Saturday, January 31, 2015

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few good links from the horse blogging world.

7 Tips For Being a Better Competitor Among Friends from Zen and the Art of Baby Horse Management
I love this. I'm somewhat competitive, and I often ride among friends, but all these tips apply to anyone who's showing - they'll help you be a better competitor and person.

Thermal Imaging from The Adventures of a Floppy Ammy
I loved seeing the pre and post saddle reflocking images - such a great argument for reflocking regularly, even if your saddle fits on paper.

What to Consider Before Using Alternative Therapies on Your Horse from Racing to Ride
Thoughtful, clear, and transparent post about things to think about when you're going beyond standard vet care. I myself use massage for Tristan regularly, and would consider chiropractic. It's important to note here that by "alternative therapies" Jodi means more things like that and not, say, Chinese herbs or homeopathy.

A Hard Diagnosis to Take from Paradigm Farms
Again! Thoughtful, clear, and transparent writing about how sometimes the best thing you can do for your horse is absolutely nothing. I tend to be guilty of the "TRY EVERYTHING!" approach to Tristan; in the last few months I've made conscious decisions to let him resolve some problems on his own, both for my mental health and for my bank account.

Flying Changes from Forging Fiction
Truly outstanding lesson write-up with diagrams and thoughtful analysis and clearly described exercises.

Friday, January 30, 2015

TOABH: Sugar Mama

Let's continue pretending that horse poop magically transforms into money instead of the other way. So money doesn't matter. If you could buy anything for your horse, what would you buy?
I mean, beyond the small hobby farm + live-in help, of course!

I'd buy a new truck and trailer, first off.

Trailer: custom Hawk 2h straight load goose neck. I'd expand the dressing room a bit so there was plenty of room for tack trunk as well as my own stuff. I'd make sure it had a water source underneath the goose neck, and would plan the high portion so that it made a comfortable bed.

Then I'd replace my truck, which would go in honorable retirement to my parents where it could live out life as a weekender truck.

I'd get a brand-new, kitted for towing 3/4 ton GMC Sierra. I like GM trucks for towing. I'd get the extended bed, and not the full extended cab - just the king cab. Seats in the back, but not separate doors. 4WD, without question. Honestly? I want exactly my same truck, brand new, with 4WD. I love my truck.

I'd find a reputable storage place to garage them both over the winter so they don't get wear and tear.

Other than that...?

Both of Tristan's saddles fit him and me, and I love them. Ditto his bridles. His blankets are all in good working order. He gets the food, supplements, and medication he needs. I might consider doing blood work quarterly, instead of bi-annually.

If he pooped money, I'd pay down my mortgage faster and build up his emergency fund. I'd increase my cash flow so that I could take lessons weekly over the spring, summer, and fall.

I'd probably seriously consider investing money into my current barn. Maybe I'd be some kind of partner in the business so that they could do some major capital improvements. I honestly think the property is marvelous as it is, and they do a nice job maintaining it - but I also know that more money in a horse property is never a bad thing! Or maybe I'd invest in a fancy horse for my trainer, and fly down to Florida to see it in the big classes. Who knows?

Finally, I'd sink some money into improving equestrian sport. I'd either establish a regular fund or regular donations for a couple of horse rescues, and I'd set up a decent sized scholarship for young riders. Probably through Pony Club, aimed at New Englanders.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Winter Part Eight Million

So I can ride today and tomorrow, hopefully, and then never again. Grrrrr.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mental Health Decisions

I think I've finally made peace with the riding obstructionist part of winter. Somehow, in the last week or so, I managed to just stop feeling guilty on days I can't ride. I'm lining up indoor projects instead: lots of cleaning & cooking, some very initial organizing with the anticipation of moving later this spring. I will drop all of it like a hot potato as soon as the weather climbs back out of the Arctic.

In the meantime, I'm averaging about two rides a week. Last week, Friday and Saturday. Friday was a terrific schooling session under saddle. Saturday was a really productive longeing session.

Sunday, the temps were only into the double digits...when there was a clinic in the indoor. Monday I had to travel for work during the only double digit temperatures. Today I'll be at work. Wednesday it won't climb into double digits at all. Thursday and Saturday look the most promising this week.

We're not getting hardly any snow from the blizzard. It's hitting southern New England. Vermont is getting sort of spitty little haze right now, and we're probably not going to accumulate beyond 8". So basically a normal Tuesday here.

I did check on Tristan on Sunday amidst house-viewing. The edema is gone, thankfully, and he was happy and chipper and providing good babysitting guidance.

I'll try to get more interesting things posted this week, but I'm really struggling with motivation when it's so cold and I'm seeing my horse so rarely!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Case of the Winters

Last night, for the first time in mumblety days, it was warm enough to ride, AND not snowing, AND I wasn't working until late at night. It was like I hit the jackpot!

So I headed to the barn, and groomed, and...Tristan's ventral edema is back. On the other side, in a different shape, and softer and pitting. $#@$#@!!!!!! But not bilateral, or spreading, or really soft and squishy - anything that would point to more dire things. Just weird, mostly.

I called over the barn manager, who is infinitely more patient with me than she really ought to be, and we both examined and finally shrugged. He is looking and feeling the best he has in a long time. It wasn't sore in any way. We jointly decided that I should get on and see how he felt. So I saddled up - the edema was back of the girth area - and hopped on.

He actually felt ok at the walk; not great, but not out of the spectrum of normal, either, for a horse who has had sporadic work while his turnout has been a sheet of ice and oh yeah he's turning 20 this spring. So a bit of a hitch, but he was willing enough to keep walking. I gave him a nice long walk warmup and incorporated a ton of lateral work to try and get at his flexibility. I also did some bending stretches, and spiraled in and out, and tried some tighter circles - all with the dual purpose of really warming up his whole body and doing a bit of a stress test to see if he would tell me if he was obviously hurting in some way.

Nothing jumped out, so we picked up the trot, and he felt great. More even, more solid than he had at the walk. Basically 100% normal, if behind the leg and fussy in the bit. (So, normal.) We did about 8 minutes of just stretching loose trot around the entire indoor, with only an occasional 20m circle. Nothing dramatic, just keeping him moving and getting him warmed up.

We took another walk break, and the barn manager came in to longe a Paint mare who's in for training. She came in as a sort of Western Pleasure horse, very daisy cutter without being that pretty efficient look that a nice hunter gets. Just flat and lazy. She's already looking dramatically better.

Apparently, said Paint mare is also a hellion to longe, and is used to more work/turnout than she's been getting. She spent the next 15-20 minutes rearing, bolting, spinning, you name it. Holy mackerel. God bless Tristan, you guys. Even when the mare came galloping sideways, head in the air like a giraffe, barn manager trying desperately to keep her reined in, on a circle, sane - anything! - the worst he did was scoot for a few strides, mostly to get out of the way. The most I had to do was pick the reins back up and sit deep to get him back.

Don't get me wrong, he was very alert and up and paying close attention to what the mare was doing, and I had to do a more hands-on ride than I was hoping for in a walk break, but I was also able to channel that energy into some really terrific work after the break, once the mare calmed down.

If anything, he was too light in the bridle, too quick in his legs and not through enough, so we had a different sort of problem to tackle for once. I worked on getting him deeper, with more push from the hind end, more uphill, more solid. He was fussy in the bridle until I really, really focused hard on keeping my hands still, consciously opening and closing my elbows. He seems to have gotten a bit fussier with the bit as the years have gone on, and I often find I can fix the ducking in and out of contact by simply being better about my own hands.

I had not intended to canter, really - well, it was in the original plan for the day, but not in the modified, what the hell is on my horse's stomach plan. But he felt so good in the trot I couldn't resist. And wow. His canter felt light years better than it has since, what, June? He was not stiff and resisting. I could get at his hind legs and ask him to bend and be uphill. He almost felt like a real dressage horse!

We finished with 10 more minutes of walking, and poor abused pony was a little bit sweaty! Ever-so-slightly damp around the ears and at the girth area. So half of his final walk was in hand with a loose girth, and then I layered up some coolers. It was high 20s, so considerably warmer than it has been, but not exactly warm and cozy. I went with his cotton wicking sheet under his fleece - thinking the cotton would bring moisture out, and the fleece would still keep a measure of warmth.

I tidied up and hung around for 20 minutes or so, and at the end of that he was dry and about 85% cool, so I swapped his coolers for his regular blanket, since the temperature was starting to drop precipitously.

What next? Ride tonight (Saturday) since it's going to be in the 30s. I'll try to ride Sunday afternoon after house hunting (no farm properties, all city houses), but the rest of the week - through Thursday - will be in the single digits or well below zero, so probably no riding for me. :(

As for the edema? Wait and see, I guess. It's now officially more concerning than it was, but as I said: one side only, one spot only. He could just be sleeping funny (maybe on top of a hoof or something) or moving less. The last one disappeared after a few days of bute and rest. We'll see what this does. I didn't notice a huge change after riding, and he felt fine, so fingers crossed? If there's any progression or if he starts acting funny for any reason the vet will be out immediately, but for now...wait and see.

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are some great posts from the horse blogging world this past week.

Hooves: Excellent for both Exploding Heads and Amazing Healing Powers from We Are Flying Solo
Longtime readers of this blog will know that I am no stranger to crazypants hoof drama. This is an excellent overview of a pretty impressive and nasty foot wound, complete with lots of photos and retrospective thoughts.

A Filly Named Patriot Takes on the Colts from Trafalgar Square Books

Making a Heavy Horse Lighter from Guinness on Tap
Tristan's natural tendency is to be so heavy he'll give you blisters and sore arms. This is a truly outstanding overview of how to ride such a horse and help them be lighter. I've done a lot of these (with a great deal less skill than Austen has!) for Tristan over the years and he is considerably better than he used to be.

Chris Bartle: Let's Be Besties from The $900 Facebook Pony
I always mean to watch streaming online clinics, and then I never do. Here's a great summary of some of the recent ICP symposium stuff from Chris Bartle.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hacking SmartPak: Barn Buddy Shipping

I thought everyone used this, but reading through the comments on a recent post by Amanda at The $900 Facebook Pony honestly surprised me.

I like SmartPak quite a lot. For me, they're a local upstart (as is Dover Saddlery, actually). I will grant that I am not the avid consumer of the latest and greatest in tack or riding clothes and that if I were I might search harder for deals, or selection. So while I like SmartPak, I get that there are legitimate reasons not to be their biggest fan, as many in the above post outlined.

Here's the trick to SmartPak, though: Barn Buddy Shipping.

If you've never heard of this, I urge you to check it out.

Essentially, if anyone in your barn autoships SmartPaks, or if your barn is registered as part of the Barn Buddy program (which is SUPER easy to do), you can get weekly free shipping to your barn of any item SmartPak carries. Order up to the afternoon before your barn's shipping date and it gets added on to the shipping order.

For me, that means that anything I order up to Wednesday afternoon is put on a truck on Thursday. Because I'm relatively close to SmartPak, that means it is at the barn by Friday afternoon. Easy as that.

There's no minimum. There's no requirement for purchasing specific items. I once ordered $7.95 replacement blanket straps on a Wednesday, and they were there on Friday. When Tristan was recovering from surgery, this was a key part of my planning. Some of the more specific stuff like Elastikon was not available locally. If I looked in my kit on Wednesday and thought "shit, I'm almost out," I would order more and it would be there on Friday. Ditto for vet wrap, gauze, name it. I got weekly packages for like two months straight.

Here's how to get at Barn Buddy shipping.

Log in to your account and look along the left-hand side for your Address Book.

In your Address Book, you'll see the various places you can ship things, like any other online retailer. Here's mine: you can see that my barn is an option for shipping.

To add your barn, scroll to the bottom of the page and click "Add a New Address."

You can then click on "Find Your Barn" and you'll see this page.

Here's an example of an executed search on longtime Area 1 eventing barn Hitching Post Farm.

Double-check the name and address of your barn, and then click "Choose This Barn."

Then you're done. The next time you purchase something, you'll have the option of shipping it to your barn. When you do that, shipping will be free and it will ship weekly on the specified day.

It's easy. It's fast. It's apparently not commonly known. The one catch is if you board at a truly private facility or if you keep your horses at home. Then, yeah, you're out of luck. But if you have any friends at a commercial barn - or you go anywhere to lesson regularly - then you can just put their information instead.

(Ummmmm, not that I do this anyway, but this was not paid, endorsed, requested by, or whatever by SmartPak. I just think it's an awesome feature and it didn't seem like people knew about it!)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Horse Husbands & Finances

Lauren at She Moved to Texas raised an interesting and important question: do you discuss your horse finances with your significant other? Read the comments - they're thoughtful and comprehensive!

I thought I'd take a minute to outline the way I handle my horse finances.

When I first adopted Tristan, I was working in a year-long paid internship at my undergraduate college. My take-home pay was about $18,000 that year. I adopted Tristan for $150 on January 2.

Field board for Tristan for the first two years I owned him saved a lot of money.

That first year was really, really hard. I had been sharing a house with other college friends, but they all moved away at the end of December, leaving me with one roommate who was an acquaintance but not a close friend. It was a big, mostly uninsulated house on the side of a mountain in Vermont in a town with a population of 765. Yes, really.

I snuck into the college dining halls for breakfast and lunch every day. I ordered one, sometimes two, items from the McDonald's dollar menu on the way home from the barn every night. My roommate basically did not live in the house for the months of January and February, and the house was heated by wood stove and a furnace that took heating oil. I couldn't afford heating oil, and didn't entirely understand how to order it anyway. Every night I got home from the barn at 9pm after fighting with the snowy mountain roads, put wood in the stove, poured lighter fluid onto it, flicked a match into it, put on three layers of clothing, my winter coat, my winter hat, gloves, scarf, piled on blankets, and slept on the couch in front of the wood stove. Going up to my bedroom was not an option; the frost was half an inch thick on the inside of the windows.

Every weekend, all day, I worked at the barn to help pay for board and lessons. I picked up shifts during the week when I could. I borrowed a saddle until I could buy a friend's for $300. I bought a $20 bridle at auction. I owned one pair of breeches and the $75 clearance tall boots I had bought four years earlier.

That summer, I moved out of the house, down into the valley, closer to the barn. I lived in a studio apartment that was so small I actually kicked open my refrigerator door in the middle of the night. Really. I swear. It was stiflingly hot in the summer, and the only thing I owned to put my TV on was an upside down tupperware bin; one day it softened and practically melted underneath the TV and the whole thing sort of sagged sideways in slow motion. (Thankfully the TV was ok! It was probably the most expensive thing I owned at the time.) My budget for groceries was $20 a week, and I still worked at the barn constantly.

I still saved money. I was never in debt. I never went hungry. I was content and happy. So I don't tell these stories to make anyone feel sorry for me! I had graduated from an excellent college with no debt, I had great life skills, and I was willing to work hard.

Things slowly got better, and the lessons I learned in that first year have stuck to me. Our grocery budget is still $40-$50 a week for two people. I scrimp and save and budget and Tristan has never, ever wanted for anything. I make a decent living now, but I work in nonprofits: I'll never match my two younger brothers, who are a computer engineer and management consultant respectively.

Owning a horse is so insanely difficult. It is one of the stupidest things I could do with my money. But to me, it is worth every penny.

Here are a few lessons that still stick with me.

Have a separate bank account for horse finances. I've maintained this for almost ten years now, and it works beautifully. I estimate a monthly cost for board and farrier bills, and then I add in a small padding percentage. I have that amount automatically deposited each month, and that's where I draw money from. If I buy something for Tristan with my credit card, I pay from that account. I write checks from that account. If there's overage - from an extra pay day or the like - it goes into a horse-specific savings account. It's not a perfect system - things come up. But it is the best system I've ever found, because it helps cordon me off from temptation, and it helps me stick to a budget.

You probably don't need that. The newest best whatever it is. That fast food dinner or lunch. Cable. The fanciest new car on the lot. Whatever "that" is, you probably don't need it. You need good nutritious food, a safe, clean place to live, and ways to engage your mind and body. Your horse needs the same. Is it fun to buy extras? Sure. I've done it. Do you need it? As in, you can't live without it? As in, you're okay with it costing 2-3x as much because you had to have it and so you put it on your credit card? The number of things in that category is extremely small. Possibly nonexistent.

Be honest with yourself and your partner. Don't say that your future self will take care of that bill. Don't pretend you need that thing. Don't lie to your partner about money. This stuff will ruin you if you let it. Keep a constant, watching eye on what you do, on yourself, on your reasons for choosing the things you do, and on the ways in which the money is going in and out. It's so easy to slip and justify. Don't stick your head in the sand. Face up to it. Applying your willpower to this area of your life will unlock all the doors for you. It's that important.

Get by with a little help from your friends. I'm very conscious of inherited privilege on all levels. I've been lucky in many ways. I have a wonderful, supportive family who have backed me up and taught me good lessons. I have knowledgeable, wonderful, supportive friends who have helped me out when I needed it - ridden along in the truck for moral support, offered a barter system for goods and services, bent the rules to make things just a little easier, and shared their incredible experience with me so I can make better decisions. Don't underestimate the value - social, economic, on every possible level - of a good support network.

I don't mean to preach, but this is something I feel very strongly about, in all areas of my life. Nobody's perfect - so says my smidge of credit card debt leftover from a very bad fall, and my slooooooowly rebounding emergency fund from Tristan's vet bills - but when you internalize good principles, you put yourself in a MUCH better position to rebuild. Ultimately, that makes life safer and happier for both you and your horse.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Farm Hunters: Updates

Just to clarify my process going forward: I'm writing my property profiles based on the on-paper information I have before we look at these places in person. I'll do updates once we actually see the properties. With that in mind, I have two updates!

Property #1

We went and saw the house, and it was exactly as gorgeous in person as promised. Absolutely gorgeous. Droolworthy. The kitchen...! Surprisingly, for 2,500 square feet, it felt small, though. The bedrooms were tiny. The downstairs rooms were chopped up oddly. 

Then we walked the property. The lot was in an L shape around the neighbor's lot, and their back yard was RIGHT on top of this property's. The barn had been recently redone, but clearly they hadn't graded the base appropriately: the dirt floor was packed weirdly, and one wall had already lifted up with several inches of daylight showing and a swathe of ice where water had leaked in. It was spacious and pretty-looking from the outside, but would require work to make livable for a horse, which was unexpected.

The agent was pretty convinced that we could in fact buy extra land behind the house, but with the property already edging toward the high side of our budget, the condition of the barn, and the overall location of the house RIGHT on a very busy road and right on top of the neighbors, we passed on it.

Property #2

The good news first: we liked the house much, much more than we thought we would. For all that the overall square footage was smaller than the first house, it felt more spacious & open. Windows were all new, and all of the rooms were in overall nice shape, except for some truly hideous wallpaper. (Whyyyyy, people?!)

The outbuildings were all in surprisingly usable shape! There was a 20x20 insulated barn with a concrete slab that had clearly been used in the not-too-distant past for chickens, but thankfully did not smell of it.

Also, possibly kennels? A little unclear.

Second outbuilding was in tough shape but probably usable for hay storage. Third outbuilding was in better shape but weirdly done on the inside - but definitely usable for equipment storage.

The lot was six acres total, which, if everything was perfect, would be enough. Here's where I'm still not sure. If the property lines were drawn one way, behind the barn and across a small creek was an open space of at least an acre that just needed a little work to fence it in. So, say, a dry lot off the barn.

If the property line was in fact closer, along the line of the creek, then the land went straight up a decently steep hill. Not impossibly steep, but not exactly level and/or gently rolling either. Oh, and entirely, thickly wooded.

Plus, there's that creek. Everything was under 12" of snow, and I tried to do some stomping around but was unsuccessful in my investigations. Was it a trickle or mostly a thin marshy area? Did it run up the banks in the spring? Was the land around it boggy, or was it pretty good land with simply a creek running through?

In short: there's still a lot of potential there, but there was no way of gauging the land in the winter, which is something I've been afraid of since the beginning of the process. 

The other drawback: we timed it, and it's a solid 15 minutes to the highway for the fiance, who then has a 45 minute commute. When all is said and done, that may have been the biggest drawback. It just wasn't quite right.

We've been looking at other houses, too, without land, city houses at a far lower price point. I did wonder whether that was something people would be interested in hearing about, too, or just the potential farms? Honestly it's about the only exciting thing going on in my life right now, unless you want to hear all about the exciting time I spent on the couch crocheting and catching up on Orphan Black...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Making the Best of It

January has not been the best for riding and horse-related activities.

Tristan is happy and healthy. That is the priority.

But I'm averaging one ride a week, sometimes two. The weather has been horrible. When it gets warmer, I ride, and I'm having great rides. We had a terrific schooling session on Sunday: he felt strong and good and there was a nice, clear progression from start to finish. He had some really good work in the canter, and I felt good about my effectiveness.

Then Monday, which was warm enough to ride, but first I ran out of time, between work programs, then it started snowing heavily and my fancypants new 4WD car had gotten the fiance to work that morning, so all I had to take me to the barn in a series of nasty snow squalls was his Prius.

I gave up. I admit it. This winter is not doing good things for my mental health. I am tired, worn out, and cranky much of the time.

Today: single digits. Tomorrow: single digits. Maybe, maybe, Thursday will pan out. We'll see.

I'm just...tired. Sorry to put an almost entirely negative post out there in the world, but I'm just sick and tired of a lot of things and having a lot of trouble digging deep and finding motivation.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Let me just say that my day can be summed up by this incident: while rushing to get to my second location for my tenth hour of work on this, my day off, and an official holiday, I opened my car door into my face. Multiple bloody napkins later I have a nice cut along my cheek that will probably scar and an impressive and growing swelling. Also, I get to tell people that I actually walked into a door.

Eff everything, really.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Farm Hunters: Property #2

Again, stock photo of the house (though I tried to find something approximating the style of the actual house), and some obscured details, but here we go!

Property #2 

The basics: 3 bed, 1.5 bath, 1908 farmhouse with quite a few renovations but not 100% done, 1850 square feet with 6 acres, garage, two outbuildings/farm buildings (not clear from pictures whether they're barns or storage buildings). Water unknown, oil + baseboard heat, wood stove. Zoned appropriately for agriculture, not in a flood zone.

The budget (1 being bottom, 5 being top): Let's say 3. Decent price, and it's been on the market long enough that we can get it for an even better price.

The pros: 6 acres should be plenty of land, assuming it's all usable, and it backs up to hundreds of acres of land that might be rideable. I like that it has outbuildings. The interior is nice but not so nice that I'd feel guilty about doing anything - plenty of room for personal touches. It's across the street from a large pond that freezes in the winter and is big enough for canoeing in the summer, though we'd have to go through a neighbor's yard for it.

School district, taxes, relative location (just off a paved road) all check out and are good though not spectacular. Rooms are decent sized and it has those three bedrooms - a definite must.

It has a garage and large 3 season porch, new roof, new siding, and has some measure of curb appeal and charm.

The cons: It's a little far from the highway for the fiance's commute. Land might not be level/entirely usable. Outbuildings would require some work to be usable for anything but storage. I like but don't love the house, and the kitchen in particular gives me pain - so very, very 80s/early 90s, and not a ton of space.

The maybes: Might be too close to neighbors for my comfort. It's also been on the market long enough that I wonder if something is lurking in inspection.

We're going to look at it this afternoon, cross your fingers!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Weekly Blog Roundup

Strictly speaking some of these are from two weeks ago, since I am behind in my blog reading, but here you go: interesting horse blog posts!

Expert Opinion: Shoulder In from Incidents of Guidance
I would like to draw sparkly hearts around this. Nothing soothes my soul quite like diving really deep into the books and seeing what the greats have to say about something.

Peak & Recover from Boots and Saddles
Nobody writes conditioning theory like Mel, and this is a really thoughtful take on what we're accomplishing by changing the tempo of our work.

Do You Walk the Walk from Daryl Kinney Eventing
Looooooove this. The walk is such an underestimated gait. Walk for muscle, gallop for wind. Reading this helped inspire me to add even more walking to my winter routine (which was already walk-heavy).

Jumping exercises with only a few jumps from Hand Gallop
These are terrific, and thoughtful, and aimed at those of us who have to lug our own $#@$@# standards everywhere.

Face Off: Rambo Micklem vs PS of Sweden High Jump Bridle from SprinklerBandit
Thoughtful, comprehensive review of two of the major "anatomical" bridles currently on the market. Everything you ever wondered about either bridle is answered here. I've always wondered whether one of these would be right for Tristan, especially after some trainers I really respect started working in them. Had I any spare cash, I might consider it, especially after the arguments here!

What It's Like On The Inside: Kim Severson Eventing from Eventing Nation
Taylor and I rode at the same barn together in Boston, and she is a genuinely lovely person who is a wonderful rider. This is a great interview with her about what it's like being a working student for Kim Severson, who might be my personal favorite upper level event rider. (Winsome Adante is absolutely still, always, forever my favorite upper level event horse.)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

TOABH: Wish We Could

Had I but worlds enough and time...I'd create a tropical bubble around the barn. Predicted temperatures last night: high teens, low 20s. I confidently set out riding clothes, texted the barn manager to hold his evening grain, blazed through my end of day stuff at work, and got to the look down at my car's temperature gauge: 7 degrees and falling. #$@$R#@$@^&%$.


Let's pretend that financial restrictions don't exist and logistics isn't a nightmare. If you could do anything with your Ponykins, what would you do?

I'd buy a farm - not the small budget ones we're looking at right now, but the big, fancy, sprawling ones in the mountains near Woodstock, hundreds of green acres, 19th century stone houses, barns appointed to the nines, staff quarters, the whole nine yards.

Then I'd retire him to be my trail/LD horse. We'd do dressage lessons once a week with the goal of getting us both flexible and happy. We'd ride and ride around our property, and haul over to GMHA on member days, and open our land up for their endurance rides. We'd do that indefinitely.

Then I'd buy a fancypants Morgan that could take me eventing and doing dressage, and a fat pony for my nieces and nephews, and call some rescues and take a few horses that needed a soft landing.

I'd research and write about whatever history topics interested me in my spare time, and host visiting scholars and horsey friends and evening benefit receptions for local history organizations.

sigh, again.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

After a month of riding bareback...

In the past few days, the temperature, weather, and my free time have finally coincided again and I've had a few good schooling rides. I did not ride with a saddle from December through the first week of January, and I'm pretty pleased with myself for sticking to that. This week, the saddle went back on.

(Taken some years ago, at a different barn. We have 12" of snow on the ground, sigh.)

I immediately noticed some good things and some bad things about the transition back to a saddle.


After a month of riding bareback, my hips were much looser, and I had a more instinctive following flexibility than I'd possessed before. It was immediately clear how much more supple my lower back was in following him at the walk, and how much smoother my posting was because I was more attentive to the thrust of his hind legs.

My legs were much stronger and steadier as well, particularly in the canter. I was able to really hold him with my outside leg - and yes, ideally he would not NEED me to hold him through my outside leg, but that is a longer term project!

I was more effective and efficient with my aids in the saddle, which I'd always known. The added security meant I could push a little harder in the lateral work, get him a little stronger and deeper in the trot, and generally take more risks. The difference between a true schooling ride and a conditioning/loosening ride, which is all I was capable of while bareback.

He's definitely more fit. The interval work for him while I concentrated on my seat paid off.

That's much more like reality...


SO COLD. So fricking cold. Whereas before, as we worked and he warmed up, he communicated that warmth right through to my legs and core, now I had a big piece of leather and wood and saddle pad and half pad between me and his warm, warm back. I lost all feeling in the surface of my legs almost immediately, and shivered under my coat until well into the warmup.

It's more boring, in a way. The 15 minute walk warmup that I do during the winter wasn't nearly as interesting under saddle, when I couldn't feel every minute move of his back and hid end. Some people are way more sensitive than I and don't have that problem, but I've never been an intuitive rider in that way.

The girth! Some of this, ok, was the harder level of work + the warmer temps (into the 20s, you guys! HEAT WAVE!), but he was damp around the girth area. Going forward, we'll see if he sweats when he gets fitter or if I need to extend his clip a bit. I'm actually leaning toward clipping a bit more.

God damn it is a lot of extra steps to put a saddle on. Yes, I'm that lazy sometimes. Up and down the tack room stairs, up and down the barn aisle, all the buckles, the progressive tightening of the girth, on and on. With bareback, I grabbed a bridle and a quarter sheet and we were off.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Farm Hunters: Property #1

First in an occasional series! I'll obscure some things and use stock photos for the houses, but will try to faithfully represent what's going into the decision making process

Property #1

The basics: 4 bed, 2.5 bath 1904 farmhouse renovated top to bottom, 2,500 square feet with 1.25 acres, new 20x40 barn on the property. Public water, septic, oil heat + wood stove.

The budget (1 being bottom, 5 being top): 3.5 - on the expensive end but well within our maximum (which is way less than the bank's maximum)

The pros: Every single interior of this house is to die for. It looks like it came off the screen of HGTV. Droolworthy kitchen (and I do not say that lightly), ridiculous bathroom, spacious master suite, walk in closets, you name it.

The 20x40 barn is new, in excellent shape, and has never been used for horses. The acreage is behind the house and could probably fence in 1 full acre of pasture. It's zoned appropriately for agriculture, and the lot is of sufficient size. Land is open, relatively level, and backs up to open land.

Not that this is a concern for me right now, really, but the school district is outstanding - one of the best in the county. The location is definitely closer to town than many other places and would keep my commute to a minimum.

The cons: It's definitely as small as a horse property could possibly be. There's no chance of rolling grass pasture here; at best, I'd plant hardy grass and basically create a dry lot.

The house itself is right up against the neighbors on both sides, and is on a busy road close to a busy intersection, set maybe 50'-75' back.

Having the house done to the nines is maybe not so much a good thing? It's actually done more or less to my taste, but there's no room for me to put my stamp anywhere, unless I take out something in perfectly good condition.

The maybes: The realtor is figuring out whether it's possible to purchase additional acreage out back. If anything could be added or purchased for a reasonable price, this jumps way up. Need soil analysis, and some fencing cost estimates, as well as a lot more in-depth thinking about how I want to keep horses going forward, which applies to all properties, basically!

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Bible: Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage

The BEST book, you guys. The very, very, VERY BEST.

I will have a more in depth review up at a later date, but know for now that I am literally taking it to bed every night to read and re-read passages and think about them. (In other words, I'm more familiar with this book than I am with the Bible.)

New Year's Resolutions: Horse-Related

1. Keep him happy and healthy

My goal before and above all else. Here's hoping 2015 proves more stable in this area than 2014!

2. Go farm shopping!

Exciting! And also terrifying. And also we might not buy anything. But I'll be throwing myself into this wholeheartedly, learning an awful lot about flood plains and zoning and so many other things.

3. Haul out 3-5x

Probably just to Groton State Forest, which really was a terrific place to ride, but I need to get using that trailer.

4. Take lessons

Realistically, I don't know how many of these I'll be able to do, but I need to get back into a program, if only to have goals to work toward.

5. Purge stuff

Or at the very least organize. Ugh. I know this was on 2014 too, and I actually did make progress - but I need to do way more.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Conformation Photos: Senior Horse in Vermont Winter

I put Tris on the longe line on Friday night because a) it was freezing, b) the new winter breeches I packed to wear - that I bought on clearance - didn't fit despite being precisely the same size as my previous winter breeches, wtf, c) I wanted to see if he was sound again after the stomach muscle incident.

He was! Swelling 100% gone, sound as a bell. Huzzah! So I basically just loosened him up, walk-trot on the longe, kept him moving and got him to soften a bit.

Then I figured I had him nekkid so I might as well do some conformation shots!

Sorry the picture quality is terrible but there's a lot to like here. He's in a great weight, right around a 6 or maybe a smidge higher. His muscling is coming back nicely, as you can see primarily in his hindquarters and his neck.

He still has his usual conformation flaws, granted, but there's nothing I can do about those!

Food for Thought: Senior Horses

Hand Gallop linked to this truly excellent article: Riding and Training the Senior Horse.

It corroborated a lot of what I've been thinking and experiencing as Tristan has aged - the loss of aerobic capacity, taking longer to cool off, breathing harder.

It also confirms my plan of keeping him in light work no matter what, basically.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few great posts from the horse blogging world!

Stories from Spin Class from The $900 Facebook Pony
I laughed and laughed and laughed. I have never been gym-goer, and apparently I am missing some excellent people-watching!

Dover's Outstanding Service from Guinness on Tap
I've never understood the Dover hate, and this is a great follow up to Austen's frightening trailer accident story a little while ago.

New First tests from Poor Woman Showing
Carly's conversations with Bobby are always hilarious. This one is particularly good. I'm still grinning ear to ear writing this summary!

First Time Saddle Shopping Tips from Topaz Dreams
It literally never occurred to me until I read this that there are so many things we take for granted when we shop for a saddle. I love the way this is all written out! I bought my first saddle for $50 from a rescue I was working at. They had gotten it at an auction for about that much. Yeah. Needless to say, I never really rode in it. It made a good first saddle for a series of mustangs, though - sometimes it's nice to have something you don't care about!

Friday, January 9, 2015

What do you bring when you fall off?

It happens to the best of us. You're approaching a jump - riding a fresh horse - asking for a little too much spice in an upward transition, and then boom, you're on the ground.

If you're riding by yourself, you dust yourself off and get back on. (Hopefully, anyway.)

If you're in a lesson, what happens next? Once you're deemed to be ok, of course.

Does your lesson barn or trainer have an imposed penalty for falling off?

When I took lessons in France, if you fell off, the rule was that you had to bring a chocolate cake to the next lesson.

These were group lessons, basically cattle calls, with 8-10 people per lesson, riding in a circle. I've never been in a lesson format like it since. I maintain today that the French system of riding is founded on not dying. The people who make it out are damn good riders.

We had chocolate cake every week. If no one had fallen off at the 45 minute mark, we dropped stirrups. Then we sat the trot. Then we worked on canter transitions. If all else failed, out came the crossrail. Keep in mind, 8-10 people, riding in a big circle in a situation that sometimes felt an awful lot like a warmup ring from hell. Sometimes we were only riding in half of an indoor arena - a very big indoor, to be sure, way oversized, with second story bleachers for watching horseball. But still, now we're talking 16-20 horses, in two big circles at either end. Yeah.

So: cake every week. One week it was me. Some weeks we had multiple cakes.

I've heard other variations on this. A bottle of wine, for the adults. What brought this to mind was a blogger recently mentioning that she had to bring doughnuts to her next lesson for falling off.

I don't know what the current barn's policy is, as I haven't fallen off in a lesson (thankfully).

Do you have to bring anything to your trainer or the barn when you fall off in a lesson?

Exciting News: Farm Hunters, coming soon to a blog near you!

I've been keeping a secret.

Late in 2014, through a series of incredible circumstances, we learned that the small farm that we'd always hoped for might become a reality in 2015. We're SO excited, but there's a long road ahead.

So, as the new year gets under way, we are house shopping. We'll be looking at two very different types of property: small farms (5-12 acres with horse potential) in a higher price range, and city houses (probably fixer-uppers) in a lower price range.

I'm holding out for the right property. Tristan has (hopefully) quite a few years before he's ready to retire, and I am lucky to be in a really fantastic boarding situation. Finding a small house that we can put work into and the re-sell toward a larger farm might be the right solution for us right now. On the other hand, if we find the right land + house now, he could start coming home for part of the year in the next two years.

We'll start very slowly, and I hope to share details here, especially of any potential farms. Obviously for privacy reasons I'll be a little vague, but there's a lot to think about, and I hope - as always - that writing about it will help me work through it.

I'd welcome any input from anyone who's bought a house before - things you wish you'd know, questions you wish you'd asked, so on and so forth. That goes double for anyone who's bought horse property!

So, watch this space. I might start talking about some places very soon.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

TOAH Blog Hop: Faves

What is your horse's absolute favorite thing? Outside of riding! Are there treats that instantly convert your pony into an addict or liniments that leave him yawning and chewing? What does your horse just love to have?

Tristan's very, very favorite thing is doing nothing.

He would summarize doing nothing as eating all alone in a big field. Maybe taking a nap. Maybe walking to a new pile of hay or a new patch of grass from time to time. But mostly foraging without interruption.

He's not a social horse - in fact, he's one of those rare horses that I think would be perfectly happy alone. He's never been a horse to introduce himself to new horses, or hang out with a buddy in the field. He's not a workaholic, and doesn't particularly enjoy work, beyond getting occasionally excited while going XC, or settling into a comfortable sense of mission on a trail ride.

Tristan's idea of the best day ever.

Okay, NOW it's winter


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

We interrupt this horse blog...

...for a brief heads up of a great deal.

I am a huge, huge, HUGE fan of the Ask a Manager blog. I've been reading it consistently for several years now and really feel it's helped me improve beyond belief.

I purchased the e-book, How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager, when I started job-hunting about three years ago. I firmly believe it was an incredibly helpful tool.

Alison's offering a huge discount on that book for the next few days. Check it out, and make sure to add Ask a Manager to your blog reading list!

In Which Tristan Is The Best Babysitter, And Also Maybe A Bad Influence

Still in Maine (have to talk the florist out of $5k of exotic flowers today, gulp) but the barn manager sent me some awesome videos.

Tristan is the barn's default babysitter, and is currently teaching a yearling by UB-40 manners. It's below zero and the turnouts are a solid sheet of ice, so they're getting short turnouts in the indoor. The barn manager is letting them run around a little as long as Tristan doesn't go overboard, and as you can see, he's feeling much better!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy 2015!

Bring it on.

Idiot Horse Update

After 48 hours of bute and two applications of liniment, Tristan's weird stomach swelling is down significantly. Not gone yet - at least not when I checked right before I left for Maine - but way better. Whew.

I didn't have time to put him on the longe but I am not as worried - he can have a few more days to rest and I will check him on Friday when I get back.

In the meantime, wtf, Wednesday night?! Uggggghhh.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 in Review, Part 1

Yeah, I'm way behind, but my pony is broken at the moment so I have time to regale you all with the roller coaster of our 2014.

First things first, wow, I posted 375 times in 2014. That's a lot. Yikes. I can't figure out whether I'm proud or apologetic. I do love writing here, and my happiest rhythm is one or two posts a day, but maybe that's too often? Any thoughts?


January started really effing cold. I got some excellent things for Christmas, and I went to the GMHA Sleigh Rally. We dealt with some eye problems, which would become a running theme. To distract me from the weather, I daydreamed about what I would do with $100,000. I gave a tour of my barn as part of a blog hop. I threw a small tantrum about dressage salutes, and did a foot progression collage of Tristan's foot disaster. I took you all on a tour of my childhood bedroom, and did an overview of reading BLM freezebrands.

Bottom line: it was really cold, and I didn't ride a lot, so I blathered on about many other horse-related things.


Things got warmer, so we took a few lessons, and worked on counterflexion. I played around with color schemes. I cut my hand on a broken glass and was sidelined for most of the month - I couldn't hold the reins, so we did a lot of free longeing. Tristan was featured on Transformation Tuesday at She Moved to Texas, which was really cool.


March started off really, really cold, double digits below, so I was stuck doing more general writing. I talked about my struggles with gout, and then when it warmed up we finally started hacking out again. We celebrated one year post-surgery. We also started lessons again, and got some good work in the canter. I pondered spring shots. I did a review of the bits I've used with Tristan, and then Tris got his teeth floated along with his spring checkup.


Snow finally started to melt, so we headed out for more road hacks, and even more. Tristan started on Pentosan, and it made a huge difference for him. I got my trailer inspected and Tristan's saddles fitted, in preparation for the summer. We got a puppy!


I recapped our first event ever, and went to Everything Equine. I crewed for Hannah at the VERDA Bare Bones LD, which was an eventful day that involved hours and hours of looking for an escaped Tucker in the woods but thankfully ended well. I also got engaged, huzzah for that.


Not all that much happened, horse-wise, in June. I had a massive work event at the end of the month that basically ate my soul. I talked about my superstitions that related to Tristan, and he went into training with the assistant trainer, which worked out beautifully.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

What Fresh Hell Is This

I swear to you all, until about three years ago Tristan was the hardiest, thriftiest horse in the barn. Sigh.

Anyway. Arrived at the barn Friday afternoon, having left work early on account of being sick as a dog and leaking phlegm from nearly every orifice. I resolved to pull his blanket and give him a good grooming, write my board check and head home.

I reached under to curry his stomach and - what?

I discovered a hard swelling on his right side, a few inches up from his midline, maybe 8" long and 5" wide. Irregular edges. No heat that I could tell. Not an edema - it was not soft or pitting. Felt like ropey muscle. No clear cut or abrasion.

Utterly stumped, I asked the barn manager to put her hands on him. She was stumped. We asked one of the barn owners to put hands on him. She was stumped.

My best attempt at a picture - you can just barely see the swelling. This is taken from his left side.


We put him on the longe line, and he looked fine at the walk but was short at the trot through his right side: like he didn't want to stretch his stride out and involve his stomach muscles on that side.

We tossed ideas back and forth and our absolute best guess was that late on Thursday, Tris had been turned out in the indoor with baby Jovi, the coming yearling that he babysits. They go out in a relatively small drylot together, and the idea was to get them both to stretch their legs and to let Jovi get a little feisty and then let Tristan teach him about appropriate boundaries even when you're excited. Apparently they both had a terrific time, and Tristan demonstrated some very energetic and athletic airs above ground.

So, we thought perhaps he had pulled a stomach muscle doing that, and there was some resultant swelling. He got buted Friday night and Saturday morning, and when I checked on him Saturday night, there was no clear change, so some more bute. I'll head out and check on him this afternoon, and we'll see what we see.

Trip to the barn Saturday night. Picture does not quite adequately convey how hard it was snowing, or how much I looooooove my new 4WD + studded snow tires.

The internet suggests many other things it might be, but the vast majority of those things require the swelling to be an edema, which this most definitely is not. The only other outside possibility is a large abscess from a cut or embedded object of some kind, but wow, that would have to have blown up FAST. It's totally in the wrong place for pigeon fever, and he is acting 100% normally otherwise.

I suppose it works out, timing-wise - I am headed to Maine for most of the rest of the week to arrange wedding stuff, so he was either going to get time off or give trail rides to the working students (which they love and he's good at). He can get a week off. If there's no change or if it gets worse, pony earns himself another vet visit.

So much for putting the saddle back on and starting more intensive work...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are some interesting blog posts from the horse world!

Pan Am Penny from A Filly's Best Friend

The Custom Bridle Experience From Hell from The $900 Facebook Pony
o.O Yeah. Wow.

How to Put Some Solar Power In Your Fenceline from We Are Flying Solo
GREAT tutorial, very timely for me, excellent explanations and ideas.

Happy Gotcha Day from What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Lovely tribute to a really special horse, with before & after pictures. What a change!

Friday, January 2, 2015

TOABH: I'm A Loser, Baby

Let’s talk about your horse’s biggest fail. What did Thunderhooves do that embarrassed you, scared you, shocked you or just annoyed the hell out of you?

Whoo boy. You guys, Tristan was the biggest asshole in the barn for so long. Surprise!

I know, he's an angel today, but holy mackerel did he take a while to get there. When I got him he was wholly untouched - he had to be put into a squeeze chute to have his feet done and get his vaccines. Not wild anymore, but not domestic by any stretch of the imagination.

Things Tristan used to be bad at: standing to be groomed, getting his halter on and off, picking up his feet, being longed, getting on the trailer, getting caught in the field, standing for a bath, standing in the cross ties, being ridden in the open, being ridden on trails, being ridden in the outdoor arena, being bridled.

Of that whole list, the absolute worst was probably getting bridled. Once he got over having his head handled, which was ~3 months of constant work, we would take a bridle completely apart and re-assemble it on his head, slowly, over the halter. Then, with the bit dangling from one cheekpiece, I would wrap my right hand in the right side of his halter and hold on tight. Then I would cup the bit in my left hand and bring it inch by inch toward his mouth.

The first few weeks (yes, weeks), as soon as the bit touched his lips he would lose his everloving MIND. We would usually do this in a stall, and as soon as the bit touched his lips, he would rear. High. Fast. Hard.

Remember that I had my hand twisted in his halter? Yeah. For a reason. Up I would go with him. WHAM, I would go into the side of the stall. Over and over. Some days as long as an hour or a little bit longer. If I lost my grip, he wouldn't let me touch his face again, so I had to hold on for dear life and keep the bit near his face no matter what. I would show up at work moving like an old lady, two black eyes, having cried myself to sleep the night before.

The next few weeks, we could get the bit against his lips, but getting it into his mouth involved just as much drama. Up. High. WHAM.

Finally, when I couldn't take anymore, I squared my shoulders, walked into the stall, twisted my hand in the halter, and got ready.

He dropped his head, opened his mouth, and waited.

Ever since, he has been absolutely perfect to bridle. He lowers his head. He waits. He reaches for the bit and settles it where he wants it. A toddler could put a bridle on his head while he's ground-tied.

I wish it hadn't been so awful to start, and I wish anything else had worked (believe me, we were committed to patient, gentle methods with him, and nearly everything else eventually worked out with time and positive reinforcement). But I'm glad it did.