Saturday, December 31, 2016

Weekly Blog Roundup

Some links for you in this holiday week.

Temptation and Doubt from Bully and Blaze
A dog blog but horse-applicable, with many many thoughtful things about risk management and the dangerous things that we do.

And a horsey response to the above: On Risk and Responsibility from Journey to 100 Miles

The Season of a Good Dog from The Collie Farm
This is a beautiful tribute to a working dog and to life on a working farm.

A non-horse read for the week: The Man Who Cleans Up After Plane Crashes. Difficult but worthwhile read, with a lot to think about - especially about empathy and compassion even in the most terrible of circumstances.

Friday, December 30, 2016

2017 Horse-Related Goals

I've actually been drafting this post for a while, both in paper notes and then via draft blog post. Last year, I didn't do goals. I am usually a goal-oriented person and thought it would help to be more laid back. Well, 2016 was a dumpster fire. I don't know how much was correlation and how much was causation (surely my lack of goals didn't elect Trump?) but I do know that being laid back does not work for me.

So here are some goals I'm setting for my equestrian-self in 2017.

1. Put hands on my horse 5x a week except when I am out of town.

This shouldn't be hard, but in 2016 I let his semi-retirement and my house projects dictate to me. I told myself (not untruthfully) that he was happier just chilling out, and that I would be happier if I made progress in other areas of my life.

But you guys: I am 8 minutes away from my horse. I've timed it. There is ZERO reason I can't spare 30 minutes just to go out and groom him even if I don't have time to ride or do anything longer. I need to get back on this. It will have the added bonus of increasing my non-riding ratio, which will make him a happier pony.

2. Be less perfunctory, in all areas of my life.

Part of being too busy and too laid back simultaneously was that I let myself get away with too much. I didn't groom thoroughly. I honestly can't remember the last time I cleaned my tack. Probably early summer. I have nice tack, good tools, and there is no reason I can't spend a little bit of extra time taking care of the details. If I am going to do something, I need to do it with intention.

3. Aim toward dressage schooling shows.

I'm not sure if the budget will allow off-property shows, but I need to make a commitment to both in-barn shows. I need to ask for the time off to make theme a success instead of winging it and hoping I can get away from work in the last two weeks.

4. Take more lessons

Even if it's once a month, I need focus again. I am so stupid lucky to be at a place with great instruction. I need to make this a priority in my budget. Commitment to this will mean that I probably can't justify any off-property showing (one show = 5 lessons).

5. Find a horse-specific income stream. Corollary: fully re-fund Tristan's emergency fund.

I don't know what this is. Maybe it's something I make and sell. Maybe it's a small part-time job. Maybe it's looking at the ways I currently get extra sources of income. Whatever it is, I need to refill Tristan's emergency fund, which functions more as a slush fund and less as a true emergency fund as this year I bought new breeches and other new riding equipment for the first time in a long time...and got a little carried away. That needs to swing back.

6. Do more thoughtful work.

This is something I'm putting into practice across my life. Less triviality, more deep thinking. More focus. More thinking about goals.

In my horse life, it means I want to be proactive instead of reactive when I write on this blog. I want to read more and digest that and share it with you all. I want to concentrate more on the slow and steady work in dressage rather than freaking out and changing course three times a week.

I've taken some steps in my personal life - I've deleted Facebook from my phone and am reading more, doing more hands-on creative projects, making a careful point to follow one thing through instead of multitasking.

7. Get more media.

I ride by myself 98% of the time, so not conducive to having current video or photographic evidence that I do, in fact, ride my horse instead of take pictures of him looking adorable in his stall, or take between the ears shots.

I need to work harder at bullying my husband into coming to the barn to take pictures of me, or always asking friends who visit to take some quick pictures of us, or teaming up with Emilie to do joint sessions. (That worked really well this year!)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Still learning

I've signed up for a lesson next Monday - trainer is coming back from Florida for a little while and we're doing a sort of clinic. So I threw my hat into the ring, which means that after a week and a half off from death flu, I had to get back into the saddle with a vengeance and tune him up so we could get through a lesson.

The good news: I was able to breathe, we picked up where we left off, and I was pleased with both his willingness to work with me and his fitness. (inasmuch as you can tell these things from a 35 minute light dressage school)

The bad news: I put my stirrups back on the saddle because I figured I would not get the most I could out of the lesson if I was riding without stirrups. My posting was...not great, after 6 weeks out of practice.

On the other, other hand, I did get a re-confirmation of something I've been working hard on, which is keeping my hands still while posting.

It seems stupid to even report this as a thing I'm working on. At a certain point in your riding education, you are supposed to have an independent seat. And you keep your hands still. Well, I definitely have an independent seat, but I have always struggled with true fluidity in my elbows.

One of the first things that R. called me on about my riding was that when I posted, I didn't truly flex my elbows, and as a result my hands bobbed a little bit as I posted. She worked hard on me to really understand that, and like magic, when I truly flexed my elbows and my hands stayed still and Tristan got instantly more secure in the bridle.

I've ridden with a lot of trainers, and not a single one of them has ever said anything about my hands. Clinicians get a pass, but not my regular trainers.

So I worked on my elbows a lot while re-learning posting, in anticipation of R. calling me on them again next Monday. Which meant we also worked on keeping Tristan steady in contact, which was a much-needed thing (as always).

I'll keep him on a fairly busy schedule this week, then update his clip and do a light ride on Sunday, and we'll see how Monday goes!

Monday, December 26, 2016

2017 Life Goals

I know this is mostly a horse blog, but you put up with house renovation posts too and I need to put this down somewhere to hold myself accountable.

This is not the car that needs to be paid off. This is my old car, which I adored and still miss. It had character and guts and would have run forever. Also, it was totally paid off.

1. Pay off car

It's my last remaining debt apart from the mortgage. I paid off my student loans before I bought the car. On track to do this next November. I'd love to do it earlier, because that's money that could be routed to other savings, or to the mortgage. I really hate debt.

2. Read 75 books

I accomplished this in 2016, though largely due to my book-a-day pace on the honeymoon. It remains to be seen whether I'll have reading time like that in 2017, or if I'll be squeezed at the end of the year.

You can follow along with my challenge on Goodreads, where I am pretty active. I read mostly fantasy, science fiction, memoir, and history.

3. Revive history blogs

Chiefly, this is my museum-focused blog Amblering. I am turning more and more toward writing in my day job, which is a nice shift, but I am rusty and need to both re-focus on my career writing and my history writing. I have content out the wazoo for this, but need the discipline to gather it and write it out.

4. Do better about food

Back on the budget wagon for grocery shopping. (Last week, I spent $75 on groceries in one transaction. $75!!! Past me is nauseated and horrified.) Back also on the healthy food wagon. 2016 was the year of comfort food because everything sucked. Also, there was an all you can eat cruise in the middle of it.

5. Decorate the house

For all my renovation work, I suck at the actual finishing touches. I have been known to leave walls bare for months, and struggle to find a cohesive theme and/or make thoughtful choices about the look and feel of a space beyond paint color and some furniture. So this goal may involve getting photos printed, rounding up all the unframed art in the house (we bought a lot on the honeymoon), doing a furniture inventory and maybe repainting some lamps and (god help me) re-upholstering a chair or two so they are fresher. And, um, not falling apart, in the case of one best-beloved reading chair.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Weekly Blog Roundup

I have been sick all week, and when my body has felt better my brain has been totally unable to focus, so you're just getting links instead of links + commentary. Probably you're all glad!

A Ride Through London from House on a Hill

Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry merry!

I have been laid up with some kind of death flu that has rampaged through our house. In the decade we have been together, I have never known my husband to run a fever, and this week he spent three days feverish on the couch.

Considering I can't take a deep breath without hacking up a lung, I have not been riding. Last night, though, I finally bought Tristan's present (the biggest bulk bag of mints at Walmart; he's easy) and a frame for the next-to-last art piece to go in my office.

I LOVE IT SO MUCH. I can look up from my computer and see Tristan's goofy cartoon face. ❤️

As ever, huuuuuuuuuuge kudos to Emilie from because pony for doing the cartoon. (click through there for the full version)

I'm hoping she reopens commissions in the new year because I'd love to get one of each of my animals and also offer one as a giveaway for you all. I love this that much. She's got some awesome things planned for the new year and I can't wait to see where she goes!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sometimes I do cool things at work

This is a Civil War-era parade tack set that belonged to General George Stannard. He probably had most of it made as a matched set after the war.

Stannard was in command of the Vermont Brigade, several regiments that were positioned at the wheel point of the Union line on the third day of Gettysburg. Some of his historians argue that it was his quick thinking in swinging two of his regiments to send enfilading fire into Kemper's Confederate brigade that ultimately signaled the death knell for Pickett's Charge.

I got to spend some time examining the condition of the tack as well as giving much more specific information about the pieces that were included so that they could be more thoroughly described in our system.

In this one I'm taking a closer look at the stitching on the saddle covering. The underside was lined in a really interesting floral fabric and the whole thing was handstitched. 

And here I'm taking a closer look at a padded seat saver that was attached to the saddle. The saddle underneath is a pretty typical McClellan cavalry saddle, and they're not the most comfortable things. Stannard had a custom leather cover for the seat that was padded with wool or felt.

The set also included a crupper, padded breastplate (you can see a strap of it in the bottom left corner of the second photograph), matching bridle, running martingale, and saddlebags. It's faded now, being 150+ years old, but the leather was still in pretty good shape, and it must have been something spectacular when it was new.

I also got to design a new saddle rack for this and for another sidesaddle that we have.

This is not a typical part of my job, but it's going to become more common and I'm excited!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

House Post: Midway

I count years for the house from the anniversary of our closing date, which was May 8, which puts us a smidge past the halfway mark through year 2. In my year 1 roundup, I listed things that needed to get done in year 2. So, where are we on that list?

- finish garage (and by extension, basement reorganization) 

Some small progress on the garage space, and on reorganization.

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

HUGE progress! Not done yet, but probably/hopefully January.

- strip wallpaper and repaint: back bedroom, front bedroom, office, front hallway, nook area/game room

Nook area/game room is next, after the holidays, and front bedroom will depend on the tricky timing of not having houseguests for about 8 weeks after ski season. Maybe March?

Front hallway...we'll see.

- conserve front entryway mural

Haven't touched this, BUT a conservator friend will be here in late January / early February, so I am hoping to have her look at it then.

- sleeping porch: repaint, replace glass panes, finalize furniture arrangement there

Haven't touched this.

- most remaining radiators stripped and repainted (will probably hold on sun room and living room for now)

Haven't touched this. At this point, it will be a year 3 project because we can't do this while the heat still needs to be on and it will definitely be on through May, ahahahahaha, Vermont.

- landscaping and yard, including some raised beds for gardening

General landscaping...meh.

- drainage work along the north side of the house to prevent flooding problems

Yeah no. Next summer, for sure.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Weekly Blog Roundup

First, a news article that is kind of blowing my mind:

Make-up of equine gut bacteria altered by exercise, study shows
It's preliminary, but basically: the kinds of bacteria in a horse's gut changed dramatically immediately after exercise. I wonder if this could be linked to colic & ulcer histories?

Also, 8 year old me wants the horse pictured in the article, a Mangalarga Marchador. Sigh. (adult me says: no mares, and no grays)

Really thoughtful rider's journey through different understandings of what "frame" means when we talk about it.

Winter is here so I ditched my saddle from PONY'TUDE
This is my January MO as well! I often use a bareback pad just to protect my breeches from hair and dust, but I love the warmth + connection that a bareback ride provides.

How to dress a draft horse from The Jumping Percheron
Practicality rules the day! I liked this a lot - not just as an approach to outfitting a draft horse, but any horse that's not a leggy Thoroughbred or chunky Warmblood.

And a non-horsey but still very useful read: Rollout sugar cookie tips, from King Arthur Flour

Friday, December 16, 2016

Product Review: Noble Outfitters Softshell Riding Pants

Noble Outfitters Softshell Riding Pants
MSRP: $99.95
I paid: $67.46, at Riding Warehouse, on Black Friday

I've been on the hunt for new winter breeches for close to 18 months now. I have an old pair of Devon-Aire breeches that are thinning precariously, and have a hole in the knee from a bad fall on the ice at the end of last winter. Plus, going through a whole winter with just one pair of breeches is both a precarious state of being AND really gross.

Winter breeches were my #1 request from my family for Christmas this year, and my parents obliged by telling me to pick out whatever I wanted. I chose these based on a couple of factors: price, looks, the softshell outside, and my experience with a few other Noble Outfitters products - namely their Perfect Fit gloves, which are my new favorite thing.

These arrived last week and I've now put 4 rides on them. I have some mixed feelings.

Overall? They're pretty great. The softshell outside really does work to repel hay and other things that you might pick up at the barn. It does get dusty, but what clothing doesn't?

They're reasonably warm, which is to say: as warm as one layer of fleece + top fabric can possibly get. I've ridden in temperatures from 16f to 36f and while at 16f I was glad I kept my legs underneath the quarter sheet they were still fine for walking around while tacking up, etc. Once in the saddle, they were flexible and accommodating in all the right places: I never felt like I was held back or cinched up too tightly.

I'm not sure the knee patches actually do all that much? They felt super-sticky right out of the box but after a week of wear are not nearly as sticky. I've ridden in them both with and without stirrups, for a plain walk around, a more thorough dressage schooling, and some trot sets. I didn't notice any extra stickability, per se, but I also stayed in the saddle just fine, so...there's that?

Here's their real problem: they sag a little bit. I have to pull them up occasionally when walking around home or the barn. They're not as bad as the Pipers (sigh, so much potential, so much sagging) but it's still noticeable. I wish they came in a Long version; I think what's happening is that the slim fit of the legs (which is perfect! hooray for sock bottoms instead of velcro!) is tugging them down as I walk. So a long would give me just an inch or two of extra fabric and keep that from happening. But basically no one makes winter breeches in long, so I am SOL on that one.

In short - I would recommend them for their price point and for their intended purpose. They're still very workable. They're just not perfect, but then - nothing is!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: What is this bit?

As spotted in the barn tack room. It's hollow and rather lightweight. What type of bit is it, and what does it do?

(I'm quite sure it's being used with trainer knowledge and approval, at least if it does in fact belong to the horse whose bridle rack it sits on, which leads me to think it's a thoughtful attempt to address some issues with a tricky mare. This isn't an anti-gadget snark by any means.)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Blog Hop Raffle Results

You might have forgotten that I did this, but I definitely didn't!

The winner of my horse clipping blog hop is...

Ashley of The Feral Red Horse!

Thanks, Ashley! Check your email!

I hope to do more of these in the new year, so keep an eye out.

Thanks to everyone who participated, commenting or participating in the blog hop. It really helped me to think through what I'd do with Tristan. I ended up doing a modified Irish clip; I had every intention of doing a full Irish clip, but as I started in on his shoulder I didn't like how thin the hair was, and I kept thinking about blanket rubs. So I clipped down his chest and onto his stomach a bit, but not over the shoulders.

Here he is halfway through.

And here you can see a little bit how it turned out. I don't love the line on his neck - I'd like to go up more to his throatlatch - but I'm happy with the rest of it. And I'm happy with the way he's cooling out.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

House Post: Recessed Lighting in the Man Cave

House work has been pretty darn slow, actually. I'm focusing on organizing before getting into any big new projects, and working through the "little things" list. I've been on a good roll lately of putting away 3 things each night, big or small, that have ended up in not the right place. Sometimes this is just tidying up, and sometimes it's further organizing.

So this is a thing that actually happened a couple of weeks ago and not much has happened since. My dad and I put in recessed lighting in the ceiling to replace the old gross fluorescent lighting. It looks terrific. My husband and I have since pulled all the old staples from the ceiling and are ready to put up the vapor barrier...someday. With the arrival of winter weather, this room has become really awful to work in unless you turn on the space heater. So we'll see when we actually get around to it.

I've also put in foam sealant around all the windows, so the room is just about as insulated as it can get until we work in the crawlspace.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Hanging Horseshoes

Tristan has been barefoot most of his life. His dalliance with shoes was directly connected to his coffin bone injury, and that was only about 18 months all told, many of them in glue ons.

I only have one pair of his shoes. They're winter shoes, appropriately enough. They have borium heel studs and rubber rims to prevent snowball formation.

I've had them on my nightstand for the better part of two years, trying to decide what to do with them. Last night, after hanging some artwork in my office, I finally figured it out.

I'll hang them just like that, in that spot. Right side up, because I'm not superstitious and think they look stupid upside down.

Here's what I can't decide: do I keep the rubber rims in them? On the one hand, the look is very meh. On the other hand, I'm a completist.

What would you do?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Blog Hop: Bloodlines

I'm a horrible person, because I can't remember the exact name people are using for this blog hop but...I keep reading these really neat posts about equine bloodlines, from OTTBs to all sorts of other breeds and I'm over here, like...well, Tristan definitely has ancestors?

Fun game: cover up his freezebrand, put him in front of people, and say, "what breed?" Then watch their faces. I've gotten Andalusian, Morgan, Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, the list goes on. (No one has ever guessed "dachshund" sadly.)

It's funny because what even is going on there with that conformation? sigh.

So I thought I'd link to a few posts I've done before about where he comes from, which is as close to tracking his bloodlines as I'll ever get.

Blog Hop: History of a Horse - about the Callaghan HMA where he was rounded up
Rescuing Wild Mustangs in Maine - about Tristan's rescue, and how we met

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Blog Hop: Location, Location, Location

Courtesy of Sarah at A Soft Spot for Stars, which was a new blog to me!

Tell me about where you live. Are there any frustrating things about your area? What is the weather like? How does the cost of keeping horses compare to where I live?

I live in the best place on earth: Vermont.

Top of the App Gap in summer.

Vermont has everything you could possibly want: gorgeous scenery, a great community of people, and a way of life that is conducive to actually being a human being in the world. I could go on and on, but I love it here. Obviously.

Horsekeeping-wise, it has some really great features as well. The density of high-quality trainers is like nothing else except maybe certain winter watering holes. To name a few of the most well-known: Denny Emerson, Jane Savoie, Laura Graves, Tad Coffin, Steve Rojek, and I could go on. The less famous trainers are also superb. There's something in the water here. 

The facilities are good, too. You can find something to do every weekend in every discipline, though you'll have to drive a bit to get there. The Green Mountain Horse Association is a national treasure.

The weather...kind of sucks.

True story: I stepped outside of the house this morning and thought "oh, wow, it's way warmer than I thought it would be!" It was 30 degrees. It will be like this until mid-April. Think serious investment in winter riding gear, and every time you step outside for 6+ months it's a slog. It snows pretty much every day in the winter, and most of January & February will be into the single digits or below zero overnight - and there's about 3 weeks there where that's the pattern during the day, too. There's a reason half my barn decamps to Florida from November - May.

That said, we have about 3 months out of the year when it is just gorgeous and that makes everything worthwhile.

Commute-wise, we're talking country. 30 minutes or so to drive most places. Further afield for anything specialized. But at the same time, many Vermont towns have a downtown where you can get just about anything. I live close to the capital of Montpelier, which has three bookstores, two movie theaters, a million different restaurants, and a lot of great shopping options, all on two cross streets in a city with a population of 7,500 (which makes it the ninth largest city in the state).

That's another thing: it is tiny. Everyone knows everyone else. You can get end to end - the long way - in 4.5 hours. There are dozens of towns with fewer than 500 people in them. The largest city in the state, Burlington, has a population of 42,000. The entire state has fewer than 500,000 people.

Cost of living is a bit tricky. I lived in eastern Massachusetts for so long that it all feels cheap. At the same time, average salary here is not great. I took a 25% pay cut to move up here and it will be at least another 5 years before I get close to making the same amount. Yay, nonprofits! But here are some figures.

House Prices: $100,000 - $250,000 for something basic; get closer to ski country or second home territory and it goes up quickly. $350,000 will get you nice land + barn. [context: we paid right in the middle of that range for our 2800sf city house with great bones that needed some work]
Boarding: $300 - $600 for stall board. I pay $550 at probably the fanciest barn in the county, which is worth it to me because of the extremely high quality of care.
Expenses: $50/trim, $60/lesson, $150/shoes, say $150 for a basic spring shots vet checkup.

Frustrating: It can be small, sometimes. There are no Targets in the entire state. I don't have much public/private divide. I work for a prominent organization, and I am a public face for that organization, so my name is in the news somewhat regularly and I often find myself having work conversations in the grocery store. I love what I do, so I don't really mind, but I'm sure some people would find it awful. 

For me, though, it's a feature of Vermont: it's a place that really respects and supports the whole person. There really truly is a depth of community here that you can't find elsewhere. People are passionate about things, and they're profoundly welcoming and committed to making the world a better place. I value that especially, right now.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Weekly Blog Roundup

Couple of blog posts for your reading pleasure.

Grand Canyon Mule Ride and Part II from DIY Horse Ownership
I cannot get over how awesome this is.

Holiday gifts for an equestrian from Hand Gallop

Can you help? from Because Pony
I get to see the adorableness of Emilie's animals almost every day, but if you're not following her adventures you're missing out. Take this survey and tell her we want more Crumble pictures