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Storing Winter Blankets in Vacuum Bags

I’ve had this idea for two years or so, but this spring finally implemented it.

Longtime readers will know that with his Cushings diagnosis some years ago, Tristan went from a horse who owned a mud sheet and cooler and that was it, to a horse that needed a full array of complicated heavy winter blankets. After a few years of fine-tuning, he now has a wardrobe that keeps him comfortable and happy all season.

That means, of course, that I’ve had a learning curve of how to care for and store expensive winter blankets. Each year I’ve tweaked things a little bit, and this year I’m really happy with the process, with the addition of some relatively inexpensive vacuum bags.

First, before I got to the storage piece, I needed to do a thorough cleaning and re-waterproofing. In the past, I’ve used NeverWet, and I still like it quite a lot, but this year I wanted badly to purchase something local rather than ordering online, so I ended up with Kiwi CampDry Heavy Duty Water Repellent. One can was enough to do one good layer on one blanket.

Left is his rain sheet, right is his medium. I sprayed them thoroughly, outside, wearing a mask, and then left them to dry for 24 hours – also outside, since we weren’t forecast for any chance of rain. After about 12 hours most of the smell of the waterproofing had dissipated.

Then came this year’s innovation, which I am delighted with: storing them in vacuum bags. I keep my excess horse equipment in my basement, which is fairly clean and dry as far as basement goes, but still gets dirty. Winter blankets especially are so bulky I hadn’t yet found a good way to store them neatly.

I bought these vacuum bags from Amazon: eight of them in the large size, after doing some rough measurements of one of my blankets folded up neatly. That size proved to be just fine for all of them, though the heavy was getting close to the max. Tristan’s blankets are all 72 or 75, so if you have anything larger than that, you might consider the jumbo size.

It really was a simple and fast process. Doing the four I wanted to store took maybe 30 minutes. They’re now stored neatly and cleanly with my other horse stuff in the basement, waiting for fall.

F

This is his medium weight stable blanket, and you can see it folded up next to one of the large bags.

Here it is inside the bag, not yet suctioned. I would say my only challenge came with making absolutely sure the seal on the zipper was good. I went over each of them 2-3 times, per the instructions. On one, I still didn’t quite get it perfect and had to go back, but that added only about 30 seconds to the process.

The kit came with a sort of reverse bicycle pump to suck air out. I used that instead of dragging out and hooking up my vacuum, and it was still pretty fast.

This is his medium, to give you a sense of one of the larger blankets I stored.

And here’s how it looked after compression! A significant reduction in size.

So in the end my tangled pile of blankets was transformed…

…into this neat pile of bagged and stored blankets!

All blankets cleaned, waterproofed, and stored before June 15; that’s got to be some kind of record.

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April & May Reading Catchup

At the beginning of the year, I set some reading goals in broad categories and said I’d blog about my reading generally.

Here’s my progress on my categories:

To recap my goals list:

  • one book in French (0/1)
  • five books about horses (2/5)
  • five books about Vermont (2/5)
  • five books from the “to be read” pile (3/5)
  • one book of poetry (0/1)
  • one play (0/1)
  • five books by authors of color (10/5)
  • three books about museums (2/3)
  • five award nominees (Hugo, Nebula, Dragon, Pulitzer, etc.) (6/5)
  • two books about science (1/2)
  • three classics (0/3)
  • three books about organizing/politics (4/3)
  • three memoirs or biographies (1/3)

Some highlights:

Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England by Jean M. O’Brien. This had been on my TBR list for years, and I bought myself a copy in January with the goal of grounding myself better in Indian history writ large and Abenaki history more specifically. Firsting and Lasting is incredibly dense, incredibly thinky, and incredibly brilliant. O’Brien uses sources nimbly, thoughtfully, and creatively, digging deeply into local histories that have long been handwaved as not useful. She puts together a compelling argument that is both simple and nuanced: that local histories in New England (she focuses specifically on southern New England but the same narrative applies to north) constructed a shared lie about Indian habitation in order to support European-centric colonization goals. The lie went “Indians were here, and now they’re gone; our civilization is the one that matters, and is therefore first in all the ways that count.” A truly superb work of history, worth the slow, careful, long read.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. Zippy, charming, smart, fun read; magic boarding school constantly tries to kill its students. Our narrator is destined to become a supervillain, but is actually a decent person, and somewhat accidentally befriends the school’s destined hero. The characters were all keenly drawn and immensely likeable.

Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery. For a local book club on building better communities, and to background my work on our city’s planning commission. I absolutely devoured this; it was the perfect combination of thinky, inspiring, and readable. It’s totally changed the way I think about even my small city.

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Along with sequels A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire and Crown of Gilded Bones. These hit my quota for smutty, compulsively readable, intensely plotted fantasy for the month. Do you like your brain? Do you think it’s kind of fun when it’s melting out your ears from all the plot twists and the character reveals and the sexytimes? Definitely check these out. Then hit me up because I’m probably organizing an online book group for the new one coming out this fall.

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Heat wave

The deal we make with Vermont is that we put up with the miseries of winter, the weeks of below-zero temperatures, in exchange for a perfect summer that only very rarely goes into the mid-80s.

Joke’s on us this year! We’ve already had two little heat waves that have hit 90.

On Monday, I returned to Vermont after a weekend in Maine (I just…left the state! without making elaborate quarantine plans or getting a test or anything! it was GLORIOUS) and it was just too damn hot to ride, despite my commitment to riding as much as possible during my vacation.

So, Tris got a bath instead.

He DOES NOT LIKE baths. Or water generally. But I bribed him with treats and really went to town, shampooing his tail and leaving in conditioner while I shampooed the rest of him.

He’s such a funny color that I always forget that yeah he really does look better after a bath. Too often the dirt just sort of blends in with his variegated coat and you can only really tell if you look up close.

Now he is bright red and shiny, and soft. He set a new land speed record for rolling after a bath, dropping 5 minutes into our handgrazing session to dry him out a bit. Oh well. At least it was only on grass.

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V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N

I wrapped up a huge project at work and took two weeks off right when my two week wait until full vaccination wrapped up, huzzah!

(well okay I have a few odds and ends I am still worrying about and have to go in early next week to work on them a bit, but it’s close)

I’ve been riding just about every day, doing business development stuff, cleaning my house, reading, and lots of other little things that have piled up while my attention has been consumed by work. I’m going back to CrossFit, meeting up with friends, and trying to dig deeper on some of my civic commitments. This weekend I’m going to watch a webinar on property assessment hearings, wooooo!

Tristan is now one week out from his hock injections and after a few days of light work, back in work. I’ve ridden every day so far, and at the time this post publishes will be in a lesson.

There is definitely some improvement: the slight funniness of his hind end is gone, and he’s much more even. Which is not to say that he doesn’t trip still. He’s always tripped. Whoever started the myth of the surefooted mustang never met my horse, who is 50/50 on any given moment on whether he’s fighting with me or watching where he’s going.

I’ll take even, though. And more springy, for sure. I gather we’ve got a little while longer to see how the injections settle in, and as we notch his work up in intensity, to see if it helps him sit through the hind end the way I was hoping.

I’m hoping to crack down on working with my Pivo over the next week, too, and finally line up all the various dumb things that have plagued me in getting it to work so far: cell phone battery, Pivo battery, crappy indoor lighting, crappy tripod, thunderstorm, forgetfulness, etc.

Anyone else taking advantage of vaccination and the turning of the season to take some time to yourself and re-enter the world?

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Saddle Cover Giveaway

It’s time for some new designs, so that means a giveaway!

If you’d like to enter to win a free custom saddle cover from my Etsy shop, fill out the short Google Form here.

Here’s one of the designs that is up for grabs.

[if your eagle eyes and memory are thinking “hm, didn’t she do this already?” you’re right; but the last giveaway got lost in a technical snafu, so I’m trying again with a less complicated system this time.]

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Too Stupid to Die: Buddy’s Story

I still have plenty of horse things to cover, but how about a different kind of animal story?

Despite not being much of a cat person, for the last 10 years or so I have lived with a cat. He is my husband’s cat, given to him by friends of the family when he moved into his first apartment out of college. My husband is very definitely a Cat Person.

Buddy is a large (20lbs at his top weight) longhaired black cat, probably part Maine Coon. He had failed out of two previous homes. In both cases, he was so obsessively over-attached to his people that it caused actual problems with other animals in the household. So he was the perfect cat for a bachelor in a small apartment as the only pet.

how he spends most of his time: asleep on the corner of our bed

I have never been much of a cat person because I did not grow up with them, and because I am allergic to them. Not severely allergic, but I definitely get sniffly/sinusy/blah after extended contact with them. Staying overnight in a house with a cat is tough for me. When I moved in with my husband, I spent the first six months feeling like I had a mild head cold, and then my body finally slowly acclimated to living with a cat.

It’s been over a decade now, and I still don’t really understand cats – it’s like our brains are ships passing in the night, without any true interface. But I have grown very fond of Buddy; he sleeps on my side of the bed, purrs wildly if you so much as look at him, and he and Arya are fast friends. (By the time she came along, he had aged out of his over-obsessive tendencies and was able to share his people with another animal.)

Buddy is declawed in the front (done by his previous owners), and is genuinely not very bright. He loves sleeping, being petted, eating, and occasionally annoying Arya, and he leads a fairly uncomplicated life entirly indoors. He is 17 now, very deaf, and fairly arthritic. He can no longer jump up on anything higher than about a foot, so we got stairs for him to get up to the bed to sleep with us.

sleeping porch season

So you can imagine how worried we were when about a month ago he escaped out the back porch door and into the world. I was away doing a work thing, and he snuck out on my husband’s watch. We didn’t know he was gone until about an hour and a half after he had slipped out.

We spent the night looking for him, and then the next two days. We looked under every porch, into every shed, through the woods, everywhere. We knocked on doors and called vet offices and animal shelters and posted messages to the town listserv and put up posters everywhere. We put food and clothing with our scent and his in all corners of the yard, and set up a game camera to watch the porch and yard. For days and days and days. It was like he vanished into thin air.

On day 12, we were out picking up takeout for dinner and I got a call from some neighbors two streets over: they thought they saw our cat. We’d gotten a bunch of these calls from lots of very kind people but none of them had panned out; still, we spend home and pulled up in front of their house. They met us right out by the curb and said they’d just chased him into the falling-down foundation of their neighbor’s garage.

I was skeptical but shimmed through one of the large cracks and shone a light in. There was definitely a cat, but I didn’t want to get my husband’s hopes up, so I tried calling out to the cat with no luck. I was contemplating how best to suck my gut in to get the rest of the way through the crack when the neighbor and my husband found an unlocked door on the other side. It took only a second for my husband to confirm that the cat was Buddy, and he scooped him right up.

back home in one of his favorite beds

The rest of the night felt surreal. We got him home and settled in to a closed-off room for peace and quiet. He drank a full bowl of water, but wasn’t that excited about food. He was clearly a bit disoriented, walking around the room and nosing things in confusion, then coming back to the water. My husband slept down with him on a couch that night, and the next day the vet gave him a totally clean bill of health with only some mild dehydration and some soreness in his hind end, both of which were quickly resolved.

The vet called him a little miracle cat, and it felt great to talk to neighbors again and tell them he was home. When I posted on the town listserv to say we’d found him, we got a dozen emails from random people saying how thrilled they were that he’d come home. A 17 year old deaf, arthritic, declawed, indoor cat somehow survived on his own for almost two weeks! My husband’s theory is that he was bumbling around seconds from death at all moments but too dumb to tell, like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon.

We’re still so, so glad to have him home. We know we don’t have too much longer with him, but we are grateful we’ll be able to say goodbye when that happens, not just wonder.

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A New Era

Well, after waffling over it for literal years, I had Tristan’s hocks injected yesterday.

If you went back in this blog archive you’d probably find me mentioning doing his hocks over and over again, at least the last ten years. It hadn’t been the right choice before for a lot of reasons.

In recent weeks, he’s been having some persistent problems loading the hind end, or stepping it up quickly, or having it give out, that made me feel strongly that we had a clearly identified stiffness/soreness issue, rather than a training hole.

drunk post-injection pony

The vet concurred, and we ordered his ACTH test with a mind to checking on his Cushing’s progress. If his levels were not perfect, injecting him with steroids was a clear no-go. But! They were perfect. As in, the lameness vet said they were absurdly good. His exact words were “He just continues to defy expectations, doesn’t he?”

Oh, in so many ways…

I’ll put him back in light work on Monday, then full work on Thursday, and then we will see what we can see. I have the next two weeks off from work (uh, in theory, anyway; I have a few projects I will need to poke at) so I’ll be trying to take the opportunity to restart a few things in my life. Riding is one of them; CrossFit is another. I let a lot of things slide in the last 6-8 weeks of ramping up my work busy season, but now I get to transition back out of that with some thinking and planning time.

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Spring 2021 Cushings Update

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so it’s due!

Generally, actually, it’s a no news is good news situation. Tristan continues to maintain quite happily on one Prascend a day and some careful attention to diet.

Last week, we pulled blood for a ACTH test to check his levels and make sure we were on track.

Pretty much perfect!

He continues to be largely fine, symptom-wise; he shed out just fine this year, and is transitioning on to grass right now with no problems.

He is still showing some immune weakness, but it’s tough to say what is Cushings and what is just old horse. Over the weekend, he got quite a few black fly bites on his sheath and reacted badly to that, swelling up fairly dramatically. That’s a first for him! Some cold hosing and application of Swat has brought it mostly back down.

I am in a hell phase at work, so not riding a whole lot; he is getting longed occasionally and enjoying turnout.

Tomorrow, he gets his hocks injected for the first time – that’s our second reason for pulling his ACTH levels, to make sure those were controlled to help decide his injection cocktail. Fingers crossed for a return to work this week with bionic hocks – I am excited!

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On grass

Though Tristan’s Cushing’s diagnosis changed many things about the way we managed him, we have so far been generally quite lucky.

He responds well to Prascend, he sheds happily, he maintains his weight just fine. His immune system is shot, and he struggles to keep good muscle on.

One way I’m glad it’s been fairly straightforward is grass. Though Tristan has Cushing’s, he does not have IR, or insulin resistance. They are often paired together, so he might someday develop that, but for right now, though we are careful about what he eats, we are not neurotic about it. He’s never been a horse to get much grain, even at his absolute peak of fitness and work, so keeping him on small amounts of low starch grain is not a hardship.

last summer, delighted with his lot in life

We are a bit extra careful about him going on grass, still, for two reasons. One is the Cushing’s; he doesn’t get the absolute richest stuff for that reason. The other is his ongoing seasonal allergies, which are probably rooted in his low immunity. Simply put, the horse eats everything. Some of it does not agree with him and causes hives.

At my current barn, there is a slow and careful process to put horses out on grass. I think any responsible horse owner introduces grass in stages, but there is a lot of wiggle room in that. For some people, that’s an hour at a time.

For us, it’s a much more complicated process. I like that about my barn. It appeals to my anxious nature; everything is done carefully, with planning and intention, and with the horse’s welfare as the absolute end goal.

Once we get to 15 minutes I bring a book.

All that is a long way of saying that this week I’ve been hand grazing Tristan in slowly increasing five minute increments. Last Saturday, starting him on five minutes of hand grazing was pretty much the only thing I did the day after my second COVID vaccine shot. Sunday was 8 minutes; Monday was 11 minutes; last night was 11 minutes; tonight will be 15 minutes, and so on. At 30 minutes, he’ll go up to a grass pasture and the add-ons will jump 15 minutes a day, managed by the barn staff.

Some of you are probably reading this aghast. That’s fine. I’m happy with the way the barn takes this slowly, and not every horse gets quite as picky a hand grazing intro as Tristan – we’re extra careful with him (and other horses with a similar profile at the barn).

What about you? Do you go extra-slow or a bit faster or is it something you let your barn manage entirely?

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New dressage whip!

I don’t know about you, but there are some pieces of horse equipment for me that just…disappear. One of those is dressage whips. I’ve probably had half a dozen vanish on me over the years, so I learn not to get too attached to them. Granted, at least some of this is my fault, because I stick them in the holder by the edge of the ring. On the other hand…who walks off with a whip that you know isn’t yours?!

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I broke one of my rules and bought a new dressage whip that I really like. So I’m trying to force myself to always bring it back to my tack trunk.

Usually for my job I have a fair amount of travel, and of course that hasn’t been the case over the last 14 months. That changed about three weeks ago, and I found myself 45 minutes ahead of schedule and passing a tack store in a part of the state I hadn’t visited in years. It was actually my main store when I lived over there, and where I bought my first show coat for IHSA, but now it’s a good 90 minutes away.

I stopped to stretch my legs and look around – it’s turned over at least two owners since the last time I was in there, and I was curious about its new selection. I was really impressed overall – they had a large selection of really good stuff!

I poked at a few things, but then I saw this whip and that was it.

The whip I am saddest about losing was a bit similar, and also from Horze. This whip was also pretty, and had something I really like in a whip: it was very long. 48″ actually, too long for regulation dressage use. Joke’s on the rules, we’re not going to compete recognized ever again!

I like them long because I like to be able to just tickle Tristan’s hind legs without moving my hands too much out of the way, and you can see in this photo (this is how I stick my whips while I’m picking his feet as we leave the ring) that it accomplishes that quite nicely. It can also double as an in-hand whip in a pinch, and sometimes I warm up his hind end crossovers in hand.

If I had a complaint it would be that this isn’t quite as flexible as I usually like a whip. I’m sure everyone has their preferred feel, when you bounce it in your hand and see how much bend it has. I like a pretty bendy whip, but this is also not the stiffest whip I’ve ever used. (I actively avoid those, I just feel like I can’t be very subtle with them.)

Here, enjoy this slightly dizzying photo of it in use.

I couldn’t find the model anymore on the Horze website (which is apparently now Equivania?) so I’m a bad blogger for not telling you where you can get your own, but I like it! Hopefully I can hang onto it for a while, as long as I remember to keep bringing it back to my tack trunk.