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Spring 2022 Cushings Update

[small aside, my fingers wanted to type “COVID” instead of Cushings which…wow]

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Cushings update for Tristan, and this spring we did actually have some developments, so it’s time.

Longtime readers will remember that Tristan was diagnosed with Cushings in the fall of 2015, and I post periodically on how we are maintaining him with this strange, tricky, but nearly universal disease.

In February, the barn manager and I decided that injecting Tristan’s hocks again would be a good idea. Putting steroids into a Cushings horse’s body is always a dicey proposition, and I try to be as prepared as possible before doing it, so that meant a new ACTH test.

Surprise for me, the vet is now doing a new type of ACTH test, called a TRH suppression test. Basically, they pull blood, inject TRH (thyrotropin-releasing hormone), wait a period of time, and then pull blood again. The TRH more or less pokes at the pituitary gland to try to make it angry and stressed. A normal horse’s pituitary gland will react a little bit to that – a Cushings horse’s pituitary gland will react a lot.

For reference, we did a regular ACTH test in May 2021 ahead of his June 2021 hock injections:

Great news! Right in the middle of the range, on one mg of pergolide (as a Prascend pill) per day.

Here’s what the TRH test looked like in March 2022:

Super interesting change, right? His baseline ACTH levels are right where we want them to be, even a little bit better than last year. After the TRH injection, he shot way up – as you can see, nearly double the ideal reference interval. What does that mean, exactly? Reference intervals usually have an ideal range and then deviation from them tells you a lot more, so I set out to find out what a positive result of 210 meant in practical terms.

The most useful information I found came from this article, from Boehringer Ingleheim from 2020, based on actual scientific evaluation of the test:

There we go! According to the chart, Tristan is still positive for Cushings, which, of course he is. The good news, though, is as I suspected, right in the middle there: under “Equivocal.” He’s only what could be described as a mild positive, with 210 pg/mL hitting only a smidge over the true positive measurement. As the chart says, it’s subject to ongoing research, but this is the more nuanced look I was hoping to see. I’m glad to have access to the better testing, even though the cost was 2x a regular ACTH test.

Armed with that information, I made two decisions: the first was to bump him up to 1.5mg of pergolide a day, or a pill and a half of Prascend. It’s not an unexpected decision; Cushings is a progressive disease, and this bump up was always going to happen at some point. That mild positive, after all, is while medicated, which is an indication that the pergolide isn’t controlling his disease quite as well as it might.

The second decision was to go ahead with the hock injections. I did have a brief conversation with our lameness vet first, and shared the testing results with him, and he felt comfortable going ahead. I was also able to talk to him in-person while he did the injections, and stayed with him for a while after the injections. That was a few weeks ago, and all has gone well since.

In other Cushings-related things: he adjusted to the higher dose of pergolide just fine, with no real sign of difficulty there. He’s in really good shape overall, and his main Cushings symptoms are what they have always been: difficulty in building & keeping muscle, and a weakened immune system overall. He’s shedding out well, his energy is good, he’s still a nice easy keeper relative to the amount of food he gets, and honestly, he’s in pretty darn good shape for a 27 year old horse.

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Best-Laid Plans

Well, one of my goals this year was to blog every week and it’s been two months, so…oops?

I have been thinking loads of things but so rarely have the time to sit down and type them out.

I do miss writing, though, so I will try to do better.

In the meantime: Tristan turned twenty-seven years old last week, and we celebrated with a lovely, lovely ride, our first full ride back since he got his hocks injected the week before.

So things are pretty good.

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House Post: Back Bedroom Changeup

Well, the Etsy business shows no slowing down anytime soon, and it has completely taken over the library. Given that the point of building out the library was, you know, books, I have finally talked my husband into changing the back guest bedroom into a craft room.

The plan is that everything will be semi-temporary and can be folded up and packed away, and the bed re-assembled, if we anticipate guests enough to need a second guest bedroom. Before COVID, that happened 2-3 times a year for skiing or hiking weekends with friends. Since then, only once.

Here’s a before & an in between:

I have ordered some things – I found a nice folding corner desk that will hold both the sewing machine and the embroidery machine – and am holding off on others.

This week, I am signing a contract to have the linoleum underneath the carpet tested for asbestos. It’s not quite the right style or era, but better safe than sorry.

Depending on how that comes back, we will decide on a plan for getting it all up. The linoleum is glued down to the original hardwood, so the task will be to rip up the carpet, scrape off the linoleum, and then refinish the hardwood.

Refinishing the hardwood will involve both the usual steps of sanding and restraining, but also a process to match the hardwood in other rooms, since we know it runs throughout the house, and we also know we will be due for refinishing the entire downstairs someday.

Because of those complications, it’s likely that we’ll just outline the project and schedule it for someday in the future when I have some Etsy downtime (ha).

Changing up the room will also involve organizing the closet and maybe building in some shelving to deal with the fabric storage situation.

Yeah, it’s out of control. When I took this picture there were another 10+ bolts out of frame and another 5 or so in the library waiting to be cut. And this is actually at an ebb – I used up a LOT over the holidays, and will probably order ~100 yards next time there is a good sale on solid colors.

In short, this has become a proper business!

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Boosting the Signal: Farm Architecture

I’m in that kind of place where I just looked at the clock and said “ooh, I can spare 8 minutes to check blogs!”

Then I saw the most recent post from The Ambitious Equestrian and knew immediately what my blogging goal post this week would be.

The Ambitious Equestrian is a consistently good follow and read for lots of reasons, but today I’m directing you there because of their series on barn and farm architecture. It ranges the gamut from highly conceptual to very down to earth, but it’s always fascinating to read. Especially if, like me, you filled up whole notebooks designing your ideal farm as a kid (uh…yeah…as a kid…).

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January Updates

I almost blew my goal of blogging every single week in the third week of January. Good grief.

As content, here are a few random things on my mind over the past week.

We don’t have hurricanes, we don’t have earthquakes, we don’t have alligators…

It’s really flipping cold. This is what our next 10 days look like. See those overnight temps? Ugh. When it’s this bad, my riding time is severely curtailed. I visit to pour hot water into his insulated bucket, feed treats, groom, and maybe hand walk.

My personal cutoff for riding is 15 degrees. It used to be 10, but I’ve nudged it up over the years for a variety of reasons. Below that, I might hand walk, or get on bareback for a walk, or play in-hand. There’s some compelling research that maybe 20 degrees should be the cutoff, but I argue that for a horse acclimated to the weather, it’s fine to go down to 15. (And I know plenty of people who will work in single digits.)

Speaking of cold, this was -11F last weekend.

I have a new phone! I was using an iPhone 4S before. It was starting to fail, and I had an upgrade waiting when I went to make some other tweaks to our phone plan, so now I have an iPhone 13! Mini, since I cannot with those giant half-tablet things.

Why should you care? Well, I had practically given up on getting Pivo to work with my old phone. I only had 30GB of storage on it, and the camera just wasn’t very good. The one time I got it to record and follow me most of the time, it couldn’t save the video and I had to watch it vanish and I may have cried.

Almost immediately after setting up this phone, with its 128GB of storage and freakish camera, I pulled out my Pivo and charged it. I figure long bareback walks are a great opportunity to get it calibrated again.

Current favorite new pattern. 😍

Have I mentioned I’m busy? Yeah. I have that pesky day job that pays the bills, a house that I am in theory renovating, the Etsy shop that hit warp speed in 2020 and has only barely slowed down since, and oh yeah, added a huge pile of civic volunteering and political organizing to my plate. I had multiple hours of Zoom meetings or phone calls every single night this week.

It’s good and bad. I love my day job and there are some super cool things happening there. The Etsy shop has made SO many things possible. The house has been our refuge these last two years. I love the organizing – there’s so much to learn and do and so many ways to help and make things better. (I won’t lie, the fact that I seem to be good at it is also enormously appealing.)

I tell you what, though, I am tired.

New phone, same cuteness

Tristan is still the love of my life. Some things will never change. January 2 marks sixteen years since he became mine, and this June will be seventeen years since he came into my life, and he is still the center of my whole world, no matter what else that world might include.

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Giveaway: Dressage Rider’s Journal

I’m so delighted with the Dressage Rider’s Journal that I reviewed last week that I’m going to give away a copy to someone.

To enter, do two things:

That’s it! and I should clarify, this isn’t sponsored by Ruth, this is purely me thinking this book is awesome and more people should have a copy.

The giveaway will close next Friday, 1/21.

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Blog Hop: Would You Rather

Found at A Enter Spooking, who got it from Anxiety at A.

Spooky or Steady:
Oh, God, steady. I lose my patience way too fast with spooky. I know that’s not a good quality in a horseperson, but – it’s the truth. Tristan getting spookier in his old age is like the personal growth phase I didn’t want.

Matchy-Matchy or Mismatched
Hahahahaha. Clean and in good repair? I’m just not a matchy person. I think that’s been proven over the years. It’s one of the reasons I buy most things in black or gray.

Tall boots or Half chaps
Tall boots, always, ever since I started riding. It’s hard to explain but half chaps feel weird and wrong to me. I’ve certainly tried over the years – I own half chaps and winter & summer paddock boots, but…it just doesn’t work.

Indoor or outdoor
I live in Vermont. Outdoor is the exception to the rule. I do like it quite a lot but between the idiocy around the changing of the seasons, the rain/snow/ice/wind, etc., I ride in the indoor the vast majority of the time.

Bay or chestnut
Oh, bay. I love a nice plain bay.

Hard shell boots or sport medicine boots?
I looooooooooooathe sports medicine boots. Hate. With fiery passion. Devoted an entire blog post to them.

That said – I’ve never owned or used hard shell boots.

So my answer here is off the menu: Tris uses the Dressage Sport Boots, which are soft but not the sport medicine boot style.

Free Board for a Year or 20k for a shopping spree?
Board. Which would end up being way less but I don’t need anything that I could spend $20k on right now. So I’d have board (and presumably lessons since they are part of my board bill) covered and stash that money away into savings. In the someday future I will definitely be dropping that kind of money on a truck and trailer, but I have no outlook on that right now.

Long or short mane or roached mane?
Out of sheer laziness, long. Never have I ever pulled Tristan’s mane, despite several trainers expressing their opinions on it.

Lazy or hot horse?
I’m just more of a kick ride person. I’d like there to be some response to the kick, but my brain does not interface well with hot/tense/go-go-go.

Private barn or a boarding barn?
I’m assuming in this scenario private barn is “boarding with just a friend or acquaintance” in which case, boarding barn. Horse people are crazy, even the ones I love, and I would not want to sour a relationship like that.

Create your dream barn or own your dream horse?
I’m assuming dream barn comes with acreage? But yeah, barn. Dream horse is a mutable, impossible concept (much like dream job). Dream barn would be 20-30 acres, with 10 of it in good flat-ish pasture and some dry lots, an indoor and outdoor, five stalls, and 20 acres in rolling hills and some woods with maintained trails.

Roman nose or dished face?
Roman! Have you seen my horse?

Ride an Olympic-level horse or take a lesson with an Olympian?
If I rode an Olympic horse, I would die. The horses that get to that level without having at least a few screws loose are few and far between. So, lesson, please.

Own a miniature horse or a donkey?
DONKEY. OMG. I love them. The first barn I ever rode at, as a small kid, had two resident burros who just wandered around the property and they were the BEST.

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Book Review: The Dressage Rider’s Journal 2022

I wrote a little bit about my horse goals for the year, but they’re all fairly general. What about my specific riding goals? (Inasmuch as it makes sense to have any, on a 26yo retired horse and no show plans.)

For that, I turned to a tool called The Dressage Rider’s Journal.

(full disclosure time: Ruth Hogan-Poulsen is my barn owner and sometime-trainer. Mostly, I ride with the barn manager because I’m year-round in Vermont and my schedule matches better with hers, but I try to ride with Ruth when I can and have known her for a decade.)

I love a good planning tool, and this book delivers in spades. It’s smart, organized, and provoked me to think about lots of things I hadn’t considered before, with lots of specificity and opportunities for mapping things out. It’s useful to me as a single-horse rider/owner, but I think it would work well if you owned and rode multiple horses, too. And I made my goals all about riding but I think you could add in other things too – like “learn how to do a good standing wrap” or “pass Pony Club B test” or something like that.

I spent probably an hour doing some deep thinking and note-taking and setting the book up for the year. It’s my plan to hand it to the barn manager at the beginning of every lesson so she can write my homework in. This week, I’m out of town on vacation, so the notes will be what the assistant trainer tells me about her ride on Tristan. Next week, lesson notes will go in that wide space to the bottom right, along with some to-do things for me and maybe diagrams.

Using the journal, I laid out our January goals based on our last lesson of 2021: gain better and more specific access to Tristan’s hind end. I need to be able to access and move both hind feet and not have his shoulders zing out instead, or have him just blow me off. So I jotted down some initial ideas that came out of our lesson, and will keep adding more through the month.

At the end of each month, there’s also a double-page of arena diagrams so you can map things out that work for you. I can’t be the only person who is constantly getting great exercises, seeing huge progress with them for three weeks, and then forgetting about them completely, right? This should help with that problem.

In all: I’m really excited to use this as a tool to keep me on track.

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2022 Goals

Last year, I didn’t set goals, really. I mean, I set some down on paper, in the real world, but I didn’t dig deeply into them. I hit maybe 3/4 of them, and the remaining 1/4 on review were either stretch goals for the sake of stretch goals or not the right direction. I’m fine with that.

My 2020 goals were deeply mixed, as I’m sure was the same for a lot of people.

Here I am, in the beginning of 2022, returning to a more traditional goals post, however. I found that it was good to give my brain the year off, but that now I want some more focus again. I’ve written quite a few goals out by category, and am not sharing all of them here. (Not least because you come here for horses and sometimes books and my house, not for my day job or my increasingly-busy political work.)

So: what’s on tap for 2022:

Tristan

  • blog once a week
  • take 30 lessons
  • read 5 horse books
  • purge horse stuff
  • hit someday savings goal [amount not disclosed, a fund that could cover truck/trailer/next horse]

House

  • finish nook room
  • finish last guest bedroom
  • scope out downstairs bathroom project
  • work on sun room windows
  • organize tools

Bel Joeor Metier

  • achieve some level of growth over 2021
  • sponsor 3 shows or riders
  • sell in-person at least once
  • conduct a full inventory of fabric
  • buy supplies with more intentionality
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Final 2021 Reading Post

Last year, I didn’t write public goals necessarily, but I did commit to some reading goals. Here’s my final wrap-up of how those went.

Here’s how things ended up:

  • one book in French (0/1)
  • five books about horses (5/5)
  • five books about Vermont (6/5)
  • five books from the “to be read” pile (5/5)
  • one book of poetry (0/1)
  • one play (0/1)
  • five books by authors of color (12/5)
  • three books about museums (4/3)
  • five award nominees (Hugo, Nebula, Dragon, Pulitzer, etc.) (7/5)
  • two books about science (2/2)
  • three classics (3/3)
  • three books about organizing/politics (4/3)
  • three memoirs or biographies (5/3)

I read a total of 116 books in 2021, which was past my first goal of 75 and then my second goal of 100. Reading was a good place for my brain in 2021.

Obviously, there were some things I just didn’t hit. Of them, I’m only really disappointed about the book in French, because I can feel my fluency slipping away a little more each year. I read a fair amount of poetry, just not all together, and reading a play was a stretch goal that I would have to be intentional about and just did not happen.

Here’s a very quick hit list of my 5 star reads this year:

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (+ the other three books in the Wayfarers series)
Conversations with a Prince: A Year of Riding at East Hill Farm by Helen Husher (look out for a review post about this in the new year)
The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars
Charity and Sylvia by Rachel Hope Cleves
The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate
Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Peterson
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Happy City by Charles Montgomery
Firsting and Lasting by Jean M. O’Brien
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas
The Age of the Horse by Susanna Forest

If I had to cherry pick even among those I’d say:

Nonfiction book that I loved the most: The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate. This had been on my to-read list for years because I have always been curious about Henry Ward Beecher, and this book totally blew my mind with its skill on every level – history, biography, writing.

Fiction book that I loved the most: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Looooooooooooved this book. It’s weird to call a long, complicated high fantasy book about court intrigue a comfort book but wow, did this book just make my brain deliriously happy to read.

Most compulsively readable: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. Could. not. put. it. down.

Book that improved my brain the most in 2021: Firsting and Lasting by Jean M. O’Brien. This is a meticulous, careful accounting of the ways in which native people were displaced in local history in New England. The things she did with sources, the ways she reshaped historiography I’ve had in my head since grad school, the ways it has influenced my own work and the way I see the historical landscape around me – all immeasurable. I immediately loaned it to my boss and we talked about it weekly for months, no exaggeration. (Please note if this makes you want to run out and pick it up that it is a very academic work, dense and slow to read and it took me, who does this for a living, almost a month to work through and digest. Which is not to cast any aspersions on anyone’s intelligence and/or reading level – simply to give you a heads up for what you might get into!)

Book that disappointed me the most: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Her history was just bad. I ended up digging through her citations and then I got to be the asshole at my book club who complained about the hot book of the moment. I do not disagree with her larger thesis, but this was just…sloppy and polemical.

Overall, another notable thing about my reading for 2021 was that I read a lot more physical books. For years I was a Kindle-first reader, getting books from the library five or six at a time and blasting through them. Sometime in 2020 I started to struggle with that, and started to buy more books, and started to vigorously use the ILL system at my local library. It was a great change for everything but my bank account. (Ok, and maybe my library shelves.) Reading physical books has helped me build focus, keep away from screens, and engage more deeply with the material.

What’s ahead for 2022? More reading, of course. I’ve got an overall goal of 100 books and may post about categories again; look for that goal-setting post in the next week or two.