lasik · Uncategorized

Lasik Surgery and Horses

On June 30, I had Lasik surgery to correct my nearsightedness. I did a ton of research, thought really hard about it, planned it as best as I possibly could, and eventually went through. I’m really glad I did it, and since being able to be around horses without glasses was a major motivation behind the decision, and because I wasn’t able to find a whole lot of information specifically about the intersection of horses + Lasik, I thought I’d write about it for posterity.

It’s important to note that I’m chronicling my own research, decision, and experiences. Human beings are different, and your experience might be different. I’m going to do my best to provide some general information that I learned alongside my own personal situation, but you should make your own choices based on your own factors!

Background

I have had poor eyesight my whole life. I first got glasses in fifth grade, and can still remember perfectly clearly what it felt like to press my face to the car windows and marvel at all the leaves on the trees.

My eyesight worsened over the years, as it often does, and it settled in to a fairly consistent -4.25 in my right eye and -4.50 in my left eye, with mild astigmatism in my left eye. Not huge, no, but enough. I used to joke that my life was like a Monet painting; beyond the range of my arms, things started to get blurry. It wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t navigate my surroundings, but it was enough that I couldn’t be truly functional at more than a cautious walk.

58-0011first dressage show with Tristan, spring 2007, wearing contacts

I wore contacts as a teenager, and abused them very badly right through college. I left them in for days (…weeks…) at a time. I got semi-frequent eye infections. I got a smidge better after college – I don’t think I slept with them in except accidentally after junior year – but they were still starting to get uncomfortable. I also couldn’t see as well as I could with glasses. When I was about 27, an eye doctor told me that my eyes were starting to grow extra blood vessels to the cornea to make up for my contact use – they were feeling starved of oxygen. I started wearing my glasses more and more often, and by the time I was 29, was pretty much full-time in glasses again. When I would try to go back to contacts, my eyes just were not happy. They were dry, strained, and so weary I would fall asleep at my desk in the afternoon – I just could not keep my eyes open.

Photo Jun 05, 9 10 56 AMmore recent show, fall 2016, wearing glasses

Research & the Decision

Like most people with poor vision, I’ve wanted Lasik as long as I knew it existed. I have little to no anxiety about medical procedures, so I wasn’t terribly nervous about the idea of surgery, and I’d had contacts so long that I had zero issues with the idea of poking around in my eye.

I first started openly pondering the idea a couple of years ago, and actually posted here on this blog about it. Many of you answered with your experiences, or your family or friends’ experiences, and I revisited and read through that post a lot while I was entering the final stages of my decision. I probably have the responses memorized! So THANK YOU to everyone who commented. In that post, I said I had to pay off my car first, since I knew Lasik was an expensive proposition. Well, I paid off my car in late fall 2017, and began thinking in more concrete terms about Lasik.

One of my biggest hurdles was that the Lasik industry is that – an industry. It’s an elective, cosmetic procedure that is almost never covered by insurance. That means that surgeons who do Lasik surgery often advertise for it in a way that would not be common for any other surgical procedure. There are online ads, glossy brochures, glowing testimonials, and a lot of things that made me really uneasy. It felt more like snake oil than medicine. I didn’t see any objective way to choose a surgeon or center – should I go all the way to Boston? should I just start Googling? how did I know that any of these places were quality medical centers and not just out to make a buck?

I eased some of my nerves by scheduling an appointment with a new optometrist who came recommended and who specifically listed Lasik consults on his website. I got my regular checkup with him in late winter 2018, and laid out my concerns. I was very frank and explicit about my fears about the Lasik industry, and asked him to be honest with me in return. He was – I liked him enormously! – and after we got through the standard risks (about which more in a moment) he was able to offer a personal recommendation for a local surgeon. She’d been doing it for a long time, he had frequently sent patients up to her and seen patients after they had surgery with her, and though it was not his first choice of treatment for nearsightedness (he preferred contacts or glasses) he felt confident in her.

I scheduled an initial consultation with the surgeon and got some of my major concerns answered.

First, they don’t operate on anyone they don’t consider a good candidate. There are a lot of not-obvious things that can make you not a good candidate. Severity of eyesight correction is only one factor. Your corneal shape and thickness also play a role. A friend of mine got turned down because her pupils were too large. Your age, general health, and willingness to commit to post-surgical care are all factors.  So I had to go through a barrage of tests to make sure I was in the right margins for all of that, and I was. I also had to have a stable prescription, ie my eyes could not be changing anymore. I’d been stable since my mid-20s. (The reasoning is that Lasik fixes what it sees in front of it, and if your eyes get worse again after the surgery…well, then your eyes are worse again and there wasn’t much point to the surgery. It’s not that it wears off, it’s that if your eyes are actively changing, they will continue to do so.)

Second, the cost. They quoted me a total of $3,790 for the surgery for both eyes, and an additional $300 for post-op visits (of which there would be three). I could potentially avoid the $300 by scheduling the post-op visits with my own optometrist and billing my insurance, but I wanted to stick with the surgeon, so I made the choice to pay the extra $300 – for a total of $4,090. When I made the decision to go ahead, I got financing through CareCredit – 0% interest for 24 months. (After that, they screw you on interest, but I already had done the math and knew that I could make the payments plus would be funneling quite a bit of extra money into it from other income sources. The plan is to have it all paid off in about 18 months, possibly sooner.)

I also heard a lot about the risks of the surgery. They are not insignificant. It’s eye surgery. You only get one pair of eyes, and you should not shoot a laser into them lightly. They want to be very sure you understand that before agreeing.

You can google a lot about the risks, though I don’t recommend you do; what was more important to me was the types of side effects they have seen themselves in their practice, and what the incidence rate was. They assured me, first that they have not made anyone blind. Which was good to hear! Their biggest side effects were dry eye, glare and/or haloes from light, light sensitivity, and some vision anomalies – some blurring, floating specks, etc. They said that they do about 1,200 surgeries per year and each year have about 10 people that they continue to work with past six months to resolve those problems.

I scheduled the surgery, and then a week later read this New York Times article and freaked out. I called my surgeon back and specifically asked about some of the problems in the article. They answered all my questions clearly and calmly, and gave me a lot of the information I’ve already included above – especially about the careful diagnostics to rule out any eye factors that might make some of the side effects more likely. They said they had read the article and never had anyone in their practice experience such severe side effects. So that helped.

Surgery

The day before the surgery, I had about 2.5 hours of pre-operative testing and counseling. I had to go through most of the tests over again to make absolutely sure that all the initial readings were correct. They triple-checked the shape/architecture of my eye with their laser machine. They triple-checked my prescription. I met my surgeon for the first time, and was able to ask her any questions I had. I came away feeling good about the whole thing.

That night, I filled prescriptions for antibiotic & steroid drops, and Valium. I started taking the steroid drops, as well as some vitamins (multipurpose, but with higher levels of Vitamin A and E) and fish oil pills. I’d done a little bit of reading and they were supposed to help. I started the drops that night, getting in two doses, and then another dose the following morning. They stung a little bit and made my eyes blurry for a few seconds, but nothing too bad. I also bought the preservative-free eyedrops that they recommended and that I would use for many weeks to come as my eyes healed. (I bought two boxes and then a few days later bought two more.)

The morning of the surgery itself, my husband drove me up. They did all my final tests, and strongly recommended that I take at least a half a tab of Valium. I did, though I actually wasn’t feeling too nervous. I’m honestly not sure why, but I just wasn’t.

For the actual surgery, they put in some numbing drops. They laid me down on a gurney. They lowered something down to my eye – I didn’t see it, but it put pressure on my eye. This was the most discomfort I was in the entire time, and it just felt like maybe someone was pushing in on my eye for a few minutes. They taped my eyelids open. Then they put me under the laser the first time; it made the incision and created bubbles under the surface of the eye to basically lift up the flap. Then the second time. I stared at a blinking light for 25 seconds. This was the most nervous part – I had to hold very still and concentrate on the blinking light. I was incredibly focused. They counted me down from 25 seconds. Then it was done, and we did the same thing for the other eye. I was in the room maybe a total of 10 minutes.

I was able to walk back to the room, where they looked carefully at my eye to make sure the flap had come down correctly. Then I put on some super-ugly goggles and walked out to the car. My vision was blurry, but a different kind of blurry from what it had been previously – more like I was underwater. Some things were almost-sort-of-sharp, and some things were blurry. I only kept my eyes open long enough to get to the car, and then kept them closed for the drive home.

IMG_3805Not the most attractive picture ever taken, but the goggles I had to wear for sleeping. It was still hard to focus on my phone, as you can see, on day 3.

Recovery

Day 1: I spent the entire day on the couch listening to audiobooks. I only opened my eyes to put in my drops, every 2 hours for the steroids and every 4 for the antibiotics, and every hour (or more frequently if I felt like it) for the lubricating drops. I missed a lot, and the drops were all very sticky, so my eyes felt gross. I had some mild stinging – like I’d gotten shampoo in my eyes – for the first few hours. I also took ibuprofen around the clock, as I would for the next four days, to fight any possible inflammation.

Day 2: I woke up able to see. It’s as simple as that. It wasn’t perfect – a little blurry around the edges – but it was very much like wearing my glasses. I was able to drive myself to my follow up appointment (where my eyesight tested as 20/15) and back, and stopped for groceries on the way back. That was a little too much, honestly. I went home and laid down for an hour or two, listening to more audio books. The pattern for the next two days became to rest my eyes about 2/3 of the time and to get up and do simple things the rest of the time. Looking at my phone was hard, from both the light and the intense focus. So I did a few other things that didn’t require a lot of focus, like tidying up a bit around the house.

IMG_3824One of the things I could do was sew, so I made this bag for myself to hold all my post-surgery supplies: goggles, eyedrops, ibuprofen, tissues, vitamins.

Days 3: Very much the same. Lots of resting, with slightly more and more activity. At this point, I didn’t feel like I needed the rest. I was just being incredibly careful. Every time I put my drops in I would keep my eyes closed, and rest them for at least 15 minutes. Sometimes I would rest for longer.

Day 4: This was actually my first bad day – I went back to work. I couldn’t look at a computer for a long time, but we had a big day-long event so I didn’t need to. But by mid-afternoon I was dragging. I was tired, and had a dull, throbbing headache from eyestrain. I felt mildly queasy, possibly from drinking too much caffeine, possibly from the headache/exhaustion. I was prone to headaches from eyestrain and light exposure before the surgery, and this definitely fit in that category. I did call in to the surgeon and they said as long as I didn’t have any specific, acute pain in either eye and as long as my vision was clear, I wasn’t in any danger. I started wearing my sunglasses inside, and as dumb as I looked, it definitely helped. I did this for the next two days.

Days 5-18: The eyestrain definitely started to ease up, and by day 8 was entirely gone. At day 8, I was off my medicated drops and on to just my lubricating drops every hour. On day 10, I had my one-week surgical follow-up, and got a glowing review from the surgeon. She said the flap had healed incredibly well, and I had no inflammation. I talked to her about some of the things I was experiencing, and she said it was all well within the bounds of normal and would continue to improve.

My dry eye is slowly, slowly easing, as is my sensitivity to light. I’m able to tolerate a little bit better every day. I’m still doing lubricating drops hourly, but honestly mostly because they say to do them even if you don’t feel like you need them. The surgeon said that dry eye can lead to regression, so I’m pretty fussy about making sure I get drops in hourly, and more frequently if I’m at a computer. At the end of the day, my eyes feel an awful lot like they did with dry contacts – sort of dry and tired and thick, almost? Except I can’t take my contacts out and rinse my eyes. Instead, I just use a few more drops. And it’s getting better and better every day. On days without screens, I’m at about 85% of normal.

In terms of computer and phone use, I’m mostly back to where I was pre-surgery. One major thing has helped with this, and I can truly almost feel a physical easing, and that’s blue light filtering reading glasses (with no prescription). I’d heard of them before the surgery and ordered a pair from Amazon to try out. And, wow. They make a HUGE difference in how much screen time my eyes will take. (Again – I was prone to screen-related eyestrain before the surgery already.)

IMG_3809wicked super dorky but also REALLY effective blue light glasses

Overall Pros and Cons

Pros: I CAN SEE. YOU GUYS. Perfectly. Better even, a little bit, than with my glasses. And all the time. In the morning. In the shower. In my peripheral vision. In some ways it’s an awful lot like wearing my contacts again. In other ways, it is profoundly weird.

Cons: Anxiety. A lot of it. Constantly guarding my eyes and worrying. The eyedrops are sticky and gross – my eyes seal shut overnight and I have to drip around the edges to loosen them up in order to open my eyes. I definitely have dry eyes, sensitivity to blowing air (my husband does not love that I can’t tolerate having the AC on all night), sensitivity to light, and haloes and glare related to light. All of that was expected, and all of it is slowly easing, but it’s still very much present. Night driving is tough, honestly, but on day 4 I had to hold a shirt over my head even as a passenger in a car; on day 14 I drove us back from the movie theater in the dark with minimal problems. (Like I could notice that the lights weren’t right, but they didn’t hurt or distract me.)

And – on a more existential note – I spent the last few weeks of wearing my glasses feeling somewhat grateful for them. Grateful that I knew what it was like to navigate the world without seeing perfectly. Grateful that I could take them off and zone out. That I could get respite from interacting with the world constantly. Honestly, that’s something I miss sometimes. I never used to put my glasses on until I left the house. There was a strange comfort in slightly fuzzy familiar surroundings. I know that sounds weird, but there you have it.

On a really superficial note, my haircut no longer works without my glasses. :/ I have to sort of rethink that.

IMG_3800Last pre-surgery photo with glasses, taken the morning before

Yes, yes, but what about horses?

My first day back at the barn was day 4 after surgery, mostly just to pet Tristan on the nose and say hi. It was very hot, and there was a good wind coming up from the valley. I got pretty nervous very quickly about my eyes, and left after only a short time. I visited a few more times in the following week, mostly to check on him, because 5 days after the surgery was when he started in with his hives.

My surgeon had cleared me for riding in the first week after surgery, but it was blisteringly hot – too hot for serious riding, especially on a senior horse who hadn’t acclimated to that kind of heat – and then the hives started. In retrospect, I was glad I didn’t try to ride in the first week after surgery. I needed that time to rest and relax and focus entirely on healing, and one week off is not the end of the world.

I started Tristan back into work 10 days after surgery, with some longeing. I felt okay about the dust that kicked up, though nervous. I used my eyedrops every 15 minutes or so, and was very, very careful about how I handled myself around him.

IMG_3938FUCK YEAH NO GLASSES. Day 15.

I rode in the indoor next, for about 35 minutes, and that was way too much dust. My eyes definitely felt drier than they would have otherwise, but they weren’t irritated. I just stopped and put in eye drops during my walk breaks. It was more that it made me nervous. I washed my face carefully when I got home – I didn’t want any grit to get into my eyes after the fact – and put eyedrops in and closed my eyes for a bit when I got home.

Since then, I’ve done my rides outside on the grass, and I’ve had zero problems at all. I’ve been wearing sunglasses because really bright sunlight is still tough. But no problems in terms of riding. I’ve had three or four rides outside in that time. My surgeon grew up with horses, and explained to me that I had no real medical restrictions. The problem would be if I really hit my head and dislodged the healing flap, and if I then got some dust or something in my eye.

So, I don’t know if I would go back to jumping right away, or really galloping. I trust Tristan a great deal, and knew that I could handle what he had to throw at me – and that I could read him well enough to spot trouble coming. On a less reliable horse or a trickier horse I might have chosen to stay inside, even with the dust.

I’ve been a little picky about doing some things right now. I stopped doing Dursaole on his feet because WOW do they have some dire warnings on the bottle about getting it in your eyes. I also asked someone else to do his fly spray, and put in his big bit for riding outside even though he hasn’t used it yet this summer. Basically, I chose to err on the side of overcautious every chance I got, and I don’t regret that.

I do know that riding without glasses is fantastic, and I feel zero problems riding on the grass, especially with sunglasses. Especially now, entering week 3, when I can go longer and longer without feeling like I need to do eyedrops. (I always carry a vial in my breeches, just in case.)

IMG_3900sunglasses + eyedrops = essential right now

Anything else?

I think that covers everything that people have asked me about. Any other questions I can answer?

 

horse finances · lasik · surgery · Uncategorized

The Best Money I’ve Ever Spent

I had Lasik surgery about 10 days ago. I’m going to do a whole wrap-up post about it next week, after I’ve gotten a few rides in and can report reliably on that part (because when you google “Lasik + horseback riding” there basically crickets? which was not helpful for my brain?).

Lasik is not generally covered by insurance, which means that I paid for the surgery out of pocket. Or, more accurately, I arranged for financing through Care Credit, and will be paying for it for another ~18 months or so. I planned carefully, did my research, evaluated my budget, and felt comfortable taking on that amount of debt for that amount of time.

A lot of people have asked about the money part. Honestly, it’s pretty much in line with any other surgery. I didn’t find it agonizingly expensive, not for the return on investment. But the reactions veer between “that’s so expensive, I can’t believe anyone would spend that!” and “isn’t it the best money you’ve ever spent?”

I’ve thought a lot about that in the last few days, for some reason. Yeah, I’m happy with the money I spent! Seeing clearly for the first time in my life is pretty great!

But is it the best money I’ve ever spent? For some reason, that question – which was surely intended to be rhetorical! – has stuck in my brain.

No, it’s not the best money I’ve ever spent.

I have an easy answer for the best money I’ve ever spent: Tristan’s coffin bone surgery.

img_3394

almost exactly six (!) years post-surgery

If you tally up the actual procedure + hospital stay, it cost almost exactly the same as my Lasik surgery. If you include everything related to that injury it was 50% more, over the course of about nine months.

It was life-saving surgery. Not at the time – he wasn’t going to keel over – but surely it was a matter of time before the infection in the bone went septic and then systemic. Certainly he would never have been sound again if it had chewed away more of the coffin bone.

So, yeah. Easy call. Keeping him alive, sound, and happy was an easy call, financially. It certainly helped that I had an emergency fund that covered the surgery + vet bills, and steady employment that assured me of replenishing the emergency fund, but even if I’d had neither of those things, it still would have been an easy call.

But the average person who asks me that question does not want to hear about my horse, much less his surgery, so I usually just smile and say “it’s pretty great!”

hives · Uncategorized

Happy Hives Season! (Not.)

I’ve written about this before, but the first summer after his Cushings diagnosis, Tristan came out all over in hives. Bad hives. Fast. It was a lot of fun! He got lots of baths, some IM shots of allergy meds, and then OTC allergy meds, and then finally prescription allergy meds.

For the two summers after that, we started him on the prescription allergy meds as soon as it started to get hot (so, late June/early July) and a fly sheet whenever he’s out. He only had very occasional small outbreaks. We never did find out what he’s allergic to. The vet felt strongly that it was topical – but it wasn’t affected at all by baths, and he could still happily and easily get hives underneath his fly sheet. Barn manager and I both feel strongly that it’s something he eats. Something blossoms at this time of summer, and my darling horse feels compelled to eat it.

2015-09-17 10.08.38.jpg

his old fly sheet – that never fit well – and has since been replaced.

The catch – of course there’s a catch – is that the allergy meds are expensive. About $1.50 a day to feed. This year, with the switch to Prascend, I am struggling a little bit to find a way to anticipate and fund the large ongoing vet bills, so I had a conversation with the barn manager. We decided to delay on starting him on the allergy meds this year until we saw that he got hives.

Well, like clockwork, last Thursday he came in with his neck and shoulders a pulpy, hive-y mess. It figures, of course, that I was just starting to feel confident enough after my surgery to ride again. Barn manager (bless her forever, I owe her booze) gave him a long cold shower and started him on the meds. The hives have not spread and are slowly, slowly easing up.

IMG_3867.JPG

In the first few days of hives, I prefer not to ride. For me, it doesn’t matter whether they’re in the saddle area or not. I worry about speeding up the allergic reaction – getting his blood going which causes it to go faster through his system – and triggering something more severe. That first summer, I was deathly afraid they would move on quickly and cause some kind of respiratory reaction. They came on so fast – within an hour or two he was just covered. Now, I worry a little bit less about that, but I still want the drugs to have time to get into his system.

So, we’re in a bit of a waiting game, which also neatly coincides with waiting for the one-week checkup after my surgery. I’m hoping once I clear the one-week mark his hives will be almost all gone, and I’ll get back in the saddle.

Anyone else have a horse who gets summer hives? How do you treat them? Do you ride through them or give time off?

black stallion series · Uncategorized

Summer Series: The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt

Editorial note: In theory, today would be a Finance Friday, and the next Black Stallion book is The Black Stallion Revolts. I’m re-publishing a 2014 review I did of The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt because I had Lasik surgery last Friday, and screens are still a little tough. I should be able to get back on track for next week!

The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt
Walter Farley

Oh, boy. I bought this for $2 at a used book store because of the cover: I couldn’t resist. Hands-down my favorite cover era for the Black Stallion books. I had vaguely positive memories of The Blood Bay Colt and Jimmy and Tom and ever-so-vague memories of this book, so this would be good, right?

Wrong. Oh, it wasn’t bad, in the way of that Island Stallion book with the aliens (YES REALLY), but nor was it a Black Stallion and Satan, or The Black Stallion’s Filly, either.

Let me summarize this book for you.

Tom is an asshole.
Alec is an asshole.
Henry is an asshole.
Jimmy is an asshole.
Bonfire puts up with them all.

So let me back up. This book picks up after the storyline of The Blood Bay Colt. Bonfire, the second son of the Black (out of a harness mare named Volo Queen, because why not breed your nutjob mystery stallion to a Standardbred) has moved from the county fair circuit to the big time, and is prepping for the Hambletonian. One night, Alec Ramsay decides to go see Bonfire race; it just so happens that during the race he watches, Bonfire gets into a bad wreck. Thereafter, Bonfire is nervous and jumpy and seemingly ruined for harness racing.

If you’e ever read a single Black Stallion book, you don’t need me to tell you what happens next. If you haven’t, know that Alec takes over the reins and mysteriously a) is instantly an expert sulky driver and b) gets his driving license by magic after Tom is injured. Despite unexplained and bizarre prejudices against harness racing, Henry Dailey arrives on scene to save the day. Alec and Henry help Bonfire overcome his (um, totally justified) fear, thanks to a clever mechanical hood & blinker arrangement, and then win the Hambletonian. Shocking, right? (Yeah, no.)

Things that annoyed me about this book:
– all the characters who were not horses
– Henry’s bizarro prejudices
– the way Alec and Henry came into the harness racing world and never asked anyone to explain their training techniques, simply forged ahead with their own and were of course miraculously succesful
– the deification of Alec and Henry
– how poor Tom was basically turned into a demon for plot purposes
– how horrible everyone was to the horses, while outwardly talking about being gentle and easing them along and blah blah

Things that I really liked about this book:
– Walter Farley writes a racing scene second to none; all of Bonfire’s races were genuinely exciting and tense
– quirky horse antics! I never get tired of quirky horse antics in these books
– it was a short, straightforward story told relatively well

Anyone else read this one? Thoughts?

2018 goals · Uncategorized

June 2018 Goals Update

Original Goals Post

January Goals Post
February Goals Post
March Goals Post
April Goals Post (didn’t happen)
May Goals Post

Horse Goals

1. Take 6 lessons through the year. – 5/6 done! Here’s the first June lesson, and here’s the second.
2. Ride 3 new-to-me horses. – I’m between a rock and a hard place for this. Tris is doing SO well in lessons that I don’t want to take valuable lesson time to ride another horse.
3. Research 3 different retirement situations. – Still at 1/3.
4. Write retirement budget for Tristan.
5. Reach goals for horse-specific income stream. (Primarily through Etsy shop.) – I moved some important steps forward this month: I stabilized my average monthly earnings (though low), and I learned a lot through very selective restocking about what people most want to buy. I also kept expenses tightly reined in. Overall, I’m happy with my positioning for July.
Stretch: 6. Read and review 12 books about riding on the blog. – 3/12 done now that the Black Stallion series has started!

Financial Goals

1. Fully fund Tristan’s savings account (to $1,500) – Knocked this down with new prescription refills of Prascend and his allergy drugs, but in the next two weeks I have money coming in through other reimbursements that will top it back off.
2. 50% fund my overall emergency fund savings account (to $7,500) – on to $6,250!
3. Track every purchase made in 2018. – June was better! I actually did really well with this! Here’s to July.
4. Create 30 day wait list for any purchase over $25 (excluding groceries & emergencies). – Yup!
5. Pay off 50% of energy improvement debt. – we’ve paid off 29% of the total
6. Stretch: 75% fund my overall emergency fund savings account (to $11,250)

House Goals

1. Finish dining room (finish wallpaper, skimcoat lower half, plaster upper half, paint). – I’ve started skimcoating! I’m having people over for a neighborhood political gathering in late July, and my stretch goal is to have this totally done by then.
2. Finish garage in basement (finish strappingput up drywall, plaster drywall, paint floor, clean out).
3. Finish upstairs guest bedroom (strip wallpaper, plaster, deal with ceiling, repaint).
4. Develop plan & budget for preserving mud room mural.
5. Build second raised bedstart seedlings indoors, can/process results of garden. – I did not build a second raised, but I shifted plans to put in terraces. Half of the things in there are growing well, and half are not. It’s been a good experiment, anyway! I also picked strawberries and did freezer jam and froze the rest.
6. Stretch: Finish breakfast nook room (strip wallpaper, plaster, figure out heating, repaint

black stallion series · Uncategorized

Summer Series: The Black Stallion’s Filly

1053244._UY200_

After Satan retires, Alec and Henry find themselves without a horse to race. Henry buys Black Minx, the Black’s first daughter, and together they help her overcome her fears and race in the Kentucky Derby.

On the surface, this is a really simple, straightforward book. Black Minx (and apparently she has no barn name. She’s always either “the filly” or “Black Minx”) was poorly brought up and poorly trained, and Alec and Henry rehabilitate her and aim her toward the Kentucky Derby.

Here’s a scientific equation about the makeup of this book:

40% Alec taking long, slow gallops around the track + 20% exposition through weird training stuff + 30% watching races on television or reading recaps of them in newspaper articles + 10% actual action. That’s 100% of a book, I guess. There must be literally a dozen long paragraphs or entire chapters in which Alec says “another long slow gallop, I guess, Henry must know what he’s doing!”

Fear not, though. Black Stallion books are all alike; every Black Stallion book is batshit crazy in its own way.

In this book, the batshittery is not in the small details (like, say, the Island Stallion books) but rather in the overall picture. Henry buys Minx (that’s right, I’m giving the poor mare a barn name) at an auction in late November with no manners, little to no training, little to no condition, and they race her in the Kentucky Derby. The small details of this book are all awfully good! It’s maybe a bit boring, but it’s still really charming, generally, and then you realize again that the timeline is completely fucking insane and you kind of get jarred right out of that charm.

Strap yourselves in and let’s go back to the beginning of the book.

Satan, the Black’s son, is retiring from racing after a fractured sesamoid. Which is a real thing that really happens, and the way it’s reported in Jim Neville (our old friend!)’s newspaper article sounds thoroughly plausible. It’s almost weird to start off so sensibly and understandably, and that kind of sets the tone for the rest of the book.

For you Satan fans, fear not, Alec still fat-shames and daddy-complexes the poor horse at every opportunity.

Satan’s neck is shorter and more muscular. And his body is so heavy that it gives you the feeling of grossness.

ffs, Alec. But, kind of, spoiler alert: he spends this whole book, too, comparing Minx to the Black, both favorably and unfavorably. In fact, he’s really down on the poor filly pretty much the whole time.

Satan arrives home at Hopeful Farm, and Henry a) goes waaaaaaaaaaay over the top in transport, driving 24 hours straight personally and harassing the guys who are supposed to be helping him constantly and b) mopes around and to Alec’s total non-surprise, announces he’s going to find a horse to race for the coming season.

(Total side note, but it baffled and irked me at this point: Mrs. Dailey got fridged! She is totally, 100% absent from this narrative, Henry lives some kind of weird bachelor life in an above-barn apartment, and though they talk about his retirement they never talk about her role in it! She was an actual walking-talking-speaking character in previous books and she’s just GONE!)

Henry jaunts off to …I think it’s supposed to be Keeneland, but all they keep saying is “Kentucky.” Anyway, he hangs out at the auction for a while, watching a gray colt go for the unheard-of sum of $62,000, and we meet Tom Flint for the first time.

Flint was wealthy, but unlike most owners he trained his own horses. He didn’t hire someone else to do all the work and then sit on the sidelines until it was time to collect the trophies.

Flint sounds like a micromanaging nightmare. Also: can we talk a little bit about how each Black Stallion book exists in its own microcosm of the racing world? In every single book, all of the owners, jockeys, trainers, and horses are 100% different. It’s like the whole rest of the world is episodic and only Alec et al get continuity. When you really stop and think about it, it’s totally wild. And it means we have to get re-introduced to a whole new cast of characters every single time. There’s never “so-and-so, you know, who owned Sun Raider” who has a fancy new horse.

Henry buys Black Minx, who everyone else thinks is kind of a shit (on account of how in her only race ever she bolted sideways, went through the rail, and dumped her jockey), and brings her home.

At home, Alec gives us our first glimpse into how weird farm operations at Hopeful Farm are.

He would turn the horses out later in the morning if it didn’t rain. Mud wouldn’t hurt them any. But a cold rain falling on their backs at the same time would invite any number of illnesses.

I have so many questions about Alec’s thinking here I almost don’t even know how to start, but I’m going to let it stand for itself, except to say: Alec really doesn’t know all that much about taking care of horses.

Henry announces his plan to race Minx in the Kentucky Derby, and Alec has the money line of the entire book and introduces the central tension of the whole narrative.

When Alec spoke again he had regained full control of his voice. “It’s almost December,” he said calmly, “and in five months, you’re going to have rid this filly of her bad manners and have her trained and ready to go a mile and a quarter?”

ALEC SPEAKS FOR ALL OF US.

He gets on the horse anyway, and he kind of likes her! Except because he’s Alec, he can’t stop comparing her to the Black. Oh, and poor Satan, too.

She had gone smoothly into her gallop, so much like the Black and so unlike Satan, whose first movements were heavy and ponderous…

Well, why shouldn’t she be able to go the distance? Alec asked himself. Wasn’t her sire the greatest distance runner of them all?

sigh.

Poor Minx doesn’t seem to have any fire or will to compete, though. She never digs in and tries to run away with him, which Alec interprets as total failure. I say she wants to be an eventer. But this is a Black Stallion book, so a) Alec has long angsty monologues (for like the next 75 pages) about how poorly she reflects on the Black and b) damn it, she’s going to race anyway.

Minx’s ground manners still aren’t entirely improved, and after she’s been working on the track for a while Henry turns to address her biting in particular in what might be one of the greatest sequences in this entire series. He keeps an eye on her while he’s grooming her to get her pattern down, and then he boils a potato. While it’s still hot he has a loooooooooooong conversation with Alec about how to un-spoil her. Somehow, miraculously, the potato is still hot when he puts it up his sleeve and goes back down to Minx’s stall.

Black Minx reached for Henry and there was no stopping this time. She bit his bulging arm!

Her head came back fast, her eyes showing how startled she was. Henry never stopped his grooming to look at her. But Alec was watching. She had bitten squarely into the boiled potato. Her lips were drawn back and her mouth was working frantically. She kept it open and her incessant blowing filled the stall. Alec couldn’t help smiling at her surprise and bewilderment.

All the while Henry continued working.

HOW GREAT IS THAT? I love it so much. That scene right there is what has stuck with me since the first time I read this book. It’s smart, charming, full of personality, it’s a good bit of characterization for all three of them, and gah. It’s just the best.

It also gives us this amazing Milton Menasco illustration of the scene.

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So, so, so great.

Okay. Gushing over. Minx’s mouthiness is cured by the hot potato, but her speed is still distinctly lacking. Pretend we’ve all just read like 50 pages of Alec being snarky and whiny and just not convinced that any of this is a good idea. I’ll wait.

Okay! Now that we’ve done that: Henry has a plan. And it’s a plan I am genuinely interested in your opinions on. See, Henry thinks that because Minx is just so darn ornery, she wants to do the opposite of whatever you want her to do. So he tells Alec to fake that she’s running away with him. He does that.

No longer did he cluck in her ear, urging her to gallop faster. Instead his words were a constant stream of whoa’s which served only to drive her on to greater speed. The wind cut his face. He wanted to smile but couldn’t. He worked his hands against her mouth, but this, too, only made her go faster.

I mean. It works for them. But apparently this horse will never do anything ever but race? Maybe it’s a 1960s attitude toward racehorses, but can you imagine trying to restart this mare off-track when she’s been trained to go faster when she thinks you’ve lost control?!?!? Is there some clever nuance I’m missing here or is this a monumentally bad idea?

(Let’s all be honest though, in Black Stallion terms it’s still like a 2 out of 10 on the Bad Idea Scale. It’s no Henry roping Satan to the ground, is all I’m saying.)

It works, though. Minx starts breezing, presumably faster, but they only do it like three times and Alec never asks for her times. So. Let’s just all trust in Henry and assume she’s going fast enough to make sense as a Derby contender.

The next 50 or so pages are given over to long, obsessive, agonizing speculation over exactly who else is going to race in the Derby. There are a bunch of other horses. We’re treated to Walter Farley’s descriptions of Alec and Henry watching races on television. Yeah, it’s exactly as boring as it sounds.

In between, though, we learn some more about the operations of Hopeful Farm. Let me sketch it out for you. Hopeful Farm is a breeding and training farm in upstate New York. It stands one, now two, stallions and has an unspecified number of mares. (Let’s say 20+ based on context clues.) Total employees? Alec and three part-time guys. And Henry when he’s around but he doesn’t seem to do anything with any other horse except Black Minx. Alec is business manager, exercise rider, barn manager, stallion & breeding shed manager, he’s the first call for foal watch, he’s making daily decisions about turnout and doing stalls, and oh also he’s their main jockey.

The next few nights, like the days, were busy ones for Alec. Three mares foaled on successive nights. Two of the mares were owned by outside patrons, and the sires of the foals resided in Kentucky.

ALEC IS TWENTY FOUR YEARS OLD. HE KNOWS NEXT TO NOTHING ABOUT HORSES. WHO THE FUCK SHIPS THEIR BRED MARE FROM KENTUCKY TO FOAL OUT AT THIS HALF-ASSED OPERATION. JESUS CHRIST.

Presumably managing stud duties for Satan ALONE is a full-time job, right? He won the Triple Crown and the Breeder’s Cup Classic and literally everything else ever. Plus the Black. Does Alec even sleep?????

Onward and upward to yet another race on tv, during which we learn that horses used to be waaaaaaay smaller.

Looking at him now you might think he is a small horse, but he isn’t. He stands a little over fifteen hands.

Oh and also we learn about this totally insane contraption.

This [run-out] bit, ladies and gentleman, is so designed that when the colt is running straight he has only a smooth plate against the right side of his mouth, but if he pushes out there are sharp prongs that are brought into play which stick him. It sounds cumbersome but it isn’t.

WHAT THE ACTUAL EVERLOVING FUCK

THIS IS A REAL THING, PEOPLE

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YOU CAN BUY IT FOR $162

Someone, anyone, please enlighten me. Are these really still used? Are there any possible imaginable circumstances under which this is not just horrific cruelty? Am I just totally being a delicate flower here? Anyone???

Moving on to other crazy training decisions:

“I’ll break her from it next week. One or two breaks should be enough. Too much gate work does more harm than good.”

They’re proceeding on the basic assumption that Minx’s basic training was sound. You know, the previous basic training that led her to be a total shit on the ground and also to run through the rail in her first race.

When they do get around to sending her out of the gate, surprise, she is not good with it at all. She hates the door closing behind her.

Small piece of backstory that I have not yet mentioned: Minx has a docked tail. When she was a yearling, a kid slammed a door shut on her tail and broke it, and part of the dock had to be removed.

Alec and Henry come up with an unorthodox solution.

“You mean if we gave her a false tail she’d – ”

“- have something to fling around,” Alec finished for him. “She might even forget all about not having had one for so long. And even if it didn’t help quiet her down in the gate, she’d have a switch to keep the flies away from her this summer.”

“But it might work in the gate, too, Alec,” Henry said quickly. “She might forget fast that she ever had an accident.”

https://gph.is/1zQV4vq

Surprise, surprise, the tail thing works, and gets us to this immortal description of Minx.

She’s a high-headed gal with a complex.

That is like my new personal motto, right there.

Off they go to the Derby, and we get a reminder that Alec basically spends this entire series of books suffering from PTSD.

Pressure and tension were mounting within him. And he knew there wouldn’t be any let-up during the days to come. Instead it would get worse. He tried to think of the calmness and tranquility of Hopeful Farm. But it didn’t help. It seemed that Hopeful Farm had never existed. He was being swept into the all-engulfing whirlpool of the Kentucky Derby, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Henry decides to enter Minx into one race on the Thursday before the Derby, something we would consider insane today, but all the other horses lined up for the Derby have been racing practically weekly.

The race…does not go well. She gets bumped pretty good, goes down, and Alec goes flying. Then she takes off galloping away and they have trouble catching her, which aside from being super-embarrassing seems like a really bad thing to happen three days before the Derby? What do I know, though, Henry thinks it means she’s in fine fettle and she can go the mile and a quarter.

Then we come to the race itself, which, you know what, for all that the television races earlier in the book are boring, the race itself is actually exciting. All that endless exposition at least got us familiar with the jockeys and horses that Alec now comes face to face with in the Derby, and allows him to make this scintillating analysis.

Boys became men riding a Derby, or they remained forever boys.

…okay? that makes…not a whole lot of sense, but…sure, Alec…

It’s an exciting race with a foregone conclusion, though: Black Minx wins the Kentucky Derby! She gets over her need to fight in order to tap into her speed, but she also gets kicked at the starting gate and by all accounts has an foreleg gushing blood through the whole race. It’s cool, though, they take the win photo before treating the leg. Real nice win photo, guys.

She’s fine, though, thankfully, and after all that work, finally gets some well-deserved treats. Aaaand…curtain.

Whew.

What did you think? Do you have any memories of this one? Is the hot potato scene one of your favorites too?

lesson notes · Uncategorized

Lesson Notes

I am LOVING having two lessons a month. It’s the perfect rhythm for me, and we’re really making substantial progress. It also lets me stack good lessons. When I had weekly lessons, inevitably I’d hit one that just stunk. We hadn’t prepared, or we were burned out, or things just went sideways. That hasn’t happened yet with the two-a-month. We’re excited and ready.

So, this week, notes.

  • I need to be better about getting him sharp off my transition aids, both up and down. Up, he gets one chance before I reiterate STRONGLY. Down, I need to communicate more clearly through my seat and then carry the energy forward into the next gait.
  • My inside hand was a holy terror. It was possessed. Something horrible was going wrong, and I just could not freaking let it go. Almost physically. It was not pretty. I was convinced that if I gave at all on my inside rein Tris would spin off like a top and we’d slam into the fence. Which he does sometimes! So my concern was not entirely unwarranted, generally. Just in this specific situation.
  • We worked a bit on my challenge of asking for forward, getting canter, and needing to work back into a trot. So really a lot of maintaining crispness in gaits regardless of what they were, and of transitioning back to what I originally wanted. Then we talked a bit about good resistance and bad resistance, and how holding him in a trot using my core can be a good kind of resistance.
  • I need to work on my elbows: keeping then down and close to me, and also not allowing them to translate tension from my upper body and then into my forearm. I had a tendency to get locked up, starting with my shoulders and then progressing down.
  • My inside leg is too far forward in the canter, and putting it where she wanted it to go felt WEIRD and then I got off and my hip flexors were so angry at me I just had to stand and whimper for a moment before I could walk. Note to self: stretching.
  • But! Overall, it was really good. Really good. Long stretches in a punchy, collected, reaching, through-his-back, energized trot. And the ability to go in and out of it, and tinker with it a little bit. At its very best, it was a proper First Level trot. Now, we just need to sustain it, and then translate it into the walk and the canter.
  • Barn manager also confirms that when Tristan really puts himself together he is the VERY MOST CUTEST. I really need to get media to show you all.