole winter to do my homework and take checkup lessons with the barn's other trainers and then kick butt in the spring.

Key takeaways from last night:

- Get him straight and forward first and before all else. I was trying to supple too early, and following some previous training advice which said to get him overbent and kick him on through that. R. compared this to a kink in a hose: if he's overbent all that forward I'm asking for gets stuck. Better to start with a straight horse and then channel that.

- When he flings his head skyward when I apply leg, don't get suckered into fighting with him about that. Give the reins so he doesn't have anything to brace against and KICK. Kick him until he's very very forward and then praise him and go back to a gentler aid. So putting my leg on in the trot resulted in a head flipping, I refused to take the bait and booted him into a good rollicking canter, nearly a hand gallop, patted him, and only once the forward gear had been established did I take him back to the trot. Repeat as necessary.

- In picking up canter leads, I need to pay more attention to his shoulders. If he's overbent to the inside, his shoulders are pointed to the outside and I'm just inviting him to pick up the wrong lead. Similarly, don't drag down on the inside rein through the transition.

- Seriously need to work on elastic arms and shoulders. That's the key to a more consistent contact and more even way of going.

- FORWARD. We have made big strides in this department but I need to stay on task and not settle for "more forward than last time" but really truly establish where he needs to be.

We did make the switch in his bitting arrangement. He's going in a thinner bit with a football shaped lozenge in the French link rather than a flat piece, the bit was raised two holes, and we've added the flash back onto his bridle. Overall he's much more consistent and happy in it.

He'll get a well-deserved night off tonight. I'll start banking barn time again and probably check in with a lesson at the end of October, but we have lots to work on in the meantime.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Never ending laundry

That moment when you realize that night check missed your note to take your horse's cooler off...and he wore it all night...and there is a massive manure stain down the shoulder of the cooler you just washed two days ago.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lesson Boot Camp

Trainer is leaving for Florida in a week and a half, so I am hustling to use up my credits before she goes.

Last night, we had our first lesson in about six weeks, due to my work schedule and her clinic schedule and sundry other things. We focused on getting a couple simple things down and then my homework is to translate them throughout my ride.

First up: bending. We worked out a few simple exercises to start in the halt then carry through walk, trot, and canter to get him more supple R and L. He's never been the most laterally supple horse, and he lost any trace of what he once had during his time off, so this was really good for both of us.

Next, some pieces of my position. In particular, my hands. I need a stronger contact and need to focus on using my shoulders and elbows more to encourage elasticity rather than just heavy. I need to keep the reins shorter than I have been. (Always a problem for me...) I also need to keep my hands quieter (something I've been working on). I had been backing off on that because one of our bad feedback loops is to get harder and harder against each other, and I've been erring too far on the side of a soft contact, to the point that it was inconsistent.

Last but not least we worked on the canter: bending and encouraging a bit of round. We had some really, REALLY nice moments in the canter, when he would give a little to the inside and then I'd add in outside rein to keep him on a consistent circle and all of a sudden his hind legs would connect. There was a moment or two when he felt like riding a bouncy ball in comparison to his usual strung out canter. For the first time in a very long time there were also a few strides where he felt on the edge of control, like he was letting out all that energy we'd just accessed by going FAST. It took me so much by surprise that slowing him down didn't enter into my mind and we had a few good rides down some long sides before I realized that my horse, my lazy behind-the-leg horse was going too fast.

After the mechanics and riding exercises, we also talked a bit about tack. She opened up Tristan's mouth and suggested trying some different bits, with two main goals in mind: something thinner and something with more of a peanut shape than the French link he's got right now. He has a low palate and a small-ish mouth so the thickness of the bit wasn't as kind as it typically is; it was hard for him to really get his mouth closed and accept it. I knew he had a low-ish palate, hence the French link instead of a regular snaffle (which he def. doesn't like) but as she showed me his mouth and we looked at the way the bit was moving together the thickness made sense, too. A different shape to the middle link (right now it's a flat piece) will also provide a gentler bend.

Overall she praised both my seat and my general instincts - often when he had a breakthrough we both said "Good!" at the same time. My hope is always that I'm a good student - that I respond quickly, effectively, and am thoughtful about the questions I ask and the conversations I have - and I feel like our communication was good. I'd ride with her twice a week, every week, if I could, but I can't work that many hours at the barn on top of my regular job, alas.

Final note: it was such a gorgeous day that we rode on top of the hill in the jumping ring, and used a headset. I kind of loved it. Having her voice in my ear without straining to listen meant that I could react quickly, go further in the ring, and have near-constant feedback on what I was doing, which I really needed last night.

We worked hard for the full hour, and Tristan was foamy with sweat through his winter coat, so he got a long rinse and a cooler to go back in his stall, where he was clearly a bit weary.

He'll get tonight off to rest as I stay late at work to catch up, and then we have another lesson on Thursday, whew!