Friday, January 31, 2014

Book Review: Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West

Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West
by Deanne Stillman
(available on Amazon)

First things first: this was not the book I thought it was. I picked it up out of curiosity - it had quite a few accolades on the cover, was by a talented writer, and in all honesty I began it with a sinking heart. For some years now, I have had in mind the project of researching and writing a book about the place the mustang holds in the American imagination.

This was not that book. This was not even close to that book. In fact? This was not really a book about mustangs at all, save for perhaps the last 1/4 of it.

That's not to say it was a bad book, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was quite a good book: well-written, thoughtful, far-ranging, and a good read. Here was my biggest problem: this book made no attempt to define or distinguish the "mustang," which is to say the distinctly wild (or feral) horse that lives without human interaction or mediation in the American west.

Stillman's title and subtitle imply that she will write a history of those horses. That's not what she did. Instead, this book is more accurately a history of the horse in general in the American west. Which is fine! She does a nice light nonfiction job of that, telling stories about the horses belonging to early conquistadors, about cavalry horses, about cow ponies and cattle drives, about the horses in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, about movie horses. She clearly (despite her personal history) doesn't know a whole lot about horses, but she does know a whole lot about people, and does a really nice job in telling her stories.

So while I spent the first 3/4 of the book annoyed at her lack of distinction (mustang != any horse out west != free-roaming stock horses != any horse that she has decided fits a certain physical type), when I forced myself to step back and think "this is really about horses as companions in creating the history of the west" I liked the book much much better.

And then when she spends the last 1/4 actually talking about mustangs, actually parsing out the history of the wild/feral horses in the west in the mid to latter part of the 20th century? She does a really good job. Instead of an enjoyable but not gripping read it became a gripping and depressing and involved read. I couldn't put down the last 80 pages. It took me 2 weeks to read the first 240.

And in the end? I'm glad she didn't write the book I wanted to write, because that means it's still out there for me to tackle.

Longeing after a few days off

The cold snap has broken here in the great white north. Yesterday, it was up to 20F. Today, it will go up to 30F. I haven't even buttoned up my winter work coat or worn gloves in the last two days. Our furnace is occasionally turning off and not working overtime in a desperate attempt to keep the apartment marginally warm. It's amazing.

Last night, I headed to the barn. I'd spent all day thinking about what kind of ride I wanted to plan after a week and a half off. Sure, he'd walked around for about 45 minutes on Monday, but he hadn't had any proper work in 10 days.

The more I thought about that, the more I re-thought the idea of riding at all. I decided to longe. As it turned out: good decision!

I started with a good hard curry all over to loosen his muscles and dig in to his coat, since I hadn't been grooming him much in his time off either - the barn picks his feet out 2-3x a day so I knew he wasn't exactly suffering, plus I felt bad pulling his blanket just to groom him for 10 minutes. (There's no logic there, I know.)

Then I put on his surcingle and the chambon, twisted the reins of his bridle up into the cheekpiece to get them out of the way, and we headed into the ring. Almost immediately, I was very glad I had longed! He was a bit keyed up and antsy while I was attaching the longe line, but I attributed that to the fact that I'd pulled him from his stall just as the other horses were getting their grain, the poor baby.

I sent him out on the longe line, and before I even had time to bring up the whip to point at his hindquarters, he exploded. Buck, fart, crowhop, take off, you name it. Two whole circles around me! I know, some of you with very "up" horses are laughing at me right now but this is Tristan. Any bucking exuberance is extraordinary. I have to admit when he first took off I was laughing too hard to really pull him back, but he eased up nicely when I asked him too.

He was clearly a bit stiff all around, and I was glad both that I'd grabbed the chambon and that I was longeing. He clearly relaxed and came through bit by bit through the whole session, which lasted about 25 minutes. He still had some energy at the end, but I hadn't been looking to burn energy, just to loosen him up, and he was coming through quite beautifully in both directions at the walk and the trot. He even made some attempts to stretch in the canter, something we've been working on a lot.

He was generally saucy through the whole session, and would occasionally stop and turn in. When I sent him back out in the direction I wanted him he would snort and let fly with his back feet and prance around a few strides before settling in. Nothing really naughty, more playful and just a touch uncooperative and spunky.

Tonight, I'll get back on him and do a more thorough ride, probably incorporating poles.

In a horsekeeping note, after a three-round botulism vaccine (!), all the barn horses are now on round bales. Tris is very, very happy. The barn manager mentioned that she was a teensy bit worried about Tris - thought he looked a little bloated when he came in - but he laid down and took a nap and then pooped a lot. So...just a pig.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Equine Nutrition on Coursera

Thanks to those who recommended the Coursera class on "Equine Nutrition" from the University of Edinburgh. I've signed up and will start a bit late but dig right into the first week over the weekend.

I'll blog about it as I proceed and try and share a bit of what I'm learning, and whether I'm finding it useful.

Thanks to those who offered other resources as well - I'll definitely be moving on to them once I get these basics down.

Here's the syllabus for anyone who would like to join me:

Course summary 
This course will cover many aspects of equine nutrition ranging from anatomy and physiology of the gastrointestinal tract to dietary management of horses/ponies affected with nutrition-related disorders. This course is designed to provide knowledge of equine digestion and nutrition for those with an interest in this area. The anatomy and physiology of the equine alimentary canal will be studied to provide students with a detailed understanding of the equine digestive system. Nutrient sources for horses will be discussed, with emphasis placed on the health and welfare issues surrounding the inclusion of various types of feedstuffs in equine diets. Students will also discuss recommendations on rations for horses and ponies performing various activities and will be able to make recommendations on rations for horses and ponies in health and disease. 
Course learning outcomes 
The intended learning outcomes on completion of this course are that you should be able to: 
  1. Discuss the anatomy and physiology of the equine gastrointestinal tract and appraise its limitations in relation to nutrient digestion.
  1. Explain the nutrient content of feedstuffs for horses and appreciate the different methods of evaluating this. 
  1. Recognise and critically appraise nutrient sources for horses and ponies.
  1. Describe the general nutrient requirements of horses and provide general guidance on rations. 
  1. Discuss rations for horses with specific nutrition-related disorders. 
Course topics 
Course assessment 
There will be multiple choice assessments (quizzes) at the end of each week course to test the knowledge you have gained during that section. This will be graded examinations that will each contribute 20 % to your overall course mark. You have three attempts at the each of the quizzes and the best score of the three will be used for your assessment. However, you can re-take the test as much as you want to review your learning. The quizzes will remain open for the full 5 weeks that the course is running - so you can complete them when you feel ready. The pass mark for each quiz is 60 %. 
There will also be weekly quizzes to test your knowledge that are not graded, but are there to aid your learning and prepare you for the graded quizzes. If you have any questions about the assessment process please post these on to the assessment discussion board for the course tutors. Again, whilst we can't answer individual questions we can pick up on commonly asked questions and address these in a general post to everyone on the course :)  
Statment of Accomplishment 
Students successfully completing all the assessment quizzes and gaining at least 60% in each quiz will qualify for a Statement of Accomplishment.  A link to this downloadable certificate will be provided to each successful student around one week after the end of the course.  Students interested in gaining a Verified Certificate should consider signing up for Signature Track during the first two weeks of the course - follow the links at the top of this page for more information and to sign up. 

How to Identify and Read a Bureau of Land Management Freeze Brand

When I introduce people to Tristan, they always seem surprised that he's a mustang. Fortunately, he has permanent proof of his ancestry in the form of a freeze brand on his neck. All mustangs that have been rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as part of an approved gather are given a freeze brand on the left side of their neck, just below the mane and about 6-12 inches below the ears.

What is freeze branding? Many people are familiar - from the movies, if nothing else - with hot branding: heating a piece of iron and then applying it to an animal's skin. The brand burns through hair and then into skin, creating an outline of scar tissue in whatever shape is necessary: a ranch's ID, for example, or a number. In horses, the most common are breed association brands. There's a good list of them on the NetPosse website. It's not a painless process, but it is relatively quick and very common.

In freeze branding, the iron is super-frozen using liquid nitrogen, dry ice, or some other chemical coolant. When held to an animal, instead of burning through to the skin, it kills the pigment-producing part of the animal's hair, and leaves the hair white in the shape of the brand. They are slower to work - you have to hold the brand on longer to get the desired result, and they don't appear immediately, but rather as the hair grows in. It's less painful (some resources say totally painless) but trickier: because you have to hold the iron for longer, there's a chance of smudging.

In America, only range-gathered BLM mustangs have a consistent system of freeze branding. (In Australia and New Zealand, Thoroughbreds & Standardbreds are marked with freeze brands.) This is not to say that if you see a horse with a freeze brand, it's automatically a BLM mustang. Some owners choose to freeze brand their horses (usually in different locations and with a different system). Some mustangs are never freeze branded (if they were born in captivity, for example).

BLM mustangs are freeze branded on the left side of their neck, about an inch or two below the crest, and about 6" below the ears. There's no precise measurement (Tristan's is further down than 6" for sure, and I've seen some much closer than 6"), but if you see a horse with a freeze brand near the crest on the left side of their neck, you're probably looking at a BLM horse.

Every BLM freeze brand is unique. They're meant as a permanent identifier of an individual mustang. Knowing how to read them can tell you a lot about the animal you're looking at. There are three basic parts to any freeze brand. Here's a good breakdown:

"Registration Organization" in this case is always the same: US Government. That peculiar sort of LC at the beginning of this diagram is the government-specific ID. So that's another clue that you're looking at a BLM mustang. (There are ID marks for other breeds and states, by the way, but I've never seen one in person.) But what do the angles and lines mean - how are those translated into numbers?

The BLM uses something called the "International Identification System" which they all the "International Alpha Angle System." It was developed by Veterinary Cryobiologist (really!) R. Keith Farrell of Washington State University (along with a few others, such as an FBI agent and a few people from breed associations) and first published in the Journal of Forensic Science in January 1981. (Here's the abstract.) 

Basically, Professor Farrell was trying to promote an international system of identification for horses that could be registered and tracked in order to prevent crime. His argument was that commonly used identifiers such as color, whorls, chestnuts, and other markings were unscientific and imprecise. He proposed his alternate angle system as a way to get everyone on the same page. As you can guess, it hasn't really caught on widely in horse circles - have you ever seen a non-BLM horse with one? Kryo Kinetics USA LLC tries to carry on that work today, and will register your horse for you if you choose to have it freezebranded.

Anyway, enough history. What do the angles stand for? It's a very simple system.

So let's look again at the freeze brand above, this time deciphered using the angle system:

Ta-da! We're looking at a BLM mustang that was born in 1981 (the first year they began using the angle system, incidentally) with a registration number of 031987. There's one more step to learning more about this particular animal, though. The BLM assigns registration numbers according to the state the mustang was gathered from.

New Mexico
Eastern States

So, armed with that information we know we're looking at a BLM mustang that was born in 1981 and rounded up in Oregon. In theory, the BLM should also maintain a database of the horses they gather, and should be able to tell you when a particular horse was rounded up based on its registration number. In practice, good luck getting them to answer your phone calls. (I've generally found them unresponsive in the extreme.)

What does this look like on actual horses? Let's use my own wild pony as an example!

Yeah, not as easy, is it? I'll grant you that this photo doesn't help, but I'll also tell you that it's not that much easier to tell in person. In fact, since he was shipped to me, I haven't clipped down to the skin on his neck to get a good clear look at his brand. This photo was taken a few days after he arrived. You could argue that this is the best it will get. His roaning makes the numbers blur into the hair around them. Beyond maybe a flea-bitten gray horse, roans are the toughest on which to distinguish freezemarks.

The first few are easy. There's that government LC, right up front. Then the year, 95.

Then the next two are straightforward: 5 and 5. In better light, you can tell the next one, too: it's an 8.

After that? Honestly, the next two are kind of a blur to me, too. The last one is easy again: another 5.

I'll take a shortcut and tell you that his full, registered, identification number is 95558535. He was foaled in 1995, and rounded up in Nevada, per that 55 number which is smack in the middle of Nevada's range. (Some vast majority of all mustangs still wild in the west today are in Nevada, so Tris is a pretty typical example.)

That's all the freeze brand will tell you. You can, in theory, go back to the BLM and ask them for more information. If they're feeling generous they can look up more for you, like potentially the gather (or roundup) information, maybe the original title holder. Again - I've never been able to get much out of them. (I have more information on Tris that I'll share at a future date, but I have that because of the paperwork that came with him, not because of 

But this is a start. Let's look at one more freeze brand that's an easier read. (Taken from a random Google Image search; I don't know this horse personally.)

Much easier, huh?

So this one: 97 year of birth, followed by 566684. Another Nevada horse.

So now you know. Google Image search for "BLM freeze brand" to your heart's content and learn about the mustangs that come up, or impress horse people at cocktail parties, or maybe put that knowledge to good use someday when someone needs to know more about a horse they're looking at.

Any questions? Anything else I can shed light on?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Recommend an equine nutrition source to me

I have to finally face facts and realize that in 2014, Tristan turns 19. He's no longer a young horse. He's not quite a senior (in my eyes, anyway), and he's always been a healthy easy keeper. But that bit of scare with weight gain in late fall/early winter has made me think harder about his nutritional needs.

I'd like to learn more. I'm scouring the internet, but I think it's time for a purposeful study.

What resources do you use to learn about nutrition? Do you have a book, a website, an online class that you've found especially useful?

I'm most interested in balancing nutritional needs for the working sporthorse, but I'd like to learn a bit of everything.

Any suggestions appreciated!

2014 Outline

Last day of subzero temps, according to the weather app! I am ready to get in more riding and less whining. (And less baking, and eating of things I bake. Yikes.)

I already wrote about my 2014 goals, but this is a more general outline with some potential dates for things - and other stuff I need to keep in the budget.


Stick to a consistent schedule; build topline & fitness; take a few lessons.


Ditto January: Stick to a consistent schedule; build topline & fitness; take a few lessons.

If all goes well, try a few jumps under saddle at the end of the month.


Spring shots & teeth. Get the trailer registered and potentially taken out to get inspected/repaired. Re-up my US Rider

Continue topline & fitness, but we should be well on our way by now: capable of a full 60 minute lesson without too much exhaustion on either part.


Start hacking regularly, whenever possible. Plan on minimum of 60 minutes out for each hack, 2x per week.

Pull shoes, if all goes well, and get back to barefoot.

Continue schooling under saddle, fine-tuning dressage. IF jumping is a go, jump 1x every two weeks minimum.

Possible events for riding or volunteering: GMHA Mud Ride (April 26-27), VT Everything Equine (April 26-27)


Get off property for trail rides 2-3x. Continue dressage. If jumping is a go, haul out for jumping lessons w/ instructor in Vergennes.

Possible events for riding or volunteering: VERDA Bare Bones Endurance Ride (May 11), Hitching Post Horse Trials (May 17-18), GMHA Spring Horse Trials (May 31-June 1)


Unfortunately I already know that most of June will be a wasteland due to a massive work event at the end of the month. The goal for this month is to keep my head above water: stick to a schedule and keep him fit.

Possible events for riding or volunteering: East Hill Farm Schooling Dressage (no dates yet), Vermont Morgan Heritage Days (June 14-15)


Work commitments ease considerably, and we should be able to pick up the pace here. If all is going really well we can turn the screws and think about the GMHA show at the end of the month, OR think about getting out and foxhunting.

Possible events for riding or volunteering: Huntington Horse Trials (July 11-12), GMHA Dressage Days (July 25-27),


Keep turning those screws, keep hauling out to jump with Vergennes trainer, keep fine-tuning the dressage. Foxhunting if possible.

Possible events for riding or volunteering: Vermont Dressage Days (August 9-10), GMHA Combined Driving Event (August 23-24), GMHA Distance Days (August 29-31)


Lots of options for getting out and about this month, depending on how we want to structure it. Do we want to do more low key stuff, or do we want to show off a bit? Some really good schooling show options if we choose to go that route.

Possible events for riding or volunteering: Eddy Farm Schooling Three Phase (no dates yet), Equestry Schooling Dressage (no dates yet), East Hill Farm Schooling Dressage (no dates yet), GMHA Fall Hunter Pace (September 7), GMHA Horse Trials (September 13-14), GMHA Fall Foliage Ride (September 26-28)


My brother is getting married early in the month, and that may basically suck all the horse joy out of the first two weeks of the month. We'll see.

Possible events for riding or volunteering: GMHA Dressage Show (October 4-5), Lucinda Green Clinic @ GMHA (October 8-9), GMHA Fall Foliage Ride (October 10-12), GMHA 50 Mile Ride (October 18)


Trainer heads back to Florida. Things start winding down here. My goal will be to head into next winter with Tristan in good weight and fitness, and to have a specific series of goals to tackle through the winter.


Winter is coming.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Back in the saddle agaaaaaain

I rode my horse!

Well, we walked around bareback for 40 minutes, but damn it, I sat on him and he went. 

I canceled my lesson on account of not being able to take a deep breath, but I forced myself to the barn, got a bridle and a quarter sheet, and kept Tris at a lively forward walk for 40 minutes. The last 10 I even picked up the reins and we had some small but accurate steps of leg yield and some thoughtful serpentines and changes of direction. Victory!

Then he got a massage. Despite having the previous week entirely off, J. was still pleased with his muscle tone and the places he's added muscle. He's clearly getting a ridge of muscle along his spine, and adding some bulk to either side of his withers. He's starting to get that butt groove in his hindquarters that shows separate ropy muscles. He's also added weight, finally. He was never what I would call worryingly thin, but I kept wanting just a touch more...and now he's pretty much there. His ribs are buried, the top of his butt has smoothed out. He'll stay on his elevated levels of grain and hay through the winter and then we'll take another look at him in the spring when the grass comes in.

Another positive (?) sign was that he was much more sore and tight than he has been, in front of his shoulders (his usual) and in his hindquarters, particularly his hamstrings. That said to both of us that he'd been in hard work before his break. Which is kind of what I wanted to hear.

We also talked a bit about how his right shoulder is consistently more tight and sore than his left shoulder. It's been 18 months since that first abscess but J. thinks at this point it's residual; there's nothing new brewing in the RF (THANK GOD) but more that it's in the "old injury" category at this point. If he were being pointed at the Olympics or WEGs, we'd be on it every day with massages and stretches and cold laser therapy, but...he's not. I'll stay on top of it in our daily work and I'll be more careful about working on it a bit before and after our rides, and we'll see where we go from here.

Then I went home and did not move from the couch for the rest of the night. Oof. Today, highs in the mid single digits; tomorrow, the forecast keeps changing. But starting Thursday, we'll be reliably double digits again, so back to work for both of us!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Still Not Spring

This has become basically the most boring horse blog of all time. I'm sorry! Last night, it was warm enough to go ride my horse...but the sideways snow and the hacking cough got the better of me so I went home instead.

Today, I have only left the couch to accompany the boyfriend to go see Frozen. Which you should go see, if only for the Fjords, they were totally adorable. (It was a good movie too. But Fjords!)

Besides, our high was 7 for the day, and the hacking cough is way worse.

Tomorrow: work on my day off, followed by a massage for Tristan, which was supposed to be preceded by a lesson. But the high is 12 and I should probably not be engaging in athletic endeavors. Potentially by Thursday the temperatures will start to crawl back up into the teens and stay there, and God willing and the crick don't rise (it can't, it's frozen) I will kick this cold.


Here, have a picture of our bucket ice pile. I know people say you should have potable water in front of your horse at all times, but those people clearly haven't lived in a place without an electrical grid that will support heated an environment in which ice forms on open water in ten or twenty minutes. They refresh the buckets constantly during the day, and swap buckets around all the time to keep the ice buildup down, but winter, it is not to be messed with.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

As Vermont Turns

Good news! It's back in the double digits and I have packed barn clothes and I miiiiiight be able to sit on my horse tonight.

Bad news! It's snowing and the wind chill is way low...and I am coming down with a nasty cold.

Please oh please, weather and/or bacteria, I just want to ride my horse, even if it's bareback around the ring for 30 minutes.

I did stop by the barn last night to kiss Tristan on the nose and commiserate with the barn manager. She's had a very long week and I reminded myself to be grateful. Cold and cranky as I was, I have an indoor job and a warm apartment and was not mucking stalls all week.

She mentioned that they will be looking for people to fill in more frequently on shifts - particularly Sundays. My regular work schedule is Tuesday - Saturday, and to be honest, I frequently am at work on Mondays as well. I've worked the last three Mondays. So committing to a regular Sunday shift at the barn would mean giving up my only reliably free day, and my only length of time with the boyfriend. It would also mean no church, and while I am not a really religious person by any stretch of the imagination, I like the people and the atmosphere.

On the other hand, regular shifts would mean regular lessons, which would make a huge difference in my work with Tristan. It would add extra exercise in to my week, which I am sorely in need of. It would mean spending time with terrific people and with my horse. I've certainly done it before, even many days a week, but I didn't love it.

I'm very torn. My first instinct with everything is to go-go-go, push harder, work harder, and go bigger. But I'm pursuing so many things right now that the smart choice might be to know when to back off - pick a few dates each month and not commit to a weekly shift.

Have you traded barn work for lessons? How do you keep your barn-life-work balance?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Evention Tv

This may not be new news to anyone who reads Eventing Nation, but I finally got around to watching a few of the Evention Tv shows and I laughed until I cried. (Thanks to Saiph's post at Wait for the Jump about finding the humor, which helped kick me out of my grumpiness about the weather and sent me to watch these.)

Here are just a few of my favorites.

They also have a variety of educational videos that are really quite well done and informative. Check them out when you're looking for something to do on these cold nights!

Movie Review: The Horse Whisperer

The Horse Whisperer (1998)
(available on Amazon to view instantly or to buy)

If you asked the average person to name a big Hollywood movie about horses, there are only a few that would come up. One of the few is The Horse Whisperer, based on the Nicholas Evans novel of the same name.

The gist of the plot is that a young girl named Grace (a very young Scarlett Johannsen!) and her horse get into a horrific accident. Both are badly injured both mentally and physically. Grace's mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) brings her and her horse, Pilgrim, to a "horse whisperer" (Robert Redford) who will try to heal them.

On one level, this is actually a pretty good movie. It's absolutely gorgeously shot, and the acting is outstanding. The emotions of all the characters are keenly portrayed and felt, and it's a good human story.

On another level? The horsemanship in this movie is absolutely batshit insane.

Let's start at the beginning. The accident that Grace and Pilgrim suffer is...realistic in the sense of if everything went exactly as wrong as it could go, it could happen. It is extremely difficult to watch, and if you're at all triggery about injuries to horses (and their riders) you wouldn't get past the first 10 minutes.

After that is where it flies off the hinges. Because, you see, Grace's mother refuses to put Pilgrim down, even though his injuries are truly awful, and everyone with actual horse experience advises her to put him down. As a horse person, it made me instantly loathe her, because everyone advising her was right: she was putting the horse through incredible amounts of suffering just so she wouldn't have to make a decision. As Pilgrim is recovering, he becomes a dangerous, unpredictable animal.

The movie then posits that the horse's recovery and Grace's recovery are linked, somehow. So they pack poor Pilgrim up and drive him cross-country to see the horse whisperer Tom (in a stock trailer that they haul from Long Island to Montana without, apparently, ever stopping to water or feed the horse...or check on it...since the idea is that no one can even touch Pilgrim, he's so crazy).

Tom then natural horsemanships the poor thing, complete with aggressive round penning and a whole lot of posturing. During the whole movie-long training & bonding sequence, no one ever apparently brushes the poor horse...or treat his wounds...or touches him until what is apparently many weeks (if not months) later. So the horse survived a really really awful accident through initial at-the-scene treatment (done by sedative) and...nothing else for many months. Sigh.

There is also a typical movie ending: Pilgrim passes through crisis after crisis but after one final crisis in which he is roped and brought down by Tom, he magically becomes precisely the horse he was before the accident. Grace rides him around the ring perfectly and everyone looking on sheds a single, crystalline tear. It is a wildly inaccurate and borderline dangerous portrayal of what natural horsemanship can accomplish, and how to behave safely around a traumatized animal.

But then again, Robert Redford looks damn fine on a horse.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Sly

I think there are horses that you love, and there are horses you fall in love with.

This is Sly, aka "Sylvester Rap," an Appendix that remains one of the most special horses I have ever encountered. By the time I met him, he had a long career behind him in nearly every discipline and was the consummate dressage schoolmaster. He had the chops and the gaits to go up to FEI level, but his heart was stronger than his body and he just couldn't stay sound.

I leased Sly for two years and he taught me more than I can say. It was after he finally went irretrievably lame that I decided to adopt Tristan. I still worked on rehabbing Sly even as I started Tristan, and in the first few months when my relationship with Tris was still rocky, it was Sly's shoulder I went to cry on.

Which is not to say that Sly could not be a mischievous, naughty, and spunky little brat. He was the horse that could buck for the joy of it - he could perform the most incredible acrobatics above ground while keeping you perfectly centered and balanced in the saddle - or he could buck to dump you. And when it was the latter, you were gone within a stride or two. End of story. He was the epitome of the push button horse whose buttons were very particular and very difficult to find.

He is unfortunately also my lesson in "better a day too early than a day too late." He was let go too late, and the memory of watching him try to canter to the gate from his corner of the pasture, eyes still bright but body clearly failing by the day, still brings me to tears.

Even all these years later, I miss him.

Lucky speaks for all of us

(this post is brought to you by the mistake I made in checking next week's weather which will be JUST AS COLD, FFS, VERMONT, ENOUGH ALREADY)

Friday afternoon it should reach the high single digits, which means I'll head out to the barn and try to do some walking, at least, with a quarter sheet. Long slow distance, right? Or at lest getting and keeping him moving.

Saturday it should be warm enough to properly school!

Then it plunges back down again, most likely, with lows in the double digits below zero most days next week. Siiiiiiiiigh.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A stable full of imaginary horses

I am reading a book that I will review later on this blog, but I could not resist posting this one tidbit.

Apparently one of the performance horses with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, described as "one of the best hoop jumpers," was named "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay."

That NEEDS to be an event horse name, y/y? "Now on course, Boyd Martin riding the Thoroughbred gelding Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay."

Someone make that happen, ok?

(I'm going to have that song in my head for the rest of the day.)

(these are the kinds of things I think about when I can't get to the barn, ENOUGH ALREADY, WINTER.)

Carousel Horse Stencils

Some time ago, Amanda at Keeping it Low Key shared the horsey themed decorations she made for her daughter's room, and that triggered fond memories for me of my childhood bedroom.

For my tenth birthday, I was allowed to redo my room, within certain allowable parameters. (I wanted blue walls; my mother wanted lavender; the walls were painted lavender.)

The best feature of the redecorating, without a doubt, was a series of custom carousel horse stencils that my aunt painstakingly created based on a coloring book I had. Every single one was unique. When I moved out and my bedroom was turned into the guest room, they were all painted over, but not before I took photos of every single one. Here are some of my favorites.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Leg Yield: According to Alois Podhajsky

I have made no secret in the past of my love for Alois Podhajsky (see also my review of Miracle of the White Stallions). His The Complete Training of the Horse and Rider is one of my training bibles, a book I return to on a regular basis when I'm thinking or seeking inspiration. So with my current emphasis on leg yielding, I went back to see what he had to say - and I was surprised! Here's what he writes:

As a preparation for lateral work the exercise known as yielding to the leg may be practised in order to make the horse undersatnd the effect of the rider's legs pushing sideways. But the importance of yielding to the leg must not be over-rated; it should be used only to teach the young horse to understand the rider's leg aids. Unfortunately in recent years the contrary is often the case when practising equitation. This auxiliary aid has taken too great a part in the German instruction for cavalry. The Spanish Riding School has always used this yielding to the leg only to a limited degree, recognizing its original purpose.
[he then describes how and why to teach the turn on the forehand, and concludes that it should never be asked for in a dressage test]
Yielding to the leg will be made easier for the horse by giving his head more position to the opposite side, that is to say, when yielding to the left, the position should be more to the right.
When the young horse has learned in this manner to answer to the pressure of the rider's leg by stepping to the side, the yielding to the leg should be practised only when in motion in order to consolidate the understanding of these aids. At the Spanish Riding School it is practised in the walk only and disapproved of at the trot. It seems illogical that the horse should be taught to go sideways and forward with exactly the opposite position to that which will later be demanded of him in the half pass.
 As soon as the young horse is obedient to the sideways pushing action of the rider's leg, the rider may start to practise correct lateral work.
Correct lateral work, to Podhajsky's mind, is the succession of shoulders in, travers, and renvers. He goes into great and loving detail about each of these exercises, how they work the horse's body, how they are to be ridden correctly, and what they do to benefit the horse in its progression toward the haute ecole movements.

On the one hand: Podhajsky always backs up his advice with good reasons, and when you think about it the shoulder in works many of the same muscle groupings and gets at the same things that a leg yield does.

On the other hand: Podhajsky's goal in this book is to build a horse in the correct classical dressage way, and the leg yield is not a classical dressage movement. He's referring to a broader body of work, and his method is half scholarly erudition and half military precision (he was, after all, a career cavalry officer until World War II). Training a horse is like painting a masterpiece, and extraneous brush strokes are not necessary.

So taking that into account, Podhajsky is working from the blank slate of an impeccably bred and well-started young horse. He doesn't (at least in this book) talk about working through physical deficits of an older horse, or a mis-trained one, or a less talented one. (He writes eloquently about those horses in My Horses, My Teachers, but that book is not the training manual that this one is.)

I think he has a point about moving on to the shoulder in, and I'll try and start working that in more. Mastering a corect shoulder in, and building the muscles to do so, will address many of the problems that we're working on with the leg yields: a more supple hind end, more controllable shoulders, keeping straight, and keeping rhythm through it all.

Does anyone have any other thoughts about leg yield vs shoulder in?

Polar Vortex, Take 2

You guys, I am officially sick of winter. Our heating and hot water bills are off the charts. My skin is so dry I get a cut or abrasion every time I bump against something. I am eating bread three meals a day with snacks in between and still my body craves more. Whenever I find a sunny spot I sit in it for as long as I can, cat-like. I want to ride my horse, but it's too cold, so I worry about him instead. Is he staying warm enough? Is he coping ok with his frequently frozen solid water bucket? When will we be able to hack out without worrying about the ice? Will there ever be green and growing things in the world again?!


Ok. Time to bundle up and walk to work...

Monday, January 20, 2014

What makes a good lesson horse?

A narrative of my lesson with my boyfriend on Tristan has been requested, and in thinking about how to write it I thought a bit about a bigger question: what makes a good lesson horse?

But I'll get to that in a minute. There's honestly not much to recap about the lesson. It was 20 minutes, with about 15 on the longe line. A lot of talking him through position at the walk. I made him reach all over and do stretching, and call out to me which feet were hitting the ground at what moment, trying to get him to feel what each part of Tristan was doing in order to propel them forward.

We talked about keeping weight deep in the saddle and it was a bit of an exercise in frustration for me to see him refuse to grasp the idea that it is weight, not muscle, that keeps a rider in the saddle. He insisted it was physically impossible for him to drop his weight through his heels without gripping the saddle with his knees. I told him to see what happened when he gripped as tightly as he thought he should with his whole leg, and bless my horse, he launched into a beautiful forward trot, obedient as you please, and then stopped after two strides because M. was bouncing around like a potato sack.

We talked about posting, and finding the rhythm of it, and then I turned him loose off the longe for about five minutes of experimenting at the walk, seeing what happened when he asked Tris to move off his leg and go different places. We talked about how contrary to Hollywood's bad example, reins are not the way to make a horse go left or right, and what the right feel of a horse's mouth in your hands is, and there were some very brief, faint glimmers as Tris tried so hard to figure out what this strange person was doing, when my poor pony offered to step under and reach in response to the sort of, kind of, muffled aids asking him to do so. (I love him so.)

I have always maintained, and yesterday proves it once again, that Tristan would be a really superlative lesson horse. His brain is so rock solid, and his self-preservation instincts are so good. When he feels inexperienced riders on his back his preference is to slow down, and not speed up and take off in reaction to their imbalance. He tries to read muddled aids, and in size and in overall temperament he is the very opposite of intimidating. At the up-down, walk-trot level he is not a complicated or difficult horse to ride; his issues crop up when you get further along, and are usually in response to a more experienced ride.

But he would not be happy as a lesson horse. He doesn't thrive on work. He keeps his temper cheerfully for the occasional up-down ride but string two or three of those together and he would start to get seriously sour and cranky. He would start to shut himself in. He is a one-rider kind of horse; that's where his personality really shines through, and I don't think I'm saying that just because I happen to be that one rider. His interest in and devotion to work is not sufficient to carry him through a lesson schedule.

So I think, perhaps even more than that steady-eddie adult amateur horse (of whatever discipline) the truly good lesson pony is the rarest of equines. The horses that can take a joke all day long and still make faces on the cross ties. The horses who will adjust their way of going to the ride they're getting, will be kind when interpreting aids, and will generally work to preserve the balance of the rider on their back rather than to upset it. Who do as they're told not in the deadhead way, but in the highly competent, thoughtful way of a seasoned professional.

What do you think? What qualities go into the truly superlative lesson pony? Would your horse be a good schoolie?

Foot Progression Collage

I finally completed a project I've been wanting to do for some time: a complete collage of the progression of Tristan's right front.

For those who haven't heard this before, let me make a long story short: in August 2012, Tristan blew a massive abscess out his coronet band. Over the next few weeks, he blew it again halfway down the foot and at the toe. Eventually, we discovered that it was due to an infected stress fracture of the coffin bone, and in March 2013 had surgery to remove bone chips and dead bone.

(if you want the story in excruciating detail, check out the abscess and surgery tags)

Photos are as follows. The top left photo is from August 2012, the night I discovered the abscess. They follow through monthly, left to right, at roughly the same time each month. August and September 2013 were lost in a camera data card crash, and I don't have a November 2013. The bottom right photo was taken on December 18, 2013 and still roughly represents where his foot is today.

For anyone who has ever wondered what a massive abscess hole looks like as it grows down from the coronet band to the toe, look no further.

This will, please God, be the last entry in the abscess tag set.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Two rides, or, how having a plan for a ride doesn't always work out (in a good way)

I've been doing really well keeping Tristan to a consistent schedule with varied work. The last two weeks I've had energy and plans and executed them well. When I got stuck at work way late and was cracking my jaw with yawns by 7pm, I swapped days and went out on a planned rest day. Of course, some of that is about to get waylaid by winter (high of 3 on Tuesday and Wednesday!) but I can look at those days more as a planned rest rather than a frustrating interruption, because we've had some good rides lately.

Friday, the plan was to incorporate lots of leg yields and lateral work. Supple, supple, supple! Then straight, straight, straight! Back and forth times infinity, at all gaits. Well - that plan didn't work out. We ended up in the ring at the same time as a lesson with a horse that was being extremely crabby and cow-kicking, so scratch that. I could barely do centerline leg yields without bumping into him somewhere.

So we worked instead on transitions and keeping straight through them. Changes of direction, turns on corners, walk-trot-canter and back and forth between them on a circle. My job, keep my body and hands still and straight. His job, respond to the leg, don't pop the shoulders, stay in the outside rein. It wasn't the kind of ride that set the world on fire but we accomplished things, and there was a good progression.

Saturday, my planned rest day, became instead a day of planned poles and hind end action. I laid out eight poles and the idea was to work through them in the walk and trot, then change them up and do some individual poles at the canter to work on hock action and jump. Straight through all things!

Instead, I got on at the walk, and we warmed up straight and forward on a long rein. And he was striding forward beautifully. He's easily 50% more forward right off the bat than he was even two months ago, and he's holding it better - my signal that he's starting to get that muscle back and he's responding to my drilling the forward. So I started to play with that, picked up the reins enough to feel his mouth and keep a steady contact but not do much more with it.

We ended up doing 30 minutes in the walk, which I've rarely, if ever, done with so much productivity before. Leg yields everywhere: quarter line to center line, center line to quarter line, off the wall and back to the wall, into turns, onto diagonals. Straight and even in the reins, riding every step. Cueing each individual step over and then going straight again. Mixing it up, so he didn't just zoom to one direction or the other. Simple, basic stuff, but focused and thoughtful and good.

I had set up poles after all, eight of them in a row along one long side, and we walked over those from time to time: straight down the middle, go where I point you, stay forward and reaching. I didn't prop them up to make full cavaletti, since it was already clear that poles were not going to be my focus for the night, but I did jump off and adjust them for trot - they were a touch too close together. God love a horse who ground ties: I literally jumped off, said "Stand!" and he watched me from where I'd left him as if rooted to the ground.

He really likes the poles when I use them as I did, as something to aim him at and trust him to figure out. My job is forward; his is the footwork. He clearly thought of them as an interesting puzzle, and having eight of them - twice as long as I've ever laid out for him before! - was a bigger challenge. He couldn't just power through on a wing and a prayer. He had to have a plan and a rhythm and an adjustable stride.

I did most of the trotting poles in two point, looped rein: something about my posting rhythm wasn't helping him, and after two or three passes I figured I'd get up off his back and let him use it more effectively without me. We also did a teensy bit of cantering after the poles. The first few times through, he was losing impulsion toward the end despite my aids, and so when we finished I sent him forward into a strong canter on a circle, then brought him out and sent him down the poles again. That seemed to do the trick.

Today, a lighter ride planned - I'm going to be teaching my boyfriend a short longe line lesson - and then Monday through Wednesday off for work insanity (me) and temperature (Mother Nature).

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Antique Sleigh Rally at Old Sturbridge Village

Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, is near and dear to my heart for many reasons. I did my graduate internship there, and got to ride Tristan through the village one day before it opened.

They also do some really cool programs. Their upcoming Antique Sleigh Rally looks to be even more exciting than GMHA's Sleigh Rally. If you're anywhere nearby, I can't recommend the experience enough!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Review: Great Riding Schools of the World

I am an historian by training and by profession, which means that whenever I get the chance to buy an historic horse book I snap it up. Older editions of fictional favorites, old vet manuals, you name it.

When I spied this book on the shelf at a library book sale recently for the bargain price of $1 it was a no-brainer, and I snapped it right up.

It even had someone's horsey bookplate still in it! <3

The introduction starts by saying that at a certain FEI meeting in the 1970s, it was decided that equestrian sport was on the rise, and some bright soul had the idea to bring more public awareness to the "official" schools of countries around the world as an attempt to highlight where people could receive professional training.

It ends up being a picture-heavy, information-heavy romp through some really terrific horsemanship, some gorgeous facilities, and the inevitable conclusion that most of these schools are not really for the general public - they're more like finishing schools for pre-selected riders. Which I think everyone knew at the outset, but I am not complaining - this is a gorgeous book!

There are a LOT more riding schools than I had ever heard of, too. For instance, despite living with one of the proudest Swedish-Americans in the lower 48, I had no idea that Sweden had a national riding school!

All the Swedes! Each school is introduced by a two-page spread with their facilities and often their horses and riders. Then that's followed by as many as 20 pages of picture-heavy text about the facilities, the program of instruction, and what each school specializes in.

Switzerland (I know, right?) apparently specializes in insane cross-country jumps. Eeeeek.

The Cadre Noir in France, they would like you to know, are able to do all their haute ecole movements in unison. Click on that picture and zoom in if you will. It's kind of insane.


England still drags its rings with a draft horse team!

This photo demonstrates something I wish would happen more often these days. It's a team of RSPCA inspectors getting a workshop and demonstration on carriage horses: proper handling, proper care, and how to evaluate what a healthy horse looks like generally. Isn't that a great idea?

Aaaand we're back to the nutso cross-country riding. England again. Please note the utter lack of helmet.

On close examination of this photograph, I believe that Michael Page and Grasshopper are jumping concrete drainage pipes. Lengthwise. I am not kidding.

George Morris, of course.

There are many, many other similar, gorgeous photos, and fascinating accompanying text. Some of it is very dated, but overall it's a great window into its time. I'm thrilled to have found it to ad to my collection.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Soapbox Moment: Dressage Salutes

Okay. I need to come clean about this.

The way the vast majority of people do their dressage salutes drives me absolutely crazy.

You may argue that since I am very distinctly in the minority here, I'm in the wrong. You may even be right.

I don't care. Seeing a quick, careless, sloppy salute gets under my skin immediately and fills me with irrational anger.

Please note that I did say "irrational."

What do I mean? Here are a few examples. Please note: the riders here are more or less a random sampling, and many of them are really lovely riders. I'm only using them to talk about their salutes, not their general tests.

Do you see what I mean?

That quick, hurried flip on an antsy horse, before it's even settled. The "get this over with" attitude toward the whole thing.

I see it in almost every single test I scribe for, and I do a fair amount of scribing - probably more than your average rider. (I have problems saying no.)

Here's how I was taught to salute:

Ride your centerline.

Halt. Wait a beat for your horse to settle and square, and while doing so, seek out the judge's face and make - if not eye contact - then at least a moment of connection.

Lower your head. Wait a beat.

Lower your right hand. Wait a beat.

Return your had to the reins. Wait a beat.

Raise your head, and in the moment that follows, re-find the judge's face and get your horse ready.

Strike off.

Does that sound really long? It's not. By "beat" I don't mean even a full second, but I do mean a pause. Take a breath. Let yourself settle and have a moment of space. The whole thing takes perhaps twice as long as one of those flippy salutes, but by that I mean it takes perhaps 2-3 seconds, total, rather than a fraction of one second.

To me, a quick flip salute like the majority of riders do presents two major disadvantages.

First, it's disrespectful. The point of a salute in the dressage test is to acknowledge the judge, and his/her role in what's about to occur. It always makes me think of the (mostly apocryphal) gladiator salute. ("We who are about to die salute you!" though maybe that's not very cheerful?) It's a sort of mutual gesture of partnership. You present yourself to be judged, and acknowledge that the judge will be evaluating you. Giving it the space it deserves is only right. (Though, judging by how many people blast through it and the pretty good scores they're still getting, most or all dressage judges don't care too much!)

Second, it's a built-in deep breath. Dressage is stressful. Riders are often nervous, frightened, worried - you name it. Going down the centerline is one of the biggest pressure moments in all of equestrian sport. Why blow through the one moment in the whole test where you can relax for a split second? Take that moment of zen. Appreciate it. Then get on with the business of riding the test. Don't waste it!

So there. My soapbox moment. I realize this is a really small thing to go crazy over, but it really fills me with an all out of proportion amount of frustration.

Agree? Disagree?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Blanket Repair

I mentioned just before Christmas that Tristan had shredded a corner of his one and only turnout blanket. It's a midweight that he wears when it's below zero - which happens more often than it should up here. He borrowed a barn blanket for a week while it was repaired.

I was looking through photos last night and found that I had taken some good pictures of the repair but never shared them! This was a local sewing shop; when I took the blanket in the owner immediately knew what she was looking at - apparently her in-laws have horses!

Here's what it looked like post-rip, pre-repair:

And here's the repair:

They did a really, really nice job. It was a fairly complicated fix in a number of different ways. Total cost: $47, far less than a new turnout would've been!

Wordless Wednesday

(February 2006)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

STABILicers Ice Cleat: My New Favorite Winter Gear

Vermont is currently covered in a thick sheet of ice, as I whined about and as Lila Gendal showed on Eventing Nation. Sections of interstate highway were closed down as multiple plow trucks went off the road trying to get sand down. I had to be out and about for about an hour and a half as I re-arranged work details between our two buildings to accommodate the hazardous travel conditions.

This is a very long way of saying that Saturday, for the first time, I tried out a Christmas gift from my parents: STABILicers Ice Cleats. They are like studding your winter boots up for XC. I have been thinking about something like them for a while, since I walk to work on the average day, and of course spend a fair bit of time outside at the barn.

I could not possibly be more impressed with them. They were straightforward and quick to get on - required a bit of muscle to stretch the rubber, but not too much. It added perhaps 2-3 minutes to my morning routine. Then I walked outside...and didn't slip. Not once. I want to stress that our driveway is a solid sheet, several inches thick, of ice. I stood while chipping ice off my car and was completely stable. I walked down sidewalks, up fairly steep hills, and across roads that were similarly thick sheets of ice without the slightest hint of slipping. In fact, I walked up a sidewalk perfectly normally and a few minutes later watched two men take tiny minute slipping steps down that sidewalk and still fall a few times.

I could instantly feel the grip of the cleats in the ice, and the added traction was amazing. I almost forgot about the ice entirely, and just walked normally. The rubber didn't threaten to slip off my boots at all. I did take them off on coming back inside - I'm fairly sure that they were sturdy and sharp enough that they would have dug into our hardwood floors!

So two thumbs way, way up - these were a relatively inexpensive and absolutely clutch addition to my winter gear.

Lesson Notes

(first things first: it is a triumph of will that I even got to this lesson, after my car died 40 miles away and I had it pushed in neutral to the gas station next door and the mechanic called me mid-day and I had a conversation with him that went something like, him: "Did the air conditioning work on this car before?" Me: "It did until it caught fire last summer. I haven't used it since." Him: "Wait, what?" All's well that ends well and I had a working car again by the end of the day. Whew.)

Anyway! Lesson. Good lesson. Ass-kicking lesson for both of us. A solid hour of work, some of it very high-quality, and with stretches that tested both of us equally and separately. I felt some strain in my core & thigh muscles after I got off! Dressage: not for wimps.

The overall theme of the lesson was straightness, and each piece of the lesson addressed a different way in which we were not straight and helped put us straight. First up: leg-yields. Worked on getting the whole body straight: first the neck, then the ribcage, then the hind end. No evasions, just good clean crossover. We also worked hard on getting just the right step: come down the quarter line straight, take one or two good steps, then go straight, then take one or two steps. We moved from quarter-line-to-wall to broken lines, off the wall to the quarter line and back. Walk and trot both.

Then we moved on to transitions: clear, sharp, straight transitions. Here, the challenge was more for me: not to corkscrew my body and drop my inside hand to my thigh. For him, though, less bend, more lift, and more alertness to my aids. We worked on fitting as many good crisp transitions as we could into a twenty meter circle.

Then, changes of direction, on diagonals both short and long. Go deep into the corners, get quality straightness on the short side, go deep into the corner again, and come off the diagonal - off the wall - with shoulders even, reins even, pushing from the hind end. I don't know that I've ever schooled diagonals like that in my life, but it was a hugely useful exercise to have someone really drill me on them rather than just use them as a way to change direction.

Back to the twenty meter circle, and this time, work really really hard on controlling the shoulders around it. We did this by starting with a diamond exercise within the twenty meter circle, as outlined below.

Ride straight lines on the distances from center to wall to wall to wall to center, thinking of the turns off each point almost as turns on the haunches. It's basically riding a square, which is an exercise I have done in the past but never really nailed. Pretty soon Tris had worked through and figured out what we were asking of him: don't magnetize your shoulders to the wall, push off with the inside hind to make the turn, be straight and even in the bridle. For me, it was a really good exercise again for the corkscrewing of my body and the over-reliance on my inside rein. Turning those tight corners was all about a deep outside leg and a steady outside rein. We did this at the walk and trot both directions.

Finally, we finished with some very short canter exercises, to get a similar feel of what we had been aiming for through the lesson: straightness, control of the shoulders, a more supple hind end. Eventually in our own schooling we will work on the changes of direction through the diagonal, but for yesterday - since we were both so tired - we worked briefly on canter down the quarter line: come down the long side at a walk, then a trot, pick up the canter in the corner, then come off the short side cleanly and without overbending, and keep straight down the diagonal, then drop back to trot, make the clean turn back on the short side, repeat. We only did it a handful of times, but I could feel how much easier it was to get Tristan straight through his body after all the work we'd been doing throughout the lesson.

In short: whew. But some really, REALLY good tools to work on in our own rides, and a really positive outlook overall. There were some really gorgeous, fancy strides in there, and Tris really stepped up beautifully.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Blog Hop: A Dressage Barn in Vermont

(please note, if you think you saw this yesterday - you are not losing your mind, I apologize! I accidentally published the draft before I was finished adding photos)

SprinklerBandit is hosting a blog hop encouraging everyone to show photos of their barn. I've had a couple of photos up here before, but this is a good comprehensive overview. For the record, the barn in question is a dressage barn in semi-rural Vermont. (As in, outside of the capital city, so clearly not the middle of nowhere; but all of Vermont is classified as rural according to broader standards.)

1) A View of the Barn

There are actually two barns on the property. Here's the main all-season barn, attached to the indoor (which is on the left, and shares the roofline). It has 20 stalls. Not a lot of frills but quality through and through. Everything is lived-in and there are tons of little tweaks that make life easier.

Here's the summer barn, in winter. It sits just behind the main barn and has an additional 10 stalls. It houses the trainer's horses in summer, but she's in Florida November-May. It is quite a bit fancier than the winter barn, and is newer.

One of my favorite pictures, looking back out the door - basically up to where the first two photos were taken. When the visibility is good, you can see a perfect frame of Camel's Hump through this door. I have watched many sunsets leaning against the wall and just staring.

2) Your Horse's Living Space

Drunk pony after a vet visit.

Home soon after his surgery.

3) In the Tack Room

Downstairs, looking left. It is actually a bit messy right now, barn manager would probably kill me if she knew there were photos on the internet...

Downstairs, looking right. You can't quite see it, but the wire racks in the back are the best saddle pad & wrap storage system I have ever seen. Hose in the foreground = a necessity in winter. It freezes in less than an hour if left in the aisle.

Upstairs, where my tack is kept! You can't see my tack; my trunk is just behind the saddle covered with the towel.

4) Where You Ride

There is basically no way to get good photos of an indoor, especially if you're almost always there after dark. Regardless: small court dressage size indoor, our primary home right now. Lovely springy mixed rubber & washed sand footing that is dragged every 2-3 days and, believe it or not, doesn't kick up ANY dust clouds.

Outdoor #1, jumping / schooling arena. Not quite sure of the size, but it's not huge - a bit wider than a full dressage arena. We are often here in the summer for schooling.

Outdoor #2, fancy-pants dressage arena, all-weather mixed rubber footing. This was taken sitting in the permanent judge's booth. I have actually never ridden here! This summer, maybe. There are so many other good options and this arena is about 50 ft from the barn owner's back door, so it often feels invasive to ride there when I'm riding at night.

And, of course, the fields! This is the big hayfield - no idea on acreage, somewhere around 10, maybe? Believe it or not, the dressage arena above is at the very top of this hill.

Oh, and the roads. So may dirt roads. I could go for miles and miles and miles. Did you know that 70% of Vermont's roads are dirt? Now you do!

5) My Favorite Feature

I have been in some beautiful places, but this one has them beat all hollow. It never comes out well in photos, but the fire of that sunset is touching the tips of the Monroe Skyline; in the winter you can see the ski trails of Mad River Glen and Sugarbush. You can see weather coming before it gets to the barn, in the clouds on the mountains and through the valley. The property itself is sprawling and lush and achingly pretty even on gross days. It's in one of my favorite spots in my favorite place in the whole world (I will argue to the death that Vermont is, objectively, the best state). I feel lucky every single day that I can live and ride here.

(this is not to say that the barn has many, many other wonderful features! but this is the one that gives me an almost physical pang of happiness in my heart when I think about it.)