Tag Archives: saddle fitting

I Am Not A Texas Horse.

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Well, all kind of interesting things have been happening here!  First, my saddle is a LOT better now!!  I got it right after I got a new rider a long time ago, and it was a good saddle, although it was weird.  There is more of it than there used to be when I was a jumping horse.  And the girth was tickly.  I used to try to bite it but I got used to it after a while.  The thing I did not ever get used to was the pinchy part under my withers.  I have very high withers.  I think this is a Sign of being the Wonder Horse, because everyone admires them!  They stand around and say Wow! Those are the highest withers I have ever seen! and I say Yes, that is because I am a special horse!!  They are so high that people talk about them all the time.  The only problem with my withers is that the saddles can get kind of pinchy sometimes.  My saddle was not pinchy on my withers, but it was pinchy near there.  I told my rider she should do something about that, but she only said I will, Huey, but we have to ride in this saddle and mash it down for a while first.

I guess we mashed it down enough, because not very long ago, my rider put me into the cross ties and cleaned me up, but she was not dressed for riding, so I thought it might just be for fun.  I knew it was not for another bath, because I had one of those already, when I told my rider that I could kick someone, and she made me not.  So there I was in the ties thinking that it would be a good idea to go outside and eat some grass, maybe, and what do you know, a person I never saw before was there, and he said Oh my word, would you look at those withers! And I said Yes! They are very high!! And then he put things on my back that made a tickle.  I turned my head to watch, but my rider said Huey, you must look straight ahead, because this is the person who is going to fix your saddle!! And I said My saddle is getting fixed?  I thought that would not ever happen!!

But it did.  There was that man, and there was my rider, and there was the saddle, and the did a bunch of things to it, and then I had to try it on.  But my rider did not ride me.  Laura did!  She hardly ever rides me, not in ages!!  And, between you and me, that is kind of a good thing because she is a MUCH better rider than my real rider is, and that means that what she says, I have to do, right away.  With my rider, she does not usually tell me what to do, she asks me to do something, and I like that because then I can say Are you sure? or I do not feel like doing that right now.   And sometimes she can make me do it, but mostly she cannot.

This is the best thing about having a rider that is not very good.  The other is that I am teaching this rider how to ride, and so she will ride me the way I want to be ridden.  And that is without much of that messing around with the bit and my mouth, and almost no kicking.  I do not like to be kicked.

But I know better than to say to Laura Are you sure, because I know that she is.  And when I said I do not feel like doing that right now, she made me do it anyway.  So that is not as much fun.  It is more work.

But, here is the very good thing.  That person fixed the saddle really good!!!!  It is much nicer now!!  For one, I was always very good about listening to the things my rider says with her seat, and now, it is much easier to hear that!  For two, my rider said Huey! I can hear your back!! I could not do that before!  And this is all good, because it means that I do not have to ask What are you saying to me, rider? because it is a lot more clear now, and I know.  That is good.  I like to know.  For another, it is just a lot more comfortable, which is good, because we are starting to do some work now.  Up until now it has just been a lot of poky things.  But now, we are trotting for ages and we are even doing some cantering.

My rider is still not very good at cantering.  She bounces a lot.  That is not fun for me.  But she bounces a little less, and today, we went for a while and she hardly bounced at all.  I was doing my best Teaching Canter for her, and she was doing a very good Learning Canter for me, and usually we can only go a little way because I think she is going to get unbalanced and if I think that, the right thing is to STOP.  She told me that, and I am a Good and Smart Horse, and I listened.  So usually we have to stop very soon.  This rider would not have been able even to go from one jump to another, not even over any jumps, she is that much of a baby.  But today, we went all the way around the ring.  That is a first for us!!  Well, it is not really a first because there was that other time, and that was not so good, but this was the first time we meant to go all the way around the ring, and she did not fall off!  And she did not get shaky to make me stop, and then she said WOOOOO!!!  And I said What are you saying up there Rider? and she said We are having FUN Huey!!! so I knew it was OK to keep going.  Then I got a huge pat, but I did not get any treats and I did not get any grass.  I did get a big pile of hay in my paddock, and my rider gave my face a very good rub, so I was happy.

After my saddle got fixed, my rider went away.  I did not like that much.  She said Huey, I have to go away for a while.  There is a good rider that will come help you get exercise, though.  But I said Why are you going away? And she said it was a Vacation.  I said What is that? But she did not tell me.  She just went off.  The good piece there is that I did have another rider for a little while, and that other ride is a lot better than my rider.  And I have a Hay Net now!  I do not know if I like that Hay Net.  It is good and bad.  The bad part is that I can only eat a few tiny pieces of hay at a time, and I have to work to pull them out of that net.  The good part is that now I have hay for a lot longer than I used to!  Also, I do not get a lot of shavings into the hay.  That is good.  So I had a Hay Net, and I have a new Sticky Ball.  I was very happy to see that because the Sticky Ball is tasty, and sweet, and it it is fun.  I got very excited, and got a bunch of the Sticky Ball on my ear, which was not so good.  I do not like it when the Sticky Ball gets on my face or in my ear or in my nose and then dries up.  It is prickly, and it means I have to have my face washed.  Today I had to have my face washed, and my ear washed.  I put my head way up into the air so my rider would know that I do not like getting my ear washed.  But she just said Huey, put your head down!  I have to get the Sticky Ball out of your ear so it will stop itching!  She was right, I did not like the itching part, so I put my head down.

It was not as bad as I thought it would be, getting my ear washed.

Then just the other day I did not see my rider all day because it was raining.  Sometimes she comes even if it is raining, and we do stuff together, like have the farrier come, or get a massage.  But that day, she came late in the afternoon.  I said Rider! Where have you been! and she said It was raining and I had to do a bunch of other things, but I am here now!  She was not dressed for riding, either.  And there were a bunch of other horses all going riding in the ring, and we do not go in there when it is a bunch of other horses. I said It is time for me to go into the barn, Rider!! but she just said Not yet, Huey.  She said she had a treat for me, and she made it come out of her pocket.  It was a big wet thing the size and color of an apple, but it did not smell like an apple.  She held it out.  I said What is that thing? And she said It is from a watermelon.  I said What is a watermelon? And she said It is a big sweet thing like a huge apple.  The texas horses eat them like they are apples!  The texas horses think they are very good!

So I took a bite, and it was not an apple.  It was not a carrot either.  It was only a little sweet, and it did not taste like anything I knew.  I dropped it from my mouth onto the ground.

I am not a texas horse, I said. I am a jumping horse.

It was very disappointing, that watermelon.  I thought I was getting a treat, but it was only kind of wet and crunchy.  At least then my rider took me into the barn, and I got to play with my Hay Net!

I am not sure what a texas horse is, but I think they are weird for that watermelon thing. They should try some real treats like an apple or a carrot. THAT is what I like!

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The Joy of Parenting, er, Horse Ownership…part 15

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Checks, checks, checks, checks, CHECKS checks, checks, checks…

The most recent check was for the Saddle Fitter.  Neither Huey nor I are what you’d call “easy” to find a saddle to fit, and the combination of the two of us was…challenging.  He moves through this world to the theme song from “Jaws” as his shark-fin withers slice through the atmosphere.

To quote the woman at the tack shop when I provided his wither tracing, “Gosh, those ARE high.  And narrow!”

To quote the Saddle Fitter, “Would you look at those withers!!”

These withers would be challenging enough all on their own, but he’s got a whacking huge warmblood barrel to go with them, which means that things start out high and sharp as the alps at the top, but they expand pretty darned quickly thereafter.  I can’t quote my trainer, who rode him briefly last Monday, because I don’t remember the exact words, but the sense was somewhere along the lines of “it’s like riding a table-top”.

Beyond this, I’m not easy either.  I’m built on the Amazon scale, broad in the beam and long in the leg.

The saddle was only purchased after the tack shop took a small deposit on a saddle purchase and in exchange, sent a skilled individual out with a carload of saddles, size 18″ and 18.5″, for us to try.  The saddle buying experience was extremely informative, especially the part where there was one and only one saddle that worked for both of us.  It was the second-most expensive saddle we tried, of course, and the sixth most expensive saddle sold by the company.  However, it’s an investment, and the fact that it works for both of us is what is most important.  It is also, happily, a gorgeous saddle.

Or, rather, it almost worked.  In order to really work for my boy, it needed a closed-cell foam riser pad underneath.  The riser was kind of a pain, but it worked…until last Monday when the Saddle Fitter showed up at the barn.  What followed his arrival was at least as much of an education as the initial saddle purchase.  He had a complicated tool with a lot of hinges and arms which – with remarkably little effort – yielded an 18-inch long model of my horse’s back, shark fins, big barrel, and all.  It had levels in it.  What followed this was a strange combination of high-tech (the levels and the hinged thing) and low-tech (tracings on a strip of spare cardboard).  This culminated in twenty minutes of relocation of existing flocking (the wool that pads out the saddle) from Point A to Point B, and the addition of a quantity of carded fleece into the saddle at Point C.  This all happened, essentially, on my way out the door to Provincetown, so I didn’t get a chance to experience the difference until this week.  I did recline in the Happy Knowledge that the days of the foam riser pad were over, and that it would be equally happily repurposed at-large among other horses in the barn.  Other than that, I didn’t anticipate much of a difference.

Which is why I was incredibly surprised to find that riding in the newly-custom-tailored saddle is an entirely different experience than riding in the jerry-rigged saddle of yore.  It’s like night and day.  I don’t know whether it’s the custom fit, or the absence of that riser pad, but I am now getting a massive amount of information about the horse’s back, where it is, what it’s doing, where his legs are, what they’re doing…all transmitted through the saddle directly into my butt.

And, I’m sure, at some point, I’ll know what to do with all of that information.  For now, it’s just a whole lot more…interactive…than it has been.

Worth every blasted penny of the surprisingly small check I wrote to the Saddle Fitter.  “Small” is relative, now, meaning “smaller than the price of the saddle” and even “smaller than the check I just wrote to the vet.”

So, parenting the horse = write lots of checks.  And write checks for weird stuff, too.

Speaking of the vet, parenting the horse = constant struggle for the Right Words.

This morning, I was on the phone to the vet’s office.  Last time he was out at the barn dishing out shots and blood tests, he also dished out some acupuncture for Huey, and some astonishingly expensive antibiotics.  Five days worth of Flagyl.  I can’t ever remember the generic name of this stuff, and besides, whatever it is, it’s a lot longer than “Flagyl”.  So Flagyl it is.  The reason for the antibiotics involves Huey’s digestive tract.

After long though, I have come to the conclusion that Terry Pratchett’s Discworld dragons are modeled after horses.  Not just in the people who work with them, which is also true, but in the extraordinarily complicated and breathtakingly fragile digestive systems.  I’m not going to summarize it here, because that would require an entire textbook-length post.  Trust me.  They’re super complex.  Horses can get inflamed feet from eating too much grass, there’s a start for you.  And it just gets worse from there.

My boy Huey is a right Chow Hound, and a Water Sponge, and basically, a Hog.  He is constantly on the make for food – which, yes, horses are in general, but Huey takes it to the next level.  This is a horse that blew out a pair of cross-ties early last fall.  Why?  Because he wanted to get at the grass nearby.  Yes.  He destroyed part of the barn in his crazed monomania to eat grass.  He’s like a freakin’ junky.  And he loves mud.  And he has…a somewhat minor…digestive upset.

This is the problem.  There is a fairly limited range of “accurate and acceptable” terms for this:  manure.  stools.

There’s an equally limited range of “accurate and not acceptable” terms: shit, crap (both hopelessly vulgar). faeces (excessively pompous).

Then there’s a truly vast range from the Victorian Euphemism to the Colorful Slang: horse apples. poop.  offal.  digestive byproducts.  waste. piles.

And that’s only when dealing with the, er, material and concrete phenomena (how’s that for a circumlocution?).  In addition, it is necessary also to discuss accompanying processes:  breaking wind, expelling gas, flatulence, or – one of the oldest continuing words in the English language – the simply “fart”.

Beyond this is the staggering terrain of adjectives: hard, pelletlike, dry, loose, crumbly, and – heaven help me – squirty, or liquid.

I know that I share the excellent company of every parent who has every found themselves in the position of having to deliver an accurate description of a baby’s bowel movement over the phone.  Really, a picture is worth a thousand words, but I’m afraid that it is the words we are largely stuck with.

So.  That said.  Huey has a chronic issue with “loose stools”.  Solid waste, for a horse, should consist of a little pile of firm, dry horse apples.  It should not be big clumpy crumbly wads that still look like the hay from which they are ultimately derived.  It should also not look like a cow flop.  Huey waffles between the crumbly clumpy wads, and the cow flop.

I know this because I make a point to inspect his poop whenever I can.  Another way in which being a horse owner is like being a parent.  Who knew it would come with an obsession over the size, color, consistency, odor, and frequency of bowel movements of another living being?

This is…an issue.  It is not a problem.  It is certainly not a crisis.  Under some circumstances, it could be, but we don’t have any of those going on.  He isn’t losing weight, he isn’t looking sick, he isn’t sluggish or otherwise failing to thrive.  He just has a nasty tail most of the time, his stall is harder to clean than it ought to be, and he’s got ugly stains on his hocks.

Also, he makes liquid farts.  Sorry, but there’s just no other useful way to convey that.  I won’t dwell on it, because – as you may recall from earlier posts – he always make sure to cut loose with a blow when I’m trying to clean his back feet.

Ugh.

And, again I say, Ugh.

So, it is an Issue.  Because horse digestion is so insanely complicated, it’s not terribly easy to zero in on the underlying problem here.  So we start with the easy stuff: lack of appropriate quantity of intestinal flora.  And the intestinal flora for the horse is part of the insanely complicated bit.  So he’s been on probiotics.  And on more probiotics, and recently, on even more probiotics.  None of this did squat, which means it’s not that he lacks Flora.

At this point, the vet went to Phase 2:  antibiotics.  I guess he was thinking it might be a low-grade chronic infection, or giardia.

And the answer is: yes.  Not “yes, it’s a low-grade chronic infection”, not “yes, it’s giardia”, but “yes. antibiotics had an effect.”

The effect was to turn his droppings (how is that for a euphemism) into proper little dry horse apples.  And to – thank the lord – take the juice out of his gaseous emissions and dry them up.

And all this lasted…until the 5 days of antibiotics ended.  Now they’re creeping back, which is why I was on the phone to the vet’s office this morning, sharing that experience of parents the world over: describing bowel movements to a total stranger.  Heaven help me, I found myself actually using the term “break wind” with reference to the aforementioned liquid-oriented gaseous emissions.  And now I’m waiting on a call-back from the vet to find out how to proceed.

You can’t be prissy when you have a horse.  I suppose you can, but it takes a heck of a lot of effort to maintain that state.

Speaking of prissy, Roy loves Huey…in theory and concept.  The reality of Huey, with the mud and the manure and the flies, is rather a different matter.  I think he’ll eventually come around, but for right now, it’s not…well…let’s just say that Roy is gifted with an unusually acute sense of smell, which creates some difficulties for him with respect to Things Equine.

Now, I love the way Huey smells.  I had heard of mothers getting some kind of bio-chemical “high” when they sniff their baby’s heads.  I understood this on a purely intellectual level…until I sniffed Huey’s neck one day when I was grooming him, and it made me swoon.  Good golly, the way he smells…I mean, when he’s not covered in dirt and muck, and certainly forward of his haunches and above the bottom of his ribs.  I read in the paper about one of the mounted police on the Boston Common whose horse died under him one day from a heart attack.  The cop said he just sat there and cried, which I understand completely, and then he cut off the horse’s mane to keep it, which I did not understand at all at the time, but now also understand completely.  It’s like truffles, as I said in an earlier post. Intellectually, I know that he “stinks” but my brain chemicals just go nuts when I get a whiff.  He stinks so good, I guess.

I had to stop using his nice plush fleece blankie midwinter because, even though it is undeniably warm and looked fantastic on him, it also had an undeniable tendency to build up static, and as we all know now, The Princess Does NOT Like To Get ZAPPED.  So the fleece blankie came home to live on my sofa, where after three trips through the washing machine and plenty of soap it still smells like Huey.  I consider this a good thing, because now I can lounge around watching Ghosthunters, or Downton Abbey, or Grey’s Anatomy, and get high just from wrapping up in the blanket and smelling it.  Awesome.

He has a huge wardrobe of blankies, though, so the loss of the fleece one didn’t make a big dent.  He spent a lot of quality time this winter in what I always think of as his parka.  It’s a huge, super heavy duty, mondo insulated, ultra-warm coat.  And he hasn’t needed it for a couple of months, and a few weeks ago, it graduated from the blanket rail outside his stall to a pile on top of my tack trunk.  I couldn’t leave it there because it was just too bloody big…but I couldn’t take it home either, because I knew it would be unacceptably pungent to Roy’s Delicate Nasal Sensibilities.  So I compromised by tossing it into the trunk of my car.

Unfortunately, last week I received a letter from the EPA advising me that my car had been submitted as a potential Superfund site.

This week, I got a letter from the UN warning me to cease and desist from my ongoing violation of the Geneva Protocols banning chemical and gas weapons.

Or, as I said to Roy the other day when I asked him to put something in the trunk, “Just don’t breathe after you open the trunk up.”

He thought I was kidding, poor guy.

And later, I realized I was Creating a Public Nuisance in the grocery store, as the pungent aroma du Huey had infused my reusable shopping bags that are also stored in the trunk of my car.

It became clear that I was not going to be able to wait and ship all of the blankets off at once for cleaning…at least, not if I wanted to avoid acting in an antisocial manner.  What I know from laundering the saddle pads at home is that Horse Clothing not only takes on a vile odor, but it is unbelievably grimy, and incorporates an impressive quantity of hair.  Raise this to the 100th power for horse blankets.  Even if I could have fit this thing into my washing machine – which I could not – it would not have come clean.  Or anything like clean.  And I’ve already been warned that the laundromat will close and lock the doors if they see you approaching with a horse blanket.  So the only viable option is to drop it off at the local tack shop and have it handled by a professional hazmat team cleaner.  The woman at the tack shop had me fill out a form.

“Now what?” I said.

“You drop the blanket off.” she said.

“Where?” I said.

“Here.” she said.

“Here?” I said. “You want me to bring the blanket in here?”

She considered for a moment. Then she produced a bag with a drawstring.  “You can put it in here” she said.

Roger that.  There was a little hole at the top even after I pulled the string as tightly as I could, and concentrated Horse Smell was still wafting upwards.  I had a vision of the curling smell lines rising up from the base of Pepe Le Pew’s tail.  No doubt they found a sheltered spot at the back of the building where our blanket can wait until it’s picked up by the hazmat team cleaner.  I don’t expect to get it back smelling breezy and fresh.  At this point, I’ll be happy if I can just store it without contaminating everything else within a six-foot radius.

Checks, creative descriptions of bowel movements, and antisocial effusions.  What next?

I Have More Saddles Than Any Other Horse In The Barn!!!

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Hoo, boy.  This is almost too much excitement for one horse to handle!  I thought last week was a lot, what with Max leaving.  And, since I know you want to know, I am loving my special pink salt lick.  I have licked it so much it is flat on one side.  Now it makes a hunking noise when I move it around with my tongue.  Glee does not like that and says I should stop showing off by hunking my salt lick around, and besides, it is not fair to make that noise on his wall.  I do not care.  Every horse should know how lucky I am!

It was raining a lot last week, and I had fun making squishy mud with my feet.  But then one of the riders came and made me stop.  She is not my new rider, but I like her very much.  Just between us, she is a better rider than my new one. I did not like it when she made me stop squishing mud.  But it got worse!!  She made me take a bath.  I was invisible to bugs and then she washed it off.  I heard Laura tell her that if she washed me any more my skin would fall off, and then I was scared.  I like my skin! It sticks my beautiful hair on!  I do not want to have no skin!!!

It is a good thing that rider stopped then, because my skin did not fall off.  But I did not get to go make more mud squishies either.  I had to wear my blanket even though it was not nighttime!  And I had to stay in the barn.  I would not like that except that now I have the nicest stall in the barn.  It has my pink salt in it, but it is also HUGE!  It is much bigger than my old room was!  And it has a big window that I can look out into the barn, but it does not have a big window to let the cold in.  The best thing is that my big barn window does not have bars on it, which means I can put my teeth on the window and suck some air.  I like sucking air.  It gives me a buzz.  My rider told me I must stop because if I do not, I will not be able to eat grass any more and I will have to have wet hay because I will have bad teeth, like Topaz.  I do not want to have bad teeth like Topaz, because I want to eat grass all day long.

So I do not mind going in the barn, especially now that Max is not there to laugh at me and make faces.  But, oh my gosh, that was not all!  I had a bath and I went in the barn in my blanket, and then the other rider came back again and put braids in my hair.  And then I knew what was up!  I was going to a show!!!  All the people would be able to see what a great horse I am, and say things like “Huey! You are so beautiful!” and put ribbons on me.  I like ribbons.  Only the best horses get to wear ribbons.  So that made me very happy!

But then, we did not go to a show and I was sad.  I think it is because it was raining.  I had to work in the rain, which I do not like, because my saddle pad gets nasty.  Also, I do not like running through puddles because there are scary monsters at the bottom of them, waiting to grab my foot and eat me.  I know this is true because my mother told me this when I was a little foal.  Max once said I was silly and that my mom was stupid to make up a story like that, but I did not like him saying mean things about my mom and I told him I would bite him really hard if he did not take that back!!  He knew I would, too, because he said he was sorry.

Then I got to go out in my paddock in the rain and stomp the mud, but I still had to wear my blanket, because it is my raincoat.  And I did not have to keep the braids in my hair, so I guess I am not going to a show after all.  I am very sad about that.

Today, my rider came and this time, she let me finish my breakfast before she made me work.  And she gave me a massage after.  It was a very good massage, and I told her so by making a love bite.  She did not like the love bite, so then I licked her instead.  It was a good massage because it went on forever.  And Bug had to watch!  He made a face at Laura because he was not happy that I got a massage and he did not.  Ha ha ha!

Then it was really weird!  Instead of going out to my nice big pile of hay in the paddock, the rider made me go back in my stall.  There was still a little hay there, so I ate it.  And then, this was super weird, she came and put the halter on again.  And made me go in the ties.  And another person looked at me and she had a lot of saddles!  I have never seen that many saddles!  Usually I only see one!  But this was more than one!  And then, guess what?  I got to try them all on!  ALL of them!  They were ALL for me!

I wish old Max had been there to see this.  He definitely only has one saddle.  He would have been so jealous! I would have laughed at him so hard!  I miss Max.

Then it got even weirder.  I tried on all the saddles, then I tried one on again, and then Laura made me eat the bit!  And then – even though I had already worked for hours in the ring, the rider made me go back out and work some more.  I tried to tell her that this was a mistake, because she does not ride me more than one time in a day, but she said “No, Huey, I have to try the saddle on too. ”  But I do not understand that because I am the one who wears the saddle, not the rider.  But she made me go, and she got on, and I went around the ring and then we stopped.  And then, guess what?  We did it all over again.  I had to go work four more times!  It was more work than one horse should have to do!  I said that to the rider, too, but she said I should stop being silly, because we were only going two times around the ring and only trotting once.  It was not like real work, she said.  Well.  It is easy for her to say that, because I am the one doing all the moving.

I guess it was a good thing we did that, though.  Because one of my new saddles was great.  It did not pinch me anywhere, and it made it easy for me to carry the rider, and I think – I wouldn’t say this to her because it might hurt her feelings, but between us – I think it made her a better rider.  It was easier for me anyway.  That is my new favorite saddle.  I do not want to use my old saddle, because it is not as nice.  I do not want to use any of my other new saddles, either.  Only this one.

Well, everyone said “You are such a great horse, Huey!” and “How beautiful you are!” and because of that nasty bath, they said my hair was soft and kept touching it, and I liked that.  Maybe I should have a bath more often.  Then, finally, I got to go to my paddock and there was a huge pile of hay just for me!  I can hardly wait to see what will happen tomorrow!

She Said, I Bet You Don’t Remember Me…I Said, Only Every Other Memory…

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It’s amazing how many New Friends you make when you walk into an equine supply shop and announce that you’re buying your first horse and you need some advice.  I’m sure that it’s a factor in the New Friend Factory that you might as well have said “I’m coming in to drop BIG BUCKS here!” but I’m equally sure that this is not the major motivator behind the Tsunami of Goodwill and Interest that breaks over your shores.  My experience is that Horse People love horses.  Riding them, grooming them, maintaining them, standing around and watching them eat, and playing with their lips (this is actually a whole lot more fun than it sounds – horse lips are damn near prehensile, and they’re rubbery, and they’re covered with fuzz and whiskers, and are generally totally irresistible…the good news is that most horse want to use their lips to play with you, so there’s total goal convergence).  The next-best thing to being around horses is talking about horses.  And right after that is buying stuff for horses.  I had previously considered Alpine Skiers to be Ultimate Gear Hounds, but Horse People have that distinction in the bag.

In addition to this, being a Horse Person is like a disease.  Actually, it’s more like a birth defect.  All of the horse people I have met were born that way, not made.  It’s not genetic – all the time you wind up with Horse People being born into Non Horse families – but it’s definitely some kind of disease, an addiction that no Horse Person actually wants to kick.  And since misery, etc. loves company, Horse People like to watch other Horse People getting hoovered a little further into the hole.  It’s not exactly schadenfreude, because the person getting sucked in is usually doing so with pleasure, if not with outright glee.

So today, I drove out to one of the big regional tack shops, in a town called Framingham.  It’s on the outskirts of Boston.  Generally, we don’t have a lot of suburban sprawl here – property values are way too high and there is a vast amount of conservation land – but I would pitch Framingham against any soulless suburban hell spawned in the pits of Houston or Dallas.  Every minute I spent there sucked 1 year of life out of my soul.  I could feel it happening.  Fortunately, my new BFFs at the tack shop restored much of that spirit.

I instantly got everyone’s attention with my announcement above, and they wanted to know all about my horse, what breed, what color, how big, how old, do I have any pictures?  It was deeply gratifying.  As was their response when I told them I needed help picking out a saddle that would fit both of us, and displayed his wither tracing.

“Oh my gosh, those are high withers!”

“And wide shoulders!”

“Where did you take this measurement?”

I am happy to say that I’d taken pictures of the flexible curve on the horse, so I actually had an answer for that in the form of the photograph on my smartphone.  Awestruck silence fell when I showed it.

“Oh, my gosh, and they get even higher.

“Look at his shoulders! He’s huge!

“And so cute!  I love his chrome!  Look at that blaze!”

And then they were off like little chirping birds. I had measured his withers in exactly the right place, they said, and someone produced a neat little tool for deciding the shape of a saddle tree (the firm thing inside the saddle that gives it its shape).  According to the tool he needs an Extra Large tree.

“You’re right – this is going to be a tricky fit!” someone said.  Then they started educating me and didn’t stop for the next hour.  I tried saddle after saddle on the stand, and we narrowed the selection down to four or five that fit me pretty well, so it’s just a matter of getting them out to the barn to try on Huey.  Someone at the store actually does that – travels around with saddles for this purpose – which is why my trainer suggested I start with them.  All of the saddles that fit me were dressage saddles.  It’s just as well that I wanted to go that direction anyway.

I had about three hours in the car to spend listening to music and cogitating.  And, of course, because it is September 10 today, there was a great deal of discussion of the the events of ten years ago tomorrow.  And that sent me directly into the Land of Philosophy.  And what I was considering, in that three hour drive, was the question “whence and whither the arts?”  Historians, we know, have an imperative to examine and analyze history.  But they don’t typically write it – that is left for the journalists and the clerks to do.  But the recording of history by these individuals is going to be focused and the scope narrow, defined by the particular job for which the recording is performed.  The historians, then, specialize in identifying these narrow pieces of information, and assembling many of these pieces in the hopes of obtaining a larger view.

But there is another group that may bear the social imperative not just for recording history, but for analyzing it and helping others to make sense of events: I speak here of the artists.  I ask, is there a social obligation laid on the heads of our artists to preserve and interpret historical events? The answer that I have arrived at over the years is this: yes.  Possibly, there is an even greater obligation on the artists than there is on the historians.  Why?  Because historians deal in facts…and while facts are absolutely necessary and of great import, a strictly fact-based accounting of an event leaves out the critical dimension of Feeling.  I believe that there is value in understanding not just “what happened?” but “what was that like, to be there?”  It is my experience of human nature that people rarely change as the result of being presented with an assortment of facts…but if you can induce an understanding of the facts with feeling then, and only then, do people attain a level of understanding that promotes change.

The events of 9/11/01 changed us all.  And many artists stepped up to the plate to shoulder their responsibility.  In many instances, with collections of exploitative and tacky dreck.   (There’s more, too.)  But many stepped up to the plate with honesty and courage, and these acts were seen in unexpected places.  The Onion came through with surprisingly emotional content. Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake stands out as one of my favorites:  it captured perfectly the anxiety, the need to do something, the dazed grief, and the instinctive turning toward one another in the shock.  This article also expresses the superficiality of many responses, but the overarching feeling is never permitted to descend into vacuousness: “[after] Mixing the cake and placing it in the oven shortly after 3 p.m., Pearson sat at the kitchen table and stared at the oven door until the timer rang 50 minutes later.”  The shock was just that huge, the national grief just that obliterating.

The artist who – in my opinion – left us with the best depiction of how this event was for those of us who did not have personal ties to New York City is Alan Jackson:

Capturing the incredibly broad range of responses that individuals had to the event had to be a truly daunting task for an artist but I would be willing to bet that anyone who was an adult ten years ago will find themselves somewhere in this song…and possibly in many places in this song.  I remember when I first heard this, in the late fall of 2001, I stopped the car so I could listen better, and I had one and only one thought: that he had accomplished the impossible.  That this song, when people listened to it ten, twenty, thirty years later, would still have the power to convey what it was like for us at that time.

And yes, I do remember, perhaps not every other memory, but many times per year.  It was Tuesday.  A front had blown through my part of Texas and left the sky sparkling and the air dry, and what passes for “crisp” in the Gulf Coast.  I was teaching full time for the first time, and had just delivered my first lecture the day before and was getting ready to do it again the day after.  I was teaching at Texas A&M, a school with a significant military population.  Sophomores.  Intro to Accounting I.  I had a doctor’s appointment in the early afternoon for an allergy shot.  The phone rang early.  It was my ex-husband, telling me to put on the TV.  I turned it on just in time to see the second plane hit.  I fell to my knees and didn’t move for an hour.  I cried for days.  I had an obligation to help my students, 19 years old and already feeling a little lost, make sense of things.  I don’t remember what I said to them instead of talking about balance sheets and income statements, but I think it had to do with understanding that the world had changed, and things were going to be harder now, and they would have to grow up faster because of it.

I did not bake a flag-shaped cake.  But when they shut the school down on Thursday morning and sent all 40,000 students home to their parents for the weekend, I did throw a leg of lamb into the truck bed and took off, myself, for home, and cooked, and cried, and cooked some more.

Because it's really hard to get too wrapped up in grief when there are things like this going on around you

Here’s an insanely good late-summer soup.  Everything you need for this is waiting for you at the produce stand, right now!

Tomato and Peach Bisque

1 onion, chopped
2 T butter
2 lb tomatoes, peeled, cored (but not seeded) and coarsely chopped
2 medium peaches, peeled and chopped
½ C cream
½ t salt
tarragon

Heat butter in large pot over medium heat.  Add onion and cook 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes, peaches, salt, and a T of tarragon and simmer about 20 minute or until the tomatoes break up. Puree in a blender and add cream.  Serve hot or cold. Top with more chopped tarragon.

A Strange Combination of Excitement and Terror…

Standard

I’ve put things into motion.  I am buying my first horse.  I am calling the vet this afternoon to schedule an exam, and if he doesn’t come back with horrible news, I will be moving forward, and Huey The Wonder Horse will become Mine.

Right now, I’m on rapid-cycle between “THIS IS AWESOME! WOOT!” and “HOLY SHIT, WHAT AM I DOING?”

I don’t remember a time when I was not fascinated by horses and ponies, from climbing out of my crib to ride my rocker, to turning all the horses in my coloring book to appaloosas, to spending every Saturday down at the barn with my friends who were lucky enough to get riding lessons, to buying trail rides at charity auctions – to the present, where every time I see the tell-tale board-and-electric fence by the side of the road I want to pull over and stop so that I can look at them.  Things in my life didn’t line up neatly enough for me to do anything about this until this year, when it all came together with a nice loud CLUNK and I found myself enrolled, at long last, in regular riding lessons last spring.

When I started taking the lessons, it was with the idea that this would be the best possible way to learn what I need to know in order to <shhh> have my own horse.

It’s been a great summer.  I’ve learned how to tack and groom, and walk, and trot, and post.  I’ve learned how to catch a horse that doesn’t want to be caught.  I’ve learned a little bit about what the farrier does and how he does it.  I’ve learned a little bit about parasites and injuries and diseases.  I’ve learned about eating and conditioning, and seeing the world through the eyes of a thousand pound creature with hair-trigger reflexes and a small brain.  I’ve learned how to handle them, a little about how they are trained, and about how to make sure that I get to and stay at the top of my little Herd of Two.  I’ve learned what I like from a horse’s movement (big and floaty) and what I like from a horse’s temperament (smart, but not too smart).  I’ve learned a little about bridles, and curb chains, and cavasons, and saddles.

In short, I know a tiny amount about a large number of things.   I have scratched the surface on this, and I am betting that what I do know is absolutely miniscule compared to what I don’t know, and still pretty damned small compared to what I need to know.  And that knowledge is enough to scare the living daylights out of me.

I bought a pair of breeches from Dover Saddlery this summer, and now I get their catalogs.  There are something like seven pages worth of just worming and pesticide treatments, and I have no earthly idea what the difference between these things is, or how to know which one to get.  There are ten pages of sheets and blankets and raincoats, and not only do I not know which to get, I don’t even know why they’re used, or when, or how. And the the supplements!  Holy cow, it’s worse than the Vitamin Department at the Whole Foods!  And he does actually need some of those, because he’s old, and his digestion is getting less efficient and his joints need a little extra lube.

This horse has tricky saddle issues – he’s got a huge warmblood barrel and high narrow I-am-eighteen-years-old withers – I know he’s going to need a special saddle, because there’s only one saddle in the barn he can wear without it hurting him, and that saddle hurts me because it’s too small for my Junoesque figure and the flaps are too short for my Amazon legs.  Take that, plus the information that I need to buy a girth, leathers, and stirrups, and that I probably want an all-purpose English saddle, and that is the sum-total of my knowledge about saddle buying.  I don’t even know enough to ask sensible questions.  Just buying the saddle, alone, strikes me with terror.  And that’s before we get into the question of bridles and bits and reins.  Fortunately, he has a bit he really likes, so I just go find another one of those (whatever it is), and then I only have to worry about all the leather pieces that hold it all together.

Just the vast quantity of stuff that I know I don’t know is frightening…and I am well aware that for every thing I know I don’t know, there are probably ten things that I don’t even know that I don’t know.

Fortunately, I am a Trained Professional at handling uncertainty like this, in fact, it’s my job to help other people learn how to do exactly that. So the thing that keeps me from stark paralysis at this moment is the knowledge that the best strategy to adopt when you’re up to the eyeballs in uncertainty is to identify someone who knows more than you do, and to ask a zillion questions.  This approach has been working well for me so far, and I am crossing my fingers like crazy that it keeps on working well.

All that said, I still feel a little like I’m out on the edge of the high-dive.  I came up there to dive, and I’ve now probably spent a little too long inspecting the water, and so it’s time to hold my nose, squidge my feet together, and jump off the sucker.

I keep thinking that this must be what it is like to start a family.  A wise woman once observed that people get hung up on that decision, that they want to wait until it is the “right” time, and she also said that if you wait until the time is “right”, you won’t ever get started.  Some part of me wants to wait for the Perfect Horse.  Yet, at least that much of me is sure that there is no Perfect Horse.  They say that “close” only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades…I am thinking it may also count for horses, themselves.

So, here I go. I’m pinching my nose, and squidging my feet, and I’m calling the vet, and I’m going to, any second now, fling myself off into space, and hope that Huey catches me on my way down.

In the Muir Woods

When I freak out about all the stuff I don't know and all the ways I could screw up and all the things that could go wrong, I'm just going to have to stare at this picture of huge and ancient redwoods from the Muir Woods. This one had burn marks at the bottom - it survived a fire, and look at it now. Hopefully the remembered peace of that place will come back to rest with me.