not-so-quiet-freakout · stupid human tricks

When to push, and when to back off

I thrive on rhythms, and I always feel off-kilter until I’ve settled into a new one. I like the zen, repetitive tasks. Not all the time, but I’m often calmest and happiest when I’m carrying momentum through my day from a simple job well-done. Washing dishes. Kneading bread. Compiling budgets.

I feel like Tris and I have finally settled back into a working rhythm. We’re carrying through from a full warmup on to quality work, raising the bar each time. We work a little longer, a little harder, and there are small quality improvements even in our base work. He’s getting a titch more forward, I’m coordinating my half-halts slightly better. Even with my job expanding through all areas of my life (3 hours of work on a Sunday night, yay) I’m finally able to capitalize on the proximity of the barn and spend long chunks of time with him each day.
One problem I haven’t entirely solved yet, and it’s really been an ongoing problem with us from day 1. When do I push him through and when do I back off? I am always keenly aware that he is not a horse who thrives on work; he’s not a Thoroughbred who will pace the stalls unless he is ridden hard each day. Nor does he especially enjoy the challenge of dressage. I feel like I start with a shallower reserve of good will and cooperation than many other riders. And that’s okay! I adore him, we work together, and he is so many other wonderful things.
However. After I’ve strung together three, four, five intensive rides in a row I start to worry about diminishing returns. I skip a day, or I go out and just hack him for 20 minutes. Or in the middle of a ride I feel like he’s done well, and I don’t want to burn him out, so I cut it shorter than I’d planned. Then I spend the next day castigating myself – how can I expect to get anywhere if I slack off like that? Couldn’t I just plan better, or ride better so I don’t frustrate him so much, and how will I ever measure up to what I want and hope for if we keep crawling along at this snail’s pace?
I’m a high drive person, but I don’t have a high drive horse. Besides and beyond that, horses are not like video games, which you can play endlessly and repetitively until you’ve mastered a skill. They’re not books, which are happiest and best when you bury yourselves in them for unmoving hours.¬†
Somewhere in here there’s a balance. There’s a combination of intensive work, hacking for fitness and strength, and plain old recovery time, physical and mental, that will give us the gestalt we need. I just wish I could find it instead of feeling I’m constantly playing pinball with it.
not-so-quiet-freakout · rehab · spa

Pony Spa Day

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far – Burlington, Vermont tied its record high of 93 for today, a record set in 1955.

I generally go more by feel than the thermometer when it comes to heat, and while it was quite warm it didn’t feel oppressively hot – especially at the barn, which is at a higher elevation and gets an excellent breeze because of its hillside exposure. (That same exposure and elevation makes for some unbelievable cold, but so it goes.)

Our first lesson is scheduled for tonight, a 30 minute intro/checkin with the new trainer, so I wanted to take some time and make him more presentable. We started with a bit of cleanup. I clipped his fetlocks, trimmed his ergots and chestnuts, and rediscovered his bridle path. He grows more ergot than any horse I have ever known – no exaggeration, the one on his RF was 1.5″ long – and it’s tough. I keep a hunting knife in my tack trunk for such occasions, and luckily he is quiet and still, because it took some sawing through to get it down.

Here’s before and after.

Before, bridle path.

Before, bridle path. Ugh.

Before, front feet.

Another before – you can’t see the ergot but trust me, it is there.

After! I didn’t do a perfect job – still getting used to new clippers – but wow, so much cleaner.

Yesssssss, nice clean bridle path!

I don’t ever clip muzzle, and generally avoid doing his chin unless it’s really goat-like. I won’t ever clip his ears – it’s not worth putting either of us through and let’s face it, he’ll never be that show horse and I love him that way.

Then I hopped on and rode for about 45 minutes, keeping my work tuned in to how he was feeling rather than following our strict rehab schedule. We did more or less keep to it, though – walk, trot, and a bit of canter, say 2-3 minutes total, around the ring a few times. After our first canter he thought that every leg aid meant more canter – I think he was mostly trying to get out of giving me an engaged, forward trot, and hopping up and down in a pseudo-helpful manner was more fun than using his hind end.

I brought him to the big water tub just outside the barn door during each walk break, and he did take a long drink after our second bit of canter work, and was fairly warm and a little bit puffy at the end of the ride. We cooled out for about 10 minutes without the saddle.

Next up was a long bath and conditioning of his mane and tail, and I was pleasantly surprised – usually the first bath of the season results in two or three shampooings of brown suds, but I have been hosing him off very thoroughly after each ride and he’s been going out on 100% grass. Turns out that he’s way cleaner when he doesn’t have a mud pit to roll in! His white sock was a bit grimy, so I scrubbed that until it really popped, and then we handgrazed for a bit.

All in all, about four hours of spa treatment and riding. Lesson tonight. I am both very excited and very nervous – it’s always a little anxious-making to ride with a new trainer, and this trainer is riding at a higher level than anyone I’ve ever ridden with!

In conclusion: cutest pony ever.

2012 show season · horse finances · not-so-quiet-freakout


This was never going to be a week conducive to rest and relaxation. I’m leaving for a long-planned vacation/road trip on Friday night, and there are dozens of small details I still have to arrange before then. Work is work. I’m facing up to some major changes in my life going forward.

However, two things right now are particularly heartburn-inducing.

The first is that I just mailed my entry to the King Oak Farm Fall Horse Trials. This is it. This is what we’ve been working toward all summer: our first (and likely only) recognized USEA horse trials. I’ve obliterated any semblance of budget I may have had as well as a few savings accounts to get us to this point, fretted and stressed and worked hard in every single ride I had available to me, shunted all other commitments to the side. After all that work, I’m still not sure we’re ready. Oh, we’ll be safe. Tris will go around. We certainly will not be competitive, but then my goal was always to complete, not to compete. But will it be a good, positive experience for both of us? Will I embarrass my friends and my barn and my trainer? (I worry a bit as well about embarrassing myself, but I’m more or less used to that.) I wish I didn’t feel so sure that this is our one shot, and I wish I didn’t feel such pressure to do it right. I wish I could be one of the many hundreds of people who surely enter willy-nilly and without carrying so much baggage.

My secondary panic is tied to the above: I’m stretching every bit of financial give I have. I had planned out the summer carefully but not allowed enough of a buffer, and I’ve had to dip into some savings accounts to round out the edges, and that stings. Last month there was the vet bill for the abscess; this month, my jump saddle needed billet repair, the truck needed new brake calipers & hoses, and my car insurance came due and increased in price. I spent the first three weeks of July running under budget and in the last week went $1k over. I am by nature a financially cautious person, which is at odds with being a horse owner. There are plenty of internet jokes about the expense of horses, but the hard truth is that owning a horse? Is a really, really poor financial choice. That becomes apparent to me in very dark moments when I realize that many other life possibilities are closed off by horse ownership, especially when I rely 100% on myself for all of my plans – buying a house, having kids, doing any sort of traveling that doesn’t involve my tent.

Most of the time I cope. This week, on top of all the other planning and figuring out and anticipation, it’s got me nearly constantly on the edge of a panic attack.

2012 show season · abscess · adventures with the vet · not-so-quiet-freakout · show planning

Sound (ish) again?

After five days of soaking and poulticing, last night I put Tristan on the longe line and he looked sound at the walk and trot – a bit fresh, even. I soaked and poulticed one last time, and left instructions to keep him in today.

Tonight, I’ll tack him up and see how he feels under saddle. I’ve also put a call in to the vet to clarify. He never had what I would call significant discharge from an abscess; he had white pus in the cleft to the left of his frog, but I’m not sure if it was from an abscess or some goo from the poultice.

Here’s the real complication: the farrier looked at him on Monday, and his opinion is that Tris is just all-around footsore up front. He said he couldn’t find any particularly reactive spot on the hoof that would indicate abscess, and believes Tris should go in front shoes.

I am really reluctant to do that, for a variety of reasons. He’s never worn shoes before, save for the six week experiment with bar shoes before we turned him out. He’s certainly worked more often and for longer than he is working at this point in his life, though not at the level of difficulty/athleticism that he is getting to now. The vet both a) pinpointed problems to the RF and b) did a set of radiographs to check sole depth, and was happy with that sole depth. Last but not least, I can either afford to shoe him or to event him this summer. There are not funds for both. If I don’t event him, I don’t need to shoe him. If I event him, I can’t afford to shoe him. It’s a nasty little Catch-22.

In the meantime, we’ll see. If he’s sound to ride tonight, I’ll soak again, and check on Friday night. I’ll check in with the vet and see what she says about the footsore/”good depth of sole” debate. I need this XC school on Saturday as a last run before Groton House, but if he’s not sound – he’s not sound, that’s that.

Fingers crossed.

abscess · adventures with the vet · not-so-quiet-freakout

Baby’s First Abscess

So…I haven’t yet managed the rest of the Hitching Post writeup. Life intervened. This week, life intervened in the form of Tristan coming out of the stall for his Tuesday night lesson and, within a few seconds of walk work, getting very, very lame. I have never ridden a horse that head-bobbingly lame. So cue panic attack on my part.

I was pretty sure I’d felt a bit of heat and swelling in his right hind, and T. said he thought RH or LF, so we started cold hosing the RH. Then we added soaking. Then I hit my wall and called the vet out for Thursday afternoon – I was flying to California for a wedding on Friday morning and needed more certainty before I left.

The vet flexed him all four around, and saw him lame on his right front. Then she determined that he was very very sore to hoof testers, and he was very noticeably off on the longe line, and suggested radiographs of both fronts just to make sure, and to check his sole thickness on the RF.

Both front feet looked ok on the screens, and she palpated his RF fetlock to kingdom come. Everything combined pointed to an abscess in the RF, so his protocol was soaking, poulticing, bute, and stall rest.

I’ve never soaked or poulticed a horse before, so that was new. He’d stood ok for his soaking of the RH, but was a holy terror for the first soak of his RF – soaked me, the barn aisle, and basically everything but his foot for the first 10 minutes. He was much better for his second soaking, and was fine for the poultice.

Then I flew to California, and had a series of small breakdowns, one of which ended in messy tears, about abandoning him, especially after I ran into some obstacles nailing down a Friday night helper. Luckily, we have a lot of very, very good people at the barn who are helping take care of him. I’m still out in California today, but flying back Monday night and get to finally help take care of him myself.

I’m helping a friend with her toddler on this trip, and exhausted, and my coping skills are not good after the roller coaster week, so of course I’m having huge anxiety problems about my responsibility or lack thereof as a horse owner, about how he’s in pain and I’m not there to help him, and until he actually starts draining I’ll be nervous that it isn’t really an abscess. I’m also worried about our scheduled XC school coming up next Saturday – that was supposed to be our prep run to go BN at Groton House. Next Tuesday is my withdraw-without-penalty date for Groton House, so I have to decide whether to chance it.

Oh, and the vet bill? Let’s not speak of that. There goes the beginnings of my savings for a new car.

2012 show season · hitching post farm · not-so-quiet-freakout

Hitching Post Recap: Friday Journey

Historically, I am a white-knuckle hauler. I have an overactive imagination, a slightly cranky pony, and an older rig. Add those things up and usually the most stressful part of going anywhere for me is the ride there.

I spent last week getting ready for the trip. Water was done by Tuesday; I wrote and re-wrote a shopping list for the tack store to replenish supplies; I wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote an overall packing list and a tight schedule for Friday morning.

Mostly, all went well. I was out late Thursday night finishing packing and cleaning tack, but it all got done, and I was in bed by 12:30.

Alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. on Friday and I was on the road a little before 7:00, where I hit tons of traffic, which put me about 30 minutes behind my carefully mapped schedule, which was where I stayed for the rest of the morning, alas. Friday’s activities included a short trail ride, a bath for Tris, then a run out to pick up shavings, a new pitchfork, and on impulse buy, a broom just for the trailer. Total: $50 (!?!?). Then a swing by the grocery store for some food and ice for the cooler, then back to the barn, where I probably could have gotten on the road by 10:45, only 15 minutes behind schedule, but the rest of the barn’s trailers were waiting to all go together, so I figured I’d join the caravan.

Granted, I left the caravan behind almost immediately; as it turned out, they all took a totally different highway route. I was relying on my old standby college route, 95 to 93 to 89, which went just fine. Getting off the highway to the farm was a bit strenuous, as at one point I missed a turn, pissed off the GPS, and had to cross a river on a single-track industrial bridge that looked like its underpinnings had all been washed out by Hurricane Irene and then replaced with potholes and occasionally some gravel. So that was less than fun.

We still arrived at Hitching Post a good 15 minutes before everyone else, though, and I set out riding things while waiting for everyone else. When they arrived, we all tacked up and rode together in the ring to loosen the horses up and get them used to the environment. It was also a little mini warmup ring experience, complete with choking dust clouds. Tris actually felt great, so we only worked for about 25 minutes or so to keep his brain in his head and keep him loose, then hacked out for a bit, down to the stadium ring and put his nose on a jump or two that were not part of our course but served to familiarize him again with the idea of XC jumps.

I put him back on the trailer and we walked the XC course. I took photos, which helped my nerves later when I had a bit of trouble falling asleep – I reviewed the course on my camera a few times and talked myself through a course walk. I’ll post them when I recap XC. It was a cute little course, not a gimme, with some nice questions and a water crossing. I started mentally preparing myself for a refusal at the water crossing, but also walked my line a few times and focused hard on thinking about keeping him straight and moving.

We also walked the stadium course, which was a little odd, a little tricky, with lots of different combinations to it. Then we headed over to the farm where we’d stable overnight, which was an utterly charming little farm with a 165 year old barn and gorgeous pastures. Tris settled in immediately, and I threw him hay and filled his water; he ate and drank normally and loved his end stall – he could hang his head over the door and look outside or watch what the goings-on in the aisle. I groomed him for a while and squared away my truck while everyone else groomed and braided.

We all went out to dinner together, which was really nice, and then when we came back we topped everyone’s water and I threw Tris some more hay to keep him content overnight. He drank quite a bit of water at the farm, which was fantastic; he’s usually not a good drinker while away from home. I also picked out his stall to make it easier for myself the next morning.

It was really nice being so close to him overnight; I could wander back over in my pajamas and give him a kiss goodnight, then tuck myself into the backseat of the truck and review my course for the next day. I was out cold by 10:30, which was really  nice.

conditioning · not-so-quiet-freakout

Conditioning Miles

So here’s sad: I’ve spent about the last day and a half wondering why my calves are a bit sore.

Then I remembered that I spent about an hour in the half in the saddle on Saturday. Oh yeah…

Really good ride overall. Nothing fancy. Friday night we went for a long hack, and Saturday we did conditioning sets. Schedule went something like this:

20 minutes walk
10 minutes trot
5 minutes walk
10 minutes trot
5 minutes walk
10 minutes trot
5 minutes walk
3 minutes canter
5 minutes walk
3 minutes canter
cool out w/ trail walk

I was pleased with both his willingness and his fitness. I’m enjoying that point about midway through the second trot set when he clicks in and settles down to business and starts to tick right along. By the time we picked up our third trot set he was really enjoying himself, stretching into the reins and giving a nice big strided gait.

This week, we prep for our first overnight show, at Hitching Post Farm in Vermont. I’m getting a bit nervous. We’re entered at Grasshopper (tiny baby jumps) so the show itself shouldn’t be particularly stressful, but I am not a good traveler with horses. I worry, constantly, even more so when it’s my own horse. I worry about packing, and about hauling, and about settling in, and on and on. I’m working on packing lists and timetables and have emailed everyone to confirm everything, but I won’t be settled until Tris is home in his own stall on Saturday night.

If all goes well, we’re due to move up to a schooling show at Beginner Novice in late June, after a few cross-country schools and dressage tests.


I’m stuck on one of those horrible plateaus. I’m pretty sure this one’s for good.

I’m not fit enough to do the things I want. I flop around like a dead fish in the saddle, ineffective bordering on interfering, and I am so stressed in every area of my life that my go-to response has been to ramp up with Tris. Escalation is no one’s friend, and it just leads to me behaving poorly as a rider, and Tris tuning me out. Last night’s lesson was the closest I’ve come to breaking down and crying right there in the saddle that I’ve ever come. I don’t have time to go to the gym. I’ve started trying to do push-ups and sit-ups and stretches at home at night, and the number I can effectively accomplish is so pathetically small I can’t even say it out loud.

I can’t get down to the barn enough to really move forward. I just can’t. If I went as often as I’d like a) I’d get fired, b) I’d flunk out of grad school and then c) what little social life I have would unravel entirely, not to mention Matt would probably get while the getting’s good. Also, I’d be broke. I’m just barely keeping my head above water paying for gas for 4 trips or so a week, and carpooling with Hannah has been a huge help, but I am a bad enough rider that 4 trips a week isn’t getting me anywhere.

I know that one of the cardinal rules of horses is not to compare yourself to others, but I can’t help it. I get dangerously close to blaming my horse because – I love him more than life itself, more than anything, but he does not make this easy. He’s difficult and not inclined to cooperate, and of course I can’t blame him a bit, but it’s hard when you’re as selfish and petty as I am and day in and day out watch everyone else get their relaxed and through horses on the bit and Tris won’t take the outside rein again. Some more. For years and years on top of years.

I’m juggling every.single.penny. to try to afford a dressage saddle this winter (and trailer repairs in the spring, and US Rider renewal, and supplements, and vet bills, and maybe some extra jumping lessons). I’ve convinced myself a dressage saddle will help. Deep down, I know it won’t, because I’m not having saddle problems; I’m having basic lack-of-skills problems. It’s not a magic fix, and it’s probably not even a mundane fix.

In short: Dear Tristan, I’m sorry for breaking the #1 rule of horses and losing my temper. You deserve a better mom.