tldr: a long (word count 4960. You have been warned), rambling account that boils down to – I miss the blog, I’ll be back when I have a horse to ride.
Part I : Is the blog done or resting?
Considering the State of the Blog
Over on Tails from Provence (waves hi!), there is a post about repurposing her blog, State of the Blog. She quotes a factoid that most blogs fade after 5 years. Her post caused me to ponder my own situation.
Is my blog fading? I don’t think so.
I still want to be part of the conversation. As I said in my comment over there, my problem isn’t repetition. I’ve been talking about horses for 6+ years on the blog, for 40+ years outside of the blog. I ain’t stopping any time soon. My problem was repeating a message of frustration. It got old.
I have two lovely, talented horses that I don’t ride. Yes, technically I sit on and even trot about, occasionally. I don’t ride them in any serious or meaningful sense. I am more than mildly horrified by this on a regular basis. I have no argument with horses as pasture potatoes. Mathilda was one. It was her job. She was great at it. However, these two were bought to be show horses, to fulfill my most avaricious show fantasies. They have not because, IDK, I’m an idiot? Yeah, I know negative self-talk is destructive and self-defeating. That’s where my head is. Plus, of course, the ever-present, roaring, background noise of guilt [A Look Inside].
I want to talk, but only if I can change the record. That doesn’t seem to be happening.
Can I repurpose the blog? I don’t see how.
Tails from Provence‘s blog expansion will include “more Provençal life posts.” Slice of life posts work if your environment is perfumed with the scent of lavender fields, Tails [Smell-O-Vision], or brushed by the bracing air of the North Atlantic, My Shetland, or imbued with the grime and glamor of a global city, New York Cliché. Alas, even after 24 years (!), rural Alabama and I only tolerate each other, at best. To this day, when I drive past a road sign that says “Alabama”, I startle slightly. While I may have not embraced my environment, neither has my environment embraced me. The American South is not arranged to appreciate an overly-intellectual Yankee smart ass. No paeans to the joys of small town life from me.
Neither am I likely to discover vast new areas of endeavor. I do not plan to quit my job and roam the world, Advice I Needed Yesterday. I don’t see myself pledging to sew all my clothes for a year, Goodbye Valentino. I don’t have a deep interest in classic movies, Virtual Virago.
So, horses it is. That’s pretty much all I do anyway. I’m not spending any less time with Rodney and Milton. I’m just not getting anywhere with them. This may be a necessary part of a growth process that will lead to an amazing, wonderful, stupendous denouement, but it’s not blog content. Not yet. Perhaps Wofford or Bryson could spin the small details of my non-progress into an entertaining tale. I lack the writing chops. I need material to work with.
Real World Ramifications
Greg thinks I have been more relaxed with our horses recently, now that I am not documenting my lack of success. This reaffirms my decision not to restart the blog until I have gained more traction.
Part II: While I’m here, an update.
We have stopped feeding the yeast additive [Tiger Whistle]. Partly by choice, mostly because our hand was forced. I ordered a new bag. When I went to pick it up, the feed store presented what their supplier had sent. Different product from a different company. The dude carrying it out to my truck pointed to the word “yeast” on the bag, must be the same thing, right? Um, no.
Since the whole point of the product was to address sensitive stomachs, I was reluctant to randomly toss something new into the mix. Since they had to order it for me I was feeling pressure – real or imagined – to buy it. I needed a reason to say no.
Diamond V was not forthcoming about the proprietary ingredients on their website, but I did find that what I wanted contained 12% protein. The new product was 28% protein. Yikes. I have ridden a horse cruising a protein high. At one point Previous Horse was on Calf Manna for rehab. The first few post-recovery rides were interesting. Not going there again if I can help it.
From a comment suggestion [A Tale of Two Tums, all hail rontuaru!], we had been trying Purina Outlast, a gastric supplement. On the general theory of throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. It seemed to do some good. Did we need both? When the yeast became hard to obtain, I took it as a sign to stop using it.
Why change one variable when you can change several? We have boarded the omaprazole bandwagon. Ulcergard is a mixed blessing. It’s effective. The price is absurd. When we started with Roscoe/Rodney, the dosage was still a full tube. No way was I feeding a month of that. Now that they are recommending the 1/4-tube dose, the price has climbed down from impossible to merely insane. I am also taking it myself, the human version. Seems to work. One little bottle versus my entire bag of Zantac, Maalox, Tums etc, etc. It also costs more than the whole bag. I hope whoever created /discovered the stuff is making some of the money from it. Rodney is on it for a therapeutic course. Milton gets dosed according to the occasion.
Our previous two horses were all about their joints: MSM, Devil’s Claw, Cosequin, etc. These two are all about their stomachs.
Rodney continues to be Rodney. We have sparks of progress: a nice long sit [Here We Stand, Still], a quiet walk around the small pasture loop, even a bit of trot out in the far end of the pasture. Yet, they continue to be steps that lead nowhere [Zeno’s Horse Training].
I have found an instructor who seems knowledgeable, gentle, and willing to come to the house. Now we have to get the tractor going to mow a riding area and I have to assemble enough horse to instruct.
I have also restarted trailer acclimation [Rodney’s Schedule?]. He stood quietly on board for 10 minutes but ran away after school was out rather than hanging around for pats. This is one of his tells for tension. The session was hard for him.
On the plus side, I have stopped referring to him as The Dork, which is overly negative. I now call him Gigantor, which is accurate, particularly since we have been trying to plump up them after the winter.
Gigantor Rodney is cooperating with the program more so than Milton.
Milton The Driving Horse
Milton went to his first show. Short of anyone getting hurt, it was a disaster. I’m gonna go on about this for a while. If you don’t like show reports and excessive second-guessing, you might wish to skip to the next section.
But first, one good thing. Our logistics were flawless. It has been over 10 years since we have taken a horse to a show. It has been even longer since we’ve taken a horse to an overnight show. I made my lists. We replaced equipment that had aged out. I went mad with colored tape. We rented a cargo van to bring the carriage. We had everything we needed, all of it tidy and organized.
Much discussion went into Milton’s debut show. We chose Middle Tennessee Carriage Club‘s Scurry (Facebook photos, note the bundled up drivers & Milton standing on the sidelines), a tiny driving competition, in a supportive environment, with ideal classes for Milton. MTCC hosted many of Greg’s competitions last year with Bliss [Show Report: Middle Tennessee Carriage Club Horse Driving Trial 2017, Show Report: MTCC Driving Derby 2017] and the year before with Lyricc [Show Report: MTCC 2016]. These were people we knew. The show was specifically designed for horses and people new to driving.
A scurry is the driving equivalent of a gymkhana, i.e. a variety of classes. No dressage test. No marathon obstacles. The first three classes were cones classes with variations of scoring and timing. This was good. Milton likes cones. The last two classes were pleasure classes. Milton doesn’t yet have the three distinct trots required for this type of class. Oh well, they’d either skip them or go in for experience. (Ha! The blissful ignorance. But I’m getting ahead of myself.) For those who don’t drive, think of it as 3 jumper classes and 2 hunter classes.
The only downside was that it took place in Tennessee, 4 hours away. Not ideal, but everything else was so suitable. We went up the day before and stayed 2 nights.
Horse in stall. People in hotel. Everything went great. Until we hitched on Saturday.
On Thursday afternoon, we picked up the cargo van. Took it over to Stepping Stone to load the carriage. Caravaned back home. Loaded the rest of horse & people supplies. Made feeble attempt to tidy up house for horse sitter.
On Friday morning, we loaded up the last minute items, gave Rodney his cookie ball, looked around, hoped we hadn’t forgotten anything, and hit the road. Took our usual rest break the Tennessee state line welcome area. Milton seemed to be shipping just fine. Was fascinated with the cows across the highway.
Arrived at farm. Nice looking place. Chickens running about the yard. Cows in the field. Two resident Fjords. Friendly host showed us to the barn. Milton unloaded. Stared at cows. Freaked at chickens. Greeted residents. We set up the stall and let Milton have a rest.
Although we would have liked to give him more time to settle, rain was on the radar. Greg lunged to warm up, as we do. We hitched. Milton was fine, a little looky, but there was lot going on. Spent a few minutes cruising through a practice marathon obstacle, his first. Everyone had a great time.
Milton was stupid about getting his bridle off. He can get pushy about bridling at SSF. We think it’s anticipation. He is not pushy about bridling at home. He is NEVER pushy about unbridling. Take my tack, please. Hindsight hint the first.
Got dinner. Came back to farm for night check. Everything seemed fine. We retired to our hotel secure in the knowledge that our horse was ready for tomorrow.
On Saturday morning, it was cold. Really freaking, why are we doing this cold. Breakfast served. Due to the gnarly weather, the start time had been pushed to 1 pm. We set up our chairs, folding table, and snacks – I told you were were organized – and sat down to wait.
Milton spent the morning standing stock still staring out of the stall. I wondered if he didn’t want to lower his head, so I hung a haynet. He could watch the world while he ate. Still didn’t eat. Passed the cookie test, so it wasn’t colic. Just not eating, which was weird. Hindsight hint the second.
We took him out for hourly walks/grazes. He tore at the grass, since he is a poor starving horse who had never seen greenery. So, normal. Tension eating? He might have been tense, but it was so cold it was hard to tell.
(I gotta say, simply typing this is making me jittery.)
Time to get ready.
Greg lunged. We hitched. Within 30 seconds of moving off, Milton started bucking in harness, to a degree that I was thankful for the schooling show rules allowing us to use the kicking strap. Despite this, Milton got a leg over one of the traces. It pinched, so he kicked out and ran around. There was no stopping him, so I unbuckled the trace. This is not how you want your horse attached to his vehicle. Getting the trace out from under allowed Greg to eventually wrestle him to a halt. I headed. Greg dismounted, fixed harness, got back on.
From there, it never really got better. Milton would be decent, not relaxed, not happy, but okay for a bit, then he’ll start hopping again. He would also spin sideways. At the time, I thought he had two separate moves, the plunge and the spin. Looking back it was the same move. Milton wanted to run forward bucking and plunging. He found this hard while dragging a 600-pound anchor.
Greg did a stellar job keeping the lid on to the extent he did. As a spectator, I was deeply concerned, but never panicked. They would take it right to the edge and then Greg would get Milton going forward. In driving, forward is your friend [Lessons].
Coach Kate was unable to help. Her young horse took one look at Milton’s antics and thought about joining in. I don’t think others realized how deeply we were in the weeds. They didn’t know the horse. They didn’t know that we usually spend our time convincing Milton to move his lazy ass, rather than keeping the marbles from rolling off the table.
If you didn’t look closely or didn’t know the horse, it might even have looked good. Milton was on his tippy-toes. If he had been that way for the right reasons, it would have been awesome. Unfortunately, he was energized by tension rather than by enthusiasm.
Greg went ahead with the first class. I totally supported the decision. Milton loves cones. He has been know to aim for cones and to get pissed when Greg drives past them. Perhaps if Milton got on course, his affinity for cones would straighten out his brain.
The first movement was to halt in a box. They halted, kind of in the box. They moved out, on a diagonal. Halfway to the first set of cones, Greg pulled up. It was not getting better. We unhitched in the ring.
The show was over for us. I wasn’t even embarrassed. First of all, as I said, it was a small, friendly group. Mainly, I was beyond that and well into confusion and concern. We’d all survived. Everyone had their feet safely back on the ground. Time enough later to figure out what the hell just happened.
When I went to move the carriage, I found that the shafts had rotated inward, probably from when he was racing around with one trace. In that configuration, the end of the shafts were pressing into his sides. Not comfortable.
When the show was over, we decided to try again, on the theory of getting back on the horse. Greg lunged. We started hitching. Milton started hopping. We quickly unbuckled and called it a day.
The plan had been to spend the night and go over to Whip Hand Farm the next day to work with Coach Kate. Somewhere in there, we noticed that Milton had bruises on his tongue. We assumed from the bit. Sunday plans canceled. Time to go home and start bit shopping. Turns out the bruises were close to his upper canines and nowhere near the the bit. Chomped on this own tongue?
As President of MTCC, Coach Kate was the organizer of the show. She presented us with our sympathy ribbon. Four competitors had completed the show. We came in a courtesy fifth.
The questions. So many questions.
Was it the chickens? Partly. Milton really disliked them wandering through his space.
Was it the farm cows? No. After the first stare, he didn’t obsess over them. Too far away & too much else to worry about closer to
Did he not get his salt? Licking a salt block is one of Milton’s go-to stress moves. At home we have the big, 50-pound blocks. Too heavy to bring. I bought a small, 4-pounder and a bucket to put it in. Did he never find it? Who knows.
Did he not like being alone in the barn on Saturday morning? Could be. The residents stayed with him overnight, but went out to their pastures after breakfast. Did he miss his new best friends? At home, he often voices the plaintive cry of the abandoned foal when I leave him in the stall and take Rodney out. (Rodney, in his turn, doesn’t care where Milton goes.)
Was it the trailer ride? No. Last time I counted, Milton had trailered to SSF more than 30 times.
Was it the long trailer ride? Maybe, but unlikely. He didn’t present as a tired horse.
Was it the long trailer ride with the uneven weigh-distribution of a slant load? Could be. Not a fan. When we bought the trailer years ago, slant loads were all the rage and aluminum trailers were just coming out. A straight-load aluminum was out of the question expensive. This was a good deal as a used trailer. Despite the hype, I find that good shippers still ship well; bad shippers still ship badly. I wouldn’t get another slant. The step-up doesn’t bother me. I knew too many horses that shipped well in a stock trailer with a step-up. I remember people ranting and fussing that step-ups were unsafe and dangerous, and that a horse could slip and get trapped under the trailer. Then slant loads came out and suddenly everyone had a step-up and step-ups were okay. But I digress.
Was it the cold? Could be. Just because he’s from Canada doesn’t mean he liked it there.
Was it the bit, the trace, or the shafts? Probably, but a) he was weird before we hitched and b) he started fussing immediately, before the equipment problems would have been a factor.
Should we have had trace hangers? Yes. They have been ordered.
Should we have noticed that the shafts rotated? Yes. We will mark them, and with luck, never need it again.
Did people look at us and wonder? Yes. This is not me being over-sensitive. People asked Coach Kate why we didn’t just get an easier horse. A reasonable question, given his behavior.
As an aside, how? Is there a Horses-R-Us catalogue for which I need to find the mailing list? I keep buying nice, well-recommended horses only to have it all go wahooni-shaped. But that is a bottomless abyss for another day.
More to the immediate point, no one seeing Milton that day would believe until that moment, we HAD an easy horse. Milton earned gold stars all along the way. First time pulling [Milton Gets Shafted]. First hitch to the two-wheel cart [Maiden Voyage!]. First hitch to the four-wheel carriage [Milton’s First Carriage Drive]. People at SSF could not believe that Milton had acted up at the show.
Oh sure, he had moments at SSF, when we had too much rein, [Hitched!], or too much britching [Hippity Hoppity]. Coach Courtney saw both & was not perturbed. Plus, he’s had moments with us, notably with me [Did I Piss Off the Universe and Not Notice?], with rampaging cows, [Milton Gets Hitched], or with life in general [Sand Colic?]. When I see them listed like this, I start to doubt. Really, it was – barring the riding meltdown way back when – four small incidents in over a year of steady work. Only one, the smallest incident, was with a driver. The rest were while lunging. All the them were early in the process. I still don’t think they were harbingers of doom. No horse is perfect. Mostly he’s been good.
Was it working away from home? No. He worked at SSF. His dressage lessons took place at a different barn [Milton’s Dressage in December, Instagram October 2017 “Milton copes with working in a new place.”]. As test of concept, we took him back to Full Circle Horse Park [Outing Report], this time with carriage. He was a star. By the end of the first day, he was trotting along the ring road. By the end of the second day, he was happily weaving in and out of a stand of trees as an ersatz marathon obstacle.
Was it seeing horses pulling carriages? Could be. At Full Circle, the resident horses ran around like idiots the first day, because Milton was being attacked by a large object. Milton didn’t care. Seeing the other horses running stressed the driver and groom more than the horse. By the second day, they were good with it. However, Milton had never seen a horse and carriage. Ironically, given how often Milton has done this, he has never seen it. He saw Alvin pull a two-wheel, but didn’t think much of it. At the time, I would have sworn that Milton was staring wildly at the carriages. Upon reflection, I remember that he spent the rest of the afternoon standing next to a ring full of carriages and didn’t turn a hair.
Was it the overnight? Could be. He was stressed at the vet clinic [Milton’s Medical Update]. We were all stressed at the vet clinic. We had planned two other overnights. One was canceled due to logistics; the other, due to weather. The first overnight was test-of-concept for Rodney, not Milton. Rodney passed his test when Milton went away to the clinic. Milton had been on the track and worked so well in new places, it never occurred to me he might be different spending the night. Failure of imagination.
Was it the vibes on that particular farm? The world may never know.
Speaking of the track, was he having flashbacks? His pushy behavior reminded me of the way horses ignore/steam-roller their handlers before & after races. Racetrack life is hard on any horse. I imagine it is even harder when one is slow and correspondingly unappreciated.
Speaking of easy, were we too easy on Milton? Did we avoided things we should have confronted [Milton Doesn’t Do It All At Once]? Could be. When it all hit the fan, Milton was not ready to cope, either inside his head, or in terms of listening to us. Do we need to do a better job of practicing safe stress?
Moving forward, I can see how it is tempting to slide in complacency when one is making good progress. We may have had a training version of kennel blindness, i.e. enchanted by our efforts and not doing as quite well as we thought. We will need to push more in practice – horses and humans in general, Milton in particular. In our defense, he could have made this point with mild misbehavior. He didn’t need to stage a thermo-nuclear meltdown.
Were we overly optimistic? In retrospect, were there big, blinking, red warning lights that we airily waved aside? No. This was the next logical step. This is why you go to a show, to learn about your horse. It’s not usually this dramatic.
Additional questions 5/1/18. (What more could I possibly have to say? New total 5185 words.) Did Greg cause the problem? No. I’ll be the first to call him out if he is driving for sh*t. There was certainly contributory tension. Initially, from being at our first show with our own horse, and later when it all went sideways. Literally. However, from what I could see, Greg was helping far more than hindering. Milton prefers to have his paw held rather than feel abandoned in the front end. Greg was supporting Milton to the best of his ability and to the extent Milton would let him. Further, Milton was not exhibiting any of the behaviors that he does when he feels the driver is committing unnecessary roughness with the hands: opening his mouth, flinging his head, telescoping his neck. These were about the only bad things he wasn’t doing. Yes, there is a fine line between paw-holding and a call of unnecessary roughness. Welcome to Thoroughbreds.
Was Milton’s tum bothering him? Very possibly. Before the show, we bought our first two tubes of Ulcergard, one to take and one to leave for Rodney. We changed our minds and stood by our policy of not doing anything new/different at a show. Now, Milton gets a dose in the morning if anything remotely interesting is planned for the day.
Was it not one thing? Was it was too much all at once? We plugged in too many appliances and blew a fuse? No idea.
Finally, is this a sign of the end, or a do-you-remember-when that we will laugh about years from now? Time will tell.
What next, you ask?
We had a long phone conference with Coach Kate. We had a F2F sit-down with Coach Courtney. We have pondered amongst ourselves. Endlessly. Bottom line, we are gonna keep at it. Until we try again, we won’t know if this show was a fluke or a position statement.
Not gonna sell him. Not gonna send him away for a month of training. For good or ill, that’s how we roll.
First step, we went back to Stepping Stone Farm and hitched him to the 2-wheel cart. He likes SSF. He likes the lightness of the 2-wheel. He was great. Better than ever. SSF is his happy place. He was even okay with the resident poultry, both peacocks & guineas. They may be birds, but they are his birds.
Coach Courtney will work with Milton directly in addition to helping Greg. We will pursue better living through chemistry (see Ulcergard et al.). We will make sure Milton sees horses tied to carriages. And so on.
We will keep working. We will school. We will take him places. We will do everything we can to prepare. We will see what happens next time.
Milton The Riding Horse
Once we decided on the MTCC show, we concentrated on driving. Now, I have restarted riding. Not quite from square one, but close.
At the post-show debriefing, Coach Courtney suggested we bring Milton to the next Saddlebred show to practice his sleepover skills. Although we ultimately elected not to go, it was on the schedule for a few days.
One of the suggestions for the Saddlebred show schooling adventure was to bring my saddle & possibly walk Milton about. A lot easier to bail from an upset riding horse than from an upset horse tied to a cart. That meant I would be a) shipping him 4+ hours by myself and b) riding him.
Many things need to happen in a short amount of time. A dress-rehearsal for me being among them. If I had any hope of surviving the stress of shipping to and schooling at the show, I had darn well better be able to handle the lesser stresses of riding at home and shipping to SSF.
Our conversation with Coach Courtney was on Saturday (no driving, it was raining). On Sunday, we tacked up and I sat on Milton in the pasture. Yup, first one at bat since the fuss. Go me. Milton behaved, but clearly found the Big Wide Open Spaces of his own d*mn pasture to be stressful. Sigh.
The next Wednesday, I successfully trailered to Stepping Stone, including the 3-point reverse in the narrow parking lot. It took several tries and much advice from bystanders, but I got ‘er done. After Coach Courtney lunged, I rode. We walked. We trotted. The goal is to continue shipping over, lunging, and riding.
Progress, but achingly slow.
Saddle Seat Adventures
Between Coach Courtney being away at shows (without me! sob!) and me being in a snit over imaginary slings and arrows, I have been low on lessons recently. I had two excellent theory sessions that I think will apply all disciplines, but haven’t ridden enough in either saddle to put the ideas into practice.
I’m learning how to canter, again. When we thought we were going to the saddle seat show, I squeezed in a few lessons on Posh [MSSP Show Photos] as a possible show mount. She is teaching me how to canter a 5-gaited horse, or former 5-gaited horse. Apparently, once a horse knows how to rack, they default to it. Therefore, one rides at a faster and looser canter. The transition to canter is correspondingly, um, dynamic. Or at least it is when I do it. The differences in the canter & canter transition may be the root of my troubles with Trump-the-horse [Show Report 2014] and Whiskey [Show Report 2017] both of whom speak rack. Posh has been added to the short list of horses I can happily ride, Unfortunately, she is adorable & for sale. She’s unlikely to be around long.
Photography, Writing, and the Nature of Assignments
I signed up for an intro photo class [Foto Friday: Photo Class Without The Photos]. I am attending class weekly. I am taking photos for my homework. That’s it. I take enough photos to fulfill the assignment, but no more. I do not take photos – or write – unless compelled, by a deadline, a class assignment, or a blog post.
I want to do more. I routinely buy short story collections with the intention of writing my own. Never happens. The books gather dust and the stories fail to materialize. I fail in the essential butt-to-chair maneuver. Ditto photography and the all-important finger-to-shutter button exercise.
For some reason, I have convinced myself that blog posts count as deadlines. With the blog, I write and photograph. I may be no closer to winning that Hugo Award, but at least I’m keeping my fingers moving over the keyboard. Without the blog, nada. This non-post is the most writing I’ve done since my previous post last month [Getting Off the Struggle Bus].
It might be a different story if the time & energy from the blog were transmogrifying into other projects. My house is no cleaner. I am no closer to restarting my writing career. I’m mostly thinking about blog posts.
Meanwhile, I am considering a few software & hardware upgrades. I’m thinking of changing the name. If I take the emphasis off a specific horse, then perhaps I will be less frustrated when that horse imitates a doorstop. Unlikely, but it is a start.
I am also considering a laptop. At the moment, I read on a tablet and write at a desktop. Comments happen when I remember to revisit a post and can recall my deep thoughts. Perhaps if I read with a keyboard at the ready, I will comment more often, which they say is essential step to becoming a part of the larger blogging community. Maybe I’m simply deluding myself that a shiny new tech toy will solve all my problems.
That’s me for now. See you when I have something to report, other than admiring my lawn ornaments.
Also, props for getting this far into the post. Clearly, I had a few things to get out of my system.
Thank you for reading,