The longest year

This year is half over, and we’re well into summer weather here in Oklahoma. I genuinely like summer- the long days feel luxurious and the sweltering heat is a welcome change from the bitter cold of winter. It’s a relief to enter my favorite season, as it’s been a long 2021 for me so far.

I finished my finance degree in December and began searching for a new job. While I still (mostly) enjoyed my work at the tack shop, I was desperate to stop commuting 1.5 hours a day for a job that hadn’t given me a raise in 3 years and had only increased my workload. On a whim, I applied for a (paid) internship with The Jockey Club, figuring it might be an opportunity to gain exposure to a different side of the equestrian industry and do something new. Two Zoom interviews later, TJC offered to hire me as an independent contractor. I accepted, and am now working as a UX/UI designer in a fully remote position that pays twice what the tack shop did. The work is interesting, the people are nice, and I really enjoy the schedule flexibility it offers.

Candy died in March, just a few days before her 13th birthday. I woke up to my neighbor frantically pounding on my front door at 5:45 AM. I stood in the dark on my porch, shivering in my pajamas as she informed me that Candy’s front leg was badly broken. She’d already called the vet; he was on the way to euthanize Candy. I stood with Candy for what seemed like an eternity before he arrived, trying in vain to comfort her. She is buried in the paddock behind the barn. I am profoundly grateful to my friend next door for calling the vet, calling the backhoe guy, and handling her burial while I laid in bed all day and cried.

A couple of weeks later, my elderly cat Woody was euthanized. Woody was the last vestige of my young adult life. I got him as a kitten when I was in college, and he’d moved with me to Kansas, then to Oklahoma. He was a cheerful, talkative cat who loved to travel with us after his diabetes diagnosis a few years ago. He walked on a leash, had an excellent grasp of English, and an unhealthy love for pizza. One morning he was unable to stand up, and I knew it was time to let him go. I laid in bed and cried after I got home from the vet.

Last month, I came in from taking Madigan to baby school and found my sweet tuxedo cat Marvin uncomfortably crouched in a pool of bloody urine. I rushed him to the vet, where he was diagnosed with a urethral blockage.  He was hospitalized and catheterized. He came home a few days later and blocked again. My vet recommended he have perineal urethrostomy surgery; every veterinary surgeon in Tulsa was booked for weeks, so I drove Marvin to OSU’s teaching hospital 1.5 hours away to have surgery. Then I laid in bed and cried. Marvin is home and fully healed, for which I am very grateful.

I threw my back out over Memorial Day weekend, which was a terrible and painful experience. For the better part of a week, I could not even roll over on my side without excruciating muscle spasms. When that finally seemed to resolve itself, I began having shooting pain deep in my right glute. Johnny drove me to Tulsa Bone & Joint, where I was diagnosed with a pinched nerve and sent home with a prescription for steroids and muscle relaxers. I feel much better than I did, and hope I’ll be back to normal soon.

with assistant trainer aboard

Madigan is the brightest part of 2021. He turned 3 on June 8 and sticks at 16.2 hands- a far cry from the petite yearling I brought home two years ago! He’s been attending baby school weekly for over a year and I couldn’t be happier with how he’s progressed. Madigan ties, cross-ties, trailers (although he still wants to turn around to unload rather than back out), is good about being saddled and bridled, stands quietly at the mounting block, and has a basic understanding of the aids for stop, go, and turn. He has a happy, curious, laid-back personality and seems to genuinely enjoy learning all these new skills.

Moe and Gina are just fine, too. They came through the winter well and have been out on the front pasture since mid-April. Moe and Madigan spend the hottest part of the day splashing each other in the pond. Gina is too dignified for that and opts to stand in the shade instead. I haven’t been riding much- first I was busy, then I was very depressed, and now I’m injured. But perhaps some trail rides are on the horizon in the latter half of what has already been a very long year.

 

The Return of Hand Gallop

Hey y’all- it’s me, Stephanie! I used to blog here, and I suppose this post means I still do. With the onset of a global pandemic, I find myself with more time to write. I also find myself looking for activities to take my mind off any number of unpleasant uncertainties. (Is my job going to come back? Does my friend have COVID-19? Will my finance professor ever return my emails?)

I began this year as I do most years: with a sense of purpose and optimism. I kicked off 2020 with a trip to Peru. The trip was with Oklahoma State’s finance department and counted as an elective for my degree. The Tulsa campus lacks many upper division finance classes, so going to Peru seemed like a good way to get three credit hours in one 10-day go. It also fit neatly with my 2020 goal of hiking once a month.

Looking out over the Pacific Ocean from the Miraflores District of Lima.

The trip was super, although it was a bit awkward to share a room with a 19 year old girl, and I definitely had more in common with the professor and teaching assistant than I did any of my finance bro classmates. We toured a variety of businesses in and around Lima before heading to the Sacred Valley to hike Incan sites, including Machu Picchu. My favorite parts of the trip were meeting the head of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru in Lima and hiking at Ollantaytambo in the southern part of the Sacred Valley.

Misty morning at Machu Picchu.

Classes resumed for the spring semester just a couple of days after I returned, and I felt disorganized and behind. I’m taking an intense course load this semester with a eye toward finishing in the fall, and it was hard to establish a routine once I got home. I did little other than go to class, do homework, and go to work.

And then the global pandemic hit! I am effectively furloughed from my job at The Horse of Course. When the last two weeks of Global Dressage Festival were canceled, I knew we were in trouble. The winter season in Florida is the store’s primary revenue source; the mobile unit’s performance there determines our budget for the rest of the year. The Oklahoma-based mobile unit typically travels to three or four shows in Oklahoma every spring; those are all canceled. With no shows on the horizon, barns on lockdown, and people uncertain about their source of income, shopping for equestrian tack and apparel has screeched to a halt. Additionally, Oklahoma’s governor has ordered all non-essential businesses to close to the public through the end of April, so there’s that.

I don’t blame people for not spending money on new saddle pads or shadbellys- I totally get it. My hope is that this will not be the demise of small tack shops, but it is difficult to imagine things returning to normal in the foreseeable future. Fortunately, Johnny is still employed (providing essential software services to heavy machinery and ambulances), so we can continue providing the luxurious lifestyle our four horses, six cats, and two dogs are accustomed to.

Having plenty of time to get the horses out on the spring grass has been nice.

So what have I been doing with all of my newfound free time? Some productive things- like baking bread and brioche hamburger buns, planting seeds for this year’s herb garden, doing homework, walking the cats, and taking Madigan to my neighbor’s for groundwork lessons. Some less productive things- replaying all of my favorite video games, reading, occasionally day drinking, eating way too much takeout in an effort to keep my favorite restaurants afloat.

I am incredibly grateful to have my horses at home. While I know they’d receive the very best care if they were still boarded, it is nice to look out of the window of my office and see them grazing, and know I can walk out to see them any time.

What are y’all up to in this crazy time? Are you still working? Still riding? Baking all the things? Eating all the snacks?

Pattern Saddle Cover Giveaway Winner + Life Update!

Congratulations to Sarah of Three Chestnuts– she’s the winner of the Bel Joeor Metier pattern saddle cover giveaway! Sarah, I’ll be in touch. Thanks to everyone who entered.

I’m headed to Harvard Fox Hound’s Hunting 101 clinic this weekend. For the last couple of years, I’ve given a talk on hunting apparel at this event. The format is different this year, though, so I think I’m only expected to dress in ratcatcher attire and bring some hacking jackets from work! The weather should be lovely- it finally cooled off here, so the weekend highs are going to be in the 60s. I don’t have much schoolwork, so I’m going to ride on Sunday- I’m really looking forward to it!

My horses are fat and happy heading into winter. Moe and Gina are shaggy, Candy is chubby, and the baby is going through a growth spurt. I refuse to spend lots of money on a blanket he’ll outgrow immediately, so he’s got a cheap sheet on the way through work. Pink is probably not his best color, but it’s on sale and the appropriate size.

Johnny and I have discussed some farm improvement projects we want to tackle this fall/winter. The biggest of these is fencing. The front pasture fence appears to be held up by weeds in certain spots. In addition to replacing the fence, we want to expand it into our yard as much as well can. (Less mowing! More grazing!) I want to build another small paddock for winter use, but the whole thing hinges on where the septic system’s sprinklers can be moved. We also want to build a fence between our place and my friend next door’s; my driveway has a gate, but it’s useless for loose horses because they can mosey to the neighbor’s and run into the street. Finally, we want to expand the paddock immediately behind our barn. If you have fencing recommendations, let me know!

Other projects on the list are mud management panel installation, new barn lighting, and spraying & fertilizing the front pasture. My front pasture held up very well this year after I rested it in the winter. All three (plus Madigan after he arrived) horses were turned out 24/7 from April to October without supplemental hay or grain. They’re now stuffed in the sacrifice paddock behind the barn and feeling kind of grumpy about it.

What are y’all up to this weekend? Whatever it is, I hope it’s great!

Thinking Ahead

This year has been a busy one for me, which has led to sporadic and largely uninteresting blog posts. For the last few months, I haven’t been doing much more than feeding my horses and moving them from paddock to pasture. Instead, I’ve been doing something way less exciting: taking classes at Tulsa Community College.

At some point last summer, I realized that my long-term job prospects aren’t great. Johnny had an interview with an out-of-state company, which prompted me to look for potential jobs in the area. I didn’t find many that looked appealing; I didn’t seem qualified for those that did look interesting. My bachelor’s degree is in natural resources management with a concentration in soil science and minor in biology. When I graduated in 2008 during the recession, no one was hiring soil scientists. I had a small student loan, so I took a customer service job right away in order to start paying it. I did that for a year, worked as a therapeutic riding instructor for three years, and have been at The Horse of Course for nearly five. Aside from a summer internship, I’ve never worked in natural resources management.

My official title at The Horse of Course is Web/Marketing Manager, but I wear a lot of hats. I manage the store’s e-commerce site, pick and ship most web orders, coordinate marketing campaigns, negotiate vendor and sponsor contracts with organizations and venues, oversee the store’s budget, assist with buying inventory, travel with the mobile unit, and often help the customer service team on the sales floor. By most metrics, I am reasonably good at my job. However, I feel like I’ve been making it up as I go along, and my weird, unrelated degree doesn’t help my job prospects.

Last summer, I scheduled an appointment to talk with an advisor at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa about getting a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Many of my classes from the University of Tennessee-Martin transfer, but there’s not a lot of overlap between natural resources management and marketing. There are a lot of classes I need to earn a marketing degree. The advisor recommended a list of classes I could take at Tulsa Community College that would transfer to OSU Tulsa.

Last semester, I took microeconomics and financial accounting. This spring, I took entrepreneurship, statistics, and managerial accounting. It’s been time-consuming and difficult. Fall is a busy time at work; I traveled for nearly a quarter of the semester. Work is slower in the winter and spring, but the courses I took had a staggering volume of homework. I spent most of my free time on weekends and evenings grinding through accounting problems and writing a business plan. The work has paid off: I earned an A in every class I took. More importantly, some of these classes are helping me do a better job at my current job!

A rare trail ride!

You might wonder if all this means I plan to leave The Horse of Course. I don’t- I love working there. The schedule flexibility is great and selling horse stuff to horse people is fun! But the store’s owner is considering retirement, which means the business will eventually be sold or closed. If it’s sold and the new owners aren’t in Oklahoma, it’s likely this location will close. Either way, I’ll need to find work. It can’t hurt to get additional education to back up my experience.

At any rate, the semester is over and I am relieved! I’m looking forward to reclaiming my free time and spending the summer riding. And I’ve learned my lesson about school/work/life balance- I’m only taking ONE class this fall!

Tidbits from Christine Traurig

Earlier this month, one of the local dressage clubs hosted their annual symposium; this year’s clinician was Christine Traurig. My employer sponsored the event, and the organizers offered to let us bring the mobile unit to the venue. My coworker ran the mobile all weekend (because I went to Closing Hunt on Saturday) but I popped in to “help” on Sunday.

The symposium’s theme was “Through The Levels”, and they featured pairs of riders from Training/First Level on young horses to riders tackling the upper levels. I didn’t get to watch every session (because I did do some work), but I thought Christine was a great teacher. She challenged riders in a fair way and took time to explain her methods and reasoning to the crowd. I got the most out of watching the lower level riders and took away several nuggets of wisdom.

  • Young horses need a supportive leg and forgiving hand.
  • Young horses should be ridden in spurs so they get used to them.
  • Be patient! Wait to give cues until horse is ready. (This was one of my favorite pieces of advice. When I’m practicing a dressage test, I often get caught up in making the transition so prompt that it’s ugly. There’s no reason to hurry when you’re practicing- practice will eventually lead to quick and accurate transitions.)
  • Rhythm is the foundation of all dressage. Don’t forget about rhythm at any level!
  • Your arm and rein are one unit.
  • Transitions are finished when your horse isn’t in a hurry any more. (This was another favorite! I used to have a trainer who would tell me to “minimize the running” in transitions.)
  • Outside hand should stay low and back so you can set a boundary for the shoulder.
  • Your seat is the mediator between leg and hand; it has a supportive role. Young horses don’t have the back strength to be ridden with lots of seat.
  • Willingness to go forward must be present in all work.
  • When correcting a horse, make the correction an exercise, not an abrupt punishment.

While I didn’t have the full experience of auditing, I definitely got some good stuff out of the symposium!