2020

It’s the last couple days of 200.

Definitely been a landmark year, though not for the reasons anyone anticipated.

Everyone knows the bad stuff that happened this year, in a wild, shared, global way. In a small way, it was a weird year because Midas actually had soundness issues that took a few months to resolve (he’s fine now) and that meant we did a lot of hand walking and walking rides through grassy fields that were kind to his hooves. We didn’t do much that was exciting, except try our hand at ponying a pony, which the pony was not thrilled about.

But I thought I’d think about some of the good things, the favorite things…I thought I’d talk about books. Because I love books.

Books

I opened Goodreads to see what I read this year. Man. I found SO MANY awesome books. Not always new, but new to me. I could just list everything I read this year, with a couple exceptions (there were a few meh and a couple I really hated) but I guess you can always just look me up on Goodreads for that.

So here are a few of the best:

  • Crescent City – Modern tech meets angels and fae, and all the myths in one story full of detective work, demon hunting, soul searching, and unforgettable characters. The character depth and heartstring moments we’ve come to love from Sarah J Maas, but with a LOT of swearing. Like, a lot. That part wasn’t necessary, it really stands out in the audio book but I kinda glazed over when reading it in paper form. The rest of the story is enough for me to not care about the weird prevalence of foul language, I cannot wait to see what comes next for Bryce and Hunt.
  • A Deadly Education – I don’t like stories about going to school to be something (assassin, wizard, whathaveyou). But this story, while set at a school, wasn’t about learning to be a wizard or use your magic. It’s more about facing down assumptions, finding friendship, and also getting graduation. El is a delight as a narrator. On the whole it’s fun, twisty, snarky, rewarding.
  • Well Met – Light, fun, sexy, romantic. A rom-com for when you need something uplifting and funny to read. It’s a rom com, but I felt like this book avoided the things I don’t like about rom coms and embraced all the things I do.
  • The Scorpio Races – This book is beautiful. It evokes such longing, and beauty, and it’s a good story–there is a thrilling horse race and gentle love story–and the horse sense is spot on (it would have ruined it for me if it wasn’t). It’s often described as atmospheric, and it is, but if that word sounds boring to you, don’t think of it as atmospheric. It’s not literary fiction which appears primarily obsessed with suffering and postmodern disillusionment–which would probably also get described as atmospheric, but that just means the atmosphere is hell. No, in The Scorpio Races, the atmosphere is Thisby, an island probably off the coast of the UK, and the island is practically a character in the story. If you have a location that you just LOVED, being there is how the book makes you feel. Read it so you understand.
  • The Return of the Thief – Eugenides is back, and he’s amazing. You have six other books to read first, but for a series whose release spanned 20 years, the fact that this book doesn’t disappoint is itself a literary accomplishment.
  • The Riyira Revelations – Royce and Hadrian are now among my favorite friend portrayals in fiction. Royce is a jaded assassin, Hadrian is an idealist fighter, and together they are Riyira, an expensive set of thieves and fixers who steal things and frame people for those with obscene amounts of money. But then they are hired to steal a “magic” sword, and everything kind of goes down hill from there. You will not regret diving into this series and its world. It’s a pretty massive series, I’ve only scratched the surface.
  • The Expanse (first three books) – These books have an enormous cast of vastly different characters. They are very thoughtful, but also gripping and fascinating and hopeful. I love that they are hopeful. I didn’t keep reading into the series (yet) because there are SO MANY and I wasn’t sure how much longer they could go without someone I really cared about dying. So, I figured I would quit while there was at least a potential happily ever after.
  • Paladin of Souls-I have actually read this book three times this year. If you haven’t read Curse of Chalion, start there, and then you will be EVEN HAPPIER reading Ista d’Chalion’s story. Actually, all of Bujold’s stuff set in the World of the Five Gods is good. Start with the Curse of Chalion, though.
  • Beneath Cruel Fathoms – Imagine the cultural differences between a merman and a human woman–are you? Because they are funny. Plus a cosmic plot and some pretty world reaching issues. Add romance, adopted siblings, and you’ve got a good story with lovable characters and I want book two. Because I want it, not because the author was cruel with her ending. At least, not horribly cruel.

I could probably keep going forever, because I love books, but This List has satisfied my need to make a list relating to 2020!

Here’s to a new year in the new world with more glorious books to read.

Horse Eating Hay Trolls

The neighbor’s hayed their field, and now there is a long line of round bales in the field where Midas and I ride–and there has never been round bales in that field for as long as we’ve been going there.

It’s been upwards of 10 years.

So obviously the new bales, which appeared out of no where, overnight, must be sentient horse eating trolls.

And Midas noticed them immediately.

By this point in our ride, we were cooling out. It was hot out. I was tired.

He went stiff, head up, snorting, I could feel the spin and run inside him even if he hadn’t succumbed. I knew that there was a solid chance we’d just be spinning our way through a field of gopher holes should I stay mounted and coax him over to face the trolls. (We normally ride around the edge, where there are no holes, but to do that we’d have to walk RIGHT NEXT TO THE TROLLS).

So, I retreated behind a treeline (cover from trolls) and dismounted. He’d been feeling good and peppy all day–finally sound after a spring battling thrush–so spooking might be half for the joy of feeling good. The other half being his guard-horse mentality–and the thought of gopher holes just really meant this was a monster best faced in hand. Mounted, there would be an additional layer of adrenaline. In hand, I could use my tiredness and lack of adrenaline to my favor, radiating calm at the prey animal bent on survival.

He pranced. He snorted. He stopped. He never tried to get away from me.

I strolled, stopped when he stopped, asked nicely to move again after a moment of assurance, or let him move in a nervous circle. Assured him verbally that these weren’t trolls. Finally got close enough that I could touch the bales, bang on their plastic, make noise.

He was skeptical still, but finally relaxed. We walked all the way around the line both ways–saw a few gopher holes.

With our scientific investigation satisfied, we walked allll the way back to a woodpile by the driveway so I could remount (another object we’d investigated thoroughly when it was first introduced) and I rode back to face the trolls.

Except they weren’t trolls anymore. Just hay bales.

We doodled peaceably around the field and went back to the barn for a nice cool shower.

*

I brought out the little white pony, Blue, for a walk in hand to see what he’d do with the trolls. It amused me that it took him several seconds longer to notice them than it had Midas, and he danced back and forth behind me like a tube behind a speedboat. I don’t think he stopped moving once of his own accord, just when I paused to assure him. Once we got to the bales, though, he accepted them much more quickly, and even walked across the half-blown tarp when I did. I hadn’t expected him to follow me (Midas hadn’t), just wanted to show that it wasn’t scary.

Horses are so different. Blue isn’t a dominant creature (unlike Midas, who is dominant and the horse who stands guard while the others nap), he’s somewhat nervous but quite trusting. He, too, never actually hit the end of the lead rope, though he was pretty worked up.

Granted, I didn’t try to keep him from dancing around. I let him have the rope he needed, which turned out to be not that much. I didn’t care if he danced around as long as he didn’t bolt. That was my approach with Midas, too.

It helps to focus on one thing at a time with horses. For investigating the trolls, they just needed to stay with me so I could show them everything was alright. They didn’t need to bury their emotions or instincts entirely, just use their brains enough to come with me.

Trolls vanquished.

*

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strength training

I should look for a job conditioning someone’s expensive sporthorse, because I enjoy it. I enjoy walking up and down hills, trotting over hill and dale, all with a careful eye on building the strength and stamina of my mount.

This winter has been pretty wimpy, but one side benefit of that has meant more trot! The ground never got hard, and we’re probably going to have a drought this summer because there hasn’t really been any mud either.

We’ve been going up and down hills at walk and trot, mostly. I’ve taken delight in the 10 minute warm up and 10 min cool down (always observed this, but with renewed vigor as I follow Denny Emmerson’s writings), carefully warming up Midas’s muscles and then working them on the hills, then cooling them down again. Important at any age, but he’s in his 20’s.

We are outside the ring as much as we can manage.

We’ve also done some canter up hills, not a lot, but some.

I’ve worked twice in the ring this spring–I mean actually worked hard in the ring. There have been one or two other times when I didn’t have time for a proper ride so we did some bareback work while I dwelled on seat and legs.

And wouldn’t you know, that ring work was MUCH better. We’re straighter (it’s also been just me riding all winter, so that helps with his straightness, too), softer, and stronger in the right way. I’ve been deliberate about asking for softness, and then for shorter periods of time asking for self-carriage and roundness. (Rather than asking all the time and hoping desperately to get it now and then). Understanding that it takes physical strength to carry oneself makes a big difference.

All I have to do is think about me doing pilates and my approach to asking for such things changes dramatically. Midas not going around like a dressage pony has less to do with obstinance than fitness and know-how.

He gets fast when we introduce canter, like it simultaneously excites and frightens him, and if you let him, he’ll counter-bend and speed into the canter when he thinks you might want him to canter. So I focus on bending him the correct direction and not letting him zip, and then if we’re organized I’ll sigh, and say “Alright, go ahead” and he’ll usually pick up canter.

Sometimes I have say canter. Sometimes I don’t šŸ˜›

Sometimes I have to cue with my leg. Sometimes I don’t. šŸ˜›

But once we’re cantering, leg becomes essential.

He falls on his face a bit when he canters, so I have to sit back, lift my hands and apply lots of leg–not a kick or anything, but a steady pressure alllllll down the inside leg to remind his body which way to bend and to block his shoulder. If I’m too weak, he caves in and we lose our balance on the turns.

After all the hills, though, it’s easier to help him stay balanced.

We moved quickly through a bunch of different exercises last time I rode. A 10 minute walk on a long rein, then finishing with some bending, and leg yields, then trot–first at his pace with a long rein, then more organized and then finally collected for a little with bending. Then, canter.

You’ll laugh, but we cantered a time and a half around the arena left lead without falling apart, and that might be the first time that’s happened since I broke my foot.

When we changed direction, I let him canter without making him do figures at trot until he was bending properly, and it was a very unpretty and resistant canter where he DID NOT WANT TO BEND, so even though we made it around the ring it was disorganized and probably would have scared 13 year old me.

I changed tack, focused our breath on trot, doing figures, relying as much as I could on leg rather than hands, so I could encourage softness from him. Once we were organized, I let him canter again and it was MUCH improved, and I didn’t make him go more than once around.

I gave him a long rein immediately upon coming back to it–before he could pull, even–but kept leg on so he knew he wasn’t to walk–his trot was loose and not zippy, he was clearly quite pleased.

Once we got down toward the “canter corner” he sped up, despite my gentle whoas, and picked up canter. I decided I didn’t care. He picked up the correct lead, and I didn’t feel like spending the next however long fighting with him about that corner. I kept up the gentle whoas, but offered him no other help with his canter. He cantered up the side and returned to a dignified trot of his own accord, shockingly organized, actually, and I insisted he keep trotting because that’s what I had asked. In the “canter corner” he again ignored my gentle whoa and picked up canter, but only went a couple strides before coming back. As if he was tired, and also might have just realized he wasn’t listening to me. The next time he didn’t even speed up at all. The whole thing was on a long rein, I did almost nothing, and he figured out all on his own that maybe he should pay attention to my gentle cues like he does when we’re walking.

Also, we cantered on a long rein, and he actually did an OK job. We’ve both made good progress.

*

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Nice Things

There is a new boarder at Midas’s barn, a pretty gray Percheron type mare named Evie.

Midas has literally paid no attention to her in the month she’s been living on the property–she was in a paddock by herself, and all the geldings were turned out in a field that didn’t share a fence–but they could see each other clearly.

They’ve met over the fence in hand.

This week, she was turned out with one of the geldings, Wellie, and the others were all put in other paddocks in pairs.

This time, about halfway through our ride, Midas suddenly seemed to realize that he’d left Wellie and Evie unchaperoned. And he was distressed. He wanted to go back. He wanted to stare at them.

It took a good bit of gentle insistence to prevail upon him to pay attention, so of course I teased him mercilessly for his jealous behavior.

The real question is: Would he react this way if Evie had been turned out with anyone else? Is he jealous because Wellie was turned out with her, or because anyone was? He doesn’t care about Wellie being with him or alone, or with one of the other geldings. So is he getting studly in his old age, or does he just really not like Wellie to have nice things???

I want to know.

For science.

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One horse after another

This fall I’ve had the opportunity to ride with a friend who is a horse trainer professionally. She has a wide variety of horses in her barn, and it has been so much fun to ride different horses again.

When I was a kid, mucking stalls in exchange for lessons, I jumped at the chance to ride every single horse that came through the little barn. There were only 4 stalls, but 2 of them were borders and changed out every couple years. I rode every single horse that came through that heavy sliding door except for one, who came during my last year of college. I was 8 hours away.

There were some horses I bonded with more than others over the years, particularly the one I knew the longest and was paid to ride in the frigid winters–but riding different animals was so incredibly valuable for me as a rider.

I’ve been riding Midas for 10 years. 8 of those years, its been almost exclusively Midas. There is something different and special about working with one horse for a long time. But the value I’ve found in a variety of mounts is incredible.

Horses are different. Nothing forces you to learn how to communicate–I mean, RIDE–like facing someone else’s presuppositions head on. Because that’s what most horse behavior is, really, a presupposition. A worldview that has been taught to them by the other humans in their life.

One horse has been systematically taught by past riders that she doesn’t get an opinion, but she has to go fast. She doesn’t understand medium or slow, so you have to ask gently, patiently, consistently.

Another has been trained for the race track and doesn’t know how to stand still or put his head down.

Another has been trained with Rolkur and just…tucks his chin…but has no fight at all and not a mean bone in his body, doing everything asked, whether you meant to ask or not.

When you ride them, you have to unravel the way they frame the world, and reframe it for them. It takes time. It is SO much fun. Nothing teaches you what your body communicates to a horse at the most basic level like riding different horses teaches. You learn how you have to adjust the height of your hands based on the shape of the horse and the discipline and what you’re trying to accomplish at that moment. You learn how to use your legs–the roles of your upper thigh vs your calf–things you may have already known, but now they are vitally important every day, and can’t just be auto pilot because different horses need more or less of different aids. You learn to use your breath–a shockingly useful tool.

I guess that’s what it is. Riding a variety of horses makes you think, and be aware, and also makes it easier to think and be aware. I love it.

It makes me better.

It makes me a better rider.