Saturday, August 12, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

As a reminder, you can get your blog links in your email inbox, and as of this week, I'm making a change: email roundups (which contain these links + some additional content) will go out at noon on Friday. So if you're looking for a Friday afternoon boredom-reliever at work, sign up!

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Goodbye, Frank from The Reeling
Beautiful, clearly written account of a special mule's last days.

Becoming an Independent Rider in a Lesson Program from Cob Jockey
This is a tough and overlooked problem.

Weekend Wanderings from Eventing Saddlebred Style
I'm always a sucker for trail ride photos of landscapes that look so different from my own.

Ride Between the Rivers 2017 from In Omnia Paratus
The day I stop sharing Liz's endurance ride recaps someone should make sure I'm not dead in a ditch somewhere.

I had forgotten from A Gift Horse
This is just perfect and it encapsulates the way I feel exactly.

In which we run away to treasure hunt, and take the horses from Haiku Farm
An amazing recap of a day spend doing Competitive Mounted Orienteering.

Does your dog come when called? Every time? from The Other End of the Leash
Arya has a really really terrible recall. It's something I deeply regret but not something I feel I have the confidence to work on. I'm going to be studying this excellent long post for a while.

Canada Cup Dressage Photos & Final Comments from Oh Gingersnap
Scroll down for other posts about this very cool competition and lovely pictures of some gorgeous cobs.

Dino and the search for the magic gallop from PONY'TUDE
I never did find Tristan's really good XC gallop before retiring him from eventing, so I'm fascinated by this process.

Foxhunting v Eventing from The House on the Hill
I've never foxhunted, so this is a good list of things to think about.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Summer Series: Son of the Black Stallion

Son of the Black Stallion, by Walter Farley

At the end of The Black Stallion Returns, Alec left the Black behind in "Arabia" but was promised the first foal by the black out of the Arabian mare Johar. Spoiler alert: this book is about that foal. Here's the basic summary.
Alec is gifted the first foal by the Black, a colt he names Satan, but there's something wrong. Satan has a mean streak a mile wide, and Henry doubts it will ever be cured. After many, many, many violent interludes, Alec eventually bonds with Satan, and they train him for the track. He overcomes training problems and villainous machinations to win the two year old Hopeful Stakes and start a great racing career.
Much like the key to The Black Stallion was understanding that Alec has PTSD, the key to understanding this book is that Walter Farley wanted to try his hand at writing a horror novel but have it all turn out okay after all. There's just no other way to explain how Satan is written.

Let's start at the beginning, our third visit to the port of Addis, where a mysterious group of Arabs load a young colt onto a steamer ship. Two sailors watch, and decide a) the horses are really super nice and b) the colt is 5 months old and already a complete shit who bites one of his handlers.

The two sailors also helpfully spend several pages recapping the first book, including telling the reader that the Drake went down with all hands on deck, which makes yet another retcon. I don't have a good explanation for why I care about this so much except it's just so damn lazy. Read your own books, Walter Farley! They're not all that long, it's taking me about two hours for each one!

Cut to Flushing, where Alec helpfully catches us up on the events of The Black Stallion Returns via internal monologue and also lets us know that Henry is off working for Peter Boldt, "who has one of the finest racing stables in the country," except his wife is still Alec's neighbor and didn't Henry retire and what in God's name did he do in "Arabia" that merited offering him a job? Wouldn't Volence be the one that would actually be impressed by Henry? I give up.

Anyway, this is just a way of getting to the real moral of this book, which is that no one in this entire narrative deserves Alec's mother, Belle. (We only learn her name in an aside toward the end of the book, fuck you, Walter Farley.)
She was afraid. Afraid of what this new horse would bring. Twice before a horse, his horse, had led Alec to undertakings few men had ever experienced. Undertakings which for him had been adventurous, exciting. But for her and her husband, they had meant months of anguish and concern.
I grant you, this is exceptionally poorly written, but augh, Belle. She basically spends this entire book quietly in agony and if anyone acknowledges her at all its either as a joke or as an obstacle to get around.

Speaking of obstacles to get around, Mrs. Dailey, Henry's wife, who never does get a name!
"Mrs. Dailey?" Alec smiled. "Dad! Don't tell me you've forgotten...Henry's wife...lives in the big house on the corner, and owns the barn and field."
"Oh, yes! I guess I'm getting old, Alec," Mr. Ramsay said, laughing. "Come to think of it, your mother has been charging me with forgetfulness of late." A slight pause, and he added, "I shouldn't have thought Mrs. Dailey would make you pay anything, though, what with Henry having that good job on the coast, and her taking in boarders.
Later events will bear this out, but Mr. Ramsay? IS THE ACTUAL WORST. Holy shit. They're rolling in it, he's got a job and everything, why won't they feed your horse for free?!

The colt arrives, and things are...not good. First, he almost kills Alec's dog, and then Alec gives him daddy issues on, like day one.
Still looking at the blazing eyes, he said softly, "You're fire, boy. You're full of it, just like him. You're mine, boy. We're going places and I. We're going to use that fire to burn the tracks. We're going to make him proud of you. He'll hear about you, boy. Hear the pounding of your hoofs, even though he's way back in the desert. It's going to be the way he wants it, boy."
For my money, this right here? This is the moment that the colt decides the only solution to his current predicament is to murder everyone, and I do not blame him one bit.

Just for the WTF-ery, I will also give you this bit.
"He's it, Henry!" Alec almost shouted. He's everything we hoped for. I know he is. I can feel it right here in his muzzle even?" 

Alec announces he's decided to name the colt Satan, I even need to explain the ways in which that is a terrible idea? Is anyone even mildly surprised that the next ~75 pages of the book are a descent into a storyline right out of The Omen?

What, you think I'm exaggerating? Literally the next whole segment of the book is a see-saw between Alec expressing the same sentiments as above (he's perfect! he'll come around! I lurrrrve him! the Black will be so proud!) and Henry saying and thinking things like, well:
And it was his eyes that Henry looked at more and more often as they walked along. They were smaller than his sire's, and the glare from them was fixed and stony. They bothered Henry. For throughout his life the old trainer had prided himself on being able to tell much about a horse from his eyes. And he didn't like what he saw in the black colt's. Too much lurked there...craftiness, cunning, viciousness, yes...and something else, too. Something which Henry couldn't figure out. Something which he could only feel...and it was sinister. He'd never seen it in the eyes of any horse before, even the Black.
Satan is indeed a little shit, but can you blame him? He's being trained by an 18 year old kid who has no idea what he's doing, he gets barely any turnout, he has no interaction with other horses of any kind (he went after Napoleon and so they keep him far away) and basically his only entertainment and enrichment is trying to murder the people around him. Which he does. Over, and over, and over, and over, and...well, you get the idea.
The colt rose above them all in all his savageness, his blood on fire and the urge to kill great within him. No longer did his eyes smolder with contempt. Now they were alive and gleaming red with hate. And Satan's black body trembled with eagerness as his savage instinct drove him toward the kill.
There's something deeply ironic about the way Satan is handled, because you know what he needs? He needs a mare to kick the shit out of him and teach him some manners, and he needs friends. That's basically what Alec needs in his life, too. His mother is abused by the narrative and not allowed to express human feelings without being mocked by the men around her, and Alec spends the whole book isolating himself even further than he already was. He rebuffs the last of his friends who want to spend time with him and then transfers to community college so he can have even less claims on his time.

Anyway. Henry manages to get Satan sort of leading, and there's a whole bit where Alec sees a length of chain and is worried Henry is beating the colt, but of course Henry isn't, so with that resolved, Alec looks at a 17hh yearling (not making that up, it's explicitly stated) that can't even be lead and won't stand still for grooming and still tries to bite, kick, or run down everyone around him and well, you know what Alec does, right?

He convinces Henry to put a bridle and saddle on Satan and then gets up on him all within hour? Henry even flat out says this is too fast, but maybe it's also a good idea, because Satan is so awful this won't give him time to plot. Jesus, none of these people should be allowed around horses.

Predictably enough, Satan rears and then I think we're meant to understand that he deliberately flips on Alec and tries to squash him on the way down. Henry later remembers it this way:
Never would Henry forget the hideous sight of Satan, in all his fury, intentionally falling over backwards, hoping to pin the boy beneath his giant body. Never had he seen it happen before, with any horse, and he hoped never to see it again. If Alec hadn't kept his wits, if he hadn't been the horseman he was, he wouldn't have thrown himself clear of Satan's back as he'd done, and just in time.
Can we be clear about something here? Alec had never touched a horse until the summer he spent with his uncle in India. He pretty explicitly says that in The Black Stallion. Then he rides the Black for maybe a couple of months. THAT'S IT. That is the sum total of Alec's entire experience with horses. Satan is maybe the fourth or fifth horse he's ever ridden. EVER.
Mr. Ramsay said quietly, "I know better, Henry. Alec is too good a horseman to fall off, with or without stirrups. You had trouble with the colt." 
Because, see, Henry brought an unconscious Alec to his parents' house saying only that he'd fallen and hit his head. Also, fuck you, Mr. Ramsay. Alec is not any kind of horseman and far far far more talented riders than he have fallen off. Like me, for example. And probably you. Yes, you! If you're reading this, you're probably a better rider than Alec Ramsay!

Alec's accident prompts Henry to go out and have a come to Jesus session with Satan, and let's bullet point out what Henry does here because it is so mind-blowingly awful and misguided and just plain dumb that if you're surprised at how it ends I don't even know what to say to you.

  • Step 1: grab a crop and a length of rope 
  • Step 2: go out into Satan's field and yell at him, which causes him to charge straight at Henry
  • Step 3: smack Satan really hard on the face with the crop when he runs by
  • Step 4: lasso Satan, throw him to the ground, and tie a blindfold over his eyes
  • Step 5: chase him around the field, still lassoed, now with a blindfold, get knocked down many times
  • Step 6: make one final effort to wheel him around with the ropes but actually drive him to jump the fence into some undergrowth, lose consciousness
  • Step 7: profit?????
Alec hears Satan screaming from his sickbed, and comes out to see Henry out cold in the field and Satan gone. Henry tells him that he's killed Satan, because the colt jumped the fence with ropes still attached to him, and he's definitely strangled himself.

Of course he hasn't strangled himself, or this book would be even shorter. Alec finds Satan immobilized and lying in undergrowth and slowly being strangled by the ropes. He wades right in and loosens the ropes and...that's it. The act of saving Satan magically transforms him from the hellspawn described for the last umpteen pages into a spirited but manageable horse.

No, really. It's that fast and that complete. Like flipping a switch. Satan is not overly fond of Henry, but the rest of the summer is a training montage of Alec riding Satan around the field, and then heading to the track for workouts. In maybe four or five rides, Satan has the knack of not murdering other horses he's galloping with (poor Napoleon, who spends his nights galloping around a track and his days pulling Tony's vegetable cart). 

The next problem to overcome is that Satan is afraid of whips, but it's fine, they hang crops in his stall and rub them over his muzzle and put blinkers on him and magic! He's off to the races, literally - he wins his first race, the Sanford, even though he veers all over the place to get away from the other jockeys' crops so he really runs, like twice as far. He's just that good, you guys.

Now we have a complication. Peter Boldt, Henry's old boss, is trying really hard to be the villain of this book, even though it's really Satan. I've been neglecting his part of the book in favor of the horse bits, but here it is in a nutshell: he's a bad guy who wants to buy Satan. Earlier in the book, Alec sold Satan to his father for $1 to get around Jockey Club rules so that he could also ride him in races. Boldt offered Alec's father a lot of money ($35,000 in 1947 dollars, which is about $400k in today's money, adjusted for inflation. Mr. Ramsay refused, saying the horse belonged to Alec.

Now Boldt is back, trying to prevent Satan from running in the Hopeful Stakes so that his horse, Boldt's Comet, will win. So he files a complaint saying that Mr. Ramsay lied on his paperwork and that Alec is the real owner so Satan can't race. You know what? HE'S NOT WRONG. But on paper, Mr. Ramsay is the owner and he just has to show everyone the bill of sale that Alec wrote to prove it.

Let me backtrack for just a moment and say that the bill of sale scene was the most emotionally touching scene in the whole book, because these stories are best when they really show how deeply emotionally involved Alec is with these horses. Not in the creepy obsessive way (a line that Farley crosses with gusto) but in the boy-and-his-horse way.

Problem: Alec's dad has lost the bill of sale. He was showing it off to some people at work (THE WORST) and now he can't find it. He and Alec and Henry and poor Tony search the entire house over and over again and...enter Belle Ramsay again. First, yet another example of how she spends this book getting shat on.
Turning to Alec, [his father] added, "Don't mention my buying these riding silks to your mother, Alec." Pausing, he said confidingly, "She wouldn't understand." 
Nodding, Alec smiled. "Yes, Dad, I know...she wouldn't understand. 
It literally never occurs to anyone in this book to talk to women like they are people. But she gets her revenge.
Only half-heartedly had she helped search for the paper. She hadn't wanted to find it. She didn't want to spend next Saturday afternoon waiting at home, thinking of her son riding Satan in that big race. It would be dangerous, and she was afraid for him. 
Only person talking sense in this whole book? Yes, I think so. Notice, too, how she assumes no one will want her there to watch the race? Women's lib cannot come fast enough for Belle Ramsay.

You know what she does next? She logics that shit right out. She does exactly what women do. She thinks about where the paper was last, what her husband was doing, and within an hour she has accomplished what four men working twelve hours could not do. It's awesome, but it's also a really weird moment, narratively, because the whole book has been trashing her and her womanly emotions and now she saves the day in a practical, smart, and efficient way. Kind of whiplash-y, honestly.

Anyway, the day is saved, the big race is here, and...if I ended this recap right here you'd know what happens. There is a legitimately great scene with all of the other jockeys, and a really cool older jockey who takes Alec under his wing, and the predictable shenanigans of one jockey being a jerk during the race. Satan wins, though, fending off Tom Volence's Desert Storm (sired by one of the horses Volence brought back in the last book) in a stretch duel. In the winning circle, Belle Ramsey gets one last moment to being a secret hero, after her husband told her she should not have come to the race.
Mrs. Ramsay moved forward and placed her hand upon Satan's neck. "He's hot, Alec," she said with great concern. "We should get him away from this crowd."

Hey, guess who traveled to America to see the race? Abu Ja'Kub ben Ishak, that's who, and at the very end of the book he drops the bombshell news that he's thinking of bringing the Black back to America to race, which lets Alec twist the screws on Satan's daddy issues one last time.
Abu had said the Black would be in the States next spring! And next spring Satan would be a three-year-old, eligible to race for the biggest stakes! It could happen that Satan would race the Black!
Satan pushed his head against him, and Alec rubbed the colt between the eyes. "Your pop is coming," he whispered. "And he'll be proud of you, boy. I know he will." 
Next up: we take a sideways journey to Azul Island, home of archaeologists and Spanish horses and, eventually, aliens, for The Island Stallion.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

2017 Goals: July Recap

Fuck this summer you guys. Forever and ever, world without end, fuck this summer, amen.


Let's recap.

January Recap
February Recap
March Recap
April Recap
May Recap
June Recap

Horse Goals - original post here

1. Put hands on my horse 5x a week - Actually I crushed this. Granted, a lot of these visits were in the middle of the night and doing medical care, so not a ton of riding, but I still saw him an awful lot.

2. Be less perfunctory - In some ways I'm actually doing really well with this. I'm trying to budget myself more time to do the little things. It's amazing and wonderful to live so close to him, but I've noticed that I fall into a trap where I think I can get in & out of the barn in 90 minutes, including travel time. That's do-able, but it leaves no time to take care of the niceties. So I'm working on building out more time.

3. Aim toward dressage schooling shows - I really should just take this goal off it's depressing me.

4. Take more lessons - lololololol

5. Horse-specific income stream / funding emergency fund - you guys, I'm not going to put up my numbers because I had $2,800 in vet bills in July fuck July.

6. Do more thoughtful work - Hm. I'm going with yes.

7. Get more media - Do a million pictures of him standing sick in his stall count?

Life Goals - original post here

1. Pay off car - yes! on track for November, depending on how things shake out I might take a swing at paying this down in September.

2. Read 75 books - 57/75, HA, take that, goals! Even better: I genuinely enjoyed everything I read this month, and most of them were superb. I wish I could make everyone read Random Family.

Welcome to NightVale by Joseph Fink
Supergirl Vol 1: Last Daughter of Krypton (New 52) by Michael Fink
Marriage and Other Acts of Charity by Kate Braestrup
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole Leblanc
Skullsworn by Brian Staveley
The Black Stallion Returns by Walter Farley
Son of the Black Stallion by Walter Farley

3. Revive history blogs - ugggghhhhhh

4. Do better about food - Yes, still doing well, except I did eat terribly yesterday. I had small portions and did not eat a ton but I had biscuits & gravy for breakfast and pizza for dinner. Too many carbs, not enough proteins.

5. Decorate the house - nope.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Vet-bill-a-palooza: mystery dog illness

I don't talk about my dog all that much but rest assured, I'm at least as obsessed with her as I am with Tristan. Hence why it's been a difficult couple of weeks, because just as Tristan was getting better she also started getting really sick.

Arya's two natural states: 100mph and sound asleep. 

I had written previously that she started getting hives literally within the hour of when I arrived home after the first night of Tristan getting sick. Those hives continued all that week, coming back like clockwork when she was due for her next benadryl dose.

She was a pretty miserable little dog. Her skin was hot to the touch, and the hives were everywhere. We did lots of cold baths. I washed everything she could possibly be touching in case it was environmental. Nothing helped; by the end of that week, I made her a follow up appointment with her regular vet for the following Monday morning to talk through other options.

Well, that weekend my husband took her to New Hampshire for a few days of visiting his parents. On Saturday afternoon, he noticed a small bump on her nose, just about the size of a pimple. You can't even really see it on this picture he took of her that afternoon.

By Sunday morning, it had opened up into a blistering sore. We treated it with a baking soda and water paste, because our best guess was that she had either gotten exposed to some particularly nasty plant or a bug bite / bee sting.

It kept getting worse.

Thankfully, we had that vet appointment on Monday, and the vet was duly very impressed. Her best guess was that it was a staph infection, so Arya started on cephilixin, a pretty strong antibiotic, and she went in a cone to keep from getting at her nose. She kept on the benadryl to hopefully keep some of the itching down. She was a really miserable pup.

She didn't get better. By Wednesday afternoon, she had also started opening up bloody lesions on her legs - similarly pimple-sized spots that, with no outside intervention, blistered open. Because she had the cone on, they didn't get irritated into huge hot spots like her nose had, but they still kept opening up. She had as many as a dozen on each leg of varying sizes and severity. Most of them opened up and scabbed over pretty quickly; only a few of them were actively pussy and bloody like her nose.

Thursday, we went back to the vet. She should have at least paused in her progression on the antibiotics, and we were seeing none of that. So we did a barrage of tests. The vet pulled urine to test for canine blastomycosis, and after listening to her lungs, also ordered radiographs for that same reason. Her nose was too raw and open - she had managed to rub it when I took the cone off for two seconds - to culture, but they took biopsy punches of her nose, two legs, and one ear. They sent me home with a topical treatment to apply as I could, and then we waited.

Through that weekend, she finally started seeing incremental gains, but also some setbacks. Her nose finally started to scab over and heal, but she opened up new lesions on her ears, and her legs still had some lumps and scabs. Her ears continued to progress and her nose continued to heal all through the next week.

We got the urine test back first, and the second opinion from the radiologist: no signs of the blastomycosis, thankfully. That still left quite a few possibilities, though, and one that was looking increasingly likely was some kind of auto-immune disorder like pemphigus, in which her immune system was attacking and breaking down her own skin. That was our most likely worst case scenario. Fast moving skin cancer was still on the list, but looking less likely as she healed a little bit.

Two weeks after her first vet appointment, we went back to get her stitches from the biopsy pulled, and they finally had the biopsy results: deep bacterial pyoderma. In other words, a bacterial infection that had started on her nose but wreaked merry havoc systemically. Actually a pretty good case scenario! We added prednisone to the mix, and the vet put in a call to a dermatologist to get a secondary consult to make absolutely sure we had covered all the bases.

she did not think the comfy benches should be just for people.

She's been on the prednisone for about a week now, and is waiting to start her taper & to go off the antibiotics. We'll hopefully be able to do that soon. We're waiting on the dermatologist's opinion and to make sure she has no more scabs. She's still got one or two on her legs and her ears. Mostly, she's just down to bare skin in those spots; we'll see what grows back in!

Life on prednisone is not a ton of fun; she's drinking and peeing constantly, and lethargic. But she's spending more time than not out of the cone, and her personality is mostly back. She's clingier than she was - she will not let me out of her sight - but has occasionally started wreaking havoc again, taking apart her toy box to find exactly what she wants to chew on, leaving nylabones where we can step on them in the middle of the night, and waking me up to tell me all about her morning walk when she gets back from it.

So that's been my life for the last few weeks. She and Tristan were actually neck and neck for vet bills for a little while - small animal diagnostics: they are not cheap! - but with the most recent bill from the barn for supplies, Tristan has pulled ahead again, sigh.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

House Post: The Crawlspace Project

Definitely a top 5 least favorite project. Ugh.

See, when we first bought the house, the biggest issue that came up (after things we already knew, like old wiring and no insulation) was that there was a foundation crack in the bonus garage.

The bonus garage is part of a 1970s era addition that was not terribly well done. In particular, when they added new foundation, they did not grade well at all. They left the dirt uneven with huge holes around the edges of the foundation, both inside and outside. Our property is all on a hill. Over the years, this has meant water coming down the hill, getting inside the foundation, collecting in the holes, and in the winter, freezing. That means foundation cracks.

The addition is the furthest right part in this picture.

The ultimate solution is multi-part: first, we needed to address the problems inside the crawlspace, and second we needed to address the grading around the exterior of the foundation by re-grading and then adding a french drain.

Part 1 is now officially done!

First, we had to add topsoil to the crawlspace to level out the holes. The only access to the crawlspace is through a basement window sized hole, and it is a true crawlspace. That meant I crawled up through the window and my husband lifted up bags of topsoil in through the space. Then I dragged them to where they needed to go, cut them open, and shoved the dirt where it needed to go, either with my hands or with a spade.

Top right is the only access to the crawlspace.

I don't think I need to elaborate on how much this sucked, but rest assured: it sucked. We ended up putting 40 bags of topsoil into the crawlspace, or 30 cubic feet of dirt. When I finished, it wasn't perfect, but the holes were filled in and it was dramatically more level than it had been. There is no longer an 8" deep ditch around the inside of the foundation, hooray!

It's hard to see but you can get a sense of the ditch on the left hand side of this photo. Also the grossness.

I was sore for days - hauling heavy bags of dirt on your hands and knees will do that to you - and thankfully I have many pairs of project jeans because I was head to toe filthy.

The next step was spreading a 6mil barrier over the dirt: this would keep any moisture from coming up and into the man cave above. We know this had happened quite a lot in years past because when we took out the tile that had been on the floor, there was no glue left holding it down. Moisture had come up from the ground, through the beams, and dissolved the glue.

A sense of the size of the space, and the plastic. It goes up a few inches on the edges.

The next step was to add some hydraulic cement to the more egregious cracks, especially those on the hill side so no water could come in that way. I don't have pictures of that, sorry, I can't multitask that well.

The last step was to add 15 bags of landscaping stone on top of the plastic to hold it down.

As much as this project sucked, I feel really good about it. When we bought the house, someone told me that the things that kill houses are moisture and movement. We've made a huge step toward stopping both of those things in this space, and also I never have to go into that crawlspace again, glory hallelujah.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

I skipped last week, so you get a huge dump this week. #sorrynotsorry

Talk to me about barn sitting from She Moved to Texas
An oft-overlooked but crucial part of running a farm: finding someone to take good care of it.

DR120: Dressing for Dressage from Hand Gallop
I consider myself pretty good on the rules, and there were a few things in here that surprised me!

Shared and Diverging Lexicons from Viva Carlos
I have zero young horse experience, so I found this really interesting.

How do you sum up a year? from Beyond the Shedrow
Reflections on a year as a working student; I loved this.

Dream Farm Fridays: Basic Buying Process from PONY'TUDE

What is appropriate dressage judging? from Guinness on Tap
I've scribed for a LOT of judges, and have learned a lot about judging styles that way. This is an important conversation to have.

Showing and Competing: Why I Do It from Fat Buckskin in a Little Suit
Everyone's answer to this question are different, and I enjoy reflecting on them all.

Do It Yourself Cake Pops for Horses from DIY Horse Ownership
GENIUS. Except now I want a cake pop.

Greenguard Grazing Muzzle Review from Pony Express
A good thorough review of the kind of product that really needs to be tested thoroughly.

The Myth of the Too Small Horse from The Adventures of a Floppy Ammy
I'm 5'9". Tristan is 15.1 when he stands up straight AND wears shoes. So...yeah. Mostly, I don't care, but I do also ponder whether my next horse should be larger.

Worth the Effort from Readheadlins
I loathe photos of myself, so this was a good reminder to work on getting over that.

Westfalen NA Inspection, What a Day from Equinpilot
This is so cool - what a gorgeous stallion, doing amazing things!

Me and Miz B from PONY'TUDE
Trucks = love, you guys.

9 Tips for Equine Ulcer Prevention (& Ulcerguard Giveaway) from Saddle Seeks Horse
Perennially useful information & a great giveaway.

Going back in order to go forward: A lesson from Alois Podhajsky from Trafalgar Square Books
Podhajsky is hands-down my favorite historical/classical rider, and his writing is extraordinary.

Tackling Rebecca's Training Course from Four Mares, No Money
Love, love, LOVE this.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Summer Series: The Black Stallion Returns

The Black Stallion Returns, by Walter Farley

Oh, boy, you guys. You know what happened? Walter Farley had his book published, at long last, and he said, "you know what everyone loved about the first book? The random bit with the Black being loaded onto the ship at the beginning, and the casually racist stereotyping of the port. How about I write a whole book about that, with, just for shits and giggles, 75% less horse content?"

Which is to say: this is a way different book than the first one. First, a rough summary:

Hours after a mysterious stranger tries to kill the Black, a man appears claiming to be the horse's real owner. He takes the Black away, but Alec is given a second chance to see his horse when Tom Volence, owner of Sun Raider, decides to take Alec and Henry on a trip to the Middle East to try and buy more horses like the Black. They arrive after a long journey and a series of mishaps to find themselves in the middle of a tribal war. The fighting isn't long over when Alec has to ride the Black in a major race to help his owner win horses and save face.
So the original book is pretty thin on the ground in terms of plot. Boy rescues horse, boy races horse. This book has like 5x as much plot crammed into weirdly paced sprints amidst pages and pages and PAGES of pointless, dumb, weird, travelogue.

But let's start at the beginning, shall we?
"He was out of his stall. Someone's been here...there's been a fight of some kind. He's sweated."
I mean, if you heard a disturbance in your barn in the middle of the night and found your horse roaming the aisle and sweating heavily, wouldn't you think that he'd been in a fistfight? (Again, we see more of the Black's magical colic immunity, because to me loose horse + heavy sweat = colic.)

Turns out there's a random needle lying on the ground! Henry will have the police analyze it and get fingerprints and figure out what's in it, because that's what the police have time for in WWII America.

Many things have been retconned for this book, including Alec getting a whole lot of common sense all of a sudden about how the Black is not, and never will be, a Thoroughbred. Another is that somehow it turns out there were survivors from the Drake after all, which there definitely were not in the first book. What a pointless thing to change.

Rest assured, Alec is still kind of an idiot, though.
"Y'mean you think he had stolen him?" [asked Henry]
"Yes. For one thing, he acted as though he had...always kept to himself. Then he was too cruel to the Black. If he owned him, he wouldn't have done the things that he did."
Oh, Alec, you sweet summer child. Thankfully, Henry disabuses him of that fantasy right quick.

They deduce that the man who tried to kill the Black was from the Middle East because...reasons? (Actually they think he's from Arabia but once again, not a country, guys!) But they barely have time to catch their breath because the police arrive with a man named Abu Ja'Kub ben Ishak (who is really only ever referred to by that full, weirdly fake Arabic name throughout the book) who says he owns the Black and he has papers! that prove it.
"I'd like to see them," Alec interrupted, turning to Abu Ja'Kub ben Ishak.
The tall man handed the papers to Alec, who read them carefully. After a moment he looked at the policemen. One of them, guessing what was foremost in his mind, said, "We've checked Washington and he's who he says he is." I need to remind you all that this is in the middle of World War II? This book was published in 1945.

There's not really anything more to the next 30 pages. Ben Ishak takes the Black, because PAPERS, and Alec spends the rest of the spring moping. Also, he becomes like the world's greatest student and locks himself up in his bedroom all the time studying which is...totally what happens to 17 year old boys when they get depressed? There are some genuinely painful moments, though.
"He saved my life, Henry," Alec said. He attempted to go on, but his voice broke. His shoulders swept forward, and Henry knew that he was crying.
<3 Alec, even if in his shoes I would have murdered anyone who tried to take my horse with my own two bare hands. He does love the Black, and the only really good parts of this book (apart from Tabari, whose awesomeness we will expound upon at length later) are the moments of their relationship.

Tom Volence shows up, and tries to buy the Black. When he finds out the Black is gone, he's bummed, and lets drop that he's going to England to buy horses. Alec and Henry convince him to go to "Arabia" instead and look up ben Ishak and buy horses like the Black. Volence is nothing if not a canny, astute businessman so of course he thinks this is the best idea ever and immediately arranges for just the three of them to head on over.

Before we embark on the world's most boring travelogue, I'd like to say a word about Alec's parents, who have improved in some ways and gotten waaaaaay worse in others. Primarily, his mother; there are one or two lines in here that indicate that she's really upset and conflicted that Alec is jaunting off again, but also that she doesn't dare say or do anything about it because she is a 1950s housewife right out of Mad Men who is going to suffer a mental breakdown behind the scenes somewhere because Walter Farley doesn't think women are real human beings with complexities and motivations.

Whew. Glad I got that off my chest. Anyway, Alec's father is still the worst.
"Sure, Mom, I will...honest, I will. I'll be careful as I can. Why, this trip will do me worlds of good, so don't you worry. Travel is the best education a guy can get."
 His father grabbed him by the belt of his trousers. "And that reminds me. Don't get back here months after everyone else has started school. Remember, you're going to college next fall."
lololol complete abdication of parental responsibility is always best enforced by threats of physical violence.

Commence the trip, which is like 6 legs long and described in excruciating detail and I think involved seaplanes? I don't know, I blacked out from boredom a lot. The only plot-related thing about the trip is that there is a man on the plan who the reader knows is the same person who tried to kill the Black (at least, the even marginally not braindead reader, because he's described in precisely the same language) but Alec just think is a random weirdo who knows everything about his entire life.
Still, since he was an Arab, it was in all probability only natural that he should take an interest in American racing.
God damn it, Alec.

When they land, Alec notices that the random guy (now named Ibn al Khaldun) has a medallion just like the one they found near the Black after the aborted attempt to kill him. Which leads them to commandeer a car and chase him all through a random city they just landed in for...reasons? I don't know. Everyone gets even stupider once they land.

They find out that ben Ishak is way far away from where they are, and they need an expedition and a guide. Thankfully, Volence's college buddy has a ward named Raj who will accompany them on their trip. They set off. There are lots of descriptions of camels and sand and heat and after a sandstorm, they're all abandoned with only one camel. Thankfully Raj is around, both to save them and to provide a crush object for Alec.
He wanted to know Raj find out how he felt about everything - horses, books, school, his life in Arabia. And in turn Alec wanted to tell him about the United States, about his home, about his horse. 
I BET YOU DID, ALEC. (I know it was 1945 but this book would have been 1000% better with a romance storyline between Raj and Alec. If you think I'm making any of this up, there are about a half a dozen similar bits that I chose not to quote because this is getting way too long already.)

They make it to the mountains and meet a mysterious man riding a chestnut horse who is described much like the Black - savage, wild, huge, small-headed, all of the above. He escorts them to the edge of ben Ishak's territory and leaves them, and then we meet the best character in the entire book in a weirdly objectifying and racist way.
Her skin was honey-colored; sleek-oiled hair crowned a heart-shaped face, and oblique almond eyes peered curiously at them. She was neither white nor black, neither of the East nor of the West. Her full lips parted and she spoke in Arabic, her voice low and husky.
Turns out she's Tabari, ben Ishak's daughter, and she rides a white mare named Johar, and basically she swans around the rest of the book being awesome. Oh, and she is not half-English or anything else, that description was just pointlessly weird and Farley's attempt to exoticise her.

Oh and just for kicks:
"I think, in fact I am certain, Mr. Volence, that you have seen only one Arabian of purest blood, and that was Johar, the white one my daughter, Tabari, was riding today. There are few others like her in Arabia, and certainly none in any foreign country."
sigh. I know some of you are Arabian people: were there really none of them outside the Middle East in 1945? That seems unlikely in the extreme to me.

We learn several things in quick succession, so I'll bullet them out for you.

  • Ben Ishak is holding on to the Black, nice try, Alec
  • The guy who escorted them up the hill is named Abd-al-Rahman, and he hates ben Ishak, because he thinks ben Ishak killed his parents, which he totally didn't
  • The Black is entered into a race that happens every five years, and the winner of the race gets his pick of 15 horses from everyone else entered, which is like the shittiest zero sum game ever. Ben Ishak has been losing a lot, so he needs the Black to win.
Remember what I said about pacing? That info dump is in a couple of pages, and the last ~50 pages of the book get INSANE. After literally hundreds of pointless pages about drinking camel vomit and being hot, the narrative goes turbo-charged right through to the end of the book.

First things first: the Black is stolen by the guy who has been exercising him with plans to ride in the big race. Alec was already upset at the way the guy rode the Black but honestly given the Black's attempted murder of everyone else who touches him it's damn impressive the guy can ride the horse at all. Alec and Raj go on a very romantic moonlight tracking expedition to find him, at the same time as for some reason ben Ishak is riding to lay siege to Abd-al-Rahman's fortress...I think because they thought he stole the Black? Or something? Like I said, it all happens very fast.

Alec and Raj find the Black, held captive by the very same shady character who tried to kill him on page 1 and rode over on the plan with them. Al Khaldun then monologues (for three pages!!!) his way to explaining the entire background plot of the book, to wit:

  • He has an entire group of outcasts ready to murder everyone out of revenge and to take control of this corner of the desert;
  • He was the one who killed al-Rahman's parents, who, SURPRISE PLOT TWIST, were also Raj's parents, because Raj was found abandoned as a baby in the desert;
  • He stole the Black because he wanted ben Ishak to lose the race because then al-Rahman would win the race and they could kill him and ben Ishak or...I have no idea, you guys, the Black is totally incidental to this plot.
Oh, and he had twenty years to make this plan. TWENTY YEARS, and that was the shitty plan he came up with? Jesus.
His brain whirled with the rapidity with which everything had fallen into place.
Alec speaks for us all.

Raj leaves to warn everyone, and Alec stays to rescue the Black, of course. He gets on the Black, and there is a very confusing scene in which they run back and forth in a canyon, trapped. It's no wonder, because we get descriptions like this.
He gave the Black his head, but kept him to a walk.
The stallion attempted to break out of the running walk at which Alec had held him.
Magical gaited stallion!

Alec and the Black are captured, and I guess tortured by al Khaldun, who tries to pull Alec's arm out of his socket. Then the crux of the plan.
"You are wondering, aren't you?" Ibn al Khaldun asked. "It is simple and you are fortunate, for death will be quick. It is a pity I can't take longer, but it will, I suppose, take a little time to find your friend in the canyon, and all must be done before morning for we have other work then." He paused and grinned. "Just a short distance up the canyon there is a cliff with a perpendicular drop of three hundred feet or so to the rocks below. You and your Black shall be driven over it. It is a pleasant way to die, is it not? The two of you inseparable even in death?"
Oh my God someone should send this guy rules for being a bad guy because between the monologuing and the elaborate Bond-style death scene he is just terrible.

They get out of it basically because the Black is taking no shit and attacks the horses of the people charged with driving them forward...and also at that exact moment Raj brings the cavalry in the form of the combined forces of ben Ishak and al-Rahman.

Everyone returns home, and with the original jockey a traitor and also dead, ben Ishak says Alec can ride the Black in the big race. It's a four mile track with both straightaway and a mountain climb, and Alec has not a moment's worry or hesitation despite his promise to his mother to try and be safe: he is all in.

The race itself is basically a blur of galloping over terrain that really should barely be trotted through, neck and neck with al-Rahman and his chestnut Sagr. Halfway through the race, though, they get shot at, and surprise! It's Ibn al Khaldun, who's not dead yet! So they both deviate to chase him down, shoot him, then rejoin the race, still in the lead. Then there's the straightaway gallop to the finish line.
The Black left the trail and pounded onto the desert. Stumbling as his hoofs sank into the sand, he recovered and drove forward.
...with magically unblemished tendons.

Look: do I need to tell you that Alec and the Black win? They do. Of course they do. There is much rejoicing, and Alec is all of a sudden okay with the Black staying behind, because he is where he belongs.

The last bit of the book sets up the next one, and arguably, the whole series: ben Ishak will give Alec the Black's first foal, out of Johar, Tabari's white mare.

Bring it on, Son of the Black Stallion!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Blog Hop: Supplements

I'm late to the supplements blog hop party, but I've wanted to write about it for a little while because it's something I'm agonizing over right now.

Tristan has been on various regimens in the past, and here's what he's getting right now.

1/2 quart of Blue Seal Carb Guard, AM & PM

Basically nothing, basically cardboard. He's been on this since his Cushings diagnosis. It does the job of making him feel like he's getting grain, serving as a vehicle for his meds, and giving him at least some very, very basic nutrition that he's not getting out of hay or grass.

1 gram of pergolide, AM, ~$0.50 per day

Cushings meds. Non-negotiable. They keep him alive (or, at least, from progressing in a nasty degenerative condition). He's held quite well on 1 gram, but we test regularly and keep a close eye on him. I expect that this will increase at some point in the (hopefully distant) future. I've toyed with the idea of Prascend, the name brand tablet version, but can't talk myself into it since he does just fine on the compounded powder.

200mg of cetirizine, AM & PM, ~$3.00 per day

Summer allergy meds. Not cheap. But they prevent the hives, and they are seasonal - roughly 2.5 months out of the year. So this is more like an annual expense of $500 or so than an ongoing monthly cost.

6mL Pentosan, IM, every 4 weeks, ~$15 per dose

Tris does fantastically well on this, and I have zero intentions of changing it. It's far cheaper than Adequan or joint injections, and I can feel the difference in our rides in the week after he gets a dose. I'm actually considering moving him to every 3 weeks.

In general nutrition terms, he's also out on grass and eats about 4 flakes of hay a day.

Now, the part I'm thinking through hard.

Right now, he's on SmartVite Perform Senior, 2 scoops or about 100mg a day, and 10,000 mg of MSM a day, also through SmartPak.

As anyone who has ever fed SmartPaks knows, they are convenient and terrific...and expensive. Tristan's run me about $45 per month, and I am staring down the gullet of several thousand dollars in vet bills between his hijinks and then the dog's.

If I saw a clear, obvious, discernable benefit from the supplements I would not be having this conversation. I'd find a way to make it work.

But I'm not entirely sure he's eating them. I think he's powderizing the supplements and picking out his grain. He's definitely leaving a lot of mashed up formerly-pellet powder in his grain bucket. I need to do some definitive tests to be sure it's the supplements and not the grain he's leaving behind - and vice versa - but he's done this before with other supplements.

If he's truly not eating them, then I have two options: just cancel them and let him be on what he's eating now, or find something else that he will eat.

He's on the SmartVite because I wanted, essentially, a multivitamin. Time on grass is limited in Vermont, and he gets so little grain he's certainly not getting the full benefit of whatever might be in that. I wanted to cover up any gaps he might have in his nutritional profile with the feed-through equivalent of a band-aid, which I admit is a bit lazy of me.

But do I really need to do that? Is there something I could be doing better? Is he really not even eating the supplements and I'm spending $$ on powder that gets dumped from his grain bucket? I'm a bit nervous about dropping the idea of a vitamin supplement out of his diet entirely.

Anyone have consoling thoughts for me? Suggestions of other vitamin supplements or ration balancers?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

Trivia Trail Ride with the Harvard Fox Hounds from Hand Gallop
I love this idea SO MUCH.

Tongue Tension from Not So Speedy Dressage
HUH. File this under "things I need to think about a lot more."

10 Tips for Your First Hunter-Jumper Show from Fly On Over
I know next to nothing about hunter-jumpers, so this was useful for me!

Qualifying from Ambitious
The idea here is that it's the quality of rides you put in, not necessarily the quantity of time; it's a philosophy I've always found particularly useful.

The Experiment: Introduction from Wait for the Jump
This is not quite horse related, but it's awesome. Follow through for the rest in the series. 

Adult Camp Adventures: Windurra from 'Fraidy Cat Eventing

Cattle Sorting from DIY Horse Ownership
Another dream of mine!

Barn Shopping for Baby from The $900 Facebook Pony
I've done a fair bit of barn shopping in my life, but never for a baby.

Let's discuss alternative therapies from House on a Hill
Everyone has Opinions on these, and it's good to see a thoughtful conversation.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer Series: The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley

Let's start with a summary, shall we? Everyone knows the plot of this one, but I suspect these will come more in handy as we get into the more obscure entries in the series.
So: teenager Alec Ramsay is returning from India via ship, along with a mysterious black stallion. When the ship sinks, he and the stallion swim to an abandoned island. There, they survive together and develop a bond. After they are rescued, they return to New York, where the Black catches the eye of retired jockey & racehorse trainer Henry Dailey. They begin to secretly train the Black to race, and with the help of a sports reporter, enter the Black into a match race against the two best horses in the country.
First things first: I realized halfway through this umpteenth re-read that the entire book makes perfect sense if you think of Alec as suffering from a raging and untreated case of PTSD. It doesn't help that all the adults in his life are absolutely shitty at...well, everything. How else to explain the weird mix of naivete, monomania, suicidal tendencies, and unpredictability that basically sums up Alec's entire character? Yet, everyone else in the book exists only to enable Alec's least whim. Literally everyone, from Tony the racist caricature right to the owners of Cyclone and Sun Raider to his MOTHER.

That being said, I still adore this book. I am full of contradictions, I know.

Let's start with the Black, shall we?
White lather ran from the horse's body; his mouth was open, his teeth bared. He was a giant of a horse, glistening black - too big to be pure Arabian. His mane was like a crest, mounting, then falling low. His neck was long and slender, and arched to a small, savagely beautiful head. The head was that of the wildest of all wild creatures - a stallion born wild - and it was beautiful, savage, splendid. A stallion with a wonderful physical perfection that matched his savage, ruthless spirit.
One of the nice things about reading this on the Kindle is that I can do things like search for how many times Walter Farley uses the word "savage" in this 275 page book. The answer is 17 times, or roughly every 16 pages. Three of those instances are in this paragraph. Most of the time it's a description of the Black's head. I fail entirely to understand how a horse's head can be "savagely beautiful."

(For fun, other statistics. "Wild" gets 47 instances, "Scream" gets 32, and "stallion" gets a whopping 370, or 1.3 times per page.)

On the one hand, this description of a horse makes no sense. On the other hand, it also neatly establishes the Black as the mythic creature he is. He is not so much a horse as he is a collection of inchoate adolescent yearnings given form. He is everything that teenaged Walter Farley would have dreamed up for himself, and be honest with me: probably a lot like your childhood imaginings of the perfect horse, too.
With the days that followed, Alec's mastery over the Black grew greater and greater. He could do almost anything with him. The savage fury of the unbroken stallion disappeared when he saw the boy. Alec rode him around the island and raced him down the beach, marveling at the giant strides and the terrific speed. Without realizing it, Alec was improving his horsemanship until he had reached the point where he was almost a part of the Black as they tore along.
In my re-read of this book, the island scenes made the least sense to me. Based on that paragraph, how long do you think Alec spent on the island? Would you be boggled if I told you nineteen days? Remember, he didn't start riding the Black until a couple of days in. So let's say two weeks. TWO WEEKS for Alec to tame this wild horse and become a bareback riding master.

Then they're rescued, and can we talk about this for a second? I had totally forgotten that the ship that rescues them takes them to Rio de Janeiro first. An entirely different CONTINENT, you guys! And they send Alec's parents a message via radio and they get a telegram back: "Thank God you're safe. Cabling money to Rio de Janeiro. Hurry home. Love, Mother and Dad."

Alec's parents thought he died in a shipwreck and that is their response? Honestly, of everyone in this book, they are the most baffling. I realize that this is a YA book, of an era that had to write parents out in order for the kids to have adventures but WHAT? In fact, Alec's poor mother is basically full-on Stepford throughout this book. Despite being their only child, they're mildly puzzled that he returns and sort of quietly content, instead of ecstatic that he miraculously survived.

They're also totally chill with him bringing home this totally insane horse, but it's fine, he knocks on his neighbor's door and they have a stall and he'll just hang out there.
"What are you going to feed him tonight, Alec? Did you think of that?" his father asked.
"Gee, that's right!" said Alec. "I had forgotten!"
And then they just feed him...whatever grain old Napoleon gets. Oats, or something. Which settles it: the fact that the Black did not die of colic 5 pages into this book is the real supernatural storyline.

Then Alec wakes up the next day:
He was glad his father had told him he wouldn't have to go to school today. "One more day won't hurt," he had said, "and it'll give you a chance to accustom yourself again."

It's a good thing Alec doesn't go to school, though, because the Black jumps out of his pasture and lives all of our dreams, galloping loose on a golf course. This to me feels like one of the most realistic moments in the entire book. Of course he ditches his pasture. He's a wild horse. You tear up that stupid golf turf, Black!

Thankfully, Alec gets back in time to eat the breakfast his mother has set out for him like it's any other day and she apparently didn't notice that he was gone? Also, his father left for work without saying goodbye? LOLLLLL. I'm telling you: all of Alec's adults are the WORST.

Henry Dailey appeared the first night they brought the Black home, and he is of course the second most important human character in this entire series after Alec, so here's our description of him.
Finally he showed up - a short, chunky man with large shoulders. He came toward them walking in jerky, bowlegged strides. His white shirt tails flapped in the night wind. He wiped a large hand across his mouth.
I don't blame Henry for anything that happens in this book. He is carrying around his own baggage. He wants to get back into racing, which his wife forced him to give up, and he is arguably still traumatized from losing Chang, his horse of a lifetime. He also gives us some of the nicest moments in this book and later, in the whole series.
Henry paused as he carefully turned a corner. Then he continued, "Y'know, Alec, horses are kind of like the sea, you'll find out - once you get used to 'em and learn to love 'em, you can't ever give them up."
<3, Henry. I totally buy him as the guy who sees a chance to relive his best days and highest dreams, who arguably manipulates the shit out of this teenager because he sees a path back to the thing he loves the most. His motivations are the clearest and easiest to understand in the whole book, after maybe Alec's, but then Alec's motivations are basically "be the very most special!"

(No but seriously does Alec actually have a personality? Not in this book, for sure. He's...resourceful, I guess? And tough? Because of the island and also he survives like eight million concussions and learns to ride the Black properly?)

After schooling the Black at what I think is meant to be the Aqueduct (I don't think it's Belmont? Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but they don't ever mention the name) things start to move more slowly: thankfully, we get the literary equivalent of a training montage, as Alec spends all winter getting the shit kicked out of him while they introduce the Black to saddle and bridle, and then start properly training him on the track.

They want to race him, but, well...
"You see," Alec said, "we had planned to run him in some big races. I was going to ride - but we weren't able to get his pedigree. We wrote to Arabia trying to get it, but it was impossible. We didn't know much about him, only the port where he got on the boat. And you can't run a horse in a race without his being registered."
"Yeah, that's right," muttered Joe, "and while the Black looks like a thoroughbred, he is certainly too wild to have ever been brought up like one."
This may be the most head-scratching sentence in the entire book, and that's saying a lot. Let's parse it out, shall we? First of all, Joe, who is a bigshot racing columnist, agrees with Alec that a horse only needs to be "registered" (with whom? as what? it's a mystery.) in order to race. Second, in what universe does the Black look like a Thoroughbred? He's from "Arabia" (not a thing, even in 1941), and he's pretty explicitly described and recognized by multiple characters as looking like an Arabian. Third, "too wild to have ever been brought up like one," what the actual fuck does that mean? All Thoroughbreds are magically well-behaved on account of...I don't even know. Joe is the worst.

Not that racing is a great idea, because, well.
Alec grasped the reins still tighter and leaned over until his head touched the stallion's. He knew full well the danger that was his every time he rode the Black, especially when he let him loose on the track. The stallion would never hurt him knowingly, but once he got his head he was no longer the Black that Alec knew - but once again a wild stallion that had never been clearly broken, and never would be!

Tell you what, let's all of us try galloping our horses with our heads touching their heads. Report back on how that goes!

Joe manipulates public sentiment into a) demanding a match race between Cyclone and Sun Raider, the East & West Coast champions and then b) introducing a mystery horse into the mix as a ploy to get the Black invited to race. Why does anyone go along with this? The other owners, the racetrack owners, the betting public, and oh yeah, the adults in Alec's life:
"But, Henry, it's such a dangerous race for him to go into - and on that wild horse!" [said Alec's father]
"Not any more dangerous than what he's faced many times since that boat went down in the ocean. I've grown to know your boy pretty well within the last few months, and I can honestly say that he's different from any of us. He's found something we never will, because we'll never go through the experiences that he's had to."
Like mental illness, Henry? God damn it.

There was never any plausible ending for this book but that the Black enters the match race and wins, coming from behind in a spectacular fashion, after getting into a fight with Sun Raider at the starting line. In a kind of neat touch, the story of the race is told entirely in the announcer's call. You just have to imagine what's going through Alec's head during all of it, which really boxes him in neatly and sustains that myth of the boy and his horse conquering all. It's like after a whole book of being on the inside now we're on the outside, and we'll never know what it's really like. I can't decide whether it's intentionally clever or I'm reading too much into it.

The movie version gets this perfectly, interspersing scenes of the race with flashbacks to Alec and the Black alone on the island.

The book finishes triumphantly, with Alec insisting that everyone is going to be seeing a lot more of the Black, everyone who ever doubted him proved wrong, and a bright glowing future ahead of them, somehow.

So, with all that snark? I still love this book. Maybe it's because I've read it so many times I have practically memorized whole chunks of the text. Maybe because there is something enduring behind all the absurdity - the ultimate horse crazy kid's dream. Some of the most emotional bits hold up, even as they are ridiculous on the surface - like Alec refusing to leave the Black behind on the deserted island. I still got a pang when I read it. They fight for each other, in a way. They epitomize that bond that we all wish we had with our horses - an unspoken, unbreakable partnership.

Did you re-read it along with me? When's the last time you read it? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tristan's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week

First, before I say anything else, I have the best barn in the world. Almost five years ago, when I was looking for a barn, my biggest factor was quality of care and specifically attention to the detail of that care. I have been blown away over and over and over again by how incredibly good everyone at the barn is and have been amazed again these past few weeks. I cannot possibly thank them enough, though I intend to keep showing up with bottles of wine and baked goods for some weeks to come.

Before I start to tell Tristan's part of the story, please know at the outset that he was the third horse in the barn to come down with this mystery disease, and - KNOCK ALL THE WOOD - is so far the last. We don't yet know what it is/was, or even its vector, since the horses had zero contact with each other and obsessive quarantine measures were begun with the first horse and maintained right on through.

So: we start the story last Sunday, when I came out to do a short road hack with Tristan before I headed out to a work even in the southern part of the state. By that point, he had been getting twice daily temperature checks for three days, along with every horse in the barn. That morning, his temp was fine. That afternoon, about 3pm, I held him in the aisle before heading out so the barn worker could do his temp and I watched her face fall as the thermometer kept rising.

I swallowed bile and tried to fight back my fear; he's never run a temperature, to my knowledge, in the decade plus that I've owned him.

The vet's protocols called for a dose of banamine at 101.5; the barn worker and I decided that he was close enough, and gave him a dose. I put him back in his stall and started running through "but what if it's nothing?" scenarios in my head.

I put the barn manager and vet on alert, and went to do my work event. On the drive back, I checked in with the barn worker, who we'll name as L. for continuing blog purposes - she and I spent a lot of quality time together in the next week. She reported that his fever was up above 102: clearly rising. I called the vet (and my husband, and a lot of other people), and sped back up from southern Vermont. 

We all met at the barn at 9:00 pm and Tristan was pretty clearly not himself. His fever was holding just above 102 but he was listless and unhappy. We moved onto the next phase of planned treatment, following the pattern of what had worked with the other horses. We basically spent the next two days in a blurred cycle of that same treatment.

The vet did a catheter for an IV drip, and that night he got a dose of tetracycline in 5L of fluids along with another dose of banamine. Before the vet had reached us, L, had already done his first alcohol & cold water bath to try to keep him cooler; we did a lot of those over the next few days. The vet left us with several more bags of fluids, two more doses of tetracycline, a bottle of banamine, and several tubes of Gastroguard. She also pulled blood for a CBC panel and noted that his gut was hypermotile (ie really gassy) and seemed uncomfortable, though he had passed some relatively normal-looking manure.

I got home around 11:30 pm, got a fractured 90 minutes of sleep, and headed out for the 3am check, during which I took his temperature - still above 102 - and iced his front and back feet.

He was so miserable. He had no interest in food, he was dull and uninterested in anything, just stood in the back of his stall occasionally flicking his ears. It was really hard to see. :(

I got home at about 3:30, and then at 3:45 my dog jumped on the bed crying pitifully and scratching so hard she was shaking the whole bed. When I reached down to pet her and comfort her, I discovered that nearly every inch of her body was covered in hives. She'd shown no signs of that the day before, and this was the first time she had ever done anything like that. She was also miserable, so I got up, gave her a long, cold bath with the oatmeal shampoo I had on hand, and wrapped her in a towel to snuggle and dry. None of that helped; she continued to cry and started shivering violently, even when wrapped in the towel. So off to the emergency vet we went, where she got a dose of benadryl and dex. She would spend the next seven days on benadryl as we tried to chase the allergic reaction; I won't write about that more but it's in the background of all of this and as I write that allergic reaction has given way (or transformed into? unclear!) a nasty staph infection that has blossomed into an infected lesion on her nose. So I am on round 2 of vet bills this week.

Anyway: on my way back home, I got word that at morning check Tristan's temp was down below 102 and he was a tiny bit perkier after his morning banamine, so I got another 90 minutes or so of sleep, then headed back into the barn.

That morning temp check was the best point of his Monday, because he started a cycle that went for the next 36 hours of ramping his temperature up until the next banamine dose, while we tried to help bring it down in other ways. About every hour or 90 minutes he got another cold alcohol bath and I iced his feet, front and back, both to help with temperature and as a preventive measure against laminitis.

In his better moments, I took him out for short walks after his baths, because the road was shady and there was a little breeze and he seemed happier when he was moving. 

At his worst, he went up to 104.3 right before his afternoon banamine dose, which is pretty darned high. The other horses who got this had gone as high as 105, so we had our fingers very crossed that was the worst of it - and thankfully, it was.

He was so, so tired through the whole thing but he was wobbly enough that it was hard for him to lie down, so it was actually progress that he laid down for a short nap.

He still wasn't eating or drinking on Monday, so he got another 5L of fluids. Even though he showed no outward signs of dehydration - his skin was popping back just fine, his capillary refill was good, his gums were a healthy pink - he clearly started to perk up and feel better about halfway through his bag. He got another dose of tetracycline that night, and I chatted with the vet after; she was concerned about his total lack of interest in food, which was VERY un-Tristan-like. So we tried to take him out for handgrazing, 20m at a time; he was interested, but not enthusiastic. He spent chunks of time staring into the middle distance and biting at bugs rather than attacking grass - again, very not like him.

I did the 3am check again, and temp check went fine. I also took him out for more handgrazing and he started to seem a little bit more like himself. I brought him back in, iced his feet, fussed over him, and then did my first solo flush of his IV line. I'd been instructed how by the barn manager and had done it supervised by L. in the afternoon. It's a simple enough procedure, the kind of thing pretty much anyone could do.

Well, at that point I'd had maybe 5 hours of sleep in the past 48 hours, and the wheels came totally off the wagon. I am not sure if I didn't tap the syringe of fluids out enough or what, but I saw two small bubbles go into the IV line from the syringe. I finished the flush, closed the line, my hands shaking and totally numb, and had a complete and total panic attack. Everything caught up to me at once. I called the barn manager who assured me that two tiny bubbles were not going to cause a problem. I called my mother, who is a nurse, who asked flatly "did he drop?" She said if I had actually gotten enough air to be problematic in the line, he would have dropped fast and hard, and by the time I called her it had been 20 minutes since I'd done it. After another 20 minutes I convinced myself he was going to be ok.

I got halfway home and became convinced I hadn't closed off the line properly. Cue another panicked call to my mother. I turned around while talking to her and she assured me that there was a plastic stop on the line, so even if I hadn't closed it off in the correct order (before taking the needle out) air could not have gotten in the line. I went back to the barn anyway and took a picture of the line closed up. I went home again, and laid awake trying to work my way through the aftershocks of the panic attack.

I probably got another hour or two of sleep, baked a gluten free cake for the barn manager, and headed back to the barn, where his temperature had finally, finally started coming down and staying down. I did some more handgrazing with him, and he got more fluids in the afternoon, but by early afternoon his temperature had held normal so consistently we held off on his banamine dose. He got one last dose of tetracycline that evening, and I was relieved from the 3am check for everyone's sanity.

Wednesday, I spent a good chunk of the day washing and disinfecting everything: all his brushes, all his tack, all his blankets, all his saddle pads. I also washed all of our own bedding and the dog's bedding in an attempt to eliminate an environmental trigger for her hives. I did 12 loads of laundry in about 36 hours.

The bar was still under full biosecurity measures, which meant that after every one of his alcohol baths I had scrubbed down the wash stall and then sprayed it with bleach. Every time people went in and out of his stall, they stepped in bleach; ditto the barn itself. The farrier kept all his tools in bleach and the aisle was scrubbed down after every horse. The barn staff also scrubbed everything they could find - every bucket, every flat surface, every blanket, everything. There were antibacterial hand washes hanging everywhere and every time I touched Tristan I scrubbed my hands, as did everyone else. I didn't touch any other horses or even go near stalls, and I washed the clothes I wore during the day every single night.

Sick pony station: cooler for ice, box of fluids, grain, trash bag with sharps container, flush fluids hanging on door, clipboard with hourly notes, bucket with miscellaneous things, stool for sitting on during fluids, bucket of bleach, bucket with sponge for alcohol baths.

Thursday morning his temperature was holding down still, and he was interested in and excited by food again, not just grass - he was absolutely attacking grass, but he started to work on his hay in earnest, and that night he was happy for his grain again.

Eating and drinking meant that he also started to pass more manure. He'd never stopped, but so many of the symptoms of whatever this was also mimicked colic that it was really worrying to see how little manure he was producing, even though there was a logical reason for it: he just wasn't eating enough.

He also got his IV line out on Thursday afternoon, and on Friday morning he got more blood pulled. The only thing the first bloodwork showed was that his white blood cell count was in the basement - not entirely surprising, given the vet suspected something viral.

This Tuesday, 8 days after he came down with his first temperature, he started going back outside again, in a small isolated paddock, and he's continued happily and well since then.

I don't know when I'll put him back under saddle; maybe this weekend. Unfortunately, the dog is now worse, so I've refocused my attention and worry on her now that Tristan is stable and happy. He has visibly lost weight, and is still very tired; it clearly took a toll on him, so I'm just as happy to give him more time to recover before I sit on him again. Probably he'll get a week of light, easy work, too.

So there you have it: a very long, very miserable, and still somewhat unexplained week that was made better by the best barn staff and the best vet in the whole world.