Monday, July 25, 2016

ISO: Breeches that fit correctly!

I'm calling it. I'm finally giving up on Smartpak's Pipers.

I wanted so badly to like them. I really did. And they are fine in the saddle! But I can't walk 10 feet without them sagging so badly I have to hold them up. Wearing a bet helps. Wearing the long version helps. But nothing fixes it. I walk around the barn with one hand on the waistband and even then have to yank up awkwardly on a regular basis.

I think at least part of it is my build. I am not skinny, and I am built to hold my weight in my hips and ass. I have a very long torso. So though I could take a smaller size based on waist, I am often more comfortable in a 30 or 32. But even the older 26 pairs I pull out occasionally don't sag as badly as the Pipers.

So, Internet, I turn to you.

I did buy a pair of the cheap Horze "Active" breeches through Riding Warehouse a few weeks ago, and they fit like a dream - but have other very undesirable qualities. Namely, Velcro at the ankle and no actual knee patches, just a double layer of fabric.

So I ask you, Internet: please help!

Must have: good fit through the ass, priced $50-$75, sock ankles

Nice to have: euro cut, good colors, sits just below belly button (old surgery scar on my belly button itself hurts if rubbed)

Please help?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

House Post: Raised Bed Construction

Though I have not been blogging, things are still going on. I've wanted to construct raised beds for gardening for some time now; last summer, I stuck to container gardening in Tristan's old supplement buckets on our porch. That worked okay - I got some good tomatoes out of it, but it was less than ideal.

So for this summer, I went off into the deep end, of course.

I started almost everything I grew from seed. I bought High Mowing seeds from the local coop, because Vermont. They're organic and mostly heirloom varieties. I had never started anything from seed before, so it was an adventure. Here they are on the sleeping porch, after spending the colder months (March, April) in the library next to the window. I didn't use a grow lamp, just a little greenhouse thingy with a plastic cover to trap heat and moisture. I was continually surprised by what sprouted when, and how that has not necessarily correlated to what's doing well now. I have absolutely no scientific evaluation of any of this. Just watching them and shrugging a lot.

Two exceptions to starting from seed. First, broccoli, because there was a mixup at High Mowing and what was in the broccoli packet I bought was actually cabbage. To atone for that, the coop gave me another packet of broccoli seeds, a packet of any seeds of my choosing, AND a flat of Cate Farm (also local, also organic, VERMONT) broccoli seedlings. Since it was awfully late to be starting anything, I just planted the broccoli seedlings and set aside the seeds for next year.

The other exception to growing from seeds was peppers. Nothing I could do would make them grow at anything beyond a sluggish rate. They took weeks and weeks to come up, and then they just never thrived. So I bought two pepper plants and put those in the ground instead. They're still not doing great. I'm not entirely sure what's going wrong.

Now to the actual raised bed!

Step 1 was to site the bed: this is at the south end of the house, on a very steep hill, just outside of the sunroom. It gets the most sun exposure - much more than the backyard - and drains well. The grass is crap anyway, and tough to mow. The longterm plan is actually to terrace this entire hill but that's a few years away probably.

So I cut up the sod and dug it out. This was physical labor but not nearly as bad as it could've been. It took maybe an hour to an hour and a half. It was just slow steady work. The sod was of good quality and the soil was too, and I had the right tools.

Yeah, see how steep and awful it is?

Step 2 was to build the raised bed itself, and get it mostly level. I priced out cedar and hemlock, and went with pressure-treated pine instead. These are 2x6" boards, with 2x2" braced posts at the corner, dug 12" deep into the ground. The whole structure was incredibly heavy and pretty darn sturdy. It's not the prettiest, but I'm looking forward to it weathering up (it's already started) and silvering and generally blending in much more to the hillside.

(as seen in pictures I can take little to no credit for the very careful measuring and squaring up of all the parts. that was all my father the engineer. I probably would've just started screwing things together and then despaired when it was too hodgepodge to stay flat or survive the summer.)

Step 3 was the WORST. The ACTUAL WORST. One cubic yard of topsoil, dumped into my truck at the garden yard, and then carted up the hill to fill the bed. 12 wheelbarrows full. I am no stranger to wheelbarrows, ok? No one who has a horse is. But filling and then unfilling that much solid dirt, not to mention getting it up that damn hill, over and over again? My blisters had blisters.

I mixed in 1 cubic foot of compost, but wish I'd done much more. I didn't do anything thoughtful or scientific with the soil. I just bought a bag of local, organic compost and mixed it into the topsoil as best I could. I wish I'd bought more. Maybe next year in preparation I'll get the soil tested and make some actual decisions about the compost I buy and how I mix it in.

And final step! I had more seedlings than space in the bed, and I couldn't bear to ditch them, so I ended up adding in containers anyway. Oh well.

Total cost ran about $100 for everything including the seeds and other supplies. Not half bad, considering $75 of it was for the wood and the topsoil, and so will not need to be repeated in future years - and another $15 was the seeds themselves, of which I only used half, so they'll carry over to next year.

In the final tallying, I got tomatoes (three kinds), broccoli, cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, sunflowers, and peppers.

After a frustrating hour or two, I discovered that nothing I could do made the faucet nearest to the bed work. I will have to call a plumber to troubleshoot what's wrong and that's not in the budgetary cards right now. So I ran our longest hose from another faucet on another part of the house, and spent a week or two watering by hand with the sprayer, and then bought a soaker hose and pinned it down between the plants. Now I just turn on the water for 15 minutes and then turn it off again and everything is thoroughly watered. I love it, especially since we've had such a dry summer.

Here you can see a picture I took on Friday night, with the soaker system in action. The tomatoes are starting to bud like crazy. The cabbage has been absolutely destroyed by some kind of bug, which is not a terrible loss. I didn't intend to plant it - that's what was in the seed packets that I thought were broccoli. The broccoli is...doing ok. It's getting attacked by some kind of worm. I need to get netting for it to keep them away. I lost all the zucchini in transplant, and the peppers still aren't thriving, but after a tough few weeks the cucumbers and the sunflowers have pulled through very well.

I think we'll build a second raised bed next summer right next to this one and branch out a bit more in types of food grown - this has been really pretty easy and rewarding! Even the weeding has been minimal, I think because of a combination of location and of the brand new soil.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Chipping away

It turns out that even though I am more or less constantly blogging things in my head, I actually have to sit down and type them out for them to appear in the real world?! Blergh.

Honestly: I am pretty profoundly depressed about the state of the world right now.

I an typically an NPR junkie, because I appreciate thoughtful conversation and being informed.

I can't listen right now. I can't. It's a constant reminder that we are so terrifyingly, horribly close to a society that places no value on human life if it doesn't have a white penis.

I am particularly bone-deep terrified of losing my own bodily autonomy, ie the overturn of Roe v Wade that will happen if the balance on the Supreme Court shifts. I'll go from being a human being with agency and a brain and a contribution to the world to nothing more than a walking uterus.

Despite living in Vermont, I typically fall middle-to-right on the political spectrum, but I can't get over how far out of whack things are with basic principles of dignity and kindness.

Horses aren't helping. At any rate, Tristan is...not great. Not bad either! But he's stiff, and unwilling, and rides are 75% loosening up with a little bit of work.

On top of that, I'm having what I think must be a gout flare-up in my left hip. For two weeks, it hurt constantly, a deep burning agony in the joint. Then I realized it was probably gout, and started taking my drugs. Now it's only painful when I am using it in certain trying to get Tristan off my left leg. Or this morning, when I got into my car and misjudged the distance slightly and caught my ankle on the door frame. OW.

On top of that, the show we were prepping for on August 7 was mysteriously canceled. Our next planned show is September 3, which is not far away, but is not the immediate "oh shit we're going to embarrass ourselves" push that August 7 was.

Mostly, I'm reading a lot. Gardening. Watching various DC television properties (ok, I'm bingeing on Flash and Arrow). Playing Pokemon Go. Working on the house some. Planning travel. Normal stuff I guess but when momentum stops or I catch the news I descend into a panic attack again. Sigh.

Anyway: carry on! Just whingeing here. Probably it will all turn out fine, but it sure doesn't feel like it right now.

Friday, July 15, 2016

In praise of quiet, boring rides

Last night, I arrived at the barn just before the storm broke, with the intention of seeing where Tristan's dressage was. We've just committed to another show on August 7 and since our last show we've been doing a lot more wandering around fields than schooling.

So I got on, and (I admit it) turned on Pokemon Go to log my steps because I have eggs to hatch, and committed to a long, slow exploration kind of ride.

It was kind of boring. But it was also kind of magical. The rain was coming down hard, and the beautiful white noise of water on a barn roof blanketed everything. I concentrated hard on my position - sitting up, opening my hips, keeping my hands steady and my elbows loose and following. I focused on setting simple directives for Tristan and quietly but firmly holding him to them.

Conclusion: it's all in there, but he's lost some condition. I think that's the hardest part of everyday Cushings management for me. He's never been an easy horse to keep in condition, but as soon as he's out of work, muscle just melts off him. It's demoralizing.

He was responding, seeing the bit, stretching, coming into the bridle - but he was heavy, and getting him lighter was more of a fight than I wanted to pick last night. So I didn't. I let him tell me what ride he needed, and after 25 minutes we had a lovely energized trot on the bit, our canter transitions were straight and prompt, and I called it quits.

Here's a current conformation so you can see what I mean by muscle vanishing. This is after 2 weeks off + lighter schedule for 2 more weeks. His back makes me sad.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

10 Questions for July

Hi! I'm still alive. Tristan is still alive. I've just been reading, riding, working in the garden, baking in what passes for a heat wave in Vermont (mid-80s, you guys!), and like the rest of the known world, playing Pokemon Go. But it's time for me to pick up the blogging reins again, and how better to do that than to meme?

1. Do you actually always pick the horse’s feet? Always? Really?

No, I don't. Most of the time I do. When I ride in the indoor, I pick his feet on the way out. But if I am having the kind of day where simply putting one foot in front of the other is a major achievement, I give myself permission to skip things. Picking feet and grooming is on that list. I grab a bridle and saddle, I throw them on, I'm out the door in less than 5 minutes.

Caveat: the barn staff picks feet when horses come in from the field, so his feet are getting picked regularly. But sometimes it's the compromise I make, to get saddle time.

2. What is the biggest obstacle/reason preventing you from becoming a professional or competing full time with ease?

Desire. I have never for a moment had the desire to do horses full time. I am happiest when they are a very involved hobby. I get anxious, exhausted, cranky, and then miserable when I approach anything like a full time horse schedule - when working at the barn or riding more than a few horses. I am ambitious and competitive about many, MANY things in my life, but horses are not really one of them.

3. Do you think it will ever not be about the money?

It's not really about the money right now. I hope that doesn't make me sound like an asshole. If I wanted to, I could divert portions of my income and train and compete quite heavily. If I could talk my husband into it, we could swing a second horse. I could've pushed harder to find land and have a farm when we were house shopping. 

I'm simply choosing other priorities - once Tristan gets what he needs (and let's be clear, his board + expenses are substantially more than my mortgage payment, so it's not like he's not eating up large chunks of money) I have chosen financial stability instead of chasing horse goals.

Honestly, it's more about the time than anything. 

4. Was there ever a horse that you loved and really wanted to have a connection with, but it just never panned out? Details.

Not really. I've admired some horses from afar but I tend to have a pretty clear-eyed view of their flaws and problems. I adored my first lease horse, and we did have a great connection, but I guess you could say it didn't pan out because he went irreversibly lame. I can't say that I've ever failed to develop a connection on at least some level with horses that I've liked, whether I'm riding them or simply handling them.

5. What is one weakness in your riding that even your trainer doesn’t pick up on, only you?

I have nothing like a natural feel for the horse. No trainer I've ridden with has called that out. I guess I fake it pretty well, or have worked hard enough over the years to try to develop one that I've effectively compensated.

6. What is the biggest doubt/insecurity you ask or tell yourself in your head?

Laziness and lack of commitment. On paper, I work ridiculously hard, but learning the importance of taking time off, and committing to self-care instead of running myself into the ground - that's really, really difficult for me. I am pretty much constantly comparing myself to others and berating myself for not getting more done.

7. There is a barn fire. You are the first person to discover it and see that the roof is collapsing in slowly, and you can tell that it’s going to come down any time. Do you call people first, or head in straight to save the horses?

I...have actually been in a somewhat similar situation. It was the worst thing I've ever seen in my life. By the time I got there help had already been called, the horse was gone, and the best I could do was take the kids away and watch them for a few hours to try and help them.

Anyway: I am pretty good at keeping a level head in emergencies. I'd call 911, and I'd assess before running in. I err toward foolhardy with my own physical safety, so there's a very good chance I would try to go in at some point, but I'd also make sure help was on the way and that I had scoped out a realistic way in and out.

8. What is one event in your riding career/horse/anything that you’re still not over, even though you might tell others you are?

Tristan's first colic. My first and only complete nervous breakdown. Though I don't know that I've ever pretended to be over that.

9. If you could tell off one person you just don’t like, what would you say?

I honestly don't think there's anyone at the barn I dislike? Previous barns I guess there are people that I liked but thought made very, very bad choices. So I'd be clear about those shitty choices and their own flaily reasoning for why the haaaaaad to do x, y, or z.

10. Have you ever seen questionable riding or training practices, but let it go/ignored it? How do you feel about it in hindsight?

Oh, sure. Who hasn't? I can't think of anything truly dangerous or awful that I didn't speak up about in the moment, but there were times in my life when I wish I would've at least tried to show the person another way. The worst examples of that were all at one barn, and frankly I feel mostly relieved to have escaped. Somewhat regretful that there are a lot of kids who got some really bad exposure.