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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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Anyone planning for Lockdown 2.0?

Hi, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood high-anxiety person who checks all the COVID numbers every day.

Even my tiny, best-in-the-nation state is now trending poorly again. Granted, for us, that means 28 new cases today rather than many thousands, and granted, we still haven’t had a death since July, but it’s not a good trend, is it?

Is anyone planning for a second lockdown? Revisiting best practices from the spring? Making contingency plans specifically for not being able to access your horse or your barn for some unspecified length of time?

A couple of things that I did that worked out, and that I will continue to do:

  • setting up Tristan’s supplements and meds on auto-order through SmartPak; ditto his treats (without which he will not eat said supplements)
  • still thrilled with his biothane halter and lead from Two Horse Tack; they’ve held up well despite being doused in disinfectant multiple times a day for months.
  • I’ve really streamlined my access to the barn, mostly limiting it to certain times and really carefully knowing what I have and need in my grooming tote, etc. I can get everything I need in one trip from the tack room, and can do the same from the trunk of my car again if I need to.
  • I’ll clip Tristan this weekend to get the outlines of his first clip down, something easy for the barn to follow if they need to take over
  • I washed, sorted, and mended all his blankets early this year; they’re all already hanging up and waiting for him. I also sprung for some extra leg straps in case those break and put them all in an easy spot on his tack trunk
  • I’ve set up and been paying board by Venmo for a few months now, and now get texts from my farrier directly with bills (the old system was to leave checks on the corkboard)

Things I know I still need to do:

  • A little bit more tidying up around my tack trunk to make everything neat and clearly accessible
  • A thorough evaluation and restocking of my first aid kit, which got a bit blown apart this summer and fall with Tristan’s eye fun

Anything else I’m missing? Is anyone else starting to think about this, or is my brain in pre-election overdrive?

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Goal Achieved

It’s been a garbage year for pretty much everything, but I hit a pretty big personal milestone on Friday.

I opened this Etsy shop just about exactly three years ago thinking it would be a good complement to my income from the day job, which was barely enough to cover the things I needed and wanted to do – especially anything horse-related.

I’m really proud and happy of how it’s gone, with strong, consistent growth over three years and a side income that has made so, so many things about the last few years easier – including making many, many thousands of dollars in vet bills much easier to shoulder.

I also still get a happy thrill when people review my saddle covers and say how much they love them. It’s a great dopamine rush, even as I stare down what will likely be an extremely busy holiday season.

Thank you to every single blog reader who has cheered me on, told their friends about the shop, or ordered something for themselves.

Onward and upward!

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House Post: Upstairs Bathroom, Part 3

Okay, last time we left the bathroom waterproofed but nothing else.

That means: tile time!

Everything I read said to plan a lot before tiling, so I laid out the tile in a bunch of different ways. I didn’t like straight brick pattern or 1/2 offset, and after much googling landed on 1/3 offset, which is what you see here. These are 6″ subway tiles, so that meant my measurements would be in 2″ increments, which means I did a TON of measurements to get a rough sense of how many tiles per row, and where to start so that the corners would hit roughly full or 2/3 sized tiles. Like 5 hours of measuring and planning and double-checking. I had taken the day off work and burned up most of my daylight with the planning.

But then I started, sort of center-ish, above the end of the tub.

These first few were VERY hard because I wanted to make infinitely sure they were level since I’d be basing so much of my other tiling on them.

This was my first tricky cut, to go around the corner of the tub there. I was very pleased with it!

Here’s where I left it off at the end of the first night, my first time ever tiling! Finished this up around 9pm.

Day 2 went slower in some ways, faster in others. Slower because there was more wall – and more complicated things to cut around. Faster because my husband helped, so I had him cutting while I set things in place.

I bought a $30 drill bit just to do that hole. TOTALLY WORTH IT, WOULD DO AGAIN, IT LOOKS AWESOME.

Tiling done and ready for grout! Finished about 9pm on day 2.

And on to the grouting. Division of work for that was husband applied, and then I tidied up and sponged it off. This was grout that the tile guys insisted was the best and I did not like it. It did not have the thickness that all the internet tutorials said grout should, and was sloppy and loose to get to really stick in. Then when it started hardening toward the end it got really tricky to work with, so some of the grout work around the showerhead is sloppier than I would like.

The tile guys were also horrified that I chose white grout with the dark blue tile, but I held my ground and I have no regrets. (Not about color anyway. I am a little confused still about how thick the grout lines ended up being? I had 1/8″ spacers and wanted a thinner grout line; the final line is much more like 1/4″. It doesn’t look bad necessarily just not quite what I was imagining.)

Grouted! Where the sunlight hits gives you a better idea of the true color of the tile. Still thrilled with it.

My idea of hell is caulking tubs all day. Took about 3 hours to get all the lines just right, but attention to detail really paid off here.

Still REALLY happy with this picture. Happy sigh.

Okay, on to the next problem. I was no way going to drill holes into my lovely new tile, so the previous curtain surround we’d used was out. When I googled shower curtain hangers that hung strictly from the ceiling, they were upwards of $200. HARD NOPE.

So…I got inventive, and made something out of plastic piping. This is still what’s hanging in there. I figure we’ll live with it for a while and then decide whether to a) spray paint it gray to match the other fixtures or b) replace it with metal piping.

I am also very pleased with the shower curtain, an Amazon find that is cheap and will not last forever but has already given my husband and I one good jump scare each, so, worth every penny.

Okay, on to the next problem: lighting and mirror! The old lights were these ugly sconces that were off center and uh, not actually hooked to boxes on studs, yikes. I knew they were going pretty early. We had the electrician do a half-day’s work and rewire the system in the bathroom as well as add a bunch of things to the basement, about which more later. The new fixture, with these bulbs, is INCREDIBLY bright and not for everyday but is great for when you really need to stare at your face in extreme detail.

That left holes…to be filled with some bracing and drywall inserts, as you can see.

Aaaaaand a new mirror in the space!

Next up: the vanity, which was ugly fake wood. I tried one color sample and then swapped to another to match the tile. Unfortunately, I also swapped the handles & hinges, which I don’t regret in concept but do regret in execution, because now the doors don’t closer properly anymore and I can’t quite muster up enough fucks to fix it, since it would require taking the doors off again, filling & repainting the hinge holes, and then going on a non-local hunt for hinges. (I went to three different local hardware stores to find the ones I bought.)

And that brings you up to date on the bathroom renovation!

Still to do:

  • towel hangers (have all the pieces, just moving slowly)
  • toilet paper holder
  • floor??? (have to price it out and also commit to a date with installers, both of which will determine how much I even want to do it)
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House Post: Upstairs Bathroom, Part 2

Last time, you learned about how my downstairs shower failed in the middle of a pandemic, and what the upstairs bathroom looked like at the time – in pieces.

So, when we left it off, here’s what it looked like.

So, step 1 was to do a final plaster coat and sanding, and then paint: oil-based primer and two coats of the paint itself, a dark gray. I already forget the name of the gray, but it’s a Sherwin Williams color.

Then it was time to deal with the tub surround. This provoked no end of angst, honestly; I had done a TON of reading about the best way to waterproof behind tile. The previous tiles had simply been glued to the drywall, which was not the way I wanted to go at all.

In the end, I went with a paintable waterproof membraning. Even though this was not a true tiled shower – water would be splashing on the tile at best, not actually cascading onto it – I felt more comfortable knowing that we had done the best we absolutely could. At $130 a gallon, yikes, we painted on this green stuff, which had the consistency of pudding, in two layers. It dried with a slightly rubbery feel & texture to it.

So then it was ready for tile! We finished the waterproofing on a Sunday night, and then I took Tuesday off to start tiling. I had read and watched a million tutorials and talked to the guys at the tile store, so I started off by laying out the tile and doing SO MANY MEASUREMENTS.

See, I was doing it with subway tile…but I don’t really like subway tile all that much. If you’ll remember, I tested a LOT of different tile and just wasn’t quite able to get precisely what I had in mind, and the color/finish that was closest was this Daltile subway tile. I did not feel up to the mental gymnastics of doing it in a herringbone pattern – what I really wanted – so I laid it out a lot of different ways and ended up with this 1/3 offset, which I think gives it a nice movement but isn’t the standard 1/2 offset, or worse, a plain brick pattern.

Next week…we tile.

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We’re not okay

Well, it’s been a while. Honestly, I haven’t had the heart.

When I left off, Tris and I were prepping for a season-ending dressage show that was going to be our first swing at First Level. It did not go well. It in fact went spectacularly, soul-crushingly badly. Let’s be clear: I have had bad shows before. I have had many many bad shows before. I am no stranger to not having the show go at all the way you planned.

This schooling show was…a step beyond all that. I followed the warmup that had gone so well for our two ride-a-test days earlier in the summer. I had a careful plan for tuning him up the week before. I studied the tests relentlessly. When I asked for the trot that morning…I had no horse. Not “uh oh, something’s wrong” but when I put my leg on I got a loud, roaring, FUCK YOU in response, and that was it. Everything after that was me trying to grapple with, negotiate, beg, innovate, and yes, occasionally outright bully him into cooperating for more than two seconds (literally: two seconds) at a time. I never actually achieved that.

Forget any hope of suppleness, bending, relaxation, forward into the bit, any of the things we’d actually been getting to over the summer. He refused. Straight up refused. 110% employed every single tactic in his singularly broad arsenal to absolutely and utterly refuse to play ball. When we did get those two or sometimes three second stretches of halfway decent whatever I could tell that he physically felt fine. It was mental. It was a complete refusal to even assume a tiny fraction of the partnership that needs to happen for a moderately successful ride.

I came very, very close to scratching in the warmup. I have never even had a hint of that thought before, even when he was actively bolting or bucking in warmup. I felt sick, like crying, like giving up and never getting on a horse ever again – in the warmup. But I gritted my teeth and pushed through for a singularly awful First 1 that was awarded a well-deserved 57%. The only sliver of saving grace is that we were first for the day and a fewer number than otherwise saw us.

I put him back in his stall and thought “well, this is why I wanted to run the Training test first, to get this over with, oh well, we’ll take a break from each other and come out with a different warmup next time.” So I ate a pastry as big as my face, I groomed him thoroughly, I petted him and hand-grazed him and left him alone for a nap and then tacked up for Training 3, a test we’ve ridden many times before and – same horse. Nothing. Nada. Giant FUCK YOU of jigging, flailing, half-rearing, snake-face, sideways scooting, kicking out, slow-as-molasses or attempting-to-bolt every.single.step. I was praising him to the skies for just fucking trotting for three strides without quitting or jigging or trying to scrape me off or…you name it. I was soft and following. I let him canter for as long as he wanted to canter when he kept jigging. I let him stand quietly and watch the warmup for a while. Literally nothing got any sort of cooperative response.

So, the Training test was bad. 59% bad. At Training. A level we’ve ridden for years. It was very well deserved. I actually thought we’d had a few teensy better moments – his canter, out of pure frustration on my part, was forward to the point of hand-gallop – but nope.

“Discouraging” isn’t the right word for having your partner so completely abandon you like that. And yeah I can see you reading along and saying “it’s always the rider! it’s never the horse!” Don’t think I haven’t been struggling with that too, because if he was so spectacularly awful, every single goddamn fucking step, how badly must I have been riding? And I have to tell you: I was not riding brilliantly, and perhaps a better rider could have salvaged something, but I was not riding that badly. I had been carefully building toward this all summer, and was replicating work and patterns and reactions that had seen success before. There is only so much you can do when the other half of the horse-and-rider team refuses to show up so spectacularly. But of course, in the horse world, it’s always 100% the rider, every tiny bit of it, so the ingrained conclusion I also have to fall back on is: yeah, I suck that much. (Yes, I see the inconsistencies in my own logic.)

Anyway: it was bad. I took the next day entirely away from the barn, because I was as discouraged as I’ve ever been. The only comparable feeling was when we were first starting him and I would spend two hours with him rearing and slamming me into walls over and over. Then on Monday, I got back on for a very light, very short trail hack – just a walk around the big hay field. It went fine! It was a beautiful day, and then 100 yards from home he lost all his marbles and tried to dump me in a rearing, attempted-bolt snitfit. He went from loose rein lazy walk, barn is right there, to needing a one-rein stop and me yelling four leter words at him in just seconds.

Then on Tuesday, he rubbed his right eye so hard and so much that it swelled to the size of a baseball and the vet the following day was actually speechless at the amount of pus from one of the largest conjunctivitis infections he’d ever seen. Therein followed two weeks of near-constant medication and compressing and an eyesaver mask when he would not stop rubbing and on and on and on.

That brings us up to the present day. I got on him once two days ago at the walk, in the bareback pad, and he felt like his normal, pre-show self. I haven’t had the heart to put the work in just yet, though, so he’s been getting lots of grooming, hand-grazing, and some more lazy walking. I am heartsick from how bad the show was, how horrible everything felt, and also from watching the news and feeling a constant buzz of miserable anxiety at how quickly America is sliding into insanity.

As things stand right now, I’m headed out of town and will have about 10 days of quarantine when I return because Vermont is still taking this global pandemic seriously. Tris will get training rides while I’m gone and…then we’ll see what happens next. I really don’t know what that will be.

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August Updates

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve done one of these! I have actually accomplished some things, just not felt like keeping up a regular checkin about them. Let’s see, shall we?

  1. Ride a First Level test at one of the two barn schooling shows – scheduled for Saturday!
  2. Take notes (however brief) on every ride – the wheels really fell off this wagon with quarantine and they have not yet been re-attached, oops
  3. Clean tack at least 1x a month – yeah I give up
  4. Volunteer at 3 events – WHAT events?
  5. Take 25 lessons – I’ve lost count but we’re easily at 20/25, huzzah
  6. *Reach goal: Go to Crossfit 100 times (or roughly 2x a week) for additional fitness – I’m managing an easy 3x a week right now and upping my weights & reps – I hit my first Rx the other week, which felt awesome, and it’s really paying off. This is a definite success!

Business

  1. Keep up with monthly expense/revenue tracking – very mixed success; was going well until the bathroom project and then spending just got out of control for a little bit; September should go better
  2. Maintain 100 listings in the Etsy store – I’m now hovering stable around 90 listings; I made this task harder for myself by eliminating the handy bags and going with just saddle covers, for a lot of reasons, but either way, I’m pretty happy with where I am
  3. Mustang gear goes live – I don’t see this happening after all, unfotunately
  4. Sponsor 5 riders – this has proven difficult in some interesting and unanticipated ways; I need to blog about it because I need some different ideas
  5. Table at a horse show – sigh.
  6. *Reach goal: Get to 1000 sales on Etsy – 912/1000, hoooooooly shit folks things have been nuts but in a good way? probably going to hit this in late September/early October and then spend the holiday season crying in a corner

General

  1. Try 25 new recipes – Definitely long past 25, calling this done
  2. Try making: croissants, eclairs, cinnamon rolls – I’m calling cinnamon rolls a done deal – I’ve tested a few recipes and have some good standbys now!
  3. Declutter in February – eff it, calling this done, I’ve done a ton of decluttering
  4. Finish 5 craft projects – so.many.masks, let’s call this 3/5
  5. Finish upstairs bathroom, front guest bedroom, and nook room – upstairs bathroom, done! is there even a point to doing a guest bedroom now?
  6. *Reach goal: submit Morgan article for publication – not going to happen, but I HAVE started writing for an hour before bedtime each night which is doing great things for my brain
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The (not so) Straight & Narrow

Look at that, two posts in a week!

Tris and I continue to refine pieces of the First Level test for Saturday, because let’s be honest, neither of us is going to learn anything new, so I am just mentally writing off “halfway decent canter lengthening” already. I mean, we’ll go faster for sure, the judge will just have to make a sour face at us and score accordingly.

One of our biggest ongoing challenges for, say, 15+ years now, has been straightness. In all its aspects, of course: straight through the body is a relative and complicated thing in dressage, because “straight” does not always mean “straight like a ruler” and in fact that is often a very bad way to be straight. (This is one of the reasons why people hate dressage.)

There’s also straightness in the sense of “If I point you at a thing, will you go toward the thing?”

Folks, I am a touch ashamed to admit this, but Tristan does not.

Here is a sampling of my inner monologue after pointing Tristan toward a thing. It does not matter whether we are in wide open space in a field, on a dirt road, crossing a diagonal, or even on the rail.

“Okay: eyes on the end point, whoops, there goes a shoulder, okay, crap, now a hind foot is just…off in space?…and there goes the shoulder again, we are going straight, did you really need to cross over with your front legs for no reason? now catch the bulge through the ribs because we’re staggering drunkenly the other way, and now that the obvious stuff is corralled there’s this awful subtle drift and I’ve been playing whack a mole so much that now my eyes are off the end point and this diagonal is now a zigzag ending nowhere near where it was supposed to.”

If we’re on a rail there’s a 50% chance that he has either swerved in, sometimes all the way to the quarter line, or slammed my leg into the wall. Every pair of tall boots I have ever owned has paint scrapes on the outside. We can be having the best, most productive dressage school in the world and if I lose focus for one second, WHAM, there goes my knee.

If we’re out on the trail, or on a road, I guarantee we have sidestepped from one side to the other and he’s tried to fall into a ditch at some point. Especially if he’s on a loose rein. Especially if he doesn’t want to play that day. I can avoid it by putting him deep into contact, forcing leg yields back and forth, and riding every.single.step. but that kind of ruins the point of a trail ride, doesn’t it?

I know we’re not supposed to blame the horse for everything because it’s always the rider’s fault, but I’m telling you right now, I’ve ridden this horse for 15 years and a chunk of it is pure cussedness. He doesn’t want to have to. Another big chunk is just pure lack of coordination – so much for mustangs’ vaunted surefootedness, my horse can splat on his face or put a leg in an invisible hole on perfectly level & engineered footing. Lest you think I’m trying to get out of this, I’m also absolutely certain that a good chunk of it is him responding to my own weight shifts. But it’s near-impossible to control my own body and weight and seat in perfect straightness and evenness when I’m also playing constant catch up.

Jumping was never an issue. Tristan will lock on a jump and drag you to it from 10 strides away, and one of his best features is his willingness and ability to jump the jump pretty much no matter what. He will launch himself, pretty much guaranteed, unless you truly haul him off of it. He may have to take care of things with some stuttering footwork in the last stride, but he’s going.

Obviously, it’s much more of a problem in dressage. It has gotten both better and worse over the years. Better in the sense that it’s often more subtle and when he is truly 100% working perfectly, obviously it goes away. Worse in the sense that his evasions and wobbling have grown more subtle and more constant. I mean, it’s kind of maddening to loosen the reins for a break and almost immediately tip sideways to slam you into the wall.

I would appreciate any ideas the horse blogging world has for ways to improve. I think I successfully hide a lot of it from trainers because I’m so constantly managing it, but also, that’s exhausting. It’s more than a little frustrating to have a 25yo dead broke horse who acts like the world’s most obnoxious and wiggly green bean in this aspect.

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First Level or Bust (Probably Bust)

Longer time readers may be sick of me by now saying “I am totally going to show First Level this year! It’s my goal and everything!” It’s been…like three or four years now.

It’s probably pretty obvious from this blog that I am a mediocre-at-best rider with no natural feel, a shit-ton of other things going on in my life, and a horse that I adore with not a speck of natural talent for dressage. Plus, cumulative years’ worth of setbacks and rehab, especially in the last few years.

(In fairness to Tristan, if YOU spent half your life wild/neglected/untouched you’d probably think this whole thing was bullshit, too.)

That’s my long and pessimistic way of saying: hey, we’re entered at First Level in a schooling show on Saturday!

It’s the barn show, part of a statewide schooling series, super low-stakes. We know the ring, we know the judge, we can warm up where we school. Kind of a best-case scenario for making ourselves look like idiots.

We’ll do Training 2 (I wanted the stretchy circle prep) and then First 1. I took some pieces of them out of the box last night during a short schooling ride and he was actually kind of awesome? Some combination of naughty pony weather (we’re getting highs in the 60s, lows in the 40s overnight) and my new level of expectations for him have started to pay off. My fitness outside of the saddle is really starting to pay off, too; I am stronger than I have ever been thanks to 3-4x a week at CrossFit, and I can hold a half-halt in my core in a way that I was never able to do consistently before.

I have zero expectations. Or rather: I have expectations that we will stay in the ring. (I went into my first dressage show with him with those same expectations, and Reader, we did NOT stay in the ring, so…) I’d just like to DO this thing after so long of aiming for it. If we clear 50% I will be surprised but happy.

So, stay tuned, I guess. I may have talked my husband into recording the tests, so I’ll try to work up the courage to share them.

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Hives on top of hives on top of hives

I’ve written here before about how Tristan is prone to hives and other allergy manifestations through the summer and fall. It’s something that’s cropped up on and off since his Cushing’s diagnosis a number of years ago.

Usually, he gets 200mg of cetirizine every day (100mg in each meal) to combat that. Last summer, he started on July 1 and didn’t have a single problem all summer.

This summer…we haven’t been so lucky. He’s had small patches on and off pretty consistently. Now, hives aren’t really a problem-problem, especially when they crop up in small patches on say his neck and butt.

But when they pop up the way they did last Friday, they are a problem. I got a text from the barn saying he’d come in covered in hives, and came out later that afternoon to find, wow, yes, almost every inch of his body was pulpy with hives. As in, you could run your hand down his side and there was barely any smooth skin anywhere.

So then started about three days of stall rest and medicated bathing. I would say there was maybe a 5-10% improvement by Sunday night. Clearly not enough after 48 hours.

So, Monday morning the barn manager checked in with me; she wanted to get more aggressive, and she was particularly concerned about the hives she saw on his cheeks and neck. She said she felt his lymph nodes were swollen. Now – he has a verrrrrry thick neck/jaw tie-in, and I’ve been concerned about overly prominent lymph nodes in the past. So I wasn’t quite as worried about that as she was, but I also trust her completely, and if she was concerned and wanted to ratchet up treatment, I was okay with that.

Here’s the rub, of course: Tristan’s Cushing’s diagnosis was also the reason we’d waited so long to go the intervention route. Horses with metabolic issues really should not have steroids if it can be helped at all. With that in mind, we started on Monday morning with 10ccs of banamine, and there was some improvement to that, especially in his neck, but not enough. That afternoon, after consulting with the vet, he got 5ccs of dexamethasone, a steroid commonly used to fight allergies.

The barn staff kept him in and kept an eye on him, and I went back to check him a few hours later – cool feet, perky pony, and a significant reduction in hives. Not 100% gone but finally responding the way they needed to. Whew all around.

Wednesday, by the time you read this blog post, I’ll have gone out in the morning to give him some hand-grazing time and see how he tolerates that. I strongly believe this particular reaction was the result of a bug bite and not something he ate. Because of his history of allergies, the barn staff is very careful about which pasture he goes on, and he wears a fly sheet to prevent any contact irritation. These hives were everywhere, which to me means systemic, and so it seems the best culprit is a fly bite.

Vermont has started the very beginnings of fall – some leaves are turning, and our highs are in the mid-60s this week. As dramatic as this episode was, with some luck it’s the last of summer problems for him. If everything goes well with his hand grazing, he can go back on turnout on Thursday and if the hives in his saddle area are gone, I’ll get some riding time in again too.