Saturday, October 14, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

I've been slammed with work this week so this is somewhat abbreviated but some good stuff in there, including new-to-me blogs. Thanks, 2pointober!

Dream Horse from Eventing Saddlebred Style
I find these posts just fascinating. They're really a window into all the different things people want out of horses.

Full Story: Charlie's Surgery + Treatment
Surgical Wound Care + Bandages from 'Fraidy Cat Eventing
You all know I'm endlessly fascinated by wound care posts, especially ones with such good detail.

More on Baybuilt from Guinness on Tap
CUTE

Let's talk about butts from Go Big or Go Home
I love this post, on many levels. It's useful and well-illustrated and funny.

Eventing has gotten harder - now you have to jump upright wine bottles from Riding to B
Karen O'Connor is one of my equestrian heroes, and this was a great recap of a clinic with her.

Comparing lunging and riding with Equisense from Cob Jockey
I want one of those riding trackers sooooooo bad and this post just made it worse.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Chiropractor Results

So!

Thanks to everyone who weighed in yesterday, it was all very useful.

The bottom line: Tristan's fine.

His back was pretty darn loose, only minorly locked up.

His biggest points of tension were in his neck, mostly on the left side.

He tolerated the adjustments exceptionally well.



Overall, the vet (who had seen him once, ten years ago, at a different barn, but understandably did not remember either of us) said "you have the healthiest senior mustang around."

That's good news!

I do feel somewhat conflicted, though.

Now the answer is, as always, "ride better."

It would have at least satisfied something if I'd spent a pretty good chunk of money (more than my monthly grocery budget; money I had set aside to buy new tall boots) and found and fixed a problem.

mostly he wanted a nap

I don't blame the vet for that, though. Getting the news that your horse is in terrific shape considering his age and his general health setbacks is reassuring, and for that if nothing else, I'm glad we did it.

But yeah.

Ride better.

Gotta work on that.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

What to expect from a chiropractic appointment?

In the last few weeks, I've noticed two things about Tristan.

First, he's tracking up evenly behind for the first time in a very long time. Years, perhaps. I actually trotted him out for the vet this spring to see if she had anything to say about it. She thought it was perhaps some arthritis but mostly weakness and over-protecting. So I focused hard on getting both hind legs to step under in all of our work, and I stepped up our time on hills. It seems like that's been successful!

Second, less positive, I'm hearing a popping sound from behind the saddle. Now: Tristan's front legs have snap-crackle-popped for years when I lift them to pick up his feet. His joints just seem prone to air bubbles (apparently what that noise is) and it's never directly correlated to weakness or pain. Multiple vets and the internet have told me it's not a symptom in and of itself. I think it's lower back, but it could be stifle.

However, he's also been more sour in his warmup lately. Even as he's tracking up better, reaching better, using his back better, he's also stiffer through his warmup. More flailing. More reluctance to trot initially, and that's a rock and a hard place for me: if I don't push him to be forward right from the first step, I never get it. So when I push him to be forward, he's unhappy but it results in a better ride after the warmup; when I let him shuffle along slowly until he's more responsive, it's a shit ride from start to end but at least he's a bit happier at the beginning.

the goober in question after a recent dressage ride


Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I have finally pulled the trigger on something I've thought about for a while now: scheduling a chiropractic assessment and adjustment. Vet is coming out tomorrow.

I've never had it done before. I haven't had time to properly research it. I just know that a) it's helped me a lot in the past b) a lot of people in blogland swear by it and c) the ways in which he is exhibiting sourness make me think it's not a muscle soreness but a stiffness.

So, I crowdsource this: what should I expect? He's generally stoic about pain; will he be too sore to ride after the appointment? Have you seen a huge difference in your horses, or no difference? Anyone with senior horses who uses chiro? Anything I should make sure to ask or discuss with the vet?

Obviously this will all be a conversation with the vet tomorrow too, but I'm fiddling my thumbs anxiously and hoping I've done the right thing so would like some opinions before we talk!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

Kinda short and sweet this week.

What is hot? from The Repurposed Horse
An endlessly fascinating debate for me; I have for most of my life preferred kick rides, but I'm starting to want something with more natural GO.

Frugal October from A Gift Horse
I know these feels all to well.

10 Great Things About Boarding from Oh Gingersnap
YES to all of these. I love my barn.

Gone to Ground: Hunt Recap from PONY'TUDE
siiiiiigh. Living the dream!

Buyer Beware from The $900 Facebook Pony
The equestrian version of the Craigslist rental scam...

Grooming essentials from Beyond the Shedrow
I often think I fall onto the minimalist end of this spectrum, so it's always interesting to me to read what other people use.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

2pointober Bseline

It's that time of year again!

Last year, my baseline was 47 seconds. My final time ended up as 5:12. Yay me.

This year, my baseline is 25 seconds. I suck. I guess that leaves room for improvement?

Monday, October 2, 2017

2017 Goals: August & September

I failed and didn't write August in time, so you get a twofer. Lucky you.

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

Horse Goals - original post here

1. Put hands on my horse 5x a week - Mixed. The good weeks were good, the bad weeks were bad.

2. Be less perfunctory - Backslid on this. Needs more attention.

3. Aim toward dressage schooling shows - We did a show! I still have to recap it (if you don't blog about a show did you really even ride?) but I swear we rode two Training tests over Labor Day weekend.

4. Take more lessons - I did a late August lesson that was terrific.

5. Horse-specific income stream / funding emergency fund - The income stream is coming along beautifully. I plan to sell things at a barn tack sale on October 28 and then put them up for general sale on November 1. Watch this space!

The emergency funds. Sigh. I'm going back to the numbers to keep myself accountable and because I hope to close out the year with a bang. The good news is that all of the vet bills (and the associated credit card bills) are paid off, so I can actually build instead of simply plugging holes.

Emergency fund: $4,100/$15,000
Tristan's savings: $0/$1,500

6. Do more thoughtful work - Yes. I'm generally pleased with this.

7. Get more media - I'm doing better with this!

Life Goals - original post here

1. Pay off car - Today I scheduled my last payment for November wooooooooo!

2. Read 75 books - 72/75, CRUSHING IT.

The Island Stallion - Waler Farley
A Beautiful Mind - Sylvia Nasar
All the Birds in the Sky - Charlie Jane Anders
The Black Stallion and Satan - Walter Farley
The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt - Walter Farley
Al Franken: Giant of the Senate - Al Franken
Trish Trash: Roller Girl of Mars, Vol 1 & Vol 2 - Jessica Abel
Star Wars Battlefront II: Inferno Squad - Christie Golden
The Stars are Legion - Kameron Hurley
The One Thing - Gary Keller
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi
White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf - Aaron Bobrow-Stain

Best thing I read in this period was Al Franken's book. Worst thing was White Bread. Talk about taking your compelling argument and beating it into the ground.

3. Revive history blogs - sigh.

4. Do better about food - Yes! Doing pretty darn well! Down 30lbs, doing better with overall energy and health. I need to wrestle our grocery budget back into normal order - I've been doing too much midweek last-minute shopping - and clean out the pantry to cycle food through, but I'm generally happy.

5. Decorate the house - YES! I finally put up some more wedding pictures, I have started to think through a plan for the living room shelves, and I'm going to make a list of the frames we need to get all the art we bought on the honeymoon up on the walls.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

House Post: More Basement Insulation

The project that's never done took some big steps forward last weekend: I added Roxul insulation to the basement ceiling.

To recap the plan: we had a contractor spray 1" of closed-cell spray foam on the ceiling to serve as a vapor barrier & air sealant. We built a wall to separate the garage from the main basement.

Last week, I used Roxul insulation to add on top of the spray foam. I had the week off for a staycation to work on the house and try to give my brain a rest. I told myself I had to work an hour a day on the basement; on day 1, that meant about two packages of insulation, or 12 batts total.

This stuff; two of these at a time.

I dressed to the nines: jeans, long sleeved t-shirt, baseball cap, protective goggles, respirator. I did it first thing in the morning, and then took a long shower afterwards. Roxul isn't quite as bad as the pink fiberglass stuff, but it's still not great to get on your skin or to breathe in. 


By the end of the week, I had both run out of insulation (and the budget to buy more, sadly) and improved my time quite a bit: two packages on day 5 took me about 30 minutes, or half as long. I am guessing that I need about 4 more packages of insulation, or about $140 worth. I have until mid-November to figure that out, which is when my dad is coming to help put up the drywall.





On the one hand, the actual doing of it wasn't a ton of fun. It was a lot of lifting and shoving above my head. On the other hand, it was straightforward, simple, and enormously satisfying to see happen. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup


Book Review: Training Strategies for Dressage Riders from Poor Woman Showing
I like the idea of this book and the positive review it got.

Shaping Energy from Zen and the Art of Baby Horse Management
I had a trainer who was very into the idea of energy use (and chakras!) while riding and I kind of hated it then, but this blog post makes a lot of sense.

Speedhumps: a baby horse story from Dotstream
I love baby horses. This was a well-told story about a training problem & solution.

Eugene's Eventful Acres - Cross Country from DIY Horse Ownership
I love Eugene, and any post with tons of photos of him jumping gets a +1 from me. It's also an all-around good show recap.

Millbrook Madness from Breeches and Boat Shoes
*swoon*

Levels of Pressure from A Enter Spooking
A+ for thoughtful, useful dressage content

Use This Easy Test to See if Your Knees Are Inhibiting Your Horse’s Forward Movement from Trafalgar Square Books
I...am not sure this is an easy test, but it is an intriguing one.

The Beauty of Big, Huge, Awkward Mistakes from Eventing Nation
Andrea is the actual BEST, and this is a terrific article.

Countdown to Congress, and the Impending Departure from Diary of an Overanxious Horse Owner
Quarter Horse showing is a world I know absolutely nothing about, so I found this fascinating.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Summer Series: The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt


The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt
by Walter Farley

Okay. Two things you need to know about why this review has taken so long.

1) It nearly broke me. Reading this book was not fun. It was not cracktastic or even occasionally thrilling, it was just mean.
2) Summer's over, so the series is on hiatus until next summer. Sorry!

So with that, I'm reasonably sure I can mock it anyway. Let's do this.

You may remember at the end of The Black Stallion and Satan, when Alec & Henry were driving to their farm upstate, Henry asked Alec if the Black's first stud service could go to his old friend, Jimmy Creech, who was a harness racer. Alec, displaying the same obliviousness that led to his blind spot about racing the Black and Satan as Thoroughbreds, thought that was a capital idea.

Instead of recapping this book chronologically, as with the others, I'm going to do some character summaries and then hit a few of the major themes. The plot of this book is a big nothingburger. Even more than usual. Colt is born. Colt grows up. Colt is trained. Colt races. Zero conflict. All the conflict is on the human side.

I'll insert some photos of harness racing at the Tunbridge World's Fair in Vermont that I took a few years ago so you have a) something to break up the wall of text and b) some actual context for the way this book wants to tell its story.

Let's introduce our cast of characters. I made a few conscious decisions about how to read this book that helped me get through it, and I'll share them each with you.



Tom Messenger. Tom is our Alec stand-in: he's a high school kid who inexplicably walks five miles (YES. FIVE MILES.) to and from the local harness track every day so he can hang around with one trainer and his two horses. Tom is somewhat endearing, if bland. My decision for Tom is that his family is black. The story reads way better that way, trust me. Tom's parents are nonexistent and have no objections to him spending waaaaaaaaaay too much time at the track. It's a step up from the Ramsays, I suppose. Tom is obsessed first with the mare Volo Queen and then with Bonfire, the colt, and Tom's only exposure to horses comes through the track and through Jimmy's teachings.

Jimmy Creech. Jimmy is an asshole. Jimmy has basically no redeeming qualities at all. Jimmy's assholery drives our plot. He owns Volo Queen and one other horse, Symbol. 1/3 of the way through the book he gives Symbol away for no reason at all. Jimmy is the kind of Trump-voting troglodyte who thinks things should stay the same (ie, the way they were when he was winning all the time) no matter what and who yells at and abuses the people around him for no good reason. Constantly. He blames everyone else for his problems. He is a shit friend who burns up good will and yet, inexplicably, people keep giving him second, third, and fourth chances. Everything in this book happens IN SPITE OF Jimmy. Also, he's never or rarely just "Jimmy." He's always "Jimmy Creech." Fuck him forever.

George Snedecker. Jimmy and George are longtime lovers and life partners. Yep. That's how I'm reading this book, and trust me, it makes it a better book. Sadly, it also makes George an abused spouse, because George spends the whole book being kind of cool. He's old-school but he understands changes, and welcomes them if they bring more people to the sport. He's actually kind to Tom. He does ALL of the actual work without, as far as I can tell, getting paid. But Jimmy treats him like absolute shit. Here's a very typical interaction.
[George] said with attempted lightness, "No need to work over Symbol, heh, Jimmy? He'll stir up enough wind to wipe him clean."
Jimmy Creech looked sullenly into George's grinning, tobacco-stained mouth. "Sure," he said. "Let's get the stuff on him now."
Fuuuuuuck you, Jimmy.

Those are our three main characters; I'll introduce others later.


The primary conflict in this book is the evolution of the sport of harness racing. Jimmy wants to keep it a small-time sport, with daytime races at local county fairs. The sport at large is moving toward dedicated tracks with evening races under the lights. That's an interesting narrative, right? There's a lot to be mined there. The thing that kills me is that Walter Farley gets it. His descriptions of the world of harness racing are as good as - or even better than - anything in the flat racing books. But the entire narrative is presented as one of Good versus Evil, through the lens of Jimmy Creech's bitterness and anger.

George has some mild opinions on the changes, and Tom has no actual character (other than being a generally easygoing kid and having a natural feel for "the reins") so the conflict is driven entirely by Jimmy. Jimmy is so upset about the way things are going that he works himself into a bleeding ulcer that has to have surgery. He eats like crap. He has temper tantrums. He screams at the people around him. He sees anyone who has anything to do with the night tracks as a "traitor" and not in the haha-teasing way, in the "you and your kin are dead to me unto the seventh generation" kind of way. He hates drivers at the big tracks so much that he crashes his cart into one of them and gets into a fistfight on the training track with another. Everyone is so afraid of his temper that they tiptoe around him, hide things from him, cater to his every whim, and yes-sir his every statement. Jimmy checks every single damn box on the abusive relationship list.
Jimmy was as highly strung as any colt and his emotions would vary from day to day and from hour to hour.
That's just the kind of guy I want training horses and/or to be my friend, amirite?



The book has three main chunks: first, the colt's birth and early life. Second, the colt's training. Third, the colt's racing. The colt, by the way, is a blood bay (hence the title) named Bonfire and despite being half-Arabian, half-Standardbred, he is the fastest harness racing horse EVAH. Because of the Black. Or something. Whatever, Bonfire has literally zero personality. After the Black and Satan, he is a big blob of nothing on four legs. He's easy to train. He wins races. He's awfully pretty. The end.

Among Jimmy's more questionable decisions in the book is the decision to send Volo Queen, pregnant with the colt, with Tom for the summer to his aunt and uncle's house. Tom displays creditable anxiety about this decision, tries to get a vet on-call, and in general takes this responsibility far more seriously than any adults in the book. What do you mean, sending a pregnant mare several hours away to live with a high schooler with zero horse experience is a great plan? On top of everything, Tom is charged with starting the colt - teaching him to be handled, led, etc. Somehow this turns out fine, though damned if I know how. (There are a few screw-ups along the way, but nothing Tom can't overcome with the power of lurrrrrrve.)
And Tom, I've got full confidence in you. Use your own judgment if anything comes up. You've got a good head and, most important, the right feeling for horses, and that always pays off in the end.
NO. NO IT DOES NOT, JIMMY.


The training is ok? I don't know. The horse gets trained. The whole middle bridge displays the fundamental flaw of this book. The training is actually suuuuuuper interesting. Jimmy clearly knows his stuff. I loved learning about harness racing from the ground up. (I have a soft spot a mile wide for harness racing, because all my earliest experiences with horse racing was at Scarborough Downs.)

But the whole middle bit is taken over by Jimmy's illness (he spends the whole book in denial that he has an ulcer until it ruptures; I'm pretty sure it's a long game for maximum attention) and by the burgeoning conflict with the night tracks. Two other horses that float in and out of the story are racing at fairs and night tracks, and they're set up to be Bonfire's big rivals, but they're not, really. But the middle bridge means it's time to talk about the best damn character in the whole book, and a top 5 for the entire Black Stallion series.

Miss Elsie. Miss Elsie is living the dream, you guys. She never married, and inherited her father's fortune when he died. She spends that money to maintain the training track, breed her own horses, and train all her own horses. She gives exactly zero shits about what anyone thinks of her. She is friendly, but laser-focused on her horses. She is compassionate but doesn't indulge anyone. She is in and out of the story and is absolutely perfect in every way. She has a filly named Princess Guy (which, ok, not the best name but whatever, she has a stallion named Mr. Guy that she loves and named her after) that is setting track records alongside Bonfire, and she has zero compunctions about going where the best races are - at fairs or at the night tracks.

So what does Jimmy think about Miss Elsie?
A month or so ago, Jimmy read on the back of [a newspaper clipping] you'd sent that Miss Elsie Topper had left the Ohio fairs and was racing her black filly, Princess Guy, a,t Maywood Park, the night raceway just outside of Chicago. I don't have to tell you how Jimmy feels about the night raceways. He bellowed for days that Miss Elsie had betrayed him, and I had all I could do to quiet him down.
Once again, in chorus: fuck you, Jimmy.


Jimmy gets himself so upset that his ulcer basically explodes (they're never more medically specific than that). He has to go on bed rest at home, and somehow a retired nurse comes to live with him but...doesn't charge any money? They explain that she just likes taking care of things, and now she has a nice place to live and people, I have been reading a lot about emotional labor lately and I am so filled with rage about this particular plot development I can't even see straight.

Whatever: Jimmy basically sits at home watching Fox News and getting taken care of (FOR FREE), and George and Tom take over Bonfire's training and then racing.

Then Jimmy has to have experimental surgery done by a doctor flow in from out of town to fix his ulcer, and suddenly they owe thousands upon thousands of dollars in medical bills. Jimmy is not in the picture at all to help fix this, when arguably he ignored every single shred of doctor's advice up to this point. (Free advice! Did I mention that? The doctor was also treating him for free because he liked Jimmy so much!) and is largely responsible for the dire straits he's in. (No, I'm not saying his entire illness is his fault, but nor do I have much sympathy either for the endgame exacerbation he brought on himself.)


Bonfire is good - he wins everything, except when Tom, who I feel I should remind you is still walking five miles to and from the track every day with zero parental input and is like 17, screws up the driving. Which is 10000% understandable! He's learning! But he has Jimmy breathing down his neck via letter and also thousands of dollars in medical bills to pay off. Because it's somehow HIS responsibility. Fuck you, Jimmy Creech.

Obviously, the conflict in this book was all headed in one direction. In order to win the kind of money they need, Tom and Bonfire are going to have to race at a night track. To scope it out ahead of time, Tom and George go visit.
"And although it isn't for me or Jimmy or maybe for you," George added sincerely, "it's good for our sport in a lot of ways. Raceways like this all 'round the country mean a lot more people are takin' to our sport, and in time they'll learn to love it the same as we do."
JIMMY DOESN'T DESERVE YOU, GEORGE.

Tom and George enter Bonfire in the Big Race (I don't remember what it's called, but it's a Black Stallion book, of course it ends with a Big Race), pooling the last of their money to do so. It's a tight race, but please use your best surprised face when I tell you that Bonfire wins. (I snark because I love; Bonfire's races are arguably the most enjoyable scenes in the book, because they get back to what these books do best.)

They win a ton of money! They pay off all the medical bills, all the feed bills, all the travel bills, they buy ALL new equipment, and Bonfire sets a new record for the mile at 1:59. Happy ending, right?

lol. Remember how they have to go back to their abusive home?
Jimmy Creech stood at the other end of the shed, bellowing fiercely. He was holding the tall gold-plated trophy in his hands, reading the inscription on it. When he had finished he looke dup and saw them; then the trophy came hurling through the air as he hurled it at their feet. It rolled past them, striking with a sharp ring against the door. Bonfire shrilled at the sound of it, then moved uneasily back and forth in his stall. Quickly Tom went to him, going inside the stall to quiet the colt. He ran his hand up and down Bonfire's head while Jimmy Creech continued raging without making his words understandable.

George finally stands up for himself, though.
"You're here...and that's the way we wanted it to be. And I wanted you to see this colt race, Jimmy. You've never in your life seen a colt like this one...let alone owned one. He's a world's champion, Jimmy. He beat the best there is. He did one fifty-nine, Jimmy. Are you thinkin' of that at all? Or are your mind and body filled with so much hatred for the raceways that you can't even see a colt like this any more? He's yours, Jimmy. You bred him. You own him. All your life you hoped this would happen to you...never dreamin' it would come. But it has, Jimmy...and you're not even looking at him."
I wish I could say that either George breaks up with Jimmy and goes and lives his best life, or that Jimmy has some kind of amazing revelation and about-face, but the ending is much less satisfying than that. The only thing Jimmy says is to order Tom to take Bonfire's blanket off so he can look at the horse, because somehow that's supposed to be an apology AND a thanks for everything he put them through and they did for him?

I don't know you guys. This was not a fun book to read. The good parts (training, racing, Tom being sweet if in over his head, Miss Elsie) were totally obscured by the rage that fueled the narrative conflict.

Have you read it recently, or not-so-recently? What did you think?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Helping Puerto Rico: A Giveaway

I know. I've been MIA. "Sorry I haven't blogged" is the most common phrase on the internet. In my defense, it has been a shit summer and my brain is barely staying on top of feeding & cleaning myself.

Like many of you, I have been heartbroken and horrified at the summer of natural disasters that have taken their toll around the world. There are so many awful things going on it's hard to know where to start. Lately, I've been trying to embrace the idea of starting with one thing at a time to just keep going.

So in that spirit, here's something I can do.

I'm giving away one of the handy bags I'm developing in exchange for donations to help Puerto Rico.

I hope you're following along with what's happening on Puerto Rico. It's part of the United States, and Hurricane Maria has totally devastated infrastructure on the island. Just under 3.5 million people (American citizens!) live there, and they're expected to be without power for six months. The entire island. They're not getting anything like the help they need to recover. (Don't think too hard about why. You know. It's America in 2017.)

Here's the deal. If you donate any sum of money to help Puerto Rico, you'll be entered to win a small embroidered bag that I will make. We'll work together on color & design.

Here's what they end up looking like.

Here's a list of organizations you can donate to, to get started. If you know of others, please mention them in the comments and I'll add them to this post.

Please let me know if/when you've donated using the Rafflecopter below, and please share this widely so people can donate more and enter.

Please note: it really is any sum of money. I'm asking how much in the widget below so I can keep track of how much we all raise together, not to try and shame you. We all have different budgets and abilities, and that's totally ok. If you donated supplies, just write that in or guesstimate how much they would have cost.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How would you interpret this?

I am among the least superstitious people on the planet. I don't really do lucky things. I have things that I like, and things that I have imbued with meaning, but I don't think the world will go wrong if I don't have rituals, objects, or anything else that I feel blesses my endeavor. (My husband, on the other hand, has elaborate charts that he uses to keep track of what jerseys he was wearing when his sports teams win or lose so that he can make sure he gets it "right.")

I'm not in the slightest bit religious, either. I don't really care whether ghosts exist or not. I'm really kind of boringly pragmatic in a lot of ways. I like to work hard and figure things out and love the things that I love, and mysteries that can never be solved are kind of boring to me.

I tell you this mostly as context to the story I'm about to relate to you, so you can understand how weird it is.

Maybe a month ago, Tristan's pasture mate was euthanized. He was in his 30s, and he had the variety of health problems you'd expect from an ageing horse. He was exquisitely well cared-for and much loved, but he was getting increasingly neurological. Getting up and down the hills of the farm was hard for him, and getting harder.

I can't stress enough how hard everyone worked to keep him comfortable and how lovingly the final decision was made. The barn manager brought him out to handgraze with Tristan for a while so they could say goodbye. They've been turned out together reliably for a few years now, because they had similar needs for grass (type and/or lack of), because Tristan doesn't play hard, and because they were just calm and happy together. So it was lovely that they got to say goodbye.

Tristan rarely gets attached to other horses. He has some horses that he likes, especially longtime pasture buddies, but he's never been a horse to make instant best friends on a trailer, for example, and he's always been perfectly happy to be turned out alone when that ends up being his situation. For a horse that spent his formative years running wild in a herd, he has an awful lot of loner-like tendencies. I've always thought that if I did bring him home with me someday, he'd be content and happy alone for quite a while.

That's just more context for you.

On Monday, I took Tristan out for a long walk around the field. Nothing taxing at all; just a walk with some nice trots up hills. We've circled this field I don't even know how many dozens of times.

At the end of our ride, we were coming up the last bit of hill, and he was on a loose rein, and he scooted forward, hard and fast. It wasn't really a spook or a bolt. It was a short launch, a stride or two of energy and alertness. I didn't even have time to pick up the reins, just sat it with my seat, and he came back to a walk by himself. I thought that it was the new trailers that were parked at the top of the hill, though those had been quite visible for our entire walk up the hill and were no surprise.

I walked him around the trailers a bit, and he was alert but not bratty. Then he stopped and let out a long, loud, neigh. Really long. Really loud. Then again. I was totally baffled - he's also not a vocal horse. Mustangs rarely are. There were no other horses in sight, no other people, no other animals. Nothing at all.

I was confused but shrugged, and we turned for home. As we were leaving the hill, he called out again, long and loud. This time, there was a horse in the outdoor, so I guessed he'd been calling to her. It's a mare that he's never actually "met," though they've been ridden in the ring together maybe two or three times. Still really weird for him to be calling for her, but I guessed that's what happened.

As I dismounted, a thought occurred to me, and I walked into the barn and poked my head into the tack room for the barn manager.

"Hey S," I said. "Where is Pari buried?"

I knew generally where the barn buried horses, but S. described to me a spot precisely where Tristan had had his first scoot.

I'm not sure what to think. S. was very close to Pari and thought that Tristan saw something. That's comforting for her, and it really is a lovely thought. But it's so far outside of how I usually interpret things that I'm just not sure. Most of my practical brain just thinks he smelled that other horse, or he just had a weird whim.

What do you think?

Monday, September 4, 2017

How do you price used tack?

I'm helping to organize a big used tack sale at the barn - we're selling table spots for anyone who wants to come to help benefit the equestrian team at the local university that rides out of our barn. At the end of the day, we'll collect any tack that people don't want to take home and donate it to some local horse rescues.

I'm looking forward to it. Organizing this sort of event is right in my wheelhouse, both by professional training and personal inclination, and I have spent some quality time cleaning out my own old tack to see what I can unload. I've also been making some horsey craft items that I hope will go over well.

I now have an entire tupperware filled with various things I am fine with selling, from breeches to tack to sheets and more. It ranges from fair (good quality & well-loved in decent condition) to brand new & never used. (I finally gave up on the open front leather boots I bought many years ago and have never even taken out of the packaging, much less put on Tristan's legs. sigh.)

Now I'm in a bit of a conundrum.

How do I price this? I have some gut sense of what I'd pay for it in a consignment shop, and a very vague sense of what I've seen similar items priced for online. But I'm pretty far from a savvy consumer of tack, and personally kind of a cheapskate. I'm still trying to pay down vet bills from Tristan and the dog's fun July, so I need to come away from this with some money. I want to assess a fair price on things but I also need to sell it.

Have you ever done anything like this? How do you decide how to price items - pure whim? actual research on comparatives? some combination of both?

Any advice appreciated!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Surprise Show Prep

Last week, I found out that a day off I had requested back in April would finally be ok for me to take - someone had volunteered to provide the coverage needed. I had honestly totally given up on the request and kept it on the list out of pure reflexive frustration.

Thankfully, I found out the day before closing for the barn schooling show! I emailed the show secretary immediately, and followed the next day with my entry for Training 1 and Training 2.

I haven't said anything on the blog because I was convinced it would fall through (part of me is still convinced something will go wrong) but I have been scrambling since then to get show prep done.

That includes:
- Finding all the various parts of my show kit. My white breeches and white show pad were AWOL for three days, and I finally had a brainstorm in the middle of the night of where I'd stashed them and thankfully, there they were. The breeches needed to be washed but that was easy enough.

I know my dressage coat is several years out of style and I don't care I LOVE IT.

- Actually trying to memorize my tests; haven't finished this one yet.
- Practicing that newfangled long mane button braid that people are talking about. It came out pretty darn well and I'm going to go with it on Saturday!





- Taking a lesson to tune up parts of the tests. Given how much of a shit he's been in the outdoor we've been drilling it HARD, working through gradually less huge bits, and this was my first time in the snaffle we'll have to use for the show. Bizarrely enough, he was well-behaved, soft, and suuuuuuuper behind the leg. Can't win 'em all. So now I've been focused on revving him back up in the snaffle which hopefully will not swing the pendulum the other way?


From the lesson: I need to round out my circles better, be more attentive about my marks. I need to ask for some left flexion down the center line and into my halts to keep him square & straight. I need to pay particular attention to my outside rein the canter circles coming off the rail because he's awfully sticky. I need to post quickly and stay relatively light in the reins to encourage him to go forward. I need to use my diagonals to build forward and then carry it through corners. I need to get more precise about my aids for the canter depart.

My times are 10:20 and 11:20 because this is some kind of cushy and luxurious schooling show, I do not even know. Good grief.

So, we'll see how this goes! Stay tuned for a recap next week.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

Blog Links

Blog Hop: Dealbreakers from The $900 Facebook Pony
I really liked the concept of this blog hop: what misbehavior makes you not even want to throw a leg over a horse?

20 answers to your questions about equine gastric ulcers from Saddle Seeks Horse
This was terrifically informative and well-written.

Easy taco salad recipe for the discerning athlete from Ambitious
I laughed until I cried.

Saddle Sales: Consignment Vs Outright Sales: What Would You Choose? from Fat Buckskin in a Little Dress

Conditioning/Competing a Quarter Horse for Endurance from In Omnia Paratus
Very cool, very informative, great story.

Show Gear: What Not to Wear Edition from Oh, Gingersnap
Yeah I act this one out on a regular basis, so, solidarity.

UGA Horse Ownership Seminar: Wounds from The Owls Approve
I'm really excited to read all the posts in this series, an in-depth day-long seminar on various horsekeeping topics. This first one is terrific.

Summer Break from The Jumping Percheron
A great template for giving a horse time off when they need it.

Child Friendly Horses from A Gift Horse
This is actually a really key thing to know about your horse.

Wrong Horse for the Job from Equestrian at Hart
Oh, this is a hard lesson, but a good one

A Week in Maine from A Series of Madcap Escapades
Gorgeous pictures, cool event. Nothing not to like here.

Installing Seat Aids from A Enter Spooking
This is exactly what I'm working through right now in my own position, so very timely!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Summer Series: The Black Stallion and Satan


The Black Stallion and Satan, by Walter Farley

Okay. I have to admit up front that this will be tough. It's miles away my favorite entry in the series, and as I will argue below, it's almost like it was written by a different author - there's a noticeable jump in writing quality and overall maturity in this book. I was grateful for that.

Let's be honest, though: it's still kind of nuts. So I'm sure I'll find plenty to snark about. First, a summary.
Satan has won the Triple Crown, but he's not Alec's horse anymore. Just when Alec is feeling his most sulky, he learns that Abu Ja'Kub ben Ishak has died and left him the Black! The Black arrives and Alec finds himself wondering which black stallion is faster. He's slated to get his answer when he learns that ben Ishak entered the Black into the International Stakes, a race pitting the champions of many countries against each other. Before the race is run, however, a deadly disease sweeps through the racing barns.
Like The Black Stallion Returns, the majority of this book's plot is in its last 50 or so pages. It creeps along like molasses and then it is a lightning storm of plot devices swallowed by plot holes in some kind of endless ouroboros of bad writing. But we'll get to that.

The book starts with a bang: Alec is in the starting gate with Satan at the Belmont. The colt (who please note is still "burly" compared to the Black, like it's not enough he has daddy issues, he also gets fat-shamed constantly) has won the other two legs easily, and he crushes this one too. There's a weird moment in the post parade when some jackass in the crowd snarks Alec for...riding too well?
From the pushing, heaving wave of people at the rail, a man shouted, "Hey, Ramsay! You think it's a horse show?"
Alec heard the man's words, but his eyes never left the muddy track which he could see between Satan's pricked ears.

"A Good Hands class maybe?" the man called again.

Only then did Alec Ramsay become aware that he was sitting much straighter in the saddle than the other jockeys.
Two things. 1) Who fricking cares? and 2) What the hell kind of sadist dreams up a Good Hands class and what the hell kind of masochist enters it? (The internet tells me it's a saddle seat thing which means the catcaller may have actually displayed some deeper horse knowledge but I'm still staying on record as it being dumb.)

Satan wins, because literally no horse in any of these books has lost a horse race yet. I'll let you know when it happens.
He was all power, all beauty as he swept beneath the wire, winner by a dozen lengths and the first undefeated Triple Crown winner in turf history!
This book was written in 1951. Confirmed, Secretariat would have kicked Satan's burly ass. Also - Seattle Slew would've at the least tied them.

When Alec gets home from the Belmont, he mopes around pretty much constantly, because Satan isn't really his horse anymore. And you know what? I actually find this characterization pretty compelling. Alec isn't actually that that interested in being famous; he just wants to obsess over his horse(s). So it does make sense that he's feeling possessive and jealous.

I would like here to state my theory of this book, which is: Alec is realizing that Satan was his rebound horse, who he thought he fell in love with because he shared characteristics from his first, abusive, obsessive relationship, but has turned out to be actually a decent horse. Upon realizing this, and realizing that Satan will not be his exclusively, he's pining for that original relationship that was dysfunctional and unhealthy but at least all-consuming.
Alec closed his eyes, shutting out the Black's picture from his mind. But he opened them almost immediately, startled by the sound of his own voice as he said loudly, "Today I rode Satan to the Triple Crown championship. No one could ask for more than that. No one should. I'm the luckiest and happiest kid in the world." He repeated his words to himself, then rose to his feet, knowing well that he was only kidding himself. He wasn't happy at all.
See what I mean? He's even talking about it out loud with Henry. Seriously, he either got a personality transplant or some kind of massive maturity upgrade or...maybe he's finally going to therapy? That's my headcanon, anyway.
Alec turned to him. "Sometimes, Henry, I think of myself as a baby who's had his pet toy taken away from him," he said angrily. "I guess I'm unhappy because I can't have Satan to myself any longer. I tell myself to grow up, that I can't make a pet of a champion. I put all the cards on the table. I say this is exactly what I wanted. I'm glad Satan is everything we thought he'd be. I knew from the very beginning that, if he was to be a champion, I'd have to share him with others. I knew his training would have to go on, even though I couldn't always get to the track to ride him. I knew other fellows would be up on him when I wasn't. Everything made sense...everything was just the way I'd figured it was going to be." Alec paused, his gaze leaving Henry for Napoleon. "Yet I'm finding it hard to take...much harder than I ever thought it would be."
Henry is very pragmatic about all of this, and frankly, this way of horsekeeping makes a lot more sense to him as a trainer who's been around big horses most of his life. The "shared" model is his default, where for Alec his weird, obsessive relationship with the Black is normal. Hence, Henry has very much come around on Satan after thinking he was the devil. Henry and Satan are now besties, really.

Henry convinces Alec to take down the photograph of the Black that hangs in the barn, because he thinks Alec needs to move on, and it's not an entirely unreasonable message but he delivers it kind of shittily. He's honestly kind of a jerk through this whole book which I think might be guilty over-compensation from enabling Alec through the last through books.

Literally seconds after Alec puts the picture of the Black away (LITERALLY. SECONDS.) his father comes to the barn to tell him he has a letter from "Arabia." Turns out Abu Ja'Kub ben Ishak is dead - he was killed while riding the Black. The letter is from his kickass daughter, who is still going by her maiden name or maybe her marriage didn't go through after all? Ancillary questions, I have them.

Ben Ishak left a sealed letter saying that in the event of his death the Black would go to Alec, and Tabari notes that but for that they would have put him down which...I feel like everyone maybe should've dwelled on that point a little longer? Henry actually points out (more overcompensating!) that maybe the Black has had a few more screws loosened because straight-up killing a man who has been handling him for years is not a great sign, but our Alec is totally undeterred.

The Black arrives in style, on a cargo plane, and is unloaded at midnight by a handler who I think is supposed to be portrayed as abusive but really is just trying to install some manners (albeit roughly) in a very tenuous situation but of course that goes badly. Thankfully the Black recognizes Alec or he would've bolted, and as Henry points out.
"If he'd gotten away, everyone on the field would've know it, an' it'd be in the papers tomorrow. As it is, these Trans-World guys are just glad to get rid of him."
Yes, Henry, if a wild horse had gotten loose on a busy airfield the papers would've been the worst part of it.

They bring him home and there's this great bit:

Running to the van, Henry pushed the ramp inside. He was closing the door when Alec called, "I'll ride back here with him."
"As if I didn't know," Henry said.
Henry Dailey, bringing the snark!

Everything is immediately back to "normal" for Alec and the Black, and they team up to continue to subtweet Satan.
The stallion moved forward, without bolting, and his gait was effortless and easy to ride. How different he was from Satan, Alec thought. For only when the Black's burly son was in full gallop was he easy to ride; only then did Satan lose the ponderousness that was so much in evidence at any other gate.
Okay. Guys. Satan is VERY well bred. There is literally no reason for him to be bashed so constantly. His dam is supposedly the specialest and most purest Arabian left (Tabari's mare Johar) and his sire is the Black. If he still has "ponderous" gaits, Alec, it's your own shitty riding at fault.

Everyone agrees that it's very important that no one find out the Black is back, because as soon as it occurs to him that Satan might be faster than the Black, he'll go nuts and demand to prove it isn't so. And...yeah, that's exactly what happens. Satan wins some imaginary race at a mile and a quarter and sets a new world record of 1:58 and Alec just loses any semblance of sanity. He obsesses over it constantly and finally makes up a really dumb plan to to race the Black at the local golf course (living the dream!) where by coincidence he and Henry have measured out a mile and a quarter.

Not only does the Black run the mile and a quarter a full second slower than Satan, Alec gets ticketed by a cop for galloping in a public park. Somehow that never came up in all the times he and Henry exercised Satan along that same trail? The cop is also really dumb and is generally jerky and threatening, so of course the Black takes exception and tries to kick him, which just exacerbates the whole situation.

A few days later, Alec shows up to pay his fine - he has to appear in court for it, for some reason? He gets questioned by a reporter, who guesses who Alec is and then this whole plot cascade that makes NO SENSE starts in which Alec becomes convinced that everyone is on to him and will know it was the Black.
As he pulled [the gate] open, he knew what hew as going to do, and he didn't have any time to lose. The reporters would be here within an hour, maybe less.
Okay. Realistically, though? The Black won one race (albeit spectacularly) four years ago. I know that horse racing has fallen out of the American public eye, but not even Tom Brady would get this much media attention if, say, he dropped out of the public eye for four years and then showed up throwing around a football in a public park.

Nevertheless, Alec tries to hide the Black in the tack room and to convince the six (SIX!!!) reporters who have shown up that he was actually galloping Napoleon. The journalists are all super weird and invasive and for some reason Alec just caves in and shows and tells them absolutely everything they want to know? Alec doth protest too much, I think, because not once does he say something like "private property" or "nope, not today" or literally anything like that.

It's our old friend Jim Neville who finally moves our plot forward: he says that before he died, ben Ishak entered the Black in the upcoming International Cup, a race between champions of every country. Satan's already entered, of course. He pressures Alec to race with a really weird argument that he repeats multiple times, even though Alec keeps saying that their plan is to take the Black to a farm upstate and put him out to stud.
"Why don't you race him then, Alec?" Jim's words came fast; he was taking advantage of Alec's pride in the speed of the Black. "I'd like to see it....So would everyone else." He paused. "Don't you think you owe it to racing?"
A) no, Alec doesn't "owe" anyone a goddamn thing
B) if literally anyone in these books valued good ground manners 5% as much as they valued speed, I would have a billion times more respect for them

Alec is suckered into saying he'll go ahead with racing the Black in the International Cup, which makes the front page of all the newspapers the next day. Cue a whole chapter in which Alec basically goes back and forth showing the Black to the public. Seriously, people just show up at the front gate of the farm and Alec spends every waking second walking them down to the barn, two at a time, letting them see the black, and then walking them back. Alec clearly hates every second of this but he keeps doing it. For reasons.

Henry gets back while Alec is in the middle of trudging back and forth and true to his more sane, curmudgeonly personality in this book, he immediately thinks running the Black in the International is a terrible idea.
"He could raise havoc on the track, and that wouldn't do the sport any good either. There are some mighty valuable horses in the International, Alec, an' I wouldn't want to be responsible for any damage done."
Who is this person and what has he done with Henry Dailey?

Alec ropes Henry into his obsession and there is a totally fascinating exchange.

"What do you think, Henry? Could Satan beat him?" The Black pushed his muzzle toward Alec's pocket, seeking a carrot.
"It's not fair to ask me that, Alec," Henry said, after a long silence. "You know how I feel about Satan."
"You mean you're closer to him than to the Black."
"Guess you can call it that. I've done something with Satan. He has the Black's speed and he'll turn it off an' on for anyone on his back. It's a combination hard to beat...for any horse," he added, turning to the stallion.
18 months ago, Henry thought Satan was the devil himself and that he might have to be destroyed, but I guess a Triple Crown changes everything? So on the one hand, this change makes absolutely no sense. On the other, I do think there's something to Satan having changed into a horse that Henry understands much better and Alec understands much less, and in that way, I do buy this.

Here's how I can make an argument for Farley having finally upped his writing game in this, his fifth book: there are legitimately thoughtful themes that carry through this entire book. The pacing still blows chunks, but you can truly trace a dichotomy of points of view through the book. Henry represents the status quo, straightforward success, reasonable goalposts, good training, and civilization. Alec is much more interested in a primal way of understanding horses: it's pure emotion and longing, wildness as a virtue, and rampant ambition to be the very best. You can really understand why they don't see eye to eye about the two horses in their lives, and why I really think it's a great idea that Alec announces his intentions in this book to retire to their new breeding farm and manage that.

(Okay, it's also a really terrible idea, because Alec - who still hasn't finished college! - knows jack shit about breeding, business, barn management, or really anything about horses beyond galloping them around recklessly. But on an emotional level I can see why it works for him.)

Henry gets Alec to agree to pull the Black from the race if he acts up, and they set off.
[The Black] was halter-tied to the small open window of the driver's cab, and Alec was able to reach through it and touch his horse.
What the hell kind of van is this? Who ties their horse TO A WINDOW?

Along the way, we learn about the geniuses behind the International Cup. The track, by the way, is somewhere north of Saratoga. Saratoga is pretty damn far north, you guys. A brand-new track even further north? I call shenanigans.
"How come they're holding the Cup race there, Henry? Why not at Belmont or one of the other tracks closer to a big city?" 
GREAT QUESTION, ALEC!
"Because the International was their idea.  And what better send-off could you give a new track than to sponsor such a race? I guess the track's board of directors figured it that way. And the International Cup race is just before their first regular meeting, so the people coming to the International will most likely stay on for the meeting."
This makes so little business sense that critiquing it is almost like shooting a fish in a barrel, but *cocks shotgun.*

Okay: the plan is to sponsor a massive international race at a track in the middle of nowhere as the very first thing ever done at a new track. It's the only race not only on its day but in that entire week. And their hope is that people will come out to the boonies, watch this one race, stay for a full other week, and then hang around for the next week's race? I just. To be a fly on the wall at that bankruptcy hearing...!

Alec is right there in dreamland with them.
"I wonder if they'll know each other?"
"Who?" 
"The Black and Satan." 
Henry smiled. "No. They've forgotten all about each other. Satan was only a few months old when they were separated. 
Alec turned to the Black. "Anyway, it's going to be interesting to watch them together." 
"Yeah," Henry muttered. "Mighty interesting." 
LOLOLOLOL.

Things start to happen very quickly after this; remember what I said about plot devices chasing plot holes? Well, in defiance of international quarantine, common sense, veterinary best practice, and any kind of sanity, it turns out that El Dorado, the horse from South America, has been running a high fever and isn't feeling well. He's better now, though, so it's totally cool.

"I wonder if you could loan us one of your pails?" the man asked. "El Dorado banged up ours yesterday."
"Sure," Alec said, leaving the stall. 
The man followed him. "We're getting a couple more, so I'll return this to you by afternoon," he said when Alec gave him the pail.
Oh. My. God. This makes so little sense that my only plausible explanation is some kind of sinister industrial espionage. Maybe there's a conspiracy among the owners to chase insurance money? A racing stable that houses the South American champion (yes, in this world, like Arabia, South America is one country) does not have extra buckets? So they go begging from down the aisle? And then say they'll return it? AFTER THEIR HORSE HAS BEEN SICK? Sweet zombie Jesus on a pogo stick.

Soon after that, Satan (I'm sorry; "the burly colt") arrives and loses his brain because he sees the Black. Of course they want to kill each other. Literally no one but Alec thought they would have a touching slo-mo soaring music reunion.
And as Alec remained with his horse he thought of how much he had looked forward to the day when the Black would meet his colt. He'd even thought they would recognize each other for what they were, father and son. But it hadn't worked out that way at all. There was no love between them. They were two giant stallions, both eager and willing to fight. No, it wasn't the same as he'd thought it would be at all.
You know, I'm almost a little sorry for Alec; the narrative requires him so be so unfathomably stupid.

Henry has a theory that the Black "brings out the instinctive savageness and hatred in every stallion to fight his kind." Which is obviously bullshit, but he's not wrong that the Black can't be trusted around other horses, and he loses his marbles when Alec tries to work him on the track. Thankfully, Alec sees sense and agrees to withdraw the Black from the race, and holds firm when Jim Neville tries to bully him into going through with it. They're going to leave in the morning.

Except they're not! The plot continues to move at the speed of light in the background.
"It's serious, Alec," Henry said solemnly, turning to the boy for the first time. "El Dorado has swamp fever, the most dreaded horse disease known. They're putting him down tonight," he added quietly. "There's no cure...it's the only thing they can do."
Now, fully expecting Walter Farley to have made up some bizarro disease, I faithfully Googled "swamp fever" and to my amazement: it's an old name for EIA, equine infectious anemia. That's the disease that the Coggins test looks for. There's still no cure, and infected horses are still destroyed. I found this long PDF from the USDA to be a great read about a disease I really hadn't thought a lot about. It's largely gone from the US horse population today thanks to aggressive testing and isolation, but it was absolutely a very realistic fear in 1948. Kudos to you, Walter Farley! Too bad you didn't put that kind of thought into international quarantine procedures, or you would never have had a book.

Alec finally realizes that lending a bucket to El Dorado was a terrible idea, and loses his shit. Henry is cool as a cucumber and points out that the odds are in their favor.

The vets, meanwhile, have been paid off by plot device and have decided on the most cumbersome, most suspenseful way possible to proceed.
"The only definite way we have of finding out is to take blood samples from your horses and, pooling this blood, innoculate it into the bloodstream of a horse who has not been exposed to the disease. If no evidence of the disease appears in the innoculated test horse, your horses will be given a clean bill of health and released. However, if swamp fever develops in the test horse, each of your horses must be tested individually to find out which one or more has the disease.
THAT MAKES ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY NO SENSE NONE. NONE AT ALL.

But wait! Remember plot device? Our good friend, racist caricature Tony has arrived with Napoleon in tow. He wants poor Napoleon to be the one that get the Black and Satan's blood.
"My Nappy...I'm sure he wants it this way," Tony said more soberly. "He's-a like brother to the Black and Satan. And now he will have their blood in him. It's the only way, Meester Veterinary."
No. No. No. No. No. Christ, poor Napoleon suffers more than any other character in this series with the possible exception of Mrs. Ramsay (whose only appearance in this whole book is to look "plump" at the Belmont back at the beginning).

All the horses are moved to a state quarantine farm even further upstate, and they wait for forty days. Cue montage of Alec spending a lot of time moping around, taking care of the Black and Satan, basically all alone because everyone else has peaced out. (After the vets said for them to leave their forwarding addresses, because 1948!)

It's fine, though: everyone is healthy! They all make plans to leave the following morning to this long-awaited breeding farm, but plot device strikes again: Alec wakes up in the middle of the night at the hotel to smell smoke and see a forest fire in the distance. He and Henry drive to the farm to see the flames almost there. The vets have let all the horses out, but they're all just hanging out in a field, except the Black. Alec lets the Black out, but Satan won't come with them, on account of his daddy issues.

They start to leave but Alec turns back around, and Jim Neville (who just...randomly showed up?) has to restrain Henry from following him, and they both drive away, leaving Alec to his equine-assisted suicide.

Alec uses the Black to chase the other horses to a gate he saw earlier, that leads to a lane that...well, he has no idea where it leads, but at least he admits that in the text.

What follows is a genuinely suspenseful and exciting race through a forest fire. Yes, it's beyond dumb that all the horses are a-ok with galloping pell-mell through flames, but I would argue that actually this scene works overall. Especially since the point is less to get away from the fire than it is to provide a contrived set of circumstances in which the Black and Satan finally get to have their match race.

Rather than recap the race, I would like to type out the best passage in the book, and perhaps the best scene in the entire series. (If you really need to know, the Black wins by pulling ahead at the last moment.)
"Satan was behind the others when I saw you. Did he catch any of them, Alec?"
"He did, Henry."
"Then you think he could've beaten the in a race. Is that right, Alec?"
"He did beat them, Henry," Alec returned quietly.
"Y'mean he made up the whole distance?"
Alec nodded.
"I knew he could do it," the trainer said proudly. "I just knew he could!" It was a long while before Henry asked hesitantly. "Was the Black able to catch 'em, too?" His face was tight-lipped, intense.
"Yes, he did," Alec returned slowly.
After a long pause, Henry said, "It was a lot to ask of him, carrying your weight." The trainer turned again to the rear-view mirror and his husky jowls worked convulsively as he added huskily, "Too much of a handicap to expect him to catch Satan as well." He turned to the boy. "Not a colt like Satan."
Alec raised his eyes quickly to meet Henry's gaze. Without hesitation he said, "No, Henry...you couldn't expect that of him."
Henry's heavy jowls relaxed; his tight lips parted in a smile. "We've got the finest horses in the world, Alec," he said almost in awe. "They don't come any greater than those two. We know that now."
No objectivity from me, I straight up have tears in my eyes every time I read that scene. Everyone thinks their horse is the best horse in the world, and no one is wrong. Alec, building on the emotional maturity he's slowly started to achieve through this whole book, reads Henry like an open book. He doesn't say that Satan lost; he just lets Henry think what he wants, and he just shuts the hell up. He knows the Black is faster, and he's the only one who needs to know.

They pull in to Hopeful Farm, and just as they're arriving in the driveway, Henry asks if Alec would do him a favor, and breed the Black to his friend Jimmy Creech's harness mare. Alec agrees...and we will cover the stupidity of that decision in the next book, The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lessons Learned After Illness

So a couple of weeks ago Tristan was really, really sick. He's totally fine now; the last vestige of that week is his IV site, and even that's halfway grown back in already.

Which means it's time for some reflection. What went right, what went wrong, and what can I do better next time?

First, things that went right.

You may remember that about two years ago, Cob Jockey did a blog hop about taking your horse's resting temperature, pulse, and respiration so as to have that information on hand. I did the blog hop, though too late to enter to win a prize, and learned that Tristan's average temperature is pretty reliably 99.5. So when the barn started taking temperatures regularly, I knew where he stood. Some horses ran closer to 100; others, closer down to 99.


So when he temped at 101.4, I knew immediately that something was wrong, and we started treatment with banamine even though he hadn't quite reached the threshold to start, per the vet's protocol. I'm extremely glad we did start; we got a jump of about 8 hours, were able to give everyone a heads up that things might go south, and overall it was a managed problem rather than a true crisis.

Everyone should spend a week and get this basic information and write it down somewhere safe. It's really, really important. I'm extremely glad that I did that blog hop.

Other things I'm glad about:
- I am a close observer of his regular behavior and attitude, and could usually tell even before temping him again whether his fever had gone back up.
- He is an impeccably well-behaved horse on the ground. I've worked really hard on this over the years that I've owned him, considering when I first met him he could barely be touched. It paid off in spades: he was easy and pleasant to handle even when he felt awful, he stood quietly to get treatment even when he did not like it one bit, and everyone's life was a lot easier than it would have been if he'd been a more difficult horse. The best argument for putting (and keeping!) good ground manners on your horse is not the everyday stuff - it's moments like these.
- I was able to react quickly and be flexible. I have a demanding job but an understanding one, and it was easy to communicate with my boss to let him know when I couldn't be in. Modern technology also helped; I could check emails and respond to anything urgent during downtime. This isn't an accident; it's important to me that I have a job that treats me like an adult and a human being, and it's a crucial factor to me in choosing an employer. Sooner or later, we're all going to have an emergency, and life is easier when you're confident that your job can be put on hold for a few days and they have your back.

3am checks suck, but they're better when you know your horse will behave.


Second, things that did not go so well.

The most important of these is that my first aid kit was a bit lacking. I've written before about spring cleaning checkups for my first aid kit, but when I sold my trailer I got a little over-confident and slacked off on checking regularly. The barn has ample first aid supplies, and I knew I could fall back on them if I needed to.

Well, I needed to. The most egregious thing I had never replaced was my roll of Elastikon, that miracle fiber. I had to buy some from the vet, at a premium, and then I didn't have any to replace/update the bandage for his IV, so we resorted to over-taping it with duct tape. It worked ok, but it was considerably less than ideal.

I also quickly discovered that one my thermometers had a dead battery, that my paste banamine had expired, and that things in the kit itself were in disarray - I'd bought a box of new gauze, for example, and had just shoved it in the box instead of fitting it in neatly. When you're panicky and looking for supplies, you're already going to make enough of a mess. It doesn't help for things not to be orderly to start with!

So, terrible job to me. I've rectified the most urgent pieces of this - new Elastikon, new thermometer battery, new banamine - but I need to spend some quality time looking through the kit and re-evaluating each piece of it and either upgrading or downgrading things now that my situation has changed slightly. I did spend some downtime going through my tack trunk and throwing away expired and empty things, but need to allocate more time to this soon.


Other things:
- My mental state was...not great. I'm really embarrassed that I basically had a meltdown at 3am about the bubbles in the IV line. Horse care and on the ground handling is one of the things I take pride in, and am generally very competent at. It was really frustrating that my anxieties took over my brain and prevented me from doing the best job that I could. Yes, I was sleep-deprived and terrified and doing new and tricky things, but I still let myself and a lot of people down. I need to either be more ruthlessly honest with myself OR find ways to work through that much better. Preferably the latter; I think of myself as someone who's good in a crisis and I need to do more work to keep that up.
- My emergency fund is in shambles. I've been dipping into it a little too freely lately, for really-wants rather than actual emergencies. Yes, it was more than adequate to cover the cost, and yes, I have had a lot of really bad financial challenges this spring/summer, but I can and must do better about building this back up.

Finally, what can I do better?

A few things.

- Commit to more regular cleanouts/checkups on the first aid kit.
- Work on some anxiety-reducing techniques that aren't just crash-and-burn-and-sleep-like-the-dead.
- Build the emergency fund back up: no more discretionary purchases. At all.
- Good biosecurity is important even when no one is sick! No more grabbing a brush from the schoolie shelf just because it's closer and easier than bringing down Tristan's whole grooming kit.

Do you have any lessons learned from a crisis that you always implement now?