Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year 2009!

Armani has come a long way this year. He had his 6th year growth spurt. He's grown taller and broader. He is stronger, springier, and still some times frisky. He is also showing more talent this year, which my instructor has noticed. Her goal for us is to "think 2nd level". We'll take it as it comes. I've never been one to make resolutions or set goals for the new year.

I'm looking forward to enjoying 2009. We'll take in a few shows, do some trails, maybe jump a little more. Armani would like to go on some new culinary adventures. His newest food is grapes. Me, I like my grapes fermented if you know what I'm saying. Grab a glass and celebrate!

Welcome 2009!

Armani and I take Manhattan!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

But do rhinoceros do dressage?

Armani was particularly argumentative this weekend, drawing from me an unfavorable comparison to a rhinoceros.

Odd-toed ungulates

Horses are members of the order Perissodactyla, Odd-toed ungulates, along with tapirs and rhinoceros. Yes, that sweet creature in the barn calls "cousin" the combative rhinoceros and the pig-like tapir. Actually, knowing Armani, it isn't that much of a stretch.

A rather regal Brazilian Tapir

Some common features of the order are:

- They have a "mesaxonic" foot structure. That is that they all bear weight on their middle toe. In horses the other toes have atrophied away completely.

- They graze and browse plant material.

- They digest via hindgut (intestines) fermentation.

- They have a single offspring (or rarely twins) after gestating 11 - 16 months.

And I've noticed through observing my own perissodactyl that they have a prehensile upper lip, which is used for unlocking gates, halter tag, unrolling polo wraps and nabbing treats. (See my previous post for evidence.) But if I catch Armani stomping out a fire, I'll be sure to let you know.

Dressage for rhinos? A sculpture of a rhino wearing a saddle from the Han Dynasty. It isn't noted if this could have been drawn from life or a more fanciful imagination.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Or Happy Hanukkah or whatever the case may be. We'll be visiting my inlaws. So Armani got his present early.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Do blankets come in Kevlar?

Remember the Rambo blanket I bought Armani to replace the other ones he has ripped? Well...
Do they make blankets in Kevlar?

Do you have a chronic blanket shredder? Do you have any tips?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Horseless Friday: Have a cookie

I do a horseless post every Friday. This Friday won't you have a cookie?

I baked this cookie platter for our company's holiday party. I would send you one. But I regret that I cannot seem to fit a cookie through my phone line and it got my DVD drive all crumby when I tried.

The Chocolate-Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies recipe came my favorite cooking show, "Good Eats" on Food Network. You can view the transcript and recipe here on the Good Eats Fan Pages. The other two recipes I copied from a cookie cookbook that I borrowed years ago. I've since forgotten the name of the book. The recipes, rewritten in my own words, are below.

Happy Baking!

Cherry Poppy Seed Twinks


1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 TBs poppy seed
1/2 cup cherry preserves

15 min prep + 20 min cook


Preheat oven to 300F. Combine sugar, butter and beat until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg, beat well. Add flour, poppy seed, salt, baking soda and blend through.

Drop 1 tsp balls on lightly greased cookie sheet. Make thumb-size dents in the center of each and fill with preserves.

Cookies will flatten out as they cook. Bake 20-25 minutes until lightly golden.

Chocolate Shortbreads


1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter softened
1 3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup dark chocolate (for melting)
1 tsp shortening
1 TB or more topping such as crushed walnuts

15 min prep + 30 min cook


Preheat oven to 325F. Combine powdered sugar and butter and beat until fluffy. Add flour and cornstarch and mix evenly.

Divide into 4 even balls. On a lightly greased cookie sheet, roll each ball into a patty 1/4 inch thick and about 6 inches across. With butter knife, score each patty completely through into 8 even pie slices. Prick each slice 3 times with a fork.

Bake for 15 - 25 minutes until edges are golden brown. Remove and allow cookies to cool completely.

Gently cut wedges apart and remove from sheet with a spatula.

Prepare a cool place with wax paper. Bring to simmer a double boiler (or a small, empty pot inside a larger pot with enough water to cover most of the way up the sides of the small one).
Add the chocolate and shortening and stir constantly until melted. Remove from heat. Drizzle or dip shortbread wedges in chocolate and dip in crushed walnuts or other toping.

Place on wax paper to cool.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Huey makes strides

My mother's schedule and the weather have kept her away from the barn more than usual. So the last few weeks I've been making an effort to spend more time with Huey. Armani is my "horsey number 1" and gets the first ride. After riding Armani, Huey is "horsey number 2", and is an easier ride.

When Huey first arrived he tended to fall over his inside shoulder and throw his head into the air. Since they race horses counter-clockwise he really tipped cantering clockwise. It felt like riding slalom on a motorcycle or at least how I imagine that would feel. We have been riding lots of loop-de-loops.

He did not have much of a concept of moving off of my leg either. Any pressure to him meant "faster". So we have been working on moving away from pressure through leg-yield and very shallow shoulder-in. His canter has been improving. I had a few very good rides on him. I was so happy I called my mother to tell her.

So the next day we were riding our respective horses. Another lady was riding as well. My mother started to dismount. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"Can you show me Huey's canter?" mom asked. The other lady riding with us looked inquisitive. I suddenly felt a little shy about "showing off" for an audience. I waffled around for a minute but my mother insisted. "I'll hold Armani for you."

I trotted Huey and got him to relax and stretch. Then I asked for a canter in each direction. After we were back to a walk I gave him a pat. "Oh he looks so light!" the other lady exclaimed.

"He looks so much better!" my mom said.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Horse stories: "I totally lost it when..."

Stacey, author of Behind the Bit, wrote this post about the time she "totally lost it" when Harvey had a sinus cyst. She has asked others to share their stories. I think it can be cathartic to share "I totally lost it" stories. So here is one of mine.

Grab a cup of tea first...

I tend be calm and calculated in emergencies. If I see blood I don't panic; I just try to apply first-aid. If we lose power in a storm I get the flashlight, drain the pipes and start a fire. In car accidents I calmly call 911 and check on others. It may be learned behavior from surviving a couple of hurricanes as a child.

So it is hard for me to allow myself to admit when I am scared or worried. I might even appear outwardly calm to others. I may keep trying, even if I'm not winning. Usually only my husband or mother can tell when I "lose it".

I totally lost it when...

When I first got Armani we spent a lot of time walking around fields outdoors getting to know each other. We'd only been together a month or so. He was about 4 and 1/2 and pretty green. I hadn't worked with a horse that young alone. Although my instructor was available to help me, this was the first time I felt "sole responsibility" for a youngster.

We were traversing a verdant field that we'd visited before. I saw two deer in the corner of the field. They saw us. But Armani had not noticed them yet. That's when I made what may have been a mistake. A smarter move may have been to ride at an angle, so that I neither approached nor retreated from the deer, until I was sure how Armani would react. But I was already intending to go that way. So I stubbornly rode straight at the deer...

Armani only observed the deer when we were within about 200 feet. I quickly realized there were more than two. There were a few others in the woods. We had cut the herd in half.

Armani hit the brakes suddenly and froze with his eyes bulging. I spoke reassuringly, "They're only a couple of deer. I'm sure you've seen deer before." I squeezed his sides. He started to back up. I decided that wasn't acceptable. I kicked firmly with both legs...

The next things happened quickly. Armani reared and spun very quickly and started to bolt. I attempted to sit back and circle him. We swung sideways with a great deal of force. Uh oh... I didn't realize I was so close to the trees. My head smacked into a large beech. My helmet cracked, the chin harness snapped, and it sailed 20 feet away. Armani also hit his head on the trunk. He stopped moving and stood shaking. Feeling woozy, I dismounted to retrieve my helmet. Armani's eyes looked glazed over. I led him at a walk and tried to access. He looked wobbly but not lame.

A deer ran by us. Then another ran by, and another. At least 10 deer bounded past us in a frenzied race to rejoin the rest of their herd. I could hear more in the woods. Armani shook and looked like he might faint. "I guess you were right," I said "there were more deer."

I stayed calm enough to remount, walk home, check Armani for injuries. He perked up enough for dinner and looked healthy. I mentioned the incident to my instructor and asked her to call the vet if he looked unwell. Then I went home.

When I really, actually did lose it...

When I got home I surprised myself by bursting into tears as I made dinner. My husband asked what was the matter. I told him, in brief, the story. "I've really upset my horse. I feel like I betrayed him by leading him into a scary situation and not protecting him. I don't know if he's ever going to trust me again." I was angry at myself for stubbornly riding straight at the deer. I was afraid that it would set-back our progress. I was angry for being upset. After all, I almost never lose it. I've been thrown and fallen off countless times. This time I hadn't even fallen off!

"He'll probably forget about it." said my husband.

In the end I think we were both right. Armani became very challenging after that. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that incident made him challenging. I think he always was a "let's flip the status-quo" kind of guy. I just hadn't seen that side of him before. If it hadn't been that incident, it would have been another. I had heard on the grapevine that he had been a real hand-full for his previous owners and had been sent to a few trainers. He started questioning my leadership by refusing to ride down the road, nipping, and bolting inside the arena. He reared up once in the cross ties and got me good while my back was turned. When he argues he buckles down and argues. But for the most part, it is just young horse antics.

How I got it back...

Well the short answer is "with time". My instructor helped us out. "You know you'd be bored with an easier horse." she'd remind me when I had moments of doubt. Then she went to Florida that winter. Another boarder and I split the evening barn chores. As I did chores I'd bring Armani inside the barn to keep me company. As the winter went on, he started whinnying when I arrived. He started being less challenging and more lazy, frankly. I began to realize there were two Armanis: lazy, cuddly Armani and explosive, challenging Armani. The lazy days began to out number the frisky days. The challenging side still comes out some times. Armani also got a year older.

That winter, during a slight thaw, we were riding through the woods. Three deer bounded out into the path 10 feet in front of us and froze. I sung, "Hello-ooo deer! Weee are just a horseeey!" The deer bolted into the woods. Armani snorted and we continued on our way.

What about you?

Stacey at BtB has asked you to share your story too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Horseless and iced in!

Normally I do a "horseless" post on Fridays. But this Friday I was iced in without electricity. We awoke Friday morning to about a half inch of ice coating everything; while more was layering on. Our power had gone out around 2am that morning. There were downed trees and tree limbs. My husband and I were unable to get out for work. The radio told us it would be a while before power came back.

So we drained the pipes. Then we gathered with our "girls" (our kitties) in front of the fire. Our power came back late that night. However, the power at the barn was out until Saturday night.

My husband and I were reminded of the "great ice storm" of 1998. That storm was more serious. The 1998 storm had me, like many locals, caught by surprise. I ended up trapped in my car about 10 miles from home on a dirt road.

Though inconvenient, ice storms leave a beautiful, diamond encrusted world behind.

These are photos of mine from this weekend. NOAA has this excellent site on the significant 1998 storm. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the fantastic photo gallery.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bookworm award

I was tagged by Mel at The Twisted Path with this Bookworm Award:

Grab the book closest to you
Turn to page 56
Go to the fifth line
Type it and the following couple of lines

The closest book to me is Gray Magic by Andre Norton (alternate title Steel Magic).

I found it on the "free" table at work. It is a young-adult fantasy novel by the late "Grande Dame". I've enjoyed her novels my whole life (she wrote for adults as well) . I already read it as a kid but couldn't resist picking this copy up. It is stamped to originally retail for 50 cents in 1965.

Sara shivered. She was not quite sure what Merlin meant. But she remembered all the talk back on the other side of the gate, the things she had heard Mother and Father say.

"No" -- that was Greg answering -- "there is always talk about another war and the Bomb."

"Avalon still holds fast, though how long we may continue to do so" -- Merlin's eyes were so bright it hurt to look at them, Sara thought -- "no man, mortal or elf kind, can say. It is your choice to aid us or no."

Thank you for the tag, Mel!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The crazy before the storm?

Today it is windy and snowy outside. It is the first real snow we've had this year. We had some light snows that did not stick too much. It is unusual for it to wait until this late in the season to begin snowing in earnest.

When I rode Armani yesterday he was very reactive and spooky. I was able to bring his focus back on me, although it felt like I just had a fingertip hold on it. When I felt like he had been making a real effort for a while I dismounted. He stood obediently, but his eyes were rolling back and forth with every sound. I stroked his neck quietly and he sighed. After my ride, my instructor asked if he'd been spooky too. "Too?" I asked. She'd ridden two horses already that morning. Both of them were uncharacteristically high-strung.

I've occasionally wondered about animals' reaction to seasonal and weather changes. Do they feel the pressure dropping, a change in temperature or the wind? I've heard other horsemen and women mention "fall-fever" and "spring-fever". I've experienced plenty of anecdotal evidence myself. Care to share your own experiences?

Cowboy Weather

Forecasting by plants and animals

Looks like winter is here to stay today...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wrapping my brain around bending

My instructor has been training Armani once a week this winter. Recently she demonstrated for me how far he has progressed with her. She asked him to counter-canter and half-pass at the trot. He was consistent and light on the contact, and engaged behind. It can be enlightening to watch your horse with someone else. He really looked like an upper-level warmblood; not the scruffy, pony-esque youngster I still pictured him as.

"He doesn't look that good for me, does he?" I asked. Although I already knew the answer.

She explained that we need to work on getting him as good for me as he is for her. So we've been looking at my weaknesses in the saddle. She's pin-pointed "bending" as the area I need to make the most improvement in, before moving on to more advanced work.

I tend to ride by "feel". So I've been trying to remember how things feel when we're doing them right. I can control the speed and maintain impulsion by slightly shifting my weight. I bend through my own body and my inside thigh asks for him to bend. Armani takes a very light contact and I can rotate and shift slightly to change directions. I don't need a lot of leg or rein. It feels subtle and effortless.

My instructor frequently reminds me to use my abdominal muscles. About the only work my abs have been doing lately is coughing. Maybe I should take advantage of that gym membership more often...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lack of sleep or losing my marbles?

I've been kept awake by a cough for the last couple of weeks. It's the last remnant of the cold I had over Thanksgiving. I hate laying around being sick and useless. Somehow, in a moment of illness induced insanity, I volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner for 5 with hors d'oeuvres, all the homemade fixings and figured I was also well enough to ride two horses an hour each day that week. "It's just a cold." I said.

"Don't over exert yourself or it will get worse." my husband warned me.

So now I'm left with this cough that won't quit. The cough is frustratingly unpredictable. Every hour or two it will start as a tickle and progress into coughs with every breath. The cough times itself perfectly so that I'm startled awake, just as soon as I start to fall asleep. I'm expecting that any day now I'll start hallucinating that Armani is tap-dancing while signing Berry White tunes.

Last night I started out riding Armani. He seems to know when I'm sick. Or perhaps I know he'll know, so he knows, if you know what I mean. He kept giving me the wrinkled-eye-look and was fussier than usual. Although he seemed perfectly willing to forget his troubles when we shared a banana. (Don't tell my husband. He won't want to kiss those lips.)

My instructor had a load of shavings in her truck bed. It began to pour and she asked if I'd mind if she parked it in the indoor. "Well I'm planning to ride Huey. But that'll be good bombproofing!" I said. Did I say that? Or was it the little goomba germs in my throat who spoke up? My instructor left us to it. Good thing she wasn't watching.

I'd planned to practice bending Huey at the canter over a figure-eight with poles. Strangely... it still seemed like a good idea. As I was cantering over poles on Huey, careening a mere foot beyond the pickup I did begin to wonder. "Careful Huey.", I said, "Only another foot and we'll be jumping the bed..."

"Hmm, that sounds like fun." I thought. Let's hope I feel better soon before I hallucinate I'm at the Rolex and end up in the E.R.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Six things about me

I was tagged by Solitaire Mare of "A Good Horse" with the meme "Six things about me".

  1. Like Solitaire Mare, I've got a large Breyer Horse collection from when I was a kid.

  2. I like being busy and get bored easily -- much to my husband's chagrin.
  1. While I was in college I couldn't afford to ride horses. I went to a mostly male college, where I got into playing video games, particularly PvP games. Although now that I have horses again I don't play very often.

  2. I drink a lot of tea; both regular tea and herbal. I enjoy coffee but it makes me too jittery. My favorite morning tea is Lipton. During the day I drink Celestial Seasonings varieties.

  3. I enjoy cooking. I like to innovate and have trouble sticking to recipes. My cooking is mostly old New England style with exotic influences. I enjoy eating just as much and like trying new foods.

  4. Besides horses, some of my favorite animals are cats and spiders!

I'm going to tag a couple other blogs I enjoy that I think haven't already been tagged with this one.

I'm tagging:
Five O'Clock Somewhere
Eventing Percheron

Friday, November 21, 2008

Overwelmed at the Equine Affaire

Last Saturday my mother and I made our yearly visit to the Equine Affaire. It is a birthday celebration of sorts for both of us, since it falls between our birthdays. We planned to do some shopping and to check out a few of the clinics.

We arrived around 10am. Cars were backed up from the off-ramp for the whole 2 miles to the Big-E. By the time we were inside it was around 11am. So much for our morning. We browsed one building before realizing it was nearly 2pm. More buildings to go, and no lunch yet!

My mother is usual nervous to try something new. But I introduced my mother to Gyro sandwiches last year. So she wanted one again.

After lunch we got back to shopping. That is, we started horse shopping.

The two baby Warmbloods (photo left) were gathering a lot of admirers. "Awwww..."

But we managed to convince ourselves that a baby horse was probably not a good birthday present for my (of a certain age) mother.

After horse shopping we shopped for a trailer to haul them with. This is the trailer we were most interested in, although I borrowed this photo from the dealer's website. It is a Hawk 2-horse straight-load with ramp. If you have any experience with these trailers, let us know!

After all that shopping we bought... nothing! We'd been too hurried to see it all. But we weren't the only ones. Although the buildings were so crowded that we thought we'd faint from heat, very few people had shopping bags. Could it be the economy?

That evening my good friend from Connecticut met up with us to see the Fantasia show. Poor planning on the part of organizers led to us being stuck outside in a thunderstorm (with a tornado watch!!) for half an hour. Don't they know that high-maintenance dressage ladies are flammable when wet? We enjoyed the show however. But none of my photos came out well. So if you'd like to see videos, check out these ones taken by another spectator:
Fantasia videos

I particularly enjoyed the aerialist, frankly because he was shirtless. I made a point of hooting and whistling enough to scare my mother back into the depths of her seat. More shirtless men and horses please!

We got home around 2:30am, exhausted. Next year we resolved to get a hotel room.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

BLM will delay decision on management of mustangs and burros

From The Horse: Government Delays Decision on Euthanizing Wild Horses

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will round up fewer wild horses and try to shuffle funds within the agency to hold off for now on euthanizing large numbers of the animals in an effort to control herds and spiraling costs, an official said Monday.

Deputy Director Henri Bisson said maintaining the wild horse and burro program for another year will give horse advocates, the BLM, Congress, ranchers, and wildlife advocates time to explore possible solutions and let "cooler heads prevail."
read the whole article...

Update: Government entertaining other options, including an offer from billionaire couple Mr. and Mrs. T. Boone Pickens to create refuge for some horses. read more...

This is the latest update on this story, which I blogged about twice before (1, 2). Personally I'm happy to hear that they'll take more time to consider possible solutions. I hope that a neuter and release program will be considered, as well as tourism opportunities ("Come and see the American West on a safari! See our Mustangs, Bison and more!"). I'm no economist, but when the dollar is low against foreign currency, that might get some interest.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Let's keep this between us

You know you've got a good friend when you've seen their bathroom at their worst. So let's keep this one between us...

Our hose had frozen outside. Where could I thaw it? The previous owners of our house put in a snazzy guest bathroom suite during the home-improvement boom. There is a nice, deep shower. Hmm... I went to get the hose...

There on the doorstep sat my Ariat winter boots, with a light coating of mud. Their tops were sagging over. They looked so unhappy. I really love those boots. They deserve better than that.

Let's not discuss what I did next - especially not with my in-laws when they come to visit. But don't worry, I'll disinfect the shower once my boots are clean and dry.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Maybe I'll make a crazy quilt...

I present a gallery of Armani's blankets so far this season.




Fortunately he is an odd size. My mother won on eBay two new I-Sure-Hope-It's-As-Tough-As-Rambos in size 69" extra wide. Oh and remember how I mentioned that I'd gotten him a new halter recently? Yup, you guessed it... I'll be shopping for a new-new halter this weekend.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

US Government, BLM must revise wild horse program

From The Horse: Report: Government Must Revise Wild Horse Program
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) needs to consider euthanizing wild horses or selling many of them to reduce spiraling costs of keeping them in long-term holding pens, said a government report Monday. the whole article

I posted about this issue a while back. The article notes that the BLM has the authority to euthanize or sell horses "without restriction" (i.e. to Mexico or Canada for slaughter for human consumption) but has not done so yet in deference to public opinion. The article notes that some other options may require Congressional approval.

So if you have a strong opinion, I suggest that you may want to contact your Congress members. You can input your zipcode here to find them. Telephone calls and mailed letters are supposedly more persuasive than emails.

If you are interested in adopting a mustang, you can view a gallery of horses available via the internet. The photo accompanying my post is of one such horse, Marilyn. The BLM also hosts in-person adoption events around the country. (Although not so much in the north-east I've noticed.) I've never owned a mustang myself. But a friend of mine was pleasantly surprised to see a mustang ribbon at a dressage show recently.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I'll have what she's having.

I'm sure most pet owners out there can relate. Everything I eat is delicious. A couple evenings ago, I brought a pastrami on rye to the barn. I rode Armani first. Then I thought I'd have a little snack while I groomed Huey.

"Mmm!" said Huey. I always give Huey treats at chest level. So he stuck his muzzle to his chest and nickered, "Mmm MMMM!"

"Huey, you are a vegetarian." I tried to explain.
"Uh uh. Mmm!" Huey insisted.

I presented Huey with a tiny corner of my sandwich. "Huey, you'll see. We've been over this before." He slurped it greedily. Then he paused and thought. Then he opened his mouth wide and vigorously shook the sandwich out. "I told you. You are a vegetarian." I went back to eating my sandwich.

Huey put on his "cute" face made big eyes at me. "Mmm! MMM!" said Huey. So I got Huey an apple instead.

Later that evening, I ate a salad in front of the TV. Baby, my cat, pawed my leg, "Murrrph?"

"No, Baby. Kitties are carnivores."
"Murphle Muuuuurph?" I put a piece of lettuce on the floor. She sniffled it, shook her head and sniffed again. Then she snorted and pushed a magazine over it in disgust.

"I tried to tell you, Baby." I picked up the offensive lettuce and went back to eating my salad.
"Murph?" Baby asked. I sighed and took her to the kitchen for a treat.

An award - thank you

The author of Behind the Bit has very kindly nominated my blog for an award. Thank you very much!

If you haven't already read Behind the Bit you really should! The blog is extremely informative and entertaining. For an good sample of what you'll find, check out this recent post on blindness in horses.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

How I spent my birthday

My birthday was last week. How did I spend the evening? With my horse, of course!

Armani and I shared a couple of bananas.

I buy discounted, overripe fruit and vegetables at the super market for him. They are natural, nutritious and some come in their own convenient "wrappers". They are also low in fat and carbohydrates. So I give Armani a couple vegetables or fruits a day. Armani has enjoyed everything he's tasted so far.

My mother, on the other hand, thinks baked goods say love. She bought two tubs of "apple" flavored cookies for Huey. But Huey spat out the banana I offered him. He's a man of simple tastes.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Horseless Friday: Happy Halloween!

I do a horseless post (almost) every Friday. But ok, I can't resist this time...

Trick or treat!
I found this photo here.

Clipped from the Wikipedia entries onHalloween and Trick-or-treating:
Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain.[...] The term Halloween is shortened from All Hallows' Even.[...] The carved pumpkin, lit by a candle inside, is one of Halloween's most prominent symbols in America, and is commonly called a jack-o'-lantern. Originating in Europe, these lanterns were first carved from a turnip or rutabaga.

The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages, and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2).

So, get out your Rutabagas! For some more photos of trick-or-treating ponies, visit this gallery courtesy of the ClickRyder email list.

Or if you are feline-fine, visit this gallery of costumed cats!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Green Mountain National Forest (Vermont) opens trails to equestrians

The Green Mountain National Forest is opening 35 miles of existing trails to horseback riders. The trails are in the towns of Woodford, Glastenbury, Winhall and Stratton.

Although the trails have been designated, Reeves said signs identifying where the new uses are acceptable won't be posted until next year. The service is also working on maps with the new trails highlighted. When available, the maps will be posted on the service's Web site.

Read the whole article. "Existing trails in Green Mountain National Forest opened to horses, cyclists"

Friday, October 24, 2008

Horseless Friday: Winter is on its way

I do a horseless post (almost) every Friday. This Friday I've observed that winter is on its way. This month we've had a thick fog every morning at sunrise. The fog has been leaving a white frost which melts by midmorning. Wednesday night we had some snow flurries over the midnight hours, although nothing accumulated for long. Every year it has snowed before Halloween in the 15 or so years that I've lived in Vermont. Although I sometimes tell my southerly friends that after enough global warming, I'll be enjoying Florida weather up here in January.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Armani caught a case of mumpappoloosa

...or is it pintopox?

Armani has never had white hairs before, except for a small crescent on his forehead and a few sprinkled hairs on his left-fore pastern.

Late this summer, I noticed more white hairs on his body. Then the white grew with his winter coat. Now he has a number of white spots. They are mainly on his forehand and hindquarters. They range in size from a pencil eraser to my pinky nail. Along with the spots, he's grown a sprinkling of white hairs on his flanks.

I took a few photos. Armani's shiny coat mirrors the flash. So it is hard to see the spots in these photos. They are very obvious in person. In the first photo I drew red arrows to a few of the spots.

Pity me! My mother works me so hard I'm getting white hairs!

I also did some online research and discovered this is not unheard of. One possible explanation is "Birdcatcher spots" as they are popularly known. I got the impression it is not certain if these are inheritable or not. These may come and go over a lifetime.

So I will just have to wait and see...

Birdcatcher the horse
"Birdcatcher spots"
Guide to basic equine coat color genetics

PS: Armani apologizes for the condition of his halter, "Mommy caught me chewing on it!" Don't tell him but I've already bought him a shiny new one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A good day and a bad day

Horses, like people, have good days and bad days. Since Armani's English speaking skills are not exactly on a first-grade level, it can be hard to understand what is bothering him on the "bad days". Sunday was one of those days. He couldn't stay focused on me, was behind the leg, temperamental, and spooky. I had a cold that day, it was windy, and I'd been away for two days before. I know him pretty well now. And based on previous "bad days" I know that all three of those things bother Armani.

Since he was stressed and I was feeling sick, I decide to take it easy. We gave up on dressage and took a (fizzy) walk through the fields and went home.

Then on Monday we had a lesson. There had been work men and bucket loaders in the arena all day putting up new siding. Armani and I were the first "Guinea pigs" to try riding in the arena. Would there be fireworks today? Yesterday he was afraid of his own shadow. Today was another day though, I thought. My cold was better and the wind was quieter.

Armani gave me one of the best rides so far. He used his back without (much) argument. We leg-yielded and even side-passed. He even tried something new, halt-to-canter depart. He understood the request and only took a stride or two to get into canter. Our instructor praised his canter work and said it was getting even better than his trot. (That is saying something for a half-Morgan. They're known for their trots.)

Sure the pendulum swings pretty widely on Armani. But everyone has good and bad days. I just accept and forget our bad days. I feel good about where time and work has brought us so far and how much we've both grown over the last year.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Last month my husband and I visited the Vermont State Fair, where we saw the Royal Canadian Mounted Police perform their Musical Ride. My husband is French-Canadian a generation back, so I made sure to point out how incredibly handsome the gentlemen Mounties were. Naturally, I mentioned being mounted added to their appeal.

A few things we learned:
- The group who performed for us was nearly 50% women.
- The Mounties must salute an official before and after the performance. In this performance a local Chamber of Commerce member accepted the duty.
- Proceeds from the performances go to charitable causes.

I found two videos of a Musical Ride:

Part 1

Part 2

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sitting trot versus rising trot

I started out riding at a children's hunter barn. My teenage instructors encouraged me to only post at the trot because it was better for the horse's back. And so I have always posted at the trot by default. However, as an adult, my instructor has encouraged me try more sitting trot with Armani. I'm finding that I'm better able to use my seat aids and that Armani feels more relaxed over the back.

Lately, I've been trying sitting to Huey's trot. Admittedly Huey's trot is a Ford to Armani's Cadillac. Huey lacks topline muscle and I suspect I'm the first rider to ask him to stretch and relax under saddle. However, as I began sitting trot with Huey, I immediately felt him relax his back. He stretched towards the contact and sighed.

Both my horses are more comfortable when I sit the trot. My conformation might explain it. I'm tall and rather - erm - top heavy. When I sit at the trot, my seat feels more engaged in rhythm with the motion. My seat is loosely coupled with the horse, connected but soft and actively following the motion. And as my seat follows, my core muscles stabilize my upper body. I picture hula-hooping or ballroom dancing with a partner. To quote Behind the Bit, "sit is a verb". There are a number of resources if you follow that link.

But doesn't that go against conventional wisdom? Scientists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands recently found that the extension of the back is similar in rising and sitting trot.

So perhaps the comparable comfort of sitting versus rising trot may depend on the rider, tack, and the horse. And that old conventional wisdom may not be true for everyone. Are you and your horses more comfortable with sitting or rising trot?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Do horses possess cognitive reasoning?

Behind the bit recently relayed a story about Harvey the Horse's moment of genius. I found myself nodding in agreement.

I try not to anthropomorphize my pets. I think expecting them to behave as "baby humans in fur suits" creates an unrealistically high bar for them, and will cause me to be disappointed in them when they behave as animals. However, I frequently observe that they are more intelligent and feeling than "dumb animals".

When our family friend who trains Border Collies met Armani, she observed he had "dog like intelligence" and "probably gets into trouble a lot if he doesn't get enough mental stimulation". Armani is an equine Houdini. Some days he escapes more than once. He escapes more often on the days he doesn't see me. If he cannot open the latch, he'll break the latch; if he cannot get under the fence, he jumps the fence. Otherwise, he'll dismantle the fence. If it is electrified, he might chase a companion through it first.

Armani always whinnies when he sees me. If I take too long to get him out of the pasture, he can start squealing and working on the gate. He also displays jealousy if I spend time with other horses, particularly Huey. When I help mom with grooming and tacking Huey, Armani fusses. Does he reason that Huey is getting treats and attention from me that he wants for himself?

Morgans have a reputation for intelligence. Does he take after daddy's side of the family? I found these interesting observations on equine social intelligence including a Morgan. However, there's something to be said for Huey, who only wakes up from his stupor for treats; "from a subjective observation it was noted that the horses which learned quickest had also been the most difficult in training to ride".

You also may want to check out these photos from the Equine Research Foundation. They were featured on Animal Planet's Most Extreme: Thinkers episode where horses rated as #7. I'll have to record that episode next time it's on!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Horseless Friday: Go nuts! (for hickory nuts)

I do a horseless post every Friday. This Friday I've gone nuts; for hickory nuts! It's fall here in Vermont and the wild things are getting ready for winter. As my husband and I took our stroll, we found that the hickory trees along side our road are dropping their bounty.

Identifying Hickory nuts

There are a number of hickory tree species native to North America. Did you know that pecans are part of the family? Many of the species are hard to distinguish.

Hickory nut memories

Nuts can be enjoyed fresh or dried until the green husks turn brown. Then remove the outer husk and crack the shell. They can be used any time you'd go for walnuts or pecans. Here are some unusual recipes I found. But if you are feeling very adventurous, go wild with hickory nuts and brussel sprouts! I have to try that!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Before and after: Armani

My best friend came up from Connecticut recently to visit us. She and I learned to ride together as youngsters. We were your typical barn rats; coming early for lessons to groom and staying late to hand out treats. She was the third person I called when I bought Armani (after my husband and Mom). And she came up to visit him a few weeks later. The first photo is one she took then. Armani was 4 and 3/4 years old, rump-high, thin and unmuscled. He asks me not to show this photo to girlfriends.

Armani, the pimply teenager

This visit she saw Armani again, a year later. She kept saying how lovely he looked, like another horse. She also loved him under saddle. I've been really proud of the progress we've made together. But I only see the gradual change over time, not the night and day change a year makes. So I went back to the old photos to compare with today.

Armani today

There are two challenges to photographing Armani: Armani and Mom. Armani just finished his work out and wanted some grass. Since I was holding him, he kept wiggling and did not stand squarely. He also tends to "relax" after work. My mother had trouble with the digital camera, "But won't it run out of film if I take too many?", and also kept pointing out when Armani "dropped" something "naughty". "Oh no, you can't put that on your blog can you?" Hence my smirk.

Doesn't he look good though? Can you believe it's only been a year?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Are Dressage horses spookier?

Dressage horses, and frankly their riders, have a reputation of being highly strung hot-house tomatoes. To some extent, it seems like their environment reinforces it. The horses are often kept confined for long periods, the sport is subjective, the demanding training means that less time can be spent cross-training.

Armani and I go outside for a short trail ride every day in good weather; we go on hour long rides on weekends. We do a lot of cavaletti. He's turned out to pasture 24-7 in good weather. I try to expose him to scary stimuli, "Oh look, let's go eat supper standing on that tarp." Despite all of our work, he can still be reactive and argumentative when he is uncertain. Our instructor says he's "hot like a Trakehner, but bullheaded like a Morgan".

I stumbled on an interesting study Fear reactions in riding horses : a comparison between dressage and jumping horses (2005). If you'd like the spoiler, the dressage horses scored consistently as more reactive. The study brought up a few interesting points, for which, it's hard to really objectively answer. Is it the training, the riders, the horse-keeping, or the breeding? Or perhaps a combination?

I also found this practical article on how to handle a spooky situation on the trail and this more general article on spooky horses.

Shiftless yet spicy?

Spending the over a year now working with Armani, I've become accustomed to the 5-steps-forward-1-step-back pattern our training has developed. Over time I know we've made real progress, and our supportive friends have been encouraging (more on that in a coming post).

Over the year, I've thought a lot about Armani's personality and how to adjust his training to suit. Armani has more personality than any other horse I've worked with long-term (which is not to say that I'm very experienced). It certainly is hard to try to summarize the personality of a creature that I've spent a lot of time with. But for the sake of a reader who doesn't have the pleasure of knowing him, I'll try. He has a few primary characteristics:

1. Dominant
2. Intelligent
3. Social
4. Lazy
5. Hot

Some of these certainly seem like impossible juxtapositions. But it's these dueling forces that make Armani such an exciting horse to work with. I cannot be certain what Armani will bring each day. On our 1-step backward days, a few of these forces can combine into an explosive mix. However, as a year has gone by, he has matured. I can sense his personality growing and changing.

I've signed him up for training 1 day a week all winter with our instructor. They've had 3 sessions together so far, and already she's raised her expectations for him, and reminded me that I need to do the same.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Huey applies to be a Big Brother

Huey is working on his application to be a Big Brother. He spent the last week leading a couple of youngsters under saddle on trail rides over road and field. As fall rapidly turns toward winter (yes there are flurries by Halloween up here), we've been feeling the urge to do as much outdoor riding as we can. So I've been eagerly volunteering Huey as a "trail buddy" with my instructor and her young training charges.

Huey was unfazed by youthful exuberance. Actually, it was hard to motivate him to wake up and keep up the lead. The most exciting moment was when the instructor's big young gray had trouble figuring out how to walk down hill. He decided he might get on his knees and log-roll. Or it certainly looked like that was his plan. I gave Huey a click and he sleep-walked his way down the hill, sighing - or was that snoring? - as he stumbled along.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

He's not a pet, he's an investment really, Honey.

That's how I originally presented Armani to my husband. That was the day I called my husband from the road, on his birthday, "Hi Honey, Happy Birthday. Can you meet me at the barn? Bring carrots. I bought a horse. " I tried to convince my husband that since he was inexpensive and rather green, that we'd train and show him and I could resell him in a year. "He's an investment."

Of course any horse person knows that horses are bottomless money pits. If money did grow on trees, horses would eat it. My non-horsey husband knew better than to believe me too. I've never let go of any pet I've had. But it's become my standard way of presenting horse related expenses. My saddle that cost 2x my original budget will "hold its value!". Registering Armani with the ATA will "increase his value". Going to dressage shows makes Armani a "marketable show horse". And I told my husband I need a truck and trailer for showing convenience. My instructor will start training Armani once a week this fall. That's just "investing in his training".

"Uh huh, sure. You won't ever sell him. You do what you want." my husband says, "You always do anyway." And he is right of course, on both counts.

So far my investment strategy is working really well, don't you agree? Think I'll be able to retire early?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The hip bone connects to the huh?

Armani and I had a lesson earlier this week. We went back to some basics in order to work on establishing a more consistent "connection". "Connection" in my mind is one of those things that everyone feels is important, but is hard to define. I think it's kind of like the search for the perfectly uphill horse.

I've got the idea that the connection starts somewhere in my erm, butt and thigh region, and is driven forward from my abs towards the bridle. I found a rather scholarly sounding article on it here.

I borrowed this picture from Is it just me or does it look a little bit like a diagram of Armani's and my digestive system in reverse? Seriously, though, during our lesson I could feel a connection happening, even if I have trouble describing it. Our instructor said we looked much more consistent. But after I dismounted I ruefully observed that I was sweating more than he was.

I keep saying I'm going to start doing crunches every day again...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Horseless Friday: Fisherlady of the seven seas

I do a horseless post every Friday. Last week I was invited fishing with two of my lady friends. I'd never been fishing before. But I know I've mentioned before how much I love seafood. And it's always fun to go out with the girls. So what better way for 3 classy young ladies to spend a girls-day-out than on a deep sea fishing boat with a few dozen stinky sailors?

Bright and early, we drove out to Hampton Beach for Al Gouron's fishing tours. It was a lovely, sunny morning. We boarded the good ship "Sea Star" and readied our rods and bait...

Look I caught one! No, that's actually our bait; whole mackerel. Let me tell you those suckers are oily and stinky. I got fish oil all over myself. But that is just a fisherlady manicure.

We trolled around for a while. In a matter of minutes the sky went from sunny to gray. Then it began hailing. Fisherladies do not fear the elements! We pulled on our raincoats undeterred. As the hail turned to a steady rain, the fish began to bite!

The big Bluefish put up a fight worthy of any sporting lady. The kindly sailors on the boat offered to help us haul in our prizes. But I quickly figured out a use for my horse riding muscles: hold the rod between your legs! Although I imagine I may have scandalized even the most sullied pirates, it did save me from being reeled overboard by the fish.

Ah, our booty! The crew filleted our prizes for us with machetes. By the time I got home I was a tired and smelly sailor. But at least I had dinner already planned.

I hear Bluefish is best grilled. But since we don't have a grill, the broiler did fine. Skin side down, I lightly mayonnaised the fillets and seasoned with fresh herbs and lemon juice. Six minutes under the broiler for medium rare and juicy. Delicious fishes!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A day at the Fair

My husband and I visited his parents in Saint Albans. His father is a police officer and got a few free tickets to the Champlain Valley Fair. They asked us if we'd like a couple. "Ummm.. ehh.." said my husband.
"Oh, yes please. We'd love to go!", I said.
"Ok, if I can have fried dough.", he said.

When we arrived, we were conveniently parked next to the 4H horse show. "Only one class, I promise." We may have been the only non-parents in the crowd. I impressed my husband by predicting with high accuracy which youngsters and horses would receive ribbons. I also regaled him with stories of my 4H days.

"Ok, let's get going.", he insisted.

At the fair proper I gleefully walked my husband though ALL the agricultural and handcraft exhibits. I absorbed the nuances of the bonsais and flower arrangements, while my husband wondered when we'd get to a fried dough stand. I marveled at the labor that went into the quilts on exhibit. I nudged and winked at my husband over the giant zucchini.

I've been reading about keeping chickens. So next I eagerly marched us through the chicken barn. After the cows and sheep, I was wondering why there was no pig barn. However, we had run out of ag exhibits. We had $16 in our pockets. While I looked at each food stand to find the oddest thing I could eat (I selected a South African food stand), my husband finally got his fried dough.

Next weekend I'd like to go to the state fair in Rutland. I see the Mounties will be doing their Musical Ride!

And I'm sure there will be fried dough...

New animal cruelty reporting system for Vermont

I learned by reading the FHotD blog that Vermonters can use this new website,, to report cases of animal cruelty, online or by telephone.

The new reporting system is supported by local Humane Societies and police departments.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Adventures in babysitting

Remember the movie?

Some days I babysit the barn in exchange for a riding lesson. This Sunday was one of those days.

The morning feeding went smoothly. I took Huey out solo for a woodland ride as I'd planned. The woods were quiet and cool. But our ride took about an hour, not including tacking.
"Whinny?", said Armani as I headed to my car.

"No problem. I'll ride you when I come back in the afternoon."

That afternoon I mixed up dinner. I began bringing inside the horses who need to eat separately. Then I started doling out feed.

"Whinny! WHINNY!" said Armani. I brought him his food and found that he had taken the hot-tape down between his pasture and the next. "Well, that's typical, Armani. Not enough grass where you were?"

Next I went to feed the "boys". They are three bouncy 2-4 year olds, who's brains haven't quite caught up with their size. One of them had decided to go for a swim in the stock tank... again... So I hooked up the hose.

Then I went to fix Armani's pasture. I searched in the grass and found 3 of the 10 or so missing tape snaps. "Armani, what were you thinking? These have tooth marks on them?!" I walked along the fence, untangling the tape and snapping it back up.

"Murble-burble!" said Armani. And of course he loves to help! So with his help, it took twice as long as it should.

Then I headed back to check the boys' water. It wasn't filling. I walked back along the hose - no kinks. Until I got into the barn and found that the isle had become a wading pool. The water was squirting out between two pieces of hose. A stream gurgled down the isle into a stall. The Big-Chestnut was happily paddling his feet in the puddle in his stall and dunking pieces of hay. "Well, I'm glad I could supply your evening entertainment!", I said.

I cleaned everything up and ran water to where it was supposed to be. At 8pm I was headed to my car. Armani reminded me that I'd forgotten to ride him, "WHINNY! WHIIIIIIINY!"

Tubby Time

Mom and I gave our boys a bath. As I predicted, Huey was already very familiar with bath time. The nice thing about off-the-track horses is they've seen a lot of vets, vehicles, and hoses. (On the flip side, trail riding in the great outdoors is a new experience.) After Huey was done Mom took him outside to dry in the sun.

Armani was afraid of hoses when I first got him. He tolerates baths now. But he is a little too fidgety for me to take a picture while washing. After he was done we joined Mom and Huey outside. She took this picture of me and the boys. This is probably the cleanest they'll be for a month or two...I'm holding both boys at once, with lush grass all around us. I can sympathize with one of those two headed turtles!