Air Quality Lessons

Well, I learned things this week.

Obviously I’ve paid attention when friends in California and elsewhere post about their experiences with wildfires: the destruction, the disruption, and the air quality.

I just never thought it was anything I’d have to deal with in Vermont.

For the first time I can remember, we’re getting haze from wildfires in the West – all the way here! According to that article, it’s not too unusual for us to get some level of smoke haze, but it usually stays at high altitudes or clears up quickly.

Not this time! At lunchtime, I ran a few errands and thought “wow, it’s really hazy.” There’s almost nowhere in Vermont where you can’t see lines of mountains in at least the middle distance – and they were all either gone or very smudged. My eyes felt maybe a tiny bit like they were stinging, and I checked in with Olivia and asked if maybe I was imagining things or did it smell a little like smoke? With way more experience at smoky haze than I have, she confirmed that yup, it did smell like a barbecue.

there should be mountains there

So yeah. It was in fact quite smoky. I asked on Instagram and got a general sense that riding would not be a good idea, though I’d been very much looking forward to some exercise after a lazy weekend, and schooling some things in particular. The haze combined with Tristan’s allergies right now meant that was off the table. (He’s been coughing his way through warmup – nothing serious, half a delaying tactic and half just clearing things out and then settling in to work.)

I figured I’d get some organizing & political work done, and beat my head against that for two hours without feeling like I’d made any real progress (so.many.emails.) and finally just went to the barn anyway and groomed deeply.

Supposedly this will continue through Tuesday, and fingers crossed for some saddle time on Wednesday.



We’re in a phase where we make big, meaty leaps forward in each lesson right now. I love this phase! It’s so much more fun than the falling-off-a-cliff phase.

One area I’ve been focusing on a lot lately is my elbows. They are problematic. They want to either move too much or not enough. They want to take all the attention away from my wrists, to be the only moving joint in my entire arm. OR they want to be the kink in the hose and force all the other joints in my arm to compensate.

some longeing photos for you in lieu of riding pics

Wednesday’s lesson brought a nice breakthrough in the canter. We’ve had a lot of nice breakthroughs in the canter recently, because Tristan is fit enough and cooperative enough for us to properly school it for chunks of time. So – the transitions are getting better, the access to the hind legs is getting better, and he’s getting more responsible for staying in the gait. That means I am focusing on my position.

A few weeks ago all the breakthroughs were about my hips, thighs, knees, and ankles – the way I needed to rotate my thighs slightly, the way I needed to loosen up my ankles, the way I needed to establish a new through-line form my hips to my heels. After a dozen years of riding in my saddle, I felt for perhaps the first time what some people feel when they say that the saddle is fighting against them. I have been so lucky! I am in no way thinking of a new saddle, but it was a useful feedback moment to realize that both my natural inclination and my saddle build was encouraging my knees slightly too far forward, too much into the (basically nonexistent) knee flaps.

good lift for him!

Anyway – elbows. Wednesday’s lesson.

In a canter set, BM told me to loosen and follow with my elbows, but something was still going wrong – particularly with my left elbow. Tristan was overly mouthy, a touch head-flippy, and just clearly communicating that he was being blocked. It felt to me like my elbow was making huge motion, and it briefly looked that way from the ground too, and then BM had a light bulb. My shoulder was moving in such a way as to make my elbow look like it was following, when in reality it was reacting only to an overactive shoulder. I pictured it like a great piston that was forcing motion through my arm in stiff chunks.

With that in mind, and the idea that I needed to introduce a better-articulated joint into the center of that piston, I picked up the canter again and BOOM. Instant, immediate feedback. Tristan’s mouthiness practically disappeared, the canter got smoother, and all of a sudden things locked in for my following motion in a way they never quite had before.

In conclusion, riding is hard, bodies are weird, and I really, really love dressage.


Do you kiss your horse?

Bear with me: I know this is kind of a weird question. I also know that it’s weird that it’s been on my mind.

I give Tristan at least one kiss every time I see him. Frankly, I usually give him a lot more than that. I press my whole face into the soft side of his nose. I squish my nose right onto his nose and inhale deeply. I tuck my forehead into the groove right behind his ear. I rest my cheek on top of his head, between his ears, when he presses his head into my body. I do these things almost constantly – before rides, after rides, in the stall, in the crossties, in the field. And most times I do any of those things, I end it with a kiss.

When I leave the barn, I do two things. I double-check the door latch, and I give Tristan a kiss and I tell him I love him with all my heart. Sometimes I get more effusive than that, but I never, ever, ever fail to give him a kiss and tell him I love him. I’ve almost always done that. For the decade and a half of our partnership. As soon as he could bear someone touching his face (which took a while), I was kissing him. If I don’t also tell him I love him when I leave I feel like something’s left undone behind me. What if something happens? I want to always, always affirm how much I adore him, and to know that if that’s the last thing I told him, then he knows.

Maybe it’s sappy and weird? Maybe I’m vastly more tactile than the average horse person, or the average person in general? Maybe it’s just a weird habit that I’ve developed over years of being weird about my horse? Maybe it’s a family trait – I do have a very physically demonstrative family? (Possible additional evidence: my dog gets a LOT of kisses as well.)

Here’s the thing I only recently realized, though.

No one else at my barn seems to kiss their horse? I mean. I am sure it happens sometimes. But in the last few weeks since I started to realize this, I’ve been paying closer attention and…I don’t see it?

So I come here, to the internet, where I confess my weirdnesses for the whole world to see. Is it unusual? Do you kiss your horse? Do you do it a lot or only sometimes?


House Post: Roof Porch Begins!

Of course, we are replacing a roof at the precise wrong time to do so, according to global lumber markets, but…we don’t have too much choice in the matter. Project costs have gone up 30% since we first agreed on the work in February, ouch.

It’ll be good to have done, though.

Here’s some before shots.

Here’s one sort-of in progress photo. It’s been POURING all weekend, so the contractor just did a little bit of opening it up and a lot of measuring on Friday. You can see that he took off the fascia trim to make sure he was matching it, and also get a sense of what was underneath the roof itself. It doesn’t come through in the photo, but there are – no exaggeration – at least a dozen wasps’ nests underneath the roof. YIKES.


House Post: Yard Work

Far from the most exciting house stuff, but in the past couple of weeks I have gotten fairly aggressive about our yard, which is difficult in the best of times.

I don’t necessarily need or want it to be a perfect manicured lawn, but I would like complete coverage, whether that is a wild strawberries/clover mix (in some parts) or grass.

I am attacking this in phases. Right now, I have three areas I’m working on: bare patches in the back yard from dog pee, a bare patch in the side yard from my husband’s dead car being parked there for 18 months (it is a long story and not worth relating for the sake of my blood pressure; it is gone now) and the side hill from inattention, erosion, and not enough sun.

The back yard is getting tackled with an actual “patch” product and is actually waaaaaaay better than this time last year, when I started poking away at it. Basically, ruck up the spots with a metal rake and put on the patch stuff (which is seed, fertilizer, and mulch in one) and water it regularly.

The old Prius spot got a good start with just a surface application of a “dense shade” grass mixture but there are some stubborn spots, so I worked on those a bit today.

Basically: a lot of water, then mixing up the soil, then laying in a local blend of grass seed, then more water, and then straw on top. I’ve never used straw before but I gather it will help.

I did a slight variation on that same process on the hill. There, I took the metal rake and really went to town on the dead spots first, really clearing out the grass and other stuff that was clogging the soil and exposing the roots of the grass that was there. Then water, grass seed, mixing the soil, water, and straw on top.


June Reading Recap

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

How was June? A couple of books I really loved, actually!

First: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is hands-down one of my favorite books of the year so far, maybe of the last two years. I just loved everything about reading it. It was incredibly well-realized high fantasy with everything lined up: writing, world-building, character evolution, you name it. I deeply enjoyed just being in the world of the book, and wanted it to keep going forever, and it was quite a long book. A good antidote to the “all high fantasy must be angsty and dark!” trend right now.

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland was the sequel to Dread Nation, which I read last month and enjoyed the heck out of. The basic premise is “What if the Civil War, but zombies?” but the actual substance of the book is about race and the choices that we make and the trauma that people endure and also, yes, there is a lot of zombie ass-kicking.

Dreams from My Father by Bararck Obama was…okay? I dunno. It was fine. I did not dislike it. I didn’t particularly like it, either. If you want to bring all conversation in a Vermont room to a stop instantly, mention you’re currently reading it and don’t particularly think it’s very good and WHEW utter silence and looks of horror. If you want to know more about President Obama’s worldview and life, it’s a good look into that. If you want actual conclusions or broader theories about politics or organizing…I suppose you could dig and find some but…you’d have to dig.


Book Review: If Wishes Were Horses

If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession by Susanna Forrest  (2013-02-01): Susanna Forrest: Amazon.com: Books

If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession
by Susanna Forrest

I previously reviewed another book by Susanna Forrest, The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey through Human History, and really quite liked that one so I added this, her first book, to my wishlist and received it for my birthday.

While The Age of the Horse was an externally-focused international history / travelogue, If Wishes Were Horses is much more internal. It’s an example of a very typical style of memoir: the author was a horse-mad kid who fell away from that world, and as an adult gets back, and goes on a journey of self-exploration while doing so. Some of these books are very good; some of them are not. I’m happy to say that this one is extremely good.

Many of the same hallmarks of Forrest’s writing are here: incredibly literary prose, a deep empathy for and observation of her equine characters, a finely honed sense of the ridiculous or the absurd. I would say that sometimes these things don’t work quite as well in this book; sometimes her observations about the horses in her life strike me as a bit too human-centric, and sometimes she’s trying so hard to be literary she pulls a metaphor truly out of the depths of, say German Romanticism that I’ve never heard of.

Ultimately, this was a faster read than the other book, not as dense, not quiet as absorbing. It still took me for a journey that I very much enjoyed, and was at its strongest when probing the popular culture origins of the horse girl. Forrest did a really good and effective survey of children’s literature featuring horses as well as instruction books, memoirs, and the origins of Pony Club to construct a narrative of a late 19th/early 20th century shift in horse culture that took place alongside the fading of the horse from industrial spaces. It worked well with her memoir sections, seeing as how she had grown up amidst this popular culture herself, reading and internalizing many of the books and narratives she describes.

Of note: it’s a very, very British book. That was fine by me, but that means sometimes the references take on the feel of an inside joke, especially the ways in which she travels and interacts with the British countryside. (My geography is not great for England, so I frequently got lost, which, whatever – it wasn’t crucial – but it did mean that sometimes her passages had a hypnotic quality and I just had to keep reading past the names of towns and rivers and shires without really following.)

Overall, highly recommended if you are interested in a good horse memoir with interesting and thoughtful detours.


Blog Hop: Bathtime!

It can be a blog hop or not, you do you, but I thought it’s a topic that everyone has opinions and their own personal variations on: bathing your horse.

Do you bathe regularly, or only before shows?
What’s your temperature cutoff?
Any favorite gadgets or shampoos?
Any other strong opinions?

I bathe Tristan always before shows, weather permitting, and maybe a handful of other times during the summer. I’m pretty neurotic about temperatures – below 70 feels a bit too cold for me for a bath just for fun – so it’s become an activity that we can do when it’s too hot to ride too much, but I want to get some interaction with him.

He would rather I not. He’s never liked water. He stops a good 20′ away from the wash stall and glares at me, and dances the whole time. You can take the mustang out of the desert, but…

Important note here: I sponge or hose him off if he gets at all sweaty during work. So by bathtime I mean a full-body shampoo plus rinse.

I do his mane and tail maybe every other time – shampoo and leave-in conditioner. He’s got pretty thick, full hair in both spots, and they’re both salt-and-pepper so they don’t show dirt too much.

I use either a jelly curry comb (the plastic mitt ones that have little spikes on one side and bigger spikes on the other) or this fun hand mitt thing that I got from my free Saddlebox a while ago.

I don’t know that I have a favorite shampoo, I’ll be honest. I use whatever I have on hand. Right now, that’s fancy Sore No More shampoo because I got it on a killer clearance deal at a tent sale, but in the past I’ve used just cheap human shampoo. I do keep a bottle of Farnham’s Aloedine on hand for when his skin gets a little funky – when he gets hives, for example, he gets bathed in that. Same for conditioner; right now I’m just using cheap Suave stuff. I’m lucky in that I don’t have to get too fancy for him, usually.

I use a sponge sometimes, for his face, and like the small-size curved rubber sweat scraper I bought on impulse several years ago, because I can work it into crevices and down his legs, unlike a flat sweat scraper or the larger rubber ones.

I also have that great carrying case that as you can see used to be in a hospital. Genuinely no idea how I got it. Probably my mother.

So, anyone else want to share?


What does horse burnout look like to you?

In a lifetime involvement with an intensive sport, it would be the rare person who has never hit a bit of a wall with horses.

I’m not really there right now, though I have been in the past. I am, however, at some kind of overall life burnout. Taking two weeks off only served to highlight that there is a deep imbalance in my life right now. I’m not entirely certain of the solution, especially given my core workaholic / productivity guilt values system, but – something’s got to shift.

Central to this, of course, is the understanding that many (all?) of the balls I have in the air cannot be dropped. The day job is one I’m passionate about, and it pays the bills. The horse is obviously a non-negotiable. My city volunteer work is a source of deep pride and intellectual engagement for me. My political work is energizing, fascinating, and feels vital in a way that lots of other things don’t. My house is 100 years old and needs regular upkeep, and my brain actively fizzles out if it’s filthy. (I am sensitive to the argument that many of these weights could or should be shared, but that is simply not my life situation – it’s all on my plate. Wishing it otherwise changes nothing.)

Some things in my horse life have dropped off the radar in a good way, though. I’ve usually burned out on riding (and to be clear – I’ve only ever burned out on riding – not on owning a horse) when I’ve been focusing too hard on some goal. A show. A stumbling block in our flatwork. Some kind of ugliness Tristan is tossing at me in specific situations. A lot of those things are better right now – moving Tris to the mental state of “semi-retired” has taken away a lot of the pressure.

For me, when I know I’m approaching some kind of line, it feels like wanting to burst into tears at the thought of getting up from the couch to change into breeches. It feels like sitting in my car in the barn parking lot, talking out loud in a pep talk to convince myself to opening the car door, swing my legs out, put one foot in front of the other. It feels like tossing a bareback pad on and calling that a victory. It feels like watching the clock while in the saddle as if every step of the work is molasses, if I just get one good trot, I can call it a day.

Sometimes I try to shove through and it works. Sometimes I try to shove through and it’s a disaster. Sometimes I let myself loaf off and it’s just what I needed. Sometimes I let myself loaf off and every single second until I go to sleep is an agony of self-loathing and recrimination for not bucking up. You’d think after so many years I’d have figured out my brain but wow you’d be wrong.

So here I am, realizing that the deep rest and focused personal time of the last few weeks did nothing but heighten my awareness of some things in my life that are not what they should be. I rode or groomed every single day of those two weeks, and the week following, and it was terrific. Tonight, as I write this, I’ve opted out of barn time, feeling drained by a day at work that was a struggle and some heavy lifting for political organizing work over the last few days. It only took a few days back at work to feel panicky and trapped again.

I’m wondering: what does it look and feel like for you when you’ve hit a point of horse burnout? How do you handle it? Do you have a sense of how to wrestle with it, or like me do you feel a bit powerless?


Riding Outside

Longer time readers will know that Tristan has had something of an evolution on being ridden outside in the last few year. As a younger horse, he was about as dependable as it gets. You could hack him anywhere bareback in a halter. That was his pattern for the first few years at our current barn, too.

Four or so years ago, he started becoming significantly less fun to ride outside: bratty on trail rides (always trying to turn home, and I mean ALWAYS), totally unreliable in the field (at any second he could go from chill to bolting), and frustrating as hell in the outdoor (got super strong and then bolted/bucked, especially in the end away from the barn).

The jury is out how much of it is attitude and how much physical. Probably both! It could be that he was getting a bit stiff/sore and that became behavioral. It could be that he just decided he was done, because this behavior would happen on short, totally flat road hacks, too..

This year, I’ve taken a careful and measured approach to re-introducing outside work, and generally so far so good.

That is not to say he’s been perfect; he’s had one or two snit fits, but they’ve been contained quickly, and the vast bulk of his work has been good and willing. I don’t need foot-perfect! I need generally cooperative.

We’ve even had a few lessons in the outdoor rings, both the upper dressage ring and the lower jump ring. The night before the dressage ring lesson, I took him up just to see how he’d be; I put in his figure-8 bridle with the kimberwicke and my intent was to take him as far as he was polite. He ended up giving me 15 minutes of very chill walk-trot-canter in both directions, even in drizzly rain with thunder in the distance. And then on the walk home, within sight of the barn, 100′ away, he jettisoned every single one of his marbles and went up and sideways hard and I stuck it out through sheer determination. I still have no clear idea what was up with that.

He was good for his lesson the next day, though, and last Friday was quite good for a fun lesson in the jump ring that incorporated lots of pole work. He even got quite strong and eager (he still loves pole work, he keeps hoping we will make them into jumps someday) but was still rideable. Toward the end, when he got a bit tired, we had one canter that was…not exactly in control, but it wasn’t out of control. You know those canters sometimes where you’re sitting thinking “this is actually a great canter, I have no real complaints, but I also have zero idea how to stop it”? Or is that just me? Anyway, one of those.

Most of his naughtiness has been on the longe line, where it often is, hence this rather spectacular effort from last week, what was supposed to be a 10 minute loose suppling longe after a Theraplate session and, well, he had FEELINGS.

All in all, I have no real complaints! I will still be cautious, because I am not stupid, and I will still use the kimberwicke quite liberally, because he respects the hell out of it, but I hope to have a good outside summer.