black stallion series · Uncategorized

Summer Series: The Black Stallion and Flame

First, an administrative note: since we are so close to the end, I’m going to push through and this summer series will end in mid-fall instead of taking a break and then picking up next summer. I have some ideas for the next series to read but if you have anything you desperately want snarkily recapped, let me know!

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Alec and the Black survive yet another plane crash only to be separated in the Caribbean. The Black finds his way to Azul Island for the ultimate crossover: a showdown with Flame.

First things first, for those keeping track at home, this is Alec and the Black’s second plane crash. This time, they’re on their way back from Europe, where they survived their trip to…wherever…and spent the rest of the time racing and kicking ass.

I mean. It’s pretty obvious from the first page that the plane is going to crash, but we still waste a stupid amount of time checking in with everyone, recapping who exactly Alec and Henry and the Black are, and meeting the doomed other groom in the plane. No worries, though, Henry’s cool as a cucumber.

One didn’t ride fast horses, both on the flat and over jumps as Henry had done, without developing confidence in an ability to get out of jams.

IDK, I’ve ridden fast on the flat and over jumps and would be scared shitless in a plane crash.

We learn that, well:

At home Alec had a secret book in which he kept the musical notes of their special language.

Oh, Alec. Remember my theory about how this whole series makes infinity more sense if you assume Alec is suffering from severe, diagnosed PTSD throughout? Yeah.

It takes three chapters for the plane to hit the ocean, which are mostly filled with Alec kind of panicking and the pilots pretending everything will be a-ok.

He kept his head down, the collar high. He would have liked to talk to Henry or the Black during the last few seconds.

Aw. That’s actually kind of sweet. As is Alec wondering if this will be just like the beginning again, if they’ll have to swim together again.

The plane crashes and sinks much more quickly than anyone anticipated. Alec gets the Black free but then someone knocks him out and drags him away because he’s spending too much time fussing over the horses. (There are a bunch more Arabian mares and yearlings, randomly.)

When he wakes up, Henry reassures him that all the horses made it out of the plane and were swimming away. Not so much the unfortunate groom. He couldn’t swim and did his life jacket wrong and went down with the plane. Shitty pilots, who didn’t double-check their passengers’ life vests.

We switch between Alec and the Black’s perspective for the rest of the book. First, the Black.

As the Black felt the pull of currents on his body, instinct told him not to fight them. He let them take him where they would.

Okay, this has been growing for the last couple of books, but: the whole question of “instincts.” It gets nutty in this book. Way out of control. The Black basically gets through this whole thing on “instinct.” He is from the DESERT. How doe he have instincts about the ocean??? How would any horse know how to read currents and swim to safety and oh yeah. Wait for it.

[The Black] watched the sea about him for strange shapes that could only be dangerous, fierce and horrible because he had little means of fighting back. Suddenly two monstrous eyes stared at him from a few feet away. He kicked out savagely, and the eyes and snout in the big forepart of the creature disappeared below, its tentacles clawing the air. The giant squid skidded away.

YOU READ THAT RIGHT.

A GIANT SQUID.

THE BLACK FOUGHT A GIANT SQUID.

Instinct told him to watch for predators from below, and it keeps guiding him.

He hated the sea and was tempted to swim faster, leaving it behind him forever. He wanted to feel again the earth beneath his hoofs. But he didn’t move his legs faster; instinct told him that the submerged coral lay all about.

FFS.

Instinct also guides the Black – and his herd – to the secret sea entrance to Azul Island, and then through the Fire Swamp weird swamp that blocks the side canyon from the main Blue Valley.

The Black Stallion came to a stop and screamed his high-pitched clarion call, claiming this new land for his very own. The air rang with his challenge, vibrating from wall to wall. And when his call finally died the morning stillness was broken once more. Drinking at the pool was a great herd of horses. From it a tall chestnut stallion stepped forth, his head held high, his eyes defiant as he turned downwind. Like the Black Stallion’s, his head was small with prominent, ever-watchful eyes. Great muscles bulged beneath his sleek, battle-scarred coat. He screamed his answer and it was as savage and wild a call as the Black’s! The valley was no longer peaceful. It had become a walled arena.

OH IT’S ON.

Unfortunately no, it’s not. We shift perspectives to Alec, who is on a boat.

Water was his most important need. With it alone he’d be able to live ten days, maybe longer, because his will to live was very strong.

Yeah no that’s not how that works.

The pilots, Alec, and Henry float around on the rescue boat for a while having various survival adventures. They eat raw fish a couple of times. There’s a shark incident.

They scarcely breathed. It was the biggest dorsal fin any of them had ever seen. The shark must have been thirty or forty feet long from dorsal fin to tail!

I did the research, because I’m always thinking of you, readers.

Jaws was supposed to be 25′ long. That would make him larger than the largest Great White Shark ever recorded. Hammerhead sharks can get up to 20′ pretty regularly. The only shark that would ever get 30 to 40 feet long is the whale shark. Which doesn’t eat people. Or have a dorsal fin. Oh, and the biggest one ever recorded was just over forty feet long. So yeah.

Anyway, they don’t have to rough it for too long, because after a few days, they land at Antago Island! Which is actually an amazing feat on the navigator’s part.

Back to Azul, though.

The Black and Flame are still standing off, waiting, when in comes an interloper.

He was milk-white in color and unlike the other young, ambitious stallions his body was unscathed: there were no cuts, bruises or tooth marks. And yet he was a veteran of more fights than any horse in the herd with the exception of the red stallion he expected one day to dethrone.

Blue Valley is not only big enough for Flame’s herd, it now has a bachelor herd? Seriously, how big is this place???

The cremello stallion and the Black face off and the Black kicks his ass, poor guy.

Having humbled his enemy, the Black Stallion did not intend to kill him. He had no impulse to fling himself upon the young stallion, who was no match for him. It was one thing to kill through necessity, another to kill a beaten foe.

Um…sure.

Back on Antago, Alec is moping around because he is understandably worried about the black.

I’ve got to say he’s alive again over and over again and mean it every time. He’s out there somewhere…if not on this island, then on another. If he was dead, I’d know it. I’d feel it every time my heart beats.

Okay fine that one hit me right in the feels. ❤

Alec distracts himself from worrying about the Black by hanging out with an island veterinarian, who’s treating a number of cows with rabies. Henry tags along too and mostly leaps to grumpy conclusions and tries to tell the Antago islanders how to run things.

“No, not a dog. And I’m afraid this carrier is still very much alive and active – ”

“But he must be destroyed!” Henry interrupted urgently. “He’s capable of infecting human beings as well as animals!”

The police officer said gravely, “We’re well aware of that, sir.”

It’s not a dog that’s infecting the animals…it’s a vampire bat!

Alec and Henry LOSE THEIR SHIT.

“You’re quite an authority on [vampire bats],” Henry said disgustedly.

“Perhaps, for we have to accept such problems here in the tropics.”

Seriously, the police officer and the vet put up with an awful lot for the next two or three chapters, as Alec and Henry tag along to hunt down the vampire bat, because there’s a rumor that there’s a black horse running loose near the cave where he’s hanging out.

A chill swept over Alec. “But his food is blood,” he said in a horrified voice.

“As natural to him as milk or coffee is to us, so who are we to judge?” the veterinarian asked patiently.

I want a book about the Antago Public Health Service because these guys are just awesome.

They all venture into the cave and Alec and Henry screw up the capture of the bat by freaking out. They find the black horse dead – not THE Black – and flush the bat out of the cave, where it disappears. Everyone shrugs and Alec and Henry decide to hire a boat and start searching nearby islands, including Azul Island, which Alec has a strange feeling about.

Alec nodded assent, completely unaware that he had everything in the world to lose, including his very life. For in the cabin of the Night Owl slept the vampire, having chosen that vessel in which to spend the rest of the day.

dun dun DUUUUUUUUNNNNNN

Meanwhile on Azul Island:

This land was new to him and yet he knew the grass was rich in nourishment and that there was something in the very air on which a horse thrived. But true to his desert heritage he denied himself the luxurious, tempting grass for he did not want to become too content or lazy. He had many things to do and could do them best if he was a little hungry and thirsty.

I roll my eyes unto infinity. The Black is such a morally superior asshole sometimes.

Anyway, the Black and Flame circle each other warily and they are about to go at it when…

…Alec, Henry, and the boat owner who has agreed to take them to Azul Island get to the island and spook the vampire bat out of its hiding place! Cue freakouts galore, but the bat leaves the boat and heads toward the island…

…where it heads right for the Black and Flame!

Simultaneously they turned to the herd and the cliffs beyond. It was as if they had forgotten their fighting for the moment in the face of a still greater danger.

The two stallions reared skyward as if trying to reach the vampire bat that flew directly at them! Together they smelled sickness and death in its attack.

TIL that horses can smell rabies?

The vampire glided overhead and the stallions sought to grab it with their teeth and beat it with their forefeet. Missing, they made a lightning turn, streaking with the bat down the valley. Far beyond them raced the herd, the mares screaming as if they would never stop.

They chase the vampire bat up and down the valley for a while but don’t kill it; it zooms off somewhere into the darkness.

The two stallions stood alongside each other quietly, knowing that for a while danger to them and the herd was over. Together they would maintain a vigil throughout the night. They were terribly tired but their breathing was regular once more and came without effort. Soon the vampire would attack again and they must be rested and ready for him.

Sure enough, the vampire bat attacks again in the night and this time he gets Flame. He attaches himself to Flame’s back, and Flame goes down trying to get rid of him.

[The Black] grabbed the vampire by its outstretched wings, shaking it loose from the other stallion, and flung it to the ground. Then he struck hard, using both forefeet, until the enemy was dead.

Whew!

At that precise moment, Alec and Henry and the poor long suffering boat owner are trawling off the coast of Azul Island and about to head away – when a stray gust of wind brings Alec’s scent to the island, and the Black can tell it’s him!

He cleared it with one magnificent leap, never breaking stride, never slowing in his mad rush to join the boy he loved. Only when he reached the outer wall of the island did he come to a stop, a look of indecision in his eyes.

The Black leaves the same way he came, through the hidden sea entrance, and swims out past the coral reef looking for Alec. He can’t find him, and so instead circles the island and comes ashore on the sand spit that’s the only visible part of the island. He’s hanging out there, thinking that he missed the boat (literally) when on their very last circle of the island, Alec spots him!

It’s actually kind of a great moment.

Alec suddenly let out a yell that carried sharp and clear across the water. It sent a chill over Henry or never before had he heard such a yell come from Alec. But then, never before had there been such a reunion as this!

The book pretty much ends there, as they leave Azul Island.

So, the Black is now up to two plane crashes and fights to the death against a bull moose, giant squid, and vampire bat.

Did you remember this book? Did the meeting between the Black and Flame live up to its billing? Are you with Alec in being irrationally terrified of vampire bats ore more like everyone’s favorite island vet who just sees them as part of life? Would you quit life and become a reclusive hermit after surviving your second plane crash, or is that just me?

Uncategorized

Hey, guess what I did?

I had a work trip on Sunday to another part of the state, which put me on track on Monday to stop by DIY Horse Ownership‘s lovely new farm on my way home.

And I got to ride all THREE of her lovely equines!

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It was an absolute blast to meet her in person and see her gorgeous farm and wonderful horses. I’ve ridden probably far more mustangs than the average person, and it was neat to sit on two more – Eugene and Levi are both cheerful, nicely-trained, great horses.

And of course, Nilla is really freaking cool too.

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I’m really excited to have another horse blogger nearby, and visiting (and getting to ride!) was a really bright spot in a very stressful couple of weeks.

adventures with the vet · Uncategorized

No Black Stallion Recap This Week

Sorry! I did read and make notes on The Black Stallion and Flame (spoilers: it’s the Black’s SECOND plane crash and also there’s a rabid vampire bat and it’s also the Black’s second fight to the death against a random animal but I’m not going to tell you what animal, you’ll have to live in suspense.)  But for obvious reasons I have barely had time to breathe this week. Let’s not even talk about the state of my bathrooms and kitchen.

So, next week. Wait for it.

In the meantime, Tristan is still doing well; he’s getting a bit of turnout in a dry paddock today, and is getting a little bit more hay. He’s not drinking as well as he should be so we’re soaking hay and grain, but still acting normally, and having a little bit more manure at slightly more regular intervals.

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Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say also that if you’ve got a moment, please check out the Etsy shop and maybe recommend it to your friends? It kind of goes without saying that this week basically wiped out large swathes of my savings accounts. But I’ll say it anyway, because ouch.

adventures with the vet · Uncategorized

Sometimes, nightmares come true too

I don’t have the time or the energy for a full update, but here it is in brief.

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On Sunday night, Tristan started colicking. Banamine and gastroguard at the barn did nothing. The vet arrived, and more drugs (more banamine, buscopan, dormosedan) and a rectal and three hours of walking did nothing. His heartrate and respiration kept going up and up. He could not stand still for more than a few seconds at a time without trying to go down.

We put him on the trailer at 1am to head to the clinic, and on the drive there I worked hard to get myself ready to make the worst decision. It seemed pretty clear that he would either get off the trailer to go into surgery – or not. I knew, by the time we arrived, that my answer would be no, for a lot of reasons.

Against all odds, he walked off the trailer looking a little bit better. His vitals started to stabilize. We held off on any decisions, and he made slow but steady improvements through Monday, then through Tuesday.

img_4671Staying up all night scaring everyone to death is EXHAUSTING.

Today, he’s coming home. Everything aligned perfectly – he had the best possible people taking the best possible care of him, and every single lucky break went his way. I am exhausted, emotional, and profoundly grateful.

To everyone who followed along on social media and commented or even liked a photo: thank you, from the bottom of my heart. It really, really helped. Thank you.

Uncategorized

LASIK Surgery Update

I’m now about 2.5 months out from LASIK surgery, so I thought I’d do a continuing update. Last time I was about three weeks out from the surgery, so now I’m about three times as far away from it as I was then.

Overall, strong and steady improvement! Throughout the rest of the first six weeks, I definitely still needed to do eye drops regularly – every two hours or so.

Through to now, my eyes are definitely still drier than they were before the surgery, but they’re also showing slow and steady improvement. I now frequently forget to do the drops during the day, and am using basically two vials of Systane eye drops per day, rather than as many as 10. They’re safe for 12 hours (no preservatives) so I use one during the day, and keep one at night.

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We’ll illustrate with pictures of my dog, because I don’t want to subject people to more pictures of my face.

My eyes are definitely drier at night, so I put in two drops per eye right before I close them, and sometimes if I wake up at night I put some more in. I definitely need them first thing in the morning. But I put a drop or two in each eye and I’m good to go after maybe 30 seconds.

At its worst, the dryness in my eyes feels an awful lot like I’ve left my contacts in a little bit too long – but there’s no contact to take out. A drop or two and that feeling goes away.

At the end of the second month, it started to get much easier to look at a computer all day. It was never impossible, except for maybe the first week after the surgery, but it definitely got easier and easier and I needed fewer and fewer eye drops to keep it up. That said, my new blue light computer glasses are here to stay. They’re AWESOME, and they make it much, much easier overall to use the computer.

I have no more tension headaches, and I’m no longer particularly sensitive to dust or anything like that. I don’t worry at all about being at the barn and/or riding. I went to a dirt racetrack a few weeks ago and though I made sure I used a lot of drops I felt pretty much fine. I still get some glare at night from headlights and such, but it’s gone from “almost unbearable, limit driving at night” to “meh, that’s a bit glare-y, but it’s not actually interfering with my vision, just something to notice.” It should continue to improve up to the six months mark but honestly if it never does, I’ll be fine.

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One thing that has lingered has been sensitivity to light. I wear sunglasses pretty much constantly when I’m outside. This has been the most marked change. I have to squint much more in sunlight than I did before. In the last week or two I’ve been able to not wear sunglasses around the early and late parts of the day, when the sun is behind trees, or when it’s very cloudy, but if it’s sunny, I am wearing sunglasses. That means basically anytime I’m riding outside. Which, not actually a terrible development, frankly! I don’t think the sensitivity is too much more than someone with light-colored eyes experiences already. (I have very dark brown eyes, so this was new to me.)

In terms of finances, I’m shoveling all extra money toward paying off the loan, which is a 0% introductory rate for 24 months from the surgery. If all continues on track, it’ll be paid off about 10 months early, because if I fell behind that interest rate is bad news.

Overall, I’m still extremely happy I did it! It’s strange still, sometimes. A few mornings ago I got panicky when I couldn’t find my glasses on my nightstand, and sometimes I still reflexively reach up to shove my glasses back up my nose. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and am not entirely sure it’s me, because there are no glasses.

Anyone have any continuing questions?

house post · Uncategorized

House Post: Dining Room Reveal, Part 1

Damn straight I’m going to stretch this out over two weeks, because a) it was a ridiculous amount of work and b) I’m ridiculously proud of it!

Let’s review briefly, shall we?

The very first thing I did in the dining room was to rip up the carpet and expose the hardwood floors. Then I tried to fix the dining room chandelier but broke it and just replaced it. Then I dithered for a long, long, looooooooong time about exactly what I wanted to do in the room. Then I couldn’t ride in August and all my frustration bubbled over and I said eff it and started skimcoating and pushing HARD to finish.

As a reminder, here’s a before photo of the room.

So, in order, we:

  • removed the carpet
  • removed the wallpaper
  • scrubbed and plastered the walls
  • removed the old chair rail (quarter round)
  • skimcoated the texture underneath the old chair rail

Some progress photos for you.

Next week…final painting & chair rail installation!

 

finance friday · Uncategorized

Finance Friday: Equine Retirement Planning

Here’s another in my Finance Friday series. To read the whole series, follow this category tag and enjoy!

BelJoeorFinanceFridays

This week, we’re talking about retirement – of the equine variety.

Guiding Questions

I’ve been thinking a lot about equine retirement lately. Tristan is 23, and while I fervently hope that he has many happy years left, it’s also likely that someday he will need to step down from his level of work. I’m the kind of person who likes to be as prepared as possible for things, and I also want Tristan’s retirement to be a stepping stone to my continuing involvement with horses – not the end.

Horses are expensive, and just because you’re not riding them doesn’t mean they get less expensive. August was arguably my most expensive month of the entire year, and I didn’t sit in the saddle once. Continuing to ride actively with a retired horse means more money – enough for a second horse, or a lease, or frequent lessons.

I want to stress throughout this post that no matter what, Tristan and his needs come first. I will not add on stress to my finances unless I am absolutely certain at the core that he can get whatever he needs, without question. If that means I have a retired horse and catch ride at best, so be it. But I’d like to have another riding horse. That means that as a person with a nonprofit salary and a mortgage, I need to plan this carefully.

To help me think this through financially (emotionally is going to require, like, another two years of therapy at least), I brainstormed all the questions I had, sorted through them, and created a survey to try to see how other people had answered them. Thank you to everyone who took the survey – reading through the responses was a huge help to my thinking process!

So in this post, I’d like to share the results of the survey. This is not meant to be a final “retirement costs X and here’s how you can make it all work!” kind of post. Everyone’s situation is going to be different. What I want to do here is look at the big picture, and think about all the options available.

Survey

I had precisely 100 respondents to the survey, which I conducted through Google Forms. I advertised it here, on my Facebook page, and on the Chronicle of the Horse forums. A lot of you shared it as well, and thank you for that! And now, results.

Retirement1Retirement2Retirement3Retirement4Retirement5

Those answers are, in order:

Retired at my own farm
Retired at a nearby farm belonging to friend or family
Retired in place at the same boarding barn
Retired at nearby farm where I pay board
Retired at further away farm belonging to friend or family
Retired at further away farm where I pay board

The miscellaneous answers include retirement as a companion horse, part-lease to a light work home, and future plans to purchase a farm.

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Not a surprise exactly, but 85.3% report that overall costs have stayed stable or gone up, and 85.4% reported that vet bills have remained the same or gone up.

And what about those costs? The graph won’t copy over easily, but here’s the breakdown. Keep in mind, these are averages only:

Retired at my own farm – $101 – $250 per month
Retired at a nearby farm belonging to friend or family – $251 – $500 per month
Retired in place at the same boarding barn – $251 – $500 per month (but a strong second for $500 – $750)
Retired at nearby farm where I pay board – $501 – $750 per month
Retired at further away farm belonging to friend or family – across the board, no clear average in this category! Probably $500 is a good middle number.
Retired at further away farm where I pay board – Two clear categories here: $250 – $500, and $1,000+!

Selected Comments

Is there anything you wish you’d known, financially, about retiring your horse?

Not really; just that emotionally it is hard to accept, some days.

Once you retire them, they seem to live forever!

That his once a year mother of all vet bills would be continuing. It seems to just be who he is.

It wasn’t much cheaper to keep a nonworking; horse still needed about the same amount of grain, though remained on usual supplements/meds and barefoot. Moving horses home made keeping my retiree much more reasonable; otherwise her costs were the same/more than my riding horse as she needed meds and extra feed.

I wish I could have anticipated the lack of ability to travel/move to better areas for work. Due to arthritis issues, it is no longer fair to move the horse around if I want to get a working student position/internship.

Leasing out is not for me. Thought I would get a part leaser but given location there isn’t many people who are looking to just flat around in the area. Had hoped could reduce costs by having a lease or part lease.

Retirement facilities are not always the best or cheapest options.

Is there anything else you think it’s important to now or to take into account from a financial perspective when retiring your horse?

Have some hard and fast rules for under what circumstances horse would be put down.

Retired horses still need shots, dental care, hay and may not always be able to be barefoot. While keeping my horses at home makes it easier to keep the retired guy, the only aspect of his care that is “cheaper” lies in the fact that I’m not paying to compete him and so far, he hasn’t needed his hock injections since he’s not working.
Does a more expensive retirement farm = a more reputable, “safe” place for the horse?
All my horses have “trust funds” set up in my will. When I am not around to take care of them, I want to know that they will always be taken care of the same way as I currently do.
You also have to set aside money for end of life arrangements, that can be $1k or more.
A horse coming out of work entirely from an otherwise active career will struggle physically and mentally. You will need to support him with time and money.
if you have time to show/compete your horse, you have money to give them a good retired life. they deserve a good life for all they have done for us.
care costs can be dependent on the barn owner’s philosophy – ie, I boarded at a small, basically retirement facility with exceptional care (as it suited the young, not-healthy horse well) and felt the need to do vet care above and beyond my own comfort level to maintain at the owner’s comfort level
You just need to be prepared for the aggregate cost. My horse has been retired for about 11 years (he’s now 29) and I have spent over $50,000 on him as a retired pasture pony. Scary, but what are you going to do? There are no retirement options close to where I live, so I see him maybe once a month. There’s no way we have the same relationship, but his needs are greater than mine and he’s in a fabulous retirement situation.
There were a number of responses saying that I’d skewed the questions and implied that retirement is expensive, a few slightly less than kind – that responsible people should just know and plan on these things. They’re not wrong; I do assume that retirement will be expensive, but this survey is part of my planning to make absolutely sure I can do the best possible. I don’t know where that leaves me, but I did want to address it.
And that’s the survey!
What do you think? Have you retired a horse? Is there anything that didn’t come up here that you think is important? Anything that surprised you, or that you found particularly helpful?
One last note:
Next month, I plan on addressing human retirement, as in, how to set aside money for myself when I’m paying all these vet bills?! To write that, I’d like to feature a number of short personal statements from horse people about how they’re thinking about and working on their own retirement (or not!). If you’d like to write me ~250 words on the topic, send me an email: beljoeor[at]gmail[dot]com.