blog hop · vermont

Blog Hop: Location, Location, Location

Courtesy of Sarah at A Soft Spot for Stars, which was a new blog to me!

Tell me about where you live. Are there any frustrating things about your area? What is the weather like? How does the cost of keeping horses compare to where I live?

I live in the best place on earth: Vermont.
Top of the App Gap in summer.
Vermont has everything you could possibly want: gorgeous scenery, a great community of people, and a way of life that is conducive to actually being a human being in the world. I could go on and on, but I love it here. Obviously.
Horsekeeping-wise, it has some really great features as well. The density of high-quality trainers is like nothing else except maybe certain winter watering holes. To name a few of the most well-known: Denny Emerson, Jane Savoie, Laura Graves, Tad Coffin, Steve Rojek, and I could go on. The less famous trainers are also superb. There’s something in the water here. 
The facilities are good, too. You can find something to do every weekend in every discipline, though you’ll have to drive a bit to get there. The Green Mountain Horse Association is a national treasure.
The weather…kind of sucks.

True story: I stepped outside of the house this morning and thought “oh, wow, it’s way warmer than I thought it would be!” It was 30 degrees. It will be like this until mid-April. Think serious investment in winter riding gear, and every time you step outside for 6+ months it’s a slog. It snows pretty much every day in the winter, and most of January & February will be into the single digits or below zero overnight – and there’s about 3 weeks there where that’s the pattern during the day, too. There’s a reason half my barn decamps to Florida from November – May.
That said, we have about 3 months out of the year when it is just gorgeous and that makes everything worthwhile.

Commute-wise, we’re talking country. 30 minutes or so to drive most places. Further afield for anything specialized. But at the same time, many Vermont towns have a downtown where you can get just about anything. I live close to the capital of Montpelier, which has three bookstores, two movie theaters, a million different restaurants, and a lot of great shopping options, all on two cross streets in a city with a population of 7,500 (which makes it the ninth largest city in the state).
That’s another thing: it is tiny. Everyone knows everyone else. You can get end to end – the long way – in 4.5 hours. There are dozens of towns with fewer than 500 people in them. The largest city in the state, Burlington, has a population of 42,000. The entire state has fewer than 500,000 people.
Cost of living is a bit tricky. I lived in eastern Massachusetts for so long that it all feels cheap. At the same time, average salary here is not great. I took a 25% pay cut to move up here and it will be at least another 5 years before I get close to making the same amount. Yay, nonprofits! But here are some figures.
House Prices: $100,000 – $250,000 for something basic; get closer to ski country or second home territory and it goes up quickly. $350,000 will get you nice land + barn. [context: we paid right in the middle of that range for our 2800sf city house with great bones that needed some work]
Boarding: $300 – $600 for stall board. I pay $550 at probably the fanciest barn in the county, which is worth it to me because of the extremely high quality of care.
Expenses: $50/trim, $60/lesson, $150/shoes, say $150 for a basic spring shots vet checkup.
Frustrating: It can be small, sometimes. There are no Targets in the entire state. I don’t have much public/private divide. I work for a prominent organization, and I am a public face for that organization, so my name is in the news somewhat regularly and I often find myself having work conversations in the grocery store. I love what I do, so I don’t really mind, but I’m sure some people would find it awful. 
For me, though, it’s a feature of Vermont: it’s a place that really respects and supports the whole person. There really truly is a depth of community here that you can’t find elsewhere. People are passionate about things, and they’re profoundly welcoming and committed to making the world a better place. I value that especially, right now.

5 Reasons Why Vermont Is the Best Equestrian State

Oh yeah. I’m going there.

I have long held the conviction that Vermont is simply the Best State (TM), and despite the neverending winter, I’m going to make an argument why it is also the best horse state.

1. Four Letters: G.M.H.A

GMHA Sleigh Rally
The Green Mountain Horse Association, founded in 1926, is one of the best equestrian facilities in the country. It may not have pagodas or million dollar indoors or water fountains, but what it does have is pristine natural beauty, the most competent and kind staff you will ever meet, and an extraordinary schedule of events. Endurance, driving, eventing, dressage, hunter/jumpers, trail riding, even off-season out of saddle educational events: if you can’t find something to get excited about on their schedule, you’re not trying hard enough.
I’ve been there as a groom for friends, as a volunteer, and as a spectator. I have never ridden a horse on the property, which is a deep personal regret of mine. Someday!

2. That Hillwork Though, or, Let the Green Mountains Condition for You

The view from one of our road routes

True story: a former eventing trainer of mine grew up on a horse farm in Vermont, and moved out of state to pursue his riding goals. He took his horses out to their first few events and their conditioning was terrible and he was flummoxed. And then he realized: he had been doing the exact same fitness work he’d grown up doing in Vermont, but there were no mountains in other places like there are in Vermont.

The trouble here is in fact finding level ground. All of our pastures are on hills and even when I boarded and lived in Addison County, part of the Lake Champlain basin and the flattest part of the state, it still wasn’t what you’d call flat. It rolled quite a bit, just not as dramatically as most of the state. So even just going out on a hack on the roads works those glutes. And with 70% of the state’s roads still dirt, you’ve got a lot of territory to explore.

3. We Have Our Own Breed of Horse: Justin Morgan’s Figure and the American Dream

Weathermount Ethan, Morgan stallion and all-around hunk
Figure, the first Morgan Horse, was not born in Vermont but he made his mark on the state indelibly, leaving a breed of horses that matched the needs of the American frontier. Today, you can find Morgans in every corner of Vermont and even in the world. The National Museum of the Morgan Horse is here, as is the UVM Morgan Horse Farm. They’re both interesting places to visit, but the real value is in the horses themselves.
There’s a lot of back and forth about how and why and when exactly all of this got going, and I think the story of the Morgan horse’s second generation might be at least as interesting as Figure’s (and someday I wil pick up my research project on that again), but the end result is a truly American breed of horse, and it all got started in Vermont.

4. Olympic Density

Tad Coffin riding Bally Cor at the 1976 Montreal Olympics
Someday I’d love to actually run numbers on this, but: the sheer number of Olympians and other high-level riders who have come out of Vermont is amazing.
Vermonters include Tad Coffin, Denny Emerson, Jane Savoie, Carol Lavell, Stephen and Dinah Rojek, and last but not least, Laura Graves. Yes, she of Verdades taking-the-world-by-storm fame. She grew up riding about 6 miles from where I am typing out this blog post.  (We also produce the sixth-highest number of winter Olympians, but they are all in non-horse sports, obviously!)
I’m sure I’m missing a few, but those are just the really really famous ones. And keep in mind how tiny Vermont is, with a population of just over 500,000 in the entire state. The density of quality riders is astounding. You simply can’t go wrong with finding a good trainer here.

5. It’s a Way of Life, or, When Your Local Ice Cream Shop Is Ben & Jerry’s

You guys, this is 20 minutes from my house. It’s literally on the way to and from work for my husband. I can call him and he can come home with any flavor of Ben & Jerry’s in the whole world.
On top of that, all of the other food is amazing. There is a better variety and quality of food here than anywhere else I have ever lived, and I have lived in France, ok? And everyone knows that ice cream and beer/hard cider are key components to equestrian life, especially for recovery after your inevitable fall.

commute · vermont · weather

Water, Water, Everywhere

Sunday, it rained on and off all day. We were predicted to get thunderstorms, but it seemed to rumble and rumble without any real payoff other than a few brief showers. At about 6:45, when I headed out to the barn, it was clear and not too cloudy, though damp from a passing shower.

I got to the barn at about 6:55, and it was already raining hard. By the time I got inside – and mind you, I parked right next to the door, so we’re talking a distance of ten feet – it was raining as hard as I have ever seen it rain in my life.

Taken out the door of the indoor.
I called the barn owners and asked if they wanted the doors closed – yes, please! I remembered that a few weeks ago the door to the indoor in particular had been left open during a bad rain and part of the footing had washed out.
It was raining so hard that the roof was leaking from the sheer force of it. Tristan’s stall had two or three spots were drips were coming down. He was so mad. He kept dancing around trying to get out of the water and glaring at me like it was my fault. He finally found a way to stand that kept him perfectly dry.
Mind you – we’re not talking even a real leak. Drops of water, inconsistently. That should tell you something about much Tristan hates rain.
I stayed about an hour grooming and tidying my tack trunk, and the rain eased up – a good thing for a lot of reasons, not least of which was that it was rattling the barn and indoor roof so hard I could not hear myself think. I’ve never heard it so loud. The rain stopped before I left, and I stood by my car watching the next storm come in across the valley. I am not a huge storm lover; thunder typically wigs me out. This was totally mesmerizing. The lightning streaked toward the mountaintops, and then the thunder rolled through the valley like giant tearing paper with an earthshaking boom at the tail. Slowly, lines of mountains disappeared as the clouds rolled in. I left before it got there.
I got home, and it started raining again, hard, not long afterwards. Then at about 10pm, when we were getting ready for bed, we lost power. I called in the outage and started checking Twitter and Facebook and yup: severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings.
And I saw this photo. That’s 2.5 blocks from my house, at the major intersection with Main Street. I drive through there every day. See those blocky things in the middle ground, on the left? Those are the tops of 4′ tall granite columns. Unbelievable.
Our house is on a hill, and while we had some tiny leakage into the garage due to an old, dry, semi-rotted rubber seal on the bottom of the garage door, everything else flowed downhill to create flash floods right downtown.
The adjacent town where Tristan lives was even harder hit. Here’s a blog with photos of some of the roads; almost all of them are ones I take every day. The first photo is the reverse of the one I took the next day, trying to get to the barn.
So out of the 5 different roads I can take to the barn, only one survived the storms intact. It means tripling my commute – going back out to a major road, down several miles, then doubling around through back roads. Even those roads are not in great shape, with cuts and washouts bitten out of them. At least I can get there, though – there are a few houses that were completely cut off.
I knew that Vermont was prone to floods, and there have certainly been many bad floods in this area in the past – from the 1927 flood to Tropical Storm Irene – but this was my first personal experience of it!
vermont · winter


We got somewhere between 14″ and 18″ in the snowstorm yesterday. Business more or less as usual. In fact, people were mostly thrilled – good skiing this weekend! Some schools canceled, and for me work closed an hour early when it became clear the snow would impact the evening commute as well. Since I walk to work, I stayed to catch up.

I wish I could ride in it, but we’re heading out of town tomorrow to visit some friends. Hopefully enough will still be there Monday…and I can finagle a way to hold the reins without really using my right hand? Hmmmm.

In the meantime: have a cool photograph. This was taken near Crystal Lake Falls in Barton, VT in 1941. Before snowplows, rolling and/or scraping snow was the order of the day. The idea was not to get ride of the snow but to make it a smoother surface for sleighs to travel on. In the 1940s, Vermont didn’t have an interstate highway system or really even much in the way of paved roads – or electricity. It’s still a very rural place, but not quite like this anymore!

(Photography courtesy of the VT Agency of Transportation/Department of Highways: Vermont State Archives and Records Administration)

vermont · winter

Winter in Vermont

A typical winter day:

8:15 am: Leave for work. Decide on the fly whether to pack riding clothes and drive, or set aside riding clothes and plan on walking home to change, grab a snack, and pick up the car. Check work email on phone, start swearing, decide to walk in case I get stuck at work until very late and there’s no chance of heading to the barn.

8:30 am: Arrive at work. It wasn’t that cold, right? Not too bad! The last 2-3 minutes were not a lot of fun but the end was in sight then, so totally do-able.

9:00 am: Check the weather forecast for the barn. Maybe it will be warmer and less snowy another day this week? Yeah…not so much.

1:00 pm: Start to feel caught up and on top of things, even caught up enough to properly eat lunch and read a non-work book for a little while. Victory!

1:15 pm: Wow, it’s snowing a lot. Like, a lot.

1:45 pm: Ha! It’s almost stopped entirely. Pfffft.

2:15 pm: Re-evaluate goals of making it to the barn, pending resolution of current work crisis.

2:30 pm: Crisis resolves, but it’s snowing again…cars look like they’re moving just fine down State Street, so if they can do it, I can, right?

3:00 pm: Hmmm…snowing harder…

4:00 pm: We’re good! It’s stopped!

4:45 pm: Declare surrender and shut down computer mid-composition of another email, pack up as quickly as possible, walk home in the dark; it’s snowing again.

5:15 pm: Changed, fed, car is dug out of the snow, even feeling motivated and hale and hearty. Text boyfriend dinner options.

5:16 pm: Run back inside one last time to retrieve another pair of gloves/warm hat/snack.

6:00 pm: Arrive at the barn. Realize that wasn’t the safest drive ever and reflect on the way in which you can tell the exact inch where town lines end and state roads crews take over. Oh well, there now.

7:30 pm: Finish ride, sweating underneath layers, frozen at extremities, close up the barn just as the sweat starts to freeze.

7:35 pm: Drive back to barn and triple-check all stall doors, all lights, and front barn door.

8:00 pm: Arrive home, start dinner, change into pajamas and, if really lucky, relax for an hour or so with a cup of tea and a book before bed. If unlucky…open up the computer and back to work!



I could stomp and fuss and wail about the state of Tristan’s hind feet (definitely white line disease) or the fact that I got back from a few days away on Tuesday night to find his last remaining non-problematic leg swollen up to the knee, but I will save those stories in favor of some comforting pictures of my Wednesday morning work trip up over the mountains. I live in the very best state.

Oh, here, have a picture of the doofus pony wrapped up after two hours of cold hosing and walking and rubbing liniment: