Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Last night, I got on about 7:30 pm after we returned from the weekend away with my husband's family.

My goal was solely to confirm that Tristan was going to continue to cooperate in the outdoor ring while wearing his kimberwicke.


I got obedient 20m circles each way, and while they weren't pretty, he at least let me tinker with them a little bit.

Tonight, I'll start him in his kimberwicke and then swap to the snaffle, and we'll see if we can't get an actual schooling ride in. Who knows, I might even do something crazy like try and practice my test. Probably I should memorize the test first. sigh.

yup, that's the view from the dressage arena

Monday, May 30, 2016

Horse Instincts

One of the best things about horses, for me, is how they force me to develop certain qualities.

For one thing, horses do not cope well with equivocation. They want clear, firm direction. They want steady commitment. They don't do that whole "well, I dunno, what do you want to do?" conversation well at all.

I think that's something that so many people who have those "that one time I rode a horse, he bolted/bit me/flipped out for no reason!" stories just don't get. Horses are generally very clear in their communication. You just have to pay attention. Learn to read them, and you can see something coming from a mile away. (Which, ok, is not to say that sometimes they don't flip for no reason - but that is the definite minority of instances.)

see, for example, a horse that is unhappy with literally everything in his life in that moment.

So in order to become a person who works well with horses, I have had to develop those qualities: be clear, be decisive, be firm. I'm not great at them yet, but I am lightyears better than I was. I think it's one of the reasons that horse people are often difficult (from society's point of view) to get along with. People who are in deep with horses, and who relate really well to horses, are often blunt, straightforward people who don't always have patience for the you-first-no-wait-what-now dance that society values. Oftentimes, they're women, for whom being blunt, clear, and not wholly sympathetic is considered a negative.

Here's another thing: horses teach you to be still and to wait.

I suck at this. I am a person who wants to practice frenetic energy in all that I do. I multitask, cubed. I need a million projects. I need to fidget. I need to constantly poke at things.

But I'm learning. For me, the epitome of this feeling lies in the perfect half-halt: that quiet, still, gathering, that moment when you communicate a complicated idea to a horse that you should hold, wait, be still. I think of a good half-halt as a spot deep in my stomach, in my core, that for one split instant contains everything and makes everything possible as a next step.

The more obvious, outward example of this is the ability to stay the calm center of the storm, to hold your body and your mind still when shit is going down. You can do it from the saddle, riding a buck or a bad moment. You can do it on the ground when you're dealing with or approaching a horse that's frightened or cartwheeling around on a longe line. Horses need that. They can read us way better than we can read them. They see our tension, they see our fear, and they feed off of it. But they can do the reverse, too. They can see a person who has let tension drain from their body, who is holding still, who is waiting quietly, and they respond to like with like.

Last week, I took the dog for a short hike down a rail trail near our house.

alerting very hard to something I never did see

I love my dog, but she is not always easy. She is fast, strong, and very tricky to keep focused. She is not great on a leash, but she is absolutely forbidden to be off leash except in enclosed areas. She bolts, instantly. Her recall is not good; she simply doesn't have the self-discipline to have it nailed down yet.

So on this beautiful, sunny day, we went about three miles, and on our return, when we were about half a mile away from the trail head, which was on a very busy road, she took a flying leap off the trail into a muddy ditch. She loves splashing in mud puddles. She was flailing around, sprinting back and forth, and then all of a sudden she was no longer on her leash.

There was no tug, no warning; she wasn't even at the end of her 30' lead. One second she was frolicking, the next she was a brindled blur and the next second she had vanished into the trees.

I ran forward down the trail, yelling for her. She reappeared out of the woods about twenty yards down the trail, crossed the trail, and then disappeared into the woods on the other side of the trail.

Between the moment when she first got loose and I panicked and the moment she crossed the trail again, I fell back on those horse instincts. I could feel my body grow still and quiet, and time slowed down. I saw that when she had crossed the road again she was actually angling in my direction. I saw how amped up she was, and knew that she loves being chased.

I jogged a little bit further in an unhurried way, watching the brush where she'd disappeared, making noise so she knew I was there, and then paused, waiting, called her one more time - and she exploded out of the brush right toward me and flung herself down at my feet.

I grabbed her harness instantly with a shaking hand, twisted my hand around a few times so she'd have to pull it off to get away again, and praised her to the skies, fed her half the treats I had with me.

The harness (her ususal Ruffwear) was in perfect shape. The leash was in perfect shape. The hardware wasn't twisted in any way. There were no tears or loose spots. There was no earthly reason for the leash to have separated from the harness, but it did.

If I had panicked, she would've thought it was a game, and kept running. In fact, she did that once before, two years ago, the first time she slipped her leash (and her collar; it's why she only goes in a harness now). But because Tristan - and the other horses I've learned from - has drummed into me that need to be still and wait, I caught her less than two minutes after she bolted.

Hopefully, I'll keep working on those lessons. They've served me well.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

House Post: Kitchen Painting

So, previously I shared the project that was re-plastering the walls of the kitchen to cover holes large and small.

Once that was complete, it was time to paint!

Most of the reason for repainting the kitchen was to freshen it up. First, the wallpaper removal had left a sort of ugly bit around the top edges of the walls - either the scrapes from the removal or the tacky discoloration left over after the glue. Second: it's a kitchen! The walls were spattered and stained after 30 years of use, even with regular washing.

Color #1, a very pale creamy yellow, was not a success. It was a lovely color but did not work next to the cabinets or next to the almond formica. The formica will not live forever, but it was bad enough that I didn't want to be pushed into replacing it out of sheer desperation.

Color #2 was much better, if much more bland! A very pale cream that mostly left the walls feeling fresh and, bonus, made me realize how dated the previous wall color was - it, too, was a variation on almond.

After repainting, I also updated all of the switchplates, and put in foam insulating things behind them to cut down on drafts.

I could not be more pleased with the upgrade. It was a relatively quick and easy project, despite how long I dragged my feet in between stages, and the difference in the feel of the kitchen is huge.

Next up for the kitchen: new curtains and new under counter lighting. Longer term, a new exhaust hood for over the stove.


Let us not discuss how ugly and disgusting those lights are.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

History rocks

You know you work in a museum, and your co-workers know you're obsessed with horses, when you arrive at work to find cool gifts on your desk!

It's a reproduction of a poster we have in our collections, and I have walked by the original on exhibit for a few years now and loved it. Now, to find a frame for my office...!

Friday, May 27, 2016

The new love of my life

As in, I almost certainly love this thing more than my husband right now. (Though probably not more than the dog.)

Tristan has been a challenging ride this spring. Probably not in the grand scheme of things, and not for a rider with actual physical fitness and skills, but he has for me. He's been throwing bucking fits on simple hill walks. He's been bolting for home. He's been jigging constantly and fretting himself into a frenzy.

I pulled out the big guns. This behavior is not new. It simply has not occurred in many, many years - seven or eight, to be precise.

See, when Tristan was first learning about riding in the open, he was equally awful (worse, in some ways). I was not nearly as good a rider but I had a certain stickability. He never dumped me, but it wasn't a lot of fun either.

Enter our savior.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a mullen-mouth uxeter kimberwicke. 

Mullen mouth = straight across, no joint. Uxeter = the slots on the side of the bit, which allow for two types of leverage, straight or torqued. Kimberwicke = this particular style of bit, which features the separated bit hangers and the curb chain. Kimberwicke bits can also come jointed or without the leverage slots on the side.

Here's what it looks like by itself.

You can see that the mouthpiece itself also has a low port.

Let me be clear: this is not a subtle bit. This is a bit that says WHOA THE FUCK DOWN RIGHT FUCKING NOW when it is applied firmly. 

It is also, however, a relatively stable bit. Depending on how you adjust the curb chain, it never kicks in. If you attach the reins as I have above, it - and the port on the mouthpiece - only kick in when you really need them to.

Here's what the lower attachment looks like, putting this bit closer to a pelham in action (not on Tristan, random internet horse):

All of that together means that this is a bit that is relatively inert and stable until it is not. Which means that you can ride in it with quiet, steady hands and have a simple, straightforward go. If you have a horse that likes a mullen mouth bit, you can use it for some dressage work - softening, etc.

Tristan tends to prefer double-jointed bits, so I never had much hope that this would really lead to quality dressage work. What I wanted was to regain some of his respect for me when riding outdoors.

I still remember, with perfect clarity, the first time this bit kicked in. I had taken Tristan out to a field behind an old barn and we were simply walking around a bit. He reared, spun, bucked a few times, and bolted for home. He had done the exact same thing the previous day, and I had not been able to stop him; he jumped two ditches, I lost both stirrups, it sucked an awful lot. (I hadn't yet learned an effective one rein stop, that's how inexperienced I was with that sort of thing. I learned later.)

But on that day, three strides into the bolt, I hauled on the reins - not with any sort of tact or subtlety. I just hauled. He stopped cold. Mid-stride. Stock still. He was utterly and completely horrified. He walked politely home, completely mystified as to what had happened to him. It was a truly glorious moment. 

From that day on, he went in his kimberwicke for all outside endeavours, for about two more years. Eventually, it started backing him off too much - he didn't need it. We moved to a full cheek snaffle for jumping and cross-country, and hacked in his regular loose ring.

When I was casting about for ways to work with Tristan on his new misbehavior, I resisted pulling out the kimberwicke; it felt a little bit like failure, or regression. Eventually, I accepted that feeling and pulled it out.

The first day I rode in it was the day of my photo session with Emilie. It was also his first ride in the outdoor dressage arena. He was not thrilled at the walk, and picked up an uneasy trot, and then when we turned to the short stride at the far end, as soon as we passed A, he was OFF.

I simply sat deep, put my hands down firmly, and let him run into the bit himself. I was perfectly quiet and calm. He did not stop mid-stride, but he did immediately drop to a polite walk, tossed his head once or twice, and then licked and chewed.

For the next few minutes, he was a little unhappy, but he was at least polite. I kept steady, quiet hands, asking him simply to trot without flailing. Then I pushed him a little bit, asking him for some actual softening - but not expecting it. And he gave it to me!

Two days ago, we went back up to the outdoor ring, again in the kimberwicke. He never even thought about bolting in the trot. I asked for a canter. He completely exploded - for a stride and a half. Then the same thing happened. Back to a polite walk, a few minutes of disgruntlement, and then we had an actual productive ride, working on geometry and putting together pieces of the test.

At about the 40 minute mark, I asked for a canter to the left, our trickier direction, and he gave me a polite, obedient, and straightforward - if very backed off - 20m circle in the canter. I brought him back to a walk, dropped the reins, and praised him to the skies.

Now, to figure out whether to a) technically bend the rules and ride in the kimberwicke for our schooling show or b) somehow make the transition to the snaffle again and hope that he behaves even in a show atmosphere...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Supplement Dance

I've talked before about Tristan's nutrition and diet, and the ways I've tweaked that.

For many years, I've been a faithful user of HorseTech supplements. I still love them. I still think they're the best quality, best customer service, best availability/combination of ingredients you can get.


(Of course there's a but - otherwise there would not be a blog post.)

Tristan is very slowly - incrementally - almost imperceptibly - becoming a pickier eater. I don't know if it's age, Cushings, or what. The fact remains that my little rescue horse, who used to hoover up everything in his immediate vicinity - edible or not - is just a touch fussy now.

though he still gets mad when he has to work instead of eat dinner

For some time now, he doesn't eat his morning grain until he gets back from turnout. When you toss him his breakfast he spurns it in favor of hay. Granted: he does not get much (about 1.5 cups at a time) and it's a really bland grain (Blue Seal's Carb Guard). Still, two or three years ago, Tristan turning away from grain would have been a sign of the apocalypse. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, call the vet immediately.

HorseTech supplements are typically a powder, and Tristan started actively leaving the powder behind. I added flavoring. That worked for a little while. I switched his supplements - High Point Grass/Mixed Hay and ReitHoof - to pellets from powder when that became available. That worked for a little while. Then it didn't. The barn manager thought that he was sniffing through the pellets carefully, picking out the grain, and in the process smooshing the pellets back into powder with his nose, guaranteeing he would not eat them.

In the last few weeks, we have arrived at an impasse. I knew I wanted Tristan on an overall vitamin/mineral package, but I just wasn't excited by anything the barn already offered or I could purchase locally at Tractor Supply.

Last week during yet another SmartPak 50% off sale, I made a choice. I started Tristan on SmartPak supplements. First, I added SmartVite Senior Perform as his basic vitamin/mineral supplement.

I also spent quite a bit of time thinking about muscle supplements. In the past, I've added some alfalfa for extra protein to support muscle growth, but I never saw a huge difference. I looked at a few different muscle supplements, and then I looked more closely at how they matched up with SmartPituitary Senior Pellets.

One of the key symptoms of Cushings is muscle wasting, and it's one of Tristan's biggest indicators, so any Cushings-oriented supplement would have plenty of muscle support. It fit my bill, was a bit less pricey than the other supplements I looked at, and I'll be curious to see if it helps support him in any other way. He is a very, very low-symptom Cushings horse, responding well to the pergolide with few (if any) spikes in his bloodwork, even seasonally, so I felt like a little bit of support would help but not that I would be crushed if it didn't help him.

We're about a week in, and he's eating both of them just fine. It's obviously way too early to see any clear results, but we'll see!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

WW: New Car Decal

To be strictly accurate, I've owned this decal for a few years now, but only just re-discovered it while sorting paperwork and finally put it on my car on Monday.

I like it. I may not be an eventer anymore, not really (maybe not ever? I can't justify the ways the sport is so willfully oblivious right now), but I still think a complete horse education consists of both dressage and jumping. So this is still a good shorthand.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Follow up to review of KER ClockIt App

In interests of being semi-impartial, here's another review of the KER ClockIt App I reviewed last Friday:

Fitness Trials and Tribulations: Galloping the Warmblood

...though, KER is sponsoring the review, soooooo.

I did note in the original review that perhaps it would work better with an attached heart rate monitor. The author of the EN review did use a heart monitor and seems happier with it.

So if I ever do purchase one, I'll try again for sure. In the meantime, without the heart monitor, the app sucks.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

House Post: Kitchen Plastering

Consider this step 1 of the kitchen repainting project.

After we rewired the house, there were a lot of holes in the kitchen: four in the ceiling, and then some miscellaneous extra holes - around the light switches, for example, and from the old screw anchors for the old CO alarm.

(ok there were - and still are - a lot of holes everywhere, 22 remaining by my count, but the kitchen was a place to start, anyway)

Step 1: use these mesh thingies over the big holes. The holes are about 4" in diameter, and these squares are 6"x6".

Step 2: Cover them pretty roughly with a thick, no-frills layer of plaster.

Step 3: After waiting 24 hours for it to dry, sand down the rough plaster. Use the nifty sanding thing that attaches to the vacuum because plaster dust gets EVERYWHERE.

Step 4: Another layer of plaster, with a slightly wider putty knife for smoother lines.

Step 5: Wait another 24 hours, then sand again.

Step 6: Yep, another layer of plaster, with an even wider putty knife, that I didn't take a picture of, but it's 12" wide and the goal is big sweeping strokes for a minimum of edges or lines.

Step 7: Another 24 hours, another sanding! Hopefully this is the last one. Honestly, I could still do another layer on the ceiling but I ran out of fucks. It looks totally fine except on close inspection. My plan is to leave it alone until we get around to doing the rest of the kitchen renovations in mumblemumble years, and then do one last finishing layer before we repaint the ceiling.

Unrelated: I pulled legitimately 6-8 of these picture hangers out of the walls in the kitchen, WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY HANGING, BOULDERS?

Next up: repainting the kitchen now that the wallpaper is gone and the walls are replastered.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Preview: !

Emilie had the brilliant idea that since we were both lacking in visuals of ourselves riding, we should meet up and fix that. So we did!

Here's a preview that session, of one of the photos she got. I put Tris in his kimberwicke for the first time in 7 years to try and solve some of our asshole horse problems.

Not only did it work, he even got over the insult enough to think about softening, which was not something I was expecting at all!

(also I don't look totally awful WHEW. I haven't even seen myself ride in a mirror in over a year.)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Product Review: KER ClockIt App

Some weeks ago, Eventing Nation sent out an email announcing a contest to win a gift certificate to purchase items from Kentucky Equine Research - specifically, you could win enough to pay for a heart monitor kit.

I've wanted a heart monitor for some time, so I read the contest rules with more interest.

Sure, ok, I can do that! I'm always interested in trying out new horse fitness tracking thingies.

Spoiler alert: the app kind of sucks as it's currently set up.

Main screen

Stable, for keeping your back end records.

I have no idea what the "connections" part means. But you see here how it's a bit unwieldy for people with just one horse. It really wants you to list lots of horses.

The distinctions are kind of arbitrary. Lower-level? Yeah, I guess, but...what does that *mean*? If the purpose of this app is to help collect data, there should be some kind of definition of what each category encompasses, so I can be sure I'm making the right choice.

These were all "types" I created myself. Which means - again as above - they are basically meaningless in the broader scheme of things. They roughly encompass the types of work I do (well the types of work I had done 3 days into using this app, anyway) but...surely most people don't stick to precisely one type of work at a time? Am I just that easily bored? I found that numerous times I set the type of work and then changed my mind after 5 minutes, because it was immediately apparent that wouldn't work for him that day.

Still have no idea what this means, really. There's no button to add. I gather that one of the functions of this app is to have your trainer assign you work, so...maybe that's what this is for?

Please note: there is no way to add your own ICE (in case of emergency) information. You have to send or receive "ICE connection offers." So in order for the ICE button to call, say, my husband, he'd have to be in their system. I tried to see if it would connect to my iPhone Contacts. When I typed "Matt" into the search box one of the names that came up was Elinor MacPhail. Not only does her name not contain the letters "matt" she's also a 4* rider who has no idea I exist, WHY WOULD I CALL HER IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.

If I am misunderstanding the purpose of this function, there's nowhere in the app that tells me that, or what its intended use actually is.

Let's get to the actual ride clocking.

Every time you start a new session, you have to enter the Horse, Location (which...ok? why?), and Worktype. It never assumes I'm riding the only horse I have in the stable, which is not great UI.

(no, that's not my barn, I took this screencap on lunch break at work. that is basically 75% of the downtown of the 5th largest city in the state of Vermont. just in case you needed more proof that this place is TINY.)

Here are two rides. No, I did not ride my horse at 10:30 pm. I don't remember exactly what time it was, but there's no way it was later than 7:00 pm. And I remember thinking at the time that not only was the hourly tally wrong and there was nowhere to indicate that I'm on EST, the minute time was wrong as well. So I have NO IDEA where it is pulling that data from.

This is the section that has the most potential, and when I first saw these screens I got excited and was prepared to forgive the app all its other bizarre eccentricities. 

Then I thought about the ride I'd had, and looked more closely at the numbers.

This was a 30 minute dressage schooling session. According to this app, I only trotted for 4 seconds, and I never cantered. I tested it across several other rides - including a timed conditioning session - and the app was wildly inaccurate every single time. So it's got really shitty coding in the way it accesses the iPhone's internal motion sensors. 

Maybe it will be better with an actual heart rate monitor hooked up to it. If I ever purchase one, I'll check back in and update this review.

In the meantime, I've recorded and uploaded about 5 rides, and that's about as far as I'll go with this particular app. It's just not worth it - inaccurate reporting, unwieldy UI, and its most supposedly beneficial features - sharing with trainers - are just not a match for what I do.