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Winter 2020 (!) Cushings Update

It’s been nearly five years since Tristan was diagnosed with Cushings, and about a month ago the vet pulled blood to do a checkup on his ACTH levels. It had been about two years since we actually did a check, and though his symptoms are largely absent or very mild, it’s always smart to check with science. This year, we also checked his overall thyroid function – both because of age and because of his general lack of energy.

Aaaaaaand…

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Both totally normal – in fact, his ACTH levels are pretty much his best since we’ve been testing. Good pony!

He still doesn’t have the classic Cushing’s coat. His biggest observable symptoms remain his lack of ability to temperature regulate in the winter and his overall lack of ability to retain conditioning. But, you know what? He’s also 25. Both of those things were going to start to happen anyway.

Overall, right now, he’s as healthy as he’s ever been. (KNOCK ALL THE WOOD)

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Riding with a plan: first level

Right now, Tristan seems happiest with about 30 minutes of work at a time, which means that I get about 10 minutes of true work after his 15 minute warmup.

I’m coping with that, and with winter, by focusing in hard on tiny pieces of the first level tests. I printed them out and went to work with a highlighter, breaking them down into what we’d need to get better at before we do an actual test.

I just think you should all know that this is the first result for “dressage gif.”

So, on that list we have:

  • 10m half-circles in working trot
  • 20m circle in stretchy trot
  • short diagonal of “lengthen stride in trot,” so not a true extended trot but showing some distinction
  • a long side of “lengthen stride in canter,” same as above
  • 15m circle in canter
  • transition from working canter to working trot at X
  • leg yield, left and right
  • simple change at X
  • one loop serpentine in working canter

We’ve done all of these things before with varying degrees of success, correctness, and ugliness.

But: baby steps toward getting them really nailed. The difference between Training and First is going to show up in degree of collection and in quality of transitions, too, so we’re working on those things.

Last week, it was the stretchy trot and the transition into and out of it. Then ten minutes of leg-yield, thinking about what Alli wrote a little while ago about sharpness of the hind leg off the leg + seatbone aid. So I worked hard on really, truly, stepping through behind but also maintaining quick feet.

Monday night it was walk-trot transitions, up and down and up and down: keeping him consistently in the contact but also sharp. In the warmup, I tend to focus hard on simple responsiveness to the aid on a totally loose rein, so he can do his best giraffe impression as long as he is moving his ass; that can take a little while to move to asking him to stay supple/in the bridle AND jumping right into it. And like any good transition, these feel the best when they are uphill.

I’m also incorporating tiny pieces of the responsiveness into my warmup, like when we move into picking up the bit I work a bit on leg yield response, even if for a stride or two and then praise.

We’ve actually always done 10m half circles as a diagnostic: those are another great warmup tool. They reveal all sins with depressing speed. Not enough bend? Not supple enough? Not quick enough behind? Too strung out? Too slow all around? Hot mess!

This weekend, I’ll start to tackle the canter work with more focus, starting with transitions. Once I’ve run through each of the pieces in a schooling session I’ll have a sense of what we need to work on, and then I’ll start to pull them out interchangeably based on the horse I have that day. (I’ve already done that a bit, obviously – Monday’s ride was supposed to be canter transitions, but we had a sharp drop in temperatures and Tris came out of his stall a little pissy and not terribly forward, not a great base for canter transitions.)

Any tips or thoughts on breaking down the test? Any of these movements you feel like you have some special insight into?

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Warning Signs at Barns

I read this post from The Plaid Horse and thought “those are all very meta, thoughtful reasons to reconsider a trainer or barn, but surely there have to be some really good crazy stories, right?”

Reader, I have two of them.

I have been at six different barns in the fifteen years (!) I have owned Tristan.

Two have them have been truly exemplary. They’re second homes, every tiny detail is accounted for and managed, the people are lovely – they’re just amazing. My current barn is one of those two.

One of them was very good and had many, many positive things, but some noticeable drawbacks. Nothing that made me move but enough that I might not give a wholehearted recommendation to anyone and everyone seeking a barn.

One of them was just fine! It was a friend’s backyard basically and it suited precisely what I needed it for – nine months of rehab turnout for Tristan while I focused on grad school. Care was top notch but it was a fence and a run-in shed and that was that.

One of them was quite decidedly meh. On paper terrific, some really great experiences and memories, but a LOT of weirdness. Some of it concerning. Some of it justĀ weird.

One of them was an actual three ring circus.

It had 50 stalls in two long aisles. They turned in/out by opening stall doors and chasing horses. Down a steep hill and around a corner to a turnout. They had 3 basic groups of turnout. Then they brought them in the same way, after already throwing hay. Many horses went to their own stalls and chilled. A not-small number ducked in and out of several stalls, resulting sometimes in multiple horses in a stall fighting it out.

They once quarantined an incoming horse because it had Cushing’s.

There was no actual trainer on site. There was a barn owner who was some combination of burned out/really terrible/older/sick of the whole thing. There were 20 year olds who taught up-down lessons. So there was a huge, beautiful indoor – and a tack room to die for, and a viewing lounge also to die for – that barely got used.

After about 7 weeks there, when I had already started quietly investigating other barns to move to, I arrived at the barn in the evening to discover that Tristan was colicking very badly. That they had thrown his evening grain on top of his morning grain – my horse who at that point in his life ate every scrap of everything and kicked for more – without even noticing. They did not notice he was colicking. For 48 hours, I slept in a chair in front of or in his stall because I did not trust anyone. He started colicking on Monday; on Thursday, we left the barn under literal cover of darkness and I ate my 30 day notice.

A few months later, the barn owner’s daughter’s ex-boyfriend came to the barn on a Saturday and waved a gun around screaming, then attempted to fire at both the daughter (who was sort of kind of the barn manager and was living in an apartment on site) and the barn owner. The gun misfired, and soon after the police got there.

In Googling the barn for this blog post, out of curiosity, I found that one of their barn workers was arrested for neglect after horses in her care at a private facility were seized and taken to a rescue with a body score of 2.

So, all of those would be warning signs. That barn was the first I moved Tristan to after my college barn, which was amazing. I didn’t yet know what to look for and what not to look for. I liked the facilities, the access to the local state park, the distance from my house, and many other things. The nutty management did not show up until a few weeks in. Now, I’m much, much pickier and more neurotic about the people I trust to care for Tristan.

(One of the barns I looked at to move to during that whole phase came highly recommended and the trainer spent our entire conversation, which included a tour of the facilities, chain-smoking and flicking the butts everywhere. DUDE. NO. That was a really obvious warning sign, too.)

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House Post: Fireboard

A few weeks ago, I called a chimney specialist to see if we could get the fireplace in our living room operational again.

The previous owners had done…something…to it. It’s still a little opaque to me. At some point, they had a wood stove there, for sure. At some point, there was a chimney fire and they had to put in a new liner. I have absolutely no idea of the chronology of these things. Was the liner there a new one, currently intact? Would we need a new liner? Had they put in the wood stove as a reaction to the chimney fire, or was it the wood stove that caused the fire and nothing had been touched since? Was there anything else we needed to do?

Chimney guy was…extremely less than helpful, quoted $5k just to start investigating, and probably more like $10k when we were done, and strongly suggested we get an insert. Which – when I told him I didn’t like the look of inserts, he said I was the first person who had ever said that. I DON’T THINK SO, DUDE. Fireplace inserts are a very distinct look and one that is very different from actual fireplace.

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There’s nothing wrong with them if that’s the way you want to go. But let’s be very clear about them looking very different, right? And I get it – they’re more efficient, easier to clean, probably safer, all sorts of things. But we wanted the fireplace as an occasional cozy winter thing, not as an actual heat source for the house.

After giving me a scare lecture about another chimney entirely in a different part of the house, about which more another day, he also pointed out one last thing: we were losing a LOT of heat out of the fireplace.

It sounds obvious, right? But after five years in the house I’m still learning a lot of “obvious” things and kicking myself for not dealing with them sooner. Oh well.

I pondered for a bit and decided to make a fireplace board to air-seal the fireplace and provide a bit of decoration to the room. Fireplace boards are a very old solution to that same problem.

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You could spend all day getting sucked into some gorgeous antique ones, and they’re very collectible. You can also get modern ones in old styles.

The concept is really basic, though: it goes in the fireplace hole and it blocks heat. I figured that was a project I could handle.

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Step 1 was to frame out a board that would fit the space, using scrap plywood and 2x4s.

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Step 2 was to fill it with a can of foam insulation that I had laying around.

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Step 3 was to fill in the nail holes and the crack with wood filler, which I will never use again, amen. I called my brother halfway through and ranted about how much it sucked and what was I doing wrong and got the news that wood filler just sucks and he always mixes wood glue and sawdust for a custom fill. Sigh. Next time.

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Step 4 was to prime the board, which I forgot to take a picture of.

Step 5 was to actually insert it, and use a combination of things to airseal it: garage door rubber on the sides, and mortite and felt stripping in other spots. It actually looks better than it sounds.

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Step 6, put everything back and marvel at my more comfortable living room!

Step 7, at some undetermined point in the future, will be to add decorative paint, but my priority was getting it in place for now and stopping the heat loss, especially since last month we got $600 in heating bills, ugh.

In the meantime, it looks neater, does its job, and was a nice project that used up entirely material I had around the house. Overall investment, maybe 3 hours, but most of that was running up and down the cellar stairs because I kept effing up the sizing.

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For the Splendor of Creation

Let me preface this by saying: I am about as non-religious as you can get. Spiritual sometimes, maybe. I place a great emphasis in the power of place, and of objects, and of inspiration. But organized religion? Nope.

I write that preface because I’m about to share a hymn with you.

The tune is to Thaxted, a common melody that’s pulled from the sweeping grand bit of Holst’s Jupiter. There are a ton of hymns and other songs in general set to it. It’s an extraordinary piece of music, both in its original orchestral arrangement and in its vocal arrangements.

This particular hymn is titled “For the Splendor of Creation,” and I heard it for the first time at my college convocation, a quasi-religious invocation in the campus chapel the evening before our actual graduation. They printed the words in the program and we sang it and it hit me like a ton of bricks. It still hits me that way, every single time I listen to it.

The lyrics are a hymn of praise to knowledge and learning, in all its challenges and complexities and frustrations and joys. It has spare, simple words that capture perfectly a profound, sincere gratitude toward the process of learning.

I identify as an historian. I have inhabited some kind of atmosphere of academia and learning my entire life, whether as a student or as a researcher. I feel, almost every day, deeply lucky for getting to do what I get to do, even if it makes me crazy on some days.

So, when I’m feeling the need to really connect again to what drives me, underneath all the minutiae and the eight million emails and the late nights and the budget tightening – I listen to this hymn and I remember.

Lyrics:

For the splendor of creation
     that draws us to inquire,
for the mysteries of knowledge
     to which our hearts aspire,
for the deep and subtle beauties
     which delight the eye and ear,
for the discipline of logic,
     the struggle to be clear,
for the unexplained remainder,
     the puzzling and the odd:
for the joy and pain of learning,
     we give you thanks, O God.

For the scholars past and present
     whose bounty we digest,
for the teachers who inspire us
     to summon forth our best,
for our rivals and companions,
     sometimes foolish, sometimes wise,
for the human web upholding
     this noble enterprise,
for the common life that binds us
     through days that soar or plod:
for this place and for these people,
     we give you thanks, O God.
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One week of ride logging

One of my resolutions for the year was to log every ride, so I’m doing that with just brief handwritten notes in a new journal for that purpose.

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To be strictly honest, I bought the journal a while ago because look at it! And then had it on a shelf trying to figure out what to do with it. It seemed perfect for this purpose.

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Really truly short notes! But they’re working for me, and it also helps that he’s been really spectacular to start the year.

 

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House Post: New Dryer Venting

I KNOW, my life is just TOO EXCITING, right?

Anyway.

The last three contractors/service people who have entered our basement have all zeroed in on our dryer and said “um…you know that’s super dangerous to have it vented like that, right?”

So: new year, new me, I finally got off my ass to do something about it.

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Apparently, though, I did not take a good picture of the previous configuration? Anyway: the main problem is the white plastic ducting you can see there. It snags dryer lint and gets overheated and was a nasty fire risk.

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See? Loooooots of dryer lint. Now – you can clean this out with either forced air (like a leaf blower) or these attachments they make that spin around, etc. However. The plastic is super fragile and old and probably would have shredded if I’d tried that.

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It was also very jankily held up by, if you can see closely, plastic stripping held together with twist ties.

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I opted to also replace the elbow coming out of the dyer at the same time because why not. I also probably should have bought the semi-rigid duct stuff instead of this more flexible stuff but live and learn, it was only $30 spent in materials and in 3 more years if I am unhappy with this I will do it over. It only took about 2 hours of my life.

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And the final new venting: straighter, smoother on the inside, and stronger overall. I turned on the dryer and went outside to test to make sure it was blowing strongly, and it was, despite the 16′ length from dyer to exterior wall.

So: boring, but quick and easy and a decent improvement in overall house safety.