Tuesday, July 30, 2013


My lip is way less swollen today, though it is just painful enough to be putting me in a low-grade bad mood all day, which I really didn't need.

I've been a bit quieter otherwise because I went through a very frustrating few days with Tristan. I arrived at the barn last Thursday to see that he had new shoes, and that we went back to glue-ons. Hooray for new shoes, uh-oh for glue-ons. I texted the farrier to check in and ask if Tris had behaved or if they'd had to tranq him again. Farrier said yes, tranq, and he hadn't really behaved and that he'd go over it with me in detail when he was back from his trip.

I checked in the next day and chatted with the barn manager who had been there for the whole escapade. Tris started acting up right away, so they gave him a bit of sedative, and he got through the RF that way, which was by far the more complicated and tricky one to do - farrier had to clean out the abscess cavity and then refill it with epoxy/glue.

When they did the LF Tris got progressively worse, and they added a bit more tranq. The tough thing about glue-ons is that at a certain point in the process the horse can NOT put his foot down or it will not dry properly. So Tris started breaking through the tranq at that exact wrong moment in the process and the farrier held on.

Tris responded by laying down. Yes, you read that right. He laid down on his shoulder in the crossties, and when the farrier let the foot go and stepped back, he laid down in the back too. And didn't get back up. He laid there glaring at the barn manager and the farrier - as a friend described later, "like a toddler throwing himself to the floor and holding his breath."

So the barn manager held his head and the farrier took off the not-set-right LF shoe and trimmed it back a bit. Tris tried to get up a bit while he was doing this, but the barn manager was firm and kept him down, and after the minute or two it took they let him back up and backed his butt into a corner.

And then he was good as gold for every second of the entire rest of the trim. Like it had finally filtered through his brain. I've semi-affectionately called him my 2x4 horse in the past, but this might take the cake.

Farrier and barn manager are consummate pros, and they both went out of their way to assure me that their read on him was never fear, aggression, or anything dangerous - simply stubbornness and a massive case of the don't wannas - which he is certainly more than capable of! He has not shown the slightest inkling of reaction to the whole thing in the days since: still good as gold to handle, and I have turned his feet every which way looking at his new shoeing job. If anything, he seems happy to have new shoes, as he is landing a bit better since his feet had grown out quite a bit.

I apologized profusely to them and they told me there was no need, they still thought he was great, and they  have every confidence that he has finally gotten the message. I took him outside and walked and trotted up and down many hills until he was puffing as a productive way to vent some of my frustration, and then I went home and cried and cried. I hope that he really is progressing now, but I don't know what to do anymore.

Monday, July 29, 2013


My life right now can be summed up by the first 15 minutes of my barn shift today: barn manager hurt her back and is immobile, other helper did not show up, and then a horse and I had a disagreement about his fly sheet. I was standing in precisely the wrong spot and he swung his head into mine with enough speed and force that I saw stars.

I finished putting the sheet on him, staggered outside, hunched over, and spat many, many mouthfuls of blood into the grass.

The good news, 5 hours later, is that we got help with stalls, and the spikes of pain in my skull are a dull ache. Also, no loose teeth, and I have a really spectacularly impressive fat lip with swelling up to my nose. So at least I have proof? I tried to take a picture but none of them really came out.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Throwing" a Class

I clicked on the title of this COTH thread thinking I was going to read some gossipy chat about high stakes dressage classes and underhanded betting schemes.

Instead, it's a discussion of whether or not it's okay to randomly start riding whatever figures you feel like in the middle of your dressage test, if you feel that makes the ride better. Say, you feel like a 10m circle would really help out your right bend, so if it's okay to just throw one in. The OP frames the question as schooling show with a tense horse, so that helps maybe a little bit, but I am utterly horrified.

No. No, it's not okay to start riding whatever you feel like in the middle of a dressage test, even if you're okay with getting dinged for error of course. That is not the point of a dressage test, which is a proscribed series of movements in specific places and specific times, one leading to the other. The transitions are part of the test.

Not only is it missing the point, it's incredibly, staggeringly rude to the judge, to the show organizers, and to your other competitors. It's wasteful of the time and effort everyone has put in to craft a schedule, to choose tests, and to put on the schooling show in the first place. I have scribed for many, many dressage tests and if I ever saw someone randomly dropping in additional movements just because they felt their horse needed it, I would be confused and pissed off, as would every judge I've ever worked with.

Now: are there situations in which you can essentially school in a show ring? OF COURSE. Here's the difference: you have a conversation with the show organizers ahead of time. You say, we're having a lot of trouble with the show atmosphere; would it be possible for me to ride my test just before a break, or during a break, or at the end of the day, or first thing in the day? You make it clear that if things go drastically wrong, you might need to stay in for a few extra minutes to school and fix it. You are polite and courteous and you don't just do whatever you feel like.

I've done that. I've asked to go back in the ring at the end of the day. I've completely, utterly blown a test and, knowing there was a gap after me in the schedule, asked if I could go back in the ring and work it out for a few minutes. Most schooling shows are totally fine with that; it's what they really want to do. In fact, I've scribed for judges that have sent me as a runner after a horse and rider that just exited the ring to ask them to come back and work in the ring for a bit after they've had serious problems.

But just deciding to ride something different on the spur of a moment? No. That does not make you a considerate rider who's just doing the best for her horse. It makes you a jackass.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Best Pony

I've said for some time that Tristan would be a really terrific little kids' pony someday. Yesterday, I was able to test that theory.

Friends came to visit and stay for a few days with their two year old. On their last visit, we introduced B to Tristan, and he did a little bit of petting and dropped a peppermint in his bucket. I gave him a small Schleich horse that he promptly named Tristan (or, more accurately, "T-Man"). Since then it's become one of his favorite toys and when he visited his grandparents in Amish country a few weeks ago he very excitedly pointed to horses in the fields and informed his grandparents that his Auntie Amanda had a neigh-neigh too, and he would get to pet and ride it when he visited.

So we went to the barn, and B helped to groom him a little bit, and then I put a bridle on and sat on him bareback for a few minutes while B watched. Then B's mom got on and sat on Tristan at the mounting block, and then we put B up in front of her. I had Tris take a few steps at a time ("step up" is one of the best vocal commands I ever taught him) and then we were off at the walk. B's parents stood on either side holding his hands, but eventually we transitioned to B holding the reins and a bit of Tris's mane and I taught him to say "walk" and "whoa" and to ask for left and right. All told, maybe about 10 minutes but he grinned and giggled the whole time. Victory!

I could not possibly have been more thrilled with Tristan. He stood stock-still at the mounting block, flicking his ears back and forth and paying verrrrrrry careful attention to what was going on. He was obviously deeply concerned about the new little person on his back - not in a frustrated or upset sense; he placed every foot sooooo carefully, and was clearly analyzing every balance shift B made to try and help him out. I've noticed this tendency before when my boyfriend has ridden him. Some horses react to inexperienced riders with frustration; Tristan tends to get very concerned and go even more slowly and carefully. He is the absolute best horse I ever could have asked for. I'm so, so proud of him.

Maybe, someday, when I have my farm and my life is a little further along, my own kids will learn to ride on him, too.

Friday, July 19, 2013


I had spent a few days reflecting on my story with Tristan in case R. asked questions about our background. We have a few key points that I tell people - he was wild until he was 4, unstarted until 11, and 97% of his rides have been done by me. (In fact I was trying to make a list of anyone who's put substantial time in saddle in on him, and only three people have ridden him above a half dozen times. I'm the only one who's ever ridden him more than a dozen times.)

We talked a very little bit about that but it was the first question that I - foolishly - had not prepared for.

"What's your goal?"

I was stumped for a second, and in the moment I said, "I want to enjoy my horse. I've had him for almost eight years, and he's the love of my life. Maybe we'll get out eventing again someday, but I have no concrete plans for that right now."

In the days since I've been thinking more about this. If you'd asked me that question one year ago I would have said: compete recognized at Beginner Novice, and maybe someday complete a Novice Three Day.

Those would still be lovely things to achieve, but in almost eight years together we've been derailed from them many times, and now Tristan is 18 and I have a hugely demanding job and no extra cash flow. For all that I am intensely ambitious and goal-driven in every other part of my life, I've never been as competitive with my horse. I want us to consistently get better, and I want him to be healthy and happy.

Maybe, by the end of the summer, when we've been on track for longer, I'll feel differently. But right now, I'm content to keep him in work and keep plugging along.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

First Lesson Notes

In short: very basic foundational lesson that we both really, really needed.

If I could have asked to address any issues right now, it would be our lack of forward and my tendency to nag. Tris had been out for so long, and I've been so tentative about his rehab, that I haven't really gotten after him the way I should have, and have fallen into the trap of asking every few strides for him to keep going, even at the walk.

That's exactly what R. addressed after watching us warm up for a little bit. We made a great first impression (NOT) when I asked for the trot, and down the long side I asked for more forward, he flipped his head around, threw his shoulders around, tripped, and slammed my left leg into the wall, dragging it along for a stride or two. There is white paint all on my iron on that side and you should see the lump/friction burn on my knee. It was awesome. Then he head-flipped and tried to hop into the canter and was in general extremely unpleasant, though he started to listen and smooth out nearish to the end. Sigh.

So we worked on isolating driving aids, the idea being that he should darn well listen when I put leg on instead of barely maintaining. My responsibility is to dictate the tempo, his is to maintain the tempo. It was basically a disciplined, methodical version of the good old fashioned aid escalation method: he gets one test to listen to the aid he should respond to, and then he gets pony kicked forward and praised for going forward. We did the exercise in both directions, off each driving aid: leg, seat, whip, voice.

He is not a stupid pony. Within a few minutes he was powering right along with much lighter aids. We did it on a relatively loose rein at the walk and then trot, and then I picked up the reins for more contact and we repeated in both directions at walk and trot. In generally, R. had us going much, much straighter than I am used to - I am used to keeping him in some sort of bend at all times, and she wanted my hands MUCH quieter and to worry about straight and forward instead of bend. It was a good solid lesson and it was simple but not easy. I had to fight my urge to ask him for more bend, more supple, and just focus hard on getting engagement.

We did not exactly put our best foot forward but that's okay; I think this was a fair representation of our problems right now, and after 11 months I couldn't possibly expect him to come out and give me the work we had last August. We made clear progress, we have homework, and perhaps most importantly, I liked the way the lesson went, both physically and mentally.

R. had plenty of good things to say, too - she liked my general position, and even apologized for giving such a basic lesson, because she said she could tell we both knew better, and I had all the right answers, we just needed to shore up our foundation before we could move forward again. She liked how generally supple we were and said that once we squared away our forward problem he'll be easy to get right back where he was. She also said he was looking 100% sound when he was straight (though predictably wonky when he was flailing all over the place) and complimented my rehab generally.

He'll get tonight off and then back to work on Thursday. Hip hooray for progress!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pony Spa Day

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far - Burlington, Vermont tied its record high of 93 for today, a record set in 1955.

I generally go more by feel than the thermometer when it comes to heat, and while it was quite warm it didn't feel oppressively hot - especially at the barn, which is at a higher elevation and gets an excellent breeze because of its hillside exposure. (That same exposure and elevation makes for some unbelievable cold, but so it goes.)

Our first lesson is scheduled for tonight, a 30 minute intro/checkin with the new trainer, so I wanted to take some time and make him more presentable. We started with a bit of cleanup. I clipped his fetlocks, trimmed his ergots and chestnuts, and rediscovered his bridle path. He grows more ergot than any horse I have ever known - no exaggeration, the one on his RF was 1.5" long - and it's tough. I keep a hunting knife in my tack trunk for such occasions, and luckily he is quiet and still, because it took some sawing through to get it down.

Here's before and after.

Before, bridle path.

Before, bridle path. Ugh.

Before, front feet.

Another before - you can't see the ergot but trust me, it is there.

After! I didn't do a perfect job - still getting used to new clippers - but wow, so much cleaner.

Yesssssss, nice clean bridle path!
I don't ever clip muzzle, and generally avoid doing his chin unless it's really goat-like. I won't ever clip his ears - it's not worth putting either of us through and let's face it, he'll never be that show horse and I love him that way.

Then I hopped on and rode for about 45 minutes, keeping my work tuned in to how he was feeling rather than following our strict rehab schedule. We did more or less keep to it, though - walk, trot, and a bit of canter, say 2-3 minutes total, around the ring a few times. After our first canter he thought that every leg aid meant more canter - I think he was mostly trying to get out of giving me an engaged, forward trot, and hopping up and down in a pseudo-helpful manner was more fun than using his hind end.

I brought him to the big water tub just outside the barn door during each walk break, and he did take a long drink after our second bit of canter work, and was fairly warm and a little bit puffy at the end of the ride. We cooled out for about 10 minutes without the saddle.

Next up was a long bath and conditioning of his mane and tail, and I was pleasantly surprised - usually the first bath of the season results in two or three shampooings of brown suds, but I have been hosing him off very thoroughly after each ride and he's been going out on 100% grass. Turns out that he's way cleaner when he doesn't have a mud pit to roll in! His white sock was a bit grimy, so I scrubbed that until it really popped, and then we handgrazed for a bit.

All in all, about four hours of spa treatment and riding. Lesson tonight. I am both very excited and very nervous - it's always a little anxious-making to ride with a new trainer, and this trainer is riding at a higher level than anyone I've ever ridden with!

In conclusion: cutest pony ever.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


On the one hand: I helped out with chores again today, and there were only two of us, and it was a completely packed and busy six hours. I was too tired to ride and came home and have been mostly flopped on the couch re-reading Pride and Prejudice.

On the other hand:
- all those calories burned!
- I have my first 30 minute lesson on Tuesday! I am incredibly excited to get back on track. It will be almost 11 months to the day since my last lesson on Tris.
- last night, we cantered all the way around the ring, once on each lead. I could've kept going forever.

In state of the foot news, farrier will trim him in the next few days, cutting off the plastic shoes with clippers, dremeling out the epoxy, and then we'll see what's left. He could go back in another round of glue-ons, back to regular shoes, or back to barefoot. It depends on how much foot is left after the trim and what quality it is. Here are pictures from this morning.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Keeping on

Nothing terribly dramatic going on. On Monday we inched up to two 10 minute trots. Saying he's struggling with them sounds far too dramatic, but he's definitely feeling it - tired at about the 8 minute mark. I'm not pushing him overly hard, but I am trying to push him juuuuust beyond the tired point, and 10 minutes seems to suit us fine right now.

Last night we were in the ring with a green mare getting her fourth ride, who did great while we trotted around. Tris is good with green horses, because he does not care a whit what else is going on in the ring. He's too focused on his own trauma - oh god NO don't make me trot FORWARD, mom!

But on the other hand, that slow&steady character means that last night when I had to take a 20 minute work call in the middle of our ride I walked him up to the outdoor ring and he just walked around steadily the whole time, chilling. Maybe not the smartest or safest thing I've ever done, but it needed to be done and I didn't want to/didn't have time to get off, untack, and then take the call.

Last night I also asked him for a very short little canter on the right lead, down the long side. He picked it up nicely, got the correct lead, and didn't need urging to keep it. It felt good to canter again - first time in probably about 9 months now, and his first canter in almost 11 months. Given how he's adjusting to the longer trots we may hold off a bit on cantering, but it's good to know it's in there without difficulty!

I'm working at the barn semi-regularly - usually a day or two a week. I had held off on buying muck boots because I didn't want to do too much searching, but I think I'm going to need to make a wider circle and buy some after all. It is still ark-like here, although we might finally start to ease into the weekend. I'm tired of everything being sticky and damp and smelly.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


I wish I could say I was up and at 'em and raring to go to the barn after work yesterday, but it was more like a steady progression of putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually I threw a leg over Tristan's back and rode.

It was a good ride, though he was definitely feeling the humidity and the increased level of work. I debated easing off the rehab schedule or even skipping a week with his time off this week, and decided to proceed as if normal and keep an eagle eye and ease off he felt weak or not up to it. He held up fine, but was definitely quite warm at the end, so after our second trot I pulled the saddle and got back on to walk him out bareback. I spent quite a while hosing him off, too, amidst rolling thunder that never actually arrived at a storm. We're getting closer and closer to bathtime - I figure I'll tackle it as soon as I have an extra hour to spare at the barn. He doesn't exactly need it, but he looks so terrific after he's gotten one.

Having such an obsessive focus on timing and his fitness helped me uncover two things this week. The first is that his stiff/don't-wanna/grumpy phase in the first trot lasts almost precisely 3 minutes. Were he in full work, I would canter him around a time or two standing up in the stirrups; with that option unavailable I push him forward through the trot, asking for more and more forward, maybe even more than I need, post generously, and push the reins forward, giving him his head entirely as he tends to flip it around in protest. At about 3 minutes he warms up/gives up and reaches for the bit and we start talking again.

The second is that for the first time last night, in his second trot, instead of stretching forward into a loose rein he started to do a little bit more heavy diving on the forehand. So I gathered in another few inches of rein and picked up his frame a bit, countering the dive. It seemed to me he was signalling he's ready for a higher quality of work, or at least that he needs a higher quality of work to continue to support him. Trotting around in mostly straight lines, on a soft stretchy contact was good to get him started, but I think we're ready to move on from that.

Hopefully I will have some pictures and video of tomorrow's ride to show what I mean.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sulking and other childish things

Not my best week ever. Oh, lots got done - nothing bad happened - but I've been off-kilter all week. NQR, as we would say about a horse.

Monday, I worked in the trainer's barn (two barns on the property, part of the same farm, one big year-round where Tris lives and one smaller summer barn where trainer bases the fancy horses, different barn managers and staff b/c they are technically separate businesses - it's actually much simpler than it seems). I did about 3.5 hours of turnout, mucking, watering, sweeping, etc. Not everyone crosses over between the barns and I was frankly flattered to be asked as handling a barn full of Grand Prix horses is not something everyone gets to do!

Then I dashed out to deposit a check (I still have moving hangover in re my banks, it's been an ongoing frustration) and got back to the barn in time to hop on Tris for 45 minutes before his massage. Massage went well, identified a few tight/hot spots and got some stretches/exercises to shore up his abs in particular. I described the weird LH wonkiness of last week to J., his masseuse, and she found some spots of tension in his left lower back and then found what can only be described as a divot, about the size of the tip of my pinkie, over his left SI joint. Like he'd gotten bit and had a chunk taken out of him only totally healed over, etc. She was worried that he'd pulled apart some scar tissue or done some other internal damage, though he was 100% unreactive to lots and lots of pressure and is 100% sound.

Cue worrying, and I hung around the barn for another two hours waiting for the vet who was due that afternoon to look at a few other horses. She felt all over and had me jog him and declared him 100%, but didn't have a good explanation for the divot. She suggested maybe we'd just missed it before and it looked ominous in the context of the LH problem, or that it had shifted slightly, but either way - no sensitivity, no soreness, no nothing. Keep on keeping on.

I spent about 9 hours total at the barn, and that was the last time I've been to the barn since. I worked two 12+ hour days in a row for our Independence day stuff at work (open long hours, playing historic children's games, and marching in a parade) and then on July 4 we opted not to drive 4.5 hours to my family in Maine to celebrate with them but instead stayed in Vermont and slept in.

The day kept winding on and I did some productive things (scrubbed a toilet, baked a loaf of bread, tidied up a bit) but mostly I lay about and felt blah. It has been unbelievably, insanely wet and hot and humid here these last few weeks and it has finally cascaded to me not wanting to move, on top of my long work week. No easing on the horizon for work, either, if anything more stress, and I never made it to the barn. I got fussy and cranky and succumbed to the useless/lazy feelings that have been dogging me all week and are out in force today. I'm furious at myself for sitting around on a day off and not riding, and setting his rehab schedule back, and generally not getting anything done around the house. Big ol' case of impostor syndrome all over the place.

Anyway. Back in the saddle tonight, and maybe I'll chase away some of the blues.