Hello Paranoia, my old friend.

Winter has actually arrived this year. Frankly, its a little colder than I would like and we have more than enough snow. However,  it is lovely and snowy and of course, it means that chores take longer than they should. I brought the ponies in tonight and really enjoyed doing chores and tucking everyone in for the night. I trudged down to the fill the stove for the night and started to head in to the house. I made it to the house and turned around and trudged back to the barn and turned the tack room heater off. Its the same heater that we had in the old barn (and was in no way related to the fire). I had been running the heater when I was out there and then shutting it off. Since it is so cold now, we have just had it on “pilot” which keeps the tack room up to 40 degrees. Hopefully the really efficient new insulation is up to snuff. I wonder at what point the random worries go away. I do know that today is not that day.


Fuzzy bits of heartbreak…

At the end of February, we lost my mother’s Morgan to colic. Webster was 23 and frankly we expected him to be around for quite a bit longer. Webster’s obituary would be a rather pricey piece to publish in a print newspaper. My mother had owned him for 19 (nearly 20) years. Purchased as a five year old, Webster’s purchase was largely based on the fact that he was pretty and my mother likes to “brush and comb”. Webster was a pureblood Morgan but looked like a 14.1 hand Fresian with the exception of a white star on his forehead. His registered name was “Moonrise Wild Thing” and had it been “Moonrise Persnickety Thing”, we might have used the name. Most of the time, we had to give some serious thought to remember what his show name was. He was named “Webster” since that was the lake my grandfather grew up on and he had Morgans as a kid.

We, as did everyone involved with him, learned a great deal from Webster. He had a number of personality quirks and while you didn’t necessarily know which quirk the little black horse was going to display that day, you did know what the list consisted of. Webster was a tremendous showman and loved an audience. He had very strong opinions on people. There was a very short list of people he actually liked (pretty much only my mother), a short list of people he respected but generally disliked (myself, my husband), and a few riding students that depending on where they were in their education that he liked. He had a strong dislike of children – not based on anything about children – he just didn’t like anyone shorter than the height of his nose when standing in the cross ties. Having been broke by a very abusive and sizeable training (before us), Webster maintained a dislike of most adult sized men as well. He was an unprejudiced bigot in that way.

Webster taught a legion of children how to ride. He liked students that were either completely new and pliant or very good riders. Those that fell in the middle irritated Webster’s innate Morgan sense of justice. They were good enough to ask him to work but not able to either enforce their will or keep their hands quiet enough to suit him. At times in his career, Webster chose to retire or go on hiatus and then would warm back up to the idea of being a lesson horse and return to the office.

On Webster’s list of things that he loved – my mother, treats (pretty sure there was a strong correlation there), jumping, driving, and showing. Webster was a jumping machine – it was done with speed, style, and pizazz. He would rip around a course, snorting and head tossing and jerk his knees up to his eyeballs over each fence. Webster was photogenic in the extreme and he knew it. I have never met a horse that enjoyed showing as much as he did. It didn’t matter if jumps were involved or not. Webster might be a sucked back grumpy toad in warm up and would trot into the ring, putting himself into an elegant swan necked frame and display a lovely forward trot with just the right amount of knee action. The photo was often ruined by the look of shock on the face of the student that had been pony kicking to get Webster into a slow jog to slog around the arena at home or the warm up area.

We drove Webster on occasion. He made it a lot of fun. You didn’t need to know much and true to his self-saving nature, Webster never made a false move with the cart. He would never have put himself in a situation that could have caused harm to himself. When driving, that is a lovely attribute. Add in Webster’s enthusiastic road trot and as long as you didn’t want him to stand still – it was going to be a good time.

His colic came out of nowhere – he was fine at turnout and a couple hours later he was soaked in sweat and very painful. Despite everything the vet tried, it was clear that it wasn’t salvageable and the decision was made to end his suffering. Webster is buried at the top of this hill with a number of horses that we have had the privilege of owning and rests in good company. I posted about Webster’s passing on facebook at the time and we were so touched by all the people who commented and shared memories about the little schoolmaster. The number of people whose lives had been touched by “my mother’s Morgan” was tremendous and their tributes really helped with a very painful time.

My mother was planning on Webster living and being able to mosey down the trails for another seven years or so and then they would hang up their spurs together (total metaphor – my mother won’t use more than a harsh word with her horse so spurs were never a threat to Webster). So that fact meant that my mother and I would be heading to Connecticut a few weeks later to purchase a five year old (dark bay, not black) Morgan.

Online dating

I love horse shopping (to a degree). If non-horse people listened to horse people shopping for their next equestrian partner (and we left out species identifying nouns), the non-horse people would be horrified. A lot of it would be very similar to my assumptions about online dating (my dating life ended when VAX system chats were a “thing”).

We may look at a wide variety of genders (we widely accept three in the equine community) or only be willing to look at one. Age, height, weight and price can all be major criteria/factors. We look for personality hints and there are a number of industry statements that are generally accepted for a double meaning. For example, “fun personality” often really means “this one is so attention needy and demanding that you might as well buy a pile of sugar crazed kindergartners for all the peace you will ever get”, or “needs an advanced rider” often means “this sucker bucks so high you will get fined by the FAA” or “home bred” often means this common little creature is so spoiled and un-handled that the circus wouldn’t take him” or “cribs lightly” might mean “we never put the little beaver in a stall so we can pretend this is a mild vice”. We could go on for pages with these.

Advertisers are often optimistic with how they present their horse. They are only ever for sale due a lack of time, funds, kids lost interest etc. What would be a real source of entertainment would be if couples could only split up after they “rehomed” the other half – can you imagine how those ads would read?? This probably is not something that should be discussed with the other half.

Horse people could only be outdone by high school boys basketball teams in exaggerating height. I went to look at one horse who was advertised at 16 hands. This horse might have been 15.1 with pads on his shoes. I questioned the owner on the height and he became rather defensive about it. I kindly responded with “no problem, he just isn’t as tall as my 16 hand horse”. This seemed to mollify the seller and gave me an opportunity to practice my poker face.

We lurk on a number of websites and may even create profiles on a few. Certain types of riders seem to gravitate towards various sites. Now you can plug in exactly what you are looking for and have the website notify you of possible “matches”. We stare at photos, linger over videos and day dream about the future. So far, so good – and then we start to sound like crazy fundamentalists who are severely socially stunted.

First off – we are not looking for a casual date. Most of us are looking for a life long partner/commitment and not a quick meetup for coffee. Money will change hands and contracts may be signed with a wide variety of stipulations in some cases. There may be an initial visit or two or more rarely a trial period. There may or may not be a medical exam prior to the purchase or not. If this was human dating, horse people would come off as stage four clingers. We will take the animal home and immediately profess our undying love and the probability of baby talk and inane statements are exceedingly high. PDA is likely to follow upon laying eyes on the animal regardless of whether a deal is made or not. SNL couldn’t make this stuff up for a live skit.

But I digress and need to return to the barn to ooh and ahh with the new love in my life who I happen to share with my mother (again – if this wasn’t horses it would be pretty freaky).

Ah Rolex – feelings of inspiration and inadequacy!

We had our annual Rolex party today. It has become a tradition on the years that we cannot attend Rolex in person (which is more often than we go) that the barn family sits around my house and we live-stream the cross country (thank you USEF Network and Land Rover this year – sorry, there is zero chance I will be able to buy a Land Rover but I really appreciate your sponsorship of the event). Its like a Super Bowl party except its brunch and we are sober. This year was a small turnout, but a very enjoyable morning regardless. We watched the first rider through Mickey Jung (whose name has had every pronunciation of Michael that I have ever heard of).

I love Rolex. I love it on television via the livestream and I really love it in person. Standing next to some of the jumps, I have told friends and clients that “you could not throw me over this stuff, let alone get me to ride to it”. Secretly, I would love to have the chance. Frankly, however, at this point in my life I would be thrilled to get around Novice again. Sitting next to my friend, a contemporary of roughly my own age, I said that I love riders like Bunny Sexton and Mary King (who won Rolex at 61 a few years ago) because they give me hope – another two decades and maybe I can get my act together and go prelim or something. She commented that her 15 year old laments that her career is over because she hasn’t done “real” eventing yet. I asked the mother to please forgive me if I kicked her daughter in the shins if she said that to me. I will try and restrain myself, but no promises at this point.

Rolex inspires me each year for the coming season. Considering where I am starting this year out (Ries as a pensioner and Whitman on stall rest, and I haven’t even introduced Gust yet), I am pretty sure getting around Starter might be hopeful and Beginner Novice would be a real achievement. Honestly, two decades ago, I really thought I would be much further along at this point in my life in both eventing and dressage. So at the same time, Rolex is a bit depressing. I have no illusions of riding at the advanced level, but would really like to get back to it as a regular competitor. It has been frustrating to watch eventing become a victim of climate change and the wealth gap up here in the North East. I won’t ever be one of those people who gets to head south for the winter (unless I win the lottery and then I will totally be one of those people). Even if I had the money, and the horses (sound horses), the actual talent has to be there as well (I may be the president of the “can’t see a proper distance” club).

So in the meantime, I will go start trying to redo this years show calendar that originally was looking like a summer of 4th level and PSG dressage (I was so damn close to a tail coat) and instead shoot for a driving schooling show and maybe a mini-event. Not quite Rolex but it will have to do.

Easy change gullet system – my giddy aunt!

I went to the tack shop today and finally replaced my jumping saddle. I had owned a Bates Elevation for the better part of two decades. It wore and felt like iron. I really wanted an adjustable tree saddle and something that my mother and I could share. I decided to go with the current incarnation of the Bates Elevation. I did ask the salesperson (who was very nice) about the “easy” change gullet system. When we had the Wintecs/Bates before, we always joked that it wasn’t “seven easy steps” but fourteen since every other step is “take a break to pant and curse like a sailor”. I commented on this to the saleswomen and she assured me that this was the “next generation” of Easy Change Gullets and it was much easier. Evidently, I am gullible (gullet-ible).

I happily charged home with my new acquisition. One dressage saddle was in my horse trailer in the fire and I bought a treeless Ansur for Ries, but have not sat in a jumping saddle since September ’16. Now that my mom has a new horse (more on that later), I finally had something to jump and was feeling pretty motivated. So, we got out our handy-dandy gullet kit and measured Gust (said new horse). He needs a wide gullet. The saddle was set at medium so we tried that for the first ride. Later, I carried my new possession into the house and announced my intent to my husband to change the gullet.

My husband – having clear memories of helping with this over the last two decades – was skeptical to say the least. Testing our marriage is his interpretation of this little venture. I assured him that this was the “new generation” and that I would be able to do this without help (again, gullible). I started off on the deck. Actually, I started in the living room but between the sand already on the stirrups and a Labrador that was obviously attracted to the smell of new leather, I decided that the deck was a better place.

I couldn’t remember if the Philips Head screwdriver was the flat-headed or “star shaped/plus sign” one and made the mistake of asking my dear husband. This led to some long looks and the assumption that he would have to be involved. I again assured him that I would be able to do this. I got the saddle dismantled with out any real excitement. It was the re-assembly that would prove problematic. Evidently going from medium to wide is not so easy.

I got a sheet and started the wrestling match in the living room. I have distinct memories of doing this a few (cough) decades ago. I got one side of the wide gullet in place but could not get the second point lined up. I tried the classic wrestling move that had always worked before but to no avail. I tried enlisting the help of my elfin nine year old but he fell about ten to twenty pounds short of a helpful weight. I sent him to go ask his father to come help me. Our son went charging off to find his father bellowing “Mom needs help” in a slightly panicked tone. I was calling out “stand down”. We do have occasions around here that do require panic and I wasn’t interested in providing Mr. Beer Budget Dressage with an “at home” stress test.

Mr. BBD came in to help with a healthy dose of “I told you so”. Considering this is a fellow that spends his life dealing with tools and all sorts of uncooperative whatever, I was pretty surprised how much effort it took on his part. We finally got the gullet plate switched and in place, but even if it doesn’t fit – Gust is just going to have to suck it up.

Easy Change Gullet – my derriere.

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Errors

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….regardless, it has been one hell of a time. In our barn rebuilding efforts, we keep hitting roadblocks.

We went with the same builder we used for the arena. We submitted our plans and got a quote. We redid our plans and got a new quote. We lost our place in line with the construction crews in the meantime. I was thinking we could be in the new barn by Thanksgiving in mid-October. I was wrong.

The new barn got started in late November. It was going to start the week of Thanksgiving. I was super excited about that since I have the end of the week off and would be around for the start. Winter was holding off so this seemed hopeful. Turned out they were dropping materials off, not actually starting to build. That would be the week after Thankgiving. The site work was done and we were ready. The snow held off, but the rain came (and boy did it – we went from drought to flood in a couple days).

The shell of the barn went up pretty quickly.  The person doing the concrete (and had also done the original barn) had been ready to come as soon as the exterior was done. However, so did winter. I had been telling myself that maybe we could move into the new barn over Christmas (uhh….no). Concrete doesn’t like being cold either evidently.

I thought I had ordered the stalls in the beginning of November. The builder had not ordered the stalls then. No problem – they thought it would be a week to ten days to get the stalls in. The reality was that the stalls would actually take 4-6 weeks and would now be arriving mid-January. My husband was willing to take a truck and trailer all the way to Texas to pick up stalls but since they had not been made yet (and evidently no one stocks stalls on this side of the ROCKIES), so we would have to wait.  Turns out that wasn’t going to be the final sticking point anyway. We ended up finding someone who could get us the stalls in four weeks and for a better price since they were a dealer. Both the builder and the dealer were going to sell us the stalls at their respective costs – so both deserve some props. No one was making money on this deal in our area.

I was checking my weather app like a middle schooler with social media and a smart phone. I got excited because the required number of warm days was being forecasted over the break. However, the concrete plant closes for ten days over the holidays.

On the bright side, thanks to another friend, we able to score access to an industrial heater that could heat the new barn enough to be able to pour concrete regardless of the cold. We just had to be able to afford the propane to fuel it. At this point, I was willing to waitress nights (I used to joke that I would dance nights but as the decades pass, I think its more realistic to plan on waiting tables at nights. I think at this point, people would pay to have me put more layers on). Explaining to the propane company what we were up to was Mr. BBD’s problem (bless his sainted heart).

So the concrete went in. The person pouring the concrete is an old friend, and I was not above calling in tears (or calling his wife or daughter in tears) if I thought it would be necessary. I am guessing that is a man who may be wishing that nearly 20 years ago he had held firm to his daughter getting ballet lessons and not riding lessons but that ship has sailed and he has two horses living in his backyard currently.

The stalls arrived last week. This was an adventure on a number of levels. First off, the dealer is Amish (Raber’s Emporium as we now call it). And he just so happens to be the brother of our farrier (also Amish and the proprietor of Raber’s Emporium North). So we  hooked up the trailer, load up the farm employee (who showed up when he was in middle school because he likes horses and is now a full time farm employee as an adult), the Amish farrier and off we went to the back of beyond to pick up the stalls (which came in early). I was texting with someone that I thought we would be back in two hours. The farrier asked why I thought we would be home by then (I assumed that was a bad sign). We found the place and of course the weather conditions could be described as thick-rain-falling-onto-ice. So four hours and a lot of lifting later, we were home with stalls. I do have to say it was a pretty fascinating trip and we scored some fabulous fig cookies as well. (If anyone local is reading this, either Raber shop –  Dewittville or Conewango is pretty great. The one in Conewango is practically a mall for horse shoes).

The following weekend I got up early and my mother and I made a run for stain to do the stall boards. Mr. BBD had used a forklift to get all the packages of stall boards over to his uncle’s heated shop and I had a volunteer workforce lined up for a weekend of staining. We dragged out all sorts of saw horses and set up to get to work. We cut open the first set and realized they had already been treated with polyurethane. Hours of work saved but I really wish we had read the label prior to moving all of the plastic wrapped boards and the forklift. The boards are a little lighter in color than I would have picked but they look very nice and my other half wanted them lighter anyway.

The stall boards were moved home and the rubber mats were installed. The posts had been installed in the wrong spots but that was surmountable. Mr. BBD and his sidekick (the employee) got the stalls walls ready to install. Only to discover that the wrong brackets had been included with the stalls and no stall walls would be installed on that day (they look lovely leaned up in place). A phone call to Texas got the new brackets shipped with an expected arrival of “next week”. I got home from work to make an immediate follow up call to explain that a week was too long and that the shipping needed to be expedited to overnight. The person I talked to promised to call me right back. In their lovely efficiency and feeling bad about the mistake, they had already shipped them out and could not change them to an overnight shipment.

The next day, my husband called them back to double check that Preifert was not just sending the same wrong parts that they had just sent (and charged!!) him for. They were. They changed the bracket system from the previous models and no longer sell hardware to attach it to a non Preifert wall(or at least that is what the sales rep was telling us). Mr. BBD performed his usual magic and made a bracket system that would fix the Preifert stall divider to the kick walls.

Now as an aside to that – we were out to dinner (at a tavern-just setting the scene) as a friend’s daughter was explaining that her (handy) father “overly defines himself by his masculinity” and was polling my husband and father as to whether or not they agreed with this assessment (the implication being that they both fell into the same category – evidently it is better to be an unskilled male who looks down on others rather than one that can jump in and help). I interrupted with announcing my belief that my eyes had now rolled so hard that I thought my parents were right from my teenage years and my face was now stuck like that.

– Beer Budget Dressage, y’all.