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Horse Culture of 18th and 19th Century Virginia Zoom Talk

A coworker tipped me off to this talk, and I was able to watch it live this past Wednesday night. I thought it was really terrific – it’s a bit simplistic in some spots, but the historian is a horse person herself and she does a really good job of acknowledging and detailing the enslaved Black labor that made early Virginian horse culture work. It’s a really great way to spend an hour – grab a pile of tack to clean and tune in!

Here’s the link to the talk, hosted by the Wilton House Museum.

It’s good for 30 days, so will disappear on October 10, 2021.

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Possibly NSFW? Chafing!

Okay, well, I’m going to just put this out there.

I’ve actually had this topic on my mind for a little while now, but never could quite articulate it.

Maybe it’s also something you struggle with?

Here’s the short version: in the summer, whenever I shave above my knees, the next time I ride (no matter when), I get horrible chafing and skin breakouts.

exhibit A: thighs my peasant ancestors would be proud of; I mostly am too, because they let me do all sorts of things, but fuck do they also get in the way

The longer version: I mostly avoid shaving above my knees! I have spent my whole life sucking at conventional displays of femininity, why attempt it now? I don’t like to wear shorts anyway (I spend the summer in capris or jeans or long skirts), I don’t even own a bathing suit anymore, so I just…don’t.

But then sometimes I do. Because I want to wear something shorter, or think about buying a bathing suit. And WITHOUT FAIL, even if I have the sharpest razor, the most careful preparation, the best after-care, even if I follow every internet tip I can find, within 2-3 days, basically, the next time I ride, I get horrible, HORRIBLE chafing misery. The skin breaks out, it gets irritated, I am alternately in pain and unbelievably itchy, I regret every choice that led me to that moment.

It’s some combination of even the mild irritation of my skin + my substantial weightlifting/riding thighs + the snugness of breeches and my seat in the saddle + summertime sweat and funk. Sometimes the inside of my knees also gets it, but rarely as badly, and I just deal with it. (They are almost always patchy red and irritated, sometimes a little hive-y/bumpy from extra irritation, but only rarely as bad as my thighs.)

It can happen in the winter, but it doesn’t generally, and also, I care much less about shaving carefully in the winter because I wear three to five layers at all times. There’s also less sweat, and my winter breeches are usually fleece-lined and/or less snug. Etc.

I’m just sick of it. Obviously I’m not going to just stop riding, but I’d like to think about wearing shorter shorts, or a bathing suit, without feeling exhausted and miserable and even more like I totally suck at being a girl. (Which I already know I do, but I don’t like having it so obviously rubbed in, y’know?)

Does anyone else struggle with it? Have you figured it out, or have you just given up, or am I alone in my weird body stuff?

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Small Things Roundup

I am still plugging away, just haven’t felt much like writing.

Tris is now pretty firmly in a 3-4 days of work per week schedule. Usually one of those is a lesson and one is a light longe. I almost never work him two days in a row – mentally more than anything it’s not right for him.

He is pretty darn fit, and still quite sassy. If I ride in the outdoor arena I can count on at least one bucking fit or attempted bolt. Lately, I’ve gotten to a better place about responding to those by saying “okay, work for it, then” and making him use all that energy to really sit.

In good weight and pretty good muscle for his circumstances!

He got his hocks done in June, and I’ve scheduled his stifles for September 7. Both are in the nature of experiments and I will have more thoughts on them later. Overall, positive, but not transformational.

Our biggest challenge has been managing his allergies; he’s coming down off his second hives blowup of the summer. I hate them – not to deal with necessarily, but because it means we have to do a whole dance of dry lot turnout or stall rest, and then slowly figure out grass turnout again. He loves grass so much and it’s so hard to see how much he wants to go on pasture, but…sigh.

We have no show plans for the fall; just keep poking along at what we’re working on, learning things and keeping him fit and healthy and happy.

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House Post: Next Room!

It’s been a while, but we’re on to the next room!

I couldn’t find any before pictures – they’re around somewhere – but so far we’ve removed the top layer of wallpaper and the chair rail from the room off the kitchen. Which is sort of our second dining room / mud room / entry room. It’s poorly defined all around, unfortunately. Getting a better sense of its use will be part of this renovation.

I was able to save all of the chair rail. It’s really nice wood, maybe someone will want it! I’m going to list it for free locally.

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Boosting the Signal: Charlotte Merle-Smith’s Paralympics Bid

My barn owner / trainer is on her way to Germany with Charlotte Merle-Smith, the US Paralympic Dressage Team traveling reserve.

Charlotte is originally from Vermont, and we all know how I feel about Vermont and Vermonters. Not to mention amazing dressage riders who work hard in the face of incredible odds.

Charlotte’s Go Fund Me is fully funded, but she’s undertaking a huge journey to Germany and maybe on to Tokyo.

If you have a little extra to spare, could you consider donating?

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House Post: Porch Roof Updates

Honestly, between the 30% increase in material costs and the endless rain, we picked exactly the wrong moment to do this project, but…at least it’s getting done? Sigh.

Anyway, progress! In between rain.

First, the contractor pulled out the old fascia/trim to get a look at things and to match the trim (which is matched around the house and part of the original look).

Then it rained for a very long time and we had to wait for a stretch of 2-3 days without rain to do the next stage: removing the old roof.

Actually, turns out, removing three old roofs. Yeah. There were two other layers of roofing underneath that top standing seam metal roof. FFS. Another layer of stamped tin and another layer of verrrrrrry old asphalt shingles. So all of that went! Back down to the joists, and then starting over with proper new sheathing and proper underlayers.

The angle of this photo makes it look like the roof is flat; I promise, it has angle!

Then he ripped out more of the fascia part and sistered in better supports, because the whole roof was sagging a bit too much, yikes.

Some of the not great underneath.

Then it rained for five more days.

And as of today, we have some of the roofing back on! More next week with the hopefully final project.

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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.

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Elbows

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.

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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?