Monday, June 26, 2017

One Pole Exercises

Tristan is both a) lazy and b) weak in his hind end action, both the hock and the stifle. He would happily drag toes all day long, and it's not at all uncommon for him to stumble even in the midst of going beautifully. In the space of one breath, he decides it's just toooooooo much work to pick his feet up, and he almost bites it.

Like many a horse with a less than ideal hind end, he really benefits from good work over poles. What's more, he likes it. Poles are a nice, straightforward challenge for him. He can figure them out, and get a sense of accomplishment from them.

How much would I love to set up full grids regularly, ride complicated zigzag patterns, jump off repeatedly and adjust striding to get exactly what I want? So much. How tired am I at the end of the long work day, before I've even looked at a pole, much less picked one up to set up a grid? SO TIRED.

Over the years, I've worked out a number of exercises to do with just a handful of poles at a time, and I thought I'd start sharing them here.

Today: what can you do with just one pole?

So many things!

Use it as a target
- Put it in the middle of the ring, perpendicular to either the center line or a quarter line, and count strides to it. Add more strides. Add fewer strides. Imagine it's a jump and nail down the exact feel and timing of coming up to it. Visualize where each hoof will land for an ideal bouncy step over the pole. Do this at the walk, trot, and canter.
- Put it in a corner, diagonal to the corner of the ring itself. Aim for different parts of the pole depending on how deep or shallow you want to make your corner. Use the pole as the target for bending, and if you're like me and have a constant death grip on the inside rein, use the poll as your target for your release.
- Put it on the quarter line, running right along the quarter line, at E or B. There's your target for leg yields off the rail, right up to the side of the pole, then straight down the quarter line or back to the wall.

Use it as an imaginary wall
- If you have a horse that rushes fences, pretend it's a brick wall. Trot up to it and then walk the last stride. Or trot up to it and HALT, right before it.
- How's your turn on the forehand? And haunches? Try setting the poll perpendicular to the wall and asking for just a quarter turn, instead, then go back. Or put it by itself in the middle of the room and take away the mental crutch of the wall, just using the poll as your starting point.
- Now imagine it's a half wall, and put your horse's front feet on one side and back feet on the other. Sidepass down it, keeping it in the middle. Try some shoulders-in. Try some haunches-in. The pole will keep you honest and not squirting out forward or rocking back.

Use it for precision
- Walk up to it. Put one foot over. Now the next. Now the next. Do this in hand for a horse that needs to learn patience in taking one step forward at the time. ("Step up" is one of the most useful things I've ever taught Tristan, who is a reluctant trailer loader at the best of times.) Do this under saddle for a horse who fumbles his way into and out of square halts.
- Put it on a circle, wherever you want. Ride a circle that hits the inside of the pole; then the middle; then the edge. That's roughly 10m, 15m, and 20m. (If you want to be extra precise, you can measure this out.)
- Ride circles around the pole: make two edges of the circle touch the ends of the pole. Do tiny, tight, figure 8s over the pole. Do longer but steeper figure 8s.

Use it as a quick tune up
- Put it anywhere in the ring, and use it as a diagnostic. How's your rhythm? How's your seat? Does your horse need to be pushed, or kept steady? Did you almost get bounced out of the saddle? Did nothing change?
- Not for everyone, but: is your horse refusing to listen? Send him over the pole. If he's more focused on resisting you than his own feet, he'll have something to pay attention to pretty quick. (Note: don't try this one with a horse that's truly acting up or truly oblivious; horses can still fall from just one pole.) But a horse that just needs an outside reminder real quick? It can be a great teaching moment.
- Put the pole back while leading your horse, OR ground tie your horse while putting the pole away. Both are important skills to learn and can and should be reinforced at every possible opportunity.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

House Post: Spring Cleaning

Now that it's officially summer, I thought I'd review my spring cleaning list. I still have some items to clear up, but I've done pretty well so far.

- empty garage of all trash
- cut up shelving unit
- get garden bed ready for planting
- clean gutters
- organize linen closet
- clean dryer vent
- wash all window sills
- put together 1 bag of cloths to donate
- swap out winter clothes for spring/summer clothes
- polish bedroom floor
- clean out pantry
- tidy laundry area
- clean all ceiling fans
- switch over ceiling fan directions
- clean kitchen cabinets
- wash & pack away winter coats
- wash & iron all curtains

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

Blog Links

Meet Arya from The Feral Red Horse
Obviously I'm biased in favor of the name, but this is a lovely mare and I'm excited to see where she goes.

OTTBS for Science from 'Fraidy Cat Eventing
I can't be the only one who always wants to put an exclamation point after science!, right?

Um, anyway. This is a super cool project and I can't wait to hear results.

Barn Dogs from The Owls Approve
I have more or less given up on making my own dog a barn dog but I live in hope, and in the meantime avidly read posts like this one, about the process of making barn dogs.

Into the land of shiny big belt buckles: PONY'TUDE goes Western from PONY'TUDE
This is a foreign country to me and I am baffled and fascinated.

Four from Pony Express
This post makes me think simultaneously "this is so cool! it's so much fun to see horses grow up to be awesome" and also "fuck, I'm old."

Resistol RideSafe Helmet Review & Giveaway from Saddle Seeks Horse
It's about time the Western disciplines started getting helmet-savvy. I hope this takes off.

Big Star Offspring @ Bolesworth from Equestrian at Hart
I always enjoy breeding tracking posts like this because it's a world I know nothing about. I've known some very fancily-bred horses but my own is obviously a bargain basement mutt.

2017 Show Gear from The $900 Facebook Pony
The subtitle of this weekly blog roundup might as well be "no gear post left unlinked."

5 Things I've Learned Owning a Small Farm from Hand Gallop
I know the work is neverending, but this is still the dream.

Reconsidering Pentosan from Zen and the Art of Baby Horse Management
I've had Tristan on Pentosan for a few years with good results, and this is a good research roundup & review of the thought process of starting Pentosan.

Costs of keeping horses at home vs. boarding horses from Hand Gallop
I love this kind of granular detail. It really makes me want horses at home now.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Book Review: Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Velma Johnston

Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Velma Johnston
by David Cruise & Alison Griffiths

If you've read Marguerite Henry's Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West, then you have some passing familiarity with the story of the American mustangs and with Velma Johnston, the Nevadan housewife who made it her personal crusade to save them.

If that's all you've read about the preservation battle behind the mustang, then you've only got a quarter of the story. This book is a superb way to get the rest of it.

Velma Johnston was born in small-town Reno, Nevada. Stricken with polio at an early age, she grew up solitary, smart, and driven. She spent her entire life in pain from post-polio syndrome and facing a world that judged her harshly for the hunched back and misshapen face that polio left behind.

One of the biggest strengths of this book is its unflinching, compassionate look into Velma's life, achieved through a deep dive into her personal papers - tens of thousands of pages of letters, primarily. The Velma you get to know through this book would have initially said she was happiest as a successful executive secretary to the owner of a real estate business and a ranch wife.

The trajectory of her life changed when she followed a truck dripping blood to discover that it was full of badly injured and dying mustangs. She and her husband Charlie were gradually drawn into a life of activism as they started finding and releasing mustangs that had been rounded up for dog food, then networking to stop roundups before they started. Soon, Velma was the central figure in a widening campaign to ban mustang roundups by airplane.

The book doesn't shy away from the cruelties inflicted on mustangs, and it does a good job of dispassionately presenting the various arguments for and against the mustang. It's perhaps a bit light on the history of the mustangs (a little more time spent on parsing the difference between "wild" and "feral," and the different emotional weights to each, would have given context to one of the main points of disagreement between mustang activists and cattle men), but gives a pretty decent overview of the ecological challenges of the Western ranges.

As someone who knew the broad outlines of the story, I found this telling of it to be superb. It was tightly and engagingly written, well-researched, and had a strong narrative and tight focus on Velma herself. Nor did it shy away from Velma's failings and character flaws, particularly in her dealings with photographer Gus Bundy and then in her relationship with Marguerite Henry (which began warmly but grew overly emotional and difficult). The section dealing with Henry was actually one of the best in the book, since it allowed both for a grounding of the broader story and for a reflection on Velma's life and character.

While it presents both sides fairly, the book can probably be said to have a point of view that is pro-mustang. The Bureau of Land Management doesn't come off terribly well, though all of the most damning material is simple statements of fact and quotes from BLM officials. (The authors acknowledge this in a note at the end.)

University of Reno - Nevada, Special Collections
Ultimately, the last chapter after Velma's death is the most unsatisfying; she passed away just in the midst of the architecture of wild horse management as we know it today, with its inherent contradictions and fatal flaws. It's especially depressing because she fought for a comprehensive scientific range management from the start, and never saw that urgently needed piece of the puzzle realized. Without thoughtful, objective study, it was inevitable that we get to the place we are now, where no one can even agree on the number of mustangs in the West, much less how they actually use the range and how to effectively balance the needs of the flora and fauna.

In that last chapter, Cruise & Griffiths bring the fight quickly up to date and touch on the process of adoption and the regular Congressional attempts to round up mustangs for slaughter again. They also point out how deeply unsatisfying Velma herself would've found the holding pen system, in which thousands of mustangs are rounded up and simply transferred from the range and pastured on private land, paid for by tax dollars.

Despite its muddy ending, this is a really terrific book. I'm very picky about my narrative nonfiction: the writing has to be good, the interpretation deft, and the research solid. This ticks all of those boxes. I generally have even less patients for topics I already have a background in, but this holds up to that test as well. I genuinely couldn't put it down.

If you're looking for a thoughtful read about horses and history, I strongly recommend this. If you want to understand more about mustangs and how we've reached this point in our national discourse about them, it's essential reading.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

House Post: Basement Insulation!

This is a project that has been looming pretty much since the day we bought the house. It's also a HUGE step forward in building out our garage. I'm super excited it finally is done, though it is far from the sexiest or most exciting project we've done.

Essentially, we got 6" of spray foam insulation in one garage & underneath the future man cave, and 1" of air-sealing insulation in one garage & the root cellar.

The 6" of insulation will serve as both an air barrier and as proper insulation. The 1" will be our vapor & air barrier to prevent moisture from migrating up to the sealed off house above as well as providing an extra level of air sealing to keep nasty things like carbon monoxide from the cars from getting into our living room.

I've agonized for months, maybe even years, over just how to structure this so that it meets our needs, gets us the best results for keeping the house warm in the winter, and doesn't bankrupt us. The original attic insulation project was $12,000, done with money leftover from the purchase. For this project, we got an extremely low-interest loan designed specifically for energy efficiency projects and our projected cost is $4,000.

I'm thrilled so far. We're one huge step closer to completing the garage, and we've made a huge dent in the overall comfort level of the house in winter.



The downside: remember all that basement organization I was so proud of? Well...we had to move everything out of the other rooms so they didn't get foam dripped on them, and...


I'm not too upset: a big part of the reorganization was making sure everything had its right place, and now the work will just be in putting things back. Time-consuming, but not nearly as onerous as organizing in the first place.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

Your links roundup for weekend reading! As a reminder, if you want these in your email inbox, sign up here.

Avoid This Dangerous Donut in Saddle from Saddle Seeks Horse
It never occurred to me that this could happen, and I'm going to be thinking about it going forward for sure. It's always amazing how horses find new ways to try and kill us or themselves.

Cavaletti Building from Equestrian at Hart
These look terrific, and the photographs were especially helpful! Cavaletti are so incredibly useful, and it's good to have at least a few pairs around.

Ponies Coming Home: The Realization of a Dream from Stampy and the Brain
I can't even put into words how jealous I am. I've loved watching the progress photos of this barn coming together; here's the happy ending!

Saddlebox Giveaway from The South Dakota Cowgirl

Blog Hop: Favorite Exercises from The $900 Facebook Pony
Great idea for a blog hop - I'll probably write something out soon.

Guess What Breed Our Mustangs Are & Mustang DNA Report from DIY Horse Ownership
I've always wanted to do this for Tristan - so cool!

Hula Hoop or Belly Dance from Not So Speedy Dressage
I had never thought of following the canter this way, but I love it!

Bitting Up from PONY'TUDE
I've done it, and written about it. But I'm always curious to see other philosophies.

Heart of Texas Working Equitation Series Show #3 - 5/20-5/21 from The Reeling
This is so freaking cool. I'd love to try this someday.

Economic Case Study: TB v WB v OTTB from 'Fraidy Cat Eventing
This is REALLY interesting, and a vector of analysis I'd never thought about before.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Blog Hop: If your horse were a drink...

My life has been such that I have only put hands on my horse once in the last seven days, but when I arrived last night to pet him on the nose before getting back to work, my luck was in: the farrier was just pulling him out of his stall! It was really great to chat with him about how Tristan's feet are doing, and about life in general, because he's a really nice guy.

While we were finishing up, I remarked that Tristan's face was zoned out in way that made me remark that he was on a sunny beach somewhere, sipping a fruity drink with an umbrella in it - off in his happy place, basically, ignoring the idiots around him.

The barn manager happened to be walking by. "No way," she said. "He's not a fruity drink horse. But what would he be drinking?"

"Straight vodka," was my prompt (and not terribly kind) response.

"Something a little bit classier, but also sassy," the barn manager suggested. "Whisky, or scotch?"

"Whiskey sour!" I hit on immediately.

That was an instant success. Barn manager said that when he's behaving in a lesson, using his hind end and all packaged together, he's a whiskey sour in a nice tumbler etched with his monogram. When he's bolting hell bent for leather and running into the curb chain on his kimberwicke, he's poured out the kind of whiskey you need the sour mix to disguise, and bolting it down out of a red solo cup.

We've decided that naming drinks for all the horses in the barn will make an excellent future game for long winter days.

So now I put it to you all.

If your horse were an alcoholic drink, what would it be?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

House Post: Garage Cleanout

This is not going to seem nearly as exciting via blog post as it actually is in person.

When we gutted the man cave room, it created a LOT of trash. On top of other trash that had accumulated from various projects around the house, and we hadn't exactly kept on top of major dump runs.

Through the winter (while the truck is parked, because it's 2WD), we stashed it in the extra garage.

It took four truckloads to finally get it all to the dump; keep in mind, my truck is a 3/4 ton with an 8' bed. There was A LOT of trash.

This photo was taken halfway through: so two loads down, two to go.

And here it is, finished. The trash bags in the front contain asbestos tiles that we pulled out of another part of the house and carefully bagged up. They'll go to hazardous waste disposal ASAP. In the meantime, they are double-bagged and sealed and we do not touch them.

Tomorrow, we have a contractor coming to start what is probably the biggest of our summer projects: insulating & finishing off the basement.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

There was enough interest last week in having these roundups as an email that I've gone ahead and created a list. Sign up below if you're interested. Weekly roundup emails will include the blog posts linked in this post, as well as some additional content, and they'll be sent out at noon each Saturday. Next week will be the first one.

Subscribe here to receive weekly blog roundups in your email

* indicates required

Jolene and Her Trailer from In Omnia Paratus
I love a good love story, and the best love stories feature trucks.

Trail Riding at Horseshoe Bend from A Collection of Madcap Escapades
Dom always does a superb job of recapping her trail rides, with thoughtful commentary & great photos.

Wedding Photos from The Exquisite Equine
Gorgeous photos on a farm, with horses!

Buying a Baby from Pony Express
It's never been my ambition to raise a baby (human OR equine) so I found this fascinating & full of things I had never thought about before.

Custom Portable Drying Rack: Another SB Blog Non-Crafty DIY from Sprinkler Bandit
I laughed really, really hard.

Gear Post: 2017 Edition from 'Fraidy Cat Eventing
I could read gear posts all day, every day, especially when they're as good as this one.

Epic Blogger Meetup and Winery Ride from DIY Horse Ownership

Kaitlyn Karssen Photography: Houston B from Equestrian at Hart
Jaw-droppingly gorgeous photography.

Transformation...Wednesday: The Conformation and Color from A Enter Spooking
Count me in the camp that wishes grays would stay that way forever. This is a very cool photo progression.

Viva Carlos Book Review: The Natural Rider by Mary Wanless from Viva Carlos
This sounds fascinating.

Temperament vs Rideability from The $900 Facebook Pony
I'm torn on this. I do tend to think there's a link between a horse's basic way of presenting to the world and how easy they are to train, but I don't think it's a direct, straightforward connection. I'll have to think about this a lot more.

Fungus Leg from Poor Woman Showing
I know I'm not the only one who is fascinated by injury/illness progression posts.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

2017 Goals: May Recap

Previously, I set horse goals and life goals. April was an abysmal failure. Was May any better? A bit.

January Recap
February Recap
March Recap
April Recap

Horse Goals - original post here

1. Put hands on my horse 5x a week - Other than 8 days off when I was traveling, I did great at this. I'm starting to turn the screws and challenge him physically and mentally in some longer dressage schools, and I'm ramping up his fitness work.

2. Be less perfunctory - decent! not great.

3. Aim toward dressage schooling shows - I will almost certainly not make any dressage shows this year due to work schedule, so I am trying to re-orient my thinking. I may do a test during a lesson. We're definitely attacking pieces of First Level (!) and confirming Training stuff like keeping our damn head down in the canter.

4. Take more lessons - May, check! Scheduling June soon.

5. Horse-specific income stream / funding emergency fund - Still on the struggle bus, especially since after the truck's transmission went in April, my daily driver CRV went to get its summer tires on and came back with new brakes all around. So the emergency fund took another hit. But I've written out my path back to solvency, the credit card will be paid off soon, and I've started chipping back away at those savings accounts.

6. Do more thoughtful work - Slowly clawing my way back to this. I've been doing a lot of writing things out especially for the craft things I'm making, and trying out new ways of thinking related to those that's proving to be an interesting exercise for my brain.

7. Get more media - I took some pictures? Still none of me.

Life Goals - original post here

1. Pay off car - yup, still on track

2. Read 75 books - 39/75

A slower month because I read one big bit and only a few smaller ones.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
After Atlas by Emma Newman
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

3. Revive history blogs - lololololol nope x2

4. Do better about food - Other than the trip to Texas, I did great at this. And you know what? I also did pretty well in Texas. I ate a lot but I hit the gym a lot, walked a lot, and stuck to logging what I ate and generally making smart choices about portions and carbs. End result? I ate what I wanted and after 5 days of eating out and a wedding, I stayed the same weight. Now that I have my kitchen back, and control of my entire production this will go even better. I think at this point - knock wood - I can consider my habits well and truly changed.

5. Decorate the house - I reorganized the library, and it does look dramatically better, though it's not strictly speaking "decorated."

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

First, a question about these roundups. It occurred to me that maybe some people would like them in their email inbox as weekend reading. Could you answer the poll question below and let me know what you think? I'd probably try and make an email version a little bit beefier - maybe tie in a COTH thread that I thought was worthwhile, a meme or two, and some other updates.

Horses Handed Down from A Gift Horse
I actually never thought about whether or not to hand down the bad parts of horses.

Are calming supplements cheating? from Hand Gallop
A topic that brings a lot of passion out.

Help a Haffie Out - I Need a Name! from Wyvern Oaks
CUTENESS. Also, naming posts never get old for me.

Two Horse Tack Product Review x3 from In Omnia Paratus
Some really nice things and also gorgeous pictures of a gorgeous horse showing them off.

Mud and Projects from The Feral Red Horse
I am such a sucker for these detailed barn planning posts.

What to Buy Wednesday: Washing Machines from Eventing Saddlebred Style
Anyone have some advice?

Managing Seasonal Allergies in Horses from If the Saddle Fits
My answer is "drugs. lots of 'em" but other people may have more success with management.

Grindstone Mountain Farm Keeps Former King Oak Farm H.T. Tradition Alive from Eventing Nation
This is stretching the definition of blog post but it makes me insanely happy so I don't care. King Oak for my birthday weekend was one of my very favorite things, and I treasure all my memories of those weekends.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

May Lesson Notes

Lesson notes almost didn't happen for this month because the lesson almost didn't happen because I am a fucking idiot and wrote down the wrong time. Thankfully, my barn manager texts AND I live less than ten minutes from the barn. I was on and warming up only 30 minutes after my planned start time. Sigh.

What we worked on:

1. Forward. Always. Forever. In this lesson we focused hard on quickness and getting his feet hustling, accomplished at least partly by me posting much more quickly, which frustrated him enough to want to match it.

2. Bending through his whole body. He was actually pretty responsive to softening in his jaw right off the bat, but took longer to convince to yield his ribcage and step through with his inside hind, particularly to the left.

3. Lateral work. In particular, we worked hard on sharpening up my aids for the shoulder in: when I was asking for too much bend, when I wasn't signalling clearly enough with my leg aids to keep his hind end moving. It still wasn't bright and quick but it was a damn sight more through than I've ever had him in the shoulder in. We also dabbled in haunches in, even getting a few creditable steps at a time.

4. Canter. For once, we didn't actually school the canter too much because it was pretty darn good! But I finally got the idea hammered into me that I am breaking too much at the wrists in the canter.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

House Post: Library Organizing & Rug

The library has been in fine shape for some time now; once we did the initial renovation, it's functioned nicely as a library/craft room/exercise room. I spend a lot of quality time in there reading and sewing, and a lot of miserable time on the treadmill.

However, an upgrade for the space has been on the back of my mind for some time now, and last weekend that finally happened.

Here's the before; pardon the mess, but it all shifts around on a regular basis as I better organize the books and cut and sew fabric.

We took all the furniture out of the room except the bookshelves, and rolled up the old rug, which led to the sad discovery that in the year or so since we originally pulled up the old rug, there was some bad sun fading to the beautiful hardwood floors.

This room got more direct sunlight than almost any other in the house - definitely more than any other room that has the exposed hardwood. So that's a lesson learned for me, I guess. It's not a problem going forward, though, because after vacuuming and cleaning up a bit, we unrolled a new rug in the space.

It's actually quite an old rug, belonging to my great-great-uncle many years ago and having made its way to me through a chain of family members. The label on the back indicates it actually came from Iran - probably at least 75 years ago. It's still in extraordinary shape and fits the room perfectly. I love it.

With the unrolling of the rug, the treadmill went elsewhere, and I am working hard to organize the books still further. I'm even - gulp - setting aside boxes to donate and/or sell to our local used bookstore.

This room isn't 100% done yet; my longterm goal for this room is to do built-in shelving all the way around. That's a few years off, though. So this is how it will live in the near term!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

Let's talk about tack trunks from Hand Gallop
Organization is one of my favorite things to think and talk about, so this post and its comments are great.

Naming Baby M from Equestrian at Hart
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting this stinking cute little colt when he was just a few days old - go help Hillary name him!

My Horse Has EOTRH (What on Earth?) from Saddle Seeks Horse
I had never ever heard of this before, and I consider myself a connoisseur of weird horse diseases.

DIY: How to Make a Trailer Bench for Your Trailer Tack Room from DIY Horse Ownership

Warm Up & Warm Down from Eventing Nation
Tinkering with warm up is one of my endless obsessions, so I liked what this had to say - particularly about long walks and the actual physical readiness component of a warmup for cross country.

Five Pony Club Rules That Are Slightly Impractical from Eventing Connect
I was a Pony Club DC for a number of years. We used to say that there is the Pony Club way, and you will never ever go wrong following it, but there are often other equally smart & safe ways to do things. I still think Pony Club has it down in terms of teaching kids safe and quality ways to interact with horses, but boy are they sticklers.

The sad saga of DJ Trump, Donald Trump's lone foray into horse racing from the Washington Post
It's pretty obvious that the fuckwit-in-chief is a failure as a human being on every count, but did you know he even behaves shittily toward horses? Well, here you go.

Finally, new blog alert; I've known Paula for years and she has a truly extraordinary story to tell, so please check her out & follow along: My Brave Arab Mare

Your non-horsey read for the week: My Family's Slave. This was mind-boggling, heart-wrenching, and extraordinary. Take the time to read it through.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Three things we're working on right now in dressage rides

There's not much that's more boring than a ride recap in which I just write "yep, went pretty well" for a couple of paragraphs. For the first stretch of time in a long time, my rides are going pretty damn well. It's a perfect combination of regular lessons, a horse in great physical condition, my renewed commitment to physical fitness and presence, and a couple of small revelations all clicking together at the same time.

That said, my horse still can't really canter on the bit, so obviously it's pretty far from perfect. Here are three things we're working on right now in our dressage schools.

1. Accessing the hind end independent of the front end.

First and foremost, this has implications for lateral work. It's part of getting him to be more supple and responsive. I can do a somewhat acceptable leg yield and shoulders in without fine control of his hind end. I cannot hope to get beyond that. I started playing with haunches in yesterday and it was not pretty.

It's both a frustrating problem and an interesting puzzle to work on. It's a lot of thinking for me, requiring a much higher degree of communication through my seat than I have been used to, as well as more subtlety of aids than I have trained my horse to respond to. That's the tough thing about being 99% responsible for your horse's training: no one to blame but yourself.

So I am struggling to do things like ask him to step through with his inside hind from the saddle, and to do different things with his hind end than his shoulders might be pointing toward. Moving against the bend is a big red flag what is even wrong with you, mom? See also, haunches in. Most of our problems in that can be boiled down to being totally unwilling to step under with his hind end in a new way.

2. Transitions, transitions, transitions

I've been hitting these hard lately, particularly the trot to canter. Halt to walk, walk to trot - not perfect, but I can get them soft and through with some level of consistency. Slowly, slowly the trot to canter is starting to shape up.

I like the longe line for this, particularly with side reins or the chambon. Once I've got him responsive and quick off the aids, I ask for a trot to canter. I praise him for transitions in which he pushes up from his hind end, through his back & withers, even a little bit. Transitions in which his neck goes vertical and he lurches his whole body upward via his shoulders get an instant back to the trot and then another swift try. His reward is thus both loud praise - which he does respond to on the longe - and a brief respite from doing transitions.

I'm also working on downward transitions, specifically not quitting on them. I'm trying to make them true transitions and not just a drop down, carrying over energy and softness, and using a higher gait to invigorate a lower gait. This has been working particularly well in canter to trot, and my most successful strategy has been patience: waiting for the right moment to ask, usually on a long side after a good, deep, bending corner.

3. Bend to straight and back again

Everyone has lessons they're always re-re-re-re-re-learning. Forward is my core one. I've added a new lesson to that list: the phenomenal improvement in Tristan's way of going by focusing on moving between a deeper bend and a true straightness.

The best example of this is coming down to a short stride: I ask him to stay straight and then for a deep bend to make a true, directed corner instead of just shaving off the corner and making a sort of oval. Then I aim for 2-3 strides of a straight, uphill gait on the short side, then another deep corner.

A slightly different variation of it is on a 20m circle. Points of the compass get a stride or two of deeper bend, and curves get more straightness. (Obviously not complete straightness, but more of the dressage definition of straightness.)

If I focus on this hard, really follow up and work those feelings of bend and straightness through his whole body, keep him soft and reaching for the bit through it? 10 minutes of this work is like magic for him. It's like a giant, half-ring-sized half halt that's easier for him to process and makes him ever so much more supple and more willing to respond to what I'm asking going forward.

Are there any things you're particularly picking apart right now?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Seeking Testers for Equestrian Products

I'm actively trying to sew various things with an eye to at least nailing the patterns down as a personal exercise. If all goes well, I'd like to sell some of them.

I'm seeking testers, at all stages.

Sometimes, I'll ask you to receive a raw thing for free and let me know privately how it worked for you, with an eye to critical feedback. (My intent is not to hide, but rather to get substantive advice and work to improve.)

Sometimes, I'll have things that have gone through a few rounds of testing and I might be ready to give away or sell at a steep discount/at cost if you're interested in reviewing them.

I'll try to be upfront and clarify what the circumstances are around each item. Sometimes there will be an opportunity to customize; sometimes I'll have pictures and you can choose what you get. There will almost never be enough for everyone, so you'll have to get back to me quickly.

It's all a big experiment, and I'm hoping to have fun while I'm doing it, so if you sign up for this it's important to understand that! If it's not fun and interesting, there's no point in doing it.

So, if that all sounds interesting to you: please sign up with the form below! You'll be added to a mailing list and will receive emails when there are things available.

Testing signups are currently closed; they may open again at some point in the future, so keep an eye out!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ten Questions for May

When in doubt about what to write, pick up a meme!

This one comes from The Horse Is Not Black.

1. What are your summer goals?

I'd like to continue our slow-but-steady progress in dressage; in particular, in accessing his hind end and working on relaxing instead of bracing through transitions. I'd also like to solve his assholery in the outdoor. I'll have to get it on video at some point so you all really understand what I mean, but I'd like it to stop. I don't mind spicey, I mind idiocy.

2. Do you have any tips or tricks for fly control?

Sigh. No. I want to try that new EcoVet stuff that people are raving about, just to see how it goes. Tristan wears a fly mask & fly sheet all summer but less to actually keep out flies than to keep him from other irritants. His eyes blow up if you look at them sideways and he has some kind of allergy that triggers hives. The fly gear helps with that, but actual flies are probably here to stay.

He does need a new fly sheet, though, since his old one (admittedly picked up for $15 on clearance 10 years ago) is giving him rubs. So that's on the list for this summer.

3. How often do you bathe your horse?

I'm really not sure. That's actually a good question. Once a month, maybe? He gets rinsed off whenever he sweats, so I don't know if that counts. I do hope to give him more regular baths this summer.

he hates baths so much.

4. Do you have any upcoming travel plans? Equine or otherwise?

It's a summer of family weddings, so we have three trips planned for that. It's also a travel summer for work, both to research a new exhibit and to do outreach work and speak on some of our past research topics. It's rare that work takes me out of state, though. Safe to say I'll be on the road at least once a week until it starts snowing.

5. What is your favorite way to beat the heat?

I am a thin-blooded lizard person and I rarely feel the need to beat the heat. (Also, it's Vermont; we'll have a week or two where it hits the 90s and that's as hot as it gets.) If I am really desperate there are rooms in our house that get better ventilation, and I read or do something to take my mind off it.

6. Do you do anything to prevent your horse from sunbleaching?

Nope. My horse is a funny color no matter what I do, I just try to sit back and enjoy whatever color he turns up as next. (His roaning has changed with every summer/winter coat shift for as long as I've known him.)

current state of funny horse color, spring 2017

7. How hot is too hot for you to ride?

Those weeks where it hits the 90s I'll ease off. Having the indoor helps - it's markedly cooler in there due to shade and cross-ventilation. It's really rare for me to choose not to ride because of the heat. I have more nuanced limits for cold.

8. How important is sun protection for you riding or just in general?

Less than it should be, for sure. There have been times in my life when I've been neurotic about sunscreen, but I've slacked on that in the last few years. I rarely burn (my skin has more olive tones) so I've gotten lazy.

9. Have you ever gone swimming with your horse?

Hahahahahaha. I once tried to get Tristan to the edge of a small pond and it resulted in a 45 minute bucking & rearing fit. Desert mustangs Do Not Do Water. We've ridden through water jumps after much coaxing and weeks of firm cross-country schooling. That's as close as it gets.

10. And because shopping is always on my mind, what’s on your summer wish list?

New tall boots! Finally. Probably also some new sunshirts, I have a bunch of house-related wish list items as well, and some personal ones, like a new computer.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

House Goals: Year 2 Recap & Year 3 Goals

Here's the year 1 roundup, and stating of intentions of goals for year 1. (I mark years according to when we closed on the house, not calendar years.)

So let's recap my stated year 2 goals first:

- finish garage (and by extension, basement reorganization)

Mostly, actually - and the last of the necessary work is scheduled. I'm particularly happy with the basement reorganization.

- gut weird back room and turn it into a man cave

SO CLOSE. Just needs some touchup paint and then flooring.
- strip wallpaper and repaint: back bedroom, front bedroom, office, front hallway, nook area/game room
Back bedroom & office, check. Not on this list, but I'm halfway through the dining room.

- conserve front entryway mural

I had literally half a dozen repeats of the same "hey could you come look at my mural?" conversation with a conservator and it never happened. Does that count? Moving on to a new conservator who lives closer.
- sleeping porch: repaint, replace glass panes, finalize furniture arrangement there

Uh...I forgot this was on the list? So not a priority, probably won't even happen year 3. We did sort of finalize the furniture, mostly by default in that I cleaned it out and am reasonably happy with what's there, even if it is random.
- most remaining radiators stripped and repainted (will probably hold on sun room and living room for now)
...nope. Whether this happens this summer is entirely dependent on finances. I do have a better workflow for it, in that it makes more sense to do this AFTER we've otherwise finished the room, so that means I have three radiators that are ready to go, and maybe a fourth by the summer.

- landscaping and yard, including some raised beds for gardening

Ish? We did get the raised bed done.
- drainage work along the north side of the house to prevent flooding problems

No. :( This is the goal I am most frustrated about right now, and that's saying something. We do have some concrete plans to make progress on this, as in, I've bought the topsoil and we have a deadline for the first part of the work based on other work, so there will be progress this summer. But ultimately we need to dig a long ditch, buy materials, and set up a french drain and I feel like it will both be intimidating and expensive.

Okay, so what about year 3 (!) goals?

- finish dining room
- finish garage
- insulate basement, garage, and crawlspace
- throw out ALL construction trash
- decorate more
- strip wallpaper, paint, pull up carpet in guest bedroom
- finish attic: paint & panel
- figure out something to do with the yard so it doesn't look like shit constantly
- better organize library/craft room
- pull up carpet & refinish floor in back bedroom
- deal with closets

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

A tail dying how to from Contact
I could never, ever pull this off with Tristan, but I do love the look of a nice black tail.

How not to be an a$$hole boarder from Riding with Scissors
Cosigned, every single one of these.

Austin Hunter Derby from She Moved to Texas

Gaited Horses Can't Do Dressage from Wait for the Jump
Pfffffft, is what I say. Go here for thoughtful rebuttal.

Do you know how to fall? from Eventing Nation
Before I rode, I vaulted, and one of the first things I was taught as a young vaulter was how to fall. It's knowledge that has proved invaluable over the years, so I love this program.

Reflecting on Eventing from Equestrian at Hart

A Little Dog Horse Show Recap from Guinness on Tap

Non-horsey read for the week: Literature's Arctic Obsession.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Braiding kits? What do you use, and how do you use it?

I'm doing a lot of experimenting with making and sewing things that might be useful for horse people, with a bit of a flair - in fun colors, or in YOUR colors, or clever patterns.

It does a nice job of combining a hobby that soothes my brain and lets me express a bit of creative side and who knows, maybe people might want to buy such things someday. (I kind of hope they will; I am feeling even more broke than usual horse-person baseline right now.)

One of the ideas I diagrammed out last night was a braiding kit holder.

This actually started as an idea for something like a cosmetic case: something you could unzip that would lie flat, with elastic loops inside to stick everything. So then you could zip it back up, everything would stay clean & neat & together, and it would look cute - maybe with an embroidered design, or just in fun colors.

Kind of like this.

I don't braid all that often, and when I do, I'm rarely in a hurry. I currently keep my braiding supplies in tupperware. Tristan has a long mane, so I only ever do a running braid - which takes ten minutes and not a ton of supplies.

When I thought further about the idea of that braiding case, I thought that actually people who spend a long time standing on stools braiding their horses' manes usually use a belt-mounted system.

That would actually be even easier to make, and would maybe be more like what people were interested in. It could get some cool color highlights in edging that would also reinforce things.

I don't know. I'm mulling it over. Half the fun of this is planning it out.

So, which would you find more useful? The open case or the belt thing? Would you think it was fun to buy one in an interesting pattern, or in your colors?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

2017 Goals: April Recap

Oh, boy. I don't want to write this post, but here we go.

Previously, I set horse goals and life goals.

January Recap
February Recap
2017 Goals: March Recap

So, how was April?

Horse Goals - original post here

1. Put hands on my horse 5x a week - suck. suckaroo. Accomplished for the first two weeks; then I was away for a week; then I was recovering from being away for a week. I guess, when I was on top of this it was really good because we got some great things done in the two weeks I did ride.

2. Be less perfunctory - Not really, especially in the sense that my impulse control across the board sucked except in regards to food & exercise.

3. Aim toward dressage schooling shows - Now looks like I can't do the September show either which means all shows are most likely off the plate for the summer and I want to hit things.

4. Take more lessons - Okay, I did actually do this and it was a great lesson. I haven't yet scheduled May but it will likely be soon.

5. Horse-specific income stream / funding emergency fund - well.

I don't want to put the numbers in this answer as I have been doing because it will make me nauseated. Short version: I made a handful of dumb choices combined with the truck's transmission blowing out while I was using it to haul for work and now I am in credit card debt instead of advancing on my savings goals, and those savings accounts are basically now down to zero or at least way too low and god damn everything.

In terms of the income stream, because of money fallout I've accelerated this planning and will probably post soon.

6. Do more thoughtful work - hahahahahaha

7. Get more media - I don't know, I took a bunch of pictures of my horse standing around? does that count?

Life Goals - original post here

1. Pay off car - still on track, so there's that at least

2. Read 75 books - 35/75

The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough
Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A Million Worlds With You by Claudia Gray
Horse-Drawn Yogurt: Stories from Total Loss Farm by Peter Gould
My Year of the Racehorse by Kevin Chong
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
Weighing Shadows by Lisa Goldstein
Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland
Blackout by Connie Willis
All Clear by Connie Willis

3. Revive history blogs - lololololol nope.

4. Do better about food - This is literally the only bright spot in this entire list. I crushed it in April. Between using a new app to track what I'm eating (not denying myself food, just using it as a journal to remind myself to make better choices) and focusing on exercising, I've lost 13 lbs in the last 6 weeks. More importantly, I have more energy and feel better overall. So there's that at least.

5. Decorate the house - I haven't done anything with the house except scrape at wallpaper with my fingernails sometimes in an attempt not to feel like a complete fucking failure as a human being

Monday, April 17, 2017

Talk to me about spring clipping


You have all talked me down from the clipping ledge many times before.

So here I return, to ask further questions.

I'm seeing a lot of people doing spring clips to get ahead of shedding. It's warming up more quickly here in Vermont than I anticipated, and I'm holding back a bit on my rides because it's warm enough to sweat with hard work but not yet warm enough to rinse horses off.

remnants of winter's clip

So I find myself pondering a spring clip, to take out the winter fuzz and get us to the endpoint faster.

Realistically, I can't accomplish this for another couple of weeks, so it may all be beside the point.

But what should I keep in mind when thinking about doing a spring clip?

Is there such a thing as too late to do it? How about too early? (He's still wearing his sheet and we will continue to have a frost threat overnight until late May.)

Is there a setting I should use on the clippers - perhaps not go as close? Use different blades? (Pretend I'm stupid, and educate me in small words.)

Is it even worth it? Should I just stick it out with my shedding tools?

How do you decide whether to just let your horse shed out or clip him?

picture like 10x more hair; I took this picture 3 weeks ago

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

Waze for Horses from In Omnia Paratus
I laughed pretty hard. This would be a top selling app in minutes.

Review: Kentucky Bridleworks Leather Halter from The $900 Facebook Pony
I've been drooling over these halters on Instagram for a while now. Maybe for Christmas next year Tristan can have one.

Too legit to quit from PONY'TUDE
Please go and also drool over the hunt coat of my dreams. I would be wearing that beauty every chance I got!

Really gross, but... from Not So Speedy Dressage
Uncomfortable (on several levels) but important!

How do you choose a bit? from Patently Bay
I am a sucker for these bitting posts,

That time my dog's junk got stuck from Riding with Scissors
I laughed so hard I cried.

Non-horsey read of the week: Going It Alone, about hiking the Appalachian Trail as a queer black woman alone. Extraordinary read.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Blog Hop: Poetry Month

Trying my hand at a blog hop, here, for April as National Poetry Month.

What's your favorite poem about horses? If you don't have a favorite, do some Googling and find one you like! Song lyrics count, too.

Mine is Robert Frost's The Runaway. It's one of his earliest, first published in 1918. Frost is my favorite poet, and he often included horses in his poetry. He spent a lot of time in Vermont and he knew Morgans well.

Frost with a foal, c. 1930

Here's the poem.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Muddiest Pony in All the Land

We hit mid 70s here on Monday & Tuesday, obscenely hot for this time of year, and Tristan had his first day outside without his blanket in many months, and boy, did he make the most of it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Winter Gear Review

I've done some roundups of gear that gets me through the winter in the past (here's 2013 part 1 & part 2), and since this week we've officially hit spring (after snow flurries last Saturday, hahahaha, fuck you, weather), I thought I'd do a quick roundup of what worked really well for me this winter.


First and best addition to the wardrobe: new winter breeches. I've been looking for a good pair of winter breeches for a long time; my old breeches were threadbare and wearing out fast.

That niche was admirably filled by the Noble Outfitters Softshell Riding Pants. These did absolutely everything I wanted them to: they held up to 5 days a week of riding, they were lined and warm, they cleaned up nicely, they came through the laundry just fine.


In 2016, I spent a lot of time trying out gloves, both winter and summer. I had some abysmal failures, and some tentative success. This year, I'm happy to declare that the gloves I was happiest with in 2016 remained my favorites through 2017.

My absolute favorites were the SSG Fleece Knit Winter Riding Fleece-Lined gloves. They were warm enough and flexible enough to get me through. The caveat? They are not the sturdiest things. The second caveat? They're no longer made; I can't find the on the internet anywhere. Damn it all.

My runner up gloves, which were warm but not depths-of-winter warm, were the Equistar Ladies Fleece Winter Riding Gloves. Let's be honest: these are total junk. They have zero fancy upgrades, are not particularly stylish, and I honestly might be able to sew them myself given some thinking time. HOWEVER, with all of that? They're the best combination of warm, comfortable, and flexible that I found after the knit gloves, and at $5 a pair, I don't particularly care that they might not last more than two or three seasons. (For the record: my two pairs are still in totally fine condition after two seasons.)


My best-beloved and discontinued Ariat winter boots remain perfect. These will last forever, God willing, and even if they do finally go to the great tack closet in the sky someday, I am happy enough with their similarities to the new Ariat winter boot lines to buy those immediately and strongly suspect I'll be happy.


Alllllll about the layers. This winter, I could most typically be found in long-sleeved technical shirts of two kinds, depending on the weather. For warmer (20 degrees or more) days, I have a few that can double as sunshirts, made out of lighter technical fabric. For colder days, I have a few that are fleece lined and more in the style of compression shirts, most of the made by Nike. That was base layer.

I also had a nice rotation of sweatshirts or other thicker layers over that base layer, and topped it off with a Patagonia down jacket that was light and flexible but also quite warm.


One of my very favorite additions to my winter wardrobe remains my fleece helmet cover. It makes a HUGE difference in comfort, both as a insulating layer to keep my head from bleeding warmth and as a windbreaker to block the vents in my helmet. I freaking love it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nashville Blogger Meetup?

In about two weeks, I'll be down in Nashville for a few days for a bachelorette party. Said party will take over most of my time there, BUT!

It literally just occurred to me last night that some of you are in the Nashville area and we could meet up.

Because of time constraints & other commitments on my part, the only day/time that works is afternoon through evening on Sunday, April 23. I will have at that point rented a car so I can do some traveling further afield but would rather not go more than an hour.

Are you in Nashville? Want to put together a horse blogger meetup? Send me an email: beljoeorATgmailDOTcom.

Also: if there's anything horsey (or otherwise) I should check out in Nashville, let me know! I may have an hour or two free in the previous days that I can use to pursue my own interests.

(I am...not really a country music fan? But I like Tennnessee, and history, and barbecue, and biscuits, and tourist things.)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

House Post: Recycling Smartpak Containers as Seedling Planters

When I reorganized the basement, I set up what would become a new seedling growing area. After last year's initial foray into growing from seed, I doubled down this year because I am apparently trying to reach peak Vermont.

I had a grow light that my father gave me, I had some scrap lumber, and I had most of what I needed from last year's seedling supplies. I did not have quite everything I needed, which is where the Smartpaks come in.

First, the actual setup itself.

First picture is the location; second is my scrap lumber grow light holder.

As you can see, I had the tray, but what next?

Well: I happened to walk by the barn's pile of Smartpaks for recycling on my way out of the barn and that started the wheels turning, so I grabbed a pile and came home to work my germ of an idea into an actual plan.

Necessary tools: a drill with a thin bit (I used a 5/32 bit), used Smartpaks.

I ended up putting five holes in each well, and stacked them all up so I could do a whole bunch at a time.

It took me maybe five minutes..

Then I laid them out in the tray. I had a standard tray that I bought at Agway; I think it's roughly 10" x 20". By some miracle, the Smartpaks fit beautifully 4 across and 8 down What you're seeing below is a combination of a couple different sizes of Smartpaks; some fives, some threes, some twos. Four 5 packs + three 4 packs would've been perfect but I made do.

Then it was fairly easy to pour soil over the top of them and portion them out. I can't plant for a little while longer, since Vermont will be a frozen tundra until Memorial Day, but I did start lettuce in my other open tray just to get something green in my life.

I'm getting ready, though, and plotting out how much of each I want to grow!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

The Vaccination Struggle from The Exquisite Equine
Tris doesn't react badly to vaccines so this isn't something I usually worry about, but I have friends for whom this is an annual problem.

RWYM - General from Pampered Ponies
Some really good notes on a riding position clinic. Lots to think about here.

Eventers: What's under your show coat? from PONY'TUDE
I've only fairly recently graduated from my old hunter shirt to more technical fabric, so seeing the range of replies in the comments was particularly interesting!

World Cup hangover from Hand Gallop
What a cool way to experience the World Cup!

Friday, April 7, 2017

March Madness 2017 FINAL: The Pie v Beauty


Three rounds, sixteen excellent competitors, and I bet some of you would have called this final match from the very beginning.

Here we go; poll will be open until midnight on Monday, April 10, EST. I expect it to be fiercely competitive and to go right down to the wire, so make sure you vote!

Final Match

The Pie


Black Beauty

Instead of the images I've been sharing, I thought I'd insert some clips from the movies that feature these famous fictional horses.

First up is a nice compilation of scenes from National Velvet in four minutes, but 0:46 starts the really memorable bit.

And here's the very last scene of Black Beauty. If this clip doesn't make you cry like a baby, well. I don't even know.

Now that you've fortified yourself, it's time to vote.

And having voted, make sure you enter the Rafflecopter one last time for your chance to win a custom quarter sheet (or saddle cover, or helmet cover, we'll talk.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway