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Quick ride notes

Nothing terribly complicated, just some notes for my own processing purposes.

Tris came out on Monday pretty “up”; he had a lot of time off the previous week while I wrangled our bathroom renovation. He’s also getting pretty fit right now and that’s contributing to some extra fizzy energy. So he was trying pretty hard to act spooky for the first 10 minutes or so – walking around on tiptoes, ears in my face, quick little shudders or stops at every possible thing. Someone was sawing and hammering things in the house next to the dressage ring, and he tried to convince me that was worth spooking about probably 10-15 times.

Thinking very hard about spooking at the construction noises

I did not indulge him at all, but kept firmly and consistently asking for him to move forward, with praise for any sign of relaxation, and he slowly worked out of it. I eased off a little bit on my insistence from the previous week about dealing with my set rein length because I didn’t want to pick a fight when he was obviously spoiling for one. (Not riding in the outdoor dressage arena anyway; it’s a long way downhill back to the barn and I did not relish the idea of doing it at speed if he decided to be a shit.)

He eventually gave me some really superb trot work, particularly when I was able to harness the energy of his return to the barn side. I don’t know how much I’ve talked about this before, but he’s hideously barn-sour in the outdoor rings. Getting him to pass the gate and turn back away often involves pony-kicking, and he has a tendency to zoom down the long side back toward the barn. It’s even the case when in the upper dressage ring, when you can barely see the barn. Some days it makes me crazier than others. Nothing has ever made it go away completely.

the best view

The best way I’ve dealt with it is by creating a sort of slingshot effect with lots of little figures, and that’s what worked on Monday night. I started incorporating small circles off the long side so I could channel a whole bunch of energy through his inside hind and really ask for a deeper bend. Then I channeled it into asking for canter departs, and we worked a little bit on both of the pieces from the ride-a-test, on getting a feel of the stretchy trot release into our collected trot, and in tightening up and then spiraling out the canter circles.

It was not a long ride, since it was very humid and high 70s (yes, I know for a lot of you that would be fine weather, but for Vermont it’s too much!), maybe 30 minutes total including the walk to and from the dressage ring. He was puffing pretty good at the end of it, but breathing had returned to normal by the time we got back to the barn. He was in a good mood, too, a big swingy walk back to the barn but did not threaten to bolt, just a bit full of himself.

Some good things to keep building on for our next ride-a-test on Sunday, and then probably a home schooling show in September.

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What helps you feel safe about a place?

I’ve been thinking on and off about this recently, because it’s become such a crucial factor in all our own lives. All of us are making a thousand micro-decisions everyday about things we used to do unconsciously. Stop for coffee. Get gas. Go to work. Send in a show entry. Visit friends and family.

One of the hardest things has been that we are all of us making these decisions based on highly individualized factors. We have to take into account our own personal concerns (based on both our physical and mental health for the day), our immediate communities (town, county) and larger communities (state and ultimately country). We have to maintain a mental database of all the different factors about what used to be somewhat homogenized experiences.

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Summer nights.

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For example: which grocery store do I visit? For me, there are four places that, pre-COVID, I used to visit with some regularity. Each offered a different angle on products, different sales, and each one had at least one item that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I’d make decisions each week based on what I needed, wanted, where I was working or traveling on a given day, and just…go buy the groceries.

Now, I only go to two of them, and I plan my visits carefully. Standard shopping is done at only one store because I know people that work there and trust them, have observed good behavior from the majority of employees (around masks, cleaning, distancing, etc.), have gone often enough to know what times are less busy, and have observed a rate higher than 90% of mask-wearing among customers. The other store I go to is the co-op, which has even higher standards on all of those things, but is further away and was always an occasional visit; now that I am in that neighboring town less due to working from home, I go maybe once a month.

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Struggling lately. This helps.

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There are some things that I feel pretty darn safe about doing (going to the barn, going into my office) because I am either almost always alone or the rules are very firm and well-observed by everyone involved. There are other places I’ve declared no-go zones (a few downtown stores, any kind of dining). There are places I have to go but make me uncomfortable the whole time. (Zero employee mask usage at the tile place, but I had to have a shower, so…)

What are factors that make you feel safe or unsafe in a place? I’m talking a bit less about “well, whatever the local/state/national government has required” and more about the intangibles of places that work to create a safe and welcoming space within COVID structures. (An example: our state rules on gyms are a good base, but my CrossFit gym goes waaaaaaaay above and beyond, and verbally emphasizes the rules repeatedly during workouts, coaches set an example in cleaning and wearing masks, cleaning stuff is readily available without having to ask for it, all communications language is upbeat but firm about what they’re doing.)

Is there something your barn or a show venue has done that has made you feel more confident, or less confident? I’d be curious in building a list of “best practices” as it were. I’ll add my own list in the comments.

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Tell me something good in your life

I don’t know why, but August feels like it’s just hit a wall for me. It could be that I’m just revving up to a new peak of burnout between house and work stuff, or maybe we’re at some tipping point with the pandemic (it feels like it should have been over but we know it’s about to ramp up again), or maybe it’s that the last few days I’ve caught a hint of fall smell in the air, but – whew, I’m done.

I’m hoping for a weekend of catch up with many of the small things that have fallen totally by the wayside over this past week, like riding my horse and walking my dog and some sewing projects and maybe some baking.

So, on this Friday, comment with something that’s going really well for you right now, even if it’s as small as making the perfect cup of tea or coffee this morning. (I say, as I enjoy a perfectly steeped cup of the fancy tea I brought back from Ireland.)

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Liz’s Coat Conditioner

This is long overdue, given that I’ve had the little slip of paper with the recipe on it hanging out on my desk for many months now, but like many things from the before-times, it feels ageless and also brand new.

Turns out it was back in February that Liz first blogged about a DIY Coat Conditioner recipe. I was taken by it immediately, since it seemed achievable and also like something I’d been seeking for some time. Tristan’s coat often gets dry and dandruff-y in the winter, so I’m always pondering ways to work on that.

So, here are the ingredients that Liz suggested, along with my spray bottle, purchased for this occasion because I seem to be one of those people who never has a free spray bottle. The hardest thing to find was the distilled water, which I ended up locating at a drugstore. Everything else I got on Amazon for about $50 total.

While I was making this, I actually ended up putting everything on a scale and measuring it by weight instead of by volume. This meant I didn’t have to mess up my measuring cups and spoons for future batches.

So here’s the recipe by weight, in case you want to do it that way. You can easily double it to fill a 32oz bottle. I love doing things by weight – I bake by weight almost exclusively. It’s a way to do easy math to double, to

830 g water (this filled it up to the rest of the 16oz line)
40 g coconut oil
20 g vegetable glycerin
10 g witch hazel
1 g each essential oil (I used lavender and and eucalyptus, like Liz) (this ends up being a fair bit more than the 10 drops she used, but I liked the stronger smell)

I also chatted with Liz a bit about swapping out apple cider vinegar for some of the water; she

How does it work?

Really well! I didn’t necessarily get before & after photos or anything, but I was really pleased with the improvement in his coat when I used this consistently. I usually used it last in my grooming, brushing it in with the soft brush. I tried both before & after riding and found I preferred after. I also really like to spray & soak it into the base of his mane & tail, which get quite dry, and then rub it into the crest and dock with my fingertips.

If you’re looking for a coat conditioner but don’t want to spend a ton of money, want control over your ingredients, and want something you can make at home without running to the store regularly, this is a really terrific thing to have on hand. One purchase of the ingredients will last you many, many iterations of mixing it up. I just keep it in a box with my other extra horse stuff in the basement and bring it up when I need to make more, which takes maybe 5-10 minutes when I get everything out.

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Face coverings

I’ve experimented a little bit lately with making my own gaiter-style face coverings, for times when I’m exercising and/or need to pull it up and down more regularly than a tied or elastic face mask. So far, I’m pretty happy with it! The fabric I like best is sweat-wicking and light enough to breathe through, but substantial and stretchy enough that I’m definitely not letting air “escape” around the sides.

I’ve still got a touch more experimentation to do with the stitching – I want to find a stitch/style that will let it flex just a touch more – and I think I’d make them just a smidge longer. They’re a decent fit for me but they were a bit small for my husband, who admittedly has an enormous head. I wore the one you see pictured to CrossFit on Wednesday and sweated A LOT into it while it was around my neck and it wicked away quite nicely. It never felt too hot or too constricting.

So, in light of that, I have two questions for you all!

How are you handling face coverings during athletic activities, like riding and working out? Are you wearing just a typical mask or do you have some kind of specialized solution?

If I were to make more of this style in some horsey patterns, is this something you’d buy? Right now, I could make and price them for $30 each in some patterns like the ones below.

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Small Breakthroughs

One of the things that annoys me personally about writing about riding is that it all sounds the same after a while, no matter what level you are.

“He continues to improve in the connection, and I’m just really impressed with the way he’s been seeking out the bit.”

Said by a four-star eventer or me after my ride on Friday night?

Anyway.

I made a change in our warmup that would have been catastrophic six months ago but paid off big time. It was based on something the barn manager said to me during our last lesson: that he’s at the point now where I should be able to set a steady contact and expect him to live up to that. In fact, doing so is crucial to teaching him that the contact is a solid and safe and reliable place to be.

So that’s what I did in our warmup. After a few laps on a totally loose rein but marching forward, I picked up the reins far, far earlier than I would have in our usual warmup. I’m not talking full collection rein length – but solid feel of his mouth. When I had that, I focused solely on keeping my hands steady and keeping him forward.

I know, it’s not exactly rocket science. But going back to the absolute basics was terrific and gave me some really interesting feedback. For one thing, he tolerated it far better than I was worried about. For another, any variations in the contact came from him as he experimented. Sometimes he was incredibly heavy. Sometimes he suppled into it a bit more.

Once it was clear that he could keep hustling and still be in this simple contact, I did start to add some very small modifications: I asked for some bend (not a ton) and worked a bit on the feedback I’d gotten from the ride a test: try and capture the feeling of that great stretchy trot in the regular trot. I made minute adjustments to my posture and my sense of give in the reins to promote that idea of stretch, and it worked pretty well! Not a miracle but definitely a good tool to add.

Another small interesting thing was that truly and completely refusing to change the question – forward, into medium contact – meant there was far less flailing into the canter when I asked for forward in the trot. His usually MO is to flip his head around and fling himself into a few strides of canter rather than actually step forward in the trot. On Friday, he discovered pretty quickly that that was VERY HARD in the canter before he’d warmed up. I just let him run himself into that wall and did not change the question.

I’m excited to see what this step up brings us going forward!

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House Post: Quarantine 2.0 Projects

As I whined about a great deal, my husband and I went briefly back under quarantine. It’s the first time he worked from home with me during this whole thing – he works at a hospital (though no patient contact) so has been essential.

Having him home so much was tough on our internet connection but great for house projects. Here are a few small ones.

Thread Holder

When I make saddle covers, I usually use one of five base colors of thread, coordinating with the fabric color: black, navy, silver, beige, or white. They come in large-sized (400 yards) spools in bulk prices, and I am pretty much constantly swapping them in and out, so they live on the table right next to my sewing machine with their bobbins. This means that I am also constantly knocking them off and into the trash or onto the floor.

A few weeks ago, I had picked up a thin dowel for exactly this project, so this week I knocked it out in less than an hour, including painting time.

It is not the final version for two reasons: the astute among you will notice I said five base colors and there are only four rods. That’s because I’m an idiot. Additionally, while the dowel holds the spools of thread quite nicely, it’s too thick for the bobbins to sit properly. SO, I’ll re-do this at some point, but in the meantime, it’s already doing brilliantly.

Lattice Ribbon Holder

I claim no originality on this idea, and stole it entirely from Confessions of a Dressage Barbie. I wanted to do it both because I love the way it looked and because I had hung my show ribbons on the curtain rods in my office, and now I need to be able to close the curtains and block light for video-conferencing.

Our local lumber yard delivered it to me, and my husband (who looooooves painting) painted it. About an hour investment total.

Yard Work

Yard work is neverending, but this week I made good strides in filling in grass in our back yard, raking out dead turf and re-seeding, and also put up tomato cages around the tomato plants, which are sloooooooowly growing up.

My husband also made HUGE progress in sorting out our back lot. It’s a bit tricky to describe, but our back yard basically drops down a steep wooded hill, and then opens up again to a flat area. We’ve let the flat area lay fallow the last few years, but this year are trying to reclaim it to some extent. So, that means removing the wood pile the previous owners had left, and also really hacking away and mowing down some greenery.

The remaining greenery that you can see are all well-entrenched blackberry bushes that we may tame a tiny bit so that we can access them all for jelly, but don’t plan on removing.

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Pandemic Updates

Firs,t if you haven’t read it yet, please read The $900 Facebook Pony’s rant about how we’re still in a pandemic, because, FFS people, WE STILL ARE.

covidexitstrategy.org map on 7/24/2020

Here in my largely empty corner of Vermont, we are one of the only places in the US that has been consistently named as doing okay and on a path to an exit strategy. On the other hand, as our governor pointed out just this morning, we are still connected to a larger country that is not doing well at all. We can play defense all we want, but we can’t get too confident or relax.

longeing on Wednesday night

I am still working from home, and will be for some time yet. We’re having conversations about what the fall looks like and I honestly don’t know how that’s going to land yet. I really love working from home, but I also like being able to schedule office time when I need to do things that can’t be done from home. We’ll see how it shakes out. Nothing surprises me anymore.

Barn time continues just fine, with rigid protocols still in place. Unless I have a scheduled lesson, I don’t ever go before 5pm. 90% of the time, I’m alone, which was the case before the pandemic as well, so that’s fine. I’ve got a routine worked out so that I only touch 2-3 things and wipe them down before I go. One bonus is that wiping down the stall door handle has eliminated my worries about not closing the door handle. So that’s an improvement.

new gym space, with boxes outlined on the floor in tape

Now that my semi-quarantine has ended with a negative test, I’m back at CrossFit, and I’m of two minds about it. On the other hand, I’m thrilled, and loving it. On the other hand, it feels tenuous. Like it could vanish again any day. I do my best to keep it a safe environment for me: I always choose a spot right next to the big open garage doors, I wear my mask if I so much as set a toe outside my taped-off box, I don’t go near anyone, I clean my stuff. I’ve seen the coaches clean before classes and I’ve never felt even once like someone has gotten closer to me than I feel comfortable with. That, combined with our local incidence (there hasn’t been a new case in my county in weeks), makes this still feel okay.

brunch with theme reading

We’re still doing a lot of work on the house and spending time outside. Last weekend we took the canoe out for a cooler brunch on the water on a hot day. (90 degrees is hot for Vermont.) We love taking the canoe out and haven’t done it enough recently, but there’s also this constant itching, and feeling of being cooped up. It’s one thing to be a homebody, it’s another entirely to feel trapped in place.

But what does the fall look like? People from states with incredibly high case counts keep waltzing in to Vermont because FREEDOM or some dumb shit. We know we’re going to get a rise again, but how bad will it be? And when will it be? I’m tired of having every choice weighted down with life-or-death consequences.

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Ride a test

Well, the title is a bit of a misnomer; I didn’t exactly ride a test. I rode pieces of a test, sort of.

Anyway, with that exciting lead in…I bring you a very short ride recap with no media. I do hope to have video/gifs of this ride soon, and will recap more thoroughly when I get them.

My barn hosted a very small, local ride-a-test on Sunday. For a low entry fee, and the commute of approximately 5 minutes of walking up the hill to the dressage arena, it was an easy sell for me. It gave us something to aim at, which proved really helpful this past week.

After Tristan dumped me on Tuesday, I gave him Wednesday off because I was still pissed, and then Thursday off because I had CrossFit in the evening. On Friday, I went back out and put him back in his dressage bridle with his usual bit (a French link full cheek) and sat on him to see what I had. Nothing dramatic one way or the other, which I was fine with.

Then on Saturday morning we had a lesson that was equal parts “where are we now?” (after a month of lighter riding/bitless riding) and “come to Jesus.” We had some really terrific bits, including a great change in my seat that leveled up my feel in the canter considerably. He was puffing pretty good and quite sweaty but overall chill. It was just exactly what I could have hoped for before the Sunday show.

Sunday our ride time was 1:55, on the hottest day of the year so far, of course. I am somewhat susceptible to heatstroke, and Tristan is older and his Cushing’s can sometimes mean heat intolerance, so I planned everything like a military campaign, down to the amount of water I made myself drink, and a minute-by-minute warmup plan that included stops for water.

And, for once in my life, I was really happy with my warmup. We did 10 minutes in the indoor, establishing forward and a bit of bend, then moved up to the jump ring (halfway to the dressage ring) for about 8 more minutes of drilling him, incorporating more bend, a more militant response to my leg (ie “jump NOW” rather than praise for any forward response) and then all the way up to the ring.

Sometimes I enter the show ring and my tunnel vision results in a bad ride, because I lose subtlety; sometimes, it pays off in sheer determination. Sunday was the latter.

We did not do a test, precisely, but we showed off pieces of First Level work: 15m circles, a stretchy trot circle, transitions in and out of canter, a hint of extended trot, some diagonals. We worked for maybe 5-8 minutes, and then got feedback on two things.

(I should insert here that I usually lesson with the barn manager, and rarely/almost never with the barn’s actual owner/trainer for a lot of reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with quality – she is amazing! – and more to do with schedule/convenience/budget/momentum. So our “judge” today was the barn trainer which was extra great to get a new-ish set of eyes.)

The first was that our stretchy trot circle was great! And we need to not just use it in that one movement. So we worked for a bit on incorporating the feel of a stretchy trot into his regular trot work, combining that with the bend we had on the 15m circle – only into the 20m circle.

The second was to work on his falling in on the circle in the canter, so we did some work that involved transitioning from big 20m+ circles to 12m circles, then leg yielding in the canter out to the rail. Tristan didn’t even know what to do with his hind end, and it was great.

Overall, I was thrilled with the day, and Tristan cooled down easily and well with the steps I took to walk him out, hose him down, and then sit with him while I ate watermelon for my own hydration.

The only real blip was that on the walk back to the barn on a loose rein he threw another tantrum, a couple of leaps about that were in theory a reaction to a truck behind us, but the truck had been there for a little while at that point, so really, it was pure Opinion. With the bit in I did the usual HELL NO and he came out of it quickly and got over it. A few strides later I put the reins back on the buckle and that was that.

So: huzzah, all around!

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Hitting the deck

Well, it’s been a while, but Tristan dumped me on Tuesday night.

I’d been slacking off a bit on riding for two reasons – my return to semi-quarantine left me a bit paranoid about my barn time, so I was going late at night and if there was anyone else there I’d wait in my car. That led to a couple of evenings when I had a much shorter time than I’d anticipated. I also did not want to touch the wash stall, and it has been HOT in Vermont until the last day or two. (Hot for us = high 80s.) So I didn’t want to ride or push him into a sweat.

Last Friday, Tris had a one-month re-check on his tooth, which the vet pronounced himself thrilled with, but on Tuesday I pulled out his bridle setup with the sidepull noseband because why not, and also I had left my dressage bridle with the bit at home. Keeping in mind that Tris often has shenanigans outside early in the season, but he hadn’t really tried any this year – a couple of half-hearted attempts, one fake spook, but nothing he didn’t come back from immediately.

Famous last words, right? Tuesday night I took him up to the outdoor to stay away from the barn, because I knew a fellow boarder would be arriving after I had. We warmed up, and I focused on staying forward and staying consistent within that forward. I asked for just a little bit of bend – nothing dramatic, just going into the corners. In the outdoor, he has an obnoxious tendency toward barn-sourness. He ZOOMS toward the barn, flails when asked to turn away from it, and then drags his feet away from it. Every time. So my goal was to do lots of figures to get him out of predicting when we’d be turning toward or away from the barn, and incorporate his energy from toward the barn into the full figure. I’d had a lot of success with a ride on Sunday night doing tons of small circles, half-circles, and serpentines to really get his hind legs jumping, so this was a variation on that.

It went pretty darn well for about 15 minutes; he offered canter from time to time, and I let him have a few strides and then brought him back to a working trot. Then we turned toward home, and about three strides down that line he just EXPLODED.

the guilty party in his sidepull noseband

I can sit a buck – and I have sat this precise behavior many, many times before. But usually I get a warning – and I had NONE. He went from a soft trot to mid-air as fast as I’ve ever felt him do. I stuck the first flail – Tristan’s signature move is an up and sideways through his shoulder. It’s about a half-stride of hard scoot forward with his hind end, like the beginning of a bolt, and then UP through his front end, mid-air twist with his shoulder-fore and his nose to the sky. The trick to riding it through is to sit that first scoot and leap, then when his feet hit the ground again to rein him in hard.

Well, I had no brakes. So when I applied the reins, it did absolutely nothing and up he went again with a harder twist, and I had one of those perfect clarity moments of inevitability when I knew my butt was just too far out of the saddle to recover. I went up and over his right shoulder, turned in mid-air (deliberately) and landed on my ass, rolled backwards, smacked the back of my head, rolled back foward with the same momentum, and jumped to my feet. I kept ahold of the reins the whole time, and a second after I got to my feet I snapped the reins at him hard and yelled and chased him backwards for a few feet.

I get that this is not something that works for all horses. Some horses, when they are naughty like that, will just rev up further when they’re reprimanded. Know your horse. For Tristan, this was not a fear-based buck. This was pure assholery. He was doing it to be a jerk, and so I chose, for about 5-10 seconds, to make him think he was going to die. It was fast, loud, and then I stopped. He stood quietly, lowered his head, licked and chewed and softened, and then I approached and patted him, put my hands all over him just to make sure he hadn’t done anything (I didn’t think he had gone down at all, but just in case).

impact zone with dirt on my boots

He was fine, and in fact when I petted him and talked to him for another minute just to let my own adrenaline bleed off, he begged for a treat. So I gave him one, and then got back on. I focused on walking calmly forward, brought him back to the same spot where he’d dumped me, and made him stand for a moment, fed another treat, and then we picked work back up again. I rode for a few more minutes, trying to get back to that same soft forward trot, with tons of neck pats and praise for a calm response, and he was actually VERY good. So I called it quits and put him on a loose rein and went out the back of the outdoor to come back around on the grass.

Then the asshole tried again. Not nearly as hard, mostly just up and sideways, and I barely left the saddle, but I was PISSED. Loose rein walk, clearly all done, and he just launched us half into a tree for NO REASON. I was much, much angrier than I had been about actually falling off, because if that was a moment of naughtiness this was pure, calculated shittiness.

It’s like he heard me talking about how a 25 yo horse is getting close to retirement, and how I would miss riding him, and decided to make me feel even MORE complicated and miserable about those two things. Is he acting out because he wants to be done, or because he wants to show me he still has plenty left? Do I have motivation to work through this or just throw up my hands in frustration? WHO EVEN KNOWS. Horses are the worst sometimes.

Anyway. We walked back to the barn, and every time he even tried to jig I turned him around, made him walk a few steps back toward the outdoor, made him halt, praised the halt, and then turned him back. Calm, clear, repeat. Then he had a HUGE drink back at the barn, and I made myself spend a good 15 minutes brushing him down. He was not sweaty or even breathing hard, nor did he regret a thing. Only that I didn’t have more treats.

godspeed, IRH helmet that they don’t make anymore

I’m most upset about my helmet. I’ve known for a while now that it was nearing replacement, age-wise, but this was its last hurrah. I polled on Instagram a bit, and placed an order through The Horse Of Course for a gray One K Defender to replace it. But that was not money I intended to spend, and I really, really loved my helmet. Just the cherry on top of a day that had been very frustrating at work, and when I was trying to fit in a brief ride before going home to do my taxes and sit in on a city council meeting to try and advocate for a fair policing policy. It’s not like my stress level was low even before I came off.

Anyway. Every ride, every time, people, even on your dead-broke 25yo horses that you’re only jumping on for 20 minutes to confirm basic manners!