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Brief Lesson Notes

One of the unqualified good things about the last few months is that I have committed to a regular lesson time on Fridays, and reached at least some kind of equilibrium with Tristan around that time.

For better or for worse, I have scaled back my non-lesson riding quite a lot. For better, that means he’s spunky and full of energy and actually much more willing to cooperate with the harder work we’re doing in the lessons. I am having to think and work to ride a slightly spooky, slightly naughty horse that needs a light hand. That’s never been my strong suit, and especially not with Tristan!

For worse, it means his fitness has slipped a little bit, which means that for example, last week, when I rode on Thursday night, he came out of the gate on Friday sluggish. It also means that some of that excess energy has bubbled over in not-helpful ways, such as his bucking fit that launched me a few weeks ago.

It’s a tough balance for any horse, but an older horse with a history of uncooperative behavior especially. What level of work does he need to keep him healthy, and what level of work keeps him happy? Those are often two things in tension with each other. It’s sort of the inversion of the problem that can happen with higher-octane older horses, who may need more work mentally than their bodies are able to keep up with physically.

This week, I’m going to try stepping up his riding schedule a tiny bit, and he’s probably going to get a training ride on Wednesday. We’ll see what that results in this Friday!

Anyone else struggle with the brain/body divide with their horse?

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The only way out is through

I think I am finally starting to crumble. As introverted as I am, it was bound to happen later for me than for others, but my brain is finally starting to sour on this whole thing. Isolation is one thing, the constant every-tiny-mistake-is-doom state of a pandemic world is taking a boulder-sized mallet to my anxiety.

Yesterday, the news of Jane Savoie’s passing hit me pretty hard. I did not know her, only in passing, at a few parties, in and out of our barn. I never rode with her. But many years ago, I saw a PBS Nature episode called “Horse and Rider” and she was featured in it. I was enthralled. Not long after that I read a marvelous book called Conversations with a Prince, in which she plays a small role. Eight years ago both of those things came full circle when I came to my current barn. So even my infitesimally small connection to her has played a big role in my life.

I had a long and not great day yesterday. Some of the reasons were my fault. Some of them were out of my control. All of them piled up. I made myself ride anyway, just a half hour or so, my first time in the saddle in the new year. Usually I do a New Year’s Day ride, on the theory that starting the year that way is a good omen, but this year I was in travel-related quarantine.

He was wonderful. My brain was quiet the entire time I was at the barn; it is the only time my brain is ever quiet. I need to remember that.

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House Post: Miscellaneous Projects

We have not been working on the house too much this year, apart from the emergency bathroom renovation, but I have been tidying up a few small things here and there lately.

The small table in the foreground is one I grew up with that my mother was relocating as she gets ready to move, so now it lives in the sunroom. There are a few things I need to continue tweaking about the sunroom; the footstool you can see in the back left needs a better home. To the right of this image is a corner that has accumulated random things that need to be sorted out.

Not strictly speaking house work, but I’ve pulled out a few UFO crochet projects to work on while WFH. This blanket was (is?) a wedding gift for my brother, whose oldest child just turned five. So, long overdue. I’m about halfway through it now. I have to sit in on a fair number of large statewide committee meetings for work and I just turn my video off and listen and crochet away.

Over the summer I impulse-bought a pressure washer and my husband did about half of the deck. You can see the difference pretty clearly. The plan is to do the second half this summer and then re-seal the whole thing.

One short but helpful project was to dig all the weeds & crap out from this section of the yard, which was where we stored the wood for the fire pit, level it off, and put these pavers in so the wood would not rot into the ground the way it had been. We then filled up the length of it with wood we pulled from the brush pile in the back lot and had an easy access for the fire pit. We did a bunch of fires this summer with friends over takeout food, for a safe activity during that brief quieter window.

I also did a little bit more work on the bathroom, which was an intensely frustrating project, but more about that next week.

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Some 2021 Goals

Thank you to everyone who offered thoughts and guidance on shaping goals for the new year. I had this week off from work, and worked through some ideas on what I wanted and how to put that out there.

I did end up writing goals in several categories, though I won’t share them here as I have in past years. Rather, I’ll do a monthly recap post on how things are going generally.

I will set out a few aspects of the goals here, though.

One of them is to write more. I have some word counts that will work across my various outlets, and hope to write at least a little bit every day – blog, personal, academic, whatever works, as long as I build the habit. I’ve fallen into some shortcuts and poor writing tics over the years as email rather than longform took over my output, and I hope to reverse that. Expect more words in this space in the new year.

Another goal is to read more, and with more intention. In years past I’ve easily read 75-100 books; this year being what it was, my focus was very poor, and I ended shy of 50. I also fell off with tracking my books. I’ll bring myself back into accountability through ways that have worked in the past such as GoodReads. Toward the end of this year, I began reading more and more physical books rather than ebooks, and that helped a great deal with my focus.

I’ll blog a little bit about my reading, probably on Saturdays, especially as some of it will be horse reading, obviously.

Here are some of my reading goals for the year:

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

If you add all that up, it ends up with 39 books, so room still for purely personal and fun reading.

Here’s to the new year.

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2021 Goals

I am torn between two paths right now.

One: would I even be me without 2021 goals and plans?

Two: 2020 was just fucked all around and so many things fell through, is the lesson maybe fewer goals for 2021?

I have a couple of ideas, and obviously my own 2020 goals ended okay. I also have things I want to do in 2021 and it feels like giving in to write off a second year entirely.

Anyone else stuck in this place? What’s your path forward? Do you have any goals in particular for 2021 that you’re committing to?

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2020 Wrapup

First, the 50,000 foot overview.

Obviously an awful lot of things about this year sucked. I am currently in a phase of “do I really have to wake up and shower and figure out what to eat and then clean my kitchen every single day?” Depressingly, so far, the answer is yes.

If I’m being honest though, a lot of other things were great. Biden won the presidency. Working from home with my dog for company is awesome. My loved ones are safe and healthy. My job is secure and even prospering as we pivoted to remote work. I took on some cool community positions that mean I’ll be able to do really good, really useful work, and I won election as a Justice of the Peace in my small city. A bunch of my social things translated well to Zoom hangouts, and I am particularly delighted with a small community of cool people I have assembled around a book series that I love.

Tristan and I had an up and down year; we had a really terrible debut at First Level that wrecked my confidence in riding in a way very few other things have. He dumped me not once, but twice. Despite that, he’s also going spectacularly well right now. We seem to have tapped into some better way of understanding his body, and he is regularly giving me soft, floaty trot work and starting to organize his canter in the same way. Granted, it is still coming with the daily threat of bolt&spook temper tantrums, but – I will take that trade-off.

My little saddle cover business also took off this year, continuing a growth that was consistently between 100% – 150% all year, and I feel like a lot of pieces I’ve been experimenting with for a while came together. I added in more designs that people liked, I streamlined pieces of my process to make it faster and easier, and I did some mundane bookkeeping and organizational work to keep things more standard.

I’ll blog later about 2021 goals, but here’s my final wrapup of my goals for 2020, a bit early, because who doesn’t want 2020 to end early?

  1. Ride a First Level test at one of the two barn schooling shows – done. sucked, but done.
  2. Take notes (however brief) on every ride – got about halfway through the year with this, sigh
  3. Clean tack at least 1x a month – nope
  4. Volunteer at 3 events – WHAT events?
  5. Take 25 lessons – definitely
  6. *Reach goal: Go to Crossfit 100 times (or roughly 2x a week) for additional fitness – This got a bit rocky with our second round of closing, but I feel confident in saying I hit 100; for most of the summer & early fall I was going consistently 3x a week. I have not been since Thanksgiving. I MISS IT SO MUCH. Fuck you, COVID.

Business

  1. Keep up with monthly expense/revenue tracking – sure, enough
  2. Maintain 100 listings in the Etsy store – I was never able to crack this consistently; 90 is about what I could keep up with
  3. Mustang gear goes live – nope
  4. Sponsor 5 riders – nope
  5. Table at a horse show – sigh.
  6. *Reach goal: Get to 1000 sales on Etsy – uhhhhhh yeah, crushed this, with a count right now of 1295!

General

  1. Try 25 new recipes – Definitely long past 25, calling this done
  2. Try making: croissants, eclairs, cinnamon rolls – eclairs are my Christmas Eve plan and croissants are my vacation week plan!
  3. Declutter in February – eff it, calling this done, I’ve done a ton of decluttering
  4. Finish 5 craft projects – sure, I guess, I’m calling this done
  5. Finish upstairs bathroom, front guest bedroom, and nook room – nah, all work ground to a halt after the bathroom finished
  6. *Reach goal: submit Morgan article for publication – lmao remember when I did my own research? sob.

Goals that I did not put on the list but accomplished anyway:

  • did a fuckton of political organizing
  • got COVID tested four times
  • got elected to local office
  • re-organized my entire office to work from home, made a ton of upgrades
  • hit a bunch of financial goals that were not projected until 2021
  • explored a lot of local state parks & trails, did way more hiking & dog walking than usual
  • did not lose my mind or murder my husband after spending so much time together, honestly, underrated accomplishment
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Black Friday!

I’ve been absolutely swamped with orders, which has been great for my self-esteem and ability to stay ahead of vet bills…and bad for my free time.

So I’m not doing any widespread sales, except a limited-audience one I’ll announce here & on the email list (which you can join if you want a heads up on other BJM news, since I don’t post about it here all that often).

Use the code BLACKFRIDAY2020 from now through Monday at midnight to get 20% off any saddle cover.

I also was pleased to donate two saddle covers to the Aiken County Pony Club’s online auction, where they join a TON of really cool stuff. So if you’re in a shopping mood today (and who isn’t, this year?), check them out too.

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Concussion #5

If you can read that and not get “Mambo No. 5” stuck in your head, I envy you.

When I left off, Tris and I were in a tough spot. He had utterly and completely refused to show up on a show day, and I took it much harder than usual. It’s not that I don’t know how to manage a relationship with this very difficult horse that I adore; it’s just that sometimes I can cope with it better than others.

We took about two weeks off, and then I eased back in very slowly. I went mostly just for long grooming sessions. I got on for short wanders up and down the road. I did not really school a whole lot. After a few weeks of that, I cleared a semi-permanent space in my work calendar and committed fully to immovable weekly lessons. Previously, I lessoned as much as possible, but it was hard to make the barn manager’s schedule match my schedule for more than a few weeks in a row.

There were new ground rules for Tristan in the lessons. First, he no longer got to ease into his rides the way I’d often ridden him in the warmup, 20 minutes or so of long rein convincing him to loosen up and get on board. Nope: now he would start the warmup in contact. Not full on-the-bit contact by any means, but I would own the bit from the start. Second, we would get march in the walk from step one, not once he’d deigned to listen. Last but not least, he really, truly, 100% had lost benefit of the doubt in response to forward aids. He was to respond instantly, with fervor, or escalation would be swift and firm.

it’s officially quarter sheet season

A few weeks of that, and I traveled to Massachusetts to help my mother clean out her house. Per Vermont’s travel rules at that time, that meant I had to stay home for about two weeks total for quarantine. I put Tristan in full training those two weeks and we laid out a plan before, and then I got my negative COVID result just in time to watch his last training ride, in which it helped to see someone else (who is a really superb rider) have the same difficulty with him that I had.

That brings us to the last three weeks of lesson rides. In that list, week 1 was quite good, with some truly lovely moments of soft, supple, on the bit, elastic trot with a tiny bit of suspension. We were able to dig in to his canter and work on it instead of just shape it from the outside. I did not ride at all between that week and my next lesson. Week 2 Tristan came out of his stall like his tail was actually on fire. When I picked up the reins after putting on my gloves and settling in to the saddle, he leaped forward like a deer and threw a small, snotty bucking fit. I moved him out of that immediately into work and he gave us the most ridiculous, forward, floating, soft, 10/10 trot, with zero warmup. It was unreal to ride, like something out of a dream. I sat a little deeper into the saddle in my post and he said “okay, here, have some baby half-steps.” It was mind-blowing. A few laps of that and then we eased him back into a warmup, having burned off his sillies, and the rest of the lesson was incredible as well.

Which brings me to week 3, having suitably buried the lede. This time, I went out a few times after my previous lesson; once to do a long groom, and once to sit on him bareback, on our first really cold day, for about 25 minutes of walk work – just asking him to yield and supple and step into the reins. He was great!

not nearly this much green anymore, sadly

Last Friday’s lesson started well, with a horse in between weeks 1 & 2. Fiery, overconfident, but manageable. Responsive. A touch deliberately spooky, one small snitfit that I turned into a lovely trot. In order to manage the snottiness, we worked hard on gaining access to the base of his neck, counterflexing on the straight long sides and then quick transition to a deep true bend in the corners, never quite letting him get his head down again. Similarly, we worked on keeping him coming up through the base of his neck in transitions.

We had a really nice trot series, and had started to work on the canter with some very good moments, and I took him out of a canter circle in the middle of the ring back to the trot to bring him around again to work on transitions. I counterflexed, bent through the corner, and came out of the corner feeling just a touch funny about his trot. It was just a tiny bit fragile, just a whisper of feeling like all that trot power wasn’t an engine but a firecracker, and BOOM. He went up and sideways as hard and fast as he’s ever done in his life, twice in quick succession. The first got me out of the saddle, and the second sent me over his neck, flying.

I can sit an awful lot, and I have been riding this horse for 15 years, and he has never tossed me so hard, so fast, and so far. There was not even a hint of saving it. Maybe if I’d taken instant action when I felt that fizzy trot, but I had maybe three strides to feel and remember, this is a horse who is the very definition of kick ride. I was trying to ride the edge – that’s what a lot of these rides have been about! Rev up that energy, and recycle it into quality gaits, stay on that line between too much and not enough to teach him new definitions of forward.

from a recent lesson, worried face pony

So I was gone. Up and over his right shoulder, hit the ground on my ass, rolled backwards and smacked my head hard. Completely knocked the air out of my lungs and had one of those crystal-clear moments of realization of wow, I’d hit my head really quite hard. Then I rolled over and back up to my feet and sort of half-heartedly participated in catching Tristan, who was now galloping around the indoor like a lunatic. It took a minute or two to catch him, and then the barn manager immediately put him on the longe line to teach him a lesson.

I felt remarkably fine until then, if stunned, and when the longeing started I had enough presence of mind to remind the BM that Tristan does have a nasty rear in him if provoked, and then I sat down on the mounting block. There followed about 15 minutes of some real nastiness; whole-body cold sweats and nausea, and a sense not of dizziness but more like nothing about the world quite lined up right. Apparently I was also white as a sheet. I kept my helmet on out of an utter conviction that if I took it off my head would sort of fall apart. It was about as bad as I’ve ever felt after a fall, honestly.

Thankfully, it did pass, and I was able to walk over to sit on another mounting block outside and get a bit of a breeze, then take my helmet off, and the BM – having longed Tristan into a lather – put him away. She confirmed that his little stunt had been incredibly dirty, which made me feel better a bit. Someone brought me some water, and that helped, and gradually over about 30 minutes I started feeling much closer to normal. I checked in on Tristan, rubbed away some of his sweat, noted his utter lack of apology, gave him some treats anyway, and drove home. I took a whole fistful of pain meds and a three hour nap, and then took it easy for the rest of the night.

The weekend was mostly fine; on Saturday, I laid back down again for a few hours after some wooziness, but on Sunday I took it easy but felt pretty close to normal. Sore all over, of course, with a really whopping deep bruise all over my backside, and an occasional headache, but honestly – much better than it could have gone. Drinking tons and tons of water, taking ibuprofen like clockwork, and resting frequently.

this was after week 1 as described above: tough but good lesson

So that’s the story of my fifth concussion, which officially puts horses in first place, where before they had been tied with skiing. Had I not been wearing a helmet, it would have really been very bad. I am very sad and a little pissed that I’ve only had this new helmet for a few months, after my summer fall, but at least OneK has a replacement policy, so it won’t be $$$ to fix it, and that I also picked up a backup crappy schooling helmet in a recent sale for precisely this situation.

I’m honestly not that upset by the whole thing. I’ll take this over the grinding, miserable frustration of endless pony-kicking my uncooperative, head-tossing horse any day. Obviously, I’d like not to come off again, but I’d much rather work on riding a hot and spicy Tristan than the alternative. Overall, I’m really happy with our direction right now. We’ll see how fizzy he is inclined to be this week, and I’ll be careful only to ride with other people around for a little while.

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First Aid Kit Updates

When I first bought my trailer, I developed a rather thorough and obsessive first aid kit that lived in the tack trunk in the trailer. I sold the trailer several years ago, and moved the first aid kit to my tack area at the barn, and then sort of ransacked it/combined it with my tack trunk kit/created injury-specific kits in buckets whenever I had to treat Tristan for something. Which, as you know if you’ve been reading this for any length of time, is multiple times a year.

One of my goals in advance of Lockdown 2.0 was to thoroughly update his trailer first aid kit and no longer half-ass it or rely on the barn’s supplies for backup. So, that was the project last week.

Anything expired got tossed, obviously. I also worked from an inventory list and double-checked quantities and anything that was missing. My lube had walked off somewhere, so I ordered more from Amazon and let me tell you, my recommended buys are something else right now.

There were also some things I used more than others, and some things I’d never used, and some things I’d accumulated way too much of. Did I really need three separate knives? No. So I kept two: a bigger flip-out one and a smaller combination Swiss Army style knife.

(True story: I once dinged a Pony Club group at a rally because Pony Club requires that any knife in your first aid kit should be able to cut through three cords of bailing twine, and theirs was terribly dull. Later that same day I dinged another group because their digital thermometer battery was dead. I really loved judging stable management.)

I had also never used the suture kit (?!). I tested everything that needed it, and swapped out two of the pens for working ones. The flashlight was still in good shape. I re-upped all the gauze, because you can never have too much gauze, honestly.

I also found some liquid gold: brand-name hand sanitizer!

When I was done, I re-packed everything. Some things I decided to package in plastic quart bags to keep them togther. All the pens and notepads, for example. Everything that might conceivably be part of a temperature-taking kit. Stuff that was small enough to rattle around but that I’d want at the same time. I did a small “quick clean” kit with gauze, iodine scrub, etc. – things I’d want to just grab to clean a wound out.

There’s a before & after for you. Ransacked and then neatly re-organized.

Last but not least, I revised the packing list – you can see it in the bottom right hand corner of the above photograph.

Here’s the updated list, which I printed out and which lives in the first aid kit now.

I was left with a handful of supplies that I still need to keep but did not live in a first aid kit; primarily these were specialty things like SWAT, sheath cleaner, and his eye antibiotics.

I had also previously kept a tube of banamine in the kit, but now I keep a jar of the injectable stuff in my tack trunk, and that would be the go-to since he’s at a barn full time now. If I were to go on the road with this kit again, I’d add the banamine back in. Similarly, I don’t have any needles in the kit; those live in my tack trunk.

See anything you’d leave out? Any obvious gaps?