Thursday, February 11, 2016


Real horses

First of all, I have a couple quick comments about PNER Convention 2016. It was GREAT! 

Sue Garlinghouse alone was worth 5x the cost of admission. I took so many notes between what she said and what Robin Ryner said. You should see the list of requirements I’m compiling for when I start horse shopping again. (I mean, you will see it eventually. That’s what blogs are for.)

Heather was staying at my house for convention as usual, but this year she was a speaker (in fact, the very first speaker of convention), so we had a little more of a time crunch than we’ve had in the past. Her presentation was aimed at either newbies looking for how to get started and/or more seasoned people looking to increase their distance. The impetus for her doing it was her frustration (OUR frustration really, in the early days) that no one would provide a straight answer about conditioning.

The answer to “How much should I condition my horse for my first 25?” is almost invariably “Every horse is different, so I can’t give you an answer to that.” And while that answer is technically true, it doesn’t offer the absolute green newbie any clue at all about where to start or what to expect—not even a rough guideline for them to build on. So Heather combined what she’s learned in the sport with responses from some of the region’s most respected riders and came up with a presentation I wish I had seen in 2008. If you want a copy of the power point, let me know. I have it because I helped edit it. :)

Model horses

Initially, the model horse showing thing was kind of a lark. I went to the shows in Walla Walla mostly because it was a good excuse to visit all my friends in Walla Walla. And then, once I had work space again, it became an excuse to produce models for sale.

Now we’ve moved into the next phase: Meeting new (local)people, not just visiting the Wallas for fun.

So, OK, endurance friends. Allow me to geek out on you for a minute.

There is this thing called BreyerFest. It is a huuuuuuge model horse convention held at the Kentucky Horse Park every summer. This is like San Diego Comic Con for model horses. Whatever ridiculous thing you are picturing, just double it. There is a sales tent there that is known as the Ninja Pit of Death (aka, the NPOD) where people have been seriously hurt fighting over the rarest models at the lowest prices.

The problem with BreyerFest is that it’s always in Kentucky, which is not very convenient for the sizeable West Coast contingent of the hobby.

So, this year, there is also BreyerWest… at the NW Horse Expo in Albany (OR). So convenient! Packed with model horse people from my general area! Obviously I’m going. The show portion is going to be amazing. The list of judges includes some of the top people in the hobby on a national level. (I can’t think of a good endurance analogy, so maybe think of it like you are having a pre-purchase evaluation done by Valerie Kanavy, Jeremy Reynolds and Linda Tellington-Jones.)

With judging on that level, I felt like I needed to step up my game, so the batch of horses I’m feverishly trying to finish in time for March 18 may well be some of the best work I’ve ever done. No joke. I just hope the paint is dry in time.

One source of anxiety for me as a working artist is that Breyer is upping their A-game on their standard-issue models (what people in the biz call OF/original finish). The nicer the sculpting and the greater the variety of colors available direct from Breyer, the harder it is for a consumer to justify the cost of a customized model. After all, if I can get something this nice off the shelf at my local feed store for ~$50, why would anyone pay hundreds of dollars for a little leg bending and a paint job from me? (And yes, all three of the models below were/are off-the-shelf Breyers. My carpet herd from 30 years ago doesn’t hold a candle to the caliber of models available now.)

The models below have all been available in mass-market tack stores in the past 5 years. Are you kidding me, Breyer? 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Resolution 2016: Treat myself more like a horse

This is probably obvious to anyone who reads this blog or knows me in person, but I got burned out badly in late 2014 and for most of 2015.

Most people I meet think that the work I do must be FUN! After all, I’m on Facebook all day! Dream job! Hooray!

I thought this too before it became a full-time gig. After all, when I was a copy editor, all of my online time was recreational. It sounded like paradise to go to work and hang out on FB all day.

Now all I want to do most evenings is unplug. Social media is a mental cesspool—horrible, hateful opinions; time-wasting clickbait; endless arguing and bickering; outright lies dressed up as facts—and the greatest well of knowledge mankind has ever had. Being on the internet all day is like drinking from a firehose of information that I’m not allowed to turn off. It is exhausting and emotionally taxing.

I don’t know why it took me almost four years to figure this out:

My job, which sounds easy and fun, is actually extremely challenging… and fun.

So now that I have given myself permission to believe that my job is hard and therefore might be causing some of the burnout, I’m resolving to take better care of myself:

Unfriend, unfollow, disconnect, declutter. While I don’t have much control over the social media I engage with for work, I have total control over my personal feeds. Over the past year, I have quietly unfriended and unfollowed people who don’t bring me joy. This doesn’t mean we aren’t still friends in real life; it just means I’m done with their Facebook drama. Call it the Marie Kondo approach.

Take care of my body. My horses all had regular massage, bodywork and vet care. More than regular, really. Often. Extra. Constant. But up until a few weeks ago I had only had one massage, ever, in my whole life. I never saw a primary care doctor between 2005 and 2015. Turns out my new doctor, dentist and massage therapist all found things for me to work on in 2016. Whodathunkit?

Focus on nutrition. So one of the things that happened last year was I became lactose intolerant and started having symptoms of IBS. I also put on a lot more weight even thought my eating habits were unchanged… and as a never-that-small person, I really don’t need the poundage. My new doctor gave me some advice about inflammation that didn’t thrill me, and I have been resisting it. But I have resolved that for at least the first few months of 2016 I will follow her advice. If I can manage a horse’s diet down to the milligram, I can at least make moderate changes to my own consumption, right? I’m also getting pretty much all of the same supplements now that I used to give Blue: Omega 3, probiotics, multivitamin and magnesium/potassium balancer. Turns out these things have benefits for humans.

Spend more time being creative offline. I have shared some of my model horse work here and I keep meaning to share more. Brian has gotten into leatherworking, so I’ve been doing some of that, too. It’s just nice to have an outlet that isn’t words, words, words. I’m hoping to use my model horse profits (if any) to start my new (real) horse fund this year.

Prioritize human interaction. I want to cultivate more local, offline friends this year. My work schedule and homebody tendencies make this hard, but I need to push myself. No more excuses.

So that’s me. What are your goals for 2016?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Communication, fear, control, perfectionism

I cried at my last lesson.

My face scrunched up, my tongue grew thick, I lost my speaking voice completely.

We were outdoors.

It was windy.

There was a new mare in the paddock.

Eli was under me but also 100 miles away.

I was doing everything—everything!—the instructor said. I was fighting through my usual worries about bolting and falling on a distracted horse. I was tamping down the fear and doing the requested movements. Eli remained miles away.

We went from thinking this would be another lesson on haunches-in to downgrading to a lesson about walking forward and turning when asked. That is all.

And even that, apparently, was too much to ask of Eli that day.

There had been little testing spooks and general defiance. But then, out of nowhere, a ducking, hollow, skiddering teleport of a spook. 

Like this, I'm guessing.

I don’t know about you, but for me there is no halfway in crying. Either my face is studiedly, icily neutral… or I am bawling my eyes out for at least a half an hour. This was the latter.

I feel bad for my instructor, who saw right away that I had lost control of myself as soon as I lost control of Eli. She diagnosed this as a fear issue and proceeded to talk about that. She assumed I had Blue-related PTSD (nope!) and that fear made me cry (not really). And she talked about it at length, while I sat there and listened. She built wrong assumption on top of wrong assumption about my riding experience, my horse history and my needs in this situation.

And all the time she was talking, I wanted to stop her and explain what was really going on. But my voice was clogged with emotion. I was sitting in the saddle, perfectly upright and unhurt, but absolutely unable to speak up for myself or defend Blue's honor from the onslaught of assumptions she heaped onto the situation.

She said I should channel my fear into anger and determination. But what she didn’t know was that fear was not the feeling that overwhelmed my stony facade. She didn’t know that, in fact, anger and determination were the culprits.

The lesson ended without me saying another word.

So on Thursday, I will have to try to talk to her about this without breaking down again. This monologue is too long for real life, but it's what I wish I could say.

[Teacher], I want to talk about what happened at the last lesson. I am sorry I wasn’t able to talk at the time, but I want to be clear about what was happening so that we can communicate better going forward. Crying under stress is a physical reaction that I can't control. It's frustrating and annoying but it's a part of me.

I cried because I was frustrated with myself and with Eli. I was trying my hardest and it wasn’t working. I have been close to tears in our lessons before when we are working on something I struggle with. I was disappointed in myself and embarrassed about not being able to get Eli’s attention.

When he jumped, it proved that I couldn’t handle him. He is a 20-something-year-old lesson horse. A child could have handled him better than I did that day. That spook wasn’t very scary; it was very humiliating. It was me failing to excel and blaming myself.

The most helpful thing you can do for me in a situation like that is give me a new task to focus on, preferably something you know I’m good at. I would rather trot endless figure-eights than sit still and listen to you analyze what’s going wrong.

There is a time for analyzing my failures, but that time is when I have myself under control. I can't get under control until I am moving forward.

Just like a horse, I guess.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Human bodywork: Yay! or Neigh?

I am loving the dressage lessons. Both the instructor and the horse are bottomlessly patient with my over-analytical style.

But we've hit a bit of a plateau with the haunches-in. Namely, when I shift my weight to my left hip, I basically lose control of my legs. My lovely instructor came and physically *put* my leg where it needs to be. I can hold it there once it is there, but I can't move it there myself.

Image stolen from this helpful page.

Even now, sitting at my desk, I can feel that my right side is working harder than my left. And I'm crooked—so very crooked. And, to get a little PG-13 with you, when I get out of the shower and stand in front of the mirror in my altogether, some parts of me are pointed every-which-way but forward.

Obviously developing a core will help (see that helpful link), but what else can I do to get straightened out?

Could a chiropractor help... potentially? I get a set number of "free" sessions in my health plan, so I might as well use them if they could benefit me.

Friday, July 31, 2015

North and South: A Regionalist/Jingoist Rant.

Part I: Geopolitics

So there’s this movie (miniseries really) on Netflix that I just love. It’s called North & South and stars Richard Armitage. You may remember him from the Hobbit movies, but after you see him in North and South, you will remember him for North and South.


It’s based on the book of the same name by Elizabeth Gaskell. But I digress.

The “North” and “South” of this story are not the ones that Americans think of. This is not a Civil War movie, it’s an industrial revolution movie that takes place in England. And in this case the north means Manchester (they call it Milton, but trust, it is Manchester) and the South means the New Forest, Oxford, or London, depending on who’s talking. At most, we’re talking about a distance of about 250 miles. Yet every character in the story believes that the places are so far apart geographically and culturally that their people could never be compatible.

America is a really BIG country. How would the characters in North and South react to learn that Portland is as close to South Carolina as Moscow is to Morocco?*

This is something I have had plenty of opportunities to ponder lately when talk to turns to a certain flag, presidential candidate, Supreme Court or whatever mass shooting is in the latest news. Sure, nationwide media networks and The Facebook are homogenizing culture. Very, verrrrrrrrrry gradually. In a lot of ways, The North is still The North and The South is still The South.

Part 2: Tennessee

With 2,000 miles between the Northwest and Southeast of our country, it only stands to reason that there would be cultural differences. One of the big ones that drives me crazy (and believe me, there are lots of things about The South that drive me crazy) is the old-boy culture around gaited horses.

Of course, this is #NotAllSoutherners. There are tons of decent, educated, caring people raising gaited horses in the Deep South. Also, there are probably some real shitbags raising gaited horses in Oregon. All kinds of people live in all kinds of places, blah blah blah.

But as a member of several gaited horse sales groups on Facebook, I have seen some really appalling things, and the worst of them seem to be concentrated in the cluster of horribleness that extends along southern TN into northern MS and AL.

I happened to live in that area one summer. (At the corner of Central and Lamar in Memphis, to be specific.) And two or three times that summer I drove four hours down highway 72 to visit a friend in Huntsville, Alabama.

Now for all my book learnin’ and long-distance family vacations and a generally high opinion of myself and my worldliness, I have no idea how I survived that summer. I look back at it now with kind of a fond disbelief. I was 22 but I might as well have been a chick that just emerged from the egg. What I really needed was a grizzled old broad or maybe a fading southern dandy to spell things out to me. 

Part 3: Real horses

I mean, even for a 22-year-old from central Nebraska, my naivety was pretty staggering. I was very, VERY lucky that social media was in its infancy so the audience for my idiocy was small.

Whenever I get frustrated with some young person being ignorant on Facebook, all I have to do is think of the summer of ‘04 and remember that I, too, was a garbage person until I was 27 or 28 at least.

Below is one such ignorant young garbage person.

The photo was the first thing I saw. Glancing as I scrolled, my eyes and brain said “Ugh, I hate that awkward phase yearlings go through.”

Then, double take. “I wonder what they do with all that green grass he’s standing in since the horse clearly isn’t eating it.”

Then, triple take when I read the actual ad.

I wish I had been able to get another screen shot of the ongoing conversation before the owner took down the ad. The basic story is this: She is a student at a certain institution of higher learning in Knoxville and is starving and ruining the legs of baby horses** (she currently has 3 for sale on FB) in order to pay her tuition at vet school.


Part 4: Model horses

So the other thing I want to draw your attention to is this whole notion of how wonderful it is that our little tobiano friend’s grandsire was a World Champion at The Celebration.

You’ll only need to watch the video once, if at all.

(If you'd rather go to YouTube)

In short, The Celebration celebrates horse abuse. Hooray! *sarcasm*

There isn't much I can do about this from my deep left-coast location. But one opportunity presented itself recently: A little model horse activism on the topic of big lick TWH. From their Facebook site: 
The Sound TWH Challenge is a project where model horse artists will be taking on the challenge of turning an equine mold that depicts the "Big Lick" gait and turns it into a sound and flat shod Tennessee Walking Horse. These beautiful works of art will then be auctioned off on My Auction Barn where 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to FOSH (Friends of Sound Horses).

I decided to participate in the challenge as soon as I read the blurb. What’s more, I want to create a barefoot distance horse.
All credit to Emily, who used Photoshop to show how easily you could turn this:

Into this:

But I’m a little more ambitious than that. So I’m working on something more like THIS:

Dr. Garlinghouse and John Henry (who are at Tevis this very moment!)

I haven’t decided on a color yet, but I was thinking maybe a portrait of a certain former big-lick turned 100-mile mare?

That mare came from the South but is thriving in the West (as is her owner, as far as I can tell. :) ). If there is hope for Dixie (the horse), I think there is also hope for Dixie (the place).


*Call it about 2,400 miles. Google Maps is one of the great wonders of our time. Don’t take it for granted.

** I didn't link to his sale video because I'm letting this young garbage person's audience stay small. Sam does indeed have a cute little gait. Also, his age (2.5) perfectly matches his body score (2.5). It's kind of amazing he has the strength to gait at all. He might not be so gentle and easygoing if he were fed.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Falling with style

First off, that movie is 20 years old.


I am four weeks into weekly English equitation lessons with a dressage trainer. 

In these four weeks I have learned that all of those miles we did, I wasn’t really riding. To put it in standardized test terms…

Falling : flying :: “riding”: riding

So in three weeks of intensive work, I am just about able to make a passable circle at the walk and perform something akin to a leg yield at the trot. 

Moreover, I come out of lessons sweaty and sore.

My dance partner is Eli, a 20-something thoroughbred lesson horse who is lazy, grumpy and cantankerous. Obviously I adore him. He spooks at everything. He constantly tests. He won’t do anything unless You Really Mean It with the aids. He is always behind the leg and has a lofty trot that goes nowhere. He could not be less of an endurance prospect.

Being good

Giraffe mode

Of course, I think about how fun it would have been to be doing these lessons with Blue. Eli knows a lot more movements, but Blue and I could be learning them together.
Alas, I can’t afford to do all the things I want to do at the same time.

Blue update!

Blue is doing OK with the trainer. They had planned to do a 7-mile trail ride at Still Memorial on Sunday but something serious came up at the last minute and they couldn't go. 

On the training front, she’s working on getting him to collect up and use himself better, but mostly just getting him in shape to be a useful horse this summer. She said he throws the occasional tantrum when she asks him to work, but they are mild and resolve quickly. She says you can tell he is a horse that has some training and some work in his past, which is absolutely true. The guy who taught him the basics turned a wild animal into a really nice horse.

On the lameness front, on the other hand, not much progress. She is beginning to suspect that the problem is not the feet. Or at least not JUST the feet. BOO. She says he’s fine most of the time but there is just *something* sometimes that isn’t quite right. Yep. Sounds very familiar to me.

I really hope we can find someone who will love him in spite of his not being suitable for actively competing in a sport that judges based on soundness.