Saturday, April 30, 2016

Giveaway Alert!

Heads up: L. Williams of Viva Carlos has reached her 1,500th post, and is sponsoring a really cool giveaway.

So go, give her some love, and enter the giveaway for a $25 gift card to Riding Warehouse!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Poetry Month: Robert Frost's "The Runaway"

For as much horse poetry as I've read (and that's a lot) this one remains my favorite.

"The Runaway"
Robert Frost

ONCE when the snow of the year was beginning to fall,
We stopped by a mountain pasture to say, “Whose colt?”
A little Morgan had one forefoot on the wall,
The other curled at his breast. He dipped his head
And snorted to us. And then we saw him bolt.        5
We heard the miniature thunder where he fled,
And we saw him, or thought we saw him, dim and gray,
Like a shadow across instead of behind the flakes.
The little fellow’s afraid of the falling snow.
He never saw it before. It isn’t play        10
With the little fellow at all. He’s running away.
He wouldn’t believe when his mother told him, ‘Sakes,
It’s only weather.’ He thought she didn’t know!
So this is something he has to bear alone
And now he comes again with a clatter of stone,        15
He mounts the wall again with whited eyes
Dilated nostrils, and tail held straight up straight.
He shudders his coat as if to throw off flies.
“Whoever it is that leaves him out so late,
When all other creatures have gone to stall and bin,        20
Ought to be told to come and take him in.”

Do you have a favorite poem about horses?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Emergency Chocolate

When I started Tristan, in January 2006, basically everything was difficult.

Every day, I would catch him in his paddock, lead him into the indoor, and groom him.

He was so nervous that he would tremble, sweat, or spook away, to the end of the lead line. When he got back to his paddock, he would drink gallons of water; the stress dehydrated him.

Eventually, I could groom him inside. Then I could longe him. Then he wore tack while longeing. Bridling was especially difficult.

I cried a lot. I am not really a person who cries from frustration. Adversity usually makes me grit my teeth, get angry, and push through. I cry at other people's pain, real or fictional, but not at my own. So when I tell you I cried a lot, that should give you some idea of how miserable I was. For months.

Early on, my trainer gave me one tip that really helped, and I used it for years.

Always keep emergency chocolate in your tack trunk.

I bought peanut butter chocolate bars, much like the one I have pictured above, only not nearly as nice. They were 2/$1.00 at the grocery store, and even that was a stretch, because I was on a really strict budget so I could afford my horse.

But I always found money to keep one in my tack trunk. On really bad days, I would put him back in his paddock, and I would go sit down on my tack trunk. Sometimes I would not even turn the light on in the tack room. And I would eat some chocolate.

Blood sugar is no one's friend. Stress does crazy things to my blood sugar. Forcing myself to sit down, have a moment of pleasure, get some sugar into my stomach, and breath deeply for a few minutes, was a key part of readjusting and getting myself ready for the long, cold drive home.

I haven't kept chocolate in my tack trunk in years, because even our very worst days now are lightyears better than even our very best days were that winter.

But it was still one of the best pieces of advice I ever got for training a young, green, volatile horse.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Tall Boots: Should I go brown?

So last week I told the story of the best Christmas present ever that wasn't meant to be.

There is a small silver lining to this story, which is that my husband is still committed to getting me a pricey (for us) horse-related Christmas gift.

And I have the perfect idea.


I currently ride in synthetic tall boots. I know, I know. At the time I bought them, they were the best option available on a lot of fronts. They've served me well - far, far better than I have deserved. But I've known for some time now that tall boots would have to be my next pricey equestrian purchase.

Lo and behold, the COTH forums adore these particular boots - HKM Spain Field Boots

But here's why I want them: they come in brown.

I have long coveted a pair of brown field boots. Serious covet. Desperate, starry-eyed, covet.

But now that I am in a position to pull the trigger, I am having second thoughts. I think about matching brown field boots to things, and I think about possibly showing. My black tall boots are not dead yet entirely - they could serve for showing. 

But will I be that weirdo? I already have a silver helmet.

In case you couldn't tell, I am not a big risk-taker when it comes to color...

Friday, April 22, 2016

Digital Cartoon of Tristan by Emilie of because pony

So a little while ago, Emilie of because pony offered up a killer deal on her digital cartoons of horses in honor of Abercrombie's birthday.

I suppose this is the part where, surprise! I sort of spring it on you, blogosphere, that Emilie has been working at my barn a while now. She is just as awesome in person as she is on her blog, random coincidence that it was that she ended up at our little barn in Vermont! (Ok, not so random, but aaaaaaanyway. I am the best at awkward after-the-fact revelations.)

(oh and Abercrombie is cuter in person than he is in pictures. true story.)

To pick up the rambly thread: I jumped at the chance to get a digital cartoon from someone who probably spends more time with my horse than I do and knows his mannerisms and his goofy faces.

I described a pose generally, his ridiculous begging face, see also photographic evidence here:

one of approximately 8 million pictures of him doing this

And then she took it from there, and LO IT IS AMAZING AND I LOVE IT.

Tristan doesn't always photograph well, and I've always had this hope that his personality would come through more in art, and this proves me right! Which is going to be a dangerous discovery because now I want more and more and more.

(proof: I showed the image to my husband with zero prep or advance explanation and he laughed for several minutes straight and then finally said "that is the most Tristan-like thing I've ever seen!"

You, too, should order one because <3. Check out the commission form on her website! (Oh and follow her blog, of course, and her Facebook page.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The best Christmas present ever, that sadly wasn't

I have a very belated story to tell, partly because it is ultimately a sad story.

For Christmas, my husband hinted that he was so excited because he had found the best present ever. He consulted friends. He searched the breadth of the internet. He ordered me to stay at the barn late on the day it arrived. He placed it in my lap on Christmas and waited, breathless and excited.

And lo, it was in fact the best Christmas present ever. 

I was in total numb shock, so deliriously excited.

If you don't know what you're looking at, that is a modern replica of the famous McClellan cavalry saddle, first developed by the Civil War general of the same name. 

It was the perfect nexus between my horse geekery and my history geekery. I loved it.

But I knew right away to temper that excitement, and you, dear reader, are probably nodding your head along as you sigh in sadness.

I simultaneously reassured my husband that this was indeed an AMAZING Christmas gift, stupendously thoughtful and something that I have long coveted but would never have bought for myself.

But it would need to fit my horse. 

Yeah, it didn't fit my horse. :(

Regardless of the ill fit and the very strict return policy, I put a half pad under it and rigged it up for one ride.

It felt weird and wonderful. It made me sit up straighter and ride with a longer leg and more open hip than any other saddle I've ever ridden in...and it was also exquisitely uncomfortable. In a way that's really tough to describe. It wasn't that it was hard as a rock, though it was. It wasn't that it was sort of weirdly evenly narrow. It wasn't that I'm just not used to riding in a saddle with such a high pommel and cantle.

It just felt so completely and utterly different from any saddle I've ever sat in. I loved it. I wished desperately that I dared trot, but the fit was so bad that I didn't.

So, I got off after two laps around the arena, carefully wiped down the saddle, put it back in the box, took it to the UPS store, and sent it back.

That was a solid three months ago, and I'm still sad, looking at these pictures. I wish it had worked.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pity, Party of One

Not the best ride ever last night.

Riding, for me anyway, is all about plateaus and valleys.

Mostly, we sort of cruise along, plodding ahead. Adding fitness, adding a little bit more suppleness, a little bit better transition.

Then we fall off a cliff.

And we hit bottom and I sort of stare around, dazed, wondering what the fuck happened, and Tristan thinks I am a worthless idiot. Then we wallow for a while, and everything is awful, and nothing works, even the stuff that worked flawlessly 48 hours ago.

Then we start slowly, painfully, crawling back up the other side. Eventually, we hit a spot that's maybe 1" higher than it was before we fell off a cliff.

So we plod along for a while. Then another cliff. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Sometime late last week, we fell off that cliff.

And right now Tris is wondering what the hell is wrong with me, anyway.

So right now we cannot: bend, go on the bit in the canter, trot forward, change direction on the bit, back up, turn left in the canter, breathe, relax at the base of the neck, use stifles. We can sort of get on the bit in the trot. We can in the walk if we want to crawl along flopping on the forehand. Which, obviously, is not ideal.

We also cannot, absolutely CAN.NOT. behave sanely outside. Un-possible. Out of the question. How dare I even think about it.

To be fair, this is his first year in four years when he's arrived into spring both a) very sound and b) very fit. Right now, he's banging out long trot sets and short canter sets and he's tired but still bright-eyed and willing to go. (On days that are not overly warm, anyway, since he's still got a lot of winter coat to blow out.)

But yeah.

Every single time in the last two weeks I've taken him outside there has been some kind of major shit fit. Last night, I set a goal of walking and trotting sanely in the outdoor. 20 minutes of walking, and he finally let go of the tension in his back and his neck - or enough of it, anyway - and I asked for a trot. Tons of little mincing steps, angry head-flipping, flinging shoulders side to side later, and he started to soften to the bit.

And then we got to the far end of the ring and he went sideways in this great scrambling leap, and UP, and down and then up and down a few more times. Still going sideways. Fast, toward home. I swore a lot and sat deep and yanked his head up and then kicked him on. Then it happened again. Then it happened again. I kept him walking.

Then I looked up to see that the barn manager was leaving, and I had one of those moments of utter defeat. I realized if I kept pushing this, I was going to end up on the ground, and there would be no one else around to catch Tristan. I can roll. Tris would head for the hills.

So we went inside, and we spent another 20 minutes attempting to get some semblance of "better than we started." Which was for the most part unsuccessful. I tuned up the trot-canter transitions a little bit. I got some changes of bend on a 20m circle. I got a couple of steps of leg yield. That was it. He was blowing hard, because he had spent the entire time fighting me, grinding his teeth, not breathing.

I called it quits. I stripped his tack. I took him back outside to one of the dry lots, and I let him roll, and then I curried him up and down. It was windy, but sunny, so the strong breeze took the hair away as fast as I could get it off him, and he still wasn't relaxed - he kept pacing, nosing at the hay and not really eating it, but he seemed to hate me a little less by the end of it.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Belated Birthday

April 11 is a big day in our family, and yesterday was a milestone anniversary for both of the April 11 events.

First, Tristan turned 21 years old!

birthday boy post-ride

Realistically, I have no idea when his birthday is. Even his year of birth (1995, coded into his freezebrand) is a bit of a guess, since he was rounded up at age 4. It's a pretty darn good guess, but it could be wrong one way or the other.

So, when I got him, I decided to pick a day for him. April 11 was my much-beloved grandmother's birthday. She passed away from a very fast, very aggressive form of lung cancer six months before I got Tristan. (Actually, very close to her own birthday.) So it was a good way for me to think about her on the date. Yesterday would've been her 90th birthday, and she's been gone for 11 years. I miss her a lot.

I went back and forth on whether to feed Tristan a beer. I ended up not doing it. I might on Friday night. We have a strict no weekday drinking rule in our household, and between a) laziness, b) neurotic doubt and c) that rule, I decided no beer last night.

I ended up doing a short, 25 minute dressage school. He gave me some lovely stuff in that short time, including a couple of trot-canter transitions in which he really lifted through the withers, and some gorgeous big expressive stretchy trot at the very end.

I groomed him hard before and after the ride, and got a TON of hair out of him. I offered him a slice of the maple pound cake I'd made and brought to the barn, but he wanted none of it - pretty typical for him. He's not a baked goods kind of horse, alas.

um, stop taking pictures of me and get on with it already

But! Yesterday was also an anniversary of a slightly less happy kind. Five years ago yesterday, I had colic surgery.

Yes, you read that right. I did. Not Tristan.

See, five years + one day ago, I went to bed not feeling great, but not that awful - just sort of nauseated and unsettled. I woke up at 2am in the worst pain I'd experienced in my life - and I'm really good with pain. I literally crawled to the bathroom and tried to throw up, failed at that, called my mother (she's a nurse) and decided with her and my husband (boyfriend at the time) that I needed to go to the ER.

Thus began a very long day that ended at 2pm with me being wheeled into surgery, entirely unsure what they would be doing. It presented like appendicitis, but my appendix looked ok (not great, but not ready to burst either) on the CT scan, the pain was not any better (they did not give me drugs until noon, so that they could establish that I was not drug-seeking, which I get, but wow, it sucked), and so I signed a waiver on the understanding that they would be doing exploratory abdominal surgery and would remove some part of my inside - definitely my appendix, because why not, but also possibly an ovary (also looking a little dodgy but not definitively so), spleen, pancreas, who the hell knew?

I woke up a few hours later and heard the verdict. Somehow, an adhesion - which is a piece of internal scar tissue - had displaced and had wrapped around and tied off a loop of my small intestine. The pain I felt was from my entire digestive system slowly shutting down. If it had gone too much longer there was a distinct possibility that the tied off piece of my intestine could have died or become infected. It was basically one of the weirdest possible things it could've been based on my symptoms. The surgeon took a photo of my intestines with his phone during surgery and I made grand rounds that week, since it was a teaching hospital.

I ended up in the hospital for two days, and at home flat on my back for another two weeks, and recovering for the rest of the spring. At a post-op appointment the surgeon was carefully explaining to me that they'd chose to go in laparoscopically for the best outcomes, and that was great news, since if I was careful the scars would be minimal and I could wear a bikini again, probably!

I sighed, looked at him, and said very calmly but firmly, "I have never worn a bikini in my life. When can I ride my horse again?"

I swear, the surgeon's whole face lit up, he looked like he wanted to high five me, and we got on famously. I recovered pretty darn well, and never even filled the prescription he gave me (for 30 days of opiates, ah, those halcyon days before drug addiction was a white people problem and so we didn't really care about it). It did set me back in riding for that spring since I had no abs and jiggling around was painful, but for a life-threatening issue that could only be solved by surgery, it was pretty darn quick and straightforward!

It took me a while to realize that what had happened to me was exactly what happens to a number of horses who colic and have to have surgery. Since then I've had more sympathy for the pain horses are in when they colic!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

House Post: Back Bedroom Begins

Two weeks ago, we had a number of friends come up for a ski weekend. On Sunday, they said "point us at a project on the house, we want to help." Ok then! The back bedroom was not all that high on the priority list, but it was the easiest next project for a bunch of people to tackle. So: start to finish, 7 people, 2 hours, all the wallpaper GONE!

There's still cleanup to be done, and I have not touched it, since I've been preoccupied by the basement and the kitchen. But it feels good to have it ready to go when I get to it.


before-before (from the listing)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Two Truths and a Lie

Anyone ever play this game?

See if you can guess the lie.

1. I have only ever owned one pair of tan breeches in my life.

2. I have never jumped above 2'9"

3. I have had four concussions, two thanks to horses. (The other two from skiing.)

So: guess mine and then try your own!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

On Momentum & Inertia

I've always found self-regulating to be a challenge. If I'm doing something, I get lost inside that thing. I want to do that, and nothing else. If I am reading a book, I get lost for hours. If I find myself at work for an extra fifteen minutes, I stay for an extra two hours, and then I bring my computer home, and I'm on the couch working until midnight.

The same is true for my riding: if I have a good ride, if I put together a few days of good work in a row, I want to ride all the time. I read COTH all day. I stare out the window and wish I weren't at work.

But there's a flip side. If I fall out of that hyper-focus, it's like things don't exist. I haven't picked up a crochet hook in 9 months, after making a baby blanket a month for almost a year prior to that. Sometimes, I'll marathon a TV show, get interrupted (by sleep, or by having to go to work or do something else) and then I'll forget it exists. There are so many that I've completely dropped that way.

For whatever reason, my brain is not built to do the steady plugging away thing. It's gotten better over the years, in the sense that I am more aware of my natural tendencies, but it's also gotten worse - for whatever reason, as I get older, I get more set in some of my ways. This is one of them.

Sometimes this hyper-focus is a good thing. It's great for working on the house. It's great for the intensive work of dressage. When I really dig into a work project, I can absolutely crush it. When I can turn it to my advantage, I lay waste to a to do list.

One of the biggest struggles of my equestrian life is managing those tendencies, especially in relation to a horse who is basically the opposite.

See, Tristan is a horse who is really, really difficult to manage mentally. He fundamentally does not have a work ethic. There are many horses who will work their hearts out for you - who thrive on being ridden every day, or twice a day - who will keep going no matter what. Lots of people seek that out in their horses, and value that about certain breeds of horses.

That's not Tristan. Work, for Tristan, is a negotiation. He is the equine equivalent of the guy who shows up conscientiously to his job every day, 9-5, plugs away, honest as the day is long but never spectacular, and then spends his weekends on the recliner watching football, beer in hand. Figuring him out physically is a piece of cake compared to keeping his brain on an even keel.

Me? I work 8-7, then go home and paint the kitchen, then re-organize my office, then scheme for new projects. I over-commit and burn out spectacularly and when I force myself to take some rest, within 12 hours I'm itching to re-commit to something new.

So you can see how we might come into conflict.

When I have a good ride, I want to go back and ride every night, all dressage, all the time, for hours. Tristan can't do that. He just can't. Ride 1 is great, Ride 2 is decent, and then the wheels come off. So I'm constantly forcing myself to plan in rest days for him, to vary his work in quantity, quality, and type. To juggle it so that each ride I have the happy, refreshed, and cooperative horse instead of the one who lets out a deep sigh at the mounting block as he's staring into the middle distance.

Here's the other catch. When I give him a day off, I fall into a rut. It turns into two days off, three days off. I tell myself he's happier that way - which is actually completely true. So I fling myself into projects around the house, or into reading book after book after book, or staying super late at work every night, and before I know it, he's had a week off.

I'm not good at the moderating. I'm not good at the plugging away just a little bit every day. I full appreciate that this is a pretty deep character flaw, but I would also point out that learning to work with my natural inclinations has netted me some great results otherwise. The trick is in learning to manage it, to channel it, and to occasionally force myself to put one foot in front of the other, even for things that I love to do, like riding.

No, I'll never be a world-beating rider. But then, I honestly never wanted to be. I love my horse, I love to ride, and I want us to keep getting better. For me, part of that "better" is finding ways to square what I want to do with both my brain and my horse's brain. Sometimes that's challenge enough.

[sorry for the wall o'text - I've had this on my mind for a long time. Hat tip to The $900 Facebook Pony's recent post about momentum that finally spurred me to put this down.]

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Vet Update: Lyme Vaccine

I mentioned last week that my vet had listed consideration for a Lyme vaccine on my invoice from spring shots. I was curious, so I emailed her to ask more.

I wrote:
Hi Alison, 
I'm filing Tristan's vet paperwork from his shots, and saw your note about the Lyme vaccine. I wasn't aware that there was one yet for horses! I know my dog gets it every year. 
Is it new, or is it a variation on the dog vaccine? I'd love to learn more. (Mostly out of curiosity; I have never found a tick on Tris up here so I agree with you that it doesn't make sense if he stays at this farm.)
To which the vet replied:
Hi Amanda. Dr Divers at Cornell started a study a few years ago using the Merial vaccine for lyme in dogs administered to horses. Very good efficacy and safety, study should be out this year. So it is exactly the dog vaccine, but I've become quite comfortable using it. 3 doses 1 month apart and then every 6-12 months depending on region.
Which is fascinating and kind of awesome! Years ago, we boarded at a barn that had absolutely ridiculously high levels of tick-borne disease. That was the first time I learned about ehrlichia, which is a vile little disease that every single horse in the barn but Tristan got at least once, many of them multiple times.

But he got ticks quite frequently, and he reacted horribly to them. Giant orange-sized abscesses, weeping puss, hot and painful to the touch. Mostly around his head and neck. I would wash them, treat them with antibiotic cream, and hot compress them endlessly to try and ease his misery a bit. Sometimes he got bute, but it never seemed to make a huge difference.

I always held onto a wholly unscientific theory that Tristan was fighting some kind of infection on the surface. No other horse in the barn reacted that way to tick bites. They just went about their business and then came down with the sudden high fevers that are characteristic of ehrlichia. He blew out those abscesses but sailed past anything deeper. I pulled a Lyme titer on him quarterly just to be neurotic, but he never registered any infection at all. Dumb luck, good constitution, some combination of the two - I'll never know.

Here's a good Practical Horseman article about the causes, symptoms, and treatment for Lyme that includes a little bit about the Cornell study at the end.

Here's another (PDF) article right from Cornell with much more detail and more science.

So: it doesn't make sense for us right now, but it's awesome to know that there's real research and strides being made toward a vaccine. Lyme is horrible, and it's only going to get more widespread as ticks survive more and more of these mild winters.

Friday, April 1, 2016

With apologies to the tack snobs among you

I have no idea how long my stirrup has been like this. Years, probably. I can't remember the last time I messed with them.

You guys are all out there buying fancy colored composite stirrups and yeah. Even now that I noticed it I can't be bothered to fix it. It works fine. Too many other things to be neurotic about!

(I swear, this is not an April Fool's Day joke, I actually ride with my stirrup like that.)