Monday, March 31, 2014


I swear, someday I will do something other than complain about the weather. I wish I knew when that someday will come. It's not today, that's for sure.

I did morning chores: mid-20s with a wicked rattling wind that hit the barn and rattled it from end to end. Yesterday's rain had frozen into a think lacquer over every inch of ground outside. It snowed lightly on and off all morning, and half the water buckets had ice rims. I was wearing many layers and so kept reasonably warm but the cold sapped my energy and made me sluggish. Midwinter bitter cold can be invigorating; this has overstayed its welcome.

We made good time on chores, and I dithered about riding, for no good reason. I finally fell back on a bullish, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other persistence and tacked up for 40 minutes of dressage school. I pushed the warmup a bit, to see how he felt running through everything quickly, and to see where our weak spots would be today.

The answer: forward. So we had a bit of a hand gallop, then a walk break, then a long trot session with emphasis on forward and round. Get the hind end moving, then load it with a half-halt, filling up the outside rein. Tried a bit of that in the canter but got nowhere, so we stuck to the trot.

When I finished up, the farrier had arrived to do the first half of the barn - we're split into two offset groups - and I was able to thank him for his terrific work with Tristan and confirm the plan to pull his shoes in mid-April. 

Pentosan arrived over the weekend, but I am holding off on the loading dose until next Monday: he gets the last of his IM vaccines tomorrow, and since Pentosan can be a blood thinner for the first 48 hours, I am, as always, acting out of an over abundance of caution.

I got home at 1pm, took a long hot shower, ate lunch, read for about an hour, and fell sound asleep on top of my book. Whoops.

Tris will go in a 30 minute walk-trot lesson tomorrow, Wednesday off, and then Thursday we will attempt a road hack since the weather is, on paper, supposed to cooperate.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Winter vMillion.0

Target area: my county and the three surrounding counties.

That sound you hear is the sobbing of quiet despair.

They do make us worry...

Running late from work last night, I got to the barn with the intention of longeing briefly and then heading out to meet the boyfriend for a movie date.

Got to the barn, kissed Tris on the nose on my way past his stall, and went into the tack room to grab the longe line. When I got back to his stall, he was lying down.

My brain went into immediate overdrive. I watched him for a minute or two, and he was alert and looking at me. He stayed lying down when I got into his stall, but that's not unusual for him - when I catch him napping, he's happy to have me come in and sit with him.

I put a halter on him and asked him to get up, and he did so immediately. Three piles of manure in the stall, half a bucket of water gone, and the hay he'd gotten ~2 hours ago was eaten to every last scrap. He was interested in me but perhaps a bit quieter than normal. Good gut sounds - but perhaps slower on his left side?

I put him on the cross ties and grabbed his antacids; he ate them a bit more slowly, less enthusiastically than he usually does. He dropped two of them out of his mouth, and at that moment the barn owner came in and I explained to her what I was seeing. I offered him the antacids again and he ate them happily. Usually when I feed them to him before I ride, he mugs me for more, and he was just a little too quiet this time.

I put him on the longe line for about 20 minutes of WTC. He was perhaps a bit lazy again, but he moved out easily enough and did some stretching. I did some belly lifts with him, listened to gut sounds again - still fine - and he passed some gas on the walk back to his stall, then again in his stall. I started to feel a bit better at that.

I picked out his stall, and left the stall guard up so he could poke his head out. Manure was normal, not too dry or too wet. He begged shamelessly for dinner, and we gave him half his grain. I fed him 12 simethicone tablets (generic Gas-X), which he ate with more enthusiasm than the antacids, and headed in to town for the movie. After the movie, I drove back to the barn and he was acting totally normally.

I'm still not sure if I overreacted or if I woke him up from a nap and that's why he was sluggish. Either way, he's pulled out of it just fine, and the incident caused me to double-check the banamine paste in my tack trunk. It expired this fall, so I asked my vet for two more tubes - one for my tack trunk, one for the trailer!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Sale Find

Last night, I dropped a book I'd finished off at the library (Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, which I'd thought would be more about horses given they are the catalyst for the whole plot, but...nope)

I glanced over the book sale cart because I am helpless in the face of books. And I made a GREAT find, for $1:

It is in gorgeous condition, and matches my copy of The Black Stallion perfectly (except my copy is kind of in pieces).

At one point I had dared Hannah to do a re-read of all the Black Stallion books. Maybe starting that will be a way to pretend that it will be summer again someday?

Always Winter, Never Christmas

I am becoming a weather atheist. There is no season but winter, and weather men are false prophets.

I took this picture a few days ago, but it still looks exactly the same today.

It was below zero again last night. On March 26. Below zero. Single digits so far today, and it's going to hail & sleet later.

I did get to ride last night, and we had a credible fitness session, including two 10 minute trot sets. The first mostly loose and low, the second incorporating all sorts of lateral work and poles. He was holding up so well I went for some short canter sets. I initially thought 1 minute canters, but during the first I glanced down at my watch and we'd gone for 1:25, so I pushed it to 2 minutes. I did them all in two point, too.

Then 2 minutes of walking, then another 2 minutes of canter. He was barely winded. Huzzah for fitness! We'll keep adding to that. I'd love to get him up to 20 minute trot sets and 5 minute canter sets this summer.

One point of concern is that he had a barely perceptible four beat in his left canter. He felt steady and strong, and I honestly wasn't quite sure what to do to address it in that moment. I have some ideas going forward - poles, careful attention on the longe line, continued fitness, Pentosan - but would appreciate any thoughts.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mamas don't let your ponies get drunk on a Monday morning...

Spring shots and teeth day!

Tris went first, and I believe I have waxed rhapsodic about my love for my vet before but damn, guys. Not only is she an awesome vet and an awesome human being but she is SERIOUSLY badass.

What you can't tell in these pictures: she is 8.75 months pregnant. Yep. Due in less than 2 weeks. She had another vet with her to help with difficult horses, and to help keep track of everything, but Tris is so good about things that he had his teeth done exactly as you see here: untied, with a mild sedative. He just stood and looked miserable.

Can I be done now?

He also got vaccines, all the ones I detailed here and we ended up going with strangles after all. It's been around a bit in our area so the vet went with better safe than sorry.

Did I mention, by the by, that it was WELL below zero for this vet appointment? And that it was -6 this morning when I walked to work, which set a new record even for this frozen tundra we call Vermont? Worst. Spring. Ever.

In happier news, experiment the first is ON. Wedgewood is shipping me a bottle of Pentosan and it will arrive by the end of the week and I am excited. I will report back in detail.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Happy spring?

4 inches of snow this morning. Sigh.

Last night, the ring was occupied, so no longeing for me. (It says something about how quiet my barn is in the winter that I was a bit dumbfounded to find other people there.) I jumped on bareback and we did about 30 minutes of road walking, 20 of them on the hill.

I'm experimenting with Endomondo right now as a way to track these things, and it tells me that the hill is about 1/4 of a mile up, with a 330 foot rise in height. An online grade calculator tells me that's a 25% grade...yikes, ok, no wonder he was working hard! We went up and down, and then I jumped off and we went up and down again. My legs, they are a bit sore today. I am officially out of shape.

Road walking buddy.

The BF heads off to Utah to ski early tomorrow morning which means a) as much time at the barn as I want!, b) things I clean will STAY clean!, and c) I get to eat all sorts of foods that he would not touch with a ten foot pole like frittata. I'll probably miss him eventually. I think.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bits I Have Loved

Amanda at Keeping It Low Key wrote recently about her conundrum about bitting up for control, and I shared in the comments that Tristan used to go in a kimberwicke: bitting up is not a sign of failure. It's a tool of the moment. Bitting up out of fear and then never working through the root issue? If and when it happens, that's the failure.

So I thought I'd write a bit about what bits I've used on Tristan, since my riding life is super boring right now.

The first bit Tris ever went in was a plain eggbutt snaffle.
You've seen them. You've ridden in them. They're the milquetoast of the equestrian world. It was a decent starting place for us, but it didn't last. Tristan doesn't like single-jointed bits. So we moved on.

Not much further, though. Double-joined eggbutt snaffle: this would be our go-to for many, many years on the flat and inside.

Then we started to school Tristan XC. As part of that, I was doing hillwork, and Tristan, still being very much the green horse at this point, pulled a series of bolting and spinning antics that would put a reining horse to shame. He ran uphill. He ran downhill. He took dangerous flying leaps over anything in his path including drainage ditches, patches of dead grass, small fences, you name it - especially when he was headed back to the barn.

So we bitted up.
MY PRECIOUS. This is an Uxeter Kimberwicke, mullen mouth, medium port. I remember with perfect clarity the first day that Tristan tried to bolt for home and the curb chain on this bit engaged. It felt like he stopped in mid-air and came back to earth, shocked, utterly still. The wheels in his had spun in place. I was awed at the immediate, amazing change.

This is not a subtle bit, you guys. This combination of features has one goal, and one goal only: WHOA THE FUCK DOWN, HORSE. And oh, did he ever whoa. This was our go-to for XC and any outdoor riding for 2+ years. And over time, we slowly used it less and less often. First,  he could be ridden outside (in the outdoor arena) without trying to bolt. Then, he could be flatted in open fields without it. Finally, we could go XC without it - I could tell when engaging it a bit took him off the pace rather than made him sane.

So we moved on.
Full-check french link snaffle. This is the bit he still goes in today when he's going XC or jumping. It lives on his figure-8 bridle. It can also occasionally be a good choice for trail-riding when he's fresh, or any kind of galloping. I've been known to put it on for trot sets just as a change of pace. For the first year or so, I used keepers on it to get a bit more leverage action; now, it's just loose. We experimented briefly in using it on his dressage bridle, but that didn't pay off.

We did make a few more changes to his dressage bit, however. Over time, the eggbutt lost its charm: he spent a very long time not unhinging or moving his jaw at all while being ridden, and we wanted to encourage him to chew the bit.
Enter the double-jointed loose ring snaffle. This is still the bit he goes in today. His mouth is small enough that a 5.5" bit has never pinched his cheeks, and he still likes the loose ring action. Double-jointed is still the way to go.

That said: I am in the market for a new bit. When riding with my trainer last fall, she felt that he would go better in a thinner bit. While the rule of thumb is generally that thicker = softer, for some horses with a low palate and relatively narrow gap in their teeth, a thinner bit can be kinder. For the first time ever, a trainer of mine actually put her hand in Tristan's mouth and felt the way the bit lay against his tongue and his gums, and explained to me what she was feeling. I felt dumbfounded: after eight years of riding this horse, I was still not there yet! So I borrowed a thinner bit from the barn and it did make a difference. Then I went out and bought what I thought was a thinner bit, only it wasn't.

So we haven't made the switch full time yet, because I am the worst. But I have my eye on it, and will likely try to find what works for us at Everything Equine next month.

What bits have you tried? Have you thought a lot about your horse's bit or do you tend to find something and stick with it?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Four More Days Until Spring

At least, by the calendar.

Couple of nice rides. Longeing on Friday, then trot sets Saturday night. Focus on rhythm, straightness, and stretching over the topline, building fitness and muscle both. We did two 8 minute trot sets and a few canter sets that went trot-canter-trot over 5 minutes. We also did about 6 minutes of a trot that included a trip down a line of poles on the center line with each pass: poles, turn right, poles, turn left, and so on. He was all-over tired and relaxed when we were done, and recovered quickly and well.

Today, a hack out, about 30 minutes, up and down dirt roads and up and down the big hill, bareback, with fleece quarter sheet. It was bitterly cold when the wind was up, but sunny with melted snow runoff glistening on the dirt roads. Actual temperature around 12 degrees but it never felt like that: always warmer or colder.

I was extremely pleased with how happy he was to be out, firm and swinging and forward even heading away from the barn, and how straight he held himself through his body. We went straight up the hill, no meandering, just push and swing from the hind end, and the same back down. He was tired and moving slowly at the end of it. His balance was far better going downhill, as he held himself inside his body: no stutter steps, no swerving through the shoulder.

This week will be difficult with evening work commitments, but we'll see what we can salvage for a schedule.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Tristan did not get his spring shots yesterday after all; my poor vet had a day entirely filled with emergency calls, and finally mid-afternoon sent a text that started like this:

"Hello girls! Just left a goat found buried in a snowbank..."

Apparently a poor goat wandered off in the snowstorm, got lost, got stuck in a snowbank, and they found him just in time. She thinks he will be ok. Poor goat!

Today, it is in the 20s and 30s, hallelujah, so I will ride tonight after work. Tomorrow, hack; Monday, we'll see what happens since I have a full day of meetings scheduled on my day off and it might not get into single digits. In MARCH, god damn it, Vermont. Enough already!

Friday, March 14, 2014

What vaccines did my horse get?

In case you haven't noticed, I am a fairly obsessive record-keeper and chronicler and monitor of all things Tristan. Someday I'll post about his medical records binder. It is a thing that even the most hardened Pony Club stable management judge would admire.

Tristan is scheduled for his spring vaccines later this afternoon, so I thought I'd do a bit of a table of what vaccines he's received over the years. (Yes, I know it's not spring yet; my vet is 8 months pregnant and we are avoiding her due date!)




West Nile






Assume he got a Coggins every year as well (though not 2000-2005; he was in his first home and then the rescue), too. All vaccines were given based on the health outlook of a horse in a boarding situation in New England; some boarding barns were busier than others, but all were a minimum of 10 horses.

E/W/T = EEE, WEE, and Tetanus

As well-acquainted as I am with Tristan's medical history, a few things surprised me.

First, though this chart does not reflect it, those first few years there were typically flu/rhino and Potomac boosters in the fall. That was apparently a thing we did in Vermont at the time.

Second, how clearly certain vaccines align with certain barn trends.

Look at strangles, f'rexample. 2006 and 2009-2012. 2006 I actually remember really well: it was a barn-wide vaccination after a horse at the fairgrounds 10 miles north came down with strangles during a summer show. Every barn in the county was on quarantine, and most vets recommended vaccinating, so we did.

2009-2012 were years at a specific barn that strongly recommended it, though not as strongly as others I've been at. By far the busiest showing barn I've ever boarded at, so that makes sense.

But interestingly, take Potomac. Those gap years, 2010-2012, also overlapped with that same busy barn, and it was not a typical vaccination for that barn. Why? I wish I had a better answer, but my memory is hazy.

This is my basic list, and usually I tweak Potomac and strangles at the recommendation of the vet administering the shots. Some of those vets I've had close partnerships with; others I've barely had a passing word with. (For all the many, many vets Tristan saw in 2012, the vet who administered his vaccines, ie the barn's go-to, I never actually met; we always called in specialists for his foot.)

Last but not least, the outlier: botulism. I did not even know such a vaccine existed until this year, when the barn went on round bales for winter turnout and suggested that the whole barn get the vaccine. It was by far one of the most expensive I've ever done, with three rounds at $20 a pop. It was...not required, but strongly suggested.

In all, vaccines are cheap insurance for me. Tristan doesn't react to them at all - some of those he's gotten all in one day, and one or two years he got a five-way (E/W/T/Flu/Rhino) and didn't bat an eye. There's never been any difference in soreness or demeanor whether he gets 'em all in one day or spaces 'em out. For which I am grateful, and lucky!

Of all of these, the only required to be given by a vet are rabies and the Coggins, but I've had every single one of these done by a vet or the barn staff. I've never given a shot, and I go back and forth about whether that's ok. Part of me thinks I should suck it up and be more hands-on. Part of me is glad to pay the vet to do it, since I get hands-on and an opportunity for a conversation. If I ever move to my own land, I will absolutely learn how to do IM and IV, but for now - this suits me, I think.

How about you? Do you do your own shots? What shots does your horse get? Are there some you've gone back and forth on over the years? Any regionalisms that you see, either in this list or in your own list?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

That's a nooooooope

Still snowing hard, temperature dropping fast, and no barn for me today. This is what it looked like outside my office window last night; add another foot of snow and you've got this morning.

Good news: I have finally downgraded to a normal(ish) bandaid on my hand after either wrapping it or using the XXL size for a month.

Better news: the oddly shaped yet adorable My Little Pony bandaids I bought like 6 years ago are perfect for my purposes!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How do you read blogs?

Exactly as the title says: how do you read your horse, cooking, professional, and other blogs?

Do you keep a series of bookmarks and check on them?

Do you use the Google follower/listing service?

Do you use an RSS feeder?

Do you use some combination of the above?

I ask, because at the time of Google Reader's sad, tragic, unforgivable demise, I had been using it religiously for many, many years. I exported all my RSS feeds to The Old Reader, as it promised the most similar service. I really just want to read: I don't need bells and whistles.

Well, The Old Reader is now moving to a subscription-based model. Anyone with over 100 feeds will have to pay a small fee. I have 219 feeds and growing - in fact, I have about a dozen on a waiting list right now, since I can't add any more until I pay up. (And even my existing feeds will be inaccessible soon.)

The small fee is worth it to me, but, it's just enough to make me think about exploring other options. So I'd like to do that, however briefly.

Anyone have any ideas, suggestions, or words of sympathy about my grieving process for Google Reader, which I still miss nearly every day?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Getting Ready for Hauling in Eight Million Complicated Steps

So: free admission up front that this is my fault. I got myself into this situation through a combination of neglect, laziness, and being broke. But getting my truck and trailer back on the road is proving an uphill battle. It's one that I will win eventually! But man, is it frustrating in the interim.

Step 1: Re-registering the trailer.

When I moved to Vermont, I parked the trailer. I planned on registering and inspecting it in the spring - no worries! Then Tristan had surgery, and my attention was wholly taken up with his recovery and rehab. Before I knew it, it was late summer again, and there was no way he was ready to go do anything off property.

So, in short, the trailer has been sitting in the same field since November 2012. The registration had expired, and transferring it to Vermont required a) a VIN assignment (horse trailer rules, they are different everywhere, and the trailer is too old to have had a VIN previously), b) paying the sales tax on a trailer I bought eight years ago, THANKS VERMONT, and c) finally getting the registration current.

(when registering all vehicles in Vermont, if you have no proof that you have paid the sales tax, even if the vehicle is 30+ years old and you bought it many years ago, they require you to pay sales tax; in this case, they assigned a basic minimum value to the trailer of $200 and made me pay $12 sales tax, which was not quite enough to refuse in righteous fury but was still enough to be annoying)

All of this was accomplished in a joyful 90 minutes at the DMV last week. Good grief.

Step 2: Get the truck inspected.

No problem right? Except. With this horrible, awful winter, I did not get out as often as I should have to start the truck and run it for a bit to keep the battery primed. So it died. It really died. After a jump and 30 minutes of running it had no intention of starting again.

Not only that, but it was good and buried in a snowbank, which is not a problem of shoveling. The truck is a 2WD and does. not. do. snow. That's why it sits in winter. But I had a suspicion that even if I could get a jump and start it in order to drive to the mechanic myself, it would never get out of its parking space.

So last night I called AAA, and they showed up with a very big flatbed tow truck and winched the truck out of its parking space and brought it to the mechanic. And I do mean winched it out: it turns out that the tires had been frozen in at least 4" of ice, and in fact the winch dragged the tow truck back a few inches before the driver re-leveraged it. Holy crap. But eventually, the truck got on to the flat bed trailer, got to the mechanic.

Then it got inspected. Thankfully, it passed inspection with zero problems, just needed a new battery and oil change. GOOD TRUCK.

Step 3: Get the trailer inspected.

This will not happen until the snow melts in early April. There is quite simply no way the trailer is getting out of the snow bank until then. Not. Happening.

Of all the steps, I am dreading this one the most. The trailer has been sitting for nearly 18 months. It is an old trailer. At minimum, it needs the brakes and wheel bearings gone over, and most likely a new breakaway battery. I am worried about the tires, the floor, and the general health of the frame. I don't know what Vermont requires for an inspection, and I can't find that information online. I can't figure out how much money to set aside to fix it - more than $1k? I hope not. I just don't now. If it's too much over $1k, I will have to make some serious decisions about the trailer's future with me.

Lesson Notes: Canter breakthrough, finally!

Just some brief outline notes to remember this lesson - it was an excellent one. Tris is finally fit enough to get some serious work done. I paced him a bit during the lesson but he stuck with me and recovered beautifully. Only uphill from here!

First things first: lovely gorgeous stretchy warmup, awesome pony. We walked and trotted on the buckle for nearly 20 minutes, and then I brought him back to the walk and picked up the reins. We did lateral work to ease him in, more transitions: shoulder-in, straight, haunches in, straight, leg yield off the wall, straight, back too the wall, get the idea.

In the trot we needed more forward so we worked on going deep into corners and coming out strong down the long side. If there was a flaw to this lesson it was that I did not install forward firmly enough and was too nagging with my leg.

Once warmed up, it was all about circles and getting him round and deep. Controlling the shoulders on the circle, getting him deep and over his back, increasing the activity of his hind end with my inside leg. Deep and firm in the reins but not diving.

The real meat was in the canter, though. First we did some circles and back to our counterflexion exercise at each "point" of the circle. As we went on it felt less like a whole body shift and more like a subtle moment of more straightness, and he got stronger and stronger through it rather than threatening to break.

Then WT (winter trainer, to differentiate from the barn's main trainer, who is in Florida, sigh) suggested an experiment. Tristan has been getting so much stronger and more through in the canter - what would he do if I got into two point, up off his back, but kept everything else the same?

So I did. And it was a teensy bit of a learning curve, as he kept breaking, I was leaning a bit too much, and my brain clicked into jumping mode a bit and I wanted to shimmy up the reins and press my knuckles into his neck and GO...but after a few minutes of figuring each other out, I settled down into my leg, kept my hands down just in front of his withers, and reprogrammed my body.

He seemed happier almost immediately, and was surprisingly adjustable for all I didn't have my seat - he did lose some of the straightness, but he gained in engagement through the hind end. Left, we made progress. Right? Right we had this one shining moment when his hind end connected up through his back and whooosh, there was everything we wanted, complete with a fleeting feeling of softness through the bit.

Then he broke to the trot, but he got SO much praise, pats, and he was done. His breathing recovered quickly and he was happy to go back into a stall with his cooler very soon.

Next ride, we'll go back and forth between the deep seat + counterflexion and the two point + impulsion, and as we make progress we'll start to marry the two together more and more.

(of course, we are getting 18" of snow on Wednesday afternoon through Thursday, so who knows when that next ride will be? sigh.)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Feet Update - 1 year post-surgery

I missed an important milestone last week: one year since Tristan's surgery. One year ago today, he was on stall rest in recovery, and now he is back in full work. I am amazed and indescribably grateful that everything worked out so well.

Here's a front foot comparison, for the record.

1 week post-surgery. The chip out of the front separated during surgery;
there were additional abscess holes at the top of it and the hoof wall
was just that weak.

Yesterday! The bit of white is the absolute last remaining sign of the surgery/abscess.
You can still see/feel a sliiiiiight bulge but it is continuing to fade, ie far less
noticeable at the coronet than at the toe.
 Also! Remember last summer how worried I was about white line in his hind feet? I could carve out chunks of his quarters and his white line with the hoof pick, it was that mushy. Check out his hind feet today. Gorgeous.

In late April, the shoes come off the front feet and we are back to all-barefoot, all the time. FINALLY.

A Just-Spring Hack

Yesssss! Daylight! Temperature weather (high 20s, sunny)! A free afternoon!

We went places. Tristan was happy as a clam to be out, though he was happier to head back to the barn at haying time to the point of quite a bit of jigging, which meant we added 20 minutes to the ride as we trotted away down another short dirt road.

Same view, taken about 6 months apart.
I had been intending to explore a new road today, but after 10 minutes on it, I had been passed by 4 cars, not a single one of which slowed down. Seriously. Whipping by at 20 mph, minimum. Waving cheerily to me. Assholes. Thank God Tristan is very, very chill about such things, but all of the cars were coming at us head-on, and thus guaranteed to be a certain distance away. I did not want to wait around for the car that zoomed out and around us going 20 and kicked up gravel in its wake. So we headed back to our old familiar roads.
Our favorite hill in the distance.
The roads were soft enough to see his hoofprints, and I was especially happy to see him tracking up fully in the trot, stepping in his own hoofprints, and overstepping a teensy bit going up the steep hill at the walk.

This hill is actually much steeper than it looks in the picture.

Handsome boy in the barn driveway. I spent probably 5 minutes trying to
get a good picture of him, but some neighbor was shooting a LOT of guns,
and he kept looking to see where the noise was coming from.
There we go! A bit yak-like, but the hair, it is coming out in clumps.
Overall, we were out for about 60 minutes, and he had a lovely big walk stride the whole time, with perhaps 5 minutes of trotting, and was overall exceptionally well-behaved. He had clearly worked a bit hard but not too hard, and as you can see from his foam was responsive to some softening. He was also straighter than he has often been on the road, and we worked on that: lining up all the parts of his body instead of wandering every which way.

With Daylight Savings (though it is kicking my ass from a sleep perspective) we might even get some weekday hacking in, which will be all to the good for overall fitness and muscle-building.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


It was above 30 yesterday. Snow melted. The sun came out. This morning, it was 20 while I had breakfast, and I saw a blue jay out the kitchen window. I know we will probably get another good storm or two, but - we might actually make it through this winter!

Last night, I rode. While grooming, I noticed that his fetlocks were puffy all around, front more than back, and he felt very stiff in the warmup. I had longed Thursday night, and spent longer on the trot-canter transitions than I intended. He was blowing through my commands and I kept him hopping until he got a few good, prompt responses, but that was more time cantering on the longe than he's done in a while.

Lesson learned. Nothing permanent done: I did a long, loose warmup, and after 20 minutes jumped off to run my hands over his legs again. Cool and tight. He worked out of the stiffness and we worked on transitions, of all types. Into and out of lateral work - one step of leg yield, then straight. Two straight strides, two strides of shoulder in, and back. Off the wall, straight, back to the wall, straight. Then halt-walk-trot-canter, up and down. Transitions within the gaits: off his back for a bit of a hand-gallop and then back deep in the seat for a more settled canter through the corner.

It was easily 35 degrees in the indoor, and that combined with the length and intensity of work would have left him sweaty and puffing even 4 weeks ago. Last night he walked out of any puffing within a few minutes, and was only slightly damp on his chest. His weight is at a good level, and his topline is slowly, slowly filling in. I've been noticing his neck lately: that long connected muscle over the top is standing out again, creating that triangle instead of the long thin pencil. The point of his croup has almost entirely rounded back in with fat and muscle. The dip in front of his withers is rising, and his withers in general are thickening.

He's shedding out in earnest now, and that combined with the muscle building is easing some worries I had about metabolic problems that might come with age. His injury, time off, surgery, and rehab were perfectly sensible reasons to have lost so much muscle, but I couldn't silence that niggling voice.

Tomorrow, long hack - going to explore a new turn in the dirt roads, and then Monday, lesson.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Blog Hop: Seven Deadly Sins

I'm jumping on the bandwagon - this was a lot of fun!

Seven great things/strengths in your riding life

1. My awesome, level-headed, sweetheart of a horse
2. The outstanding care and facilities of my current barn
3. Access to great training, great hacking, and great competition venues within 2 hours
4. Though they cause me much angst, my truck and trailer and the freedom they represent
5. An ability to plan and budget so that Tris will never be without
6. A very supportive family: my parents adore my horse and have been helpful and generous, and my boyfriend has on occasion ordered me to the barn when I'm in a bad mood
7. A semi-flexible job that I love that means I get to live in great horse country

Seven things you lack or covet for you or your horse

1. A stable blanket, for next winter, to go under his medium weight turnout
2. Actual adult tall boots, not PVC cheap-os (they do the job, but no one will ever call them fancy)
3. New helmet. I'm just about to hit the age limit and might finally upgrade to something non-mushroomy
4. Am I allowed to be thankful and complain about the same things? These are sins, after all: a 4WD truck and a new gooseneck trailer
5. Longer turnout; he's doing ok on the abbreviated schedule, but my ideal would be 24/7 and we are far from that
6. The financial ability to get him training rides from time to time
7. My own farm

Seven things that make you angry

1. People who don't wear helmets
2. Extremists on both side of the mustang issue
3. Poorly run horse rescues
4. People who don't give due consideration to their equine partners, whether it's something as simple as taking an extra few minutes to make sure a warmup is sufficient or something as major as abuse and neglect
5. Seeing pictures of people riding in t-shirts when it's -20 outside (I'm sorry, I can't help it, worst winter EVER)
6. People who refuse to understand how important Tristan is to me, or are nasty about him, or horses in general (this is most assuredly a non-zero number)
7. My own laziness

Seven things you neglect to do or cut corners on

1. Tack cleaning. I do a deep clean maybe once every 6 weeks but am terrible at anything in between.
2. Picking out his stall after I ride
3. Bridle path + fetlock clipping
4. Ride every day, or even every other day
5. Little things like hacking up and down the hill before every ride
6. Picking out his feet after riding in the ring...oops
7. Keeping regular track of his default pulse/respiration/temperature

Seven most expensive things you own for your horse/riding

(the most expensive thing I've ever done for my horse was pay for his surgery, but that's not really a "thing," so...)

1. Truck (Chevy 2500 extended cab, extended bed)
2. Trailer (1985 2 horse Kingston with dressing room space)
3. Albion dressage saddle
4. Passier jump saddle
5. Stubben bridle
6. My XC vest
7. Circuit Figure 8 bridle

(Tristan's adoption fee was less than all of those things, believe it or not, hooray for rescues!)

Seven guilty pleasures or favorite items

1. Horse show food
2. A second tack trunk for the trailer, with its own grooming kit
3. My Albion dressage saddle
4. My truck, oh my God, I love my truck
5. Can the place I live appear here again? I am struck dumb with every sunset, every sunny day, every perfect clear view of the mountains.
6. Sore No More liniment
7. Tristan, of course!

Seven things you love about horses and riding

1. The smell and soft fuzziness of Tristan's nose when I bury my face in it
2. The feel of a horse leaping forward into a gallop
3. How quiet my brain is when I am riding: nothing else but the here and now
4. The way it grounds and centers my mental health
5. The person I have become because I interact with horses: the way I have to be confident in my own skin and firm and decisive to excel as a horse person and as a rider
6. The gear, I'll be honest: always something new to try and fiddle with and lust after and sigh over
7. Horsey friends, who laugh with me and cry with me and gallop alongside me and are some of the best people in my whole world

Health Challenges for Riders

I suspect it's pretty rare, if not impossible, to be a human being in this world and not have your own challenges and physical issues. I would be shocked if I didn't know an equestrian in particular who didn't have a nagging something - bad back, bad knees, lingering concussion syndrome, general arthritis, you name it, whether from a bad fall or just wear and tear. This has been much on my mind this winter: many of the workers at my barn have been injured, ill, or otherwise out of commission physically.

(As the barn manager said, and I agreed wholeheartedly, better us than the horses. Then I had a moment of pause and considered my priorities and realized I still felt that way and...I need help.)

I have a standard assortment - some arthritis in my hands, a bum knee (why I don't ski anymore; I partially tore the ACL and decided I'd rather wreck my body riding than skiing), a lower back that's less than optimal after a bad fall about 5 years ago.

My special snowflake health challenge? Gout.

Yes, you read that right. The "rich man's disease," the thing that old, fat, villains in melodramatic 19th century novels suffer from.

So what is gout? It's basically a form of arthritis, in that it attacks the body's joints and causes pain, limited mobility, and eventually, damage.

Gout is caused by an increase in the levels of uric acid in the body, something which most people process without difficulty. In a certain number of people, however, those levels keep rising, and the body can't metabolize the uric acid. The uric acid migrates to joints and forms little spiky crystals.

The most common presentation by far is for those crystals to collect in the joint at the base of the big toe of the right foot. It's almost always the first place you see an attack. These attacks are extremely painful, as you might guess by the image of the spikes above.

I had my first gout attack when I was 23. I thought I had broken my toe. I kept wracking my memory: Had I stubbed my foot? Had Tristan stepped on my foot? Had I bent it funny? What the heck?

I hobbled around for about two weeks, and it got progressively worse. In the last few days, I progressed to even more classic gout signs. The joint grew red and inflamed. I couldn't even bear the weight of the sheets in my bed on it, and slept with it propped up on a pillow in open air. I finally went to the doctor. Within about 10 minutes, he had diagnosed me with gout.

The incidence rate of gout in healthy, pre-menopausal, never-pregnant women is a fraction of a fraction of a percent. As it turns out, I completely lost the genetic lottery: my grandfather had gout, and my uncle has gout as well. I inherited the condition (much like my migraines) and it simply waited for the right trigger to appear.

Gout is chronic, and I will spend the rest of my life managing the condition. Primarily, this means I watch my diet carefully. Red wine is right out, as is seafood. I can only eat red meat or drink alcohol in very careful moderation. I discovered over the years that for me, spinach and turkey are also triggers, which is really too bad. I can eat them both, but not much, and not for more than one meal every few weeks. Anything sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup is a no-go, so I examine juice labels in particular very carefully - actually, 95% of what I drink is water, because it's safest and because it can help "flush" stuff out of my system. I get my blood levels checked for uric acid at each annual checkup to make sure I'm managing effectively.

Over the years, I've had attacks mostly in my feet, but sometimes in my knees, and once in my right pinky. (That was weird.) I think anyone who lives with a chronic health condition gets to know it on an intimate level. I know when an attack is imminent, and sometimes I can ease them away with diet. Sometimes my foot starts aching and I am completely stumped as to why. When it's bad enough, I have a prescription anti-inflammatory that I take to help my body through bad attacks - it's basically palliative, reducing the inflammation in the joint so that the body can gain time to slowly process the uric acid crystals and get itself back on track. There is longterm daily medication, but I hope never to have to use it.

I decided to write this because this week, my right big toe started up again, in both the ball joint and the toe joint. They're not bad: just a dull ache, a spiky reminder when I walk. It hasn't been this bad in months, so I may be falling back on the drugs for a few days.

Luckily, apart from really bad attacks, it doesn't impact my equestrian activities too much. I might walk a little more slowly, and sometimes I might ride without stirrups to take pressure off my foot, But it's not like running or playing soccer or another hobby that actively engages my feet. So I got pretty lucky in that regard.

So there's your primer! I'd be happy to answer any questions.