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Bucket List Trip: Vienna for the Spanish Riding School

I honestly don’t know how I got started, but back in November I had a thought: I wonder how much it really costs to get a ticket to see the Spanish Riding School perform?

The answer, it turns out, is not a lot of money at all. Around $250 for the absolute front-row best seats in the house. You’d pay far more than that for terrible Broadway tickets.

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That line of thinking led to a “I wonder what it costs to fly to Vienna?” Google search.

Which led to a “What would an AirBNB in Vienna cost?”

So, uh, I’m flying to Vienna for my birthday this year.

I’ve got tickets to two Spanish Riding School performances – one with the standard program, and one with the Vienna Boys’ Choir. I’ve got morning exercise & behind the scenes tour tickets. I’ve got an apartment about three blocks away.

Oh, and my mom is coming with me, because one of the things that led to me saying eff it and booking this trip is that life is short and losing my dad so suddenly last year still continues to ricochet through my brain and heart.

It’s one of the more impulsive and extravagant things I’ve done, and it makes my work schedule in May pretty tricky, but I’m SO EXCITED.

I have no idea what I’m going to do for the rest of the week – I suspect my mother won’t be game for going to morning exercises every single day – so if you have any ideas for things to do in Vienna, let me know!

 

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House Notes Goldilocks Tile

When last I left off with the story of the upstairs bathroom, I told you about how I tore it apart but the photos didn’t load. Sorry about that. Here’s what it looks like right now.

 

I wavered initially, but I’m definitely going to replace that blue tile. Here’s a closeup for you. It’s fine. But it’s very much of the same era as those frilly curtains AND I definitely have to extend the shower backsplash up the wall now that it’s a true shower and not just a bathtub with a sprayer.

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The problem is, I have a specific idea in my head that…is proving problematic to get in reality.

Or maybe more accurately I found it in reality but it’s expensive and with a high minimum order (3x what I need). I’m not quite ready to spend $500 on just tile.

Glossy Cobalt Mini Herringbone Glazed Porcelain Mosaic

It’s awfully bold but I love it.

So, commence searching and ordering near-endless samples of other tile.

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Color was okay, not great, and the pattern was not as much fun as I thought it would be.

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Ugh, boring as hell. Not nearly as deep a color as it appeared in the photos.

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This is…fine. Close. But not quite deep enough in person. And it’s the larger sized subway tile which is not quite the look I wanted.

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I had such high hopes for this one and the color is so awful. Well, I’m sure it’s actually trendy but it’s way too dark & gray for me.

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Here they all are together.

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We went to an actual tile store and I fell deeply, profoundly in love with this tile, but when we checked…it was $40sf and I honestly I forget what the minimum order was because my brain went all static. Still bummed about this one.

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So, this is the current best contender. It’s the larger sized subway tile, which I don’t like. It doesn’t come with the snubbed edges so we’d have to figure that out. And we’d have to lay it individually to get the herringbone pattern, which might not even work with the huge size of the tiles. If this one came in a 1×3 instead of a 3×6 I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

I’ve got some time yet before I have to decide, but…what would you do?

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Lesson Notes: Rhythm

Briefly, just to get them down, some notes from Monday’s lesson. It was short, because it was 10 degrees and I didn’t want to push too hard.

First, some good things!

  • overall, he’s more forward and loose than he has been, so our work there has been paying off
  • he was also much stretchier into the contact, which showed even more payoff
  • he was surprisingly cheerful and willing for it being so cold

Things to work on:

  • my position; still too much gripping with the knee and ankle and scrunching my leg up to get my heel on him and keeping it there. we worked a bunch on even pressure through the whole leg, and talked about how it made my thighs feel tight/a little bit too closed on the saddle but that’s ok for now
  • his rhythm/tempo. I had downloaded the metronome app that Emma recommended and we worked together to find a BPM for his trot. Right now we’ve got it set to 2/2 at 140 BPM, or a smidge faster than a beat per second. That’s his stretch goal; right now he’s hovering more around a 132 BPM. Just to give you a sense of how freaking slow my horse is.

We also chatted briefly about a topic that causes perpetual angst for me and will be the subject of a future blog post: cooling down. I’ve had a lot of different trainers with different opinions on it over the years and it’s left me an anxious mess about what should be a really simple thing. I felt a little bit better after we talked, so that was nice.

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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.