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House Post: Continuing Bathroom

Tile is gone! Good thing we pulled it too (I was briefly considering just adding a cheap plastic backing to get us up to the ceiling) because it was GLUED TO THE DRYWALL.

sigh.

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Anyway, it’s gone now, and today if I get off my ass I will be stripping the last of the wallpaper, washing the walls, and starting the skimcoat.

The plan for the area around the shower, then, is to mortar in a waterproof membrane as a new backer for the new tile. You know, waterproof. Like things around showers should be. FFS.

book review · Uncategorized

Book Review: The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts

The Perfect Horse
Elizabeth Letts

Summary: The simultaneous story of the Nazi fascination with pureblood horses, the US Cavalry’s transition away from horses, and the exile and then rescue of the Spanish Riding School’s Lipizzaner herd.

I picked this up for a few reasons. I have long had a fascination with the Spanish Riding School (thanks, Marguerite Henry!) and in particular with its precarious position in World War II (see also, The Miracle of the White Stallions). Alois Podhajsky is one of my favorite equestrians of all time – if you haven’t read his Complete Horse and Rider or My Horses, My Teachers, they are both superb.

I am also reading a lot of equine nonfiction right now as I think about my own research & writing on the Morgan horse. I’m reading particularly popular nonfiction, as that’s where I’m aiming. It’s a very particular thing, to write about animals in general and horses in particular; how do you tell the story of a creature without its own voice?

Like Letts’s previous book (The Eighty Dollar Champion, about Harry de Leyer and Snowman), this is much less about the horse itself than about the people swirling around it. So it suffers from some of the same things that often frustrate me about nonfiction horse books: they are about everything but the horse, in some ways. (Not the case for all of them, and I should do a post someday about the ones that I think really get it.)

It’s a problem particular to nonfiction (really, third-person nonfiction, not memoir) and maybe especially to historical nonfiction, because you are relying on second or third-hand accounts to describe an animal. If you never met the animal yourself, or had direct conversations with people who met the animal – how can you really characterize its personality? It takes a gifted writer to convey that in the first person, and it’s doubly hard when you’re translating it again into another context.

With that caveat, there were a lot of things to like about this book. It did a nice job covering the cavalry’s transition away from horses and toward mechanized transport. It did a nice job presenting Alois Podhajsky (though he is most definitely not an unknown character, and I would have appreciated more about him given how prolific a writer he was and how many other sources talk about him). It really shone in delving into the Nazi ideology around animals, something I’ve been particularly fascinated with for a little while now. (In short: Nazis extended their fucked up ideas about purity to animals as well, and that meant both preserving certain bloodlines and also “breeding back” animals that were perceived to be more natural and/or authentic such as direwolves, aurochs, and primitive horses. Read the Wikipedia article on Heck Cattle and proceed from there.)

The book bogged down, actually, when talking about the purported thing that it was actually about: the American rescue of a large collection of Lipizzaner and Arabian horses from a stud farm in Czechoslovakia ahead of the oncoming Russian Army. It seemed to me to be a two-part problem. First, in pacing; everything was moving briskly and nicely until then, and it slooooooooowed dooooooooown so we could appreciate everything hour by hour. It’s a tough thing to change your pace so abruptly but it was still awkward. Second, the author had worked intensively with the families of several men involved and sometimes when that happens, too much of it comes through. It gives an unbalanced narrative, when you can see the cracks like that. Again: a tough balance! But when it’s wrong, it really shows.

One small nitpicky thing that also made me a little nuts was the absolute obsession and over-fixation on the Arabian stallion Witez, who, okay, sure, was super nice! But nice enough to justify the endless, endless, ENDLESS gushing about him every time he appeared on page? Reader, I think not.

Overall, I would recommend it if you’re looking to learn more about equine history in general or this topic in particular.

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Physical Fitness & Therapy

I don’t really have any conclusions yet, here, but thought I should write out some of my thinking as I pursue answers. (I also don’t have any photos for this post, sorry!)

I’ve read with interest and fascination a few bloggers recently diagnosing and starting to work with lingering body issues that were impacting their riding. In particular, Austen at Guinness on Tap (part 1 and part 2) and Megan at A Enter Spooking (here) both talked thoroughly and thoughtfully about specific injuries. Jen at Cob Jockey also talked about her own body weaknesses and how they affected Connor.

Like any other thirtysomething equestrian, I also have some longterm physical stuff. I have gout, which is chronic and inherited and occasionally flares up. I also have a lower back / SI injury from a fall off of Tristan about 12 years ago. Neither had been all that present for me until recently.

In September, I signed up for some intro classes at our local CrossFit affiliate. I knew I needed some additional form of exercise beyond riding, I knew that it needed to be class-based, and I knew that a lot of equestrians I really respected really liked CrossFit. So I gave it a try, and like many before me, I got really hooked. I’m now going three days a week, on my riding days off.

I’ve made huge strides in a lot of the areas I was hoping for: overall body awareness, strength, core strength, general fitness, and an enjoyment of exercise that I haven’t really had before.

But about three weeks ago we did an absolute killer WOD and somewhere at about burpee #75 my form started to fail. By burpee #95 I had flexed my lower back & SI one too many times, and it was well and truly re-aggravated.

I’ve also been grappling a bit with exercise-induced gout too: my right foot now clicks with every step, and is stiff and sore some days, in the mornings especially.

Both of those things obviously are impacting my riding – both the action itself as well as the motivation, some days.

What next?

I’ve scheduled a few things to try and help, and am making further plans as I go, so we’ll see what actually works out.

First: I have about 6 weeks of physical therapy appointments scheduled specifically to address my janky SI joint. The initial injury was a compression at speed, from hitting the ground headfirst on a fall from Tristan, so we need to unlock it and then re-teach my body how to move smoothly without pain. I have a series of exercises to do that, and to strengthen and stabilize the joint itself.

Second: I have talked through the strain with all my regular CrossFit coaches and am carefully limiting myself in exercises that are triggering it. Burpees in particular; I am taking them slowly and really engaging my core and bearing down to move correctly and with as much stabilization as possible. That means my WOD numbers suck right now on burpee days. Oh well.

Third: I have called around to both chiropractors and massage therapists and will hopefully be doing both in the next few weeks to also relax & loosen around the joint.

I don’t yet know whether this will be a longterm challenge, or a shorter-term flareup. I hope that by attacking it aggressively right now, I’ll both fight back any acute problems and lay a better foundation to prevent them in the future.

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On Sport Boots and My Irrational Hatred Thereof

Buckle up, this is going to be kind of petty and pointless, but I’m going there anyway.

Last spring/early summer, I had Tristan flexed by our local lameness vet. I wanted to just get a good read on his soundness by an expert. I honestly half-expected to be doing hock injections. To my surprise, Tris flexed pretty darn sound overall, save for some slight soreness in his hind fetlocks.

Tris hasn’t had clean, tight fetlocks in…um…many years. He’s a big-jointed, thick-boned horse anyway, and his fetlocks are just kind of janky. Functional, but janky. So not a hugely out of sync thing for his hind fetlocks in particular to show a bit of soreness.

The vet recommended riding him in sport-style boots to give support to the fetlocks and so okay, I had just shelled out a good chunk of money for this vet to look at my horse. I dutifully borrowed a barnmate’s Professional’s Choice boots to start getting a read for what size and style he’d need. Then I bought my own version of them from Roma, used.

Reader, I fucking hated them.

Hate is a mild word. I saw red when putting them on. I wanted to swear every single second that I was putting them on. I ground my teeth. Were I a spitting person, I would have spat. A lot. Even thinking about putting them on makes my blood boil.

Thing the first: is there any way to put these fucking things on that doesn’t require a perfectly still horse, the exact right angle, the perfect amount of torque, and the stars to be in some kind of astrologically perfect pattern?

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Cute pony, but look at the awfulness that is that bulge on the side from wrapping the fetlock piece.

Because JFC, there is NO WAY to get them lined up neatly, snugly, and in one go-round. I have been putting sport boots on my horse semi-dutifully for about 9 months now, and it STILL takes me 3-5 tries of adjusting the velcro to get it straight, to get it snug, to get it in the right place, on and on and fucking ON. (Adjust upward for the number of times the velcro gets stuck on something, again and again and again.)

Thing the second: I hate the look of them. I haaaaaaaaaaaaate it. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I am pretty darn far from a fashion-conscious or looks-driving horse person. I like things that work, that look neat, and that are (relatively) clean.

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More cute pony. Ugly boots.

I think sport boots look like ass. There. I said it. They make a horse’s legs look thick and blunt and clumsy and UGLY. Doubly so on my already clunky-legged poorly-conformed little mustang.

Thing the third: I loathe the way I have to get them so tight so that they “work.” See exhibit A below: when they are snugged up enough to actually stay in place through a ride and provide some of this mythical fetlock support, they make me a little queasy, and they leave actual indent lines in Tristan’s legs. Even after short rides.

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see that dent?

Thing the fourth, as you may have guessed: do they even work????????? I finally asked the barn manager “how will I tell these are helping my horse as they are intended?” and she shrugged and said it’s a cumulative thing. Okay. So I have to put these on my horse every day for the rest of forever and my only proof will be…his fetlocks are less saggy and sore than they otherwise might be? Compared to…what? Some forever unknowable baseline.

Horse’s legs are complicated and they take a ton of torque and you expect me to believe that 1/8″ thick neoprene (UGH) and some velcro is enough to hold up a fetlock under load? Like. Honestly. How does that work?

(I tried to do some research and one sports boot manufacturer said they “provide more support than polos” like NO FUCKING KIDDING, who in their right mind thinks polo wraps provide support and not just padding and good looks?)

I understand boots that provide some compression around the leg. I understand boots that prevent whacks by injury. I do NOT understand how fetlock support is supposed to be achieved by sheer dint of lining up this one little cradle of neoprene perfectly (which again, see above, IMPOSSIBLE). Walking around, I guess? Okay? But cantering? REALLY?

Actual science and actual vets back me up on this, btw.

Roepstorff is even more skeptical. “In the SDFT, the DDFT, and the suspensory ligament, you have a combined strain force of more than 1000 kg (more than 2,200 pounds) when the horse is just cantering—and much greater when he’s jumping,” he says. “Those are huge forces. You don’t support that by just putting something around it.”

So, here I am, rock and a hard place.

I hate them.

The vet told me to use them. The barn manager agrees with them. (She likes them and a bunch of other horses in the barn go in them.) I know his fetlocks aren’t great. They clearly flexed poorly.

Is there any hope? Is there something I’m doing wrong here? Am I the only outlier in the world that thinks these boots are infuriating garbage? Is there some way I can get over this? I legitimately fantasize about setting them on fire each time I have to put them on his legs.

Are there other boots that might provide some of this vaunted fetlock support? Is there some company that makes a version that is less infuriating and better-fitting? Or am I doomed to either ignore my locally trusted experts and go back to the dressage boots that I quite liked and did offer impact protection, or just suck it up and deal with these things forever?

I’ve thought about trying a few different brands but I don’t have endless amounts of spare cash to drop $100-$200 for boots only to hate them just as much as my current ones, over and over again.

HELP.

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House Post: Decluttering

We have a large (almost 3,000sf) house and we are both packrats, which means that staying on top of “stuff” is a constant battle. The longer I work in museums, the more I want to throw everything in my house away and live like a monk. (Except for books.)

Last year, I did a February decluttering challenge that worked very well, and this year I’m going to repeat it. For each day in February, I’ll remove (or flag for removal via a planned yard sale this summer) an item from my house. Sometimes that will mean throwing things away; sometimes, recycling; sometimes, donating; sometimes, finding a new home with a friend.

If I stay on target, that will be 435 items total. What worked well last year was to get ahead a bit – on weekends or days with more time, I would cross off days in advance, so that I don’t arrive at, say, February 26 on a Wednesday in the middle of a busy week and panic because I have a LOT of stuff to get out on that day.

I don’t follow a particular method – I never got into the Marie Kondo stuff, and I’m acutely aware that for me personally, true minimalism doesn’t work. I do still like stuff, and I don’t feel a whole lot of guilt over that. I just need to get better about not keeping ALL of it because I have so much storage space. Last year, we unpacked a few boxes left over from moving and one of them was just full of random smaller empty boxes. Yikes.

I also read this article recently and it’s been bouncing around my brain: The empty promises of minimalism. So, you know, I don’t believe in “minimalism” as some kind of cure-all for modern life, nor am I touting decluttering as what will fix the over-stuffed nature of my own brain. But I do also know that a neater, more organized space helps me feel more productive and settled, so I will do what I can to advance that.

This weekend, my husband has been traveling, which means I’ve started with a bang and already crossed off several days!

 

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Weekend Reading

One of my quieter goals for 2020 is to do more substantive reading – thought-provoking reading, with actual time devoted to it, not just scrolling Reddit for headlines.

To that end, here are a few articles that I enjoyed and thought a lot about this week.

On Robert Caro, Great Men, and the Problem of Powerful Women in Biography by Caroline Fraser

So writing about women who have achieved a modicum of influence can often feel like watching someone on a precipice: One foot wrong, and it’s the block, the pillory, or the head in the oven. This is true whether writing about a forbidding figure, such as Mary Baker Eddy, the sinister founder of the Christian Science Church, who features in my first book, God’s Perfect Child, or a model of perseverance and pluck, Laura Ingalls Wilder in Prairie Fires. It requires one to follow a more circuitous path than the one Caro lays out, leading not to the exercise of power in any straightforward way but to the subversive, often stealthy assumption of it.

Power and ambition in women are often hidden, buried, shrouded, veiled, disguised, crushed, thwarted, mocked, diminished, warped, punished, or excoriated. Women oriented toward ambition may have concealed such a desire even from themselves.

The Last Time Democracy Almost Died by Jill Lepore

The series’ lead contributor, the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, took issue with the question, as philosophers, thankfully, do. “I call this kind of question ‘meteorological,’ ” he grumbled. “It is like asking, ‘Do you think that it is going to rain today? Had I better take my umbrella?’ ” The trouble, Croce explained, is that political problems are not external forces beyond our control; they are forces within our control. “We need solely to make up our own minds and to act.”

Don’t ask whether you need an umbrella. Go outside and stop the rain.

I DON’T HATE WOMEN CANDIDATES — I JUST HATED HILLARY AND COINCIDENTALLY I’M STARTING TO HATE ELIZABETH WARREN by Devorah Blachor (satire, in case you were startled)

My hatred for Hillary wasn’t diabolical. I never bought into the whole pizzagate thing, or the whole Uranium One thing, or the whole spirit-cooking-she-drinks-blood-infused-Podesta-rice thing, and I never once believed she was the devil. I would see those posts and just be like, Huh, if people believe that stuff about her, she must be really terrible.

And I never chanted LOCK HER UP or created memes showing her in prison, but I did laugh a little at those memes, because the thought of this accomplished woman behind bars with all her agency stripped away from her was funny to me.

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2020 Goals: January Report

Tristan

  1. Ride a First Level test at one of the two barn schooling shows – this is not going to happen until June
  2. Take notes (however brief) on every ride – yesssss, done for January!
  3. Clean tack at least 1x a month – 1/12, check
  4. Volunteer at 3 events
  5. Take 25 lessons – 1/25 check
  6. *Reach goal: Go to Crossfit 100 times (or roughly 2x a week) for additional fitness – I got wicked sick for the first two weeks of the year so I’ve only gone 8 times in January which is precisely on target but I can do better than that.

 

Business

  1. Keep up with monthly expense/revenue tracking – ehhhhhhh not so hot in January
  2. Maintain 100 listings in the Etsy store – I’ll be up to 84 this weekend with some plans to expand
  3. Mustang gear goes live – posted a preview of this on my business instagram and it blew up which definitely made me feel good about demand
  4. Sponsor 5 riders – 1/5, check!
  5. Table at a horse show – dear horse show organizers, answer your emails? I’ve sent of several inquiries but have gotten nothing back
  6. *Reach goal: Get to 1000 sales on Etsy – 584/1000 and nicely up year-on-year so far

 

General

  1. Try 25 new recipes – 4/25 check! two new cookie recipes, a new waffle recipe, and a new soup recipe
  2. Try making: croissants, eclairs, cinnamon rolls – none of the above but I have plans to tackle eclairs very soon
  3. Declutter in February – BRING IT ON
  4. Finish 5 craft projects – sigh
  5. Finish upstairs bathroom, front guest bedroom, and nook room – made some tiny progress on the upstairs bathroom
  6. *Reach goal: submit Morgan article for publication – I pitched the article to the editor and he’s looking forward to it, now to keep going