Taking care of business

Last week, I received an unexpected email from my boss. She’s been in Florida since Global Dressage Festival ended prematurely. She emailed me to tell me she was flying to Oklahoma and wanted to meet. She also mentioned the store’s general manager was no longer with the company. I was shocked- the manager was my boss’s brother and had held the position for a decade. He was not a good manager, but was so entrenched that my coworkers and I assumed he’d never leave.

When I met with my boss, she informed me that she wanted me to oversee day-to-day management of the store. While I originally planned on leaving my job at the end of the year when I graduated with my finance degree, I decided to accept her offer. I love my job- it’s flexible, I wear breeches to the office, my coworkers are great. I’m a horse person who gets to talk to horse people about horse stuff all day long. Plus, who knows what the job landscape will look like in December? I graduated in 2008 and couldn’t find a job in my field. I ended up at a cell phone carrier’s call center and it sucked. My prospects are likely better this time- after all, people have an idea of what finance is- but I figure I might as well stay in a steady job that I enjoy.

I’m both excited and overwhelmed. Sales are (understandably) down, and the horse show landscape looks very different. Customers’ employment situations are uncertain and they’re reluctant to spend on non-essentials. There’s also a lot of things to sort out at the store itself: supply chain problems, bookkeeping inaccuracies, new cleanliness protocols.

I’m an optimist, though. I have so many ideas for increasing brick and mortar sales, revamping the website, implementing more efficient internal procedures! I know this business well and have a great team of coworkers. My boss is super. Johnny is, as always, unfailingly supportive. And I’ll get to put all those business school classes to use!

Madigan Learns To Horse

After Madigan made his debut at a Future Event Horse class last year, he went back in the pasture to eat, grow, and learn to live in a small herd. I handled him at least a little bit every day. Most of the handling was super basic- haltering and leading, picking up and cleaning his hooves, brushing him. He took it all in stride; when I put a blanket on him for the first time, he barely lifted his head from his feed pan.

“PLAY WITH ME UNCLE MOE!”

Now that he’s approaching his second birthday, he’s looking and acting more like an adult than a timid baby. His favorite activity is playing bitey-face with Moe (who is thoroughly sick of him). When he gallops around with Candy, he looks like he knows what he’s doing and not like he’s going to fall down. He had a growth spurt and is now the same height as Moe, just over 15 hands. (Which is great- I was paranoid that he would end up large pony size forever.) Madigan is still friendly and easygoing, too.

Earlier this year, it seemed like it was time for Madigan to start learning some new things, like how to wear a bridle and how to self-load in a trailer. My friend next door has a super reputation for starting youngsters, so it was an easy decision to start bringing him over for groundwork lessons. Richal is patient, consistent, and fair with babies and greenies, and it’s been fun to see her work with Madigan.

Nothing terribly exciting happens in their weekly lessons. He always needs a refresher on personal space- he wants to be right next to the people (because the people scratch him and pet him and feed him cookies sometimes). He’s learning how to walk and trot on the line. Last week, Richal introduced him to the mounting block and a saddle. Madigan remains cheerful and curious- he seems to like investigating all the new things.

Who needs grooming when you can remove your winter hair on the grass?

I’m excited about the future with him. He’s sensible and pleasant, and it’s nice to know he’s getting good training from the start!

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!

Ride For The Cure

For the last five years, Harvard Fox Hounds has hosted a Ride for the Cure fundraiser in September. One of our members put the ride together after participating in the Komen Race for the Cure at work, and it’s been a wildly popular event for HFH ever since. This year’s event felt especially important and meaningful since one of Harvard’s members was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year.

Back in August, a local news station came out to film footage for a story about our event. (You can watch the story here– Moe and I have an extremely brief cameo around the three minute mark.) The actual ride was in September, and I took a break from homework and hauled Moe out.

We went with the walk/trot/sometimes canter group. Moe was very excited to be out and about! He’s a good trail horse, but I usually opt to take Gina because she’s less fussy in a big group. Moe usually wants to be in the front at all times, and his brakes can be, uh, unreliable. It was disgustingly hot and humid, which took some of the wind out of his sails. Five minutes into the ride, he was sweating and walking at a reasonable speed.

Our group stayed out for about an hour and a half and spent most of the ride checking trails we’ll use hunting this winter. Some of them had downed trees and most were wild with lush vegetation thanks to all the rain we’ve had this summer. Moe was a real trooper and carefully stepped over branches and happily pushed through vines and weeds. Lots of the jumps were clear enough to go over, though!

Moe behaved reasonably well about jumping and galloping in a group. A hundred years ago when we were both younger, I took him hunting. It was a disaster- he was way too excitable and nearly passed the field master several times. Since then, he’s gone on walk-only trail rides or gone out with one or two friends who were okay with moving quickly. But on this ride, he was good about stopping and standing when the group did so, and he wasn’t hellbent on leading the pack.

Moe really seemed to enjoy himself on this ride! He jumped every log, barrel, ditch, and coop I presented to him without any hesitation. He even tackled one of the trickiest coops on the property without a blip. The coop is at the end of a narrow trail hemmed in by big trees. Its landing is on a downhill slope, and there’s about half a stride before you jump a ditch and land on the gravel road. Moe seemed surprised when he found himself on a road, but trotted on without any trouble. He also had a funny moment where he jumped a big log and caught up with another horse on the other side. He cantered alongside the other horse for a couple of strides, then shot off at a dead run up a hill and left that horse in the dust.

It’s been a while since I took Moe on a ride like that, and it’s been a long time since I did much jumping with him at all! He’s sound and happy, but he’s 24. He had EPM a couple of years ago. And there’s a little scar on one of his eyes from an ulcer. He seems to see fine and feel fine, but it’s not something I really wanted to test the limits of. However, he had zero trouble with this ride and greeted me the next morning as perky as ever.

So Moe’s going to take up his fourth career as a foxhunter this winter! It’ll be good to take some of the load off Gina- she does well and seems to enjoy hunting as much as she enjoys anything, but I know she’ll be happier if she’s not the one going out every week. I still want to take Candy out a couple of times this season, but having Moe as another first field horse will be nice. And having two reliable horses means I can bring a friend! (Seriously, come visit! I have a spare bedroom!)