Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lesson Notes

Excellent, really difficult lesson yesterday. Tris and I were both quite tired at the end of it.

Once again, we focused on getting him supple behind the saddle, and keeping his shoulders from leading too much in leg yields. I was zipping through them too quickly, and S. encouraged me to slow down and pause on moments of straightness in them. The goal was then not just quality steps but also where his feet were and on what tracks everything was on.

We also doubled down on getting him forward through long sides and then progressed to keeping him forward through the short ends. He is small and compact enough not to need extra consideration on the short ends of the indoor; he can perfectly well keep himself balanced and going really forward through them, no matter what he tries to tell me.

In all, some huge improvements in his way of going and his self-carriage. I'm asking for more and he's giving me more. We had some stretches of trot that I would happily take into a dressage ring anywhere at Training/Beginner Novice. We had some gorgeous downward transitions in to an elastic, forward walk.

On the other hand, our canter was an unmitigated disaster. Well - to be accurate, there was some mitigation, in that there was a LOT to work through and it was good we did so in a lesson.

In short, we are still working to get him straight and pushing through in the canter. And it feels like no matter how gorgeous a trot we start from, the canter blows up in the first stride. The theory is that some of that quality trot will carry over, right? Not so much.

Right canter was ok, not great, but it went. Left canter was - well. It started getting ugly, and when he broke to a trot I pulled him up and had a talk-through with S. about my tendency to hang on to my left (inside) rein. It doesn't happen nearly as much tracking right, and when I really cling to it I might as well be hanging on to a brick wall. There is no give, no softness, and my whole arm gets sore.

She asked what would happen if I let go. I told her he'd counter-bend and possibly slam into the wall. I think she thought I was exaggerating. I so wasn't. Tristan has shown himself perfectly willing to slam into walls in the past. He goes where he's pointed. It's an asset on cross-country; not always in dressage.

So we worked back through the trot and she had me physically pushing my left hand forward. That got some beautiful stuff! Then we translate it into the canter. I obediently pushed my left hand forward. WHAM SCRAPE WHAM went his right shoulder and my right leg. Ok. Ow. Tried again; I only avoided the same fate, again and again, when I pulled my leg up practically on his back to avoid the wall.

Eventually, we were avoiding the wall, but our 20m circle was bulging out badly into the middle of the ring. Tristan spied a pole on the centerline (outside the bounds of the circle) and made a beeline for it. He jumped it very prettily and neatly in stride and cracked everyone watching up, and after that he aimed for it each time, having learned that performing antics over it would save him from working hard for another circle.

So S. brought in cavaletti blocks and made a bounds of a smaller, about 18m, circle on the open end, and said that I was a) not to hang on to my inside rein and b) not to go outside them.

Yeah. So after 3-4 circles of Tristan crashing through the blocks and then breaking into trot, me getting progressively more frustrated, my outside rein 2-3 inches to the inside of his withers as I full-on pony-kicked with my spur him as hard as I could with my outside leg to keep him on the circle...we called a truce for a few minutes, and trotted around the ring.

We worked on it some more. I wish I could say we had a magic circle where he stayed on my outside rein and was adjustable and did not try to trip over the blocks, but that was not to be. I did get my aids more coordinated, and our turns were a bit better, and we made miniscule adjustments that resulted in us missing the blocks more often. But we were both getting tired, and we finished with a huge forward trot on the bit and a soft downward transition.

I'm still stumped by his canter. I don't know if it will just take more hard work by me - or if I'm just not the right person to crack it. I don't think I can afford training rides on him, or maybe I can save up until the main trainer gets back from Florida. I keep hoping that he'll make a breakthrough but I can't ride it well enough or long enough to get there. At least in the trot I could school that for long enough to really get through to him. I never feel like I have enough time in the canter.

Anyway. Even with the discouraging canter work, it was a good lesson, and I'm looking forward to keeping up the work with him.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Pushing Too Hard

One of the most popular posts I've ever written on this blog was called "When to push, and when to back off." It's something I struggle with still.

Saturday night, I pushed too hard. It started out really, really well: he warmed up well, and was responding nicely. We were moving forward, through the walk and into the trot to work. My intention was something of a conditioning ride: not really hard dressage work, but more like trot sets.

So we had a long walk warmup, and then we trotted on a loose rein for a bit, and then I picked up the reins. I didn't do anything but work on my own hand position and just basically take hold of the reins. I got a feel of the bit but didn't specifically ask for anything with it. I worked on keeping him straight through his whole body, paying careful attention to his haunches. As he got more forward and loose, he started to reach forward into the bridle himself. Historically, he has to be coaxed and teased into reaching for the bit at all, so behaving like a normal horse - ie, get him straight and forward and he will go into the bridle - is awesome.

We took a walk break, and then picked back up with a few minutes of trotting and then 2.5 minutes of cantering. Doesn't sound like much, does it? But a couple of factors made it a poor decision on my part. First, it was significantly warmer than it has been: in the mid-30s rather than low teens. Second, he was already gunning more forward than he typically is, and his canter reflected that. Third, I had started him on his right lead canter, which is his stronger lead.

He was puffing a bit after the canter, but recovered in a few minutes, and then I compounded my poor decision. I thought since we had worked his right lead, we had to work his left, which is where he really needs more work. So we repeated the exercise to the left: 2.5 minutes of trot, 2.5 minutes of canter. At 2 minutes into the canter he started blowing hard with every stride, so I pulled him up.

And then we walked. And walked. And walked. He was panting in a way I've never heard him do before - short, quick gulps. After 3 minutes of walking, I stopped him and pulled his saddle, then got on him bareback. After 3 minutes of that, I slid off him and walked. He slowly, slowly, slowly took longer and deeper breaths, and at about the 8 minute mark it started to resolve into a normal breathing pattern.

He was never in any other obvious kind of distress: pulse was fast but ok, he was moving easily (not even overly tired-appearing), he wasn't sweating more than a hint of dampness, and he was alert and nosed me for treats when I paused him occasionally. When he was breathing mostly normally again - a bit elevated but nothing that set off alarm bells for me - I brought him back to his stall and he took a small drink of water and happily dug into his hay, then begged for his grain (which had been pulled before we started riding).

I felt like something you'd scrape off a boot. I paced, and paced, and put away all his tack and checked him every time I walked past his stall, and then I found a half-dozen odd organizing jobs around the barn and kept checking on him, and then I sat in my car for 30 minutes and Googled "horse panting after exercise" on my phone and texted Hannah for reassurance. Finally, well over an hour after I had put him back in his stall, he was still looking totally fine, I went home. I fretted the rest of the night, and woke up the next morning at 6:30 and watched the clock in agony until I knew that the morning feed person would have laid eyes on him and called me if there was anything wrong.

Sunday, he was fine; he even got his massage. J. said he was clearly fatigued but not sore anywhere, and that he'd actually begun building back muscle tone. He needs more weight again, and he still needs a lot more muscle, but the overall quality of what he is adding is good and there's clearly just a bit more along his back.

So, lesson learned. I still feel wretched, and I can still hear perfectly his quick huffs of breath, but he'll be ok. And I'll be much more careful in his conditioning rides going forward. He's showing me he's older in all these small ways, and I need to pay more careful attention.

Blog to Watch: Equine Tapestry

I am sort of constantly trying to figure out just what color my horse is. In shorthand, and on all his official papers, I list him as a bay roan. It seems simplest and most descriptive.

However, there's a decent chance that's not what he is, genetically. Roans don't typically have salt-and-pepper manes. They don't typically have skunk tails and barring above the tail.

He also quite clearly has a few primitive markings: a hint of a dorsal stripe and tiger stripes on his legs.

Since he was born in the wild, there's no way of knowing (at least at this late and far removed date) who his parents were, and no way of including or excluding certain possibilities based on their color.

Is he rabicano? Is he minimally expressed sabino? Is he mealy? Who knows!

His color is one of the reasons I've always been fascinated by equine color genetics. I am by no means an expert but I usually consider myself to have a decent eye.

Lesli at Equine Tapestry really is an expert. She writes about color with detail and precision, and backs her findings up with extensive photographs. She's always got a new, interesting quirk to talk about. I love reading every word of her posts and I always come away thinking. Consider this a strong recommendation to follow her!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 Year in Review

2013 was one of the busiest and most stressful years in all of the years I've owned Tristan. It was also very nearly the polar opposite of 2012, which began with an intensive training plan, eventing goals, clear progression, and ended in a muddle of frustration.

So, in summary...

I spent a lot of January in a very bad place mentally; Tristan was still lame on the RF and we still couldn't figure out exactly why. It was very, very cold in Vermont, and we had three straight days where it did not go above zero, and was as low as -18 overnight. Tristan wore a lined blanket for warmth for the very first time.

Apologies for the awful picture, but this is his
first day with his blanket.
In February, things started off much the same: still lame, still frustrating, and we finally did another round of x-rays (his third since the start of everything). The vet, who will forever remain one of my favorite people because of this, recommended sending the x-rays out to a specialty radiology, because her gut was telling her they weren't quite right but she couldn't pinpoint anything. The radiologist came back within 48 hours with a clear diagnosis: infected sequestrum of the coffin bone in the RF. 24 hours later, Tristan was scheduled for surgery.

Getting ready to leave for surgery.
So in the beginning of March, Tristan had surgery. I was a wreck. Hannah came up to keep me sane. Tristan did brilliantly through the whole endeavor, and the surgeon gave us a good prognosis for going forward. Our days were filled with bandage changes, flushing the wound, addressing a small new infection, worrying, and slowly but surely, healing. By the end of the month, he was going outside and being handwalked in very short increments. Not coincidentally, this was also the month I started really blogging in earnest, because so much was going on!

At the vet hospital, muzzled so he would stop
eating the shavings in his stall pre-surgery.
April continued the rehab trend, and I worried and worried some more, as the surgery hole continued to grow and hoof continued to grow with it. Tristan got his spring checkup, and had his teeth done. I got out and about a bit more, and learned how to do pulse and respiration at a competitive trail ride with Hannah. The end of the month marked 8 weeks since surgery, and the checkup went well - Tristan was cleared for normal shoes and to begin rehab under saddle!

Vet checks post-ride at GMHA.
May was a bit frustrating; even though we were cleared to begin under saddle there were delays in getting the actual fancy glue on shoes that he needed to support the right front. In the meantime, I volunteered at King Oak over my 30th birthday weekend. Finally, both front shoes went on, and I began riding at the walk!

Fancy (expensive) glue-on shoes!
We kept rehabbing since June, on what I believe was the slowest rehab ever. But we kept plugging away, and added in some road hacks to the mix. I did the math on Tristan's foot-related vet bills. I went up for Canadian Adventure to the Bromont CCI3* and had a lovely time, and scribed at a barn show. I also started working at the barn in exchange for lesson time.

Bromont is awfully pretty.
July got hot and saw more slow steps toward normalcy: I took my first lesson with our new trainer. Tristan got a spa day, and then was the world's worst little shit for the farrier. He made up for that giving a short pony ride to a toddler without batting an eye.

Cutest pony after his bath.
August saw more lessons, and the beginnings of some back feet weirdness that wasn't resolved for a while. I fell out of my rhythm a bit, though, as I was working a lot of overtime and went close to 15 days without any time off at all.

Thankfully, his feet look way better than this now.
Thankfully, September was better. It started out worryingly, with a swollen left front leg, but it turned out that he'd only banged it up a bit, and a few days of cold hosing and wrapping set it right. I scribed some more, and we did some White Lightning soaks of his hind feet to clear up the ickiness. In fact, White Lightning was my first product review.

Scribing. The view does not suck.
October saw some lesson-cramming and lots of hacking out. Tristan went back in steel shoes, and the awfulness of the abscess hole/surgery site was starting to become a distant memory.

Onward to November, as it started to get cold. We did the blog hop, and I started adding more horse blogs to read at an exponential rate. We started with some longeing exercises to address his topline, and I learned that JB Andrew, dressage mustang extraordinaire, had passed away. We started having some saddle fit issues, and I decided to start experimenting with horse cookies. Tris stepped up as the world's best babysitter.

In December we started taking lessons with the barn manager, who is the winter trainer. I stepped up our longeing game with a redneck Pessoa device. I started accounting for my work and for Tristan's to try to up our game, fitness-wise. I started testing out cookies and got an awesome gift for the horse blogger gift exchange. Tris shredded his winter blanket, and we had some good hacking in the snow. Last but not least, my awesome Christmas present was that he was beautifully behaved for the farrier - and his abscess hole is practically gone!

Bring it on, 2014!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rolex Commercials

I'm feeling marginally better but not up to riding, so I did make it out to the barn to longe Tris today but in the meantime I've mostly been sipping tea, eating bland things, and binge-watching Arrow.

Here, in lieu of content, have the three Rolex Equestrian commercials that they produced years ago. They're my gold standard for good equestrian editing to music.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


I hope everyone had a lovely few days - and if you were the recipient of any great horse-related Christmas presents, please share!

I got my first and one of my favorites before Christmas, from Hannah:

Not the saddle - that is very old and has been mine for many years, and will be the subject of a future post. No: the brand new rack underneath! I had posted that I didn't have one yet, and then one arrived at my door. Awesome. :) I can't wait to take it everywhere this summer.

I spent Christmas down in the Boston area with my family, and managed to catch some kind of nasty bug that I am still recovering from; I spent Christmas Eve & Day nauseated, weak, and feverish, with occasional interludes of congestion. I still haven't quite kicked it, which means I am very out of it at work this morning, trying to nibble on graham crackers as my first real food since Monday, and might not make it to the barn tonight. Yay.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and happy holidays/winter solstice/Wednesday to those who do not. :)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Accountability, Week 3

Week 2 fell down a bit, so here's to Week 3 being better.

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 seconds side planking R&L, 30 seconds back planking, 20 leg lifts R&L, 12 minutes cycling
Tristan: Rest

Me: nothing. sigh.
Tristan: 20 minute hack through fresh snow

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 seconds side planking R&L, 30 seconds back planking, 20 leg lifts R&L, walk to work & back (20 minutes)
Tristan: Rest

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 seconds side planking R&L, 30 seconds back planking, 20 leg lifts R&L
Tristan: 35 minutes longeing

Me: walk to work & back (20 minutes)
Tristan: Rest

Me: Riding; nothing else, sigh.
Tristan: 40 minute ride

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 seconds side planking R&L, 45 seconds back planking, 20 leg lifts R&L
Tristan: Rest

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Scorpio Races - On Sale!

Heads up!

Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races is on sale for the Kindle today - $1.99!

This is a not-horse book, but it is not a pegasus, unicorn, or other not-horse book. These are water horses: strange, carnivorous Capail Uisce, who can be captured from the surf and half-tamed. Each year, they are raced along the beach, and each year, many of their jockeys die.

I read this...oh, over a year ago, and I was particularly struck by how nicely Stiefvater crafted her water horses, and how unexpected the book was as a whole. Even the storylines you think will be cliches duck the obvious. (Some of the pro reviews compare it to The Hunger Games; it is not much like that, except in that both are excellent reads and involve danger and young people.)

Definitely worth $1.99 and a read!

Horse Christmas Ornaments

Our Christmas tree has four main themes: geeky (Back to the Future, Star Trek, Doctor Who), Swedish (tre kronor, "God Jul," flags, Dala horses), Boston sports (Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and the infamous Rene Rancournament) and...equestrian.

Here are some of my favorite equestrian ornaments, from a collection built over the last few years.

One of my favorites, from Maple Landmark Woodcraft in my college town.

A gift from my aunt and uncle.

My newest, an instant favorite. I bought it at The Breakers while at a work conference.

Do you have any horse-themed ornaments or holiday decorations? What are they?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Sneaking In

Endless long day today, which started with a 3.5 hour meeting and by 1pm my hopes of sneaking away to ride in the afternoon (my second office is 8 minutes from the barn!) began to fade. Then my boss poked her head in and said, "The roads are starting to ice up a bit, you should head to the barn while you can."

Didn't have to tell me twice! I changed, threw tack on Tristan, and we had a lovely 40 minute ride. The warmup was especially nice: we got a nice forward rhythm established and as I gradually picked up the reins he reached for the bit nicely.

Once he was thoroughly warmed up and supple and had worked for about 20 minutes in a light frame, we took a short walk break, then worked on transitions some more. Tracking right, some of these were lovely and prompt and soft - there were one or two trot-canter moments that had a great feeling of just stepping right into the gait. To the left, not as much, but he was also coming much more round through the outside rein to the left, so that was still excellent.

I was pleased with one aspect of our warmup in particular: I incorporated a LOT of leg-yielding into it, hither and yon, sometimes the entire diagonal stepping over, back and forth, changing directions, and it really seemed to pay off right away in how much he came through his hind end. He didn't fall forward and get hard in the bridle until the end, when he was clearly getting tired.

Not sure if I'll be able to see him tonight - I have to travel for Christmas and we are predicted for a nasty little bout of weather that might make it safest just to hit the road and go, rather than swing by the barn. If at all possible, I'll stop by and longe him, but we'll see.

Movie Review: Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story
(available for purchase on Amazon.com)

You are a great champion. When you ran, the ground shook, the sky opened and mere mortals parted. Parted the way to victory, where you'll meet me in the winner's circle, where I'll put a blanket of flowers on your back.

Cale Crane and her family rediscover each other as they nurse a broken down racehorse back to greatness. It's a pretty standard plot: girl meets horse, horse is injured, girl believes in horse, horse proves girl right all along.

If Racing Stripes was the underdog race movie done wrong, Dreamer is that movie done right. They have more than their fair share of similarities; both fathers aren't following their dreams, both daughters find a connection with a horse (er, equine) that allows them to reconnect with their fathers, both duos prove everyone wrong.

The devil is in the details, though. This movie really is a loving homage to the horse racing industry, or at least a highly idealized version of it. (It is Hollywood, after all.) Many of the small things are just right, from the way Sonya's fracture is described to the guest appearances by Giant's Causeway and Fusaichi Pegasus, from the way Ben mixes up fly spray in a beat-up bottle to the realities of race entrance fees and the rivalry between two Middle Eastern brothers as they throw about huge sums of money. They even do a nice call-out to the "Inspired by a True Story" subtitle of the movie when they explicitly reference Mariah's Storm, her injury, and her return to racing.

Sure, it tips too far into wish fulfillment at times, and sure, Cale is played a bit too cutesy especially as regards her ownership of the horse - sometimes her father's trusting of her reads less as parenting and more as abdicating responsibility - but it actually hits the right notes when it needs to. It also does the final race scene really, really well, which is harder to do than you would think (I'm looking at you, Secretariat).

In all, I'd definitely recommend it. It's a nice Sunday morning watch, it will hit the right sentimental buttons without getting too treacly, and enough of the horse details are right to keep a knowledgeable horse person in the movie.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Late Monday, the barn owner checked in with me to ask if I'd talked to the vet about dropping off more ace for Tristan's farrier appointment on Wednesday. CRAP. I hadn't. So I called the vet, and she was completely unable to come out in the next few days - was actually indisposed and not working.

(If you're new-ish to this saga: Tristan has been an utter shit for the farrier for the last 18 months, since the start of his foot drama, up to the point of flinging himself to the ground in the middle of a trim, and has been drugged for every single trim/shoeing since arriving in Vermont.)

Double crap. So I told the barn manager, with profuse apologies, and she said she'd make it work. They'd start on him first and go slowly if need be, and could always hold off for another week or two if necessary.

Yesterday, I sat on pins and needles all day waiting for a text; I didn't want to bother them, but I wanted desperately to know if it had all gone well. It was a new farrier, too, who wasn't used to Tristan's assholery. When I left work, I texted the barn manager to say that I was heading to the barn, and hoping no news was good news. She texted back to give her a call when I got to the barn. I spent the rest of the drive to the barn with a sick pit in my stomach; that couldn't be good, right?

Arrived at the barn, practically ran down the aisle, threw open the stall door, brought Tristan out...and all four feet were trimmed, with new shoes on the front! So the farrier had managed to get them on, at least. I called the barn manager who reported that he was PERFECT. Not a foot wrong! The barn manager didn't even have to stand with him, he chilled out in cross ties. The farrier advised one more cycle of shoes and then barefoot again in the spring.

BEST PONY OF ALL TIME EVER. I hugged him and kissed him and very nearly started crying right there in the aisle. WHEW.

I groomed him and did his topline stretches and then we did about 35 minutes of longeing, wtc, setting up a circle of death and elevating them with blocks. He did beautifully at the trot, adjusting his stride to nail them perfectly and stretching out and down, lifting his back. He sort of started to get it at the canter, but never had a really successful circle with them. He did have a couple of nice poles that he took in a lifted stride, though.

Here's some comparison photos.

Taken 12/16/13 for comparison.

Post-trim, taken 12/18/13. SO AWESOME.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Horse Cookies #2

So, attempt #1, a peppermint oatmeal cookie, was a mixed success.

For attempt #2, I went even further into modifying my basic oatmeal cookie recipe. I replaced the butter and the eggs with unsweetened applesauce, I swapped the white sugar for brown, I used whole wheat flour, and I played with the proportions of both the flour and the rolled oats.

Straight up applesauce and brown sugar to start.
Mixed all together; a bit more moist than I wanted, but the flavor was there.

Out of the oven.

Last time, some of the horses weren't wild about the cookies because they were too chewy. This time, I did a double bake, sort of like biscotti: I pulled them out of the oven, let them cool on a drying rack, and then put them back on the cookie sheet at a low temperature for another 15 minutes.

This resulted in a cookie that was definitely not chewy - but it was a bit too crunchy. They were basically inedible for humans they were so hard. However, they were a huge success on the taste test.

Several horses completely lost their minds when presented with their cookies, and that included Tristan. He whickered at me from his stall while I was doing taste tests with all the other horses, and scarfed as many as I would give him. Only a few horses weren't wild about them, and it seemed to be a texture question - they had to move the cookie around in their mouths to get a good bite on it. No one had the reaction they did to the peppermint cookies - everyone ate them and was glad to - but not everyone banged the stall door for more.

Getting closer! I think my next step will be to figure out how to keep the good things about this attempt the same - the flavor, simple ingredients, and whole grain components - but lighten them up a bit, so they're not as dense and hard. I might try upping the baking soda component, or playing with cooking temperature & time.

This has been a fun experiment so far!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Best Laid Plans

Yesterday was going to be so straightforward: a quick meeting at work (on my day off), followed by a short bareback hack in the new snow, followed by a productive afternoon cleaning the apartment and working on Christmas baking.

That began unraveling with the meeting, which ran long, and then turned into a second, longer meeting, during which I lost my voice several times despite sipping tea constantly.

Then I headed to the barn and found that my idiot pony had shredded his midweight sheet. He only wears it when it's below zero, which unfortunately means he's been wearing it a lot lately. Best theory is that he laid down in the night and upon getting up again tangled a hind leg in the surcingle, and ripped the buckle clean away from the sheet, along with a nice rip along the seam. It was torn in such a way that it couldn't be stitched up easily and quickly by a conventional sewing machine.

No way is the average sewing machine going to punch
through that buckle.

I did get my hack in, though, down and around all the summer paddocks, and it was a beautiful crisp day. The snow was still so new it was clinging to the trees, and the air was clear and thin all the way to the mountains. We forged through fresh drifts and Tristan was happy and cheerful, though not thrilled to be working so hard on a restful walk.

Uncle Tristan babysitting.

Yak or pony?

Can you spot the bridle path?
Yeah, neither can I.

Looking toward the Monroe Skyline,
with Mad River Glen and Sugarbush
ski areas anchoring the ends.

After the hack we fitted him for a borrowed blanket from the barn, because it was due to start dropping in temperature as the sun went down and go as low as -10 up at the barn. It was that cold the night before and when the barn staff took his blanket off in the morning to go outside, apparently he shivered a bit until his coat was roughed up.

So of course now I am questioning myself and wondering if he should be blanketed more; if perhaps the threshold is no longer 0 but 10, and if I should get a stable blanket to add underneath his midweight, and aaahhh. He's just not holding warmth as he used to, and he went into the winter with less weight than I wanted.

Winter legs - this was AFTER a good brushing.

In his borrowed blanket for the night.
After I left the barn, I stopped by a sewing and alterations store, and showed them the blanket. They said they could definitely fix it, and described a plan of action that made a lot of sense and would reinforce the area going forward. The only catch: even though it was really in good shape for a blanket, it would still need to be cleaned before they would accept it.

Cue a frantic dash to the laundromat, a high capacity washer, and the discovery that the washer had not gone through a proper spin cycle, leaving the blanket dripping wet, and the office at the laundromat had closed at 2pm - 10 minutes before I discovered the problem. Of course. I squeezed it out as best I could and put it in the dryer and stopped it every few minutes to rearrange the blanket so the wettest bits were on the outside. Eventually it got dry enough and I dropped it back at the sewing store.

I then returned home and made a batch of cookies for a work cookie swap, wrapped presents with Lawrence of Arabia in the background, and halfway through realized my cheeks and forehead were much warmer than they ought to be and I was dizzy and a bit disoriented. Great. Perfect way to end the day.

This morning:

So no barn for me tonight! Hope pony stayed warm in his borrowed blanket...

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Equine Digestive System

Last winter, the barn lost a horse to a long slow colic, and during the two awful days where we walked him and groomed him and changed IV bags and sent him off to the vet hospital, and then got the news and mourned, I remarked to the barn manager my long-held theory that the equine digestive system is proof against intelligent design.

The more I learn about horse digestion and anatomy, the more I hold fast to that theory. The Vermont Large Animal Clinic, the lovely people who did Tristan's surgery, posted this really fascinating article in which the author sources various items from Home Depot to explain the makeup and progression of the equine digestive system. It's fascinating and horrifying in its complexity.

The blog that posted the article, Equine Nutrition Nerd, is on my must-read list now. I've been meaning to learn more about equine nutrition for some time now to really carefully assess what Tristan is eating and how it can help him.

What resources do you use to understand nutrition? How involved are you in planning and tweaking your horse's diet?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Accountability, Week 2

As I mentioned, I'm keeping track of my own exercise and of Tristan's work here to keep myself accountable to the wider world in hopes of getting our winter fitness on track.

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 leg lifts R&L
Tristan: 40 minute road hack (hills!)

Me: walk downtown (20 minutes)
Tristan: 40 minute lesson

Me: 45 seconds plankinig, 15 leg lifts R&L, walk to work (20 minutes)
Tristan: Rest

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 leg lifts R&L, walk to work (20 minutes)
Tristan: 30 minutes longeing with resistance band & cavaletti

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 leg lifts R&L, walk to work, ride back (10 minutes)
Tristan: Rest

Friday (aka the day of utter fail)
Me: Nothing. Nada.
Tristan: 15 minutes longeing

Tristan: Rest

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Etsy Guide: Three Shops to Watch

I did a post previously on some gorgeous vintage horse items on Etsy, and now I want to focus on three different shops. I know the owners of each shop, and like them enormously as people AND as artists. Win-win. So if you're still searching for something horsey for your trainer, barn owner, or best riding buddy, check these three shops out.

Bright Strange Things

Mackenzie is so wildly talented, I can't even fathom it. We first met actually through fandom but quickly realized that we both owned roan mustangs with independent streaks. She's since rehomed her mare Juno, but she still blogs at Bright Strange Things and takes the most amazing photographs. She also continues to produce astounding equestrian art, including this series of eventing ink drawings that I commissioned from her a few years back.

She makes these lovely wire ornaments, seen at left, and really lovely jewelry. She's always working on something interesting and new, so check back regularly. Even the things that aren't to my taste are beautiful!

Crystalline Horse

I am biased in this recommendation as well: Lindsey used to be the barn manager of my former boarding barn. She's now doing the pottery thing more or less full time, and you can see why. She is talented and hardworking and she produces unique, wonderful things. Her horse mugs are really terrific: beautiful, functional, and artistic. I have a dressage mug and a jumping mug that are in regular rotation for my morning tea, and my preferred choice for evening tea. They hold a lot of liquid, they stay hot, and they are beautiful.

Lindsey also makes Raku horses; an example is at right. Raku is a specific type of glaze and way of firing that creates the beautiful shiny style. I have a Raku from Lindsey that looks like Tristan and is one of my most treasured possessions. They are expensive but absolutely stunning - photos doesn't convey how wonderful they are.

Polar Square Designs

Kate makes really, really lovely stuff. I also own one of her signature pieces. In fact, it's the one featured on  her custom saddle pad order page. It's pictured left in all its glory on my roan pony's butt. I. Love. It. People notice it wherever we go. It reminds me to be bad ass on cross country. It's a quality saddle pad and the design is just phenomenal. The picture doesn't really convey the subtleties and shading and intricacy of it. I feel confident in saying that she could pull off any design you wanted.

She also does portraits, photo shoots, and these adorable ornaments, customized to look like your horse - and, of course, she blogs at The Adventures of Lucy.

GMHA Events

Note to self: stuff happens in the winter, too!

Here's a great list of upcoming events at the Green Mountain Horse Association through the winter. I'm hoping to go to at least one of the Winter Warrior events (weather allowing) and one of the sleigh rallies. it's a bit far to go all the time, unfortunately, but that January 8 evening on conditioning programs is calling my name.
Winter Warriors

Join us on December 11!

Sign up and put the following dates on your calendar to come and enjoy a ‘horse-lovers’ evening where we can exchange news, share stories, plan for the coming season and learn something too.

The GMHA “Winter Warriors” Club is free, and open to current GMHA members. Members are welcome to bring guests – no charge!  Those attending are encouraged to bring and share nibbles and drinks that we can all enjoy.  Meetings will be on Wednesdays in the GMHA Members’ Room at 5:30pm.

December 11: Breed Versatility: Pros and cons of different breeds for different disciplines       
Bring along: Photos of your horses (past and present) and stories of their accomplishments.

January 8: Conditioning Programs, Interval Training & Cross-Training    
Bring along: Ideas to share about how to promote fitness and minimize injury risk

February 12: Ask the Guest Experts: Panel Discussion    
Bring along: Questions on training problems you would like help with

March 12: Rider/Trainer Psychology
Led by Jane Rodd Ph.D. Bring along: Pen and paper to complete a fun psych evaluation to learn more about yourself.

April 16: Topic TBD by Members             

Come Sleigh with Us!

Join us for our annual Winter Sleigh Driving Series:

January 4: Sleighing Combined Test
January 5: Sleigh Rally
January 18: Sleighing Combined Test

Friday, December 13, 2013

Happy Friday!

Just in case people haven't seen this going around Facebook:

Well, which one would you get?

I vote something on endurance lines; maybe an Australian stock saddle. I'm very happy with the saddles I currently own, so no need to get a custom everyday saddle.

(I would not mind a few hours with that guy, though he looks high maintenance to keep around for much longer than that.)

It's here! It's here!

I signed up for Tracy @ Fly on Over's horse blogger gift exchange and waited on pins and needles to get my gift...and it arrived yesterday!

It's a gorgeous fleece turtleneck with "heat tech" technology and I can't even tell you how delicious it feels just wearing it around my apartment. Here I am wearing it after I opened the box; please excuse the idiot grin and helmet hair (I had just gotten back from the barn):

(Boyfriend, as he's taking the picture: "Don't you want to take the tags off?" Me: "No, I'm preserving the just-out-of-the-box feel." Him: "Ummm...ok. Sure.")

Miraculously, it also fits better than some clothing my mother has bought for me, and she's known me for 30+ years now. I can't wait to wear it to my lesson on Monday. This is especially timely, since, well, take a look at the weather prediction at the barn for Monday:

The package had a real name but not a blog address on it, so I can give a shout-out to Elena but I don't know where she blogs! Mystery Elena, if you're reading this, could you comment so I can give you the credit you well deserve.

ETA: Tracy tells me that Elena blogs at Out of the Box; go and read about her eventing adventures. I'll be over here on the other coast, jealous of her warm Southern California temperatures. Thank you again, Elena!

I ordered my gift for my recipient a few days ago and it has already shipped; I keep clicking anxiously on the tracking to see when it will get there. Hope you enjoy it, Mystery Recipient!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lazy by Design

Stacey at Behind the Bit linked to this article from Equus Magazine, which is a roundup of interesting tests done on horses to see what they prefer.

This line in particular stuck out to me:
One horse chose to exercise on the treadmill on two out of three of his trials. While that one horse may have had some predilection for exercise, the overwhelming preference was for “absolutely no exercise.”
 Of course, working on a treadmill is very different from running free. But this result does correlate with how horses behave in nature. Feral horses spend less than 1 percent of their time moving more quickly than a walk, and they pick up their pace in only one situation: when they are being chased.
Tristan says "I FREAKING TOLD YOU SO, CRAZY LADY. I will go willingly forward when there is a mountain lion in the ring with us, and NOT ONE SECOND BEFORE THEN."

Horse Cookies: Test 1

As I mentioned, I'm going to try my hand at baking horse cookies over the winter. I'm reading through recipes I find online, applying my own knowledge of baking techniques, and taste-testing them on the horses in the barn

Test #1: Peppermint Oatmeal Cookies

Tristan's favorite flavor in the whole world is peppermint, so I thought I'd start there. Many of the recipes online seemed to be based on an oatmeal cookie recipe, and I have one that I love, so I went over its ingredients and modified them slightly.

Chiefly, I swapped in crushed starlight mints for the white sugar, took out the cinnamon and vanilla, and halved the recipe (since it makes close to 100 cookies).

I first tried crushing the peppermints with my immersion blender's processor attachment. No dice. It wasn't nearly strong enough; it mostly bounced them around and chipped them a bit. Duly noted.

Go ahead, be jealous of my c. 1975 food processor. It was new in the box when my mother gave it to me; my grandmother had bought it on sale, stored it, and promptly forgot about it. It is retro and it worked much better than the immersion blender.

This was about the consistency of the crushed peppermint; in retrospect I might've done them a little less.

Swapping in the peppermint for white sugar.

All mixed up - I don't know if it comes through here, but the dough ended up almost pink, and much more moist than it usually does for these cookies, so this was where I started to worry.

Baked! The crushed mint melted a bit, which surprised me. Not too badly, luckily, but those white spots you see on the edges of the cookies are melted peppermint. It did make the pan a bit sticky to clean.

So: the taste test!

Tristan chewed his cookie and then spat it out. So I stuck it back in his mouth. And he spat it out. Whoops. He repeated that three or four times and then I gave up and dropped it in his bucket, just in case.

I got worried, and promptly tried feeding them to several other horses. Luckily, Tristan was the outlier. Here's how it worked out with the other horses:

Justin, Willow, Twinkie, Prince, Carousel, Brody: LOVED IT. Carousel in particular whickered at me for the rest of the time I was at the barn.

Rain, Skip, Monty: Meh. They ate them, but they weren't enthused.

With the horses that either really didn't like it (Tristan, the goober) and the rest that were kind of meh, it seemed to be a texture issue. These cookies were chewier than I had hoped for, which is a great quality in a human cookie, but not in a horse cookie.

My final test is to see how they store; they've been in a sealed container in my kitchen for a week since this initial baking and taste test. I'll do a second round of testing and then report back.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Winter in Vermont

A typical winter day:

8:15 am: Leave for work. Decide on the fly whether to pack riding clothes and drive, or set aside riding clothes and plan on walking home to change, grab a snack, and pick up the car. Check work email on phone, start swearing, decide to walk in case I get stuck at work until very late and there's no chance of heading to the barn.

8:30 am: Arrive at work. It wasn't that cold, right? Not too bad! The last 2-3 minutes were not a lot of fun but the end was in sight then, so totally do-able.

9:00 am: Check the weather forecast for the barn. Maybe it will be warmer and less snowy another day this week? Yeah...not so much.

1:00 pm: Start to feel caught up and on top of things, even caught up enough to properly eat lunch and read a non-work book for a little while. Victory!

1:15 pm: Wow, it's snowing a lot. Like, a lot.

1:45 pm: Ha! It's almost stopped entirely. Pfffft.

2:15 pm: Re-evaluate goals of making it to the barn, pending resolution of current work crisis.

2:30 pm: Crisis resolves, but it's snowing again...cars look like they're moving just fine down State Street, so if they can do it, I can, right?

3:00 pm: Hmmm...snowing harder...

4:00 pm: We're good! It's stopped!

4:45 pm: Declare surrender and shut down computer mid-composition of another email, pack up as quickly as possible, walk home in the dark; it's snowing again.

5:15 pm: Changed, fed, car is dug out of the snow, even feeling motivated and hale and hearty. Text boyfriend dinner options.

5:16 pm: Run back inside one last time to retrieve another pair of gloves/warm hat/snack.

6:00 pm: Arrive at the barn. Realize that wasn't the safest drive ever and reflect on the way in which you can tell the exact inch where town lines end and state roads crews take over. Oh well, there now.

7:30 pm: Finish ride, sweating underneath layers, frozen at extremities, close up the barn just as the sweat starts to freeze.

7:35 pm: Drive back to barn and triple-check all stall doors, all lights, and front barn door.

8:00 pm: Arrive home, start dinner, change into pajamas and, if really lucky, relax for an hour or so with a cup of tea and a book before bed. If unlucky...open up the computer and back to work!

New dressage tests!

The USEA has announced the new 2014 eventing dressage tests!

Here's Beginner Novice A, and here's Beginner Novice B.

First, a moment of honesty: these aren't really all that different from previous tests. There's only so much you can do with a BN test and still be fair. So we get a 20m circle at the ends, and a 20m circle in the center, both directions, trot and canter, with some free walks/diagonals thrown in for kicks.

Things I like:
- BNA has the circle in front of the judge to the right, which is our best direction.
- BNA has eons of time to prepare for that turn down the center line.
- BNB has a free walk down the long side: all the marching, none of the steering
- BNB has two diagonals at the working trot, which are a really great opportunity to show of a nice forward trot.
- They do read as really different tests, and BNB has just enough extra complexity to make it a nice B option

Things I don't like:
- BNA is nearly identical to every other circles-in-ends test ever written which means I am going to have trouble finding exactly the right spot for transitions.
- BNA has some fairly quick transitions from canter to working trot to center line which could cause some seriously wonky centerlines and clearly tests should be written so I have all the time in the world to prepare for the things that come up next, right?
- BNB has left lead circles first, sigh, goodbye points.
- BNB actually has a worse transition to the centerline and it puts the free walk at the very end of the test. So you go from working trot to medium walk to free walk to medium walk to working trot all on one half of the arena. That is going to end in tears more than once.
- Neither test has my beloved broken center line. I freaking loved that thing. Way easier than getting a green horse to go straight to C, much softer line all around. *sadface*

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lesson Notes

I do so love a lesson in which my ass is completely and thoroughly kicked, and that's just what we got yesterday.

I had to do a relative minimum of nagging to get Tristan moving forward, and he reached beautifully for the bit way, way earlier than he usually does. I was already counting the warmup a success, and we hadn't even gotten into the hard work yet.

First thing we tackled was getting him straighter through his whole body; he has a tendency to want to get a bit overbent in the bridle, and when I straightened that with the outside rein he threw his haunches in. So we worked for a while on really getting him straight and through, which to me felt almost a little bit counterbent. I've gotten too used to him overbending.

After that, we played with shoulder-in and leg-yielding to loosen him up. In the shoulder-in we focused on pushing from the hind end and not letting his neck overbend and his shoulder come in too far. In leg-yields it was all about small, quality steps and really maintaining the straightness. Shoulder is supposed to lead a teensy bit but not nearly as much as he was trying for; S. wanted me to allllmost think haunches in during the leg yield. We did both straightforward quarter-line-to-wall ones and then went out from the wall to the quarter line and back.

Finally, we cantered for some time and worked on getting him really forward and attempting some straightness in the canter. He was very tired afterwards, and had sweated quite a bit - all down his neck and chest, and on his face. I spent a fair bit of time rubbing him down with towels and checking on him under his cooler, but he dried off relatively quickly. It was warmer (in the 30s) so hopefully that's why - I still really don't want to clip him!


1) Work on getting him supple behind the saddle and continue that through our rides. If he feels like he's locking up or lagging behind, throw in some leg-yields to break that up
2) Don't hang so much on the inside rein in the canter, and work generally on keeping a more stable rein length and hold throughout all gaits and especially through transitions.
3) Pick a spot - or a feel - that's easily attainable for us now, but still quality work, and back off to that to end each piece of our ride. For us right now that's a forward, on the bit trot with about a Training-level self-carriage.
4) In the canter, try for counter flexion down the long sides and then back to the correct flexion for the short sides to inject more of a feel for straightness. It's a LOT of work for the outside aids right now but it will keep adding up.

Product Review: Bit of Britain's English Stitched Halter

English Leather Triple Stitched Halter

I wouldn't necessarily classify Tristan as tough on halters, but he has destroyed his fair share - somewhere in the double digits, but not more than 20. (When I write it out like that it looks more dire than it really is...) When he finds a turnout buddy he likes, he is a halter tag champion. He also rolls a lot, and when he rolls he grinds his face into the ground, which tends to weaken buckles and other fittings.

I am fairly fanatic about always having him in - at minimum - a breakaway or leather halter, and strongly dislike rope halters in all situations, so that really leaves a leather halter as my best option. On top of that, he is a tough fit for a halter: he has a whopping big head but an old halter scar on his nose that means if I don't get just the right fit, the hair on that bump is gone in no time flat; more than 48 hours of rubbing and it's probably going to open up again.

So for several years, whenever he trashed a halter I would have a cheap breakaway nylon halter in reserve with fleeces and the hunt was on for something else that worked. I found some good one-offs but was never thrilled with the quality, or the fit, or the general handling of them.

Enter this halter. About three years ago, he destroyed a halter just before Hannah and I left for the Area 1 Championships at Fitch's Corner. I knew I needed a new halter ASAP but didn't have time for a leisurely tack store visit. I paid a visit to the Bit of Britain truck at Fitch's (dangerous, seductive place) and came out with this halter, in black. It was a gamble, but when I brought it home and put it on his head it fit perfectly.

And here we are three years later - a record for a halter. It's faded and beat up, but the only real damage that's occurred to it is the loss of the extra leather piece from the chin piece - the stub leftover after fitting it to his nose - which doesn't change the functionality of the halter at all. I'm really, really pleased with it and would recommend it to anyone.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Topline Exercises

Every time I handle Tristan - whether it's just a grooming day, a longeing day, a hack day, or a riding day - I'm doing a series of exercises with him to work on his topline. They're like strength or core building exercises that isolate the right muscle groups. I've been really, really pleased with the immediate visual way I can see his muscles engaging with both of these.

The first is a belly lift.

Placing one knuckled hand - or stiff fingers - on either side of the tail, at the point of the croup, about 1" to either side of where the tail begins. Draw a straight line down, with moderate to heavy pressure, to just under the point of the buttock, or about halfway down the gaskin. Watch your horse's withers and back while you're doing this; every horse will have a slightly different trigger point. As you trace down, his back will lift. When you reach the gaskin, it will be about as high as it can get.

I started doing 5 of these, and now I do 15 every time. I hold the lift in the back for a good solid 2-3 seconds. You can also adjust to focus on one side or the other depending on how your horse is standing, or where he's turning his head. A head turned to the left will give extra lift to the left side of the withers; the opposite to the right. Ideally, they should be square for most of them but it's fine to turn their head for some of the exercises if you're trying to even out an imbalance.

This isn't just a back exercise, either; though you can't see it from the back, the back lift is at least partly because this technique causes the horse to tighten his abdominal muscles. It simulates crunches in humans. So it does double-duty, lifting the back and tightening the stomach.

The second exercise is a sternum lift.

Reaching underneath your horse's chest, find the sternum with your fingers. It'll be about midway, and when you push up through muscle/fat (and in my case, winter fuzz) you should feel a clear thin line of bone. Using stiff fingers, dig into that bone, perhaps wiggling your fingers a bit, and keep your eye on your horse's back: it will not rise as obviously as with the belly lift, but it will gradually fill in and have more of a "finished" look than with the first exercise.

I do these for 10 seconds on, 10 seconds off, working up from 3 the first time to 5 now. This one targets different muscles (though there is some overlap) and activates them in a different way. In a way, this one teaches them to hold the lift themselves: watch closely, and you'll see how long they hold after you remove your hand.

We'll have to wait for updated topline photos in another few weeks to see if these are helping along with the rest of the work we're doing, but judging by the evidence of my eyes, and the way the muscles are being used in these exercises, I'm very pleased with them.

Five Things on My Christmas List

Thanks to Cob Jockey for a great idea for a meme!

Some of these things are a bit of a reach, and as such, I haven't actually put them on my Christmas list. (My parents don't believe in Christmas lists; they take them as a challenge and a list of things not to buy. My boyfriend's parents are very good about lists, but because of that I tend to be careful about what I put on there. Ahhhh, relationship Jenga.) But if I could put together my ideal Christmas list? These would all be on it.

1. Sore No More Gelotion

I love this stuff. I will take as much of it as I can get. I enumerated the reasons why it is my favorite in my product review of a few weeks ago.

2. Dublin River Boot

COVET. I love the look of them, I love the idea of them, I want them. I want them with a fierce lust that I usually reserve for new books and heavy duty pick up trucks. (Yes, I'm kind of boring.)

3. Saddle Stand

Believe it or not, I don't own one. Usually I put my saddle on the side of my truck bed to tack up, but that's getting kind of old. This would be great to have for tack cleaning, too.

4. SSG 10 Below Winter Gloves

I seriously need to step up my winter glove game. It's really starting to get cold now, and the fleece gloves I use right now are not cutting it.

5. Smart Shape Base Layer Tights

I feel pretty good about my base layers up top, but right now I just have the winter breeches on bottom - and they are glorious, but I'd like the option of stepping up the ante when I need to.

So, what do you want for Christmas?