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.